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Archive for April 2012

A special night at UCMP

Cal Day is the one day of the year when lucky members of the public can tour UCMP's collection. But this year, on the night before Cal Day, UCMP hosted a special event to take some of our closest friends behind the scenes.

Excitement is in the air. Also, a T. rex tail!


This invitation-only event included sneak previews of Cal Day exhibits, tours of the collection, the paleo art of William Gordan Huff, and fossils recovered during the construction of the Caldecott Tunnel's fourth bore.

UCMP-affiliated faculty curators, scientists, students, and educators were on hand to present a night that our guests won't soon forget. After some mingling and introductory remarks from Director Charles Marshall our visitors were whisked into the collection to enjoy a glimpse of the exciting work happening at UCMP.


Charles in action.


Ken Finger serves up some local fossils, fresh from the Caldecott Tunnel site.


Renske Kirchholtes and Robert Stevenson explain the story of Metasequioa to our guests.


Theresa Grieco showed off monkey fossils and talked about her upcoming trip to Olduvai Gorge (photo by Silvia Spiva).


Pat Holroyd revealed some of the hidden treasures of UCMP being uncovered thanks to our latest archiving grant.


Dave Lindberg neatly demonstrated how our vast collection provides an essential historic baseline for the natural history of California.


Anna Thanukos took visitors beyond the collection through the museum's many education and outreach projects.


Ash Poust dazzled onlookers with phytosaurs, pareiasaurs, and other impressive fossils from our broad collection.


Brian Swartz led the group from the sea to dry land with close-up looks at some of our fishy ancestors.


Diane Erwin pieced together a climate change puzzle using UCMP's California plant fossils.


This exciting, unique UCMP experience produced many smiles and set the tone for the Cal Day to come.

For more photos from the evening see this album on Facebook.

Find out how to become a Friend of UCMP.

Cataloging the archives: Geology camp 100 years ago

Looking at UCMP's modern offices and collections space, one might not appreciate that the paleontology tradition at Berkeley stretches back more than one hundred years.  But now the CLIR/UCMP Archive Project is bringing this history to light. Some of the oldest supplemental locality files I have come across this semester contain class reports and geologic maps prepared by a Cal field geology class in the summer of 1911. Led by Bruce L. Clark, who eventually became the first director of the UCMP, the class camped on the south slope of Mount Diablo in and around what is today Mount Diablo State Park. The scientific goal of the one-month course was to reconstruct the tectonic history of the area through mapping of exposed rock units and collecting of marine invertebrate fossils that are indicative of geologic ages and past environments.

Here are some of the photographs from student Irving V. Augur's report along with the original typewritten captions:

Also in the archive are students' field notes and maps, such as the ones below by William S. W. Kew. In his notes, he recorded the orientation of rock layers (e.g., strike of N60°W and dip of 60°S for Locality 27) and scientific names of fossil invertebrates that had been collected at various locations on the mountain (e.g., Dosinia whitneyi is a clam).

[Fossils from Mount Diablo: top, a Cretaceous clam, specimen number 199004; middle, an internal mold of an Eocene heart urchin, Schizaster lecontei, specimen number 199000; bottom left, Miocene sand dollar, Astrodapsis sp., specimen number 199001; bottom right, a Miocene scallop, specimen number 199002.]

And yes, the fossil clam, sand dollars and scallop pictured above are the specimens collected by the students of the field course 100 years ago. Some of the fossils brought back are currently stored in the Campanile on the Berkeley campus, while others have found their home in the UCMP's research collections in the Valley Life Sciences Building.

After a month of surveying, the students examined these data to figure out the ages of rock layers as well as the arrangement of rocks beneath the surface of the mountain. Here is an exquisitely drawn diagram by Auger.

So what makes Mount Diablo geologically interesting? If you look closely at Kew's map with color-coded rock formations, you will notice that, as one climbs up the mountain, the underlying rock layer becomes progressively older from the Miocene (faint purple and yellow) to Eocene (red), Cretaceous, and Jurassic (green and orange)—which is a bit counterintuitive, isn't it? Furthermore, Auger's inferred cross-section through the mountain suggests that the strata are almost vertically oriented.

In his class report, I. V. Augur wrote:

"The general structure of Mt. Diablo region was for some time a point of disagreement, the reason being that while on the north side evidence of the strata dipping away from the mountain suggested an anticline, evidence on the opposite side did not bear out the assumption, since the general dip was in the same direction and the succession of beds reversed. Prof. J. C. Merriam, however, after a careful study of the structure and faunal relations, pronounced it an overturned anticline, which structure has been generally accepted by geologists who have examined the territory under discussion" (Augur 1911, p. 2).

After a century of additional research, the interpretation of the mountain's geology has changed. Experts today think that Mount Diablo is largely a product of a series of thrust faults (follow this link to see a simplified animation). Specifically, the Jurassic-Cretaceous rocks (which now form the upper portion of the mountain) have been uplifted along the fault zone in the last few million years, bending the more recent Eocene to Miocene rock layers on the southwest side of this zone (the lower portion of the mountain that was mapped by Kew and his classmates).

So the old class reports are uniquely valuable for giving us glimpses into the development of scientific ideas through the eyes of students. The detailed observations recorded in the class reports reveal that the field camp was really a group research project involving students.

An excerpt from I. V. Augur's report

A table of fossils colleted (from W. S. W. Kew's report)

An excerpt from Kew's report with comments (in blue) by the instructor (Clark?)
















As one flips through these reports, it is worth keeping in mind that, in 1911, the theory of continental drift was still being formulated by Alfred Wegener. More locally, this is back when John C. Merriam and colleagues from Berkeley had been tirelessly digging up asphalt-covered fossils from the tar pits of Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles, and an undergraduate student by the name of Charles L. Camp was busy catching reptiles and amphibians (such as this arboreal salamander) for the newly-founded Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

After 1911, Clark continued to teach and conduct research in the Mount Diablo area for many more years. This not only contributed to greater understanding of regional geology but also led to a fortuitous discovery in 1927 of one of the most significant Miocene mammal localities in California, the Black Hawk Ranch Quarry. Also notably, some of the students from the field camp went on to become respected geologists—Kew, for instance, pursued his doctoral degree in the Department of Paleontology and produced important works on fossil echinoderms (sea urchins, sand dollars, and their relatives).

To learn more about the geology of Mount Diablo, check out Doris Sloan's Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region (University of California Press) and take a hike on the interpretive Trail Through Time on a sunny day. I end with a few images from my recent excursion to the mountain with my colleagues. Considering the extent of Clark's and his students' survey effort, we may have crossed their footsteps at some point as we climbed Eocene marine sandstones (below left), traversed meadows dotted with California Poppies (below center), and stood by outcrops of ancient radiolarian chert (below right).

Special thanks to Dave Strauss for photographing Kew's map, David K. Smith for information on the geologic history of Mount Diablo, and Renske Kirchholtes and Emily Lindsey for the trip to Mount Diablo State Park!


More stories from the CLIR/UCMP Archive Project

Cataloging the archives: Update I

Cataloging the archives: Unearthing a type

UCMP awarded a two-year collections improvement grant

We are pleased to announce the receipt of a grant of ~ $470,000 from the National Science Foundation – a two-year collections improvement grant to "Complete the rehabilitation of the orphaned USGS fossil invertebrate collection at UCMP."

In 1997 the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) accepted responsibility for an extensive invertebrate collection (170,000 fossils from 12,100 localities) the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Menlo Park. Unfortunately, the comprehensive documentation stored with the fossils was not preserved as archival material and was deteriorating.  Moreover, during the move the collection was scrambled, many of the wooden cases damaged, and the doors lost.  In 1998, one third of the collection was integrated into UCMP’s main collection.  This project will (1) re-house the remaining two thirds of the collection in museum-grade cabinets, (2) reorganize, re-label, and digitally capture the contents of the drawers, and (3) digitally capture and store the documentation in archival media.

This collection, largely from the West coast of North America from the last 25 million years, is unique and irreplaceable. It has generated over 1,000 publications, including systematic and biostratigraphic studies, paleoecological and paleoclimatic research, resource assessments, and geologic surveys.  Funds from this grant will provide important curatorial experiences for graduate students, engage undergraduate students in authentic research activities, and allow us to hire a Museum Scientist (invertebrate speciality) for the length of the project to direct the work.

Photo shoots for UCMP science

This semester, the UCMP has been excited to host a visiting photographer, UC alum Dave Strauss.  A self-described "computer guy" for the last 42 years, he is also an avid naturalist, hiker, and mountain biker.  Dave finds inspiration at the UCMP through the opportunity to use his talents to communicate evolutionary and historical knowledge to the broader community.

A juvenile Triceratops specimen gets its moment in the spotlight.

Collaboration with Dave has provided many opportunities to contribute to science.  He has confronted technical challenges photographing unwieldy Triceratops fossil fragments with Assistant Director Mark Goodwin, to photographing tiny tadpoles just beginning to grow their skeletons with graduate student Theresa Grieco.  He is also assisting with the CLIR/UCMP archive project, documenting and digitizing historical records, particularly more unusual items like lantern slides (for examples of lantern slides depicting California geology, click here).

Dave's willingness to experiment with lighting, lenses, and artistry has paid off - he has helped at least 7 different researchers get great images for their work.  He finds he is learning more about photography as his paleontology collaborators push the boundaries of optics and camera technology with unusual requests, and he is able to quiz them about the most current research projects going on in the UCMP.

You can find some of Dave Strauss's work, including images from the UCMP collections, at his website.

Dave examines the fineness of detail captured in preparations of Xenopus tropicalis tadpole jaws.

Erin's Adventures in Marine Conservation: A quick introduction to a snail's tale

Follow Erin Meyer as she takes us on a journey through the Caribbean, on the tail of an important snail she hopes to conserve. To learn more about her seasonal trips, visit her blog - "Adventures in Snail Conservation."

Another award winner!

Lucy Chang, who is advised by Charles Marshall, has been awarded a three-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Lucy started as a Ph.D. student at Berkeley in 2010 with a general interest in paleoecology.  Upon notification of this award, Lucy initially expressed both gratefulness and shock, but is now settling in to the wonderful realization that this will give her just the time and resources needed to move forward on a dissertation topic with an interdisciplinary approach, integrating aspects of ecology, biogeography, and paleobiology  probably focused on marine systems.

Congratulations to Lucy!