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Field notes: Hunting for Paleozoic biogenic silica

Cindy Looy and Renske Kirchholtes in Caprock Canyon State Park

Cindy Looy and Renske Kirchholtes in Caprock Canyon State Park.
At the crack of dawn on March 5, UCMP paleobotanist Cindy Looy and prospective grad student Renske Kirchholtes hopped on the plane to Dallas. There they were met by Neil Tabor, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University, Tabor's van, and his post-doc Scott Myers.

Looy and Tabor are part of a research team studying the terrestrial paleoenvironmental record crossing the Permian-Triassic transition of Texas and New Mexico. Their roadtrip led them to several sections in northern Texas, including the stunningly beautiful Caprock Canyon State Park. Caprock Canyon's rust-colored sediments were deposited during the Permian and Triassic under hot climatic and oxidizing conditions. These "red-beds" are often barren of organic microfossils such as pollen and spores, but might still contain biogenic silica particles, e.g., phytoliths, that were formed in Permian and Triassic plants. The earliest results look promising, and Looy and Kirchholtes hope to describe biotic changes during this time interval using these minute plant-based silica bodies as an alternative to conventional organic plant fossils.

Photo courtesy of Cindy Looy