Monday, 28 January 2013

TW:eed Master’s research projects at the University of Leicester

Are you a 3rd year undergraduate student at the University of Leicester? If so then read on….

We are currently advertising three TW:eed Master’s research projects for the academic year 2013/14. Each project will investigate the palaeoenvironments in which tetrapod fossils are found.
  1. Sedimentology and carbon isotope geochemistry in the Early Carboniferous of the Tweed Basin.
  2. The evolution of fluvial systems in the Early Carboniferous of the Tweed Basin.
  3. The evolution of marginal marine depositional systems in the Early Carboniferous Northumberland-Solway Basin. 
All the projects involve primary data collection (field work or the study of BGS boreholes). Lab work includes isotope sampling, preparation of sediments for thin section, micropalaeontological techniques and use of the SEM. Successful applicants will be trained in the relevant research techniques and will have the opportunity to work with members of the TW:eed team from other institutions.

If you are interested in applying then please contact Dr Sarah Davies.

Viewing a Borehole: a hidden world revealed

Since the last blog I have continued on with sample processing… only 200 samples left to go! During that time there has been an exciting tetrapod paper published in Palaeontology by Jenny Clack, about a new species of tetrapod from the late Devonian of Greenland. You can read a blog about the paper here. Congratulations Jenny!

The day before we had the TW:eed team meeting in Leicester I spend a day viewing a borehole at the British Geological Survey in Keyworth, with colleagues Sarah Davies, Dave Millward and Janet Sherwin. This was an excellent ‘preview’ of the sort of thing we can expect from our 500 metre borehole that we plan to drill later this year.

The borehole cuts through the top part of the Ballagan Formation and the overlying Fell Sandstone Formation, from the early Carboniferous. It was drilled in the 1990s from the west of Northumberland, and although the core is although not 100% complete (samples have previously been extracted for study), the rock is in good condition.

The great thing about it is that we can use this borehole to compare with what we find in other areas, such as the Borders, and to build up a picture of the different sedimentary environments across a wide geographical area. In the photos below I illustrate part of the top of the Ballagan Formation where there is a lot of gypsum and anhydrite growth. This is really interesting as these minerals are salts that form due to the evaporation of water, telling us that the local environment was very arid at the time. We can investigate the relationship of these types of deposits with tetrapod fossils, to find out if tetrapods were living in lagoons or lakes that dried up, or if they avoided these seemingly inhospitable areas. As these minerals are rarely preserved in the field, we really are discovering a hidden world.

Top: Part of the borehole we viewed, with newspaper packed in the boxes. Each box is 1 metre in length. Bottom: A close up of some of the sediment containing gypsum and anhydrite.

Do you want to find out more about boreholes? Accessible on the web, the BGS GeoIndex is a record of all the boreholes ever drilled in the UK. You can see a map of onshore boreholes here. And while you are there, it is well worth checking out the other online resources from the BGS, such as the GeoBritain map.

Until next time

Friday, 18 January 2013

Our first TW:eed team meeting

On Wednesday we held our first TW:eed team meeting at the University of Leicester. 17 people from the team met up for an afternoon of talks and discussions on the work we have been doing in the last 5 months. We also discussed future plans for the project such as drilling the borehole.

Some of the TW:eed team at the meeting. From left to right: Melanie Leng, Tim Smithson, Tim Kearsey, David Millward, Jenny Clack, Sarah Davies, Dave Carpenter, Jon Lakin, Janet Sherwin, John Marshall, me, Ket Smithson, Rob Clack. Absent are the National Museum of Scotland team of Nick Fraser, Andy Ross and Stig Walsh, who had to leave promptly to catch a train.

Jenny Clack told us about some of the fantastic new tetrapod and fish fossils that they have found throughout sites in the Scottish Borders, Northumberland and the Midland Valley of Scotland. It is wonderful to see that so early on in the project so many specimens have been discovered already, and that they can tell us so much about evolution in the early Carboniferous. Tim Smithson, Ket Smithson and Rob Clack from the Cambridge team, along with Sarah Finney and project partners have been busy identifying vertebrate material and piecing together skeletons. Large arthropods have also been found as well as some exceptional ray finned and lobed finned fish fossils, some of which Ket is studying for her PhD project.

Dave Millward and Tim Kearsey from the BGS updated us on progress with the borehole, which we are planning to start drilling in April. This will be a 500 metre long borehole to produce a rock section throughout the entire Ballagan Formation that we can date and use to correlate the field discoveries. The preservation of fossils, sedimentary structures and geochemical signatures should be much better in the borehole compared to field sections that are open to the elements, so its provides a great opportunity for further study in those areas.

The National Museum of Scotland team (Nick Fraser, Andy Ross and Stig Walsh) are co-ordinating fieldwork plans for the summer of 2013, including a significant palaeontological excavation. Nick Fraser is also planning a symposium at the vertebrate palaeontology conference SVPCA, in commemoration of Stan Wood. Look out for more details of this in the coming months.

John Marshall and PhD students Dave Carpenter and Jon Lakin from the University of Southampton gave us an update on recent Devonian-Carbonifeous fieldwork in Greenland and Bolivia. John and Jon have been using sedimentology, palaeobotany and palynology to identify the glacial phases of the Mid Palaeozoic Ice Age and relate this to the end Devonian mass extinction. The sequence of deposits from these sites will be compared with our work in Scotland from the same time interval to build up a global picture. Dave is studying the fossil record of charcoal through the Palaeozoic and its link to the intensity of fires and the oxygen content of the atmosphere. It was an excellent demonstration of how stratigraphy and palynology can be used for much more than just providing a date for the rocks!


My rock display of cementstones and sedimentary log through the Ballagan Formation. Each cementstone is a different rock type or contains different fossils.

I displayed some of the cementstones from the Ballagan Formation that I have been processing, to discuss with the team their different mode of formation and the environments that may have been present. I also laid out a graphic of the sedimentary log I drew while in the field, to discuss the patterns present and the link to fossil finds. Melanie Leng, Sarah Davies, Master’s student Janet Sherwin and I updated the rest of the team on our plans for further sedimentology, geochemical and micropalaeontological work from tetrapod-bearing sites. This includes working on boreholes (more in the next post!) and field sites. We also aim to increase the links between the blog and website, such as posting upcoming meetings and talks on both.

Now it is time to go back down the basement for more sawing, splitting and crushing rocks. There is always something new, so I wonder what I will find today?

Until next time