Tuesday, 22 July 2014

TW:eed Masters Projects kick off with field studies

Last week I was up in the Scottish Borders for a week of fieldwork. It was fantastic weather all week, with comfortable heat wave temperatures of 20oC in the shade and hardly any rain. I was joined by field assistant Kirsty Summers, a second year undergraduate from the University of Leicester. We surveyed and sampled two new field sites, along with revisiting the main coastal site to work on a few specific sections while they were accessible at low tide.
Low tide at the main field site, with excellent rock exposure

Starting their Masters research projects with field studies were University of Leicester students Hattie Dulson and Greg Phillpotts.
Hattie’s project is titled “How variable were the Early Carboniferous ecosystems inhabited by the earliest four-limbed vertebrates?“. This project will test the hypothesis that an interval with newly-discovered plant and tetrapod fossils represents a transition from a non-marine to a marine-influenced environment.  
Greg’s project is titled “Why were the Early Carboniferous floodplains of southern Scotland key sites for preservation of the earliest four-limbed vertebrates?” This project will test the hypothesis that a key interval with important early tetrapod fossils represents an entirely non-marine floodplain environment.
And my field assistant from last year, Rachel Curtis is doing a borehole-related Masters project entitled “Early Carboniferous depositional environments in the Northumberland Basin and implications for carbon-isotope stratigraphy”. This project will test the hypothesis that the Northumberland Basin was more marine-influenced than the neighbouring Tweed Basin.
TW:eed Project 2014 Master’s students and field assistants, clockwise from top left: Greg Phillpotts, Kirsty Summers, Rachel Curtis and Hattie Dulson

I’m really looking forward to working with these students over the coming months and seeing what they discover.

Until next time

Friday, 11 July 2014

TW:eed Project meeting – revealing the Tetrapod World

During our Scottish Borders fieldwork week at the end of June, we took one day out for our biannual team meeting. It was like a mini-conference, with 14 team members present to give a progress update on their work. Now we are nearly two years into the project we have many results already in. The team are now busy interpreting these results and looking at how they relate to the larger evolutionary picture. As always at these meetings, it was inspirational to see how everyone’s expert knowledge contributes together to help us understand the Tetrapod World.

Here is a summary of the meeting:

  • The University Museum of Comparative Zoology team (Jenny Clack, Tim Smithson, Ket Smithson) talked about their recent visit to Blue Beach, in Canada and how that compares to our sites in the Scottish Borders. The sedimentology and fossils reveal some intriguing differences. We also heard about research updates on tetrapods, lungfish, gyracanths, chondrichthyans and more! Including descriptions of new and unusual specimens that are improving our understanding of how life recovered after the End Devonian Mass Extinction.

  • The University of Leicester team (Sarah Davies, Carys Bennett, Janet Sherwin) talked about how we have been looking at the data from the core (isotopes, sedimentology and micropalaeontology) to work out the ancient environments present. I have been examining the correlations between the results from the core and from our main field site, to look at changes in the environment over time and space. Plus my findings on ostracods! Janet Sherwin presented on her work from sites in Northumberland, which have a different sedimentology and fossil-content.

  • The British Geological Survey team (Dave Millward, Tim Kearsey, Mike Browne) talked about their latest findings on palaeosols and what they can tell us about the plants and environment of the time. Some excellent new finds are giving us a wealth of new information on this topic. And using the BGS records from the Ballagan Formation they gave an excellent summary of data from 30+ sites and old borehole records. They are using this data to examine changes across the region (Scotland and the Scottish Borders), such as differences in evaporate deposits, and through time.

  • The University of Southampton team (John Marshall, Emma Reves) discussed their palynology results, comparing the data from the core and our main field site. There was much discussion about the links between spores and their parent plants, and updates on biostratigraphy.

  • The National Museums of Scotland team (Nick Fraser, Andrew Ross) discussed their latest work on the rare specimens of eurypterids from our field sites. We also talked about our upcoming museum exhibition plans.

  • There were also several project partners and volunteers present at the meeting, who we always welcome. This time we were joined by four palaeontologists: Maggie Wood, Sarah Finney, Becky Bennion and Vicen Carrio.

The TW:eed Team together at the cottage in Foulden for our biannual meeting

With such exciting results coming together, I cant wait until our next group meeting! Next week I am back in the field working on a new site, and meeting our new Masters students on the TW:eed Project.

Until next time