|The University of Idaho|
Site of this year's Rocky Mountain GSA meeting
- The primary allure of the conference was the field trip to the Clarkia fossil beds of north-central Idaho. Having taken my Paleobiology class to one of these sites last semester, I had some familiarity with the Clarkia fossils, but I didn't want to pass up a chance to learn more about them from researchers who had focused on them, notably co-organizers palynologist Bridget Wade and paleobotanist Bill Rember, both of UI, and Ralph Stearley of Calvin College, who has worked on fossil fish from around the Northwest. The organizers, my fellow attendees, and the fossils themselves predictably did not disappoint. My effusive praise of Clarkia deserves a post of its own, so expect one in the near future. For now, all I'll say is that it ranks right up there with sites such as Ashfall and Messel in terms of the paleobiological story it tells, and it surpasses all other sites I know of in terms of quality of preservation.
- Speaking of Clarkia, there was one presentation relevant to it at the conference, but it focused not on fossils but on several layers of volcanic ash present at various localities in the region. The research, conducted by Washington State's Cassie Geraghty, found that several of the ash layers were likely produced by a volcanic field in northern Nevada that was active about 15.5 million years ago. This is significant because it means that the Clarkia biota lived at the peak of the Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum, the last major period of global warming in Earth's history, making it not only intrinsically interesting from an ecological perspective, but providing a possible glimpse of what might happen to organisms and ecosystems as climate continues to warm going into the future. Another poster in the same session, by Klarissa Davis, also of WSU, looked into the connection between volcanism and climate in the mid-Miocene, suggesting that the Columbia River Basalts, that still cover much of the Inland Northwest today, may have played a large role in driving climate at the time by releasing greenhouse gases during eruption.
- The only paleontology-focused session was on lagerstätten, and featured several talks by
The sunfish Archoplites
Clarkia Fossil Beds