Wednesday, May 4, 2016

URSP Student Brenlee Shipps Researches the Surrounding Environment when Dinosaur Bones Began to Fossilize

My work involves the open-source Paleobiology database, a very user-friendly and easily accessible collection of locations and information on a wide variety of fossils. While information on the fossils themselves tends to be detailed and well researched, there is a significant lack of information on what the environment was like when the bones began to fossilize. Without this information there is no context- only bones. Studying what exactly the ocean was like around these animals when they lived helps researchers better understand their behaviors and adaptations. I got involved with this work by asking around about what opportunities there were for paleontological research. Though my interests primarily concern early reptile evolution, I was excited for any opportunity to research fossils. I hope to attend graduate school and continue to study paleontology, so this work should help me get a head start on research.
Every week, I set aside a few hours and use the GeoRef database (and/or the USGS Geolex, depending on the locality) to find information on the depositional environments of specific formations the mysticeti fossils were found in. This can be very easy, with the information I need available directly in the abstract. However, a number of complications can also arise. Sometimes the information on a given formation is extremely scarce, to the point that there is no actual information to be found online. For some non-United States formations, this information may be in a different language that cannot be easily translated (such as Japanese, which is frequently the case). Thus, I need to carefully manage what information was found and where, so that my mentors (Dr. Mark Uhen and Carlos Peredo) can look over the data later.

This week, I found out that the area in Oregon near the California border used to have warmer water than it does now. This isn’t exactly crazy shocking information, but it does have interesting implications about what today’s very cold North Pacific current was like during the Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago).