I got back into Pennsylvania on Friday afternoon, and in checking my GPS unit I could see that we had moved 2,512 miles from our camp on Devon Island. The GPS indicated that the bearing that I could follow to get back to that camp was 353 degrees, almost due north! What a difference those 2,512 miles makes - from a barren, unexplored corner of a huge uninhabited island, to the well-engineered and comfortable surroundings of home. I'm glad that I have the opportunity to experience both.
Personally, I must say that it is a true privilege to camp, walk, and explore in a place as pristine as Devon Island. Why am I so lucky as to have the opportunity to do so? I guess I made a good career choice. The austere conditions may not be for everyone; the barren landscapes of rock, tundra, ice and water may seem boring; the isolation might sound frightening; but all of those things are rare in today's world and represent a challenge that is easy to embrace and cherish.
Professionally, I know that this kind of exploratory work rewards patience and perseverance. The significance of our discoveries will come with time, thorough our work, or the work of others.
The 2011 expedition is one of the final pieces in a project that included seven trips to the far north in search of Devonian fossils from a group of rock formations formed in rivers and deltas 380 to 370 million years ago. The sum of the work we've done informs questions about the evolution and diversity of life in those ecosystems including the forms that were developing rudimentary limbs.
We have also learned about the ancient environments that nurtured that life, and the geographic layout of that part of the world (very different than today). No doubt other questions can be answered as well - the collections we've made will remain long after our interests have moved on.
I owe thanks to a great team in the field, to the Academy of Natural Sciences and those that support the museum through membership and contributions, to Neil Shubin and his support from the University of Chicago, and to Carolyn Belardo for writing blog entries based on our satellite phone conversations while I was in the field.
MORE PHOTOS: To view a slide show of photos from the recent expedition, click here.
WATCH DAESCHLER UNPACK SPECIMENS: The Academy of Natural Sciences has a Science Live station on the first floor where scientists do some of their daily work in the public area for museum visitors to watch and ask questions. Ted Daeschler will be unpacking and organizing fossil specimens from this year's expedition on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 1 to 3 p.m., and Tuesday, Aug. 16, 1 to 3 p.m.