The helicopter descended into our remote camp on Tuesday morning as scheduled. Within two hours the four of us and our gear were standing on a makeshift landing strip of limestone rubble to the south. The helicopter departed for its next destination 200 miles northeast, and the four of us stood in the flat empty landscape waiting for the drone of a Twin Otter plane.
With time on our hands we skipped stones on a shallow pond surrounded by a muddy fringe where the clear tracks of a polar bear made us look around with a bit more care. The Twin Otter arrived and we loaded up and lifted off Devon Island by about 1 p.m. Within an hour we were back at the Polar Shelf research base at Resolute, unaccustomed to the buzz of activity and people. Quite a contrast to the last couple of weeks.
As we departed our field camp we flew over some of the same areas that we had examined in detail during our explorations. Though the view from above was a useful geological perspective, our search for fossils requires that we “get our nose to the rock,” a task that requires a lot of hard work. The sore arms and legs from many miles of rugged walking and splitting rock seems an appropriate sensation, as one of the goals of our research is to understand more about the evolutionary origins of these appendages from evidence in the very rocks we were exploring.
What did we learn from this trip? The area we explored was a geographic “hole” in our coverage of the Devonian rocks in the area. During the previous field trips we have found some interesting fossils. This year’s work will help us place those finds, and new ones, in a more complete picture of the ancient geographic and environmental settings. The fossils from this year’s work, and some found previously, will require work in the lab to identify, compare and document them. The scientific process is slow and steady with some newsy bits, but more often lots of little pieces that add up to significant new knowledge.
Our flights south leave Thursday morning and if all goes well I’ll be in Pennsylvania for dinner on Friday. I’m looking forward to getting home (despite the heat I’m hearing about), being with family, checking out some Phillies games, and even getting back to work at the Academy. I'm also looking forward to our samples from this year's work arriving in our lab at the Academy and the next step of the work beginning.