Tuesday, April 21, 2015

We've found a new kind of Devonian fish

We cataloged our eighth fossil site today. The sites are producing some things we expected. But some are producing more interesting things, fossils we haven't seen before in this type of exposure.

We've found a new kind of Devonian fish

We walk miles each day in search of fossil fragments weathering from rock outcrops. When we find some, we try and discover the layers that might contain more, better-preserved fossils. This small excavation helps us identify when further effort is warranted. (Photo by Ted Daeschler)
We walk miles each day in search of fossil fragments weathering from rock outcrops. When we find some, we try and discover the layers that might contain more, better-preserved fossils. This small excavation helps us identify when further effort is warranted. (Photo by Ted Daeschler)

It’s terrific weather here, startlingly warm -- in the 50- to 60-degree range. More importantly, it’s clear and sunny. Hard to sleep because the sun is shining all night long, even though we have blinders to put on.  I’m a little tired. The sun hasn’t gone down since I’ve been here, and it won’t go down the whole time I’m here.

I did some calculations with the GPS, and we’re 700 miles above the Arctic Circle and 900 miles from the North Pole, so we’re about halfway between the circle and the pole. We’re so far north that the sun doesn’t go down for months.

The landscape is rocky, and when I get up high I get great views of the sea. There is pack ice in some places and open water in others. That is appropriate for July. People back home ask about global warming, but we cannot be the judge of that. When we come to the Arctic from year to year, we do not go to the same place. We go to different locations, so we can’t compare the amount of ice and water from year to year.

Our established base is in the middle of a lot of rock exposures. We are walking 8 to 10 miles a day. It’s a lot of work. Lots of distance to cover. But so far so good.

We cataloged our eighth fossil site today. The sites are producing some things we expected. But some are producing more interesting things, fossils we haven’t seen before in this type of exposure. We’ve found a new kind of Devonian fish called Onychodontid.

This is an extinct, bony, lobe-finned fish that lived around 395 to 375 million years ago. It had sharp teeth and a distinctive pair of large retractable teeth in the front of the lower jaw. Clearly a predator. Some scattered fossils were found in North America in the mid-19th century and also in Australia, England, Norway and Germany. So this type of fish had a widespread range. But this is the first time we’re finding it up here.

Finding ancient fish fossils like this tells us something about what the ecosystem and the environment was like a long time ago. This gives us a clearer picture about how fish were evolving and the evolution of life in general.

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