Found 39,412 Resources containing: Terrestrial
The golden morning light still casts long shadows on the badlands when we arrive at the drill site at 6:30 on July 14. The rig’s motor is burbling and rumbling in the quiet morning. The driller, Ben, and his assistant, Cody, are moving quickly and surely as they prepare to lower the drill bit onto the big blue X where I marked the spot for the first core. Since we first began planning to drill these cores, I have thought about this moment with a combination of dread and excitement. Dread because I have never been involved in coring before and am completely reliant on the expertise of the drilling team—a far cry from the low-tech activity of my yearly fossil collecting. Excitement because we are about to take samples of rocks from hundreds of feet underground, unweathered rocks that may preserve chemical and microscopic fossils we have never before detected.
Doug and Anders call out to me: “Do you want to come see the ground-breaking?” I’m over to the rig like a shot. Ben moves some controls on the drilling rig, the pipe starts to rotate, then advances, then begins to cut through the surface dirt and pebbles. Ben drills down about five feet in just a few moments, halts, then pulls the core catcher and liner back to the surface. He swings the section of pipe containing the core out onto a sawhorse-like contraption, where Cody extracts the clear Lexan liner. It contains our first section of core—mostly just near-surface dirt of no scientific interest—but this is just the start. Over the next hours Ben and Cody repeat the process over and over again: drilling down about five feet at a time, then halting, dropping the overshot down the inside of the drill pipe so that it latches onto the assembly that contains the liner and the core, then pulling this assembly to the surface and removing the cylinder of rock in its liner. At first it seems so slow, but then I remember that we on the science team have a lot to do!
With each core section we have to find out from Ben how far down he has drilled, which he reports to us in feet and tenths of feet. (American drillers work in American units!) Cody hands over the latest section of core in its liner, and one of us picks up the 25-pound tube of rock and takes it back to the worktable we have set up, where we label the liner with a Sharpie, mark the “up” direction, cut the liner to fit the core section precisely, cap the ends of the liner (red for bottom, blue for top), tape the caps on, measure the length of the core section (in centimeters since we are scientists), weigh it, record a brief description of the type of rock we see through the liner, then drill holes through the plastic liner to drain the water we have used to lubricate the drilling. Then we have to clean the sediment off of the core catcher and return it to Cody. I know we must look ridiculous as we rush around, getting in one another’s way, perhaps like inexperienced wait-staff in a very busy restaurant. Within 20 minutes the cores are coming out of the hole faster than we greenhorns can deal with them, and Anders and Doug have to provide reinforcements and steadying words. Fortunately it doesn’t go at this pace all day. The deeper the hole gets, the longer it takes to retrieve each segment, so we have slightly longer periods during which to process each core.
The day heats up in its customary way, breaking 100 by 2 p.m. But we are used to the heat. We do experience problems, though. Sometimes Ben will drill down five feet, but recover only three feet of core in the liner. His expression lets me know he doesn’t like this. Perhaps the last two feet of core he drilled are still at the bottom of the hole? He sends the drill back down and drills another two feet, but comes up with four feet of core—the bottom two feet from the previous run, plus two feet from this run. But it isn’t always this simple—sometimes even after several runs we still haven’t recovered quite as much core as the length we drilled down. And the situation is made more confusing because we are constantly converting back and forth between metric and American measuring units. And it is 100 degrees. And we have now been working as fast as we can for eight hours. And we still have four hours to go. Finally I realize that I need to pause long enough to get a good drink of water—I’m inured to the heat, but I’m not used to the frantic pace and I have forgotten the first rule of badlands work, which is to stay hydrated.
Image by Scott Wing. Ben Goody, left, and Cody Halliday coring. They used the poultry and livestock bedding to keep drilling water from escaping into the porous sand. (original image)
Image by Scott Wing. The products of our first day of coring. Drying in the hot Wyoming sun are segments of cores in their Lexan liners. (original image)
Image by Scott Wing. A detailed view of the bottom of a segment of core. (original image)
As the heat of the day passes and the light lengthens again, we realize that we have finally established a rhythm of work. Each of us has a “specialty,” we stay out of one another’s way, and we get the cores processed about as fast as Ben and Cody are producing them. The work may be repetitive, and there isn’t the possibility of the dramatic fossil find that I get with my normal collecting, but there is a huge satisfaction in seeing the growing pile of Lexan tubes, each containing a core section. By the end of our shift, at 7 in the evening, we are down well over 100 feet, more than a quarter of our target depth. Ben and Cody are replaced by A.J. and Brandon, the night-shift drillers. Elizabeth, Aaron and Brady arrive to take over for the evening science shift. Anders is pulling a superhuman double shift—he has been here all day and will continue until 7 a.m. tomorrow. Doug and Guy and Allie and Johan and I are almost reluctant to leave—we have this process down now, and feel pretty good about the system we have refined. But it doesn’t take long for us to convince ourselves it is time for dinner and bed.
We have had a long day, recovered a lot of core and are confident that every section is properly labeled, oriented, described and measured. Even more important, we have seen rocks that have a lovely dark brown color, indicating they preserve a lot of organic material, material that may include the chemical fossils we are looking for. But we will have to wait for the lab analyses later this year to know for sure.
Back in Greybull, we have a quick, late dinner at Lisa’s Restaurant, and then head to bed. We will be up at 6 in order to get breakfast and be ready to relieve the night shift at 6:45 tomorrow morning.
Over the next three days our crew drills two holes, each 450 feet deep, and recovers essentially 100 percent of the rocks that we have drilled through. These are the first cores ever obtained of a terrestrial environment during the PETM. We have cored the same time interval at two sites quite close together so that we can increase the amount of rock from each stratigraphic level. We want a large volume of samples because we don’t know what the concentration of molecular fossils will be, and because we want to be able to preserve part of the cores as an archive that future scientists can work on. Who knows if there will ever again be funding to undertake this sort of coring operation. It has taken a total of four days of 24-hour work, and we are proud of our efforts and a little giddy with exhaustion.
And what does one do with 900 feet of core, divided into about 200 segments and weighing thousands of pounds altogether? No problem, apparently, because Tom Churchill arrives shortly after we are done, having driven the two hours from Powell in his barley truck. We all load the cores in the back, and Tom heads back to Powell where the cores will be unloaded into his shed and stored on racks built for beehives. Once again, it’s the Churchills to the rescue of the paleontologists.
Scott Wing is a research scientist and curator in the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Paleobiology.
Jack Ives has met His Holiness John Paul II and has been ambushed by bandits. He has dined with the king and queen of Thailand and been followed by the Chinese secret police—all in the name of mountain research.
Fueled by a boyhood love for mountains, Ives embarked on an academic career in geography beginning in the 1960s, which launched him onto the world stage in a political struggle over how these habitats and their inhabitants are perceived. In time, he became a pivotal force in bringing to the world's attention the importance of mountainous regions to an environmentally sustainable future.
Today, much of the conversation about climate change and sustainable development tends to focus on polar ice and the rainforests, and mountains still don't receive the full attention they deserve, Ives says. In his recent book, Sustainable Mountain Development: Getting the Facts Right, he details his efforts to include mountain regions in environmental legislation before and after the pivotal 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Here is why Ives thinks it is imperative that elevated regions remain in the picture for sustainability, and what he hopes for the future of mountain development:
Who or what inspired you to sit down and write this book?
It was really a conviction. I’m referring to colleagues of long standing … but also world leaders that I had the privilege of meeting. I felt that bringing that all together in the context of what was really a major political and research effort should be on the record.
Of the many anecdotes that you share in the book, which one best illuminates the joys or challenges of developing a mountain agenda?
I did my undergraduate work in England, and my dream was to organize expeditions to Arctic mountain areas. The place I chose was Iceland, and this led me to living on a rather poor sheep farm for quite long periods of time and getting to know the people and especially the farmer. I learned from him that my clever university learning could nowhere near match his understanding of the ecology of the surrounding environment on which he depended. Years later, ... [my colleagues and I] had a growing feeling that we have so much to learn from these wonderful mountain people who have been very much abused. They’re not ignorant. There is an enormous amount of ethological and environmental knowledge—and the experience of surviving in difficult environments—which is now coming into the main flow of knowledge.
In light of that, what is important for people to understand about the mountains and how they fit into the larger conversation about the environment?
We refer to the mountains as water towers of the world. Most of the major rivers of the world are supplied from heavy rainfall in the mountains and melting snow. If you mess up the mountain environment, you are going to impact the plains. Twenty percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is mountainous, and the mountains provide the living means for about 10 percent of the human population. If mountains are badly handled, as in many places they are, then the impact is far greater than just on that part of the world that is mountainous, because the downstream effects are properly going to be more serious than the effects in the mountains themselves.
You say that the students of this first group of mountain academics, and their students, are now “guardians of the mountains.” What is their task?
I would need to write a book on that question. Each country tends to have different problems, but creating awareness and giving credibility to the intelligence and determination of the mountain people themselves—I think this is the thing that we’ve helped lay the foundation for. There is an enormous increase in awareness, and the students that have worked with me are themselves teaching courses in mountain geography. When I was teaching in Boulder, Colorado, up until 1989, I don’t think there were more than three courses in mountain geography per se in the whole of North America. In my old-age wisdom, I have to realize that you don’t change the world in a few years. I just hope that we can change it sufficiently more before dreadful things like climate change and terrorism catch up with us.
What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?
This broad experience of finding a group of friends from all over the world. There’s been an international partnership of all shapes and colors, and we have developed this kind of community spirit, and I think this has been the great personal experience of my life.
I have to ask—what is the most beautiful place you have visited, with regard to the mountains?
Well, that is difficult to answer. We had our 60th wedding anniversary in Switzerland last year in the Emmental—that’s a farming community between the capital city of Bern and the Swiss Alps—where the buildings are 300-year-old farmhouses surrounded by flowers. That’s where I had my sabbatical year in 1976-77, and basically it was from that sabbatical year that what we’ve been talking about grew. I love mountain landscapes, but the real beauty is where you have this incredible mix of careful maintenance of landscape within a mountain setting. That to me is beauty—with the people included.
As Christmas approaches, young eyes will be focused on the sky searching for a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer—or are they caribou? The differences between the two are mostly taxonomic—both are subspecies of Rangifer tarandus, but Jim Dau of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game is quite familiar with the subtleties of the antlered cousins.
Dau studies the Western Arctic caribou herd, among the largest in the world at 300,000 strong, that ranges over an area about 143,000 square miles in northwestern Alaska. While those figures might sound impressive, the caribou population has been steadily declining since 2003, when the herd peaked at nearly half a million. The decline is a source of concern for biologists studying the trend’s effects on the food chain, as well as for the more than 40 native villages that rely on the animals for food and as a cultural centerpiece.
The herd’s calving grounds are located within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, also home to North America’s largest coal deposit. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the NPR-A, is in the last stages of finalizing the NPR-A’s new management plan—a document that will be instrumental in dictating the future of the Western Arctic caribou and to what degree energy development might infringe on the caribou’s turf.
Dau has spent the last 25 years living in remote Arctic villages in order to study the regal beasts.
Aside from the fact that caribou aren’t employed to haul Santa’s sleigh, what’s the difference between reindeer and caribou?
In North America, reindeer can be privately owned while caribou are wild animals that are public resources.
There are also biological differences between North American reindeer, which were transplanted to northwestern Alaska from Europe beginning in the late 1800s, and caribou. For example, the whole annual cycle of reindeer is one month ahead of that for northern Alaska caribou—for example they rut a month earlier and give birth a month earlier.
As well, there are physical and behavioral differences between them. Caribou tend to be taller and rangier than reindeer; as a result, caribou can run much faster than reindeer. Female reindeer tend to be heavier with larger and more fully developed antlers than adult cow [female] caribou. For bulls, these differences are reversed. Although most reindeer are colored similarly to caribou, reindeer are occasionally white or spotted while the pelage of caribou rarely varies. Caribou are generally much less trusting of man than reindeer, although the latter quickly become increasingly wild when untended by herders.
The Western Arctic Caribou herd’s annual migration may not be as famous as the reindeers’ mythical trip on Christmas Eve, but it’s amazing in its own right.
During the fall migration caribou are often spread throughout most of their range. For the Western Arctic Caribou Herd this encompasses about 143,000 square miles. An individual caribou from this herd may migrate 300 to 500 straight-line miles from the beginning to the end of its migration. Of course, caribou don’t move in straight lines, for more than several seconds anyway, and an individual may travel several times that distance during the course of a migration as it searches for food, evades predators and seeks out other caribou.
In two different years, during the height of the fall migration, I’ve watched as the entire herd stopped. Not for four or six hours but for two to three weeks. Then, within a several-day period, they resumed the fall migration. They must have keyed off some large stimuli, such as weather. But I don’t think it was just that because their halt and resumption of travel were so synchronous. It seemed like caribou that were separated by tens of miles and large geographic features, such as mountains, were somehow aware of each other’s movements. I don’t know how they could do that, but I suspect we grossly underestimate the sensory capabilities of caribou.
Rut happens during the fall migration, which is really an exciting time. Group sizes tend to get a little bigger during rut, and bulls become totally obnoxious chasing cows, other bulls; they pose to show off their antlers and grunt continually. It’s the only time of year that bulls vocalize.
In the spring, pregnant cows start migrating north about three weeks ahead of the bulls, and it’s pretty much a steady plod with these big long lines written out in the snow. It’s just beautiful to see these almost serpentine trails weaving out over the hills and mountains.
The Western Arctic Herd is the largest in the United States—aside from bragging rights, what’s the significance?
The herd’s ecological importance is incredible. It affects the entire food chain, all the way from bacteria to the biggest predators, such as wolves and brown bears. They affect the vegetation not just by what they remove with their lips by but trampling. They not only remove nutrients and energy from the environment, but contribute back towards the whole cycle with their feces and urine. They shed antlers and eventually their bodies and skeletons after death.
They’re also incredibly important to people. The Inupiaq people have subsisted on marine mammals and terrestrial mammals, like caribou, for thousands and thousands of years, but it’s more than just a source of protein for them. Caribou are really central to their cultural identities and many of their customs, such as the development of extensive social networks for sharing subsistence food that go along with hunting and using caribou.
They’re also incredibly important to the commercial operators who transport hunters, hikers or floaters, the people who come up here from the Lower 48. Regardless of where people live or why they visit remote portions of Alaska, an opportunity to see thousands or even tens of thousands of caribou in a one to two week period is truly memorable.
What’s to blame for the herd’s declining numbers?
I’ve lived here and been a biologist for 25 years; I fly up to 600 hours a year looking at caribou and I talk to literally hundreds and hundreds of people, asking them the same question you just asked me. I don’t have any hard data to tell you.
Here is what I think is going on. In the last six, eight, ten years, we’ve had more rain on snow events than we used to. We’ve had more moisture fall, and it’s created icing conditions that seal the food. There’s food down there, but either the caribou can’t get to it, or when they finally do get to it, they’ve expended more energy getting there than they get out of it. I think that is what tipped the balance and started this herd going down.
I can also tell you I’ve seen more wolves in the last three to five years than I ever have, and brown bear numbers seem to be going up. That’s what virtually every villager I talk to tells me as well.
If caribou numbers continue to decline, how will this look from a biological perspective?
The decline of this herd will have a ripple effect that will be felt by virtually all animals, species and all the people that use them. Some years some villages have had a really tough time getting caribou. They don’t sit at home waiting for caribou, they a take moose instead. So there’s a shift by people towards other animals they can eat. Predators are the same way.
These oscillations are absolutely natural. Part of me wonders if it may be necessary for caribou habitat to be able to enjoy periods of time when caribou numbers are low so that they can kind of rejuvenate too.
After three decades studying the Western Arctic herd what keeps you interested?
You hear this in all walks of life—the more you know the more you realize you don’t know—especially now when there are so many more tools available to analyze data.
But, what really keeps me most interested isn’t in the office. It’s out in the weeds; it’s out in the country. What floats my boat is to be out looking at the land, looking at the caribou and all the other animals that share that country with them.
You might think that the tendency to hide while mating is distinctly human—but actually, frogs can get a little shy too. While most frog species mate and lay their eggs in busy pools of water, others see the perks in getting away from prying eyes. Newly published research by Rayna Bell, Smithsonian's new Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the National Museum of Natural History, suggests that biologists were all wrong about why those frogs seek privacy.
The conventional wisdom was that frogs that lay their eggs in odd places are just trying to evade predators. But according to Bell, this reproductive strategy is mostly about evading sexual competitors.
“What you will see is the male holds on to the female. It's called amplexus,” says Bell. “They hang out like that for a while and the male is usually depositing sperm as she is depositing the eggs.” But in a pool full of other frogs, “what happens is you can have multiple males hanging on to each other's legs at the same time” in a competition to fertilize the same eggs (fertilization takes place externally).
Bell co-authored a recent paper, led by Kelly Zamudio of Cornell University, that analyzed the mating behaviors of many different species of frogs from two different taxonomic groups distributed around the world. The analysis grew, in part, from her experiences studying frog populations in Central Africa and Australia. The paper draws several new conclusions about evolutionary biology.
Breeding away from conventional pools of water is referred to as “terrestrial reproduction.” Some terrestrial breeders seek out tiny pools of water created at the centers of large plants. Others dig their own pools out of the ground. One species builds a mud hut, within which the male seals himself and his paramour with only a small hole for a frog face to poke out of while they mate.
By getting away from other frogs, the male can be sure that all of the eggs will be fertilized by his sperm. But why should the female go along with this. According to Bell, males of species that engage in terrestrial reproduction are more likely to help guard the eggs and young. “Obviously females benefit from males contributing to taking care of the offspring,” says Bell. “Males are more likely to do that if they feel good that they are the fathers.”
The females are also more likely to emerge unscathed from mating in terrestrial scenarios versus aquatic environments with a lot of other males around. “We find that in these big breeding situations it can get a little violent and crazy,” says Bell. “Some individuals can be harmed or killed in those scrambles. So she's losing energy and potentially getting smothered in a huge breeding mass.”
Bell's data and previous studies have found that frog species in tropical areas are more likely to be terrestrial breeders versus frogs outside of the tropics. While the study does not determine for certain why this is, she has a theory. “Because amphibian [eggs] don't have a hard shell,” Bell points out. “It's more humid in the tropics and you don't have to worry about them drying out. And there is a lot of diversity of [frog] species is in the tropics.”
Bell and her colleagues also found that males of terrestrial-breeding species tend to have smaller testes, which produce less sperm than those of non-terrestrial breeders.
It is possible that in long run it could be dangerous for a frog to depend on things like a particular plant to provide breeding structure. “There's kind of a basic assumption that the more specialized your needs are, the more susceptible you are to extinction,” says Bell. However, the scope of the study did not include investigating potential drawbacks to terrestrial breeding.
Bell comes to Smithsonian from Cornell University, where she received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She has conducted field work in places including Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Panama and Alaska.
“I did not grow up a frog lover,” says Bell. “But I took a herpetology class my junior year and that was also at the same time I started working in a lab that worked on reptiles and amphibians... The very first place where I did field work was Australia as an undergraduate student. That was the solidifying moment.”
Bell is looking forward to working with both the material and human resources available at Smithsonian. “The collection is insane!" she says. "In terms of depth and breadth of what's there. And the people for sure... The depth and breadth of expertise that's here. The types of questions that we are contributing to here. When we combine our expertise, it's amazing, the kind of work we can do jointly.”
As Smithsonian's new curator overseeing frogs, Bell will be focusing on a group of animals that is facing rapid extinctions around the world.
“I'm planning to mostly focus on working in Central Africa,” Bell says. “That's mostly because we're at this stage where we can't try to save things when we don't even know they exist in the first place. If you don't know what kind of habitat they need, you don't have any hope. [Central Africa] is a place where there is still high biodiversity and still time to make policy changes. That is going to be an important place to be.”
Image by Marcelo Kokubum. A nest of foam made by Physalaemus atlanticus. (original image)
Image by Harry Greene. A emale Leptodactylus podicipinus frog guards a school of tadpoles, which develop in the water. (original image)
Image by Marcelo Kokubum . Tadpoles of Adenomera sp. (aff. hylaedactyla) develop inside an underground chamber (opened for visualization) (original image)
Image by Daniel Loebmann . A femaleLeptodactylus latrans frog guards her egg clutch within a foam nest. (original image)
Image by Daniel Loebmann. A nest of Phyllomedusa nordestina, consisting of a folded leaf. (original image)
Image by Marcelo Kokubum . Aquatic foam nest of Scinax rizibilis (original image)
Image by Daniel Loebmann. A pair of Physalaemus cuvieri frogs make a foam nest on the water. (original image)
Image by Daniel Loebmann . Eggs of Trachycephalus mesophaeus frogs are deposited directly in water. (original image)
Image by Marcelo Kokubum . This egg mass of Dendropsophus berthaluzae hangs from a leaf. (original image)
Image by NASA / JPL-Caltech. This artist's conception shows a dim red dwarf surrounded by three planets. To hold life at their surface, red dwarf planets must orbit close to their star, putting them in the line of fire from dangerous flares. (original image)
Image by StockFinland / iStock. Not always your friend. (original image)
Image by Bettmann / Getty Images. Engraving of a woolly mammoth. (original image)