Fossilized Mollusks used to determine Cenozoic climate and elevation of the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau

Clumped isotope thermometry of modern and fossil snail shells from the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau: Implications for paleoclimate and Paleo-elevation reconstruction

Yang Wang, Benjamin Passey, Rupsa Roy, Tao Deng, Shijun Jiang, Chance Hannold, Xiaoming Wang, Eric Lochner, and Aradhna Tripati

Summarized by Brynn Crocker, pursuing a master’s in teaching at Binghamton University with a bachelors in Geology. 

What data were used: Both fossilized and modern aragonite mollusk shells were collected from seven different lakes within the Tibetan Plateau. The fossils collected from these sites were dated to be of Cenozoic age. Clumps of carbon 13 and oxygen 18 (isotopes of carbon and oxygen) were measured to determine paleo-temperatures. The formation of the Himalayan Mountains is thought to have had a large impact on the regional climate during the time. Mollusk fossils are great archives for determining paleoclimate.

Methods: This study used X-ray diffraction to determine the values of C13 and 18O bonds (clumps) within the shells. These clumps help determine paleo temperatures and elevations. Modern shells both alive and dead were collected from the lakes in the Tibetan Plateau. The fossil mollusks were collected from fine grained sandstone, indicating that they were not transported there but lived in the freshwater lakes. These shells were then analyzed to find their clump values, which were then compared to modern temperatures. Intact Cenozoic fossil shells were then collected and analyzed to find their clump values. Intact shells were used to avoid using shells that have gone through any diagenetic alteration (changes to the fossils through heat,  pressure, and chemistry). Shells that contain calcite indicate diagenesis. Trace amounts of calcite yield temperatures of an average ~10º C lower than those with no calcite from the same strata. Shells were cleaned using HCl (hydrochloric acid) solution and then rinsed with distilled water. Modern shells were soaked in 30% H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) to remove any organic matter. The isotope clump data was reduced using both the Henkes calibration and the Eagle calibration.

Black and white map showing the location of the study areas.
This figure shows the region of study and the basins within the area.


Results: After analyzing the 13C-18O clumps it was determined that southwest Tibet was warmer 4-5 Ma than today and paleo-elevation was similar to today. Using the Henkes calibration of temperatures calculated from the clump values, the temperature of the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau ranges from 1ºC to 17ºC, with a mean of 10ºC. Using Eagles calibration, the temperature values range from 8ºC to 21ºC, averaging 16ºC. The Henkes calibration is better used for freshwater shells. There were no former long term temperature records for the lakes within the Tibetan plateau. The difference in the modern shell clump values and the fossil clump values can be explained by a change in global climate. The temperature difference between fossil shells and modern shells, after adjusting for temperature change due to sampling elevation difference, is similar to the change in the global mean temperature since the Pliocene warm period. This result tells us that the elevation during the Cenozoic was similar to today. These findings have important implications for paleoclimate and paleo-elevation reconstructions using clumped isotope data from aragonite fossil shells.

Why is this study important? This study provides additional paleo-temperature data that can be used for future paleoclimate research. The affect that tectonic events have on our climate can be significant and the significance of the Himalayan Orogeny on the climate is still disputed. This study can provide more insight on the temperatures of the surrounding areas during that time. Understanding the paleoclimate of our planet can help us better understand how it will react to things in the future.

Chart with water oxygen 18 values on the y-axis and study sites on the x-axis.
This figure represents the calculated d18O values using the Henkes calibration vs the Eagles calibration vs the actual d18O values of the water from the lake sites. The error bars indicate 1 standard deviation.

Citation: Wang, Y., Passey, B., Roy, R., Deng, T., Jiang, S., Hannold, C., … & Tripati, A. (2021). Clumped isotope thermometry of modern and fossil snail shells from the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau: Implications for paleoclimate and paleoelevation reconstructions. GSA Bulletin133(7-8), 1370-1380.

Anoxic Conditions in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Predicted to Increase as Climate Change Continues

Climate change projected to exacerbate impacts of coastal eutrophication in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Arnaud Laurent, Katja Fennel, Dong S. Ko, John Lehrter

Summarized by Kristina Welsh, who is currently a junior at Binghamton University pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Natural Resources and a minor in GIS. Kristina hopes to pursue a job involving field work and travel opportunities. In her free time, Kristina enjoys camping, biking, and hanging out with her dog, Bailey.

What data were used: This study uses data from past published articles to compare present and future conditions intheGulf of Mexico. A present condition model was created using data from the Intra-Americas SeaNowcast-Forecast System. The future model was constructed using data from MPI-ESMRPC 8.5.

Methods: This study uses two 6-year physical-biogeochemical model simulations from the Regional Ocean Modeling System to represent present and future conditions in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Initial and open boundary conditions, river discharge, atmospheric temperature and pCO2 (atmospheric carbon dioxide) were variable in both models; all other factors were kept constant. The present simulation, which covers the period of 2005-2010, uses data from the Intra-Americas Sea Nowcast-Forecast System. The future simulation represents a 6-year period at the end of the century. The future model parameters were set with a 10% increased discharge from the Mississippi River, an air temperature increase of 3 ºC, and an atmospheric pCO2 increase to 935.85 µatm. Although conditions of river nutrient load were kept the same, the increased river discharge in the future model will dilute nutrient concentration results.

Four models (present on left, future on right) that show modeling results.
This figure illustrates the pH decrease in bottom waters that is predicted to occur in the future simulation. The bottom row shows how oxygen concentrations are expected to decrease.

Results: The future models predict a summer surface and bottom water temperature increase by 2.69ºCand 2.23ºC, respectively. The salinity of surface waters decreases by 0.48 due to an increase in freshwater river discharge in the model. As salinity in bottom waters is controlled by the saltier offshore water, only a decrease of 0.02 was observed. The reduced density of the warmer and fresher water lead to an increased stratification in summers by +12.35 J m^-3. These warmer waters cause lower oxygen saturation levels and thus lower oxygen concentrations, with summer surface oxygen concentrations 3.4% lower than the present average. The decrease in surface water oxygen saturation leads to a 9.4% decrease in oxygen concentrations in bottom waters. 60-74% of the decrease in oxygen concentration is a result of saturation-dependent effects, while the other 26-40% is a result of changes in biological rates and stratification. Lower oxygen concentrations in the Gulf of Mexico leads to an increase in extent and duration of future hypoxia conditions. Hypoxic areas increase by 26% and volume increases by 39%, resulting in more frequent anoxic surface and bottom waters. The future model increased surface pCO2 and alkalinity, causing a decrease in bottom water pH range of 0.37-7.58, with large spatial and temporal variability. Hypoxic waters in the Gulf predict an average pH 7.39. Present and future conditions vary year to year due to different along shore wind directions, upwelling, and river discharge, but overall follow the same trend.

Why is this study important? This study implies how human-induced climate change will exacerbate hypoxic conditions and eutrophication-driven acidification in the northern Gulf of Mexico by the end of the century. Future hypoxic conditions will create growth and reproductive impairment to many sensitive species living in the Gulf. Changes in atmospheric CO2 can influence ocean pH and air temperatures, producing other negative effects on water chemistry, and plant, and animal life, creating a positive feedback system that will exacerbate these changes. 

The big picture: This study adds to our understanding of the risks of climate change. As this model interprets the impacts of climate change on nature and human sustainability, we can visibly see how the Earth’s oceans will change globally as well as locally. This article gives us evidence as to why we need to take action now so these changes do not occur.

Citation: Laurent, A., Fennel, K., Ko, D. S., & Lehrter, J. (2018). Climate change projected to exacerbate impacts of coastal eutrophication in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 123(5), 3408–3426.

Nora Fried, Physical Oceanographer

Hi everyone!

Picture 1: Poster presentation at Ocean Sciences in San Diego 2020
Image credits: Femke de Jong

My name is Nora Fried and I’m a third year PhD student at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. I did my Bachelor “Physics of the Earth System” and my Master “Climate Physics: Meteorology and Physical Oceanography” at GEOMAR in Germany. This was also where I joined my first research cruises. My highlight so far was probably the chance to join the PAMARCMIP campaign to northern Greenland in 2018 during the last year of my Masters. An experience I will never forget.

I think my journey starts at the age of 10 when I joined a science project in primary school. I’m still grateful for my teachers during all those years in high school who supported my way into science and helped me getting prepared for university. At the end of my Bachelor I got the chance to join a research cruise on the RV Meteor to the tropics and a year later one on the RV Maria S. Merian to the subpolar North Atlantic. I remember that after this cruise my best friend said: “Do you remember that this has always been your dream to join an expedition on a boat and to see ice bergs?”. I’m glad she made me remember that by that time I had already reached one of my biggest dreams.

So, after years of studying I am very proud to call myself a physical oceanographer. I’m glad that I found a PhD project that suits me so well and gives me the opportunity to join cruises on a regular basis. Cruises are still one of my favorite parts in science. Most of my colleagues think that I work with models because I’m sitting in front of a computer most of the time. But as a sea going oceanographer I mostly work with observational data. 

Nora working on a research vessel
Picture 2: CTD work on board RV Pelagia in summer 2020
Image credit: Elodie Duyck

For my PhD project I’m studying a current in the North Atlantic which is a continuation of the warm and saline Gulf Stream. Observations in the ocean are still rare which makes a time series in remote places like the subpolar North Atlantic very valuable. Currents in the ocean are important for all of us as they impact the weather and climate. We use so-called ‘moorings’. They look like a necklace hanging upright in the water column with instruments attached to it, measuring temperature, salinity and velocity. With those observations we hope to get more insight into how the current is changing over time, and whether changes are an effect of climate variability or if they can be linked to climate change.

The pandemic made me realize that there are so many things more important than work. Friends and family who we as scientists don’t really see very often as we change location often in our career. I’m glad that I now have opportunity again to follow my hobbies: Singing and wheel gymnastics (or Rhönrad). During lockdown I went for long walks which helped my head calm down after a day of work.

Nora working on a research vessel in yellow rain gear and an orange helmet
Picture 3: Cleaning instruments after recovery on board RV Pelagia 2020
Image credit: Elodie Duyck

My advice for the new generation in science is: Ask for help. Science is a tough environment and I wish it would be less competitive. So, I encourage everyone to ask for help when they are stuck. Being stuck is normal in science and asking for help should become more normal, too. And to make clear what I mean with being stuck. I’m talking about being stuck science wise when you need someone to bring a new perspective into your work. But not less important I’m talking about being mentally stuck. Work-Life-Balance in science is hard as we all feel emotionally involved in our work. Ask for help early enough, science is not the only thing life has to offer.

Follow Nora’s updates by following her @fried_nora or

Colonization and Sea Level Rise Effects on Carbon Storage in Freshwater Wetlands of Southeastern United States

The Impact of Late Holocene Land Use Change, Climate Variability, and Sea
Level Rise on Carbon Storage in Tidal Freshwater Wetlands on the Southeastern United States Coastal Plain

Miriam C. Jones, Christopher E. Bernhardt, Ken W. Krauss, Gregory B. Noe

Summarized by James Myers who is a graduate student at Binghamton University earning his masters in teaching for earth science. As an undergraduate he majored in environmental
chemistry. Not long after he decided he wanted to become an educator and work towards
creating the next generation of environmental scientists. In his downtime he enjoys playing
guitar, camping, and watching hockey.

What data were used: Sediment cores were collected along the Waccamaw River in South Carolina and the Savannah River in Georgia. The sites were chosen because they have similar landscapes, ranging from freshwater, to moderate salinity, and oligohaline marsh. Four piston core samples were taken from the Waccamaw River, one that was found in freshwater, one in moderately salt-impacted water, and two from the Sampit River, one from a heavily salt-impacted area and one from an oligohaline marsh. Four other cores were collected along the Savannah River using a peat corer. These core sites were also from freshwater, moderately salinated, highly salinated, and an oligohaline marsh.

Three maps of the Savannah river, Waccamaw River, and an inset map showing the location of both rivers along the southeastern United States.
Maps designating the locations of the sites sampled. The sites are roughly 150 km away from each other, along the southeastern coastline of the United States. The Savannah River sites are found further upstream compared to the Waccamaw River sites. The cores at both locations were assigned numbers from one to four. The lower numbers are further upstream and are lower in salinity.

Methods: The cores were dated using radiocarbon analysis on macrofossils and bulk sediment which helped determine which samples were from the colonial era. Time scales were reported with calibrated years before present from 1950. Core compression was apparent within the samples, and bulk density (weight of sediment in a given volume) and accretion rates (how fast sediment accumulates) were adjusted to account for this. Carbon content was calculated using the loss on ignition method. Carbon accumulation rates were calculated by multiplying the percent carbon by the bulk density and accretion rate determined from an age-depth model. Pollen analyses were run to understand which plant species lived at these sites over time, as this method revealed what the environment must have been like if certain plants and trees were able to survive.

Results: The core samples from the Waccamaw river dated between the last 1,100-4,200 years. The oldest sample was the heavily salt-impacted site, which began as a back swamp environment, where fine silts and clays settle after flooding which create a marsh-like landscape. This was determined from the presence of Nyssa, Taxodium, and Poaceae pollen. The accumulation rates are low, but still higher than the freshwater sites. Upper freshwater and oligohaline sites were also found to have been back swamps due to the presence of Alnus in the freshwater core, and Liriodendron tulipifera seeds found at the oligohaline marsh site, as well as Nyssa, Taxodium and Alnus pollen found at both sites. The accretion and accumulation rates are similar to the heavily salt-impacted site. Freshwater environments are characterized by low accretion and carbon accumulation. Higher accretion and carbon accumulation rates are found around 1700-1400 calibrated years before present, and can be seen in the cores with a decrease in hardwoods and increasing Nyssa, Taxodium, and Liriodendron evidence. The largest observed changes happened around 400 years ago, the same time of colonization and the increase in agriculture within the regions. The changes are marked in the cores by large increases in accretion, organic matter, and carbon accumulation. Another indicator of this is the increase of Poaceae, while evidence of Nyssa, hardwoods, and Taxodium diminish. Poaceae pollen and the presence of Scirpus and Carex seeds suggests a change to oligohaline marsh in relation to the increase of land use in the area. Reforestation efforts over the last 100 years show a decrease in accretion and carbon accumulation in all sites. The Savannah River cores were found to be roughly five to six thousand years old. The results from the cores along the Savannah River were found to be very similar to those from the Waccamaw River.
The study revealed that the same zones were also back swamps and that the freshwater core showed low accretion and carbon accumulation. The presence of Alnus designated this back swamp environment. Around 2,000 calibrated years before present, the sites show various changes in biota, but very little change in accretion and carbon accumulation rates. The largest change in the Savannah samples are found around 400 years ago, as was seen in the Waccamaw cores. All sites showed a decline in Nyssa, and an
increase in Poaceae, and what the researchers call weedier taxa, such as Scirpus, Sagittaria, and Polyganum. Both the Savannah River and the Waccamaw River both show stark increases in carbon accumulation and accretion rates right at the start of when colonization and agriculture increased in these regions dramatically, as well as when sea-level rise began to increase during the Holocene. The lowest accretion rates were found further inland, which is tied to an expansion of the marsh. Reforestation efforts coincided with lowered accretion rates, which increased the vulnerability with a rise in sea level. The tidal freshwater forested wetlands are vulnerable to the smallest of salinity changes.
Why this study is important? Wetlands like the ones studied in this research, are important for coastal communities because they help mitigate flooding and support many organisms, as well as fisheries, which provide millions of dollars in commercial and environmental goods and services. Wetlands are also important carbon sinks and help control the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Sea level rise today will affect these ecosystems and the people living near them. The results of this research are important for understanding the future long-term resilience of these ecosystems and what measures will be best suited to support these environments.
The big picture: The paper looked at evidence within sediment cores to understand the changes in carbon accumulation and accretion within two southeastern United States rivers. Core evidence indicated that there were increases in accretion and carbon accumulation rates with the emergence of colonization and agriculture in the area. Reforestation efforts in the last 100 years showed a decrease in accretion. The findings were then compared to sea level rise data to show that these environments become more vulnerable with increased sea level rises over the last 200-100 years. This research will be helpful in understanding the effects sea level rise in the future will have on this environment and the surrounding communities.
Citation: Jones, M. C., Bernhardt, C. E., Krauss, K. W., & Noe, G. B. (2017). The impact of late Holocene land use change, climate variability, and sea level rise on carbon storage in tidal freshwater wetlands on the southeastern United States coastal plain. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 122(12), 3126–3141.

Neurodiverse Perspectives in Paleontology: An example of collaborative museum exhibit design and self-advocacy, crafted for and by neurodiverse people

Please welcome guest bloggers, Taormina (Tara) and Katrina Lepore. Tara, a paleontologist, writes about the work she and her sister did to develop an exhibit for neurodiverse folks at Katrina’s life skills workplace. 

My sister and I have always been different. What does ‘being different’ mean, in a big world with endless types of people? Sometimes, our differences are really apparent; other times, they’re much more subtle. Identifying as members of both the disabled and neurodiverse communities brings an awareness to how difference is ‘embodied’ in our societies. And, we think, the perspective that difference can bring makes for better science, and a better world all around. Disabled and neurodiverse people aren’t always under the spotlight in science, but my sister and I decided to work together and make our own museum space with the perspective and ingenuity of these communities.

We began this project in summer 2020, and collaborated with my sister, Katrina’s, life skills workplace, Communitas, Inc. in Woburn, Massachusetts. I’m also affiliated with the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) at UC Berkeley. Several of Katrina’s coworkers and colleagues participated in a hands-on paleontology day, with the opportunity to make plaster fossil molds, construct a model T. rex skeleton, and identify fossil trading cards with their definitions. The highlight of our paleontology day was the creation of a small fossil museum exhibit in a lobby jewelry case, where all visitors and employees could experience an exhibit crafted with neurodiverse perspectives. It was so fun and a valuable experience to work together on what works, and what doesn’t work, in museum exhibit design for disabled and/or neurodiverse people.

Some of the things we implemented included touchable fossil items, large print labels, and fossil organization by time period and by environment (ocean vs. land, etc.). We also created some augmented reality (AR) prompts where visitors could hold up their phone to a fossil in a specific app, Adobe Aero. The Aero app would recognize the fossil and pop up with a video narrating what the label said, as a way of providing accessibility to non-readers or non-verbal people. The exhibit designers shared that some of the things that are helpful at museums include touchable objects, quiet spaces to interact with exhibits, and more than one way of interacting — for example, videos plus text panels. Things that were challenging for the designers included loud and busy museum spaces, being unable to read or interact with the text panels, and the brightness of the overhead lights in some museum spaces. After the summer museum exhibit design project was completed, Katrina sat down for an interview on the design process and how her experience with museum paleontology felt.

A few online paleontology events also happened over the next year or so, and in summer 2021 we had another in-person paleontology day, focusing on touch tables and bringing museum topics to the same cohort of museum exhibit designers from summer 2020. We’re planning on presenting some of this collaborative work together at a symposium for community connections to natural history collections, this upcoming summer! It’s our hope that my sister and I can continue to learn about paleontology together, and inspire other life skills workplaces and museums to collaborate in including neurodiverse and disabled perspectives in exhibit design.

How global warming is changing the ecosystem in the Alps and Apennine Mountains

Assessment of climate change effects on mountain ecosystems through a cross-site analysis in the Alps and Apennines

Rogora M., Frate L., Carranza M.L., Freppaz M., Stanisci A., Bertani I., Bottarin R., Brambilla A., Canullo R., Carbognani M., Cerrato C., Chelli S., Cremonese E., Cutini M., DiMusciano M., Erschbamer B., Gogone D., Iocchi M., Isabellon M., Magnani A., Mazzola L., Morra di Cella U., Pauli H., Petey M., Petriccione B., Porro F., Psenner R., Rossetti G., Scotti A., Sommaruga R., Tappeiner U., Theurillat J.-P., Tomaselli M., Viglietti D., Viterbi R., Vittoz P., Winkler M., and Matteucci G.

Summarized by Agnes Wasielewski, who is an MAT Earth Science Graduate student at Binghamton University. She loves Geology so much that she decided to share her passion with middle and high school students by becoming a teacher. When she’s not studying Geology or the psychology of teenagers; she spends a lot of time with her husband, three children, and three dogs. When free time becomes available, she loves to read, hike, drink tea, and take naps with her dogs.

What data were used? Researchers collected data from twenty research sites across the Alps (Italy, Switzerland, and Austria) and Apennines Mountains (Italy). All sites were located between 1300 and 3212 meters above sea level. Fourteen sites are in forests, grasslands, alpine tundra, and snow-covered areas. Six sites are in lakes and rivers. All sites considered for the paper experienced an increase in air temperature over the past two decades (1991-2015) compared to a base period of 1961-1990. A combination of data analysis on already existing datasets, projects, and new collection of data to determine results.

Methods: Temperatures taken in June were used to determine snow melting rates, the timing of the beginning of the growing season, and timing of ice-break in lakes and rivers. To analyze regional snow cover duration, data loggers combined with thermistors (special resistors used  for temperature measurements) were placed at a soil depth of 10 cm and measured hourly. If the temperatures measured remained within a certain range, the day was considered a “snow cover day”. On days where the daily mean soil temperature dropped below and rose above 0 degrees Celsius, they were labeled as a freeze/thaw cycle. The snow melting date is identified by counting the days since October 1st to the start of the freeze/thaw cycle or melting period. Soil samples were collected in September at the end of the growing season and tests are run to determine water content, carbon content, and nitrate concentrations. 

Changes in vegetation cover were calculated by estimating the percentage of each plant species in permanent grids over time. These estimates are used as a proxy for above-ground biomass. Biomass is positive when vegetation cover increases and negative when cover decreases. 

Surface water samples for chemical analysis were obtained from lakes in late summer/early autumn. May to October is considered open water season, and water temperatures combined with chlorophyll-a concentrations and zooplankton abundance are recorded. Weather stations were used to collect average air temperatures. Biologic samples were analyzed from rivers at varying distances downriver of melting glaciers to correlate community composition and diversity.

Location of research sites where data was collected throughout the Alps and Apennine mountains in central and northern Italy, southern Switzerland, eastern and central Austria.
Location of research sites used for analysis within Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. Degree of temperature change from the baseline reflecting global warming.

Results: At lower altitudes (~1500 meters above sea level) and latitudes (Lat. 41 degrees N), there are shorter snow cover duration (less than 100 days/year) and snow starts to melt earlier in the year. At higher altitudes (~2800 meters above sea level) and latitudes (Lat. 46 degrees N), there are longer snow cover duration periods (~250 days) and snow starts to melt later in the year. Less snow-covered days allow for increased soil temperatures and more areas for plants to grow and thrive. When more plants can grow and thrive, there are more resources available to local wildlife such as the Alpine ibex (mountain goat) and helps support their population growth. Overall, increased air temperatures and soil temperatures showed a general tendency towards increased vegetation cover for treeline, subalpine, and alpine belts but not in the snow (nival) belts. Over the last fifteen years, it is noted that plant species have been migrating from lower elevations to higher elevations in a process called thermophilization.

An increase in nitrogen deposition has positive effects on tree growth and promotes carbon sequestration (the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide). However, reduction in rainfall can override the positive effects. In the forests tested, a significant increase in the growing season length and a general increase in the annual net carbon sequestration was detected.

During warm and dry years, alpine streams transport concentrated solutes into the lakes and in the runoff water. Over the past decade, there has been a common trend in decreasing nitrate concentrations. Nitrogen uptake in the lake catchments has increased due to the increase in primary productivity (algae and vegetation growth). There has an overall negative trend in NO3 concentration level in rivers and lakes due to decreasing Nitrogen deposition. 

Changes in water mineral and chemical concentrations also affect the diversity and population of algae and plankton that live and thrive in mountain lakes and streams.

Why is this study important? Climate warming effects, changes in rainfall seasonality, and water availability have proven to be important for ecosystem productivity. Snow cover duration affects soil carbon and nitrogen cycling and Alpine ibex population dynamics. Warming climate change has shown to lead to an increase in vegetation cover in grasslands and carbon uptake in forests which helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Climate drives changes in water chemistry, lake thermal dynamics and plankton phenology can inform us of the health of the water ecosystems. High-elevation ecosystems may also be affected by extreme climatic events such as heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, and floods. Both long-term and short-term (extreme) events can affect mountain ecosystems. Mountain ecosystems, if properly studied and monitored, can serve as early indicators of global changes.

The big picture: Global warming affects high mountain ecosystems by increases in temperature, early snowmelt, and a prolonged growing season. With ecosystem productivity, more plant growth helps reduce global climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In mountain ecosystems, carbon sequestration depends on both water availability (precipitation) and air temperature. The understanding of hydro-ecological relationships is essential for the development of effective conservation strategies for alpine rivers. Long-term observations on benthic communities help with the assessment of the potential impacts of global change on stream ecosystems. There is a great need for strong partnerships in mountain ecosystem observation and research for multidisciplinary approaches, encompassing the distinction between different types of ecosystems. There is great potential for further scientific advances that rely on international collaboration and integration.

Citation: Rogora, M., Frate, L., Carranza, M. L., Freppaz, M., Stanisci, A., Bertani, I., Bottarin, R., Brambilla, A., Canullo, R., Carbognani, M., Cerrato, C., Chelli, S., Cremonese, E., Cutini, M., Di Musciano, M., Erschbamer, B., Godone, D., Iocchi, M., Isabellon, M., … Matteucci, G. (2018). Assessment of climate change effects on mountain ecosystems through a cross-site analysis in the Alps and Apennines. The Science of the Total Environment624, 1429–1442.

Alyssa Anderson, Geologist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Alyssa Anderson, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida studying for a Geology and Environmental Policy B.S. I was born in New Jersey, but since Florida’s been my home since I was four years old, I consider myself more a Floridian. Outside of science, I enjoy world-building, writing, sewing, and reading. I think that’s part of why I enjoy geology so much, because I love creating worlds and making them geologically and scientifically accurate! But not completely, because I am a big fan of fantasy and fiction novels, so a little magic is fun, too. 

A white woman with short dark hair stands in front of a stream filled with large, flat rocks, smiling up at the camera. She is dressed for hiking and stands in the stream on a sunny day.
Figure 1: Hiking through the mountains in North Carolina, overjoyed at finding a stream filled with wonderful rocks.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My path as a scientist leads me towards geology and the environment. Some of my major interests are hydrology and oceanography, but I am also very interested in other roles such as GIS and policy work. I am also beginning an internship managing climate change and climate data in some Florida counties, which fits in with my goal of being an environmental scientist.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My favorite part about being a scientist is the discovery. I love learning and being able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned into real-world applications is gratifying. I could study most any science field and be as happy as a clam because there is always something new for me to discover. 

A group of students pose near some rocks, two girls and a guy. The girl in the middle is white with short dark hair. The field surrounding the rocks is wide and open, with mountains in the distance.
Figure 2: On a geology field trip with some Mineralogy and Petrology friends, near part of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I am the dashing figure in blue posing by the rocks.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? My work in my current internship will benefit the Florida county I am assisting with, as it strives to understand and manage climate change impacts. It also gets students and staff involved in their local environment and brainstorming ways on how to solve some of the major environmental issues of our generation, i.e., climate change. Plus, it encourages more students to get into science and policy and I believe having a science background in a policy related field is extremely important for more well-informed laws and regulations.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My advice for new scientists is this: spending some of your free time on hobbies you enjoy is a good thing. Sinking all of your effort and energy into studying without breaks will lead to burnouts and breakdowns. So, please, do take your time and don’t think that more work will lead to more results if you aren’t resting in between!

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 2021 Annual Meeting & their Paleobiology Database Workshop

Ibrahim here – 

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is an organization with a goal of advancing science in the field of vertebrate paleontology worldwide. It was founded in the United States in 1940 and consists of approximately 2,300 members internationally. Every year SVP arranges an annual meeting with vertebrate paleontologists, writers, students, artists, and fossil preparators to share the latest research techniques, opportunities, workshops and also includes a prize giving ceremony. 

In 2021 I was lucky enough and won the Tilly Edinger travel grant of the Time Scavengers to attend The 81th annual meeting of Society of vertebrate paleontology (SVP). In 2020 it was my dream to attend the SVP annual meeting and the next year my wish was fulfilled, for this I especially thank the Time Scavengers team for providing me this opportunity. 

Due to Covid-19 the SVP annual meet has been held on an online platform since 2020 otherwise it would have occurred physically. Consequently I attended the 2021 online meet and it was quite easy and comfortable to attend . The event was held from 1st to 5th November and the virtual platform website became available from 25th October. The virtual platform had a simplified page by which one can easily click and view and attend the meeting they want. The talks , Romer prize and posters were recorded and uploaded on that site. Only networking sessions were done live. From the recorded talks I listened to the talk of Albert Chen et al. about phylogenetics insights from the pectoral girdle and forelimb skeleton of crown birds.

The coffee break session was interesting. The Remo app worked like a virtual hall room where anyone can walk around and have a sit and can talk to each other. 

On November 1st I attended the Paleobiology Database Workshop on Zoom, it was guided by professional group leaders (Mark D. Uhen, Evan Vlachos, Matthew Carrano, Pat Holroyd). It was my first time to visualize data from a systematic database. I enjoyed it very much as they were very helpful to show how to use the data from the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). PBDB is an online resource that includes data on fossil occurrences all over the globe. It is a community resource that is added to daily by scientists from around the world. The most iconic of the PBDB website was the navigator, where fossil discoveries are represented by dots in map view. If someone wants to study the fossil record of a taxa over chronological order it is also possible to view and collect data. It can show the diversity plotted on the map overtime. 

More data can be accessible if someone is an approved user. Everyone in the workshop was an approved user. The benefit of an approved user is that one can add data on the website. “Taxonomic name search form” can help to find out necessary data about a taxa and from where you can download the whole database about the taxa in Microsoft Excel file. Another helpful feature of the PBBD is you can find images from a ePanda API system of your required data to retrieve images from the iDigBio system. 

As a student of Geology with a great attraction to vertebrate fauna (especially dinosaurs), I enjoyed the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting and would love to join an in person meeting in future if I get an opportunity.

Ohav Harris, Undergraduate Geology Student

Ohav sitting in gravel in a museum exhibit under a T. rex.
Me with Stan the Tyrannosaurus rex at my internship at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Outside of science I enjoy reading manga, collecting Pokémon cards, and playing video games.

Describe what you do. I am an undergraduate researcher. I recently finished a project which involved entering geographic information of echinoderms (animals like and including sea stars, sea lilies, sea cucumbers, etc.) into a database so that we could analyze their biogeographic patterns (how the animals moved through time and space) in the geologic record.

I have done class visits with groups of fourth graders as a part of the Scientists in Every Florida School program to teach them about geology.

Discuss your path into science. I used to want to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember, but on my 17th birthday, I visited the American Museum of Natural History and was smitten with their dinosaur exhibits! After leaving, I was unsure if I wanted to continue pursuing a career in law, so I did some basic research of how much I could expect to make as a paleontologist (to make sure I could still support myself and a family) and decided to commit to the switch. After that, I have been pursuing dinosaur paleontology as best I can!

A dinosaur skull in rock with the sclerotic ring highlighted in purple.
The sclerotic ring (highlighted in blue) is a bony structure found in the eye of some dinosaurs and all modern-day birds. I am very interested in studying what those rings did for dinosaur eyes and how they developed. (source:

Discuss other scientific interests. I’m very interested in birds and reptiles, specifically snakes. If I couldn’t study nonavian (non-bird) dinosaurs, I would study one of those groups of animals in the fossil record. I’ve also become quite attached to crinoids since starting my undergraduate degree, so they would be my invertebrate pick!

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Hopefully, with the echinoderm geographic data that I’ve collected, we can better understand of echinoderm evolution through time as well as how they dispersed across the world over time. 

I hope that I’ve convinced the classes I’ve visited that geology is a science that rocks! More than that, I also hope that I’ve made them more curious about how our world works, and to keep asking amazing questions and finding equally amazing answers.

Fossil sea lilies embedded in rock.
A crinoid fossil. I have been researching the geographic distribution of these ancient sea lilies and other echinoderms, like sea stars, and I thought this was a very nice fossil to show how neat they are! (source:

Is there anything you wish you had known before going into science? Mainly, what classes I would have to take. In my case, I had multiple major options, but didn’t look too far into them. I’m very happy where I am now, although I’m sure there is an alternate universe version of me that is going down the biology route. 

Have you received a piece of advice from your friends/mentors/advisors that has helped you navigate your career? I’ve gotten good advice about grad school. In particular, I should be reaching out to professors I would like to work with a good while before applications are due.

Echinoderm Morphological Disparity

Echinoderm Morphological Disparity: Methods, Patterns, and Possibilities

Bradley Deline

Summarized by Whitney Lapic,  a Time Scavengers collaborator and graduate student in paleontology. Whitney studies the paleoecology of extinct echinoderms including blastozoans. Outside of research and class time, Whitney is with her cat, Quartz, and can be found tending to her numerous houseplants. 

This paper serves as a review of different approaches for and the importance of studying morphological disparity, or varying expressions of physical characteristics across a group of organisms. Since the 1960s, the importance of examining morphological disparity among organisms has become increasingly apparent. Early studies observed disparity at varying taxonomic ranks (e.g., the diversity in a phylum, like Mollusca, the group including snails and clams) while others applied numerical approaches to quantify morphological disparity. Regardless of a quantitative or a taxon–based approach, there is a need for developing some metric to quantify disparity.  

What data were used?: While this article does not collect new data, it synthesizes a collection of studies done on echinoderm disparity. Echinoderms, the group including sea stars and sea urchins, offer an opportunity as a model organism for studying morphological disparity. Echinoderms are highly skeletonized and can be abundant and well preserved in the fossil record. Additionally, they present a wide variety of morphologies and are both ecologically and taxonomically diverse. While studying disparity among echinoderm morphologies has significantly helped address some gaps in our knowledge, studying disparity still offers opportunities to explore echinoderm evolution. 

Methods: This study reports multiple methodologies and discusses them in depth with their applications, benefits, and caveats. These methodologies include morphometric approaches using landmark-based geometric morphometrics, as well as discrete character-based approaches. Landmark based morphometrics involves the identification of easily recognizable features, such as the point of contact between two plates that can be measured across individual organisms. Landmark based approaches can assist in differentiating species, studying the growth of a species throughout its ontogeny (growth and development), and can help in studying the disparity of a group through time. 

Alternatively, character-based methods are often used when fossils are too damaged to do landmark analysis. When continuous measurements of characters cannot be obtained, the expression of a character is divided into categories into which individuals may be placed. This approach presents as a coded matrix in which expressions of a morphological feature would be coded as, for example, 0, 1, 2, etc. as a means of using discrete categories. Realistically, a combination of the two are used in these types of studies. We want to utilize as many approaches as possible. When we obtain comparable results using multiple methods, this is vital in our understanding of and interpretation of potential evolutionary trends. 

The variable morphologies and the differences among them can help us explore the morphospace of echinoderms. Morphospace is a graphical representation of all forms of physical characteristics that a particular group can present with. Understanding the morphospace of taxa, and specific regions of a taxon’s morphospace can provide insight into its resiliency and susceptibility to extinction and diversification. For example, we can consider the variable morphologies of echinoderms and how very different morphologies can assist in their survival in different environments. 

A figure with a black background and white text has high resolution, black and white photos of six echinoderms labelled A through F with their respective scale bars. In the first of two rows, starting on the left: specimen A) an oblong, non-radial form of echinoderm next to a scale bar of 1mm. The outer plates of the echinoderm are large, and rectangular while the inside is comprised of smaller plates. To the right, B) a misshapen, circular edrioasteroid with apparent 2-1-2 symmetry seen in the ambulacra. Plates of many sizes can be seen around the ambulacra which form almost a star shape. The scale bar for this specimen is on the bottom left and reads 5 mm. Specimen C) shows a circular, mobile echinoid. The echinoid is crushed, but may show some short spines. Scale bar is located on the bottom left and reads 5 mm. On the second row, from left to right: D) a branching, stalked, crinoid with the calyx, or central part of the body, oriented downward. Scale bar is 5mm. E) a relatively circular diploporitan echinoderm. Five slightly curved ambulacra can be visible. Scale bar is 5 mm. On the bottom right, specimen F) a stalked eocrinoid. The stem is oriented downward with the theca, or body, showing a complex series of circular structures. From the theca, there are five arms extending from the top of the theca and outward. The scale bar is 5 mm and is at the bottom left of the image.
Figure 1: Six echinoderms from the early Paleozoic. The six specimens show a range of body plans that can be found among Cambrian and Ordovician echinoderms. Figure from Deline et al., 2020. A) Ctenocystis showing the non-radial form of a ctenocystoid. B) Edrioaster, an attached pentaradial edrioasteroid. C) The mobile echinoid, Bramidechinus. D) Anomalocrinus, a pentradial stalked crinoid. E) Gomphocystites, a pentaradial stalked diploporitan. F) Sineocrinus, a pentaradial stalked eocrinoid. Image from Deline et al. (2020).

Why is this study important?: This paper addresses the ways in which echinoderm morphologies and their disparity can be used to further investigate echinoderm evolution. There has been a rich history of utilizing disparity and morphological approaches to study echinoderm evolution, however, there are several opportunities for further study. This paper highlights the need for combining both phylogenetic study and morphologies to gain further insight into evolutionary processes, both those including, and beyond, echinoderms.

The big picture: Understanding disparity is critical to our interpretations of trends in evolution, as well as to the development of methods to test hypotheses regarding the relationship between disparity and extinction events. By quantifying variation in morphologies, we are able to both provide a metric for understanding the degree of change in morphology during the evolution of a lineage and to explore selection towards particular morphologies surrounding extinction events.


Deline, B. (2021). Echinoderm Morphological Disparity: Methods, Patterns, and Possibilities. Elements of Paleontology, Cambridge.

Deline, B., Thompson, J. R., Smith, N. S., Zamora, S., Rahman, I. A., Sheffield, S. L., Ausich, W. I., Kammer, T. W., Sumrall, C. D. (2020). Evolution and Development at the Origin of a Phylum. Current Biology, 30, 1672-1679.