Noel’s Experience at Geological Society of America Conference of 2021

Noel here – 

This year, I got the honor to attend the annual conference for the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Portland, Oregon. This conference is dedicated to all corners of the geosciences, and hosts professionals and students alike from all over the world to present their research to the scientific community either through presentations or poster boards. It is also an amazing opportunity for any undergraduate student who is just starting their journey into their field and seeking for further education opportunities, such as myself. I attended along with my professor and another member of my lab group, representing the University of South Florida (USF).

Last year’s GSA conference was held entirely online do to the COVID-19 outbreak, so this year was a return to the in-person format, while still having online accessibility to all participants who either couldn’t make it or didn’t feel comfortable being around crowds of people still. 

As this was my first time attending a conference, my focus was on meeting as many people in the field of paleontology as possible. I will be graduating from USF at the end of 2021, so I wanted to explore my options for possible grad school programs and professors that I could work with. During the four-day event, I got to talk to a wide variety of paleontologists, this included students of all levels, and professionals looking for students. There was only a handful of undergrad students since it’s not common practice for students at this level to attend conferences unless they are very passionate about their field and want to get ahead of the game. I would personally recommend any student who is interested in higher education to consider attending such events in general, but GSA is a good experience specifically because it is a very wide-reaching event and gives many more opportunities than smaller conferences.

I did not have any research material to present this time around, but a graduate student from our lab, Stephen Hill, did present his current research on the feeding mechanisms of diploporan echinoderms. He used computer models based on the morphology of these animals to run mathematical simulations on how water currents would have interacted with them. Watching students present made me feel better about the idea of someday presenting myself at these kinds of event, which is a huge benefit of going with a lab group or colleagues, specially when you are new to the conference experience.

Stephen Hill presenting his research on diploporan feeding and respiratory systems modeling.

There was also a large poster exhibition hall at the conference, here you get to have a more one-to-one experience with the people who are actually heading these research projects and get to ask questions. These posters are not only an interactive way of find out about the latest active fields of research, but you also get great networking opportunities. This is where I got to talk with the many great professionals and their students to get a better idea of how graduate school works and what I should expect for the application process.

From the perspective of an undergrad, attending GSA was definitely a worthwhile experience that gave me ample opportunity for networking and broadening my perspective on relevant topics in my field. Even though my preferred area of study is paleontology, there is definitely something for everyone in geology. As stated previously, I wouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass, and neither should you.

Noel Hernandez Gomez, Paleontologist in Training

A photo of Noel Hernandez sitting on top next to a river coming from a waterfall in the middle of a valley in Mackay Idaho during a field work excursion.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I am an aspiring scientist from birth who loves the outdoors and hopes to make a difference in the world. When I’m not doing research, I prefer to spend my time going out and seeing new things, whether that’d be a new nature trail, or a fun night with friends, there is always something to enjoy about life, which is why I have a strong passion for helping the world and all its beauty.

I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida, on my senior year for a Geology B.S., I have plans to go to Grad school in the future, and hopefully attaining a PhD as my career progresses. My focus is paleontology, and all the research I have done so far is on invertebrate animals, more specifically on crinoid evolution and echinoderms. I am currently performing research on a growth series of eight samples of Erisocrinus typus lead by Whitney Lapic and with the help of Dr. Sarah Sheffield and a previous study of hers. We mostly focus on reading past studies from many authors that talk about the species we are dealing with and examining samples to understand how these animals used to grow. Our goal is to have a publication on this by the end of the year. My goal is to keep doing research such as this for the foreseeable future and perhaps focus on other part of paleontology as well, not just confined to invertebrates.

As discussed previously, my main goal as a scientist is to make a difference in the world, and I chose to do so by studying our past. Growing up, I was surrounded by a country drowned in conflict and turmoil, I took these experiences as motivation to change this, not just for my country, but for the entire world. The change that needs to occur for a better tomorrow, starts with the right information, and science is the pursuit of this information, all facets of science are bound by this uniting principal. My work does not have obvious major implications for our society, but understanding the development of ocean creatures, even those of hundreds of millions of years ago can have contextual importance to our understanding of the oceans today and how global climates have changed in the past. Paleontology focuses on gaining an understanding of the past so that we can have an idea of what our future holds.

A contribution that I hope to make to the scientific community is to facilitate the exchange of information between English speaking scientists and Spanish speaking ones, since my native language is Spanish, and I am fluent in it, my hope is to broaden the range in which paleontology can be talked about and end the age of Eurocentrism for science.

For any up-and-coming scientist, whether they are paleontologists, or any other kind of scientist, I would strongly advise to never limit yourself due to your expectations of what you should be. Scientists are talked about as these unreachable and mighty individuals that hold the infinite knowledge of everything, and this notion can make it difficult sometimes to get in contact with professors or mentors, but the reality is that scientists are just humans, who aren’t perfect, and are just as capable as anyone else, don’t have reservations about reaching out to the members of your college or the faculty of your university, there is always a need for bright minds.

Reconstructing South Korea’s Cretaceous with the First Evidence of Crocodilian Tracks Found

First reports of Crocodylopodus from East Asia: implications for the paleoecology of the Lower Cretaceous

By: Martin G. Lockley, Jong Deock Lim, Hong Deock Park, Anthony Romilio Jae Sang Yoo, Ji Won Choi, Kyung Soo Kim, Yeongi Choi, Seung-Hyeop Kang, Dong Hee Kim, Tae Hyeong Kim.

Summarized by: Noel J. Hernandez G., a current geology senior undergraduat et at The University of South Florida. He plans to continue his education in paleontology by going to graduate school. He is hoping to eventually get his PhD in paleontology and become a professor that performs research throughout the world. He is also known as a video game enthusiast and enjoys science more than any person realistically should.

What data were used? The first samples of Crocodylopodus fossil footprints in the Cretaceous-age Jinju formation of South Korea, and previous samples of other kinds of crocodilian prints from the Mesozoic Era.

Methods: This study was conducted and made possible by many different organizations and study groups all working on the same project on the Jinju formation in South Korea. There were a multitude of samples gathered from four different dig sites, but this study focuses on the best-preserved samples. These samples were photographed using specialized 3D cameras and run through different software to create comprehensive elevation maps that could clearly show the indentations of the prints on the shale rock. Then, each visible print was studied and measured to identify possible the tracks that these animals made, this way, their walking patterns could be identified and matched with existing data to find the proper classification for them.

Results: There are many different kinds of prints that animals can leave behind as fossils. This could be due to different movement behaviors, different feeding methods, or even resting positions; we call fossils of these preserved behaviors, like these prints, ichnofossils. Crocodylopodus is one such type of footprint ichnofossil that was left behind by crocodile-like animals millions of years ago, though there are other kinds of common crocodile ichnofossils, such as Batrachopus and Hatcherichnus. In this study, these other common crocodile ichnofossils are used to compare these new samples of Crocodylopodus found with pre-existing data to try and understand what these tracks means for the organisms that produced them. The study finds that these prints are complete enough to reassemble the possible way that these animals walked. From this information, they found sufficient evidence to say that these crocodilians probably walked on land more than previously thought, unlike Hatcherichnus that demonstrate swimming. Crocodylopodus demonstrates walking in all of the samples found at these sites because of the types of sediments that they were imprinted on, representing shallow rivers and floodplains. Swimming tracks usually have small footprints with tail traces along with them, but Crocodylopodus does not show tail traces.

This changes the idea that most crocodilians in Eastern Asia during the Mesozoic were mostly aquatic animals, and this finding suggests that the trait of being aquatic or terrestrial primarily has been dependent on the kind of environments these animals lived in, as similar ichnofossils from different parts of the world show different habits in varying ecosystems.

Why is this study important? This study is part of a bigger ongoing study of a brand-new region of the world that has not been thoroughly studied for paleontology; specifically, the Jinju Formation is an area of South Korea that has not been heavily studied in the past. Many new species and recurrences of previously known species are coming up as more and more ichnofossils are uncovered. The more studies that are done on these samples, the closer we get to understanding how the paleoecology (i.e., how ancient animals interacted with each other and their environment) functioned there.

Slab with Crocodylopodus and other small mammal ichnofossil. A. Draw representation showing where each trace is located and the direction of the tracks. B. Low exposure picture of the actual fossil assemblage. C. Elevation imaging of the slab to show impression.

The big picture: These assemblages of trace fossils (ichnofossils) had not only the traces of crocodile-like animals, but they also had other kinds of trace fossils made by other organisms. There were many small animal prints and other kinds of reptile and amphibian prints as well, Crocodylopodus was only a part of the active biological community that existed in this area during the Cretaceous. Seeing how these crocodilians moved and lived among all of these other animals helps us understand the region better.

Citation: Martin G. Lockley, Jong Deock Lim, Hong Deock Park, Anthony Romilio, Jae Sang Yoo, Ji Won Choi, Kyung Soo Kim, Yeongi Choi, Seung-Hyeop Kang, Dong Hee Kim, Tae Hyeong Kim, 2020, First reports of Crocodylopodus from East Asia: implications for the paleoecology of the Lower Cretaceous, Cretaceous Research, Volume 111, 104441, ISSN 0195-6671,