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Monday, January 01, 2007

Some things to watch for in Geology

Well, it's time to get back to the third component in this blog, Geology. No doubt that every year brings new and interesting discoveries in geology and paleontology. By all accounts, the discovery of Tiktaalik rosea was the most widely publicized in our field.
It was, of course, not the only major finding published in the past year. In my own field of paleomagnetism, several discoveries were made that are important to researchers in the field. One of the assumptions in paleomagnetism is that the axis of the earth's magnetic field coincides with the spin axis. This is an important assumption because we use paleomagnetism to determine the locations of continents in the past based on this assumption. Any deviation from the Geocentric axial dipole will lead to errors in the positions of the continents. There has been some doubt about this assumption for Precambrian and Paleozoic time (3.5 billion to 250 million years ago). A publication in Nature (Nov 2006) showed that the ancient field was, indeed, axial and geocentric. While the study was not highly publicized, to paleomagnetists, this study was a breath of fresh air to those of us working in the Precambrian.
Other interesting findings in 2006 (listed in no particular order):

(1) The ages of the Snowball Earth episodes are causing the hypothesis to come under increasing criticism. This is one area to watch in 2007.
(2) The discovery of a fossil lagerstatte (exceptionally rich and well preserved fossil bed) in the Middle ordovician St. Peter Formation. No doubt this one will be heralded by the creationists as evidence for the flood.
(3) Further evidence for the existence of mantle plumes. The plume hypothesis has come under increasing criticism in geophysics, but new geochemical studies of specific isotopes have shown strong evidence that some of these plumes do exist. This is also an area to watch in 2007.
(4) All of the exciting research from the Martian rovers and the future promise of returning samples from Mars and the new high resolution satellite are all going to bring us exciting new information about one of our stellar neighbors in the next couple of years.
(5) Global warming- Always in the news and always politicized, all the scientific work last year indicates that global temperatures are on the rise. Expect more political battles and editorial wrangling in the upcoming year.
(6) Closer and better looks at the Ediacaran and related fauna and examinations into the causes of the so-called Cambrian explosion are expected to form the focus of much of the upcoming years research.

In the next couple of days, I'll explore a few more of last years major discoveries and offer my perspective on what is to come. Oh, and Happy New Year!


Joe Meert


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