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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...

March of the sauropods

Sauropod migration (c. Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen)

The migration habits of 150 million year old dinosaurs have been revealed for the first time, after scientists from Colarado College analysed enamel from their teeth. The results of the study, carried out by Henry Fricke, Justin Hencecroth and Marie Hoerner, are published in the December 2011 issue of Nature.

Geoscientist Online, 18 January 2012

It is hoped that the findings will help to understand the ‘paradox’ of how sauropod dinosaurs achieved their massive sizes – with the largest reaching a possible 58 metres in length, and weighing over 100 tons.

The team analysed enamel carbonate from the teeth of Camarasaurus, the most common of the giant sauropods found in North America during the late Jurassic Period (155 – 145 million years ago). Collected at Thermopolis, Wyoming and Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, the teeth record the oxygen isotope ratios of the surface water reservoirs which served as the dinosaurs’ water supply.

Whilst the remains of the dinosaurs were found in the Morrison formation of western North America – a sequence of late Jurassic sedimentary rock which records a depositional basin – it is unlikely that they remained there all year round. The lowland river-floodplain settings they would have occupied were characterised by a seasonally dry climate, which would have left them struggling when drought set in.

How such massive herbivores managed to survive in large numbers under these conditions has long been a mystery, with migration one of the possible explanations. But until now, no direct evidence has supported the theory.

As well as dinosaur tooth enamel, oxygen isotope ratios are preserved in the carbonates formed in basin soils, lakes and wetlands. This allowed the scientists to compare the teeth with locations where the dinosaurs may have travelled.

Vertebrate teeth, including those of dinosaurs, form in stages, so by taking samples from the base to the tip, a pattern can be established which shows the difference in oxygen isotope ratios over time. Having established that the teeth of Camarasaurus take approximately 4-5 months to form, the scientists were able to build up a picture of their movements over this time period.

Camarasaurus The results suggest that they spent time in the fluvial and wetland environments of the Morrison basin, as well as areas of high elevation. Reconstructions of the geology of the region implies that the dinosaurs must have migrated approximately 300 km in each direction to reach these areas.

‘Assuming that Camarasaurus migrated in an effort to obtain the food and water they needed to survive’, say the authors, ‘they would have left the basin during the dry season (presumably summer) when plant growth was limited and drought might have been common, and then returned in the wet season (presumably winter).’

The teeth all showed similar patterns, suggesting the migrations took place in ‘herds’. Whilst the results show the dinosaurs moving from a basin environment to a highland one, they do not record a return to the basin, which must have occurred as the teeth were found there. This can be explained, say the researchers, by the fact that there is a ‘lag’ of approximately two weeks between the intake of oxygen and its expression in the body. The dinosaurs, then, are likely to have recently returned to the basin, and died during the transition from the dry to wet season.

The next step for the researchers is to carry out further studies of other Camarasaurus populations, and of other sauropods in different areas, to establish whether the behaviour was a universal characteristic, or the result of particular environmental stresses. With further research, it is hoped that the role of migration in the evolution of sauropod gigantism might be better understood.

  • Henry C. Fricke, Justin Hencecroth & Marie. E. Hoerner, 'Lowland-upland migration of sauropod dinosaurs during the Late Jurassic epoch, Nature Vol. 480 pp. 513 - 515