The story of how fish evolved into four-legged land animals called tetrapods has long been left incomplete by a 15-million-year gap in the fossil record, known as Romer’s Gap, which stretches from the end of the Devonian Period into the Carboniferous. Whether the gap is due to the actual absence of tetrapod fossils from this interval, or whether such fossils exist but have not been found yet has long remained unclear. A new study, however, shows tetrapod fossils from the base of the gap, adding to a growing list of discoveries that appear to be closing the gap.
From Antarctica to the Arctic; from polar caps, permafrost and glaciers to ocean-rafted sea ice; and from burly bears to cold-loving microbes, fascinating science is found in every nook and crevasse of Earth’s cryosphere, and new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.
Our two dusty trucks roll across the airstrip, casting long, late-May shadows down the runway. We spot our colleagues from the Yukon Geological Survey and realize we’ve found the right place after an exhausting 12-hour drive from Anchorage punctuated by several U-turns to find the right unmarked access driveway off the Alaska Highway at the south end of Kluane Lake. The evening air is crisp, and the towering peaks to the south are capped with snow.
Of all the famous fossil localities in the world, perhaps none is as widely celebrated as British Columbia’s Burgess Shale. High in the Canadian Rockies, the Burgess Shale contains some of the oldest and most exquisitely detailed fossils of early life on Earth. Visiting the Burgess Shale requires some preparation — you must hire a guide and hike 22 kilometers at high elevation — but for a fossil enthusiast, the payoff is worth every step.
The Burgess Shale owes much of its fame to a book called “Wonderful Life” by the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Published in 1989, the book was a bestseller. The title is a reference to the scene in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which George Bailey’s guardian angel replays the tape of life as if George had never been born, to dramatic effect.
Stonehammer Geopark lies along the rugged Bay of Fundy on Canada’s southeast coast. Centered on Canada’s oldest incorporated city, Saint John, New Brunswick, it is the first North American member of the Global Geoparks Network, 77 parks established over the past decade with the assistance of UNESCO. Geoparks strive to connect people with the landscape, highlighting the intersection of society and geology.