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Final Project: Interview with a Geologist

 

Luke Trusel is an assistant Professor in the Department of Geology at Rowan University.  He researches Earth’s ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland in order to study past, present, and future climate change.

 

 

One of the first posts on this blog was about Climate Change.  Now that all of you know what it is about and how we are effected by it, I sat down with an expert in the subject.  Professor Luke Trusel is an Assistant Professor at Rowan University in the Department of Geology.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University!

 

Upon arrival, Edelman Fossil park was crowded with groups of middle school aged children.  They were all housed under two large tents which were being used as makeshift outdoor classrooms.  At one of the stations the students were learning about what makes a fossil such as dead animals or certain plants.  The second station was giving an explanation about the different fossils found at the park including sea turtles and mosasaurs.  All of the children’s hands were raised excitedly to answer question after question.

Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park can be found at Rowan University in Mantua Township.  Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, founding Dean of the School of Earth & Environment, is the leading researcher at the park.  He is best known for his discovery of the Dreadnoughtus schrani, which is the name of one of the largest herbivore dinosaurs ever discovered.

Dr. Lacovara has studied and researched on five different continents.  He also has his hands in elements of 3D printing and computer modeling in order to study dinosaurs.  Graduating from Rowan in 1984 with a BA in geography and minors in biology and anthropology, Lacovara went on to University of Maryland for a masters in coastal geomorphology and a doctorate in geology at the University of Delaware.   He also presented at a TED talk conference in Vancouver, which 1.2 million people have watched.  His research has been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

 

 

 

 

Photographing Prescribed Burns in the Pinelands

About a week ago I took a day trip to Batsto Village in South Jersey.  I had been to Batsto many times so it was hard for me to think of new things to do, look for, or photograph.  After walking through the old Village my boyfriend and I decided Wharton State Forest would give us more interesting photography options.

Below are pictures of Batsto Lake which we passed on the way to the forest:

                            

 

The deeper into the forest we went I started to notice most of it was charred and burned.  Now my boyfriend, who is a firefighter, is amused by this and starts trying to find the cause of what seemed to be a very large fire.  After walking along the edge of the woods he determined it must have been a prescribed fire because of the fine line between burned grass and dead grass.

                        

                                 

 

Prescribed fires are very important when it comes to the preservation of our environment.  These fires prevent wildfires from occurring which would cause much more damage than a fire that is controlled.  They also bring nutrients to the soil and helps trees and other plants grow.  Wildlife also enjoys the land after a prescribed burn because it allows for more open space as well as new plants to eat.

                                                       

 

According to the State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection the season for prescribed fires is through February and March.  As it starts to get warmer and more dry, there is more risk for wildfires.  That is why the prescribed burns take place at the end of winter moving into spring.

                          

                           

While photographing the charred wood small peeks of green could be seen in the dirt.  New grass was already beginning to grow as well as new flowers.

                           

The feature image was taken by my boyfriend Salvatore Toppi.

All other pictures I took myself with an iPhone.

Microfossils on Mars? Maybe.

On Wednesday March 1st, CNN tweeted a video talking about newly discovered microfossils.  Of course this was something I was very interested in because it was a big find for environmental scientists.  These microfossils were found in Quebec City, Canada and are over 3.77 billion years old.  Not only were they the smallest ones ever discovered but also the oldest.  The Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old, this means these organisms were around when the Earth was just beginning to form.  This could lead scientists to believe these microfossils are the remains of the oldest or even first living things on Earth.

This photo was taken by Matthew Dodd. The red is a haemitite attached to a clump of iron. These are the newly discovered microfossils found in Canada.
This picture, also taken by Dodd shows the microfossils in rock.

 

What are microorganisms?

 

The definition of a microorganism is: a microscopic organism, especially a bacterium, virus, or fungus.  These particular organisms are tiny tubes made or iron oxide (haematite), scientists describe it as rust like.  The microfossils are thought to be the remains of a bacteria that once thrived underwater.

 

What were the oldest microfossils discovered before these?

 

In Greenland rocks, microfossils like these were discovered and dated back to around 3.7 billion years ago, but are still considered younger than the new ones found in Quebec.  The microfossils discovered in Greenland were stromatolites.  These types of microbes can still be found today in a certain type of lagoons located around the world.

 

Before the Greenland microfossils were discovered, scientists found other younger ones in Australia dating only 3.5 billion years.  These were thought to be planktonic autotrophs, kind of like little tiny free-floating organisms that lived in the ocean.  Sort of like todays plankton.

 

This photo was taken by Christopher House. It shows a microscopic look at plankton like microfossils.  These were found in Australia.

 

To most people all of this information may just seem like useless knowledge.  But scientists are using their knowledge about these tiny little things to justify life on other planets!  All of these microorganisms survived in wet areas, and scientists know that Mars had water on it billions of years ago.

 

Now finding these microfossils on Earth was not easy, finding them on Mars with robotic technology would be much more difficult.  But with technology advancing every day, scientists never know what amazing discoveries are right over the horizon.  Hopefully some day in this blog I will be able to give you a whole post of information about life on Mars.

Dynamite Dino

Environmental science isn’t just about dirt and the climate, it involves the history of our planet as well.  One of my favorite things about the history of our planet is the giant reptiles who use to inhabit it.  Dinosaurs.  This past month a paleontologist by the name of Hector E. Rivera-Sylva discovered a new species  of dinosaur in the state of Coahuila, Mexico.  Rivera-Sylva has co-writen a book called Dinosaurs and Other Reptiles from the Mesozoic of Mexico and has been on many expeditions.  He named the new dinosaur the Yehuecauhceratops mud relatively meaning ancient face with horns.  Over 60% of the skeleton was found and constructed at 3 meters long and the new findings were all published in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences.  The fossils are now residing at the Museo del Desierto (This website is in Spanish but is still really cool! Take time to check this out for sure).  After hearing about the new discovery I immediately emailed Rivera-Sylva and was lucky enough to hear right back from him.  The following is an email interview I conducted with him.

 

What made you decide to be a paleontologist?

Since I was a kid I want to study dinosaurs and since then I made that decision. I wanted to study those animals that no longer exist, and I wanted to understand how they lived. My parents help me and encourage me to study first biology and then paleontology.

 

What role does paleontology play in environmental science?

Well, paleontology is the science that let us see what kind of environment was before in certain area, and thanks to that we can understand better the normal changes of today.

 

How many expeditions have you conducted?

Several. Every year I had made one or two each year since 10 years ago. 

 

What has been your biggest discovery so far?

Well, the new dinosaur Yehuecauhceratops mudei.

 

Is the Yehuecauhceratops mudei related to the Triceratops? 

Both are from the same family, the ceratopsidae, or horned dinosaurs, but the Yehuecauhceratops is closer to Centrosaurus, because of the morphology of the squamosal,

 

Were the fossils you discovered younger or older?  Male or female?

The fossils of Yehuecauhceratops are from an adult because the vertebra is fully grow, and if it is male or female we can’t say for sure.

 

How were the fossils preserved? What kind of environment were they in? 

The dinosaur die in what was an ancient mangrove near the sea. Because of this, the bones didn´t have any kind of transportation and were nicely preserved. Of course the distortion after death was the responsible that we didn’t find all the bones together.

yehuecauhceratops-mudei.jpg

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Pesky Pesticides

Everyone learns about how soil makes plants grow when they are in elementary school.  But the soil we learned about then is not the same as it is now.  Especially the soil used to grow our crops.  Almost everything we eat today has some kind of chemical or preservative in it.  Whether we are trying to keep bugs off the crops or make food last longer, almost nothing is completely 100% natural.  And incase you are thinking “Hey! What about organic foods?”. In which case we are on the same page.  According to this article there are 10 synthetic insecticides approved for organic farms.  So even when we think we ditched the chemicals, they are right under our noses, and in our diets.

What soil is used for growing crops?
In order for plants to grow the soil should be fertile.  This means the soil must contain nutrients and allow water and air to flow.  Good soil is usually slightly damp and a dark brown color.  A soil farmers usually wouldn’t use would be more of a dry and crumbly consistency.
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What kind of pesticides are used and what effect does it have on us?
The two most common used pesticides are called malathion and chlorpyrifos.  Pesticides have been known to cause some health hazards such as headaches or nausea, in rare studies they are even shown to cause cancer.  But of course this all depends on what chemicals we are ingesting and how much.
How do the pesticides affect our environment?
The big picture of this whole post is to tell you why pesticides are so bad for the environment.  When people use pesticides they don’t just stick to the plants they’re sprayed on.  They travel through the air and can even get into the groundwater that we drink.  Not only does this mean there are unnatural chemicals everywhere, but pesticides also kill our little bug friends who are part of our ecosystem.
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To my fellow fruit and veggie eaters out there, think twice about what goes into your body.  Maybe wash your fruits and veggies a second or third time before eating them.  Also try to avoid pesticides around your home, it won’t only benefit you but it will keep our friendly little critters alive another day.
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One of my Favorite Places on Earth

Most of the photos in this blog were taken by yours truly at the Botanical Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  This place is like heaven for someone like me, who is amazed at the Earth and its environments and everything it has to offer.  It is filled with beautiful flowers, structures, and many friendly creatures.  My favorite pictures in this gallery are the ones from after the rainstorm where everything seemed so much more vibrant.

This Monarch Butterfly only sat still for a second.  The white sticker on his wing is a tracker for scientists to track their migration patterns.
This Monarch Butterfly only sat still for a second. The white sticker on his wing is a tracker for scientists to track their migration patterns.
There were plenty of these little snails crawling around.  They were especially friendly after the rain storm.
There were plenty of these little snails crawling around. They were especially friendly after the rain storm.
A daisy like flower photographed after the rain storm.
A daisy like flower photographed after the rain storm.
A pond filled with lilly pads reminded me of a famous painting by Monet.
A pond filled with lilly pads reminded me of a famous painting by Monet.
Argiope Aurantia, crazy name for a common garden spider if you ask me.
Argiope Aurantia, crazy name for a common garden spider if you ask me.
Another one of my favorite photos taken after the storm.
Another one of my favorite photos taken after the storm.
A waterfall structure built to mimic more southern climates. There were all different types of cacti placed around the path that lead up to this flawless waterfall.
A waterfall structure built to mimic more southern climates. There were all different types of cacti placed around the path that lead up to this flawless waterfall.
A wild Heron camein for a close up.  Barely any zoom on this one, he was unnervingly close.
A wild Heron camein for a close up. Barely any zoom on this one, he was unnervingly close.
A nest structure, built by man to mimic structures found in the wild.
A nest structure, built by man to mimic structures found in the wild.

Climate Change Causing Chaos

Environmental Science is defined as a branch of biology focused on the study of the relationships of the natural world and the relationships between organisms and their environments.  Now that definition is just a long winded way of saying that it is a study of the environment.  A study of the environment seems extremely broad and a little too much to cover in a blog post but were going to cover as much as possible.  The main thing to know about in the environmental science world is Climate Change.  So many examples of climate change have begun not only around the country but right in our own towns.

 

As far as climate change around the country, California has been hit with a drought that has lasted 5 years.  Luckily the drought is finally coming to an end, but people are questioning if this is really a good thing.  At first people were panicking because the land was drying up and most of California was in an extreme drought.  Over a year ago 88% of the state was in severe drought because of climate change.  Now finally after 5 years that percentage has been lowered to about 58%.  The beginning and end of the drought are both examples of climate change. Because of rising levels of carbon dioxide heat trapping gases have warmed the Earth significantly.  This has caused not only droughts in California but Polar ice caps to met also.

 

I feel like we have been hearing about the ice caps melting for years, paired up with the extinction of the Polar Bears. (Which is heart breaking for me because they happen to be my favorite animals).  The polar ice caps melting is causing a significant rise in sea level which is causing other issues just in itself.  The rise in sea level has not only been affecting the snow covered continents but it is having an affect right here in the United States in Louisiana.  Check out this cool site NASA put together in order to keep people informed about climate change!

 

Even more locally climate change has affected us here in New Jersey.  Just this past week we have gone from beautiful Spring weather to a snow storm.  This change might not seem has harmful as a drought or rising sea level but it is just another example of how everyone is affected by climate change.  Even if it is as small as a Spring day in the middle of winter.

Welcome!

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog about the intriguing world of environmental science. My name is Mackenzie Fitchett and I am a sophomore Journalism major at Rowan University.  Growing up with an enthusiastic Geologist for a dad really made me appreciate the science in everyday life.  Science has always been a big part of my life and this blog allows me to discover new and exciting things and share them with you! There are many interesting things going on with our environment such as the drought in California, climate change, and how the Dakota Access Pipeline will affect us.  Throughout this blog I hope to address environments around the nation as well as the environment locally.  Dinosaurs are also one of my favorite things to learn about, so don’t be surprised if a few stories covering the fantastic beasts are thrown in somewhere!  Hopefully this blog allows me to interview some enthusiastic scientists and take pictures in beautiful places.  There are many more posts to come and I hope you enjoy every one of them!

The picture above is one my mother took of me at the Botanical Gardens in Toronto, Canada, which also happens to be one of my favorite places in the world.