Wyoming Spring Creek Week 3: Ecology

At surface value, the natural environment is already imposing. Studying it has further amplified that effect because the entirety of what we are experiencing now has existed for the entirety of Earth’s history. Observing the composition and properties of a single grain of sand or a complete biome could be made into a demandingly infinite task, but it is lacking because its present state is an infinitesimally small part of its existence and interconnectedness.

An important aspect of this program is its introduction to paleontology, which is a perfect example of studying the past through the present. The chances of organic matter or traces of animals becoming fossilized are slim, and the abundance of them within certain geological formations, the geological formations themselves, and the quality of preservation can tell us all about an organism’s environment and its conditions hundreds of millions of years ago. When this is applied to entire outcrops of rock, the past climate of the ecosystem or even Earth can be deduced, which can be applied to the present day.

An important application of paleontology is to climate change, as the Earth has experienced multiple instances of drastic heating and cooling, albeit much more gradually than today. My classmates and I spent a day on the preserve exploring four different geological formations from different periods in time, and we found many different fossils in different rocks that allowed us to analyze the climate during those geological eras. For example, the Wall Creek Member of the Frontier Formation was sedimentary rock made up of coarse grains and abundant with ammonites, as seen below. Ammonites are an indicator of high oxygen content within a marine environment, and the coarse sediment can be used to determine the energy of the water of that environment. Along with the analysis of the other three formations, assumptions of what changes in climate cause the differences between their environments were made, which can then be used for predictions about the future of our current climate.

The cast of an ammonite at the bottom of the rock in the center. The rock has visible grains and looks like it is broken easily from the numerous chunks along the formation.

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