Joseph Carter, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, NC
Has been collaborating on major find in Norian of North Carolina
Mark Norell, American Museum of Natural History
Coauthor with us on Erpetosuchus from CT.
Emma Rainforth, Columbia University (Ph.D. student)
Nick Salkowski, Columbia University (Ph.D. student)
Activities and findings:
This project seeks to collect and analyze new tetrapod material (both
skeletal and footprint) in Norian-age (Late Triassic, 202-218 Ma)
strata of the Newark Supergroup rift basins of eastern North America
as a prelude to understanding Triassic faunal provinciality and the
Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction event.
Our work to date has focused on finding productive tetrapod
localities through the Late Triassic in Eastern North America. This
has consisted of prospecting in likely lithologies by Olsen and a
network of dedicated amateur volunteer paleontologists. Two Ph.D.
students are working on the material for their theses and we have
undertaken locally significant outreach lectures.
Thus far we have found one major tetrapod site, just below the
Triassic-Jurassic boundary, several other tetrapod bone sites of
Rhaetian and Norian age, a large number of microvertebrate localities,
and significant new footprint material. All material is studied with
its stratigraphic and sedimentological context, particular with
respect to the newly developed high-resolution timescale developed by
Olsen and Kent (see below).
New Skeletal material is being prepared by mechanical means by the
preparation staff of the Royal Ontario Museum (under H-D. Sues), by
Emma Rainforth (Ph.D. student supervised by Olsen) and by staff of the
American Museum of Natural history (working with Olsen who is an AMNH
Research Associate), and by negative preparation by Olsen and
Rainforth. Microvertebrate material is being prepared by Nick
Salkowski (Ph.D. student) and Olsen.
Our most important discovery to date on this project has been a very
rich assemblage of tetrapod skeletal material from a late Rhaetian
horizon about 600 ky older than the Triassic-Jurassic boundary (based
on Milankovitch cyclostratigraphy), in the Jacksonwald syncline of the
Newark rift basin. Most of the material consists of isolated bones and
bone scraps, however, there is a surprising amount of articulated
material. Most material is still being prepared, both at Columbia and
at the Royal Ontario Museum, however we have been able to identify the
following: 8 partial skulls of the procolophonid Hypsognathus fenneri;
3 partial articulated skeletions of same; 2 partial archosaur
skeletons; fragmentary protosuchid crocodyliomorph post-cranial
remains (c.f. Protosuchus); fragmentary cranial material of same;
phytosaur teeth and post-cranial fragments; probable aetosaur
osteoderms; many isolated procolophonid teeth and post-cranial
elements. The material in total includes hundreds of elements. This
surely comprises the largest assemblage of well-preserved tetrapod
material so close to the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. No particular
horizon at this site appears to be uniquely rich, rather all
lithologies appear to produce some bone. It appears that this marginal
lacustrine facies may be representative in its level of productivity.
We note however, that its productivity is certainly related to the
slight metamorphic effects of the adjacent Jacksonwad sill, which has
resulted in unusually unweathered rock (and bone) very close to the
We have tested this hypothesis by examining other areas where
construction excavation has revealed fresh rock of a similar marginal
lacustrine facies. One site at a level about 4 my older than the
Triassic-Jurassic boundary (?Early Rheatian). This site has produced
fragmentary probably procolophonid and archosaur material, as well as
the youngest representative of the probable ornithischian ichnite
Atreipus. Another site about 12 million years older than the
Triassic-Jurassic boundary (Early Norian), also in the Jacksonwald
syncline, adjacent to the Birdsboro intrusion has produced as yet
unprepared and unidentified bone material. We are encouraged by this
discovery and believe our ongoing exploration for new sites are likely
to yield much additional material from many horizons.
An additional series of important finds are microvertebrate
localities, examined by disaggregating carbonate-cemented siltstones
and intraformational conglomerates. Our preliminary investigation
shows that such microvertebrate-bearing lithologies are common and we
have found productive sites at the following levels: Early Carnian
(234 Ma.) limestone, Falling Creek Fm., Taylorsville basin, VA, lower
Timesgadawine Fm., Argana basin, Morocco (funded from elsewhere), and
intraformational conglomerate, basal Wolfville Fm., Nova Scotia,
Canada; early Late Carnian (230 Ma.) mudstone, Richmond basin, VA and
intraformational conglomerate, middle Wolfville Fm., Nova Scotia,
Canada; Late Carnian (224 Ma.), limestone, Cumnock Fm., Wadesboro
basin, NC; Late Carnian (222 Ma.), intraformational conglomerate,
Lockatong Fm, Newark basin, PA; early Norian (~219 Ma.) limestone,
Durham basin, NC; middle Norian (212 Ma) intraformational
conglomerate, middle Passaic Fm., Newark basin, PA; late Norian (210
Ma), limestones, Bull Run Fm., Culpeper basin, VA; Early Rhaetian (209
Ma.), Middle Rhaetian (205 Ma.), Late Rheatian (202.5, 203 Ma.)
limestones, Passaic Fm., Newark basin, PA.; early Hettangian (202 Ma.)
limestone, Feltville Fm., Newark basin, Cass Brook Fm, Pomperaug
basin, CT, and Scots Bay Fm., Fundy basin, Nova Scotia, Canada; early
Hettangian (201.5 Ma.) limestone, East Berlin Fm., Hartford basin, CT,
mudstone, Waterfall Fm., Culpeper basin,. VA; and middle Hettangian
(201 Ma.) limestone, Portland Fm., Hartford basin, CT.
A major advance is that all of the productive sites are ties to a
common, high resolution, cyclo- and magnetostratigraphic timescale
developed recently by Olsen and Kent via other NSF funding. We appear
close to the realization of tetrapod skeletal sampling at at least the
2 my level for about 35 million years of the Triassic and Early
Jurassic, and 500 ky level for immediately around the
Triassic-Jurassic boundary. This should go a long way towards filling
the so called Norian gap, cited by some authors as impeding our
understanding of the Triassic-Jurassic faunal change.
At this time it is clear that tetrapod assemblages in eastern North
America slowly changed through the Late Triassic until the boundary
with the Jurassic, where, based on the new skeletal there was a major
faunal turnover over a maximum duration of about 700 ky. This turnover
consisted of large-scale extinction without replacement, except for
the appearance of larger theropod dinosaurs (thus far represented only
by tracks), immediately after the boundary.
The new material is forming the basis of two Columbia Ph.D. theses.
Emma Rainforth (3rd yr) is working on the footprint and larger
skeletal material around the Triassic-Jurassic boundary and Nick
Salkowski (1st yr) is working on the microvertebrate assemblages.
The following amateur volunteer paleontologists have been invaluable
in this project: George Hrynewick (Nova Scotia), Charles Rizzo and
Fred Castle (NJ), and Mike Sjzana and Brian Hartline, (PA). We have
worked with these individuals paying special attention to their roles
in outreach to the lay community and to their future education. We
note that in the past some amateur paleontrologists that have been
involved with past projects have gone onto professional careers in
Education and Outreach:
We have undertaken educational outreach through a series of lectures
(Olsen). including this year, the New Jersey Paleontological Society,
the Hudson Valley Astronomy Society, the North Bergen Paleontological
Society; and Lamont Open House.
Summaries ongoing research on Triassic-Jurassic, including this award.
Has index to specific award-related activities, including databases
Other specific products:
Contributions within Discipline:
This project adds substantially to our understanding of the
Triassic-Jurassic Mass extinction, one of the 'big five'
mass-extinctions of the last half billion years, as well as ancient
biodiversity. As such, it makes important cointributions to
paleobiology, vertebrate morphology and systematics, and
Our results will have significant implications for evolutionary
biology in understanding one of the largest episodes of evolutionary
diversification and adaptive radiation following the Triassic-Jurassic
Our outreach program engages a broad sector of lay people some of whom
become motivated to join the profession. Those that do not, have
nonetheless, a greater appreciation and understanding for the history
of life, evolution, and their place in the history of the Earth. We
also feel strongly that our interaction fosters greater understanding
of the scientific process as well.
Our web sites add to the infrastructure of science-related resources.
In addition the more spectacular material we collect will eventually
be displayed in museums and add to the general educational base.
Our study addresses mass extinctions, and hence provides needed
background for understanding our present biodiversity crisis. In
addition, the dramatic drop in diversity at the Triassic-Jurassic
boundary and its slow recover thereafter, was synchronous with, and
certainly interrelated to, major changes in atmospheric CO2 and the
general C cycle as reflected in the delta-13C record, thus providing
insight into the roles of biocomplexity in the Earth system,
suggesting new avenues for additional research.
Special Requirements for Annual Project Report:
Unobligated funds: less than 20 percent of current funds
Categories for which nothing is reported:
Participants: Partner organizations
Products: Other specific product
Special Reporting Requirements
Animal, Human Subjects, Biohazards