Spent the morning resting and packing our fossils for transport back to Sweden. Everything needed to be marked with GPS coordinates, labeled and inventoried so that we have an accurate record for the registers in Uppsala. We have permission from the Greenland government to remove 400 kg of samples. This will be accessioned into the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University, which already houses Sweden’s premier collection of Mesozoic vertebrate fossils.
The sun has been out for the last 48 hours so we are now working in T-shirts.
We have also done a few night visits to the closest outcrops (again don’t forget we have 24 hours of light).
Today we climbed down into an adjacent valley, Gaffeldal. There are lots of Musk Ox tracks along the ridges where the vegetation cover is thicker. We also came across the body of one unfortunate Musk Ox that seems to have slipped on the mud into a crevasse and died at the bottom.
The foot of Gaffeldal turned out to be an impassable cliff. There is also overhanging ice and a 20 m long ice tunnel blocking our passage down the Blue River to the oldest Permian strata on the coast.
We therefore returned our attention to Blockeln – Round 2 going to us this time.
Henning collected another beautiful Australosomus in the river, and we found ammonites, more coprolites and the skull of a large coelacanth, a type of archaic lobe-finned fish that is still alive today in waters off of southeastern Africa and Indonesia.
The best-known Triassic coelacanth from the Wordie Creek Formation is Laugia greenlandica.
We will try the Blue River again in a few days but another trip over the Stensiö Plateau is planned for tomorrow.
Today was exhausting but productive. We decided to tackle our second objective, which was to sample the famous “Stegocephalian horizon” on the far side of Stensiö Plateau. This rock layer was the source of numerous temnospondyl amphibian fossils described in the 1930s. We climbed up to about 700 m on the south side of the plateau and crossed over the top for a spectacular view of the Finsch Islands and the pack ice stretched across Gael Hamke Bay. We then climbed through a gap in the basalt cliff and down onto the Cretaceous sandstones that overly the Triassic sequences. Henning picked up an ammonite, which was badly weathered but clearly of Cretaceous age.
Further down the steep scree we located the bivalves Myalina kochi and Anodontophora fassaensis, giving us a correlate from strata on the other side of the plateau. There were also large stromatolite mounds – these are sediment accumulations accreted by photosynthesizing cyanobacteria.
Finally after scouring the slope for about an hour Grzegorz shouted out that he had found some bone. We all scrambled across to look at what turned out to be bone fragments in an oolite – a microbially accumulated limestone indicative of shallow water conditions. After splitting the rock we identified some small temnospondyl skull and limb girdle elements (probably from long-snouted trematosaurs), as well as a 30 mm long jaw with teeth resembling procolophonids. These were terrestrial herbivorous lizard-like animals, globally distributed during the Triassic.
We headed back to camp with our prizes, but it was long and tiring climbing up the ridge and down again from the top of the plateau.
Will have an easy day tomorrow to get over it.
The sun was out as we set off for our collecting trip. We packed wrapping paper, sample bags and small chisels for our assault on the concretions. We were not to be disappointed. The first few hours on the slope yielded well over 100 specimens of Ophiceras, the most abundant ammonite known from the Wordie Creek Formation. Many of these were also exceptionally preserved, showing the taxonomically important sutures between the internal shell chambers. Ammonites, like the modern day Nautilus, used differing fluid densities within their shell chambers to control buoyancy. The configuration of the walls between these chambers, as well as the exterior ornamentation and shape of the shell, are critical for identifying different species.
We found prolific specimens of the bivalve Claraia and some more fishes including Bobastrania, Boreosomus, and a similar species Australosomus.
Most significant, however, was the recovery of numerous large coprolites.
Coprolites are fossilized droppings, and are actually quite characteristic in terms of “who did it”.
Curiously, one of the “coprolite” masses had very little phosphatic matrix, and showed a conspicuous longitudinal alignment of its constituent fish bones. Under the hand lens these revealed minimal corrosion by gut acid, meaning that we might have a fossilized regurgitate – a vomited accumulation of indigestible fish fin spines that were coughed up some 250 million years ago!
The weather has cleared but it is still chilly. Yesterday was certainly not wasted. We climbed up the nearest peak and circled round the valley. It is fairly clear that the upper part of the succession is not exclusively marine but rather comprises a complex sequence of shallow near-shore to lagoonal-deltaic and fluvial rocks. You can imagine, therefore, that 250 million years ago Kap Stosch was a coastal environment that became shallower over time. In-flowing rivers deposited large amounts of sandy sediment, but otherwise the water would have been calm with fine mud supporting a fauna of small “clam-like” bivalves. We found two species as fossils – Myalina kochi and Anodontophora fassaensis – these are important age correlates for the youngest part of the Kap Stosch Triassic sequence.
Today we turned our attention to the older marine sections and decided to work up the nearest valley – Blockeln.
Looks like it will be Round 1 to this site.
We climbed down and crossed the Blue River before skirting the 45° slope on the other side. The ground was still muddy but the rocky scree made for reasonable footholds. We then climbed about 200 m up across the slope looking for any outcrops of marine shale, which is our prime target for aquatic reptiles. Grzegorz found an impression of an ammonite – squid-like animals that had a characteristically coiled shell – indicating that we were indeed within the Triassic marine succession. However, there was mud everywhere, and no further fossils were collected as we climbed higher towards the vertical cliff of basalt that caps all of the sedimentary rocks in the area.
Climbing over the basalt (VERY carefully) we finally got a great view out over the valley. Disappointingly there were mudslides covering many exposures and the screes of loose rocks meant that we would have to consider what sites could be safely accessed and what objectives we might hope to achieve.
Our luck changed entirely on the way down though. We walked over the top of the plateau and down into the Blue River bed again on our way back to camp. Almost simultaneously both Ben and Grzegorz found two fish fossils preserved within limestone concretions that we had expected to find in Blockeln. One was a small actinopterygian, possibly Boreosomus – something like the Triassic equivalent of a Herring. The other was a curious deep-bodied fish named Bobastrania groenlandica, which is a key marker fossil for the earliest Triassic, and showed without doubt that we were in the right place for our long hoped for early ichthyosaur.
Further searching also located the source of the fish concretions – a steep slope on the eastern side of the Blue River.
This offers our first big chance for new discoveries, and hopefully will yield at least some trace of our mysterious ancient marine reptiles.
Woke up to the sound of pounding rain on the tent roof. Warm and dry in the sleeping bag but it means a muddy introduction to the work, or worse being grounded until the weather clears. We all eventually crept out of our tents and sat in the “lounge room” – the huge central tent where we keep all our supplies and communications equipment – to plan our day. We had discussed what the potential objectives were the night before. The first being to orientate with the geology and locate the best rock layers for collecting fossils. The 24 hours of daylight had allowed us to check the surrounding outcrops using binoculars. There was a marked difference between the lower grey-green marine shale and the upper sequence of “red beds”, which are classic for Triassic strata but usually denote freshwater or terrestrial environments. Plan A therefore was to look at these “red bed” sequences, both because they were reportedly marine in the literature, but also because they were close by and could be easily sampled if the weather turned bad. Furthermore, according to the reports published by the Danish expeditions in the 1920s-1930s they should contain temnospondyl remains – these were superficially crocodile-like amphibians thought to have lived in marine habitats at the very beginning of the Triassic 250 million years ago. If we could confirm that the Kap Stosch temnospondyls hunted in the sea then we might have a vital clue about the ecological role of tetrapods in our earliest Triassic marine ecosystems.
After breakfast, and a large cup of specialty coffee (imported from Greece by Ben), we headed out leaving Lasse in camp to set up the communications equipment and sort out the fuel and provisions for the rest of our stay.
We returned five hours later soaked and covered in mud but with a better idea of what was going on with our rocks.
We flew in two shifts this afternoon from the Danish military airstrip at Mestersvig.
We got to Mestervig first by Twin Otter aircraft from Constable Point and then packed our gear onto the waiting helicopter.
Ben and Lasse took the first flight up with the tents and half the food plus two guns to find the best site for our camp. They flew along Loch Fyne and around the coast of Kap Stosch to our selected field site on the Blue River valley, which is across Godthåb Gulf from Eskimonaes – the Danish base destroyed by German soldiers during WWII.
Saw lots of Musk Ox on the way in.
The final campsite was perfect, 420 m up on a small plateau surrounded by mountains of Triassic rocks – these are known as the Wordie Creek Formation, which is world famous for its representation of the earliest times from the “Age of Dinosaurs”.
As planned we are far enough from the coast to reduce the risk of polar bear visits and have good water coming straight off the nearby glacier.
Henning and Grzegorz came on the second flight with the rest of our food. Unfortunately they had too wait at a small fuel dump on the coast and were badly chewed by mosquitoes.
Aside from that the camp is now set up and we are ready to work. Only problem is the forecast for heavy rain tomorrow. We will see what happens in the morning!
After waiting all day we were finally able to access our equipment and provisions. Everything is in order. We also checked the shotguns and ammunition and ran through the weapons cleaning and safety procedures with Lasse. We have been given 100 rounds of “slugs” by the SPRS. We trained with these during the gun course in May – the idea is that a shotgun is easy to use and the high calibre “slug” will stop a Polar bear dead in its tracks if we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. All is quiet at Constable Point though.
We are staying in the “★— ★★★★★” Constable Point “Hilton” (as the sign says on the door). It is not that bad really, just basic – a few demountable buildings with a kitchen and bathrooms.
The residues of past Greenland expeditions is all over the place – left over long-life food, stickers on the doors with various international logos, the odd rock sample, coinage in mixed currencies, a Musk Ox horn, and used books in a dozen languages.
We got a good look at the local Jurassic rocks and now had some idea of what to expect – a LOT of climbing. The scale of Greenland is a bit deceptive. Everything looks close, and is often only a few kilometres away on a map, but the topography is extremely mountainous so what seems like a 10 min walk can actually take a few hours. The 24-hour daylight is useful though. It means we can work as late as we want.
We are back from Greenland. As it turns out we had an incredible expedition, but also had some difficulties (putting it mildly) with both the weather and our communications. This has stopped us from updating the expedition blog “live”. However, we have been keeping a digital diary of the trip, which will be uploaded in sequence to give you an impression of our experiences, as well as the discoveries during our time on site. The exceptionally precious fossils are now on route to Sweden and will unpacked, sorted and accessioned into the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University. If you are interested in seeing any of the specimens first-hand, or would like to speak with us in person, please feel free to get in contact or drop in.
We would love to show you around, and the museum is open to the public.
Our 2015 Greenland expedition is also just the beginning. The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat (SPRS) has scheduled another trip for 2016.
This will undoubtedly yield many amazing new finds.
We will therefore keep this blog updated as the preparations and research progresses.
Please let us know if you have any comments or would like further information.