Category Archives: Earth Science

Also known as Geology, Geosciences, etc. It is a science that deal with Geologic materials and processes which made them. A multidisciplinary field in which also includes Geophysics, Hydrology, Structure and Civil Engineering and many more.

Paleobiological Hierarchy

This page is best viewed in desktop mode. If you are using a mobile device, you can switch to desktop site using the switch link at the bottom of the page. Additional tools are available under Geology 491 – Paleobiology and the identification steps chart here. For more in-depth detailed information on how we classify the following fossils, please read, Classification of Fossils.

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Kingdoms (largest divisions)

  • Bacteria
  • Protista
  • Animalia
  • Plantae
  • Fungi

Hierarchy

Note: The classifications used by the University of Calgary may differ from the materials on Wikipedia and other sources. This list is NOT specific to UofC classes such as 391/491. However, this may be used for reducing confusion.

You may find this chart of fossils based on their age useful. You may download them in image format and PDF format. Go save as for download.

Kingdom Animalia

  • Phylum Porifera
    • Class Stromatoporata
      • Genus Stromatoporoids (figure)
    • Phylum Archaeocyatha
    • Phylum Cnidaria
      • Class Anthozoa
        • Sub Class Zoantharia
          • Order Tabulata OrdovicianPermian
            • Genus Catenipora (image1 | image2 | image3 | figure) OrdovicianSilurian
              Chain coral; looks like links on a chain. The cross sectional view is usually have flat lines.
            • Genus Favosites (image1 | image2 | figure) OrdovicianDevonian
              Not to be confused with G: Lithostrotion and G: Hexagonaria. Honeycomb coral; closely packed polygonal and tubular structures. The center of each polygon has a slight depression while the longitudinal sides should have tiny “holes”.
            • Genus Heliolites (figure) SilurianDevonian
              Tubular structures. The cop view will most likely seen as somewhat circular “dots” (but they are actually shaped like flowers”).
            • Genus Syringopora (image1 | image2 | image3 | figure) SilurianPennsylvanian
              Small tubes often in mm in diameter. Often braches and looks like “worms”, “spaghetti” or “string of poop”. Highly concave (saggy) tabulae can be observed on thin section.
          • Order Rugosa OrdovicianPermian
            • Genus Heliophyllum (image1 | image2 | image3 | figure) Lower – Mid Devonian
              If the sample is a complete one, the external shape is look like a “horn”. The inside of structures should have striations which may appear as a floor like from the top cross sectional view.
            • Genus Lithostrotion (image1 | image2 | image3 | figure) MississippianPennsylvanian = Carboniferous
              Not to be confused with G: Favosites and G: Hexagonaria. They looks very similar due to polygonal shape. However, this is NOT closely (“tightly”) packed compared to G: Favosites. They also usually have 2-3 rows of dissepiments and have domed (curved) the tabulae (better to observe on thin section).
            • Genus Hexagonaria (image1 | image2 | image3 | image4) Devonian
              6-8 rows of dissepiments is a unique feature (slide or thin section is better for observation). Colonial life form with flat tabulae.
          • Order Scleractinia (image | figure) TriassicHolocene = Modern day
            Top view may looks like a mafia cut out human brain. But individually they should look like “pellets” of hamster poop. They add the septas in cycles in which each cycle consist of “in-between” additions. For example, if I am a Scleractinia type guy, I would add 6 first then, 6 + 6 + 12 + 12 + 24 + …
    • Phylum Brachiopoda
      • Class Inarticulata (Lingulata)
        • Order Lingulida
            • Genus Lingula (image1 | image2 | image3 | figure) OrdovicianHolocene
              Spatulate Valves with pedicle are placed between the two shells. Should be able to observe elliptical growth lines extending longitudinally on the surface of the shell.
      • Class Articulata
        • Order Terebratulida (image1 | image2 | figure) DevonianHolocene
          Biconvex shape and has large circular/semi-circular pedicle opening. Curved hingeline (look at the side view). The pedicle itself is often not preserved in the fossil record.
          • Genus Oleneothyris (image)
            Note the zig-zag commissure.
        • Order Spiriferida
            • Genus Atrypa (image | figure) SilurianDevonian
            • Genus Cyrtina () SilurianPermian
            • Genus Mucrospirifer (figure) Mid Devonian
              A distinct straight hinge line with a very large delthyrium (triangular shape in the middle). Biconvex shells with very well defined costae. Note this is used in labs as an example for Order Spiriferida.
            • Genus Paraspirifer () Lower – Mid Devonian
        • Order Orthida
        • Order Pentamerida
        • Order Rhynchonellida
        • Order Strophomenida
          • Sub Order Strophomenioina
          • Sub Order Productina
            • Genus Dictyoclostus (image | figure) Mississippian
              Spines (spike like). Chubby fat guy.
    • Phylum Bryozoa
      • Order Cyclostomata
      • Order Cheilostomata
      • Order Fenestrata
        • Genus Fenestella (image) OrdovicianPermian
        • Genus Archimedes (image1 | image2) MississippianPermian
          Screw like zooarium.
      • Order Trepostomata
        • Genus Hallopora (image1 | image2) OrdovicianDevonian
        • Genus Prasopora () Ordovician
    • Phylum Helmichordata
      • Class Graptolithina
        • Order Denoroidea
          • Genus Rhabdinopora (image | figure) Upper Cambrian – Lower Carboniferous
        • Order Graptoloidea
          • Genus Teragraptus (image) Lower Ordovician
            Also can be found in horizontal type in which it the organism looks like a cross/crossing branches. Uniserial variety.
          • Genus Phyllograptus () Lower Ordovician
          • Genus Didymograptus (image) Lower – Upper Ordovician
          • Genus Climacograptus (image | figure) Lower Ordovician
          • Genus Orthograptus (figure) Upper OrdovicianLower Silurian
          • Genus Monograptus (image) Lower SilurianLower Devonian
            Found in both straight and spiral formations.
          • Genus Cyrtograptus (image1 | image2 | figure) Mid Silurian
    • Phylum Chordata (Species Vertebrata (Cranrata))
      • Class Conodonta
        • Genus Streptognathodus (image) Lower PennsylvanianLower Permian
        • Genus Neogondolella () PermianTriassic
        • Genus Polygnathus (image) Lower DevonianLower Mississippian
        • Genus Palmatolepis (image) Upper Devonian
    • Phylum Arthropoda
      • Class Crustacea
        • Sub Class Ostracoda
      • Class Trilobita
        • Order Agnostida
        • Order Phacopida
          • Genus Calymene (figure) Lower SilurianMid Devonian
          • Genus Phacops () SilurianDevonian
        • Order Redlichiida
          • Genus Olenellus (figure) Lower Cambrian
        • Order Ptychoparida
          • Genus Trinucleus (figure) Ordovician
          • Genus Isotelus (figure) Mid – Upper Ordovician
        • Order Proetida (not on exams?)
        • Order Corynexochida (not on exams?)
      • Class Chelicerata
          • Genus Eurypterus
    • Phylum Mollusca
      • Class Gastropoda
        • Genus Bellerophon () OrdovicianTriassic
          T = 0 with involute planispiral coiling. Often find with ribs but with no sutures.
        • Genus Maclurites () Ordovician
          Low T, but not zero. With exceptions to few, almost always found as an internal mold. No sutures and it is trochospiral.
        • Genus Turritella () OligoceneHolocene
          Very very high T and therefore have an elongation along the trochospiral coiling. Dexutual coil.
      • Class Polyplacophora
      • Class Bivalvia
        • Genus Trigonia (figure) TriassicCretaceous
          Schizodont dentition. Curved hingeline. However, you may find fossils without the curved edges due to preservation conditions.
        • Genus Inoceramus (figure) JurassicCretaceous
          Very strong rugae.
        • Genus Mya (figure) OligoceneHolocene
          Spoon-shaped chondrophore.
        • Genus Mercenaria OligoceneHolocene
          Looks very similar to Genus Mya, but lacks the spoon-shaped chondrophore.
        • Genus Exogyra (figure) JurassicCretaceous
          Trochospirak with high translation (coiling out).
        • Genus Gryphaea (figure)
          Similar to Genus Exogyra but it is planispiral hence it curves inwards (“devil’s finger”).
        • Genus Pecten (figure) EoceneHolocene
          Very strong ribs. Auricles (wing-shaped) on both sides for swimming. The larger aurticle points to the anterior direction.
        • Genus Rudistid () Cretaceous
          Not to be confused with corals or bryozoans. Small lids which covers to tops are often missing from lab samples.
      • Class Scaphopoda
      • Class Cephalopoda
        • Sub Class Nautiloidea
          • Genus Euterphoceras
          • Genus Nautilus (figure) OligoceneHolocene
        • Sub Class Actinoceratoidea
        • Sub Class Endoceratoidea
        • Sub Class Bactritoidea
          • Genus Bactrites () DevonianPermian
        • Sub Class Ammonoidea
          • Order Goniatitida
            • Genus Tornoceras () Devonian
            • Genus Goniatites () Mississippian
          • Order Ceratitida
            • Genus Ceratites () Mid Triassic
          • Order Ammonitida
            • Genus Dactylioceras () Lower Jurassic
            • Genus Harpoceras () Lower Jurassic
            • Genus Baculites () Upper Cretaceous
            • Genus Scaphites () Upper Cretaceous
        • Sub Class Coleoidea
          • Genus Belemnites (figure) JurassicCretaceous
    • Phylum Echinodermata
      • Class Asteroidea
        • Genus “Starfish” (figure)
          Five fold ( pentameral) symmetry. A good example of a living fossil. Well defined body wall and sometimes the central five side disc may be observed in the center.
      • Class Blastoidea
        • Genus Pentremites (figure) MississippianPennsylvanian = Carboniferous
          Small structures that looks like wrapping around a small ball. The five fold ( pentameral) body is often covered in a “cap” shaped external structure.
      • Class Crinoidea
      • Class Echinoidea
        • Genus Micraster (figure) Upper Cretaceous
        • Genus Dendraster (figure) PlioceneHolocene
          Dome (“circular”) shaped overall structure. Flower like appearance on the surface. Very good example of five-fold radial symmetry on the cross sectional body.
      • Class Edrioasteroid
        • Genus Isorophus () Mid – Upper Ordovician
      • Class Erhombifera (“ctriuds”)
        • Genus Strobilocystites () Mid – Upper Devonian
          Looks like a pellet of poop. Not to be confused with Genus Pentremites. Small dotted “ball” like structures within the five fold star like physical frame.

    Kingdom Protista

    • Phylum Chrysophyta
      • Sub Class Rhizopoda
        • Order Foraminiferida
            • Genus Textularia () PennsylvanianPlioceneHolocene
            • Genus Globorotalia () PlioceneHolocene
            • Genus Globigerina () PlioceneHolocene
          • Sub Order Fusulinina
            • Genus Schwagerinid wall () Upper PennsylvanianMid Permian




    Why won’t you publish digital photos of the lab samples? Unfortunately I am a member of the Faulty of Science since June 2013. As a result, I am not allow to publish images of lab samples on my site. However, if you would like to have images here, please email your images to me so I can post them on this site. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    How does this colour scheme work? Oh well… like this
    Quaternary
    Holocene = Modern day
    Pleistocene
    Pliocene
    Miocene
    Oligocene
    Eocene
    Paleocene
    Neogene
    Paleogene
    Cretaceous
    Jurasic
    Triassic
    Permian
    Pennsylvanian
    Mississippian
    Devonian
    Silurian
    Ordovician
    Cambrian

    Thank You

    Felicia MacMurchy, Kathleen Nester, Pulkit Sabharwal and Laura A McCowan, University of Calgary (Undergraduate Students)


    How to use a Brunton Compass

    It is essential for a Earth Scientist to be skilled at using the tools of the trade. From day one, students are trained to use the Brunton Compass, a highly popular measuring tool. I am very proud to say it was first designed and developed by a Canadian Geologist, David W. Brunton. If properly used it is a great tool for taking precise geological measurements within few degrees or meters of accuracy.

    Skip Background Jargon

    Parts of the Unit

    Initially the compass was made out of metals which makes the unit very expensive. Recently the Brunton company produce two different versions of their models; one with the original metal body and another with high density plastic. I personally prefer the original unit because I like the weight and feel of it. However, both versions will provide the same results and both versions comes with exact same layout.

    Before start using anything, we need to learn the layout and features of the device. The compass has a hexagonal shape to it’s outside perimeter creating flat perfectly straight surfaces. This is not for aesthetic appeal. The flat surfaces, specially on each side, provide the support for measuring angles of inclines and angles of strike of Geologic features. The base casing has an arm mounted to the body for directional measurements. Even the cover (lid) of the unit has a mirror which function as a sight taking tool. Everything on the Brunton Compass is a tool.

    Features of the Pocket Transit Compass
    Features of the Pocket Transit Compass

    Above image is a picture of typical Brunton Pocket Transit Compass model used by universities and professionals. A list of key components on the base casing can be summarized;

    A – Long Level – Use for taking azimuth measurements of strike.

    B – Circular Level – Use for taking angle measurements of dip.

    C – Iron Needle – Points to magnetic North and it is damped using the magnet below the pivot point. But the bearing can be adjusted accordingly by rotating the declination zero pin.

    D – 360-degree Graduated Circle – Use for azimuth readings that are accurate to half of a degree.

    E – 90-degree Dip Circle – Use for measuring dip using the long level on the vernier.

    F – Needle Pin – Helps to lock the needle in place in order to take a reading.

    G – Vernier – The vernier is used for inclination measurements with an accuracy to 30 minutes.

    H – Rare Earth Magnet – A cast NdFe magnet which allow the iron needle to seek North accurately and quickly. It also reduces the magnetic interferences from the nearby environment.

    J – Declination Zero Pin – An arm behind the compass is used to move the pin. Using tabulated data on magnetic declination, the degree of correction is set.

    Usage

    Here is an example of taking a strike on an inclined surface. Taking dip measurement is not shown here, but it is done by laying the Brunton Compass on the side along the dipping surface. By moving the vernier and long level, you can measure the dip.

    Taking a strike on an inclined surface.
    Taking a strike on an inclined surface. Click on image for original.

    Introduction to Paleobiology

    This is one of the new specializations in Geoscience in which academics study the history of the Earth (or other planets 🙂 ) using fossil records. This is such a large field, it is further broken down into several other specializations such as Paleobotany (plants records), Paleobiochemistry (organic chem) and so on. This diversification has allow scientists from wide range of backgrounds to study the history of Earth. I am going to narrow this article down to Geologists perspective on paleobiology because I am a Geology student myself.

    Geologists should study Biology

    All scientists are like detectives. Some of us will try to create something for the future or solve problems at hand (For example, Petroleum Geologists) and some of us will try to understand the past in order to improve on how we solve problems. Paleobiology is the later in which we will use the historical records to study the Geological processes in the past and present. Geologists who have some form of education in Biology will most likely find this specialization intriguing. To me this is a good example why I think all three major sciences, Biology, Chemistry and Physics are useful in all flavors of science and engineering.

    What do we do?

    As mention above, we are interested in historical records preferably well-preserved in the rock and sedimentary record. Most of you heard about dinosaurs from popular media. That is paleobiology! You may argue that it is probably obvious when a Geologist come across a dino bone in the sedimentary record. The is far from the truth because we have to use deductive reasoning in order to arrive at that conclusion. If you talk to anyone who is in the “fossils hunting” field, they will tell you that numerous observations often result in may be one or two identifications of new fossils. Scientifically speaking those Jurassic Park movies are insults to the paleobiology.

    One of my professors told me that Geologists love diagrams. Well, he is right and for those who are just getting into this area, flow charts are your friends. Even well experienced Geologists and Paleobiologists use charts to narrow down their observations to a single group, family and ultimately a single type of fossil.

    A basic scheme for the identification of invertebrate fossils based on symmetry.
    A basic scheme for the identification of invertebrate fossils based on symmetry(1).

    Sometimes it is hard to identify fossils. You could even entirely miss them in the field. It takes a lot of experience and practice in order to find and classify fossils. What makes Geological Paleobiologists unique is that their ability to connect the dots between ancient life and the condition of Earth. The Earth has evolved millions of years and life forms have adopted to varying geological and environmental conditions.

    Trilobite?
    Trilobite?

    Typically a Geologist who is an expert of Paleobiology specialization not only record the information of fossils, but also the sediments, rocks and the formation of the location. We identify important events based on appearance or disappearance of certain fossils and geological materials. This information then analyzed together to hypothesize the history of Earth. The data collected used in various areas from academia, environmental science to oil and gas industry.

    So, kids… You may hate the class because there are so many items to be memorized. But it is not simply memorizing because one day you will use the knowledge in the field for great work. No matter what, the ability work with real physical samples comes with experience.

    References

    1. Geological Field Techniques; Coe, A; Argles, T; Rothery, D; Spicer R.; ISBN-978-1-4443-3061-8

    Importance of Hydrology

    Recently the sciences behind resource management also have come under the microscope as a result of exponential population growth. In my opinion, other than the sun, the most impotent resource we depend on is water. Hydrology is a branch of Geoscience (Earth Science/Environmental Science) concerning fluid dynamics specifically related to water.

    It is a cycle

    Like many things in science, in hydrology we can observe different processes and understand the relationships between them. With years and years of experience and wisdom, geo scientists have been able to create a blueprint for processes of water known as the hydrocycle (or water cycle).

    The Hydrologic Cycle.
    The Hydrologic Cycle. (1) Click for original file.

    Yes, this is an endless cycle. But, not all the fresh water can be sorted on the continental shelves. While the Earth is covered with a vast volume of water, most of it is not suitable for consumption. The energy required to remove salt from sea water for human consumption have outweighed the benefits. Even if the technology advance to reduce the cost of cleaning sea water, it is not a natural form of drinking water. In other words, the dependency on technology to provide us with the most basic needs is a not a far sighted strategy to combat resources scarcity. Now we know why hydrology is very important. Through the extensive study of principles of hydrology, we can build better system for water management.

    We use it for…

    The agricultural industry specially in South Asia heavily relied on complex system of water management and irrigation. Some techniques of hydrology can be dated back to as far as 2500 years. The dam building is a evolution of both Engineering and Geological achievements and failures. In the past we have made the mistake of underestimating the power of gravity driven flowing water. It has lead to catastrophes like Italian Val di Stava dam collapse. We learned from our mistakes and today we can build large dams to control massive volume of water such as the Three Gorges Dam in China.

    Another application of hydrology (or rather hydro-geology) is the applications of underground water and brine management. Salt deposits for example provide economically valuable hydrocarbon reservoir. Salt structures are also a good option for storing radioactive waste. Salt behave like a fluid even though it is a solid. It can also also sustain considerable amount of shear and compressional forces without breaking apart. However it is weaken by fluids such as water and brine. This is where Hydro-geologists and Engineers have to work together to find a solution to the problem.

    We can also utilize the knowledge on hydrology for other resources such as oil and gas. In fact due to the economic impotence of the petroleum industry, millions of dollars have been allocated to research in hydrology. The irony is while petroleum industry may have a significant negative impact on the environment, the industry have helped develop new techniques for fresh water management.

    There are many other applications of hydro-geology. If you are interested in this kind of work, ask your professor for more information. Anyway, regardless of the new technologies we still use the simple fundamental principles which helped us understand the hydrological cycle.

    References

    1. Applied Hydrogeology (4th Edition) By C. W. Fetter

    Exploration and exploitation of natural resources

    According to UN and numerous other research agencies about 80% of world’s energy demand is satisfied by converting fossil fuels in to usable energy. It involves the process of planning, exploration, exploitation and management of natural resources. These processes inherently have their own set of risks and benefits. By identifying and managing the issues will boost our energy and resource hungry civilization to the next level.

    My attention to the chain of natural resources exploration and exploitation was first derived by a dear friend and future Geophysicist/Geologist, Alex Meleshko. We can discuss in minute detail on specific areas but I will limit the article to oil and gas and mineral exploration.

    We use them everyday

    Since Roman and Greek civilizations, we use metals and minerals in various different areas. The Greeks used copper for protecting their irrigation channels from erosion and scouring. Today we use materials extracted from Earth for our clothing, electronics, fuel, industrial applications, etc. After the Industrial Revolution and the World War I, we have exponentially increased the demand of natural resources. Think about it for a second. Even the most basic things like a watch or a copper water pipe in your house has to come from somewhere!

    Economics of Supply and Demand

    What is exploration and how it is different from exploitation? The simple answer is that exploration is the process of searching for resources while exploitation is the process of refining the methods which we employ to extract materials.

    It is expensive to explore natural resources. Even with a successful exploration project, there is no guarantee on net capital gain. The value and profitability highly depend upon the supply and demand. Therefore it is possible for a material to worth millions today to worth almost nothing in next few weeks. Asbestos industry is an example of mineral value fluctuations. In Canada we used to export asbestos for building materials (used in insulation, roofing tiles, etc) with a large profit margin about 25 years ago. But after biologists and health officials linked asbestos fibers to lung cancer and repertory illnesses, the global demand dramatically fell. Today, Canada is only exporting large quantities of these materials to India. This is only because India was pressured into singing an agreement with Canadian companies to buy the toxic mineral several years before we start using the alternatives.

    Another example on fluctuation of minerals; 2012 - 13 GOLD.
    Another example on fluctuation of minerals; 2012 – 13 GOLD. Click for larger chart.

    How do you find the capital for exploration? Unless you have a large chunk of money lying around, you need to find investors. The investors will come and go with the rise and fall of the demand. However, depend on the type of mineral or material, it may take several years to extract natural resources of your interest. During that time the market can go either way so your company is actually taking a risk. The payoff on the other hand could be big. On average it could take up to ten years just to explore and prepare a single area for diamond mining.

    Refining

    This is where the exploitation come into the picture. By using technologies and manpower we have created systems to extract materials efficiently at a faster rate. In order to meet the demands some of us have ignore the consequences of over exploitation. Instead of running a diamond mine over a ten year period while analyzing the environmental and social impact we can now expedite the process to as little as five years. In other words a mine that would have supply the demands in 1960s at a steady rate have now been mined faster and cheaper.

    Cycle of Resources

    I created a general flow chart of how the basic processes work together in natural resources industry. Specific examples of operations are more or less similar to what is described below.

    Supply - Demand based economic model.
    Supply – Demand based economic model.

    In nature, everything is interconnected to everything. Likewise the natural resources industries in capitalist countries heavily depend on this type of feedback model. One of the major advantage is private and public investments that often yields profitable outcomes. But often it is hard to get the capital for Research, Innovation and Exploration. In order for the investors have a net gain, the exploitation has to be profitable. While Research, Innovation and Exploration leads to Exploitation, they do not always end up with positive outcomes.