Friday, October 21, 2005

First record of Eubrontes dinosaur footprint in Portland Quarry

Dinosaur footprints have been found in the Portland Brownstone Quarries for centuries, but until a few weeks ago one was strangely missing. It seemed odd that there was no record of the dinosaur footprint known as Eubrontes (or "true thunder") having been found in the quarries located along Brownstone Avenue. Elsewhere in the Connecticut Valley, the footprint is relatively common, one reason it was adopted as the official State Fossil by the Legislature in 1991.

Quarryman Mike Meehan may now stake his claim for being the first to make a verifiable discovery of Eubrontes footprints in the Portland Quarries. A former coal mining engineer, Mike reopened operations in the north quarry to satisfy new demand for brownstone that has grown over the past several years. It's not uncommon for Mike and his quarrymen to encounter dinosaur footprints as they work.

Mike joined a group of geologists for a discussion about Early Jurassic dinosaur footprints during a visit the scientists made to his quarry earlier this month. "One that hasn't been found here is Eubrontes," said Professor Paul Olsen of Columbia University, describing the footprint, probably made by a mid-sized theropod dinosaur some 200 million years ago. "I've found them," Meehan said matter-of-factly. "I have a couple over here."

Geologist Nick McDonald (foreground left) and Professor Paul Olsen of Columbia University (foreground center) get a look at the first Eubrontes footprints known to have been found in the Portland Brownstone Quarries, with their discoverer, quarry operator Mike Meehan (foreground right).

Meehan led the group for a tour of several different footprints he's found in the quarry, including a couple of footprints that showed the classic three-toed foot design, roughly 18 inches from heel to toe, typical of Eubrontes (photos top and below).

With his discovery, Meehan may have earned a place in the history of dinosaur science in Connecticut, along with quarrymen such as Charles O. Wolcott of Manchester, whose quarry yielded many prehistoric bone and trace fossils in the late 1800s.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Eco: CT Highlands Conservation funds

The federal goverment plans to spend $100 million to protect natural areas in our region over the next ten years. The USDA Forest Service is asking for ideas about which places in Connecticut's northwest corner ought to be saved, and will hold public meetings this month to let anyone who wishes have their say.

A view of the Connecticut Highlands from atop Bear Mountain. The Highlands area of Connecticut is a triangle around the northwest corner bounded by the state lines to the west and north, and as the crow flies from Torrington southwest to Danbury. Photo by ecologist Dr. Robert Craig.

The Highlands Conservation Act of 2004 authorizes the US Forest Service to conduct a natural, recreational, and cultural resource assessment of the Connecticut Highlands. In plain language, that means the federal government is prepared to offer as much of half of the cost for states in our region to acquire and place in the public trust natural areas that this new study finds are of exceptional value and importance. The Act provides a total of $100 million over ten years, so it will have to be spent wisely.

The Forest Service is inviting the public to participate in "public listening sessions" to be held at the New Milford High School, 388 Danbury Road, New Milford, on Wed., Oct. 19th at 7pm, the UConn Extension Center, 855 University Drive, Torrington, on Thurs., Oct. 28th at 7pm, and at the Housatonic Valley Regional High School, 246 Warren Turnpike Road, Falls Village, on Mon., Nov. 7th at 7pm.

According to the The USDA Forest Service, "the Act is designed to assist Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania in conserving land and natural resources in the Highlands region through federal assistance for land conservation projects in which a state entity acquires land or an interest in land from a willing seller to permanently protect resources of high conservation value.

"The USDA Forest Service will identify lands that have high conservation value in the Highlands of Connecticut and Pennsylvania through a Regional Study Update similar to that completed for the Highlands of New Jersey and New York in 2002. Each year, governors of the four Highlands states may submit land conservation projects in the Highlands for funding not to exceed fifty-percent of the total cost; projects must be consistent with areas identified in the Update as having high resource value. The USDA Forest Service is responsible for doing the resource assessment and preparing the Update for the states involved; Department of the Interior has responsibility for project grants."

If you know of a place in the northwest hills you want to see preserved, this is your chance!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Geo: Time and place

We never know when something extraordinary is about to happen, when streams of time might run together for an instant before parting. Listening to Jelle DeBoer lecture about the Age of Volcanism in the Connecticut Valley last Sunday, from atop the Hanging Hills of Meriden with the Sleeping Giant behind him was one such moment.

DeBoer (center) and Phil Resor (middle right with tan cap), professors of geology at Wesleyan University, led a field trip for a group of geologists from around the northeast, one offered as part of the New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference here last weekend. With them were geologists Tony Philpotts of UConn (middle left in tan jacket) and Greg McHone (not pictured).

Beloved as the Stearns Professor of Earth Science at Wesleyan, Jelle is an expert on the lavas that flowed over and through the Connecticut Valley some 200 million years ago to form our traprock ridges, such as the Hanging Hills, Sleeping Giant and Talcott Mountain, and rocky craigs such as West Rock and East Rock.

In recent years, a new theory about the origin of these rocks has emerged. Drs. Philpotts and McHone are testing the idea that local traprock ridges were a small part of volcanic events that flooded the center of the former supercontinent of Pangea with molten rock. They describe the area—which today stretches around the Atlantic, across parts of Canada, the eastern US, Europe, South America and Africa—as the CAMP, or Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.

An illustration showing the area of the CAMP by Greg McHone, after a map by Paul E. Olsen. The red area indicates the portion of Pangea (including New England) Greg McHone believes was overspread by flood lavas in the Early Jurassic.

Standing together there atop the Hanging Hills on that perfect October day, streams of time converged. There was Jelle DeBoer, standing confidently atop the ancient volcanic rocks, lecturing about events in the deep past he has spent a lifetime researching, and serving as a focal point for a stirring conversation about new discoveries still being made here today. Then, of course, it came time for all of us to go on to the next stop.

Public program: Discover Connecticut’s Natural Wonders

If you’d like to learn how you can explore the natural history of Connecticut here’s your chance. This month, The Connecticut College Arboretum, New London, will present a special, four-session course about the nature of the state that will intrigue and delight. "Exploring the Natural History of Connecticut—and why it matters!" tells tales of local discoveries about geology, dinosaurs and wildlife, describes trips to places around the state where essential concepts of earth science are brought to life, and draws connections to events around the globe today.

The course will be presented by Brendan Hanrahan, editor of "Connecticut Windows On The Natural World," and the "Road to Discovery Series of guides to the natural history of Connecticut". The Arboretum has been publishing scientific bulletins about the nature of Connecticut for more than 50 years.

Open to everyone from weekend adventurers, to teachers, to parents, the course is scheduled for Wednesday evenings, Oct. 12, 19, 26 and Nov. 2, 6:30-8:30 pm. Teachers will be awarded 8 CEUs for the four classes. The fee is $75 for Arboretum members, and $88 for non-members. Call the Arboretum at (860) 439-5060 to register or email Assistant Director Kathy Dame for more information.