Friday, October 17, 2014

Another World at Black Mesa: Oklahoma Academy of Science field meeting, part one.

Recent announcement: I have uploaded a video about The Great Unconformity in the Black Hills, one of the best geological evidences of an old earth in North America.

Here is the first of three entries I wrote for the blog of the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences.

On September 19, 2014, hundreds of people hit the road and headed out through the Panhandle of Oklahoma as if being shot through the barrel of a rifle. We came to rest right at the very tip, at Black Mesa State Park. Black Mesa is like a different world, more closely resembling New Mexico than any part of Oklahoma with which most of us are familiar. As we left most of the trees, and even many of the shrubs, behind, we knew that we were also leaving behind comfort and safety. We were exposing ourselves not only to stormy weather (which, despite predictions, did not materialize) and almost desert-like conditions, but also to biological dangers, everything from rattlesnakes to hantavirus. Hantavirus has already claimed lives in the Panhandle. Notice that “Hantavirus” is spray-painted on the board of this house.

What surprised me most about this meeting is that there were over a hundred undergraduate students. As president, I had begun to worry that perhaps OAS was becoming a coterie of old people. But the average age of the people at this meeting must have been about twenty, despite the considerable statistical leverage provided by seasoned individuals such as Craig Clifford, David Bass, and myself. I can only hope this means that science is alive and well in the next generation of Oklahomans. Of course, they will probably all find jobs in other states where the pay is better.

Once we all got settled down in our bunkhouses and tents, we had dinner provided by a caterer who was actually willing to drive all the way out to Black Mesa. I am still amazed that any caterer would be willing to do this.

Our evening program was a presentation by Dr. Anne Weil of OSU.

She teaches anatomy in medical school during the academic year, and does vertebrate paleontology research in summer. She studies dinosaurs and ancient mammals. The land that is now Oklahoma had some truly amazing dinosaurs. She handed around what appeared to be pieces of rock. But they were fossilized dinosaur bone fragments. Even after being told what they were, I could not tell that they were anything other than rocks, except for one, which clearly had fossilized bone tissue in it. She conveyed to us some of the excitement of scientific research, often punctuated with “Yay!” and “Woo!” By using microscopes and isotopes, Anne said, we can ask and answer questions that Cuvier could not even imagine.

In the next entry, I will write about a couple of the field trips in the vicinity of, and up to the top of, Black Mesa, on Saturday, September 20.

No comments:

Post a Comment