Professors’ spring break in Argentina yields fossils

Jeremy Hebebrand

Geology associate professor Carrie Schweitzer recently returned from a week-long trip to Argentina. Among her finds were about six or seven varieties of crabs. Tracy Tucholski | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Professors from the Department of Geology had a very different spring break this year.

Carrie Schweitzer, associate professor of geology, and Rodney Feldmann, professor emeritus of geology, recently returned from Argentina, where they gathered an assortment of rocks and crab fossils.

“Our colleague in Argentina thought, well it’s been 20, pushing 30 years since someone has been down there, and nobody has ever gone down that really specializes in crabs and knows what they are looking for,” Schweitzer said. “We should go and see what we can find.”

They met up with colleague Michael Griffin, a professor at the University of Santa Rosa, in Argentina and visited areas near Rio Grande in the tierra del fuego, Schweitzer said.

They spent eight days in the field, collecting rocks and crab fossils from areas they visited, Schweitzer said.

“It was a gold mine, an absolute gold mine,” Feldmann said.

Feldmann and Schweitzer have studied fossils and specimens from Chile as well as Argentina before, Feldmann said.

They are trying to figure out if the Andes Mountains formed a physical barrier between life on both sides of the continent.

“It turns out there is a locality in Argentina right up against the Andes that we studied a few years ago, had a fauna that was very much like Chile,” Feldmann said.

Marine animals can’t go over the mountains. They have to go through the water, so they started thinking of how effective the mountain barrier was, Feldmann said.

“We wanted to study the tierra del fuego area in particular because that would tell us if the fossils here are like the ones in Argentina or are they more like the ones in Chile,” Feldmann said.

Feldmann said that they did not have much time to gather their data or study the fossils completely, but from the looks of it, the fossils are looking more like those found in Chile.

They also found many new fossils of crabs that were previously unfound in earlier trips, some of which are very small and might have gone unnoticed in earlier searches, Schweitzer said.

They flew into the town of Ushuaia in the Andes Mountain, but spent most of their time in Rio Grande, Schweitzer said.

Ushuaia has very random weather. It could be raining one second and sunny the next, whereas Rio Grande was very flat and windy, Schweitzer said.

Rio Grande was the only heavily populated city near the areas that were going to be researched, and they had to stay in a small hotel room with three beds, Feldmann said.

Feldmann and Schweitzer said they had to have a permit to do their research in Argentina and were limited in how much they could return with.

“It was a great time, well worth it,” Feldmann said.

Contact sciences reporter Jeremy Hebebrand at [email protected].