Abolished parks, the Kraken, and dead plants: Geological Society of America’s 125th Annual Meeting

I was lucky enough to spend the better part of last week at the Geological Society of America’s 125th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. This was my first conference and it was an amazing experience!

My flight to Denver can be described with one word: mountains. I left the ancient Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee for the younger, taller Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The views were beautiful and the temperature in Denver was much more pleasant than what I had left in Tennessee!

Some of the exciting things I did:

On Monday, I presented my talk  ‘Paleoclimate Reconstructions of Three Mid-Atlantic Miocene Sites’ in the session Quantitative Reconstructions  of the Large-Scale Cenozoic Climate Change.

I met Dave Marshall of Palaeocast fame and he interviewed me about my paleoclimate research. On Tuesday we had the opportunity to interview Drs. Bob Bakker and Matt Mossbrucker. If you check out the Palaeocast recap of the conference, you can hear me talk about my research at ~21:05 on Day 2 and on Day 3 at ~14:48 you can hear Dave and I talk to Drs. Bakker and Mossbrucker about the tale of the Brontosaurus.

I really enjoyed Dr. Holly Dunsworth’s talk ‘The Sub-Saharan Origins of Cercopithecoids, Hominids, Hominins, and Humans‘. It was nice to have a little biological anthropology sprinkled in amongst the geology!

On Tuesday night the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was open after hours to students at the GSA conference. It’s a fantastic museum and I highly recommend visiting. I especially enjoyed the Prehistoric Journey exhibit.

At the end of the conference, I went to Dr. Mark McMenamin’s talk ‘The Kraken’s Back: New Evidence Regarding Possible Cephalopod Arrangement of Ichthyosaur Skeletons‘. The room was packed and there was even a film crew! Dr. McMenamin is a fantastic speaker and the presentation included beautiful artist reconstructions, but overall I was not convinced that there was evidence of Kraken attack and subsequent arrangement of bones.

Some of the interesting things I learned:

For me, the first morning of the conference was dominated by the session Geology in the National Parks: Research, Mapping, and Resource Management I. I learned about Fossil Cycad National Monument, a former national monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota that was removed from the National Park System in 1957.

I made sure to attend Dr. Benjamin Burger’s talk ‘Mammal Species Durations in the Fossil Record: Answering the Question, Which Species has the Longest Duration in the Fossil Record?‘. The answer was the fossil insectivore Centetodon magnus. I was pleasantly surprised that a Gomphothere came in second place!

The session Dinosaurs & Diamonds: 125 Years of Geoscience in Museums started with the talk ‘Let’s Talk About Rex, Baby: Communicating Science and the Myth of Dumbing Down‘. Dr. Richard Kissel addressed the idea that museums ‘dumb down’ their material for the visitors. This is not necessarily, and should not be, the case. Instead, it just takes a different way of presenting the information.

On Tuesday afternoon I went to Richard Harris’s (of NPR) talk ‘Why People Trust Scientists but Not Science: Climate Denial in Context’. He talked about the fact that most scientists believe that the lack of acceptance of science (particularly with respect to climate change) stems from the absence of information. Instead, it likely stems from different moral priorities as well as a misunderstanding of how science works.

All in all, the GSA Annual Meeting was a great experience. I met some interesting people, learned some geology and paleontology, and had the chance to miss classes to spend a week in Denver! Hopefully I’ll get the chance again next year!


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