In early November, following the 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Las Vegas, Paleontologist Barbie headed to the Georgia coast with my brilliant husband and famous ichnologist Chiboogamoo, and 13 Emory University students enrolled in his Modern and Ancient Tropical Environments course. Their MISSION? To leap into the natural environment of Sapelo Island and MARVEL at what they could learn in this Georgia coast windowless classroom (see Chiboogamoo's blog)!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Paleontologist Barbie, what is this Modern and Ancient Tropical Environments course all about?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: It is probably the coolest course ever devised in the history of geology. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but it is a really neat course, because what it teaches the students is all about uniformitarianism.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Why take Emory students to Sapelo Island?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Sapelo is a great place to try out some of the major concepts in the course. We can look at modern environments and what plants, animals and sediments are in them and compare them to what gets preserved in the fossil record. Sapelo has all sorts of environments with a wide variety of plants and animals in those environments. So the students can see how these environments change and think about how they might look if they got fossilized.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: In this case, is it important to know about the human history of the island?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well, I am not so interested in humans, but the island does have an interesting history, especially related to science.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Can you elaborate?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Okay, if you insist. Sapelo Island is the home to the University of Georgia Marine Institute. This is often called the birthplace of modern ecology because of research that was started there in the 1950s. There are great names such as Eugene Odom and John and Mildred Teal (Portrait of an Island). Sapelo is also famous for studies of coastal geology, ichnology, and taphonomy, which started in the 1960s—I MARVEL at all the significant work that has been done here!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Since I accompanied you and my husband Chiboogamoo on this outdoor classroom experience, I know that the first day, you take the “nature walk” starting from the University of Georgia Marine Institute through the maritime forest and to the beach. Why?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: We want the students to see the incredible variety of environments that they can experience in a very short distance. But the walk also teaches them how to observe what is in those environments. I love being outside and I think the students do too, but they don’t go out often enough, especially to observe and MARVEL at nature.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Do geologists or paleontologists need to be attentive to the plants as they go out on “nature walks” like these?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Oh yes! I love plants! You have probably seen pictures of me posing with a variety of flora. Plants are very important for forming the foundation of any ecosystem and picking out ecotones. You can’t have any ecosystems without plants—well, you can, but they aren’t very interesting ecosystems to me (giggles).
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What is an ecotone? Why do we need to pick them out?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I know when you say “ecotone” people think it is some environmentally correct ringtone on your phone (laughs at her own joke). But it is actually the transition between one ecosystem and another—like the area between a maritime forest and a marsh. On Sapelo, red cedars can tell you exactly where an ecotone is located between a forest and a salt marsh. We point the red cedars out to students, and then they can spot the ecotones for themselves.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Were there any joyous “finds” in the maritime forest, marsh, back dune area, and shore during your nature walk? What made you stop to MARVEL?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Everything was fantastically beautiful, and we saw many interesting things in all of the environments, which caused us to MARVEL. But one of the biggest highlights for the students was for them to watch dolphins hunting fish in one of the tidal creeks.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Can you describe this MARVEL?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: It was so MARVELOUS! The dolphins were acting like cowboys herding fish near the banks of the tidal creeks so that they could catch them in the shallow water. There was a lot of splashing and excitement. Both of my colleagues Dr. Henderson and your Chiboogamoo, said they had never see that behavior before. So the students knew they were witnessing something really special. I also wondered how that behavior might get preserved in the fossil record!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: At the end of the day’s lengthy nature walk, you gathered everyone together in the gazebo looking over the shore. The sun was setting and everything looked rosy. You lead the group in a “gratitude” or “MARVEL” circle. What was that about?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well, I think we scientists need to stop and be really thankful for all of the MARVELOUS things out there for us to learn. And thank each other for helping one another learn. Our science wouldn’t go very far if we didn’t have special places like Sapelo and inquisitive people who come to learn and share all that this island has to offer.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: I acknowledge you for your love and MARVEL of scientific exploration and collaboration!
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Thank you! I want people to know that scientists are much more cooperative than they are competitive. I like being a cheerleader for science! (link)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Okay, so after the first day of MARVELOUS fieldwork with Emory students, what could you observe about them and their progress of being in an outdoor classroom?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well not to pat myself on my back too much, but I think they really enjoyed seeing me get down and dirty, so to speak. I like being a role model and especially showing the female students that I am not afraid to get my hair messed up when I go out in the field! Some of the guys could learn that too. That it’s okay to “get into” the environments to learn and MARVEL about them.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Weekend fieldwork doesn’t permit sleeping in, does it? What time on Sunday morning were you out in the field and why?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: We were out in the field by 8:30 am, which is the best time to see tracks or animal behavior going on in the forests of Sapelo Island. So we went to a freshwater pond in the forest first thing on Sunday morning hoping to see some alligators or some other animal activity around it.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What did you find there to MARVEL?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: We were surprised not to see any alligators, but there were lots of tracks from feral cows, deer, raccoons, vultures and even insects. The most MARVELOUS of all, we found trace fossils from a Pleistocene formation that is exposed in that pond.
OPHIOMORPHA--HOW MARVELOUS! Paleontologist Barbie proudly shows off the portion of the fossil burrow she found. Is there any paleontologist who can match her observational skills? I don’t think so, but at least we can all aspire to be more like her.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Why would that be particularly interesting to students in this Modern and Ancient Tropical Environments class?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: These traces fossils were made by ghost shrimp living in shallow-marine environments, but there we were in a forest at a freshwater pond. So the students really got a lesson in how trace fossils can show you how environments have changed. Where they were standing at the freshwater pond used to be a seashore about 40,000 years ago!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: How did the students respond to these fossils?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Let’s just say my enthusiasm was contagious! Because I MARVELLED at these humble, crumbly ghost shrimp fossils, they MARVELLED too! They started looking for them like it was a treasure hunt. But once they found them, they realized that some of these trace fossils were pretty fragile—which was an excellent lesson for teaching them that not all fossils are made of hard rock.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: A few words about the shell ring. What are the MARVELOUS “must-knows”?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well, the shell ring is this big circular pile of shells made about 4,000 years ago by Native Americans, who lived on the island. Nobody knows exactly what its purpose might have been. It has a lot old shells, which I found interesting.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Why?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: The shells were from oysters and other molluscans that lived in the marine environments around there. But because the shells are now in a terrestrial environment, it shows you how the people moved them and concentrated them in the area. Now that is taphonomy!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: And the Chocolate Plantation? I know that studying human history doesn’t excite you as much as natural history.
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well yes, (audible yawn). But I guess all learning is good. What was MARVELOUS about the plantation is how all of the buildings there were probably made out of the 4,000 year-old shells that came out of the shell ring. I guess you can say they were recycling long before we were (laughing)! I like that—“reduce, reuse, recycle” is what I always say!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: I know you love and MARVEL at Cabretta Beach. Is it possible to summarize why?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Yes. Just imagine lots and lots of sand at low tide filled with marine animals and their traces. Then think of a relict marsh, 500 years old, that is exposed on part of the beach giving everybody a glimpse of how fossils are preserved. Also, think of how as sea level goes up, forests next to the beach go bye-bye. Cabretta Beach has a lot of dead trees along its shoreline showing where the forest used to be. Even better? There are these sedimentary deposits called washover fans. These are caused by storms like hurricanes, which take the sand from the beach and wash them over into the nearby salt marshes. Sometimes, these washover fans get preserved in the geologic record.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What are essential field practices that every environmental studies student or beach enthusiast should observe?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Number one is being present. Make sure you are right there in the environment. I know—some people think that I know all too well what it's like to stand still and not think of anything, but they are wrong! It is very important to be noticing what is right there and to observe and MARVEL. Like the ocean breeze on your face, the sound of the waves, the color of the sea oats and Spartina, and the organic smells from the salt marsh!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Yes Paleontologist Barbie! We all need to MARVEL at what surrounds us! One big enthusiastic MARVEL! On a more practical matter, after “being present and MARVELING,” what advice do you have about fieldwork being done in the windowless classroom on the beach?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: As you might have noticed, I am never in the field without my hat! Sure it looks good, but it also serves a purpose! It keeps the sun off my head, keeps most of my hair dry when it rains, and stops insects from biting my scalp. I don’t like that at all, and it has happened far too often—even with the hat!
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Can you connect this field experience on Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast with the upcoming 10-day trip to the Bahamian Out Island of San Salvador?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Sure. This field trip gets the students ready for the rough and rugged work we will do on San Salvador. The big difference is we will be swimming a lot on San Salvador, and we didn’t do any swimming on Sapelo. But this trip still got them ready to think about how each day is going to be a MARVELOUS adventure when they go outside—to the windowless classroom in the Bahamas.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: A word about food. What is the perfect “field” lunch for any geology trip?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—no doubt about it! You can put it in your field pack first thing in the morning, carry it around all day, and it will stay perfectly delicious whenever you eat it! And it provides a wallop of energy! One sandwich is a feast, powering you to do field work the rest of the day.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: On Sapelo Island, you love to get everybody to George and Lulu’s for a low country boil. What is that all about?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: George and Lulu Walker live in the Hog Hammock community on Sapelo Island, and the food they prepare comes out of a long tradition of African-American culture on the Georgia coast. It’s a treat, and it’s an educational experience. I also think that having a good meal at the end of a field day is a MARVELOUS way to relax and talk about what everybody learned during the day.
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I was a little sad and some people might even say, “wistful.” But I just know somehow, “I’ll be back.” It’s ALL
|WINDOWLESS CLASSROOM. Paleontologist Barbie and Chiboogamoo lecture students about the relict marsh on Sapelo Island. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)|
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to The Marley in Decatur, Georgia, that serves Chiboogamoo and me (Hallelujah Truth) beers on Tuesday nights while we collaborate on these PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE interviews. I joyfully acknowledge my brilliant husband Chiboogamoo for his good cheer, knowledge of the Georgia coast, and appreciation of female paleontologists. Gratitude also goes to Dr. Stephen Henderson, Chiboogamoo’s trusted colleague, and his wife and daughter, as well as the enthusiastic troupe of Emory students enrolled in the Modern and Ancient Tropical Environments course, who accompanied us to Sapelo Island. Finally, thanks to the MARVELOUS island of Sapleo, which provides us with such a wonderful outdoor classroom setting.
#REVERB11 (December 14, 2011) PROMPT: MARVEL.
|THE MARVELOUS WINDOWLESS CLASSROOM--SAPELO ISLAND, GEORGIA (photo taken by Hallelujah Truth) The students surprised us when they burst in to song, "I'm a Barbie Girl." Paleontologist Barbie laughed. She likes to see other Barbies having fun--but it's just not her style to be driven around by some guy. (Photo by Hallelujah Truth)|
|PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE, CHIBOOGAMOO, AND HALLELUJAH TRUTH. Sapleo Island, Georgia, November 2011 (photo taken by Kitty Henderson)|
For your MARVELING pleasure, observe previous Hallelujah Truth Interviews with Paleontologist Barbie:
Paleontologist Barbie Pursues Professional Development at 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontologist (SVP) Meeting in Las Vegas, Utah, USA
Paleontologist Barbie's Passion for Modern and Ancient Traces
Paleontologist Barbie goes to St. Catherines Island to examine reptile burrows.
Paleontologist Barbie's Gleeful Discussion of Evolution, Darwin, and Science-Related Art
Paleontologist Barbie explains her understanding of evolution by looking at the "Selections" art exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically, she provides her interpretation of the importance of art done by Chiboogamoo and Hallelujah Truth.
Paleontologist Barbie's Raison D'etre: Scientific Investigation and a Passion for Art!
This is the first interview with Paleontologist Barbie! It is a must read!