All posts by beckj77

A Fossilised Art

It was a new experience – a new art science experience in fact.

Driven by a previous exhibition for Climate.Kit at the Otago Museum, our exhibit ‘Stones and Bones’ was to find a new life force at the Vogel Street Party in Dunedin. Initially, our exhibit was to present climate change from a geological perspective and to highlight stories of rocks and fossils beneath our feet. By looking into the past, the public can see how vastly different the climate has been and to provoke thought for what the future climate may be.

“What’s beneath your feet?” was a rock column core designed to show different rock and fossils, and highlighted how the landscape and climate has changed throughout New Zealand’s history. “What’s your story?” showcased stories from various New Zealanders on a geological map and also invited the public to share their rocky stories.

The Stones and Bones exhibit grew more rocky and bony for Vogel street party, with the exhibit focusing on the paleontological and geological history of the Otago region. It was an engaging experience with the public – in fact, it was a university assignment on a Saturday night! Fortunately, many people showed an enthusiastic interest in the rocks and fossils we had on display.

The geological lab presented a mixture of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, which sparkled with minerals and crystals. People just loved picking up the hand lenses for further inspection of tiny fossils and crystals hiding in the rocks. A good dose of mineral therapy kept us all busy.

The fossils showcased a 22 million year old shark tooth dolphin on display, alongside a 60 million year old Waimanu penguin fossil drawing. Technology was not forgotten – in fact the public embraced it. A 3D printer was in action, printing off moa claws alongside the real moa bones on display.

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I focused predominantly on penguins, both ancient fossilised penguins and modern penguins that live in New Zealand today. I drew in pastel the Waimanu, a penguin dated 60-62 million years old. It is the world’s oldest fossil penguin discovered to date, found just north of Canterbury in the 1980’s. The Waimanu tuatahi and Waimanu manneringi lived 4-5 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. The most notable changes are the long beak and flipper compared to living penguins today.

img_5054Paleo-art is essentially bringing the bones back to life with respect and creativity. It is a branch of palaeontology dedicated to the reconstruction of extinct life. I had to carefully balance art and science to create fossil remains and depictions of the prehistoric species and their ecosystems. It is these visual representations that will shape the public’s perception of prehistoric life – it enables people to visualise past creatures and worlds that fascinate us.

And just to modernise the penguin art, I had some fun drawing a cartoon of the three living penguins that exist on the mainland of New Zealand today. They were naturally at Vogel Street Party …….

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A Love of Books

 

 

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Leah the Kea

As part of another university assignment, I had the challenge of writing and illustrating a children’s book. It took time, and it wasn’t as easy as you may think. But I did have a lot of fun with it. The story was based on climate and habitat changes, told through the characters Kiri the Kiwi and her friends.

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I have been painting some of the watercolour illustrations for an art exhibition, so I was able to use some of these to save time. New Zealand’s native birds show climate and land use changes in a variety of habitats. The book is still a work in progress, especially with the rhyme and rhythm of the words!

 

The story of Room to Read is special, it’s a non-profit organisation founded by John Wood in the hope of promoting literacy education in developing countries. The success is incredible; with thousands of children’s books published and hundreds of libraries and schools built in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tanzania and Zambia to name a few. Wood’s biography, Creating Room to Read, is an inspiration to benefit global literacy. I’m keen to take up the challenge of teaching English to the Syrian refugees who are moving to Dunedin soon.

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Keri the Kiwi and friends

Educational publishing is such a big field – one of the most prosperous areas in publishing at the moment. From study guides and textbooks to technological advancements in virtual and augmented reality. It really is growing, offering so much scope for teaching and learning in a myriad of ways. I’m keen to learn more about the use of technology in education, whether in schools, museums and even online. My next project will be looking at writing an e-book and perhaps even producing an App. Despite the digital revolution, I still respect the book that you can hold in your hands. I’m sure a lot of kids still do.

 

 

 

Man on Mars

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Kennedy Space Centre, NASA, Florida

Man on Mars

“We are going on a journey”.
It was enticing words by Dr. Dava Newman, NASA’s Deputy Administrator at this year’s science festival in Dunedin, New Zealand.

NASA’s goal and aspirations for space exploration and travel are undeniably impressive. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear Dr. Dava Newman speak of current and future goals of NASA. It’s been 50 years of Mars exploration already. Mars is the same age geologically as Earth, but only has 1% atmosphere. At some point around 3.5 billion years ago Mars lost its atmosphere and magnetic shield, but no entirely its water supply. Recent discoveries have found seasonal flowing water on mars. Is there hope for life?

The International Space Station has 15 different nations working together for the future research of Mar’s mission. The research is intense; space propulsion, habitation systems, spacesuit technology, and human physiology are just to name a few. There is methane on Mars that is currently be researched as potential fuel supply. The 2020’s will be devoted to the Space Launch System, sending rockets to mars and the curiosity rover. Man will be going to Mars in the 2030’s – most of us will see this victory in our lifetime. Missions to the moon are back in action; it’ll be a transit stop enroute to Mars. At least 6-8 months of space travel to Mars is not for the faint hearted – and then there is the return trip to endure. ‘Boots on Mars’ will be an ongoing challenge for NASA, but they are up for it.

 

In fact NASA has 100 missions going on at present across a range of scales. The future of aviation is exciting – low boom super sonic aircraft, fuel-efficient and hybrid electric aircraft are ongoing projects. So to is the advancement of satellite technology. The Hubble Telescope has already been providing 26 years of incredible imagery and the discoveries of over 3000 new galaxies. The James Webb Space telescope is next in line for future exploration of dark matter. It’s 100 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope.

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Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum, New York

Currently NASA has 20 earth observing satellites observing climate data, soil moisture and sea level rise. These ‘Eyes of the Earth’ are indeed revealing an increase in global temperatures, supporting climate change predictions. Ongoing support for citizen science and environmental education is GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment). Both NASA and NSF (National Science Foundation) sponsor GLOBE, which provides international science and educational programmes. Currently there are 117 countries involved, with over 29,000 schools and 25,000 teachers. It’s a great educational resource to get the students engaged and is targeted at elementary and high school level. NASA is global is seeking new ideas and talent from around the world, the Internet and social media guides us there on quite a journey.

 

http://www.globe.gov

Colour the Ocean

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Maldives

Oceans are full of colourful biodiversity. After all, we are the blue planet in our solar system, that we ironically call Earth. Oceans cover more than 70% of our planet, and at least as many species that live on land. Most of us see this magnificent beauty through the medium of documentaries, books and the Internet, and for the super keen, through the actual experience of scuba diving itself. Marine scientists have the excitement of many more discoveries to be made about the biodiversity that lives in this underwater world. And yet, human activities are rapidly affecting both the quality and quantity of marine life through overexploitation of fishing, oil seismic exploration and tourism to name a few. As global warming continues, ocean acidification will continue to adversely affect marine life.

As a student activity, selecting a range of marine species to draw encourages further learning and reflection of their current state of beauty and to appreciate what could be lost. Through enhancing scientific visual literacy skills, marine illustrations aid in the visual impact of scientific information. I have drawn a range of illustrations both above and below, with the intent that they can be coloured in, combining science and art skills.

Ecotourism Challenges

I can recall memories of swimming in Waikiki beach in Hawaii, surrounded all too frequently by rubbish. A dashing visit to the Maldives shocked me more by rubbish lying about the shorelines of the capital, Male Island. Resorts and beach villas have transformed coral reef and atoll ecosystems. Swimming in the Galapagos Islands I discovered a lack of colourful coral reefs and fish to be seen, although strict regulated tourism procedures were evident. Coral reefs have a high degree of biological diversity concentrated in a small area, and are sometimes referred to as the rainforests of the oceans. Coral reef systems are also incredibly vulnerable to destruction, as they grow slowly and are sensitive to changes such as rising seawater and increasing temperatures.

Ocean Noise

Our ocean is a symphony, where marine species such as the whales and dolphins communicate and navigate over vast distances. Sound travels considerably much further distances than through the atmosphere. Sonic sea, a documentary shown recently at the science festival in Dunedin, explored how human activities are adversely affecting marine wildlife. It really is alarming at the distress marine life is being subjected to, many of these larger marine species having grown up in much quieter oceans. Whales are more frequently beaching themselves as a consequence. Noise pollution, overfishing, oil drilling and ocean acidification are some reasons for our wildlife being adversely affected. The big question here is what are we prepared to do about it – to maintain biodiversity and colour in our oceans.

 

 

 

Rock Art

Japanese Gardens

Let’s embrace some tranquility – rock therapy can work wonders. Japanese Gardens are ultimately a landscape designer’s paradise. The gardens may not always be large, but they make a statement with topiary and gravel raked in distinctive patterns. Simplicity is beautiful. I wonder how a rock garden can be applied as a science activity?

I was in Kyoto during the cherry blossom season in 2015, exploring a multitude of temples and gardens. The rock garden of Daisen In Temple is designed to express the spirit of yen through rocks, sand and gravel. Smooth flat rounded rocks convey calm and solid energy. The curves in the raked gravel were symbolic of wave energy, while the pointed rocks generated a strong and active mood. The essence of the temple was to allow for contemplation and smoothing of the minds distractions. I needed it.

Art Paints

Let’s break down the rock process, minerals in particular. Minerals can be used in so many different ways – a fun experiment is for students to make their own art paint. Various rock minerals paint different colours such as iron oxide for red, azurite for blue and malachite/copper for green. It’s certainly an effort to grind a stone to power – an easier way to create fine pigments in the lab is to grind up pastels. It may be cheating, but it’s time effective.

Making oil paints will get messy, and safety gear such as a mask, gloves and goggles is an absolute must. Oil paints are a mixture of pigments with linseed oil, mixing will take time and require some patience. A more quick approach is to make water coloured paints. Pigments are mixed with water and a binder such as egg yolk. The paint can then be used straight away.

What makes for a more fun experiment is to simply used ingredients that are found in the kitchen. Approximately a cup of baking soda and slightly less of vinegar are first mixed in a large bowl. In fact, it is these ingredients that create the foaming lava for a volcano experiment. Then add a small amount of corn syrup with a cup of corn starch to change the consistency. Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and allow to settle for a few minutes before adding and mixing different pigments for colour. Allow to dry over a couple of days away from direct sunlight. Another option is to add food colouring to create a palette of different colours. The opaqueness of the watercolour paints will depend on the consistency and the pigments used.

Cave Paintings

Cave paintings have always intrigued me – from looking at the various materials they used to what they drew. A mixture of minerals, plants and animals were combined to create the earthy colours that have lasted over incredible time periods. A good mixture of clay ochre created yellow, brown and red colours, magnesium oxide and charcoal produced black and calcite created white. Other minerals such as feldspar and quartz may have be added to prevent the paint from cracking when drying.

I’ve seen some brilliant cave paintings and frescoes in different parts of the world. One place that is particular memorable is Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka. It was rich in cultural significance and kingdom history, and equally so from a geological perspective. Sigiriya Rock has been formed from a hardened volcanic plug, from what is today an extinct volcano. Natural cave shelters and rock overhangs have been a place of shelter for many monks and many traces of paintings have since disappeared. We are travelling back in time to King Kassapap’s region, 450 – 500 years AD. It was once a site for a Royal Palace and Government with landscaped gardens; pavilions and even a pool perched on the top of the rock summit. It stands at 370 metres elevation, quite an achievement when you glance at the vertical gradient. Rock steps engraved into the side of the rock were still visible to see.

Also visible to see were the frescoes about half way Sigiriya Rock. An open-air spiral staircase guides keen enthusiasts into a small enclave. I wondered what inspired people to draw such wonderful pieces of art into the rock face so high up? And the paintings were of equal interest – buxom attractive women are linked to tantric Buddhism from the 5th century. It was the expression in their faces and eyes that was mystifying – this rock art still survives to show an enchanting tale.

Weather and Weathering

 

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Glacier Perito Moreno, Argentina

Rivers of ice have always fascinated me. Ice ages have been greatly influenced by Earth’s climate over the past three billion years, if not longer. Various theories suggest that processes such as tectonic uplift and rock weathering, sunspot activity and orbital variations have all impacted on climatic conditions and glaciations. Despite the threats of global warming, we are still in a glacial period – the icecaps in Antarctica and Greenland show us this.

Climate Change

A significant component of the Earth and Space curriculum addresses the understanding of climate and weather, the most recent controversies being that of climate change. Recently Tim Flannery, a professor at Macquarie University and Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission in Australia has spoken at the Regent Theatre in Dunedin on his latest research and thoughts. Professor Flannery was named Australian of the Year in 2007, and has spoken and written books related to climate change. It is widely accepted that human activity is accelerating the pace in which the environment can adapt, environmental consequences that may frighten us in years to come. He has had some interesting concepts in recent years – initially supporting nuclear power and then opposing the idea in Australia. He also suggested the release of more sulphur into the atmosphere to block the effect of solar energy and to enhance global dimming. With global warming expected to occur in the future, glaciers will continue to melt and sea levels rise.

Weathering

So what is weathering? It is the break down of exposed rocks that are transported as smaller fragments of rock and minerals. Gravity, wind, ice and water are various ways that rock is transported depending on how big the particles are and how strong the erosional force is. There are different ways in which rocks can be weathered. Biological weathering involves the breakdown of rock due to an organism’s activity, such as bacteria, worms burrowing or growth of tree roots. Physical weathering is the most common for glaciers and generally involves water and changing temperatures. Freeze thaw action will eventually spilt rocks as the water freezes and then thaws in cracks. Rocks are a mixture of different minerals, which also expand and contract to varying degrees when they warm up and cool down.

Chemical weathering occurs largely through acid rain. All rainwater is slightly acidic, as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been dissolved into the water droplets. However pollutant gases also dissolve in raindrops further intensifying the acidic levels. Acid rain has a significant effect on marble, which is essential limestone metamorphosed. India’s Taj Mahal in India built during the 1600’s is being significantly damaged by acid rain and has now lost is brilliant white lustre. The Acropolis in Athens was built further back in time over 400 years BC. However heavy vehicle emissions and pollutants from a congested city has contributed to the acid rain in the region. Even low levels of acid rain are having an impact on the marble surface and degradation.

Glacial Erosion, Chile and Argentina

Reaching to high altitudes involves colder climates and seeing a landscape of snow and ice. I’ve had my fair share of fun and challenges climbing through the Himalayas and volcanoes in Africa, Chile and Iceland. Glaciers are referred to as icy rivers. They flow very slowly, on average around two metres a day from the ice caps. With the tonnes of weight of ice, glaciers carve out U shape valleys with steep slides and flat valley bottoms. Moraine of rocks accumulates to the side and at the end (snout) of glaciers. Many glaciers end in oceans or lakes, as I saw in Chile and Argentina.

Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina is around 30km in length and is fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes. It was magical to see continuous ice breaking away from the glacier and crashing into the Argentino Lake. It is easy to assume this glacier is retreating – in fact it may be slightly growing, although glaciologists often debate this.

Mount Everest Nepal

Khumbu Icefall at the head of the Khumbu Glacier not far from Everest Base Camp is deemed incredibly dangerous, almost suicidal. Particularly as the sun warms up the ice in the morning, moving large crevasses open with very little warning. I witnessed large blocks of ice crashing down – I first heard what sounded like a clap of thunder before I saw the ice and then dusting of snow settling. It’s a gruesome thought that not everybody that dies in his or her pursuit to summit Mount Everest can be recovered. I was told by my guide that bodies that die in the Khumbu Icefall are often found years later as the ice moves with gravity towards Everest Base Camp. Sherpa, which is a recent documentary illustrates the dangers of the Khumbu Glacier Icefall and the detrimental repercussions within the Sherpa community. In fact it is quite a controversy, driven by a deep respect for the mountain gods.

 

 

Extremes Environments

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Liwa, United Arab Emirates

Unusual rock landscapes are distinctive. Bizarre rock formations are twisted and contorted depicting an ancient story of thousands of years of erosion by wind and water. Memories from seeing some of the vast and unique formations in Bolivia inspired thoughts of how weathering and geological processes have sculptured such beauty. It was rock art. Rock Tree (Arbol de Piedra) in Bolivia looked as real as what I had seen in the photographs. True to its name, it indeed looked like a tree and incredibly top heavy. It’s only matter a time before it topples. Geological time.

Desert Landscapes

Deserts are such a different, distinct landscape. Beautiful in their simplicity with sand sculptured sand dunes and the occasional enchantment of an oasis. But not all deserts are sandy; some can be rocky, stony or even icy like Antarctica.

Deserts are dry, rainfall is rarely seen – in fact certain areas of the Atacama Desert has not felt raindrops for hundreds of years. Even though temperatures may scorch during the day, deserts are often cold at night. The Atacama Desert in Chile rarely sees any rain as most of the moisture from the air is squeezed out as it passes over the Andes. It has been recorded as the driest non-polar desert in the world consisting of a stony, sandy and salty landscape. A variety of flora and fauna has evolved in this ecosystem, typically found closer to the coastline. I explored Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), relishing in a unique landscape of sand and rock formations, carved by wind and water.

Some incredible plants and animals have evolved to live in harsh desert conditions with unique adaptations. Arabian Camels can store food in their humps and do not need to eat for weeks, or drink for days. Camels often travel in groups; I was lucky to see a herd of wild camels zigzagging their way through the Arabian sands between the UAE and Oman.

The Arabian Oryx is a medium-sized antelope with distinctive long straight horns. They escape the heat of the day by seeking shade and are able to detect fresh plant growth from a distance. Oryx leucoryx has been classified as endangered species and was extinct in the wild by the early 1970’s. Thanks to the scientific investment in zoos and private reserves it has made a comeback and was reintroduced into the wild from 1980. The Arabian Oryx is the national animal in a number of Middle Eastern counties, including  the UAE, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.

Cacti have evolved sharp spines from leaves to minimize water loss through transpiration alongside providing a sharp defense against predators. Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert in the USA take many different forms, sometimes appearing full and bushy, and other times spindly and sparse. Yucca brevifolia survival is a fine art – waiting for the arrival of well-timed rains and pollination from the Yucca moth. Many animals, birds and reptiles rejoice in the Joshua tree for food and shelter. With the comfort of travelling through the Mojave Desert in a car I could simply enjoy their artistic shapes and sizes.

Salt Landscapes

It is surprising to find any kind of life in the most hostile of environments. I have visited Death Valley National Park in the USA, where the hottest temperatures have been recorded in the world. It is the driest and lowest spot in North America, -86 metres (-282 feet) below sea level.

Visiting the Dead Sea on the border between Jordan and Israel created a headache for me. Literally! Between dehydration and atmospheric pressures of being – 414 metres (-1360 feet) below sea level. Both landscapes are marked with an abundance of sodium chloride. Very few plants and animals can survive the salt flats. The Dead Sea is also referred to as the Salt Sea, with high concentrations of salinity at around 32%. At the very least, the sensation of floating due the natural buoyancy makes for a memorable experience.

 

Uyuni is located in the south west of Bolivia and is famous for Salar de Uyuni. It is the world’s largest salt flat in the world, but this time at greater heights of 3656 metres (nearly 12000 feet) above sea level on the Altiplano plateau. Formed from a prehistoric lake around 40,000 years ago, today the large expanse of salt can be up to 11 metres thick. The region is also rich in lithium reserves, containing over half the world’s reserves. The day I visited, I did not see any form of wildlife, although cacti (Trichocereus pasacana) can be seen on Incahuasi Island . This island is a remnant of an ancient volcano, which was submerged in a prehistoric lake. Deposits consisting of fossils and algae have also been found. Looking around at the largest salt plain in the world made me question how I could survive in such a habitat. Not very well – it was hot, dry and barren. It was beautiful but deathly.

Earth’s Romantic Past

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Welterbe Grube Messel Pit, Germany

Let’s mix up some ‘Cenozoic’ for a little adventure. Making fossils is not only fun but also a creative way for kids to learn about paleontology. A dash of plaster, paper cups and various objects, paints and colour pens does the trick. I find students have a particular fascination with fossils and exploring Earth’s species that have been and gone. In keeping with the Earth and Space science curriculum, there is a teaching unit related to dating geological events. From radiometric dating, fossils, erosion, tree rings and even volcanic events, various scientific methods and philosophies can be explored to stimulate thought and research.

Portrait of our Planet

The cover story this month in the New Scientist Magazine outlines a beautiful article on evolution and the future of species – 7 billion years from now. Some may regard it as being alarmist – but at the very least it makes you reflect on the future of our planet. What will Earth’s final chapters of life illustrate? Planet Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old and the evolution of life has come a long way in that time. But what will the future behold – it’s quite hard to imagine? Will life revert to the beginnings of when Earth first formed, with species diminishing in numbers and size? How will species adapt, migrate and evolve? An educated guess can only but hypothesise bizarre life forms that may emerge. James Lovelock, best known for his Gaia hypothesis is convincing in his argument that it is the biosphere that greatly affects the chemistry of the Earth’s surface, including oceans and the atmosphere. The Metaphor of Gaia has been an inspiration for scientific enquiry, given the complexity to prove the hypothesis with current scientific methodologies. But Earth’s processes are also in the game as plate tectonics transform the geosphere and consequentially the biosphere’s fate.

And what is the fate of human life? The fossil record does not inspire the greatest confidence in the future of mankind. Mammal species survive approximately one million years on average. So far, humans have existed for 200,000 years. How will we survive threats from disease, climate change, ecological degradation and natural disasters? Is it a matter of Homo sapiens evolving into a new species to fit a completely different environment on Earth – or life on another planet?

Messel Pit Fossil Site, Germany

Although not unique specifically to New Zealand, I do have fond memories of seeing a quick glimpse of the Messel Pit Fossil Site, located not far from Frankfurt in Germany. A UNESCO world heritage site since 1995, I was keen to have a look. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to see the fossil site in the caldera of once a volcanic lake. I was still lucky to see the museum at least, which displayed fossils from the Eocene era, 47-50 million years old that had been preserved in an anaerobic environment. Shale and resin remains are rich and the Messel Fossil site is claimed to be one of the most diverse fossil sites in the world.

So what was life like around 47 million years ago? Floral diversity was rich. Green and golden algae were abundant along with diatoms and dinoflagellates. Coniferous and fern remains are rare but what is a treasure trove is the large numbers of flowering plant remains, with leaves, seeds, fruits and flowers clearly seen. So far, 96 families of angiosperms have been identified, of which 15 are monocotyledons and 81 dicotyledons. The vegetation was indicative of a lush tropical region, continental plate movement has steered this region further from the equator since.

Insects have also been recorded and fossiled with accuracy – so detailed and artistic. Most of the insects identified were land dwellers, of which 60% were beetles. Bees, wasps and ants were also abundant but their fossils more rare. Cicadas are quite diverse with relatively large wingspans. A number of fish species have been discovered and are sometimes referred to as ‘living fossils’, with enamel-covered scales and a snout similar to a crocodile. Amphibians were fascinating, with a number of frogs, snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodiles preserved beautifully. These species were at their peak of their diversity 250 – 65 million years ago. Snakes make up the majority of the reptile finds, although fossils of venomous snakes have not been found to date. Birds are the most common land vertebrates at Messel Pit; over 50 bird species have been identified and generally thought to be tree dwelling. Most of the bird fossils were in an excellent state of preservation with even colour patterns preserved. Birds of paradise, crows, finches, hummingbirds, flamingos and parrot ancestors have all been recorded.

Without a doubt, it is the mammals that have stolen the stage at Messel Pit. This was the age of the mammals, with the extinction of the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. Skeletons, hair, wing membranes and intestinal contents have all been found. 45 species of marsupials, insectivores, bats, primates, edentates, rodents, carnivores and odd/even-toed ungulates have all been revealed. Anteaters were abundant, but it was the bats that were by far the most commonly found mammal specimens. Over 700 fossil specimens are related to seven species, with sophiscated wing structures and sensory systems. Marsupials no longer existed in Europe, yet early traces of possum like species have been discovered. Hoofed mammals were found, including the rhinoceros and tapirs, but it was the horses that maintained the most prevalent collection of fossils (at least 61 complete horse skeletons).

Cat picture
Artwork by blogger

For the future …

The Earth supports an incredible amount of biodiversity of life. Acknowledging Earth’s history provides potential insight for how life will evolve next, and more importantly the implications of environmental degradation and climate change. It’s fascinating to relive history and even more intriguing to inspire the imagination of students to create their own species. The creation of fossils may just fantasise the minds of young evolutionary scientists and what may happen next.

Lizard picture
Artwork by blogger

Enchanted Classroom

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Auckland War Memorial Museum

The museum is such a great place to inspire learning, I think of them as ‘an enchanted classroom’. Even if the logistics of getting to a museum is difficult, there are often great resources available on their websites, catered primarily for teachers and school curriculums.

New Zealand Museums

While at teacher’s college, I naturally spent some time at Auckland’s War Memorial Museum. I have always remembered the wonderful exhibit on volcanoes on the first floor. From the scientific history of volcanoes to hearing about the human experiences, I felt the ground tremble. Fascinating and frightening, I left being reminded that volcanoes deserve respect. The Canterbury Museum offers a range of exhibits and programmes, from fossils, rocks and Antarctic exhibits being the most relevant to the Earth and Space Science curriculum. In co-ordination with Canterbury Museum there is also Quake City Exhibit located on Cashel Street in Christchurch. This museum is a unique multi media attraction aimed at engaging and educating visitors about Canterbury’s earthquakes. I’ve never been to a museum purely based on earthquake history. But this is Christchurch’s dramatic history since 2010. Well perhaps not so unique.

The entrance to the museum was greeted by Maori legends followed by the history of major earthquakes in New Zealand. From what is an earthquake and liquefaction, to the hero’s and emergency response team, the museum covered it all. The destruction and rebuilding of historic buildings was also recognised, notably Christchurch Cathedral and Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (Christchurch Basilica).

I was to discover that the Canterbury region had experienced a range of earthquakes in the late 1800’s. In 1888 North Canterbury experienced an earthquake of magnitude 7.3, it actually toppled 40 feet of the Cathedral spire. Outside of living memory, earthquakes are back – it’s history repeating itself.

Natural History Museums

I have been fortunate to see some wonderful natural history museums around the world. The Natural History Museum in London and the American Museum of Natural History in New York are among my favourites. The Natural History Museum is beautiful with more than 80 million specimens to adore. From animal and dinosaur skeletons, fossils, gemstones, minerals and many other historic artworks and specimens that entertain the eye and mind. For natural history lovers, at least 300 scientists are based at the museum’s Darwin Centre, where visitors can watch them work in laboratories.

My memories of Frankfurt’s Natural History Museum, Senckenberg was artistic. With 10,000 exhibits there was plenty to view, although most of the information was written in German. Fortunately, diagrams and drawings enhanced the learning experience. I also enjoyed looking at a class of students drawing dinosaurs. Although it appeared to be an art class, it reminded me of the power of visualisation. Do students draw enough during science classes? It would certainly help some.

Museum Education

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is now offering a Masters degree designed specifically for Earth Science education. The Masters of Arts in Teaching is delivered in partnership with the Richard Gilder Graduate School. Over a period of 15 months, students learn science coursework in a world class natural history museum, working alongside scientists and teachers in an urban residency program.  In response to a critical shortage of science teachers in the New York state, this partnership of education combines academic theory and learning specialising in Earth Science for grades 7 – 12. It’s incredible how education is becoming so diverse, but education needs to be marketable like any other business. This programme immensely appealed to me.

 

Beyond Planet Earth

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NASA, Kennedy Space Station, Florida

3,2,1 lift off!  A significant component of the new science curriculum engages students interests in space. I often found students fascinated by this topic – it inspires some imagination and philosophical questioning. What really is out there? Just how big is our universe?

New Zealand has a number of planetariums and tours that are run throughout the country. Recently I have visited the Otago Museum to check out the planetarium. A series of three different screenings are shown throughout the day, from observing the night’s constellations, through to the origins of the universe and Maori legends. I enjoyed them all.

What I have found of teaching interest lately is the aerospace studies subject offered in a number of secondary schools in Queensland, Australia. Aerospace studies, is catered for students who are seeking a foundation in the aviation and aerospace industry. Key topics include aeronautics and astronautics, aviation operations, safety management systems and the business of aviation and aerospace. Modules are designed to further students’ education, training and employment opportunities in this field. With my own personal interests in flying and having worked in aviation for seven years, I was particularly enthusiastic to discover this subject on offer to students.

NASA

I’ve always been fascinated to explore beyond planet earth. Perhaps, watching documentaries about astronauts sparked such an interest. A visit to NASA in Houston further fuelled that inspiration last year. Well, at the very least, I got to touch a moon rock! Visiting Johnson Space Centre at Houston was fascinating and immensely informative. Some people told me they only needed two hours to visit – I needed two days.

I have been oblivious to space travel accomplishments over the past few decades. Six space shuttles have been built and numerous missions completed, from Mars to Gemini to the Apollo Missions. There are nearly 2500 moon rocks at the Johnson Space Centre. The moon rocks are whitish-grey in colour, as they have not been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere. The basaltic composition of the moon rocks is incredibly similar to that of Iceland and Hawaii’s lava flows. Predominant metals found on the moon were aluminium, iron, magnesium, titanium and calcium.

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NASA, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The international space station has further paved the way for space travel and research. It orbits quickly, at 17,500 miles per hour, 250 miles above the earth’s surface. Astronauts commonly stay for six months at a time, heavily involved in their area of research. What was of interest to me was their existence in space. It’s an extreme environment to exist in, and thanks to innovative engineering and technology, it’s a dream come true for astronauts. But it is not all easy. With no air pressure, oxygen and extreme temperatures and radiation it’s not for the faint hearted. With no gravity, eyes and ears cannot decipher movement and orientation of the body, which can cause motion sickness, headaches and vomiting.

Food is a special challenge, for there are no refrigerators in space. Dry food is common along with a lot of powdered food. Another craft is responsible for the regular delivery of food and removal of wastes. Muscle weakness is common and bones become weaker. Astronauts often feel considerably weaker when arriving back to Earth. The astronauts are expected to exercise for two hours per day due to the lack of gravity. If an orbit takes 90 minutes – that is one fast bike ride around the earth. It’s an ongoing mission!

Six months at least of space travel is required to reach Mars, an ambition NASA hopes to achieve by 2030, or 2035 at the latest. Water was once thought to have been present, due to the geomorphological features present on Mar’s surface. The fascination if life has and can exist on Mars is the driving force behind NASA’s pursuit to get there. Now that is bold ambitions.