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Does dinosaur graveyard hold clue to today's climate change?

May 6, 2016

By Olga Gertcyk

Small predators to 30-metre sauropods have been found in the Shestakovsky complex over the past 60 years.

A major UNESCO research project will see international experts visit this rich site in Kemeerovo region, where new excavations will be held, but a symposium will also examine whether stark climactic changes in the Cretaceous period can deepen knowledge of today's variations.

Boris Shurygin, head of the laboratory of paleontology and stratigraphy of Mesozoic and Cainozoe era of the Trofimuk Institute in Novosibirsk, said: 'Among foreign participants there will be researchers from 15-to-20 countries. There will definitely be researchers from Japan, China, South Korea, India and other countries.

'This project on studying the Cretaceous ecosystems of Asia and North East Pacific, under the auspices of UNESCO, has been implemented for four years. Previously it was held in Mongolia, Japan and China.'

Olga Feofanova, director of Kemerovo Local History Museum, which is running the palaeontological excavation in Shestakovo, said: 'We believe that this territory might be interesting for researchers from other countries who can participate in excavation works.'

Shestakovsky complex became famous in the mid-20th century. The remains of eight dinosaurs - from small predators to 30-metre sauropods - were found there over a period of 60 years. The most precious find are the complete skeletons of Siberian Psittacosaurus which lived 125 million years ago - and only there.

At the end of 2013, Kemerovo Local History Museum obtained license to conduct palaeontological excavations. The first major expedition was held in summer 2014. The remains of over 10 examples of the Psittacosaurus were found here.

The symposium will be held at Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics of Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (Novosibirsk) between 14 and 21 August 2016. It will examine the way the Cretaceous 'greenhouse' period was known for elevated atmospheric CO2 levels - and much higher global sea levels than today.

'The Cretaceous period is thus an ideal study-object for the unravelling and understanding the development of ecosystems due to modern and future climatic changes,' said a publication outlining the issues to be studied at the session. A great variety of well-preserved environments and ecosystems of the past can be found in the Cretaceous geological records of Asia and the Western Pacific rim.

'From these we can obtain abundant significant information.'

In addition, 'marine sediment records in the Western Pacific rim and Eastern Tethys region provide several significant information on the Cretaceous marine paleoenvironmental changes, including paleooceanographic conditions, temperature fluctuations, (and) latitudinal temperature gradients'.

Researchers say 'a diversified fossil record witnesses terrestrial and marine ecosystems in Paleo-Asia and the Pacific.

'This project, complementing basic paleontological and biostratigraphical studies, will plot the paleobiogeographic distribution of life on the largest continent and in the ocean, correlating the several faunas and floras in time and space.

'We will further investigate the structures and processes of evolution for terrestrial and marine ecosystems, while discussing important topics such as faunal and floral diversity and their turnover, patterns of extinctions and subsequent recoveries. We also expect important results such as newly discovered terrestrial vertebrate faunas, the oldest angiosperm, their origin and evolutionary trend, as well as their role during changes of the ecosystem.'

The publication said: 'The first major goal is to correlate high-resolution sea-level records from globally distributed sedimentary archives to the new, high-resolution absolute time scale, using sea-water 5 isotope curves and orbital cycles.

This will resolve the question whether the observed short-term sea-level changes are regional (tectonic) or global (eustatic) and determine their possible relation to climate cycles.

'The second goal will be the calculation of rates of sea-level change during the Cretaceous greenhouse episode. Rates of geologically short-term sea-level change on a warm Earth will help to better evaluate recent global change and to assess the role of feedback mechanisms, i.e. thermal expansion/contraction of seawater, subsidence due to loading by water, changing vegetation of the Earth System.

'The third goal will be to investigate the relation of sea-level highs and lows to ocean anoxia and oxidation events, represented by black shales and oceanic red beds, and to evaluate the evidence for ephemeral glacial episodes or other climate events.

'Multi-record and multi-proxy studies will provide a high-resolution scenario for entire sea-level cycles and allow development of quantitative models for sea-level changes in greenhouse episodes.'



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