A discovering journey in Wyoming
Team members investigate Fossil Lake while mapping 600 square miles of Wyoming and answering questions to geological mysteries. From right: Roberto Biaggi, PhD, professor of natural sciences at Universidad Adventista del Plata in Libertidor San Martin, Argentina; Robert Cushman, PhD, professor of geology in the department of earth and biological sciences, SST; and Paul Buchheim, PhD, principal investigator of the study, and professor of geology in the department of earth and biological sciences, SST.
Camping atop a mountain on Fossil Butte National Monument, exploring vast lands of Wyoming, and discovering answers to geological mysteries, geology professors and students are on a journey to map 600 square miles of Wyoming.
Paul Buchheim, PhD, principal investigator of the study, and professor of geology in the department of earth and biological sciences, School of Science and Technology (SST), along with co-investigators Robert Cushman, PhD, professor of geology, department of earth and biological sciences, SST, and Roberto Biaggi, PhD, professor of natural sciences at Universidad Adventista del Plata in Libertidor San Martin, Argentina, just returned from their fourth and last summer research trip to complete their $209,000 grant from the National Park Service titled “Geological Mapping of
This summer’s geology team takes a break from research to pose for a picture. Every year the team camps at the top of the mountain at Fossil Butte National Monument.
Topographic Quadrangles associated with Fossil Butte National Monument.”
“The National Park Service funded the project because they want to know how far the fossil-rich layers extend beyond Fossil Butte National Monument,” states Dr. Buchheim. “The maps will be the standard and used by the National Park Service, oil companies, geologists, and paleontologist, among others.”
Loma Linda University is no stranger to Fossil Butte National Monument. For the past 26 years Dr. Buchheim has studied paleoecosystems and sedimentology of Fossil Lake. In fact if you visit the Fossil Butte National Monument museum, you’ll see LLU’s very own Dr. Buchheim featured in the video presentation.
“One outcome of this mapping project is that we’ve been able to answer a number of questions,” explains Dr. Buchheim.
One question that has been a mystery to many researchers’ minds: “Was Fossil Lake ever connected with the other huge lakes that existed nearby in Wyoming?”
According to Dr. Buchheim and his team the answer is “Yes!” Last summer they followed the layers of Fossil Lake and found that it was connected with the larger Lake Gosiute to the east.
“I’ve been wanting to accomplish that for a quarter of a century!” shares Dr. Buchheim. “To be able to connect two of these lakes is outstanding. It allows us to answer many more questions about the effect on plants and fish and if the connection changed the ecology of the two lakes.”
Other participants in this project include Arvid Aase, who is the National Park Service paleontologist liaison who provides logistical support to the investigators. Carol Shultz, graduate student and research assistant, supports the project by putting the information into Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and digital formats as she assists in mapping. The GIS lab of Utah State University is also assisting in this process.
The department also has research opportunities for undergraduate students through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). This summer there were six participants involved in Loma Linda University’s research project.
The team plans to have the maps published by the state of Wyoming beginning sometime next year and make them available online and through Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
“For the first time, we’ll have a complete picture of Fossil Lake and its relations to neighboring Eocene Lakes,” states Dr. Biaggi. “This will be a valuable resource of the Fossil Basin region for investigators and interested individuals alike.”