CONNECTING THE FIELD TO THE FOSSILS: EXPLORING THE GEOLOGICAL CONTEXT OF PALEONTOLOGICAL MUSEUM SPECIMENS THROUGH VIRTUAL FIELD EXPERIENCES
Our partners at the Paleontological Research Institution use high-resolution panoramic imagery and other techniques to digitally integrate selected field areas in California with the rich Cenozoic invertebrate paleontological collections in our museums. The first of several modules focuses largely on the estuarine deposits and the molluscan-rich communities from the Plio-Pleistocene Etchegoin, San Joaquin, and Tulare formations of the Kettleman Hills in central California, which accumulated during a time of significant plate motion, climate, and sea level change. This backdrop allows students to investigate questions such as why are marine fossils present in a dry and arid modern environment and what data do environmental changes leave behind in the paleontological and stratigraphic records. Guided by these overarching questions, learners use gigapixel-resolution images and Google Earth to zoom into and navigate along outcrops and access digital images of museum specimens. As they do, further questions unfold focusing on discrete stratigraphic horizons and faunal zones that highlight sedimentological changes and shell variations reflective of local circulation and global sea level changes. The VFEs will also be integrated with UCMP’s new Understanding Global Change web resource as an example of how global Earth system processes affected ancient communities. The VFE resources will include visualizations of how the drivers of global change interact with the Earth systems to produce the physical effects we measure in Kettleman Hills strata.