And the ones other fossil plants and animals are sensational. Lee and her colleagues unearthed a whole ecosystem, perfectly captured in the powdery diatomite rock: spiders, dragonflies, fruits, flowers filled with pollen grains resting on the petals, fish with scalloped scales, intricate termite wings, the hexagonal lattice of a flys compound eyes, and iridescent beetles still glistening in green, copper and bronze.
Most regularly of most, they found leavesso delicately pressed that climate scientists could analyze their structure and chemical composition to learn that atmospheric skin tightening and in the first Miocene reached 550 parts per million, levels much like those predicted for Earth by 2050.
Lee and her colleagues published scientific papers on the findings, however they didnt talk more widely concerning the site. Because wed been attempting to continue good terms with mining companies [that owned the land], of whom there have been several, we didnt supply the site the general public recognition it deserved, she says.
However in 2019, whenever a leaked document revealed the most recent company to possess the mine, Plaman Resources, planned to find out the complete site and export the diatomite being an animal food supplement, Lee was galvanized into activism. She began talking with the media, local authorities and the general public at meetings about Foulden Maar. Alongside paleontologist Uwe Kaulfuss and palaeobotanist John Conran, she started focus on a book. Fossil Treasures of Foulden Maar: A Window into Miocene Zealandia, published in New Zealand this week by Otago University Press and obtainable in the U.S. this December, can be an illustrated guide to the websites history, science and fossil discoveries. I thought, Well, if weve surely got to the main point where this whole site may be destroyed, we really must understand this story on the market, Lee says.
Though public pressure played a job in Plaman Resources abandoning its mining plans, and the business became insolvent later in 2019, Foulden Maar still does not have any formal protection. For 3 years, the Dunedin City Councilwhich says it hopes to get the website and save it for sciencehas been locked in negotiations with the business appointed to control Plamans business affairs, called its receiver. Neither party would comment to the Scientific American on the progress of these discussions. And in the limbo, scientists are barred from visiting the website.
Scientific American spoke with Lee concerning the fossil treasures of Foulden Maar, what they reveal about our planets past and her hopes for the websites future.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
The book tells the story of the place. Exactly why is it so important?
First, it gets the most amazing preservation of fossils. Its among several sites on the planet which have Lagersttte preservation. Thats a word useful for real fossil treasure troves, where you have even the soft elements of fossilsthings like eyes and skin and flowers with petals and pollen, items that are hardly ever preserved in virtually any other situation. Foulden provides snapshot of biodiversity that’s not available somewhere else on earth.
Another thing about Foulden is that weve got two ecosystems preserved. It had been an extremely small lake, perhaps a couple of a huge selection of meters deep and a kilometer across. But due to the way the diatomite sediment developed on to the floor, precisely what lived in the lake and fell to underneath is pickled [preserved in liquid] there.
And not simply thatthe rain forest ecosystem round the lake can be preserved: every leaf, every flower that has been blown in, every insect. Its at such high res that weve got this year-by-year record. Its since it was a closed system and was small and deep that you will get this type of preservation.
It is rather, very unusual to possess this mix of factors all coming together as of this one site, also it means we are able to build up an extremely detailed and accurate picturejust about return back with time and go for a walk through the forest and dive in to the lake.
Tell me about a few of the spectacular fossils which have been found at the website through the years. There were orchids, bird poop, dragonflies, ants. What else was discovered?
There have been fish swimming around in the lake, and there will need to have been plenty of eels. My colleague Uwe Kaulfuss found the initial one. He thought, It is a lengthy, funny little bit of fish, so he returned to the pile that the digger had pulled out and sought out a few days until he found another bits that matched it and put them back together such as a jigsaw puzzle. This is the only real freshwater eel fossil from the Southern Hemisphereuntil we found more of these. It certainly changed our knowledge of freshwater eels worldwide.
And youve mentioned you found one particularly wonderful fish.
This is my best fossil find ever. Diatomite is actually strange stuffyou can cut it with a pocketknife or perhaps a spade or perhaps a chainsaw. My colleague developed a method of cutting blocks along with his chainsaw, and ordinary people would sit around with this field pocketknives and split them. 1 day I split a block, also it just serendipitously split this specific fish in two as if it turned out filleted.
It is possible to count its vertebra; you can view these really tiny little bones concerning the thickness of one’s hair. And you may note that its quite not the same as any fish. We named it Galaxias effusus, this means its type of lavish, much better than any previously described.
I imagine youd prefer to return back and see what else you will discover at the website. Nevertheless, you cant, is it possible to?
We were going on a monthly basis roughly, and each and every time you go, you discover something new. However when the mining company went into receivership, the receiver said nobody could go there. So regardless of many pleas to take sets of students, to create scientists from overseas who had arrived at New Zealand especially to go to Foulden Maar, theyve been absolutely adamant. The gate is effectively locked. All we are able to do is go over the fenceand feel extremely frustrated.
Youve said previously your dream for Foulden Maar is really a sort of geopark or World Heritage Site where children and students can find out about geology, fossils and Earths climate history. Do you consider that is something youll see in your daily life?
I certainly hope so. If everything gets resolved, it could be nice to start out having regular trips to Foulden Maar for folks to see for themselves what the book is about. The easiest method to explain the science would be to actually be there.
I love telling stories, and Foulden has a wide variety of stories concerning the lake and the rain forest and the climate and the volcanic eruptions. The truth that the mountains that you see in the backdrop werent there once the maar was formed, that theres snow in the hills now and there wasnt any back thenit sort of encapsulates each one of these different concepts in a single really small place, only a kilometer or two across.
It is a host to fossil treasures, in the same way a museum is filled with treasures, plus they participate in everybody.