Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Collecting Corals at Kinghorn

This week, Scotland reminded everyone how it keeps it's grass so verdently green. Some of the international students were dismayed to discover that the nippy wind and persistent drench that greeted us as the undergrad palaeontology class disembarked the bus for our fieldtrip, is pretty much the norm, rather than the exception. It's no problem though, just pack your waterproof trousers, put up your hood, and take little trek to get the blood pumping.

We walk along the coastal path to reach the fossiliferous beds.
This week, we were exploring the Carboniferous (Brigantian, 327-330Mya) sedimentary rocks on the coast between Kinghorn and Kircaldy. This place is a haven for geologists, with layers of volcanic eruptions and ash beds interspersed with successive marine sediments, all deposited when Scotland was basking in a tropical glow just north of the equator.

We had passed the offending volcano on our way to Kinghorn, now only a remnant nobble overlooking the nearby town on Bruntisland. But it was the mudstone, limestone and sandstone beds that were the focus of our day. Deposited in different environments over millions of years - from swamp to sea bed - these layers are rich in crinoids, bivalves, brachiopods, bryozoans and corals.

Stunning sandstone outcrop.

The beds are tilted and encrusted with extant marine invertebrates, but between the barnacles are copious fossils for the keen
palaeontologist to admire.
As luck would have it, the rain peeled back as we combed the shoreline. Our students took notes and photographs of the fossils embedded in the sediments. There were pocketable sized chunks along the shoreline too, nice to take home even if they are separated from their provenance. The students will try to identify the various groups and create a report about the site, the environments these beds were laid down in, and the ecosystems the creatures were part of.

Rugose coral amid the crinoid carnage of a Carboniferous sea bed. This place must have been a haven of life.

Don't forget to scour the beach - waves are nature's fossil preparator.
A little further along the coast were riches I'm much less familiar with: trace fossils. In this case, burrows - the rocks were riddled with them. Even more delightfully we found pieces of tree: Lepidodendron and Stigmaria. One of the two supervisors from National Museums Scotland who regularly accompany us on our field trips said they'd also found a trilobite the last time they'd visited (no luck this time though).

Trace fossils riddle the sediments.

A chunk of carboniferous tree, washed out and deposited on the sea floor.
As the rain swept out to sea again, the jutting shelf of the Salisbury crags and the nubbin of Arthur's seat came into view across the Firth of Forth, looking small beneath the pregnant clouds. It was time to head back along the coast to the bus, pockets bulging with Brigantian benthic bounty.

Looking across the firth at Edinburgh.