Dr. Erik Gulbranson does Research near the Rio Grande area of New Mexico

During spring break, Dr. Erik Gulbranson led a trip to the Rio Grande area of New Mexico with undergraduate student Chelsea Volpano and UWM Geosciences alum Kaylee Richards. The purpose of the trip was to research forested ecosystems that existed around the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. The students found numerous fossil wood fragments in well-exposed Late Cretaceous stratigraphy of the McRae Formation, and conducted stratigraphic analysis and basic geologic mapping of the area to understand the deformation and alteration of the stratigraphic layers. This was a classic field excursion in the desert southwest, encountering wildlife such as tarantulas and rattlesnakes, and perhaps some of the most beautifully exposed fossiliferous stratigraphy. The adventurous aspect of this expedition was enhanced by the weather as the team needed to access one shoreline of the Elephant Butte Reservoir, and the only available route was over water. In the face of 2 days of 20 mph sustained winds, with gusts up to 40 mph, the team launched two separate amphibious trips across the reservoir via a pontoon boat in order to study the fossiliferous stratigraphy. These efforts were met with success! In surveying the relatively recently emerged landscapes on the eastern shore of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the team recovered numerous exquisitely preserved fossil wood and fossil soil samples, documenting a diverse and lush paleotropical ecosystem that existed just prior to the asteroid impact that marks the end of the Cretaceous.