SMU students in Paris report they are safe; SMU monitoring situation

SMU News

Originally Posted: November 14, 2015

SMU has heard from all 11 of its students studying in Paris that they are safe. The SMU Travel Oversight Committee is closely monitoring the situation and is receiving updates from the U.S. State Department and International SOS.

SMU community members abroad are asked to be aware that France has declared a national state of emergency and has tightened its borders. On Saturday, November 14, the U.S. Embassy in France issued a security message regarding the terrorist attacks: “Further incidents are possible. We strongly urge U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security, including limiting their movements to essential activity. U.S. citizens are encouraged to monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.” While airports and train stations remain open, travelers may expect delays due to heightened security measures.
All SMU Abroad students are covered by emergency travel assistance through I-SOS and may use the services of I-SOS worldwide during their term of study abroad. During SMU Abroad orientation, students received laminated cards with emergency phone numbers for I-SOS. I-SOS contact information also is available online at In addition, every SMU-approved study abroad program has its own emergency preparedness plan and protocols.

Students with concerns or questions are asked to contact the SMU Abroad Director, Dr. Cathy Winnie, at (214-768-4904) or SMU Assistant Chief of Police Jim Walters at (214-768-1586). Student safety is the highest priority of SMU and our partner study abroad programs. READ MORE

Louis Jacobs, Earth Sciences, why land animals moved to the seas

Smithsonian Magazine
Originally Posted: April 16, 2015

Take a Deep Dive Into The Reasons Land Animals Moved to the Seas

Synthesizing decades of discoveries, scientists have revealed links between changing environments and animal movements

The movement of animals from the land into the sea has happened several times over the last 250 million years, and it has been documented in many different and singular ways. But now, for the first time, a team of researchers has created an overview that not only provides insight into evolution, but may also help more accurately assess humans’ impact on the planet.

Behind-the-Scenes With Curator Nick Pyenson: A New Fossil Whale
The oceans are teeming with tetrapods—“four-legged” birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians—that have repeatedly transitioned from the land to the sea, adapting their legs into fins. The transitions have often been correlated with mass extinctions, but the true reasons are only partly known based on fossils and through study of Earth’s climate, for instance.

Those transitions are considered to be “canonical illustrations” of the evolutionary process and thus ideal for study; living marine tetrapods—such as whales, seals, otters and sea lions—also have a big ecological impact, according to Neil P. Kelley and Nicholas D. Pyenson, the two Smithsonian scientists who compiled the new look at these tetrapods, appearing this week in the journal Science. READ MORE


Oldest Whale Fossil Provides Date for East Africa’s Uplift

Laboratory Equipment

Originally Posted: March 17, 2015

Uplift associated with the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and the environmental changes it produced have puzzled scientists for decades because the timing and starting elevation have been poorly constrained.

Now paleontologists have tapped a fossil from the most precisely dated beaked whale in the world – and the only stranded whale ever found so far inland on the African continent – to pinpoint, for the first time, a date when East Africa’s mysterious elevation began. READ MORE

Ancient whale fossil helps reveal birthplace of humanity


A fossil lost for nearly 40 years is offering clues as to when and how ancient climate change in Africa spurred human evolution.

By Brooks Hays

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 17 (UPI) — Prehistorians believe the transition from dense, elevated forest to flat, open grasslands in East Africa spurred humans’ ancestors to first abandon all fours and walk upright. But when exactly did this happen? Researchers say a long lost beaked whale fossil may offer clues.Ancient-whale-fossil-helps-reveal-birthplace-of-humanity

Though the beaked whale fossil in question is only just now making headlines, it was first discovered in Kenya in 1964. It was unearthed some 460 miles inland, suggesting the sea mammal had gotten lost and swam up a freshwater river system. But the 17-million-year-old fossil was originally misidentified as a turtle, and little analysis was conducted before it went missing.

It stayed lost in the archives of Harvard University for nearly 40 years, before Louis Jacobs — who knew of its existence but for years failed to locate the fossil — finally found the skull.

While the whale’s journey inland is fascinating in itself, the fossil’s rediscovery has offered much grander scientific revelations. The skull has helped researchers to date the East African plateau’s uplift, and thus allowed scientists to more accurately pinpoint the place and time when human bipedalism first emerged.

“The whale is telling us all kinds of things,” study co-author Louis Jacobs, a paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told the Los Angeles Times. “It tells us the starting point for all that uplift that changed the climate that led to humans. It’s amazing.”

To date and measure the plateau’s uplift, scientists used the original field notes to relocate the site of fossil’s initial discovery. Next researchers looked at evidence of modern whales and dolphins who became lost upriver. Because they knew whales could only travel up a wide, low-gradient river, scientists were able to estimate the nature of the ancient waterway. Their analysis suggested the original site of whale’s death (likely from exhaustion) couldn’t have been more than 372 to 559 miles from the Indian Ocean and nor more than 78 to 121 feet high. READ MORE

Heartland Daily Podcast with ISEM Board Chairman H. Leighton Steward

Heartland Daily Podcast

Originally Aired: Jan. 12, 2015

Geologists H. Leighton Steward is chairman of Plants Need CO2. He is a New York Times best-selling author and Chairman of the Board of The Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU, most recently Steward worked with a team of former NASA scientists known as “The Right Climate Stuff.” The NASA team includes scientists with expertise in physics, chemistry, geology, climatology, engineering, biology, and other fields.

After carefully analyzing the evidence for global warming they concluded that there is no evidence of catastrophic global warming. They determined that current models are unvalidated and clearly deficient for climate forecasting, Earth’s sensitivity to CO2 is much less than commonly claimed, empirical evidence does not support a catastrophic warming scenario, calling CO2 a “pollutant” is scientifically embarrassing and we should not be spending huge sums to reduce CO2 in light of the above.

In fact, the team leader projects a maximum of one degree Celsius of warming by the end of this century based on a look back at empirical evidence. Listen to Podcast

Timothy Myer, Earth Sciences, Jurassic climate for part of western U.S. more complex

The climate 150 million years ago of a large swath of the western United States was more complex than previously known, according to new research from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

It’s been held that the climate during the Jurassic was fairly dry in New Mexico, then gradually transitioned to a wetter climate northward to Montana.

But based on new evidence, the theory of a gradual transition from a dry climate to a wetter one during the Jurassic doesn’t tell the whole story, says SMU paleontologist Timothy S. Myers, lead author on the study.

Geochemical analysis of ancient soils, called paleosols, revealed an unexpected and mysterious abrupt transition from dry to wet even though some of the samples came from two nearby locales, Myers said.

Myers discovered the abrupt transition through geochemical analysis of more than 40 ancient soil samples. READ MORE

Graduate student reception scheduled for September 25

Welcome Back Graduate Student Reception flyer[1]

Bonnie Jacobs Is Searching for History Beyond Ancient in the Trinity River Bottoms


Dallas Observer: Bonnie Jacobs studies plant fossils found in ancient rocks and deeply cored soil samples — bits of ancient leaf, specks of prehistoric pollen, other fragments that provide scientific windows into what was going on in a given spot thousands and even millions of years ago. Best known for 10 years’ work in the Mush Valley 100 miles northeast of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Jacobs, a professor at SMU, is now bringing her expertise to the soggy bottoms of the Trinity River in Dallas. READ MORE HERE

The Seismologist: SMU’s Heather DeShon Studies The Shaking In Azle And Reno

DeShonKERA: Heather DeShon is a geophysicist at SMU. She’s studied earthquake sequences in Indonesia, Nicaragua, but also in North Texas — in Cleburne. Now she leads a team collecting data in towns northwest of Fort Worth. READ MORE HERE.

Light from huge explosion 12 billion years ago reaches Earth

Known as a gamma-ray burst, the intense light captured in the night sky resulted from one of the biggest and hottest explosions in the universe, occurring shortly after the Big Bang.Intense light from the enormous explosion of a star more than 12 billion years ago—shortly after the Big Bang—recently reached Earth and was visible in the sky.