Research: Whale fossil provides key to unlock date of East Africa’s mysterious uplift

Research

Research: Whale fossil provides key to unlock date of East Africa’s mysterious uplift

A 17 million-year-old Turkana ziphiid beaked whale fossil from the Great Rift Valley, East AfricaPaleontologists have used a fossil from the most precisely dated beaked whale in the world to pinpoint for the first time a date when East Africa’s mysterious elevation began.

The 17 million-year-old fossil is from the Ziphiidae family. It was discovered 740 kilometers inland at a elevation of 620 meters in modern Kenya’s harsh desert region and is the only stranded whale ever found so far inland on the African continent, said SMU vertebrate paleontologist Louis Jacobs.

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. Determining ancient land elevation is very difficult, but the whale provides one near sea level.

“It’s rare to get a paleo-elevation,” Jacobs said, noting only one other in East Africa, determined from a lava flow.

At the time the whale was alive, it would have been swimming far inland up a river with a low gradient ranging from 24 to 37 meters over more than 600 to 900 kilometers, said Jacobs. He is co-author of a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides the first constraint on the start of uplift of East African terrain from near sea level.

“The whale was stranded up river at a time when east Africa was at sea level and was covered with forest and jungle,” Jacobs said. “As that part of the continent rose up, that caused the climate to become drier and drier. So over millions of years, forest gave way to grasslands. Primates evolved to adapt to grasslands and dry country. And that’s when – in human evolution – the primates started to walk upright.”

Identified as a Turkana ziphiid, the whale would have lived in the open ocean, like its modern beaked cousins. Ziphiids, still one of the ocean’s top predators, are the deepest diving air-breathing mammals alive, plunging to nearly 10,000 feet to feed, primarily on squid.

In contrast to most whale fossils, which have been discovered in marine rocks, Kenya’s beached whale was found in river deposits, known as fluvial sediments, said Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The whale, probably disoriented, swam into the river and could not change its course, continuing well inland.

“You don’t usually find whales so far inland,” Jacobs said. “Many of the known beaked whale fossils are dredged by fishermen from the bottom of the sea.”

The beaked whale fossil was discovered in 1964 by J.G. Mead in what is now the Turkana region of northwest Kenya. Mead, an undergraduate student at Yale University at the time, made a career at the Smithsonian Institution, from which he recently retired. Over the years, the Kenya whale fossil went missing in storage.

Jacobs, who was at one time head of the Division of Paleontology for the National Museums of Kenya, spent 30 years trying to locate the fossil. His effort paid off in 2011, when he rediscovered it at Harvard University and returned it to the National Museums of Kenya.

The fossil is only a small portion of the whale, which Mead originally estimated was 7 meters long during its life. Mead unearthed the beak portion of the skull, 2.6 feet long and 1.8 feet wide, specifically the maxillae and premaxillae, the bones that form the upper jaw and palate.

The researchers reported their findings in “A 17-My-old whale constrains onset of uplift and climate change in east Africa” online at the PNAS web site. Besides Jacobs, other authors from SMU are Andrew Lin, Michael Polcyn, Dale Winkler and Matthew Clemens.

From other institutions, authors are Henry Wichura and Manfred R. Strecker, University of Potsdam, and Fredrick K. Manthi, National Museums of Kenya.

Funding for the research came from SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man and the SMU Engaged Learning program.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

March 19, 2015|For the Record, News, Research|

Star students show their work on SMU Research Day, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Stock photo of lab workersSMU graduate students, and select undergraduates, from a wide variety of disciplines will share their work as part of the University’s 2015 Research Day. All SMU faculty, staff members and students are invited to visit the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms from 2-5 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 25, to meet the student researchers and discuss their results.

Awards will be presented at the event’s end, and refreshments will be served throughout.

> See a list of participating student researchers and their projects from SMU News
Visit SMU Graduate Studies online

February 25, 2015|Calendar Highlights, News, Research, Year of the Student|

Calendar Highlights: Feb. 18, 2015

Emanuel Cleaver II

Emanuel Cleaver II visits Perkins Chapel as a guest preacher on Thursday,, Feb. 19th.

The Cultural Realities of Cancer: Visiting SMU under the Department of Anthropology, Dr. Deborah O. Erwin, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, will explore “The Cultural Realities of Cancer” and how individuals are impacted by this diagnosis. This free event will take place in the McCord Auditorium on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 5 p.m. For more information, email Pamela Hogan.

Emanuel Cleaver II: Sponsored by the Perkins School of Theology Black Seminarians Association, U.S. Representative and United Methodist clergyman Emanuel Cleaver II will visit the Perkins Chapel as a guest preacher on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 11:30 a.m., during the regular worship service. Celebrating Black History Month, the theme for this worship service is “We’ve Come This Far by Faith and We Won’t Stop Now!” For more information about the chapel service and Rev. Cleaver’s visit, email Ailey Pope, the chair of the Black Seminarians Association at Perkins.  

Godbey Lecture Series: In honor of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Godbey Lecture Series presents “Perspectives on Magna Carta” featuring three SMU professors as they illuminate the history and contribution of the document. The SMU professors include; Jeremy Q. Adams, Professor of History, Joshua Tate, Associate Professor of Law, and Ada-Maria Kuskowski, Assistant Professor of History. The event will take place on Thursday, Feb. 19, 5:30 p.m. in the Gene and Jerry Jones Great Hall, Meadows Museum. While the lecture is free and open to the public, guests are asked to please register online. For more information, visit the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute webpage or email Elizabeth Fieldling. 

Meadows Virtuosi Players: SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents “Meadows Virtuosi Players” on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m., in the Caruth Auditorium. Formed in 2012, the Meadows Virtuosi Players concert series features select Meadows student musicians performing side-by-side with their faculty colleagues. This Saturday, directors Andrés Diaz and Matt Albert will be joined by Meadows voice faculty member Camille King. For more information, call 214.768.2787.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Tate Lecture Series: SMU’s Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series presents Doris Kearns Goodwin, on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, best-selling author and presidential historian. While The Anita and Truman Arnold Lecture is already sold out, SMU students, faculty and staff are welcome to participate in the Turner Construction/Wells Fargo Student Forum at 4:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom. 

Research Day 2015: On Wednesday, Feb. 25, SMU graduate and undergraduate students are invited and encouraged to present results of ongoing and completed SMU-based research. Guests are welcomed to meet over 160 students engaged in research, and discover opportunities for future collaboration and entrepreneurship. The event will take place in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, Promenade Ballroom, from 2-5 p.m. For additional information, view the 2015 Research Day Catalog or email Sarah Sage. 

February 18, 2015|Calendar Highlights, News, Research, Save the Date|

No means no: SMU study shows that teen girls report less sexual victimization after virtual-reality assertiveness training

Stock photo of two people holding handsTeen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment, according to a new SMU-led study.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training, says clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe, lead author on the pilot study and an associate professor of psychology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The research also found that those girls who had previously experienced dating violence reported lower levels of psychological aggression and psychological distress after completing the program, relative to girls in a comparison group.

“The virtual simulations allowed girls to practice being assertive in a realistic environment. The intent of the program is for the learning opportunity to increase the likelihood that they will use the skills in real life,” said Simpson Rowe, who also serves as graduate program co-director in the Department of Psychology. “Research has shown that skills are more likely to generalize if they are practiced in a realistic environment, so we used virtual reality to increase the realism.”

The training program, called “My Voice, My Choice,” emphasizes that victims do not invite sexual violence and that they have the right to stand up for themselves because violent or coercive behavior is never OK.

“It is very promising that learning resistance skills and practicing them in virtual simulations of coercive interactions could reduce the risk for later sexual victimization,” said Simpson Rowe.

She cautioned, however, that the research is preliminary and based on a small sample: 42 in the “My Voice, My Choice” condition and 36 in a control condition. Future research is needed to establish the benefits of the program across different age groups and populations, for example, college versus high school students.

The study’s strengths included its randomized controlled design and a high participant retention rate among the 78 teen girls in the study.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by study co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald in conjunction with the game design program in The Guildhall at SMU. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs in Dedman College.

“One advantage the virtual simulations offer is the ability to actually observe whether, and how, the girls are using the skills in coercive situations that feel very real,” McDonald said. “This provides girls with opportunities for immediate feedback and accelerated learning, and for facilitators to easily spot areas in need of further strengthening. The value of this advantage can’t be overstated.”

One question that remains for future research is whether the practice in virtual simulations was the operative factor that reduced sexual victimization, Simpson Rowe said.

“We need to determine if practice in a virtual setting is the key factor in making the intervention effective, or if other factors, such as being encouraged to stand up for themselves, led to the outcomes,” she said.

The researchers reported their findings, “Reducing Sexual Victimization among Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of My Voice, My Choice,” in the journal Behavior Therapy. The article has been published online in advance of print.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

February 12, 2015|Faculty in the News, For the Record, News, Research|

Faculty in the News: January 2015

Ben Voth

Ben Both, Director of Debate & Associate Professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs

Andrea Meltzer, Psychology, Dedman School of Humanities and Sciences, was featured on the Science Codex for her self-image research. Meltzer conducted three independent studies, resulting in the conclusion that woman’s body image is strongly linked to their perception of what they believe men prefer. The Science Codex article appeared on Jan. 13, 2015.

Ben Voth, director of debate and associate professor, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Meadows School of the Arts, published a KERA article entitled “What ‘The Great Debater’ James Farmer Can Teach Us Today,” in which he explored the role of Texas native James Farmer Jr. and his contribution to the American civil rights movement. The article was published on Jan. 12, 2015.

Jonathan Norton, Pony Express(ions) Stay Play Editor, Meadows School of the Arts, was listed as No. 20 in a recent Dallas Observer article exploring “100 Dallas Creatives.” The article appeared on Jan. 9, 2015.

Heather DeShon, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, was featured in a NBC National News video exploring if earthquakes are becoming a new trend in Texas. The video aired on Jan. 8, 2015.

Heather DeShon

Heather DeShon, Geophysics Associate Professor, Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences

Brian Stump, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, was featured in a National Geographic article examining the causes of the recent North Texas earthquakes. The article was published on Jan. 7, 2015.

Bernard Weinstein, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, provided commentary on a National Journal article discussing low gas prices and a possible federal gas tax hike. The article was published on Jan. 5, 2015.

Chuck Dannis, Real Estate, Risk Management and Business Law, Cox School of Business, was published in D Magazine‘s article “Disrupting Estate Coverage in Dallas” in an exclusive section entitled “The Future of Real Estate (the Good  and the Bad).”

 

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