President Stanley in Africa

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. traveled to Madagascar and Kenya this summer to experience Stony Brook University’s commitment to improving lives around the world. During his two-week adventure, he visited three sites that feature some of Stony Brook’s most far-reaching research and development efforts.

Day Seven – Hunting Dinosaurs and Helping Children

Fossils at Mahajunga BasinAfter an early breakfast, we set off to see Dr. Krause’s paleontological research team in action. We stopped again in Berivotra and took a brisk 1-kilometer hike across rough terrain; along the way we spied the fragmentary bones of dinosaurs and other vertebrate animals, which littered the ground.

Dr. Krause explained that the harsh seasonal climate takes its toll on the rocks as well as on the fossils entombed within them. We eventually arrived at a large excavation site at which Dr. Krause’s colleagues, graduate students and a technician had been hard at work since just after dawn and will continue until dusk. Dr. Krause explained aspects of the stratigraphy and the evidence that the animals that lived in this area 65 million to 70 million years ago were buried in massive mudflows that cascaded down from the highlands to the southeast toward the Mozambique Channel. The site sits on the lee side of prevailing winds and the bright, unrelenting sun reflects off the light-colored sandstone. It has yielded exquisitely preserved fossils, mostly of meat-eating dinosaurs, both large and small, and very primitive birds, some as small as modern-day sparrows. Our timing was excellent. The paleo team was carefully escavating spectacularly preserved bones of Majungasaurus.

These fossils, Dr. Krause explained, provide the best preserved and most complete skeletons of many groups of vertebrate animals from the Cretaceous Period in the entire southern hemisphere. It has provided incredible insights into the history of life in the south. Reconstructions of these animals from these very strata have graced the covers of several scientific journals, including Science and Nature.

We then visited Sekoly Riambato, the primary school built by the Madagascar Ankizy Fund, to see the two classrooms in action. The children (at levels equivalent to our grades 1 through 5) walk up to two miles every day to attend school. Obtaining an education for their children has been a priority for these villagers, as the adults can’t read and write; they realize that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. In addition to the national curriculum, the children receive instruction on habitat conservation, reforestation and English.

We then went to Dr. Krause’s research station for lunch. It is a small, solar-powered building (with a well, shower and toilet) that serves as the hub of his operations. It was built in 2009, thanks to a generous donation from the Jim and Marilyn Simons Foundation. Before that, Dr. Krause’s teams functioned without a building — everything was done outside. Now they sleep in tents as they always have, but the building serves as a kitchen, an eating area and laboratory where the team can plan each day’s activities, catalog fossils, read maps, write field notes, and store equipment and supplies. It is yet another example of the highly productive relationship our university has with Jim and Marilyn.

After lunch we beat a hasty retreat back to Mahajanga, gathered our bags and headed back to the airport for a late afternoon flight to the capital city.

 

« previous entry | next entry »