The University of Texas at Austin

Cuatrociénegas: Exploring Ancient Ecology

Produced by Lee Clippard Field recording and Photos by Lee Clippard Copyright 2008, The University of Texas at Austin



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Cuatrociénegas: Ancient Ecology

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The University of Texas at Austin

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[Chiseling sounds.] A travertine mine has been carved out of the mountain in Cuatrociénegas, Mexico.

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[Chiseling sounds.] A travertine mine has been carved out of the mountain in Cuatrociénegas, Mexico.

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Paleobotanist Bruce Albert says, "I think basically what we want to do here is reconstruct the history of the desert formation and this basin..."

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" terms of its vegetation in deep-time scales. See all these little cavities?..."

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"Those are precipitate formations of calcium carbonate, and some of the smaller cavities are formed around organic matter..."

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"...including pollen, that’s trapped in this. It’s preserved, because it’s basically entombed.“ “So what do you find out by looking at this pollen?,” says narrator. “Oh, I found out that there was birch growing in this basin..."

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"...which is much too dry, of course, to support birch now. And that there was not only the pollen, but..."

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"...there were also sponges from these deposits. They were actual subaqueous sponge life forms growing up here, not because..."

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"...the whole basin was probably flooded at this level, but because there’s a lot of pooling going on around here - maybe a cascading waterfall."

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“This was probably a waterfall at some point - maybe one to two hundred thousand years ago, I guess."

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"You’re going to measure all the way up to two hundred centimeters?” "Yeah, that's all been done with my folding rule," says Albert.

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"Sampling methods here are determined by these layers here which are river cobbles. So there was a..."

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"...major stream flowing through here, so yeah, you can tell quite a lot about the environment..."

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"...just by looking at the profile like this, in terms of its geology. Obviously there’s no waterfall cascading here today..."

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"...again, another indication of a much wetter environment in the past..."

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"It’s a interesting finding, and we’ll see if we get more of the same stuff from these layers..."

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"...and we’ll see if the rock hammer is hard enough to do the job. So I’ll go ahead and start chipping away. And that’s my story for the day."

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[Chiseling sounds.]

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The University of Texas at Austin

Journey to Cuatrociénegas


Ancient Ecology
Ancient Ecology: Paleobotanist Bruce Albert collects fossil pollen samples to better understand the past environments in the basin.

SELECT another Cuatrociénegas audio slide show to view:

Troubled Waters
Troubled Waters: A fragile desert oasis in Mexico is drying up and researchers think they know where the water is going.

Aquatic Box Turtle
The Aquatic Box Turtle: Researchers study one of the most endangered turtles in the world.

WATCH a Cuatrociénegas video:

Water in the Desert
Water in the Desert: Discover Cuatrociénegas, where more than 70 species of plants and animals have evolved in the isolation of Mexico's desert springs. (Video opens in a new window.)