Australian study a mecca for Shaler man
John Stolz has studied marine systems from Massachusetts to the Bahamas, but this year, he took his research down under.
Stolz, a biologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, spent two weeks in Shark Bay, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in western Australia to study stromatolites — reef-like structures created by microorganisms.
“These stromatolites are a special kind of reef made by microorganisms instead of coral, similar to reefs that go back 3.4 million years in the rock record,” said Stolz, of Shaler.
“(Shark Bay) is a place where these microorganisms are living today … so we're using this system to help us understand this fossil record.”
Stolz worked with Pam Reid, a professor at the University of Miami's Department of Marine Geology and Geophysics, whose long-term goal is to map the entire Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve in Shark Bay to show the diversity and distribution of its stromatolites and the organisms forming them.
Stolz had been reading about the stromatolites at Shark Bay since his graduate-school days and was excited for the opportunity to study the area in person.
“For me, as a scientist, it was like visiting Mecca,” Stolz said. “These stromatolites go for miles, and you're standing in the middle of literally footstools and taller shapes. It looks like you're surrounded by mushrooms.”
Stolz and Reid faced many challenges in the remote area they were studying.
With the closest towns being more than one hour away, they had to travel with their equipment and set up a temporary laboratory in a cottage they rented on a 100,000-acre sheep farm. Trucks delivered food once a week.
In the bay, the scientists had to wear Lycra diving skins to protect themselves from the jellyfish and deadly sea snakes.
“It makes it a little exciting,” Stolz joked.
Stolz plans to meet with Reid this week to review the data they collected, and the pair is planning to make a return trip to Shark Bay this spring to continue their research.
“The next step is to synthesize some of the information and come up with a new model of how these things are growing and where they are,” Stolz said. “With different people coming in with different sets of eyes, we're seeing different things. Some cases, we're confirming things that other people have seen, and in other cases, we're discovering some things that are very different.”
Stolz said the small organisms and the stromatolites they create will provide information scientists can use to learn about the Earth's past and future.
“They tell us a lot about where we came from and how life evolved on the planet and are potentially sentinels with what the future may hold with climate and composition of the oceans,” Stolz said.
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.