GEOLiteracy Tour 2017

The 2017 GEOLiteracy Tour was the PESGB’s most successful public outreach initiative to date, impacting more than 1500 people nationwide, approximately 50% of whom were non-members, with the youngest active participant being just 4 years old.

Headlining the tour was Professor Ken Lacovara who visited 8 locations and engaged in 4.5 hours of questions with the public, inspiring audiences on a subject that first made many of us fall in love with geology; dinosaurs…

Review by Tracey Dancy, Making Waves Marketing

It has to be said that the PESGB have outdone themselves for the Stoneley Lecture in 2017. Taking the lecture “on tour” with Ken Lacovara went much further than previous events in fulfilling the PESGB vision – “To promote, for the public benefit, education in the scientific and technical aspects of petroleum exploration”. I suspect that “the public” doesn’t necessarily equate dinosaurs with petroleum, however, as a way of engaging with people of all ages, there aren’t many subjects that gain universal curiosity as much as the giant, almost fantastical beasts that once roamed our planet.

The PESGB Geoliteracy Tour, encompassing the Stoneley Lecture, took place on 8th-15th April 2017, with events in Kimmeridge Bay and Lyme Regis, Dorset, The Natural History Museum and the Cavendish Conference Centre (Stoneley Lecture) in London, The University of Birmingham, the Aberdeen Science Centre (Stoneley Lecture Aberdeen) and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Feedback from all the events and venues has been excellent.

Ken Lacovara, paleontologist and geologist at Rowan University, discovered the giant sauropod Dreadnoughtus (fears nothing) Schrani in 2014, considered to be the largest dinosaur ever found, some 8 or 9 times the mass of a T-Rex, and therefore the largest land animal ever known. He is known for other discoveries, including Thoracosaurus neocesariensis, a 65 million-year-old crocodilian, as well as Suzhousaurus megatherioides and Paralititan stromeri from China and Egypt, respectively. Ken is very much an explorer in the true sense of the word – Dreadnoughtus was discovered at the very bottom end of the Americas – “Fin del Mundo” in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. At the start of the talk Ken set the scene by describing how to look for dinosaurs – the specific conditions that need to be met, such as rocks the “right age” (Mesozoic, 65-250 million years old), the “right type” – Sedimentary – and in the right climatic conditions now – preferably desert. If you have all these in place, the chances are you will find a dinosaur fossil. However, to find something new or unique, you have to journey to the unexplored regions of the world. Ken moved on to tell us about his particular journey of discovery – the years of field trips in inhospitable regions, the discovery, and the difficulties inherent in transporting such a large and precious skeleton back to civilisation.

Ken’s talk then focused on Why Dinosaurs Matter – how they figure in world history and how, through a series of extraordinary, improbably events we have come to evolve into what we are today. He explained in terms that a child or an adult could understand how a penguin is a closer relative to a dinosaur – and indeed could still be classed as one – than a mosasaur, a pterosaur or a crocodile – and that a coelacanth is more closely related to homo sapiens than it is to a rainbow trout. Hard to be believe in many ways – and yet this is the wonder of natural history, and demonstrates how important it is that we understand the way in which we have evolved. Part of the talk focused on how dinosaurs as we understand them were wiped out – a massive asteroid strike, 66 million years ago, evidenced by extinction layers in craters containing shocked quartz, iridium anomalies and glass spherules, all of which could only be created as a result of such a strike.

What is, perhaps, something to wonder at is what might have happened had the asteroid hit sooner, or later, or not at all. Ken left us with the thought-provoking idea that, had something different happened, would the tiny mammal living in the cracks of the dinosaur world still have evolved into what we are today? Or might we have evolved differently into something unrecognisable – something without the extraordinary, sentient minds that make us human?

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