July 20, 2022

Two Susquehanna students are spending their summer on Vermont’s Isle La Motte studying the fossil reefs that abound off Lake Champlain.

“These reefs originated during one of the major diversification events in the history of Earth, the Great Ordovician Biodiversity Event, known as GOBE,” said Greg Burzynski, a post-doctoral teaching fellow. “Despite their potential importance, little work has been done on them in the past 50 years.”

Named for a New York town near which the formation was first noted, the Chazy reef formation is approximately 450 to 480 million years old and contains biodiverse fossils from what was once a tropical marine environment.

Adele Tressler ’24, an ecology major, and Blaine Sheppard ’24, a biomedical sciences major with a minor in the Honors Program, have been spending their time at the Goodsell Ridge Preserve where they have been clearing vegetation and sediment that has accumulated over the years since maintenance ceased on the preserve.

A background texture of ammonite fossils embedded in rock. A background texture of ammonite fossils embedded in rock.Their research seeks to use modern techniques to characterize the ancient ecosystems associated with the Chazy reef formation. Using geographic information systems and LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), they are trying to create a geological map, paying particular attention to the reefs and fossils of individual organisms. These maps can be used as a basis for future paleoecological studies of the Chazy reefs, placing them in the context of the GOBE.

“We often find fossils. When we do, we clean it off, take some measurements and look at the data trends,” Tressler said.

“We’ve been finding a lot of loose fossils under plant roots, which we weren’t expecting — lots of gastropods and cephalopods,” Sheppard added.

The process is giving Tressler and Sheppard direct experience doing paleontological field work.

“They are getting experience with modern techniques such as GIS and LiDAR, which are in-demand by employers and graduate programs,” Burzynski said. “They will also be authors on at least one peer-reviewed publication, which will help them immensely when applying for graduate programs.”

The Chazy Fossil Reef is a United States National Natural Landmark. The land was also traditionally occupied by the Abenaki tribe.

“We treat the land as respectfully as we can, and the work we do in general preserves the area for future generations,” Tressler said.