Led by a University of Missouri-Rolla scientist, fossil hunters from around the world are meeting Sept. 18-21 in St. Louis to discuss new developments in the field of palynology, a branch of paleontology that is focused on microscopic evidence dating back a billion years.
Dr. Francisca Oboh-Ikuenobe, a professor of geology and geophysics at UMR, is directing the 38th annual meeting of the Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists, which will be held at the Radisson Hotel and Suites in St. Louis. Symposia on various topics are planned during the meeting. Oboh-Ikuenobe will also lead field trips to the Cahokia Mounds east of St. Louis in Illinois and to Onondaga Cave State Park in Leasburg, Mo., on Thursday, Sept. 22.
Palynologists are more concerned with evidence of pollen, spores and microplankton than they are with dinosaur bones. But that doesn’t mean their work doesn’t have big implications. “This field really took off in the 1950s when oil companies first saw the relevance for exploration,” says Oboh-Ikuenobe. “By providing the age for source rocks and reservoirs, palynologists and paleontologists successfully guide prospectors who conduct drilling operations.
Oboh-Ikuenobe recently traveled to Australia, where she conducted field tests with a team of colleagues on the microbiology of ephemeral salt lakes. The team is interested in several lakes in Western Australia that, unlike most salt lakes, are acidic.
“The extreme environment resembles what a rover might encounter if Mars had water today,” Oboh-Ikuenobe says. “It was red everywhere. I was shocked. We were walking on salt crusts in very shallow water that stung our legs. If we can fid evidence of past life trapped in this salt in Australia, maybe we can find something similar on Mars.”
More information about the Association of American Stratigraphic Palynologists meeting in St. Louis is available at www.palynology.org. To reach Oboh-Ikuenobe, call (573) 341-6946 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .