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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 19, 2000
JULIA SANKEY - NEW HASLEM POST- DOCTORAL FELLOW AT SDSM& T
The Museum of Geology and Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has announced the appointment of Dr. Julia Sankey as the new Haslem Postdoctoral Fellow. The fellowship is a three- year research position that focuses on research, publication, and assisting paleontology students with their research and future career track.
Dr. Sankey comes to Tech after spending nine months in Alberta, Canada on a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship during which time she researched Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and mammals in the area. She spent the majority of her time doing research at the University of Alberta’s Lab for Vertebrate Paleontology and at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. Her research in Alberta was a continuation of her dissertation work done at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge in which she focused on 74 million- year- old fossils from Big Bend National Park, Texas. While in Alberta she studied fossils from the area of the same age as those from Big Bend. The purpose of this research was to determine whether southern areas like Big Bend had fewer kinds of dinosaurs and other vertebrates than northern areas such as Alberta. It appears that they did which indicates that climatic and environmental factors influenced dinosaur diversity during the Late Cretaceous well before their extinctions at the very end of the Cretaceous period.
“ At the end of the Cretaceous, many organisms went extinct, including the dinosaurs, many mammals, and many other vertebrates. The most popular hypothesis for the cause of these extinctions is that a huge meteor hit the earth, and that the resulting dust cloud caused the sun to be blocked out and ecosystems to collapse. Although there is very good geologic evidence that this impact occurred off of the coast of Yucatan, the puzzling thing for paleontologists is that many organisms did not go extinct, such as some kinds of mammals, lizards, crocodylians, turtles, etc. Why were the extinctions so selective? I think that longer term climatic and environmental changes during the Late Cretaceous were involved as well. Currently my research is focused on figuring out whether dinosaurs and other vertebrates were decreasing in diversity well before the end of the Cretaceous. If they were, then this means there were more factors involved in the Late Cretaceous extinctions in addition to the meteor impact. Another problem is we really don’t know much about these extinctions on other continents besides North America. We need to be exploring all over the world and filling in this huge gap in our knowledge”, said Dr. Sankey. “ In my current research, I’m focusing on Big Bend, Texas because we don’t know much about southern areas compared to northern areas in North America. I collect large quantities of rocks and screen them for small fossils such as dinosaur and mammal teeth. By focusing my research on teeth I can uncover much more than I would by just looking for skeletons, which are rarer. Also, very specific identifications can be made based on teeth.
Dr. Sankey, originally from Santa Barbara, California, received her Ph. D. in Geology from Louisiana State University, her Masters in Quaternary Studies from Northern Arizona University, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Albertson College of Idaho.
October 1, 1999 marked the first day as Haslem Postdoctoral Fellow for Dr. Sankey, yet until this past month you would not have been able to find her on campus - she has been doing field work in Big Bend, Texas collecting rocks for a type of dating called magnetostratigraphy. The paleomagnetic lab work was done at the University of Texas at Austin. This research trip was supported through a Jurassic Foundation grant. The point of this research was to attempt to better date the Aguja Formation, the unit of rock she has been collecting fossils from in Big Bend.
The Haslem Postdoctoral Fellowship was established in 1991 when the SDSM& T Foundation received what was at the time the largest, single gift in its history from the Estate of Eleanor Harrison. The bequest was established in honor of Eleanor’s parents, Melvin and Hazel Haslem. According to an article in the Fall 1991 issue of the Hardrocker Magazine ( pg. 7), “ quoting Eleanor, the fund, ‘ permits me to honor my father’s long service to higher education in the state.’ Furthermore she stated that a gift to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, ‘ seems a way to get back to the basic values of my parents and to acknowledge their contributions to education in the state.’” The intent of the bequest was for the funds to be used as ‘ pioneer’ money to aid in improving the quality of research in the Museum of Geology and Department of Geology and Geological Engineering.
Dr. Sankey is the second recipient of the Haslem Postdoctoral Fellowship. She is currently teaching a graduate seminar at the School of Mines that focuses on the debate over the causes of the Late Cretaceous extinctions. She recently received a $ 13,600 grant from Earthwatch’s Durfee Student Challenge Awards Program for her proposal entitled “ Dinosaurs and other Cretaceous Wildlife of Big Bend National Park, Texas.” Through the Student Challenge Award grant, Dr. Sankey will lead a group of eight high school students from across the United States in a research expedition to Big Bend this summer. The chosen high school students will have all their expenses and travel paid while on this trip. Students who are interested in applying for next year’s field program should contact Earthwatch ( 617- 926- 8200; http:// www. earthwatch. org/ cfr/ CFRdurfee. html). Dr. Sankey also plans to assist with some of the summer field digs organized each summer through the SDSM& T Museum of Geology.
( I: univrel/ pressrel/ 0100 Julia Sankey fxd local/ hometown)
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