OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University geosciences professor Jeff Eaton will spend six weeks this summer initiating a complete paleontology survey of the Cretaceous rocks of Bryce Canyon National Park for the park’s administration.
Eaton has independently studied Bryce Canyon's geology and fossil record off and on since 1987 when he finished his dissertation, which focused on the fossil record of a plateau east of the national park, the Kaiparowits Plateau. "I thought I’d be done in a couple of years," he said. "Bryce Canyon wasn't known to have much of a fossil record."
Through his studies, Eaton has helped to change that. "Some localities in Bryce Canyon National Park have the best fossil record in all of North America for their time period," he said. He has discovered important fossils of mammals, lizards, frogs, fish and crabs.
On July 3 the park administration and Eaton will begin their partnership. Eaton will begin a complete survey to unearth the canyon’s fossil record, while the canyon's park administrators will fund Eaton's research for at least two years and possibly up to six years. The administration will use the information that Eaton gathers to learn what needs to be done to preserve the park's paleontological resources and to enhance educational resources for visitors.
Part of the funding includes student positions to assist Eaton. From July 3 to mid-August five students – three from WSU and two from Southern Utah University – will work with Eaton in prospecting the Cretaceous rocks within the park for fossils, as well as undertaking geological studies. Four students also will assist Eaton during the school year in sorting and cataloguing fossils, as well as making a geographic information systems database.
"It's taken some time to get to this point, but we've only scratched the surface," Eaton said. "This project will move us closer to knowing how to protect the park's natural resources and enhance our knowledge of the fossil record for the time interval represented by the Cretaceous rocks of Bryce Canyon National Park."
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