Monthly archives of “December 2016

Miocene Lauraceae leaf fossil
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The Amazing Miocene Fossil Leaf Pack of Mata Creek, New Zealand

I was crouched in a long boat somewhere up a rainforest-swathed river in Kalimatan, Borneo, when I saw it – a ‘living’ example of a fossil leaf pack I had once seen in New Zealand.

Our long boat is pulled up on the bank of a rainforested stream deep in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) while others pass by.

Our long boat is pulled up on the bank of a rainforested stream deep in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) while others pass by.

Several years before, I had been exploring down a little stream near St Bathans, New Zealand. I was looking for leaf fossils in sediments of an ancient river. The geological unit is a faulted mix of the St Bathans and Fiddlers Members (Douglas 1986) of the Manuherikia Group. This was deposited in the Miocene, about 20 million years ago, by rivers that meandered across a landscape that didn’t have the high topography of today,

In a low cut-bank of Mata Creek a layer had been exposed that looked like a stack of old newspapers charred by fire on their edges. Sandwiching this, above and below, was the more typical white sand laid down by the Fiddlers Member rivers.

A Miocene fossil 'leaf pack' - thousands of fossil leaves compacted together in the bank of Mata Creek, near St Bathans, New Zealand.

A Miocene fossil ‘leaf pack’ – thousands of fossil leaves compacted together in the bank of Mata Creek, near St Bathans, New Zealand.

The magic happened back in the lab. What looked like flakes of old newspaper, were in fact fossil leaves along with some small twigs. Long and gentle treatment with bleach turned the dark, opaque fragments into beautiful, golden and translucent specimens (see featured image). The stack of newspapers was in fact, a solid Miocene leaf pack – hundreds and hundreds of fossil leaves, all compressed together. Preservation was so good, that the outlines of epidermal cells could be seen under a microscope.

Many of these fossil leaves belong to the laurel family. They do not grow this far south in New Zealand today (it’s too cold), a good indication that in the Miocene, New Zealand was warmer than today. Some of the laurel leaves are ‘tripli-veined’, with three large veins radiating near the leaf base. This kind of laurel leaf is not found in New Zealand at all today, but is common in some other rainforests, in Australia for example.

The long boats of Kalimantan are ideal for navigating the little rivers or streams of the rainforest. They have a propeller that is barely submerged, making it possible to skim over shallows or submerged logs. They aren’t that conformable, and their engines usually aren’t muffled. After an hour or so of squatting on a wooden beam (or none at all), I was generally looking for any excuse to get out.

A leaf pack extending into the river on a point bar in Kalimantan.

A leaf pack extending into the river on a point bar in Kalimantan.

It was on one of these trips that I spotted a real, recently-made leaf pack. We were roaring along the discoloured water, almost covered by a canopy of rainforest trees, when I noticed a clear patch of the bank. Instead of being a densely vegetated green, it was dark grey, and had a layered appearance. We had the boat turned around and pulled up alongside.  It was a huge mass of leaves and twigs, separated by a smaller amount of silt. This was a perfect recent analogy of the fossil deposit that I had found in Mata Creek.

Close up view of a leaf pack on the point bar of a river in Kalimantan. A little below an to the left of the upper hand is a leaf very similar to the Miocene fossil shown in the featured image.

Close up view of a leaf pack on the point bar of a river in Kalimantan. A little below an to the left of the upper hand is a leaf very similar to the Miocene fossil shown in the featured image.

The best part was that I could now actually see – just where a leaf mat occurred in the river system, and how it had formed. The leaf mat was on a ‘point bar’. These are the inner parts of the meanders in a meandering river. While the outer part of the meander loop cuts into its bank,  the inner part grows by dropping sediment – and in this case, leaves.

Diagram illustrating where point bars (the yellow) occur in a meandering river. Arrows indicate the current direction. Fossil leaf mats can be deposited on these point bars.

Diagram illustrating where point bars (the yellow) occur in a meandering river. Arrows indicate the current direction. Fossil leaf mats can be deposited on these point bars.

Vast amounts of leaves are dropped into the river from the rainforest canopy. During floods, the leaves tend to get sorted from the silt because of their lower density and bigger size. When the currents drop, on the point bars, a layer of almost nothing but leaves can be deposited on ‘normal’ point bar sand.  Then, if the next flood doesn’t wash it away, it can be covered with a layer of sand – and a fossil leaf pack is in the making.

A view of another leaf mat, this one more clearly showing it has been covered by a layer of white sand.

A view of another leaf mat, this one more clearly showing it has been covered by a layer of white sand.

I’m a great fan of trying to see ‘living’ examples of what you come across in the geological record. In this case it made a welcome relief for a sore butt sitting in a Kalimantan long boat.

References

Links will take you to a site to download pdfs of the papers.

Douglas, B. J. 1986. Lignite resources of Central Otago. New Zealand Energy Research and Development Committee Publication P104: Volume one, Volume 2.

Pole, M.S., 1993. Early Miocene flora of the Manuherikia Group, New Zealand. 6. Lauraceae. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 23, 303-312.

Self portrait of Kcenia Nechitailo, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,
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St Petersburg – 200 years of Russian Chick Selfies

Women, so I’ve read (and seem to observe), are significantly more likely to take ‘selfies’ than men. It doesn’t seem to matter where I go now, but there are crowds, struggling under the weight of a selfie-stick, with some digital apparatus on the end of it.

In a previous incarnation, I was a photographer. This was back in the days when, after the fun part, I disappeared into a dark room, banged the ends of ten rolls of film, threaded each onto a reel, whacked them into two tanks with chemicals, and then started shaking them – five rolls in each hand.  From strips of negatives proof-sheets were printed, then some frames enlarged onto prints. If there were dust spots, sorry, I mean, when there were dust spots, I mixed up a little white paint and Indian ink to get the right shade of grey to paint them out. God – where did all that go?!

Digital has somehow profaned the whole thing. Not just photography itself, but it’s made it so much easier to turn the camera around. Framing and focusing was damned hard  on yourself. Selfies are just too-easy. But there was the time, and still is the medium, when how you presented yourself to posterity, took time and effort.

In the  State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,  I was lucky enough to come across an entire exhibition of self-portraits. Not digital, or photographs at all, but mostly paintings. The exhibition was called (it’s over now)  ‘My own self’.

Right near the entry was one of the oldest self-portraits. A picture of Ekaterina Chikacheva, painted in 1812, the same year as her untimely death, at about 25.

Self portrait of Ekaterina Chikacheva , 1812, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Self portrait of Ekaterina Chikacheva, 1812, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

From there on, I wandered through several rooms, engrossed in dozens and dozens of self portraits. They probably covered every decade for more than two centuries. There were more than 200 self portraits in the exhibition – possibly one of the largest collection of painted selfies on the planet. Men, men, men – where were the women? I had to look hard – maybe six artists?  The male:female ratio must have been at least 40:1.

The exhibition of Self-Portraits 'My Own Self' at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

The exhibition of Self-Portraits ‘My Own Self’ at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

As time and the exhibition progressed, there did seem to be a few more women. And perhaps to make up for the few female artists, there were several works shown from some of them. For ex example several self-portraits of the wonderful Zinaida Serebriakova. The first in the series spanning 46 years was a pencil sketch,  drawn in about 1900, when she was just 17. The next was a painting from 1911.

Self portrait of , State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Self portrait of Zinaida Serebriakova, c. 1900, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

 

Self portrait of , State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Self portrait of Zinaida Serebriakova, 1911, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Self portrait of Zinaida Serebriakova, 1946, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Self portrait of Zinaida Serebriakova, 1946, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

There were also a couple from Valentina Markova, and one of my favourites – a selfie of the contemporary painter Kcenia Nechitailo, which I’ve used as the featured image.

Self portrait of Valentina Markova, c. 1930, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Self portrait of Valentina Markova, c. 1930, State Russian Museum in St Petersburg,

Perhaps there is a simple explanation for the very few women in a huge exhibition of self-portraits – maybe women just didn’t have the same opportunities to paint as men. Overall, I guess not. But, I’m not sure that’s the answer. One of the few options for women of leisure, was painting. So did they tend not to paint themselves in the past? Or is the imbalance something to do with curation?

In any case – what a change! Digital media is one of the great equalisers. The massive difference in gender balance with digital selfies seems to show us a kind of underlying reality –  what people like to do, when they can….

Thoughts?

 

Mongolia- on top of a mountain, one vehicle stuck in snow, the other with engine issues.
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In Mongolia any fool can drive, but…

In five years or so  in and out of Mongolia, I’ve criss-crossed thousands of kilometres by 4WD Landcruiser. But I’ve only taken the wheel once, and that was for a short hop back to a village when my driver wasn’t well.

Let me explain. Technically, anyone can take the wheels of a 4WD and go through the motions – and say “Hey – I’m 4WDriving in Mongolia”. It’s when things go wrong that count. Mongolia is a big, big, largely empty country. And when things go wrong, you’re pretty much on your own, and quite possibly with some severe weather coming your way. Quite aside from everyone having their job, driving is about responsibility. Just like “you break it, you own it”, being a real driver means that if things go wrong on your watch – its up to you to get out. I simply knew that getting behind the wheel in Mongolia, I could’t fulfill that condition.

Our fully-laden Russian Jeep, about to make a routine crossing of a river. But rivers always change - will this time be like the last?

Our fully-laden Russian Jeep, about to make a routine crossing of a river. But rivers always change – will this time be like the last?

Take getting a puncture. You can change a wheel? Cool. We normally travel with two spares on the roof. As soon as one goes down, we think about where the nearest town/village is that can replace it. And punctures happen in the damnedest of places. You can spend hours negotiating bare rock in the mountains, and finally find yourself on a smooth, sandy track on a plain. Get out to have a pee, and that ‘pssssss’ sound is not you or one of your mates, but the bloody tire. Time and time again. But on one trip we had six punctures. Do the maths – real drivers can patch a Landcruiser tube on the fly.

Travelling in Mongolia - and another flat.

Travelling in Mongolia – and another flat.

Then there was the morning I was out in the desert, with just my driver. I set off on foot to do some geology, and sauntered back mid-morning for a coffee. I got around the other side of the Landcruiser, and there was the entire wheel/hub assembly in pieces out in the sand. “Little problem” said my driver. There was a problem he had recognised, not fatal, but he didn’t blanch from putting his head down to deal with it. In Mongolia, real drivers are self-reliant mechanics.

Repairing Landcruiser wheel assembly in Mongolia.

“Little problem”. Repairing Landcruiser wheel assembly in Mongolia.

In Mongolia you rely on your drivers for everything. They get you there. Outside of the cities there are just a couple of sealed roads. Beyond that it can be anything from graded track, to wheel ruts, or nothing. The driver typically navigates by dead-reckoning (not always without the odd embarrassing cock-up), either by being used to the general route, or perhaps because he came this way once five years ago. Real drivers seem too have an amazing map inside their heads.

In Mongolia, travel across the wide valleys is often tricky. You can be bogged in a flash, and unlike anywhere else , tall grass can hide the danger.

In Mongolia, travel across the wide valleys is often tricky. You can be bogged in a flash, and unlike anywhere else , tall grass can hide the danger.

Partly it’s knowing the landscape. After a while you can look into the Mongolian countryside and predict where the tracks are going to be. Typically the centers of the plains are avoided. This is where the finest mud accumulates during floods, and it’s where you risk sinking. The huge gravel fans have dozens of deep channels in them. You either want to be well above them, right up in them, or be in that narrow zone between where they hit the plain, an the mud. But sometimes you have no warning and stuff happens. In Mongolia its always a great idea to travel in a pair of vehicles. One can help the other one out. Real drivers know when to toss the ego and work as a team.

In Mongolia, sometimes your only hope is another vehicle. Bogged to the floorboards, nothing to tie your winch to, screwed without some help.

In Mongolia, sometimes your only hope is another vehicle. Bogged to the floorboards, nothing to tie your winch to, screwed without some help.

A real driver can read the signs. A pair of wheel ruts going into a mountain gorge is a good sign you can get through. If its’s only a single rut – a motorbike trail, it’s a good assumption you can’t do it, because no one else has.

Two wheel ruts go into this Mongolian gorge - so there is a good chance we can get all the way through.

Two wheel ruts go into this Mongolian gorge – so there is a good chance we can get all the way through.

But hey, you can always be the first! A good, confident driver, will give it a go – or tell you if it’s a stupid idea.

In Mongolia single wheel ruts are made by motorbikes, and typically mean bad news for a 4WD. But no-one says you can't try!

In Mongolia single wheel ruts are made by motorbikes, and typically mean bad news for a 4WD. But no-one says you can’t try!

Winters are just too harsh to work in Mongolia – but spring can be a difficult time too. There are still deep, soft snow-drifts here and there and sometimes you just have to try and cross them. And frozen rivers that were perfectly safe to cross a week ago – are they safe now. These are decisions real drivers have to make. If they get stuck – it’s their responsibility to get out.

Mongolia - stuck in a snow drift.

Mongolia – stuck in a snow drift.

Mongolia - spring, when that frozen river starts to thaw...

Mongolia – spring, when that frozen river starts to thaw…

And real drivers too, are about personality. You constantly come across ‘incidents’in Mongolia  – a car crash, a truck off the road, a family vehicle stuck in a river, or, as on several occasions, a family sitting in a lone vehicle in the middle of no-where, out of petrol – and out of water. A good-natured driver will take any of this in his stride, stop, and do what he can to help. We’ve quickly  pulled several vehicles out of trouble. We never gave away petrol, but checked on the occupants of stranded cars and gave water if needed. Once we operated as the ‘Delgerengui Schoolbus’. My driver explained that the kids from the local nomad families spend the week at school, only coming home for the weekends. We picked them up and drove them to school one Sunday.

Mongolia - the 'Delgerengui Schoolbus'. The back seat of our Landcruiser taking a bunch of kids, and some parents, to school.

Mongolia – the ‘Delgerengui Schoolbus’. The back seat of our Landcruiser taking a bunch of kids, and some parents, to school.

Drivers often double as cooks – something I just can’t do. At least when it comes to whipping up something nice in the middle of no-where. They might even know how to boil water using crap. And of course, real drivers are good company – you are with them for long, long trips.

In Mongolia, real drivers are good company.

In Mongolia, real drivers are good company.

In Mongolia, real drivers can teach you tricks about surviving in the desert...

In Mongolia, real drivers can teach you tricks about surviving in the desert…

So you see, in Mongolia, anyone can drive, but it takes pretty special sorts to be real drivers….

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The Log Cabin at the Heart of St Petersburg, Russia

The most famous ‘little log cabin in the woods’ is probably the one in which Abraham Lincoln grew up in Kentucky. It was built in 1808, but unfortunately, no longer exists.  However, in St Petersburg, Russia, there is to this day, a log cabin built in 1703. It was the home for a few years of Tsar Peter the Great – the man who founded St Petersburg.

Peter the Great's original log cabin on display to the public, in St Petersburg.

Peter the Great’s original log cabin, virtually the first building of the city, on display to the public, in St Petersburg.

At the time, the area was mostly still one vast swamp or bog, although a map from 1698 (when the place belonged to Sweden) shows scattered houses and what appear to be ploughed fields.

A map of the St Petersburg area in 1698 (above) showing green forests and swamps and a few buildings and apparent plouged fields. Below I have superimposed a Google Earth image of St Petersburg as it is toda

A map of the St Petersburg area in 1698 (above) showing green forests and swamps and a few buildings and apparent ploughed fields. Below I have superimposed a Google Earth image of St Petersburg as it is today. A red arrow indicates the location of Peter the Great’s log cabin.

Peter decided he wanted a new capital (he wasn’t a fan of Moscow) and one that had good access to the sea. He chose this spot on the River Neva, and despite all the trees and very high water table, said something like “делай!” (Do it!). And St Petersburg was built. In the meantime, he lived in his little log cabin, presumably built from trees growing on-site.

The end of one of the logs making up Peter the Great's log cabin in St Petersburg. The narrow growth rings indicate the short growing season in this region of very harsh winters.

The end of one of the logs making up Peter the Great’s log cabin in St Petersburg. The narrow growth rings indicate the short growing season in this region of very harsh winters.

The log cabin remained – Peter was proud of his frugal ways (other than building cities) and to preserve it, it was encased inside a small brick building in 1723. This is open to the public as a museum.

View from the south bank of the Neva across to where Peter the Great's original log cabin is now behind some trees (red arrow).

View from the south bank of the Neva across to where Peter the Great’s original log cabin is now behind some trees (red arrow).

I’m fascinated by old images and trying to line them up with the present-day view. The Cabin museum displays a couple of old views of the building, one from 1805 and another of about the same age. These confused me, as they show a building much closer to the river than the present day. There is also a model reconstructing what I take to be the cabin and its immediate surrounds as they were in 1706. Neither buildings in the model match what is now inside the brick enclosure, but they still seem to be close to the river. During my visit, I looked at the two images and the model, and I wondered if the cabin once lay a little bit to the west. closer to the Peter and Paul fortress. This has a little bridge over to the island, which might be what is shown in the model.

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1805 image of the brick building built in 1723 enclosing Peter the Greats cabin. Note the river very nearby to the left. Source: Photographed in the Peter the Great Cabin Museum, St Petersburg

 

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A further image of the brick enclosure around Peter the Greats cabin. Probably around 1805. Note the nearby river. Source: Photographed in the Peter the Great Cabin Museum, St Petersburg.

 

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Model in the Peter the Great Cabin Museum, presumably showing the cabin in 1706. But is that bridge over the Fontanka River, or the Kronversky Protok? Source: Photographed in the Peter the Great Cabin Museum, St Petersburg.

That the cabin had been moved at all was something I don’t think was pointed out in the museum. At least in English. However, I later read in Wikipedia that the cabin was relocated to its present site “in 1711 from its original site on the north bank of the River Neva close to the present Winter Palace“. This is a little confusing, as that would surely be the south bank. Perhaps that is just a typo, but it doesn’t help with the image from 1805 looking closer to the river.

A map from 1705  does show some buildings near the Fontanka River meets the southern edge of the Neva, and a bridge. Perhaps this is the original location of the cabin? If anyone knows, do tell.

A 1705 map of St Petersburg. Was Peter the Greats log cabin once at the location shown by the red arrow? Its present location is shown by the blue arrow.

A 1705 map of St Petersburg. Was Peter the Greats log cabin once at the location shown by the red arrow? Its present location is shown by the blue arrow.

Whatever. The original little cabin in the swampforest, basically the first building of St Petersburg. It’s still there….

Miocene Nothofagus leaf and Allocasuarina fruits, New Zealand.
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Miocene Rain and Fire Forests of Bannockburn

Canungra is the perfect place to stop for a snack on the drive up to O’Reilly’s/Lamington National Park in southeastern Queensland. On a weekend you can grab a latte and pie and sit outside a cafe, watching the biker crowd doing pretty much the same thing. From there you start winding your way up the one-way road, up the flanks of an extinct Miocene volcano, up towards the extinct caldera that forms the border with New South Wales. As you get higher, the temperature drops and the annual rainfall goes up.

Low-down the vegetation is typical Australian Eucalyptus and casuarina-dominated ‘fire-forest’, which will burn every few years. But then there are distinct and sharp boundaries, where you suddenly go from open fire-forest to a much more closed, shady and clearly more diverse forest. These are the rainforests, and the boundaries are from fires – the rainforests don’t burn.

Sunset from O'Reilly's. Canungra is down and off to the right.

Sunset from O’Reilly’s. Canungra is down and off to the right.

Between 1999 and 2007,  I taught ecology classes in the O’Reilly’s rainforest, With spending so much time up there, I finally reached the point where I could immediately identify 111 species of rainforest tree or vine – and I started feeling slightly respectable. But these feelings were always put into perspective with a memory from a decade before.

I was on a field trip in 1988 and had the pleasure of meeting botanist Geoff Tracey in the far North Queensland town of Yungaburra. Geof blew me away with his encyclopedic knowledge of tropical rainforests. He could pull leaves off trees and hand them to me with their names, faster than I could write them all down. When I asked him how many species he could rattle off the names for, it was over 2,000.

Geof and his colleague Len Webb (who I’ve never met), were an academic partnership that made a significant impact on understanding Australian rainforests. Among their publications, one with Webb as sole author (Webb 1959) presented a classification of Australian rainforests that remains in common use today. It’s efficacy is through using ‘physiognomic’ and ‘structural’ characters but just a minimum of botanical names. Being able to recognise rainforest types consistently was a big step towards understanding them and the underlying climate and geological conditions that caused them.

Webb called classified warmer rainforests* as ‘vine forests’, in recognition that they typically containing robust lianes. The cooler forests with only wiry vines, he called ‘fern’ or ‘mossy’ forests.  Further subdivision was based on the most common leaf size – for instance ‘Notophyll’ for leaves between about 8 and 13 cm long. This is a common leaf size in rainforests living under a broadly subtropical climate. Cooler than that, the leaves are smaller, warmer and they are larger. One of the few floristic terms he regarded as important was the presence of either hoop or bunya pines (genus Araucaria)

Part of my PhD on New Zealand plant fossils was based near the village of Bannockburn. Strata of the Miocene Manuherikia Group there have been tilted up on an angle, and leaf fossils are common in various layers. One of the key findings from this work was that there were several quite distinct assemblages of fossil leaves and fruits – each representing a different original vegetation types. This is actually not so common – most Miocene plant fossil assemblages from elsewhere around the world seem to represent just one kind of vegetation. The variety seen at Bannockburn is somewhat unique.

Webb and Tracey’s works were a big influence on me – and gave me a conceptual framework into which to place the Miocene plant fossils at Bannockburn. Most of Webb’s criteria are not visible in fossils, but I thought enough of the important ones were, or could be inferred, to suggest some of Webb’s forest types.

Miocene Eucalyptus fossil New Zealand

Miocene Eucalyptus fossil New Zealand

The presence of both Eucalyptus fossils in New Zealand and casuarina fossils in some layers at Bannockburn indicates fire, analogous to the lower parts of the drive from Canungra up to O’Reilly’s. However, they are mixed in with more typical rainforest leaves – and suggest a vegetation mixture, such as ‘wet sclerophyll  – rainforest regenerating through fire forest in the long absence of burning (see the featured image of a Nothofagus leaf next to a casuarina fruit).

Miocene hoop pine (Araucaria) fossil, Bannockburn, New Zealaand

Miocene hoop pine (Araucaria) fossil, Bannockburn, New Zealaand

Hoop pine fossils in New Zealand are present in one zone. This suggests Webb’s ‘Araucarian Notophyll Vine Forest’. This is broadly equivalent to what some authors call ‘Dry Rainforest’. It’s oxymoronic, but it means a forest which is relatively dry, but still excludes fire. This (along with the Eucalyptus and casuarinas) suggests periodic relatively dry conditions at Bannockburn. However, in detail, the associated leaves are smaller than notophyll, suggesting cooler conditions than typical ‘Araucarian Notophyll Vine Forest’. Dry rainforest with hoop pines is the first rainforest one encounters on the drive up from Canungra.

Large (120 mm long) Miocene leaf fossil, Bannockburn, New Zealand.

Large (120 mm long) Miocene leaf fossil, Bannockburn, New Zealand.

One layer at Bannockburn has relatively large fossil leaves, without any Nothofagus or Araucaria. This suggests the warmest conditions in the section, and without any marked dry seasons. This corresponds to Webb’s Notophylll Vine Forest, and is analogous to forest above O’Reillly’s.

Nothofagus leaf fossils are only found in the lower part of the Bannockburn section – suggesting this had  the coolest conditions, analogous to the Caldera Rim at Lamington National Park. Higher up,

There is also a zone at Bannockburn dominated by palm fossils. This is probably indicating soil conditions at least as much as climate. The fossil vegetation will have been roughly similar to Webb’s Mesophyll Palm Forest, type, just significantly cooler. There are an palm swamps on the drive up from Canungra simply because there are no flat areas of waterlogged soil. Palm swamps are present on the coast to the east.

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The Miocene section at Bannockburn, New Zealand, with location of key plant fossils and corresponding vegetation types shown.

Getting back to Australia, as you head up towards the state border from Canungra, you can see four basic types of forest in a rise of a several hundred maters. From fire forest you enter dry rainforest, then subtropical rainforest, and above O’Reillys there are patches of warm and cool temperate rainforest, In those Miocene rocks at Bannockburn, you can see at several very distinct fossil plant assemblages in about 80 m of geological section. That’s special. This suggests the present climate of Canungra is a good place to start when thinking of the temperature of southern New Zealand in the Miocene.

Canungra is about 100 m above sea level, and has a balmy average annual temperature of around 19 C – far warmer than the 10 C or so of southern New Zealand where Bannockburn is.  Average temperature drops at around 0.6 C for every 100 m increase in altitude. O’Reilly’s is at about 920 m above sea level, and thus has a average temperature of about 14 C, while the Caldera Rim/state border is about 1160 m and will have a temperature of a little less than 13 C.

Thus, the warmest rainforest at Bannockburn may have grown under something less than 19 C, while for the coolest ones it could ranged down to at least 13 C. The range of fossil vegetation types seen at Bannockburn was clearly not a result of changing altitude. All the sediment was formed in low-lying, swampy conditions close to sea level. Rather, they suggest broad changes in regional climate – enough to tip the balance between fire-forest and a range of rainforest types.

Getting back to Canungra again, 19 C will do me just fine – perfect for sitting outside a cafe with that latte and a pie…

*Following Baur (1968) and various current authorities (see Bowman 2000), I use the term ‘rainforest’ rather than the ‘rain forest’ that Webb used. This format tends to de-emphasise both rain and that it needs to be a forest (It’s more about absence of fire and light conditions).

References (Clickable links to download a pdf)

Baur, G.N., 1968. The ecological basis of rainforest management. Government Printer, Sydney.

Bowman, D.M.J.S., 2000. Australian rainforests : islands of green in a land of fire. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.

Pole, M. S. 1993: Early Miocene flora of the Manuherikia Group, New Zealand. 10. Paleoecology and stratigraphy. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 23: 393-426.

Webb, L.J. (1959) A Physiognomic Classification of Australian Rain Forests. The Journal of Ecology, 47, 551-570. You can get a pdf of this paper here. Webb’s paper is Number 34 in a list of 100 influential papers. Click on the pdf link adjacent the number 34.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 24 – the Mysterious Vanishing Sushi Shop

It happens so often. I chance across a place in a city – then fruitlessly search high and low for it again. Finally chance across it once more – only to lose it again. This little Nanjing sushi shop fell squarely into that category.

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It’s way down the southern end of Chiangxiang Road, about the limit of my evening foraging limit. I decided that was the key to finding it. Just about when I had that feeling that I must have walked past and not recognised it – just keep going. Eventually the red Japanese lantern hanging outside would magically appear. Inside, the owners were always happy to see me again (quite a contrast to the usual indifference to customers in Nanjing). Presumably entirely unaware of my repeated travails to find him, it seemed they were always expecting me to arrive. A plate of the ‘works’ would be intermediately flourished. I never could find this on the menu, but at 36 RMB, seemed to be the most expensive thing they offered. It seemed heartless to suggest I wanted to try something else – it was far more enjoyable being recognised as a kind of ‘local’.

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The vanishing sushi shop is a comfortable little place – with just one narrow bench to eat at, and an eclectic selection of magasines to read.

Vanished again? Just keep going south, and look for that red lantern.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 23 – Curry at Miss Tasha

I noticed Miss Tasha when it opened. But for quite a while I kept walking past – I wasn’t sure what it was. It was set back a little off Chenxiang Road, and  had a push-bike, tastefully positioned in the front. But was it a craft shop, or a cafe?  My usual rule called for photos of food in the window. This was a reasonable sign that there would be photos inside, or failing that, I could beckon someone back outside, and point to what I wanted there. Tasha’s had the bike, lots of flowers,  hints of art, but some discrete symbols indicating that coffee and food of some sort was inside.

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The outside of Miss Tasha, Nanjing.

The outside of Miss Tasha, Nanjing.

One evening I gave it a go. The immediate impression was – stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Paintings, ceramics, books, mobiles, covered all surfaces and created even more. It wasn’t a craft shop or a cafe, it was both.

A window table inside Miss Tasha, Nanjing.

A window table inside Miss Tasha, Nanjing.

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But where were the food photos I could point to? There were some menus on a chalkboard, but entirely in Chinese. No-worries – the waitress indicated that I merely needed to scan the QR image on the table. Well, Nanjing has a population of nearly 4 million, and I’m probably the only occupant who doesn’t have a smart phone. This doesn’t mean I’m not smart though. Oh-no! Only a couple of weeks before I had finally uploaded a QR scanner to my iPad. If I’d tried to use that, I would have found out that, for perhaps only the second time ever, I’d forgotten the iPad back in the office. But at that moment, a waiter brushed past with a stack of dirty plates. I pointed at one, and said I’d try that. Or rather, whatever it had been….

The kitchen/counter at Miss Tasha, Nanjing.

The kitchen/counter at Miss Tasha, Nanjing.

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It was a curry, about 30 RMB. A bit more than I would have paid in a ‘normal’ place. But Tasha’s is not normal – it is, as far as I can see, utterly unique in Nanjing. The artistic taste and attention to detail is leagues away from anything else. The extra cost is well worth the ambiance. But what an almighty job keeping the place clean must be. The air quality in Nanjing is no where near as bad as Beijing, but it’s bad enough. All those little things will collect dust.

Oh well, there is clearly huge personal passion gone into the concept of Miss Tasha. It’s a very pleasant place and a welcome addition to Nanjing eateries. I hope it works out for Tasha.

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Cheap Eats Nanjing 22 – Danfeng St Bakery

Boring weekends, I’d sometimes head around the block to a little bakery in Danfeng St. I’d pick up a little selection of ‘cakes’. These are flaky pastry bounded nibbles, with a variety of soft filling inside. The cakes in the featured image cost me 12 RMB (c. $2.30). Not as healthy as basic noodles or rice, and a bit more expensive, but hey, nice for a change.

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