wattieza--world's oldest tree and international geological treasure
Thank you very much for reviewing this information about an amazing recent paleobotanical discovery called WATTIEZA. Dated at 380 million-years-old and unique in all the world, the fossils composing this Ancient tree were recently discovered in Upstate New York in 2004--05 on the edge of the Catskill Mountains, in Schoharie County.
At least a half dozen international paleobotanists were involved in the digging and analyses of WATTIEZA during the most recent phase of its discovery, including William Stein, Director of Paleobotany at SUNY, Binghamton, and Dr. Ed Landing of the New York State Museum, Albany. At least one scientist lost her life in the process, Sharon Mannolini, whose dedication and energy spearheaded the solving of this 137-year-old natural mystery and new Wonder of the World.
The eight-meter fossil of the species WATTIEZA has enabled scientists to reconstruct the Ancient tree in its entirety for the first time, solving a century-old paleobotanical mystery. The species lend new insight into the evolution of modern terrestrial trees and forest ecosystems.
"In forming the first forests, these trees must have really changed the Earth system as a whole, creating new types of micro-environments for smaller plants and insects, storing large amounts of carbon and binding the soil together," said paleobotanist Christopher Berry of Cardiff University, Wales, another participant.
In June, 2004, palaeontologists Linda VanAller Hernick and Frank Mannolini (brother of Sharon, d.) of the New York State Museum, found the fossilized crown of a massive Ancient tree in a small sandstone quarry in Gilboa. Racing against the clock--the quarry was about to be excavated for road repair--the couple used an industrial saw, a pickup truck and manual engine hoist to extract the hefty specimen. Gaining a stay of execution and authorization to continue, they resumed the following year, digging out a trunk by extracting it fragment by fragment and reassembling it like an eight-meter-long jigsaw puzzle.
Eschewing the traditional buttoned down prose of scientific journals, the team described the specimens as nothing less than "spectacular." Put another way, Wattieza constitutes a monolith to the very important period called the Greening of ther Earth, which occurred during the Devonian Period, 415--360 million years ago, when trees got a foothold on the planet, creating an environment which promoted other life forms, including land animals, and eventually Humans.
And with the decisive discovery of WATTIEZA, all the evidence points to this unique and critical event occurring here in Upstate New York, in the Ancient Catskill Mountains, the oldest mountains on the planet. That the oldest trees would be found in and around the oldest mountains, it is no surprise that WATTIEZA appears to be the precursor of all the forests now growing on Earth.
It is of note that these trees preceded the dinosaurs by 140 million years. When this specimen of WATTIEZA was alive, terrestrial life in this area was limited to arthropods (giant by today's standards) a class that includes insects, spiders and crustaceans. There was nothing flying, no reptiles, no amphibians.
As Dr. Stein himself said, solving the puzzle helps to understand the broader changes that occurred during the Devonian, "the age of the Greening of the Earth. By the end of the Devonian, all major classes of plants were present, except for flowering plants. The modern ecology had been established."
Indeed, the find has drawn intense interest from around the world. French scientists Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud, and Anne-Laure Decombeix, both of the University of Montpellier, France, wrote, "Reconstructing entire fossil plants is an important step in assessing the patterns of plant diversification over time and the roles that plants played in past environments. This is a particular challenge, because plants naturally shed parts of their body throughout their lifetime. Complete reconstructions of trees are especially difficult due to their intricate architecture and long lifespan."
Today WATTIEZA continues to inspire passion among its admirers and champions. Thousands (and growing) of sites, blogs and entries on the Web are dedicated to this magnificent tree and wonder of Nature, as well as printed publications, and what even could be described as a love poem(!), suggesting that international intrigue remains strong.
Similarly, and closely associated with this remarkable legacy of Nature, today the Catskill Mountains hold title as being the Oldest Mountains on Earth, explaining why WATTIEZA, World's Oldest Tree, was found nearby in Schoharie County, with numerous other specimens--and species--awaiting future discovery in the Catskill Mountains themselves, one scientist predicts.
Composed of ancient sediments pre-dating WATTIEZA by 100 million years, the "Ancient" Catskill Mountains were formed from minerals eroded from a massive mountain range created between 500 and 400 million years ago, as far back as the late Cambrian Period. (EARTH, Press (MIT) and Siever (Harvard) W.H. Freeman and Co. 1974,pp 483.)
Part of a vast alluvial delta depositied by an immense, violent, Ancient river, fine sediments and coarse detritus were carried westward from an immense, lofty belt of mountains scientists have identified as the "Ancient Appalachian Mountains." Pre-dating what are classified today as the modern Appalachians (EARTH, pp 33--324) the "Ancient" Catskill Mountains remain a missing link and unique window into a vanished piece of Earth history, predating the Devonian Period when the Greening of the Earth began and WATTIEZA first appeared. Thus when one admires the luster,sparkle and durability of New York State's sedimentary Bluestone, one gazes back through nearly one-half billion years of Earth history!
A result of their age, the Catskill Mountains also possess important ecological, geological, botanical and archaeological information. Flood plains along the Delaware River contain a gold mine of Human artifacts and remnants of the Native American Indian tribes who farmed there centuries ago, followed by the settlers. Today the virgin sedimentary minerals of these oldest of mountains produce the world's most valuable hardwoods. With such quality soil, forests and water, the Catskill Mountains are home to an array of protected species including Bald Eagles and other raptors, as well as Black Bear, Coyotees, Fox and countless forest critters, big cats like Cougars, and also migrating Canadian Snow Geese, Ducks, an array of songbirds, and sustainable river fisheries. Hummingbirds, as well as Monarch Butterflies, which winter over in Mexico, fly up to the Catskills each summer to breed in the open fields of wildflowers and undisturbed shrubbery.
"The Delaware River is one of a few Trout rivers in the state-- if not the whole Northeast," Attorney Richard Gumo recently wrote. One result is that many pair of Bald Eagles have re-settled in permanent homes along the Delaware River, often seen dive-bombing for fish, perched in trees or flying above the mountains lofty serenity, year round.
The lure of so many valuable resources makes the task of conducting oversight of these mountains in a county the size of Rhode Island, quite daunting. With the documented presence of so many valuable natural resources,including New York's treasured Bluestone, the world's most expensive hardwood, the purest drinking water, nesting Bald Eagles, paleontologic fossils, Indian artifacts, and potential biomass fuel production, wind power--and now natural gas drilling--managing such important and valuable land is a huge responsibility.
Earth is 4.7 billion-years-old. The oldest rocks are bedrock, at about 4 billion-years-old. Earth's interior is a gigantic but delicately balanced heat engine fueled by radioactivity, which has much to do with how the surface evolved.
Were it running more slowly, geological activity would have proceeded at a slower pace. The continents might not have evolved to their present form and volcanoes might not have spewed out the water and gases which became the oceans and atmosphere. Iron might not have melted and sunk to form the liquid core, and the magnetic field would never have developed.
Originally Earth was an unsorted conglomeration of silicon, magnesium oxides, iron and small amounts of all other natural chemical elements. Its liquid iron core formed relatively soon after Earth was originally formed. With the formation of the heavy molten core, differentiation occurred, helping to create a surficial crust compound of lighter materials with a lower melting point, and the mantle in between the crust and the core. The formation of a crust led to the formation of continents. Differentiation also led to escape of gases from its interior, which led to the formation of the atmosphere and oceans.
Lava from a partially molten interior of Earth spread over the surface and solidified to form a thin crust. This primeval crust melted and solidified repeatedly. The lighter compounds separating from the heavier ones were distributed to the top. Weathering by rainwater, wind and other components of atmosphere broke up and altered the rocks. Erosion led to formation of sediments--the residue of broken-down rock particles.
As sediments accumulated, they were penetrated by hot gases and solutions from below, heated up and altered--metamorphosized or "cooked" into new rocks, or were entirely resorbed and recycled. Differentiation slowed down the internal heat engine of Earth, leaving enough heat in the interim for the planet to continue to evolve today.
It takes hundreds of millions of years to open an ocean basin, about 20 million years to raise a mountain, and hundreds of millions of years to erode it down to sea level. The Earth has experienced many cycles of mountain building and erosion in the past 4 billion years.
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The history of the Catskill Mountains is a geologic story come full circle, from erosion, deposition and uplift back to erosion. The sediments that make up the rocks in the Catskills were deposited when the Ancient Acadian (Ancient Appalachian) Mountains in the East were rising and subsequently eroding. The sediments traveled westward and formed a great delta into the shallow sea that was in the area at that time.
The eastern escarpment of the Catskill Mountains is near the former (landward) edge of this delta. The sediments in the northeastern areas along the escarpment were deposited above sea level by moving rivers eroding the Acadian Mountains, which were located roughly where the Taconics are located today The farther West you travel, the finer the deposited sediment, the rocks changing from gravel conglomerates to sandstones and shales. Even farther West, these fresh water deposits intermingle with shallow marine sanstones and shales (Marcellus) until they end in deeper water limestones.
The uplift and erosion of the Acadian Mountains were occurring during the Devonian and early Mississippi period of 395--325 million years ago (compare to WATTIEZA's age of 380 million years).
Over that time, thousands of feet of these sediments builtup, slowly moving the Devonian (shallow sea) seashore further and further West. A meteor impact occurred in the shallow sea approximately 375 mya creating a 10 km (6 mile) diameter crater. (Could this meteor have carried the DNA which spurred the growth of WATTIEZA? Perhaps.) This crater eventually filled with sediment and became Panther Mountain through the process of uplift and erosion.
By the middle of the Mississippian period, the uplift stopped and the Acadian Mountains had been eroded so much that sediments no longer flowed across the Catskill Delta.
Over time the sediments were buried by more sediments from other areas until the original Devonian and Mississipian sediments (Bluestone) were deeply buried and slowly became solid rock. Then the entire area experienced uplift, which caused the overlying sedimentary rocks to begin to erode. Today, those upper sedimentary rocks have been completely removed, allowing the original Devonian and Mississipian Bluestone rocks to be exposed. Today's Catskills are a result of the continued erosion, both by streams and in the recent past by glaciers.
The hieroglyphics of geology, the Bluestone in the "Ancient" Catskills, along with spectacular WATTIEZA-- World's Oldest Tree--uncovered in nearby quarries in stages over 150 years by several New York paleobotanists, one of whom lost her life--provide invaluable geological evidence about a special period in Earth history. Offering a unique window onto the most important stage of Earth's evolution, called the Greening of the Earth, the Catskill region provides invaluable evidence about that vital step, upon which all subsequent life on the planet depended. Their original state remaining basically unchanged, and now exposed, after hundreds of millions of years, the Catskill Mountains, and adjoining Schoharie County, have the honor and distinction of being recognized as the Oldest Garden on Earth.
The recent unveiling of WATTIEZA, World's Oldest Tree, by several Upstate paleontologists has stirred intense excitement around the globe. Yet WATTIEZA remains hidden from the world and lying in pieces in containers in the New York State Museum, even though a complete impression of the trunk and crown has been successfully reconstructed by Frank Mannolini and Linda VanAller Hernick, manager of the NYS Museum's paleontology collection.
SHOULDN'T THIS MAGNIFICENT SPECIMEN OF THE WORLD'S OLDEST TREE BE PUT ON DISPLAY IN A WORLD CLASS EXHIBIT, IN ITS NATURAL GREEN SETTING IN THE CATSKILL MOUNTAINS--WORLDS OLDEST MOUNTAINS--RATHER THAN REMAINING HIDDEN SOMEWHERE INSIDE AN URBAN MUSEUM?
WATTIEZA, and the Ancient Catskill Mountains, which contain invaluable fossils and important paleontological and archaeological information, constitute a natural Legacy belonging to all Mankind.
One of the most spectacular gems of Nature to be recently discovered, and drawing intense interest from around the world, WATTIEZA deserves to be exhibited in its own natural setting, close to where it was discovered, giving viewers a singular and unique look back through nearly one-half billion years of Earth history.
It required six international paleontologists working long hours over many years to successfully unearth and analyze a complete specimen of WATTIEZA. These devoted men and women include: Dr. William E. Stein, paleobotanist, SUNY, Binghamton; Dr. Ed Landing, NYS Museum; Linda VanAller Hernick, paleontologist, NYS Museum; Frank Mannolini, paleontologist, NYS Museum; Sharon Mannolini (d.) paleontologist, NYS Museum; and Dr. Christopher Berry, Cardiff University, Wales.
A result of their dedication and labor should be that WATTIEZA is appropriately displayed in a beautiful, green, world class, natural setting close to its home in Upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains,
THE PERFECT LOCATION BEING THE STATE UNIVERSITY IN DELHI, NEW YORK (SUNY DELHI).
A beautifully landscaped, newly remodeled, well-maintained, and well-euipped public college, SUNY, Delhi sits poised on a breezy hilltop overlooking a scenic historic town and bucolic farms in the agricultural district embedded in the Delaware River Valley. Housing a comfortable, spacious new library, it boasts plenty of green space with winding pathways, ample parking, nearby cafes and a plethora of inexpensive accommodations, all nearby and within walking distance to the college.
SUNY Delhi also stands a convenient distance to several large cities and airports, making it the perfect location for the throng of visitors who most likely would travel during summer to visit an exhibit of the World's Oldest Tree and Natural Wonder.
Exploiting the blossoming interest in all things "green,"
inviting tourists, students and scientists to visit WATTIEZA--World's Oldest Tree--in its natural, beautiful setting in Upstate New York, would also bring badly needed revenue into the area.
For in spite of the stalled worldwide economy, both foreign and national tourists still flock to New York City, where they spend billions of dollars annually. Thus with the right marketing--which should not be too expensive if done intelligently--some of that revenue should find its way into the local Upstate economy, drawn to this fascinating regional exhibit, while also drawing interest to other parts of this beautiful and historic state.
The exhibit itself also should not have to be too expensive, while also putting local artists and contractors to work. The following are merely suggestions for the project, as well as food for thought:
--A misty walk-through recreation of a forest of WATTIEZA, constructed of plaster, plastic or plexiglass, or other inexpensive material. It grows dark--sounds of THUNDER--then pounding RAIN. Giant arthropods SCURRY for cover, moving through decaying tree fronds lining the forest floor. Suddenly there's a CLAP of thunder, a loud CREAK, SNAP and CRASH as a tree topples, its shallow roots letting go of sodden soil. Then, VIBRATIONS of an earthquake. Finally the BURNING SUN reappears.
--A colorful room filled with information, pictures, books and videos providing educational material for everyone to learn about the Devonian Era, the Greening of the Earth and other stages of Earth's Evolution and Ecology, with hands on interactive games and exhibits for children.
--CDs for classrooms and homes. An entire "Green" industry with huge potential could be built around
WATTIEZA, including many new tourism businesses.
--Seminar rooms for visiting environmental groups, ecologists, scientists and students who will come to research and discuss the exhibit with others, many of whom will likely belong to the international community.
--Finally, at 25--30 feet long, WATTIEZA itself should be enshrined in its own special display, perhaps illuminated with colored lights for special effects to highlight its unique Ancient texture and surface.
It should be stressed that WATTIEZA should be displayed in its natural green setting, NOT discharged to an urban museum. Regardless of the arguments, New York City is not the appropriate forum. Nor is the state museum located in downtown Albany, a city run by legislators and lawyers and very expensive to stay in, inconvenient to get to, and very easy to get lost in, its roads very confusing. Rather this Ancient tree should remain in Upstate, where it naturally belongs, on display in the appropriate and beautiful setting of SUNY Delhi.
Thank you for your attention.
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