Trip to the microbial carbonates in the upper cambrian of central Texas

on 11 Apr 2017 

Hamelin Pool accommodates the largest and most diverse assemblage of active marine Stromatolites (microbial reefs) in the world. Although the stromatolites along the margins of Hamelin Pool are only about 2,000 years old, they're related to Stromatolite fossils that dominate the fossil record for 80% of Earth’s history. As such, the Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool offer us a rare 'window' into early Earth.

At the end of March, I was given the opportunity to travel to an ancient Cambrian stromatolite system in Mason, Texas with a group from Rice University and the University of Miami. These Upper Cambrian (~500 million-year-old) carbonates are stunning examples of ancient structures that afford spectacular cross-sectional and plan views of rocks showcasing microbial composition and character, offering an opportunity for a truly 3-D experience of the microbial reefs. These formations contain fossil Stromatolites with sizes, geometries and other sedimentological associations that can be broadly compared to the modern system in Hamelin Pool.

On the first day in the field we kayaked from White’s Crossing down the Llano River to view the impressive exposed fossil reefs on the cliff. Whether navigating through rapids or paddling around a corner to find a beautiful outcrop revealed, every turn in the river was a wonderful and unforgettable experience.

The night was finished with a sundowner on an elevated granitic pluton, overlooking the entire area. 

The second day in the field we hiked through a private ranch along the James River to see beautifully exposed Stromatolites and pavements, with vigorous discussion and interpretation of the environment of formation of the structures, using Hamelin Pool as a modern proxy.

The following day, before heading back to Houston for an international conference, we had a round table discussion about how we could all work together to improve our understanding of the forces driving Stromatolite morphology including internal structure and relief. Of particular interest were water depth, and the interplay of the physical, chemical and biological dynamics during Stromatolite genesis. 

Back in Houston, the conference had a session entirely dedicated to microbial deposits, with several contributions focusing on Hamelin Pool. Sharing our research with colleagues from around the world has opened up doors for new collaborations to conduct comparative studies to better understand and protect modern and ancient Stromatolite systems.

With plans underway to build a centre for research and education at Hamelin Station Reserve, we're in the early stages of forming an Alliance with international groups to bring a prominent and cutting-edge research initiatives to Shark Bay.

Post conference, Rice University held a workshop to integrate both research the Cambrian and Shark Bay research projects. Bush Heritage was highlighted as an organisation dedicated to ongoing collaborative research. 

This meeting was the perfect finale to a fantastic field trip and conference and I'm excited to pursue the development and growth of new partnerships in the coming months.