'Walking with Paleozoic Tetrapods: An Astronomer's Journey into Alabama's Remote Past'

Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Time: 03:45 PM
Location: 227 Gallalee Hall Gallalee Hall
Cost: No charge 

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Dr. Ronald Buta, a professor in UA's physics and astronomy department, will give a colloquium titled,"Walking with Paleozoic Tetrapods: An Astronomer's Journey into Alabama's Remote Past" on Wednesday, October 17 at 3:45 p.m. in Room 227 of Gallalee Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the department of physics and astronomy.

For the past 12 years, Prof. Buta has been involved in a remarkable odyssey of rescue, documentation, and study of Paleozoic footprints that have been found in the sedimentary rocks exposed in surface coal mines of Walker County, Alabama. The footprints date back to the Carboniferous period, 313 million years ago, and are significant because they were made by some of the earliest known reptiles. The trails were preserved on a tidal mud flat where a major river once drained into a tropical inland sea. The river carried sediments from the Appalachian Mountains, which had been recently uplifted by the collision of Laurussia with Gondwanaland, forming the supercontinent of Pangaea. The land that later became Alabama was just south of the equator and was partly covered by vast tropical swamp forests populated by strange trees covered with scales and by unusual seed ferns. These forests grew episodically and later became the coal seams that are being mined in Alabama. By the time the first dinosaurs appeared almost 80 Myr later, the world of the Paleozoic tetrapods of Walker County was long gone. Prof. Buta will describe how he, an extragalactic astronomer, became involved in the study of Paleozoic trace fossils, what it is like to search the spoil piles of a coal mine for the elusive footprints of long dead animals for whom no bones have ever been found, and how the experience has contributed to his development as a scientist and educator.

Contact Info: Karen Lynn, (205) 348-5050,Website,

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