On Saturday May 9th 2020, as promised, I chalked a load of dinosaur footprints onto my driveway.
My video below explains what I did, and what a single footprint can tell us about the tracemaker. WARNING: this video features some low-quality singing.
If you want to go chalking with dinosaurs, here’s my checklist:
1. Choose a footprint you want to chalk. I decided to start with the big Burniston footprint described by Martin Whyte and colleagues in 2006. However, you might want to chalk a completely different dinosaur footprint, or your own footprint, or invent the footprint of a creature even more fantastical than a dinosaur.
2. Draw the footprint onto a piece of card and cut it out, to keep your footprint chalk drawings consistent.
3. Get your chalks, work out where you want your footprint to go, and start drawing. If you don’t have a driveway, an alleyway or a yard will do just as well. If you don’t have outdoor space for chalking, draw the footprints onto paper indoors.
4. Measure the footprint. Is it the same size as the tracemaker’s foot? This can be quite hard to determine from a trace fossil, but the answer is often no. Martin Whyte and colleagues decided that, although the large Burniston footprint was 0.61m long by 0.49m wide, the squidgification* around the edges of the footprint suggested that the dinosaur foot itself was probably 0.55m long by 0.40m wide (hence my annnotation in the figure above).
5. From the size of the tracemaker’s foot, you can then estimate the size of its leg. How? Well, take some measurements of your own leg. My foot is 0.265m long, and my hip height is 0.91m, so that gives a ratio of hip height (h) to FL (Foot Length) as follows:
h = 3.43FL
If that ratio was true for the Burniston dinosaur, its foot length of 0.55m would yield a hip height of 1.89m (which is taller than me!).
That would make the hip height of the big Burniston tracemaker 2.2 metres, which is taller than most humans.
7. Unsurprisingly, then, the big Burniston footprint was made by a big beast, but what kind of beast exactly? The three-toed (tridactyl) print with a V-shaped heel and distinct claw marks strongly suggests it was a theropod (hence the title of Whyte and colleagues’ 2006 paper). However, there are no Burniston bones to confirm this, and no skeletons of Middle Jurassic theropods are known from Yorkshire. So what kind of theropod was it?
For that, you’ll have to wait for Chalking With Dinosaurs, part 4!
As GeoWeek 2020 starts on Saturday May 9th, so does Chalking With Dinosaurs. And since we can’t all go to the Dinosaur Coast this weekend and hunt fossilized footprints, let’s bring the dinosaurs to our streets, our driveways, and our houses.
My video below gives an introduction to Chalking With Dinosaurs, and the science of ichnology. The Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire really are among the world’s best for finding dinosaur footprints!
Where exactly can you find footprints (once the Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted, of course)? This is explained in my second video, below, but from Port Mulgrave in the north to Yons Nab in the south, the North Yorkshire coast has loads of places where dinosaur tracks have been discovered.
But if you want to get some dinosaur footprints chalked on your street, and then learn how we interpret such fossils and work out how dinosaurs might have behaved, you’ll have to follow the hashtag #ChalkingWithDinosaurs over the next few days, mostly on Twitter.
All together now: “Open the door, get on the floor, everybody chalk a dinosaur…”
The Yorkshire Coast is one of the best places in the world to walk with dinosaurs. The Jurassic rocks exposed between Staithes and Scarborough have yielded huge numbers of fossil dinosaur footprints, and scientists from all over the world come to North Yorkshire to better understand how dinosaurs lived and behaved.
In the absence of being able to go and look at the rocks ourselves, I will be leading an online activity called “Chalking with Dinosaurs” during GeoWeek 2020, which runs from Saturday May 9th to Sunday May 17th 2020.
The activity will begin at 1530 BST on Saturday May 9th, and aims to tell people more about the rocks and fossils of Jurassic North Yorkshire, describe a few of the fossil footprints that have been found there, and – using some pavement chalk on my own driveway – explain how to make your own dinosaur trackways, and then interpret them. That way, when we’re finally able to get back out onto the coast, you’ll be able to give those Jurassic beasts a run for their money.
Oh yes, and if you have a go at #ChalkingWithDinosaurs yourselves, I have some prizes for the best entries received during GeoWeek 2020!
This Thursday, March 5th, Professor Kathy Cashman FRS of the University of Bristol will give the 4th annual John & Anne Phillips Lecture at the University of Hull. Professor Cashman’s talk will focus on “Mapping lava flows from the ground, air and space” and introduce the audience to her ground-breaking research into how volcanoes work.
Maps of lava flow age, extent and morphology have long been an important source of information for anticipating future flow hazards. Recent advances in technology, however, are providing new ways to image and map lava flows in real time. Professor Cashman will review some of these techniques and demonstrate ways in which these new data aid interpretation of past events, management of ongoing eruptions and forecasts of future lava flow hazards.
Kindly supported by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, the John & Anne Phillips Prize is awarded each summer to the final-year Geology Hull student producing the best geological mapping dissertation. Alongside this, the annual John & Anne Phillips Lecture sees an invited speaker come to Hull to talk about their research on a geological mapping topic. Previous speakers have included Professor Sanjeev Gupta (Imperial) on mapping the geology of Mars, and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (British Geological Survey) on mapping mineral resources in Africa.
John and Anne Phillips were the nephew and niece of William ‘Strata’ Smith, pioneer of geological mapping. Both John and Anne built on their uncle’s legacy, with significant contributions to geology of their own. John is quite well-known, as the first Keeper of Geology at the Yorkshire Museum, later Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford, and as the person who formalized the concept of the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. Anne is much less-celebrated, but was integral to her brother’s successes, and carried out fieldwork of her own in the Malvern Hills, proving that the then Director of the British Geological Survey’s interpretation of the geology was wrong. Her work has been celebrated as part of the Trowelblazers project: https://trowelblazers.com/anne-phillips/
North Yorkshire’s rocks, fossils, and changing environments will be the stars of a newly formed science project based in Scarborough. ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ brings together the University of Hull’s Geology Hull and North Yorkshire Partnership Hub teams, and Scarborough-based education and outreach specialist, Hidden Horizons. The project will use school activities and public events to promote geological, environmental, and marine science (GEMS), with the aim of widening participation in these fields.
Dr Liam Herringshaw, Geology Hull lecturer, said “the ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ project offers a terrific opportunity to engage North Yorkshire schools and residents with the amazing landscapes on their doorstep. It’s really exciting to be working with Hidden Horizons and the University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub to deliver the activities. We will also team up with Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University to provide learning opportunities for primary-aged children.”
Starting in 2020, the project will offer a series of school activities and public events, delivered alongside educational web resources uncovering some of the GEMS of North Yorkshire.
For further details, contact Rich Adams (North Yorkshire Partnership Hub) on 01723 383884 (Twitter: @UniofHull_NYPH); Liam Herringshaw (Geology Hull) on 01482 465349 (Twitter: @GeologyHull), or Will Watts (Hidden Horizons) on 01723 817017 (Twitter: @H_Horizons).
About Geology Hull
Geology Hull is the geology teaching and research team in the Department of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University of Hull. We won the university Faculty of Science and Engineering’s Outstanding Team award in 2018, and our degree programmes were ranked 7th in the UK in the 2020 Guardian University Guide.
About the North Yorkshire Partnership Hub
The University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub is based in Scarborough. Our team is dedicated to building active partnerships to shape a brighter future for North Yorkshire. Our programmes in primary and secondary schools help to raise aspirations through our Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University and the North Yorkshire Coast Higher Education Collaboration (NYCHEC). Our post-16 work helps to provide students with information, advice and guidance to help them make the best decisions for their future. Alongside a range of partners from business, the public and charity sectors, we’re helping our region fulfil its potential.
About Hidden Horizons
Established in 2013 by Will Watts, Hidden Horizons offer an exciting range of public and school events based on the outstanding geology and natural history of North Yorkshire. With sessions covering fossil hunting, stargazing, Forest School, Beach School, Bushcraft and more there really is something for everyone, with each session led by passionate experts in their field including three University of Hull graduates. In addition to the public and school sessions the company provides consultancy services to museums and heritage organisations including exhibition and interpretation support. Hidden Horizons also operates a sister company, GeoEd Ltd, one of the world leaders in the creation of replica fossils for education and museum settings.
In the summer of 2018, I was filmed in Scarborough by a TV production company making a series for Channel 5 about Sinkholes. As the episode has never been broadcast, I can only assume my performance was so dreadful, or so controversial, that it cannot be permitted to see the light of day, but I thought I’d blog about it anyway.
It all began when a Hull colleague of mine was contacted by the production company, who were trying to find a geologist who could tell them about coastal landslides in Scarborough. The 25th anniversary having just passed, I assumed the company was interested in the Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide. However, when I talked with them on the phone, this wasn’t the case. They’d heard only about a landslide in the spring of 2018, which I had to confess I knew nothing about.
From such inauspicious beginnings, our conversation piqued their interest in the Holbeck landslide, and mine in what was going on now. Both parties went away to do a bit more research, and when we spoke again a day or two later, it seemed there was enough of a story for them to want to do some filming, with me, in the South Bay.
The following week, I found myself in the legendary Clock Café, holding a plastic box containing a miniature reconstruction* of the local geology. After nearly 40 years of yomping up and down the South Cliff on family holidays, suddenly I was there to explain its geological structure to the world. Well, to the viewers of Channel 5 at least.
(*comprising two beach cobbles, builders’ sand, some Plasticine and a Lego hotel. Sadly it will not make the cut.)
Now, I am definitely not a proper expert on coastal landslides, so – if the show is ever shown – writing this is perhaps a pre-emptive strike against looking like a dingbat on national telly**.
Nonetheless, I found the research really interesting, and turned up a history of landslides in Scarborough and the Yorkshire Coast that people might want to know about, So, rather than have it all go to waste, here are my findings.
In 1682, he notes, at Runswick Bay, “the entire village slipped into the sea”. On Christmas Eve, 1787, there was then a “great landslide” at Haggerlythe, Whitby, and in 1829, at Kettleness, “the whole village slid into the sea”.
For Scarborough’s South Bay, the landslide story begins in 1737, when buildings in the Spa area, which had only recently been rebuilt, were destroyed. No major events seem to have occurred for the next 250-odd years, until by far the most dramatic landslide in Scarborough’s 20th Century history – the collapse of the cliff beneath the Holbeck Hall Hotel in June 1993.
A detailed webpage on the Holbeck Hall Landslide is provided by the British Geological Survey, so there’s no sense in me rehashing their expert information. However, it is worth pointing out that the rotational landslide occurred because soft Ice Age sediments, into which rainwater can seep and pond quite readily, sit on top of well-lithified Middle Jurassic bedrock. The Scarborough Spa marks a spring line, where the waters can seep out, but if – as in 1993 – the volumes of water are large, and they accumulate rapidly, their escape can be catastrophic.
I found this photograph of the hotel (from a BGS blogpost marking the 25th anniversary of the landslide), taken by the British Geological Survey immediately post-landslide, particularly amazing, though the classic footage is this video, starring Richard Whiteley:
Countdown to collapse
And so we move to 2018, and the South Cliff landslip.
It appears that the incident the production team had been alerted to had occurred over the weekend of March 17th/18th 2018, following the wild weather of late February and early March. A retaining wall below the Clock Café was pushed onto the chalets beneath, leaving cracked pavements above it, the wall leaning towards the sea, and the listed chalets listing. It attracted a bit of press coverage:
Either way, in late November 2018, a new movement of soil behind the wall caused further collapse of the chalets, and the borough council decided to demolish them as a matter of urgency. In February 2019, it was reported that they would be coming down imminently, but I’ve not been down to check.
At the same time that the South Cliff chalets slope failure occurred, remediation works were about to begin, to try and stabilize the cliffs above the Spa Complex, a short distance to the north. This South Cliff Slope Stabilization Scheme was not set to include the Clock Café area, but instead try to secure the long-term stability of the gardens above the economically and historically important Spa area. As explained in an October 2016 consultancy report:
“The South Cliff upon which the proposed works area lies is inherently unstable…Ground modelling and stability analyses undertaken previously have found that the slopes are close to failure, with potential for both shallow and deep-seated failure. Such failure could result in the loss of parts of the Spa Gardens, damage to the Esplanade and damage to or complete loss of The Spa Complex. There is also clear potential for injury and loss of life.”
Given the predictions of warmer, wetter weather, higher sea-levels, and increased storm frequency, one can only wonder how this coastline will cope with Anthropocene climate change. It was only just over a decade that a fairly large landslide occurred at Knipe Point, at the northern end of Cayton Bay, and the last couple of years have seen numerous small to moderate collapses. Whether it ever makes it onto screen, one of my conclusions for the TV company was that, when it comes to landslides on this stretch of coastline, geologically it’s not a matter of if, but when.
I was leading a Geology Hull first year fieldtrip to Filey on Thursday, in the teeth of a gale, barely able to be heard above the wind, barely able to see the cliffs through the clouds, barely able to get to the rocks because the waves were too high, the students struggling gainfully to begin collecting geological data, wondering what it was we were hoping to achieve. And then the wind dropped, and the clouds broke, and the sun came out, and the geology began to reveal itself – Ice Age tills full of exotic erratics; karst pavements on the wave-cut platform; giant storm-tilted boulders of sub-tropical Jurassic limestones, each latticed by a fabric of cemented lobster tunnels – and I suddenly paused, and wondered. The geology of the Yorkshire Coast is amazing, astonishing, stupendous: why isn’t it a UNESCO World Heritage site?
The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site of Devon and Dorset is fantastic; this is not a competition. But the Yorkshire Coast is easily its equal. The geological, geographical and biological treasures it contains are just as diverse and significant, yet are offered up so much less easily, or obviously. Northerly, east-facing, precipitous, cool, dark, crumbling, brooding: this coast seems to reflect much of the local character. Yet at the same time it has uniqueness and richness, quirks and complexity; great warmth and wonder for those who choose to embrace it. There can be few more picturesque coastal villages in Britain than Staithes, there can be few grander panoramas in the country than Scarborough’s South Bay, there can be few finer coastal cliffs than those of Flamborough Head.
One way or another, 1988 was a momentous year for geology collections in the city of Hull. In March of that year, it was announced that – after a contentious government review – the Geology degree programmes at the University of Hull would cease. Most of the university’s rock and fossil specimens would move to other universities.
Then, in October 1988, workmen digging a drain in a central Hull car park stumbled upon some mysterious artefacts, including dinosaur bones. These turned out to be the remains of the basement of the city’s old Municipal Museum, destroyed in a World War Two air raid some 45 years earlier, and a project to reclaim the specimens took place the following year.
I’m also hopeful that we might use our university collections work to help find out more about the old Hull Municipal Museum collections too. So, watch this space, or this one, or this one, to see how we get on…
As the chief organizer of the 2018 Yorkshire Fossil Festival, I ought to have been doing a lot more promotion of the event, which is now less than 3 weeks away. Still, better late than never.
I’m delighted to confirm that the following organizations will be taking part, and bringing their finest fossiliferous activities along:
The Palaeontological Association will be 1) letting you make your own salt dough fossil; 2) taking you swimming* through a Jurassic sea; 3) playing the fossilization board game; and 4) having the brilliant palaeo-artist James McKay bring your fantastical fossil creatures to life!
University of Hull Geology group will be ‘Uncovering the Hidden Histories of Hull’s Lost Fossils’ (supported by the Ferens Education Trust) and also panning for gold!