Science and Medicine

Researchers look at the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth

By Janet Basu

They travel by jeep, on foot and on horseback, through Chinese basins deeper and hotter than California’s Death Valley. They sleep in yurts on Mongolian plains inhabited by nomadic horsemen, poke along the Russian coastline in a tugboat, walk Chinese agricultural valleys where foreigners still are a rare sight.

All this to study the Mesozoic era, 245 to 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed Asia and the ground beneath their feet was on the move. At the most recent meeting of the Geological Society of America, five Stanford graduate students and Professor Stephan Graham presented the first broad picture of Asia in the Mesozoic. It amounted to a progress report from the dozen years of study they and other scholars from Stanford have conducted since the Chinese, Mongolian and Russian governments opened their doors to collaboration with Western scientists in the mid-1980s.

The picture they present is compelling. This was an era when massive chunks of Earth’s restless crust smashed into the continent and added much of present-day China, Tibet and Southeast Asia onto a land mass that ended the Paleozoic era with its coastline somewhere south of present-day Mongolia. Volcanoes exploded and expired; mountains were thrust up and weathered down; basins filled with sediment, burying the remains of gigantic creatures and the tropical vegetation they fed on ­ organic matter that would gradually be transformed into the present-day oil fields of China and Mongolia.

Stanford already was a familiar name to Mongolian and Chinese geologists when Professors Robert Coleman and Allan Cox, the late dean of earth sciences, first started field studies there in 1985. Not-yet-famous alumnus Herbert Hoover got his start as a mining engineer in China at the turn of the century, and Professor Bailey Willis conducted research there in the early 1900s. Years later, Coleman began working with geologists in the former

Mesozoic Era (Plain text)

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