Pandemic paleontology means doing all the preparations and analyses of excavated samples at home. It also means that even this global health crisis did not stop paleontologists from doing their job.
Indeed, experts in this field needed to adjust during this pandemic. Many of them had to delay fossil excavations, temporarily shut down museums, and train the next-generation fossil hunters, the virtual way, instead of in-person teaching.
Nonetheless, according to a Phys.org report, at least parts of the job could continue during the pandemic, with some substantial changes.
According to Christian Sidor, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the UW's Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture, for paleontologists, going into the field in search for fossils is where the collection of data starts, although "it does not end there."
After the fossil collection, there is a need to bring them to the laboratory, clean them off and find out what has been excavated.
Challenges Paleontologists Meet During the Pandemic
According to a UW News report, one of the challenges paleontologists encounter during the COVID-19 crisis, specifically Sidor and his UW colleagues, is that they had spent more time working on the fossils excavated before the pandemic started cleaning, preparing, and thoroughly examining them.
More so, for this research team, a recent victory came from an assessment led by Bryan Gee, a UW postdoctoral researcher, of relics of Micropholis Stowi, which Fossilworks describes as a salamander-sized amphibian that existed in the Early Triassic, shortly after the largest mass extinction of Earth at the end of the Permian Period, approximately 252 million years ago.
National Geographic described the Permian Period as an era that ended during the largest extinction on Earth and started approximately 299 million years ago.
Micropholis, as indicated in this report, is a temnospondyl, a group of extinct amphibians known from fossil deposits globally.
In the paper, First record of the amphibamiform Micropholis stowi from the lower Fremouw Formation (Lower Triassic) of Antarctica, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Sidor and Gee reported on Micropholis' first occurrence in ancient Antarctica.
Pandemic Paleontology Adjustments
The team was able to collect skulls, including delicate parts of the body of several individuals of Micropholis, while they were on a collection trip in 2017 to the Transantarctic Mountains.
In 2019, Gee agreed to lead the analysis of amphibian fossils from the said trip after coming to the UW and completing his doctoral degree at the University of Toronto.
With social and physical distancing mandates imposed on campus, Sidor delivered the fossils and a microscope to Gee's home, where the specimens were analyzed.
Having access to the said device, explained Gee, was the most important piece of equipment to identify all the small-scale anatomical features needed to definitively prove what had been excavated were, indeed, Micropholis fossils.
Being unable to travel to museums to conduct studies, explained Sidor, what they're doing to keep their paleontology work going is that they have been shipping with their fellow paleontologist's fossils that need to be examined.
Related information about amphibian fossils is shown on the American Museum of Natural History's YouTube video below: