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National Geographic Society Exploration grant and Presidential Award back coastal fossil research

Dr. Christopher Seminack, UNG assistant professor of geology, works on coastal fossil research in Brunswick, Georgia.

A National Geographic Society Exploration grant and a second UNG Presidential Incentive Award will allow Dr. David Patterson to expand his research of ancient environments and fossil mammals in Brunswick, Georgia.

The grant and Presidential Award funded a research trip this summer to explore late Pleistocene-aged fossils found at the site. The funding also means the assistant professor of biology and his UNG undergraduate students can make several additional trips in the fall and winter and a couple of longer trips in summer 2020.

"By adding more trips, we can incorporate more student researchers and expose them to paleontological field work," Patterson said. "These same types of trips sparked my obsession with fossils and ancient ecosystems, so I hope that it will do the same for some of our students."

The National Geographic Grant is for $29,800, and the latest Presidential Incentive Award is for $9,905. These funds will also allow Patterson to purchase a total station, a surveying tool that can create a precise map of the ancient landscape 20,000 years ago. He expects to have that new equipment by the fall.

"Securing the National Geographic and Presidential awards demonstrates that there is tremendous support for this work both within and outside of UNG," Patterson said. "These two grants, along with the Presidential Award from last cycle, have essentially kick-started the long-term project and already led to some really interesting findings.

"The most interesting thing that we found in Brunswick last year was that fossils in the region occur within a complex system of river channels draining to the coast, which 20,000 years ago was approximately 50 miles farther out to sea than its current location. This is beginning to provide a framework for future investigations."

Charles Bish, a junior from Lizella, Georgia, pursuing a biology degree, went on the first trip Patterson led along with fellow faculty members Dr. Christopher Seminack and Jessica Patterson in summer 2018. David Patterson's students dug lots of test trenches and found some bones at the location near the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and Seminack and two of his students used ground-penetrating radar to help understand the ancient landscape.

It was Bish's first experience with field research. He enjoyed the hands-on nature of setting up maps with grids and digging holes. He said he was glad to return this summer.

"It was really nice to have that experience," Bish said. "If I want to do this in the future, I know what it will be like."

The work is also a continuation of Patterson's undergraduate and master's research at Georgia College and State University (GCSU) in Milledgeville, Georgia, with Dr. Al Mead. Through that connection, UNG partners with GCSU in the creation of a Coastal Georgia Fossil Database, which will feature new and existing fossil collections.

Madison Ussery, a junior from Loganville, Georgia, pursuing a biology degree, was part of the research team during summer 2018 and participated this summer. She recounted spending six or seven hours a day to dig holes 6 to 8 feet deep.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," Ussery said. "We supported each other, and everybody pushed each other to do the best we could."

She was excited to do more fossil work on the coast this summer.

Elizabeth Noble, a sophomore from Alpharetta, Georgia, pursuing a biology degree, said the total station will be a game-changer for future research trips.

"It allows us to go into more detail with the mammoth and bison ecology in the late Pleistocene," Noble said.

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