Field Projects

On a fieldtrip to the Cayman Islands (Cayman Brac) in 2012 a new cave system was discovered yielding rare vertebrate remains (~400-100,000 year old mammal, bird and reptile remains) from an environment that is typically not associated with exceptional preservation (i.e. Tropics). My team and I returned to explore the cave in May 2013 and 2018. Our fieldwork resulted in the discovery of additional new cave systems, along with more vertebrate fossil and sub-fossil remains. The analyses of fossils collected has focussed on non-destructive imaging techniques to help resolve the biological control on the distribution of endogenous organic components within the fossilised tissues.  We use cutting-edge biomolecular and geochemical techniques to recognise, quantify and interpret changes to biodiversity on Cayman Brac, investigating the unique deposits that preserve both pre and post-human occupation fauna. The proteomic analysis has already helped identify two previously undescribed species of the shrew Nesophontes. This information will help inform conservation initiatives and possibly the reintroduction of former endemic island species from neighbouring islands in the Caribbean. This work has led to multiple high-impact articles in peer-reviewed journals and will be the subject of future publications. 

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In 2015 Manning started working with an international team of scientists, led by Robert Depalma (PhD student), on a remarkable new KPg boundary site in southwestern North Dakota (USA). The Tanis site has been discovered in the dinosaur-rich Badlands of the Late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation. Impact debris at the site was blasted from over 2000 miles away from the impact site that is now the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico). ‘Blast’ debris from the impact includes small (1-3mm) glass-like melt material (‘microtektites’) that was ejected quickly into the atmosphere at ballistic velocities, raining down on Tanis. Some of the ejecta was trapped in tree resin, now amber, that has beautifully preserved the chemistry of these unique samples in extraordinary fidelity. Some calculations indicate that the tektites at Tanis would have arrived at approximately the same time as a series of enormous shock waves from the meteor impact. These shock waves could cause massive wave excitation, and it is suggested by the team that they directly caused the remarkable ‘Event-Deposit’ that the team is studying at Tanis. The tell-tail presence at the site of the rare Earth element, Iridium, also marks this as an ‘End Cretaceous’ site, as this element is used globally to mark this point when dinosaurs became extinct.

A shock wave from the impacting meteorite travelled through the Earth, sending powerful pulses of energy through the water held in oceans, seas, rivers and lakes. At Tanis, sediments were rapidly deposited by repeated inland-directed surges caused by this massive pulse of energy like a ‘super-earthquake’. Paddlefish that were swimming in the water body that was hit by the shock wave at Tanis were pushed up and out of their river onto the banks, mixed with sand and mud from the river channel. A tangle of fish bodies can be seen at the site facing the flow direction of the pulse of water. They are magnificently preserved even displaying soft tissue structures, such as skin. The paddle fish also have ejecta trapped in their gill-rakers, indicating they were swimming and filter feeding as the first debris started landing on Tanis. This was a pivotal event in Earth’s history, as the ensuing extinction directly paved the way for many species that populate the planet today, including ourselves.

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This Project is led by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has created a major new gallery (opened in March 2022), coupled with extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences and humanities that will have the power to transform the lives of children and families. Since 2003 The Children’s Museum Indianapolis (TCMI: USA) has been offering budding explorers, their families, and teachers a chance to take part in the search for dinosaur remains in the 66 million year old Cretaceous rocks of South Dakota. The Museum’s annual Dino Dig has proven to be one of its most popular summer programmes and is now about to embark on its greatest adventure to date. An expedition mounted by the Museum has been exploring the 150 million year old Jurassic rocks of Wyoming and has made the remarkable discovery, a dinosaur graveyard. The new site is littered with thousands of bones and will be the subject of the Museums exploration programme from the coming years.

         Manning has worked with the TCMI team to help raise ~$27.5 million toward the Mission Jurassic project and has also helped to coordinate multiple field seasons at the Wyoming dig site where a large number of sauropod, theropod and ornithopod dinosaurs have been discovered on the 258 Hectare site. Manning was also responsible for bringing together teams from the University of Manchester (UK), Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (USA), The Naturalis Biodiversity Center (led by Prof. Anne Schulp) and The Natural History Museum London (led by Prof. Paul Barrett). The lease on the land is for another 15 years and will offer major opportunities for other international museum partners to join Mission Jurassic to gain both experience and fossils from the Morrison Formation. This work will lead to peer-reviewed journal articles in the future, supported through international collaboration.

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