Geologist Mark Puckett Discusses His Research on Ancient Organisms and Ancient Caribbean Land Formations

Nov. 28, 2012


FLORENCE, Ala. – The research of Dr. Mark Puckett dates back about 500 million years. The associate professor of geology at the University of North Alabama specializes in a group of fossils called ostracods, more commonly known as seed shrimp. By studying these ancient, almost microscopic crustaceans, Puckett has contributed to the over-arching field of paleobiology by providing pieces of the puzzle of how current landmasses in the Caribbean have developed over time.

“Because they have a heavy calcite shell, they have an excellent fossil record that goes back nearly half a billion years,” Puckett said. “So anything that has been around that long and has evolved through time has got to be useful for something. … You can think of them as a clue into the way things were in the past.”

Puckett has focused his research on collecting and classifying marine ostracods that lived in the Caribbean and North America during the Late Cretaceous period – about 85-65 million years ago. In collecting samples for his research, he has made multiple visits to Cuba, Jamaica and Chiapas in southern Mexico. He has also traveled to Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
 
His findings in Mexico and Jamaica revealed many new and previously misidentified specifies of ostracods. Because the ostracods in southern Mexico and Jamaica were so similar, he was able to contribute more proof to the hypothesis that Jamaica and Mexico were once connected millions of years ago.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to not just find new species and describe new species, but to be able to use them to solve some kind of geologic problem,” Puckett said. “That’s the overall goal, at least in my research program.”

To perform his research, Puckett was awarded a grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. The grant lasted three years, and he was able to acquire a year extension. The grant, which is focused on piquing students’ interest in the sciences, enabled Puckett and several students to travel to Mexico and Jamaica to collect and process geologic samples. Geology students helped collect fossils in the field, clean them and sort them out using a microscope. Geography students aided his research by digitizing a stratified map of where the fossils were found, as well as plotting the collection locations in a GIS database.

“It’s very labor-intensive work,” Puckett said. “All that was about four years that students were able to work for me, so it was a tremendous help, and it was a lot of fun, too.”

Puckett is currently focused on classifying the rest of the ostracods he and his students collected from the Late Cretaceous period in the North America. He said that doing so will enable other paleobiologists to analyze the distribution of these fossils on a global scale, which may reveal some hidden clues about Earth in its earliest forms.

Click here to WATCH A VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH PUCKETT.

SCHEDULE AN INTERVIEW: To schedule an interview with Puckett, contact Josh Woods at 256-765-4225 or jlwoods1@una.edu.