From Space Launches to an Ice Age Zoo, Vandenberg hides its secrets well.
This month’s talk centers around the little known fact that besides it’s well known space launching facility, Vandenberg AFB has become the new discovery site for a zoo of ice age animal finds. Finds from the site include, but not limited to, large ice age camels, horses, elephants, bison, and ground sloths. Seldom allowed access to these coastal terraces of this coastal region has consequently prevented extensive assessment of its paleo history but recent studies by presenter Bob Gray show an extensive and rich resource for further study of Late Pleistocene animals.
The Dig Site - Vandenberg AFB
Late Pleistocene Rancholabrean Megafauna from the Coastal Terraces
of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Santa Barbara, California
Eiko Kitao and Presenter Dr. Robert S. Gray
Abstract of Talk
During the past decade, two paleontological reconnaissance surveys were conducted along the sea cliffs, coastline, and associated drainages of Vandenberg Air Force Base, to identify exposed, unrecorded, and/or buried paleontological material in the eroding rock units. Approximately eighty kilometers of rarely accessible sea cliffs and steep canyon drainages were surveyed.
Vertical sea cliffs ranging from 2 to 50 meters high dominate the coastline. The base of the cliff is bedrock composed of Miocene Monterey and/or Sisquoc Formations. An abrasion platform surface divides the bedrock with overlying Late Pleistocene sediments. These sediments consist of coastal terrace deposits of marine origin at the base, overlain by continental alluvial to fluvial deposits. Although no direct age data was available for the Late Pleistocene coastal terrace deposits, results from similar terraces near Vandenberg Air Force Base yielded ages correlated to oxygen isotope stage 5e (120ka) for the higher terraces, and stage 5a (80ka) for the lower terraces.
Late Pleistocene terrace deposits stage 5a (80ka) consists of sheetflood, debris flow, braided-meander belt, aeolian, and marsh-estuarine sediments. Braided-meander belt yielded most of the vertebrate fossil localities. The sediments were part of a Coastal Piedmont that included a broad upland with low slopes and gentle drainage divides. Material was deposited onto the valley-flat lowlands along braided-meander belts, and floodplains.
The first survey focused only on the sea cliffs and yielded a number of Late Pleistocene Rancholabrean megafauna sites. Seventeen new fossil sites were discovered with fossils including: Equus sp. (horse), Camelops hesternus (camel), Paramylodon harlani (ground sloth), Mammuthus sp. (mammoth), Mammut sp. (mastodon), and Bison sp. (bison). In 2013, a second survey revisited most of the original sites while discovering new localities in the northern section of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Sixteen new fossil localities with over 80 individual fossils were recorded including: Equus occidentalis (horse), Camelops hesternus (camel), Paramylodon harlani (ground sloth, and Bison sp. (bison).
Although many localities consist of isolated individual bones, a high concentration was discovered at Brown’s Beach “Eiko’s Elephant Graveyard” (EEG). At EEG, the vertical cliffs were replaced by gentle badland-style topography and the coastal terrace was eroding rapidly from the abrasion platform surface. Fossils were found along horizontal layers of red iron-rich caliche pisoliths, encapsulated in clay, with coal (wood) fragments and round polished pebbles. Sixty nearly complete fossil bones were recovered in a 25m2 section with most identified as Paramylodon harlani. Sediments found at EEG suggest a localized ponded section along the coastal piedmont.
Prior to these surveys, only about five Late Pleistocene fossil localities were known from the coastal terraces in Santa Barbara County. These new fossil localities at Vandenberg Air Force Base will provide valuable data for paleontological resources in Santa Barbara County and will add to the knowledge of Rancholabrean megafauna found in southern California.
Dr. Robert (Bob) Gray
Dr. Gray is a Professor Emeritus at Santa Barbara City College, where he taught geology classes for over 40 years. Under his watch and through his contributions, the SBCC Geology department developed a program that is arguably the best in the California Community College system.
Dr. Gray earned his PhD from the University of Arizona, worked in copper exploration and the petroleum industry. He was also a Commander for the US Navy and a decorated flag officer.
In addition to his work at SBCC, Dr. Gray has continued his work as a Professional Geologist and consultant, has been an active member of the AAPG since 1958, and in his spare time won the Silver (Seniors) Division’s World Championship for country western couples dancing! with exceptional footwork in 2-step, polkas and west coast swing, cha - cha, & east coast swing.
In his career, Dr. Gray has received a number of honors and awards, including the Pacific Section AAPG Distinguished Educator Award in 1998, the John J. Wooley Outstanding Undergraduate College Educator Award from CGS in 2003, the SBCC Outstanding Instructor Award in 1982, SBCC’s Faculty Excellence Award in 2003, SBCC Faculty Lecturer of the Year in 2010, and the prestigious AAPG Grover E. Murray Distinguished Educator 2008 (the only Community College educator to win this coveted prize)
Contributor - Eiko Kitao
Eiko is a Lab Technician for the Geology department at SBCC. She came into the SBCC Geology program in 2001. Eiko transferred to UCSB and earned a B.S. in Geological Sciences in 2011. During the course of her academic career, she received numerous awards and scholarships, including the American Petrology Institute Scholarship and the SBCC Thomas Bennett Scholarship in 2007, Coast Geological Society Top Student Award and the SBCC Spirit of Geology Award in 2008, Soroptomist Woman of the Year Award in 2009, and the UCSB William Bushnell Field Award in 2009
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