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Hunting fossils in Indonesia

7 Posts tagged with the indonesia tag

By Vibor Novak, NCB Naturalis

Hello, my name is Vibor, originally from Croatia, but currently living in Leiden, working at NCB Naturalis. So why am I here, in Kalimantan? Because of the foraminifera.

But I don’t want to write about geology today. I will do that for my PhD thesis. What I want to write about is the people in Indonesia. Before our departure my main concern was not different geology of Indonesia (because geology is universal). Rock is rock, whether you look at it in Croatia, The Netherlands or in Indonesia. What I was questioning myself was the people here. I didn’t know what to expect. How will they look at me there? Will they behave differently? What about their religion? And many more questions like that came to my mind.

And when we finally arrived, boy was I surprised. But in the most positive way! So much kindness and so many smiles you won’t experience anywhere else. The people here are really honest, joyful and spontaneous. And they really have no prejudice  towards anyone. Whether you just need to buy something or you are lost in the field, they will always offer you help, even if they don’t know your (or English) language.

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Two men selling fruit near one of our sections and Sonja, Bill, Nadia and Emanuela with the owner of a section

Maybe they look a bit distant on the first sight, but that is only from the outside. If you only say hello to them, in return you get a wide smile and a few sentences in Indonesian language (which I must learn before coming back next year). And you really do feel welcome walking through the streets of any town, no matter if it is Jakarta, Bandung, Samarinda or Bontang. Sometimes maybe even too welcome, because there were a lot of situations when they wanted to take a photo with us, and the only thing we could do was smile with them and take a photo.

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School children near one of our localities

So thank you people of Indonesia for welcoming us in such a nice way.


By Nick Fraser, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel


Hi, I’m Nick Fraser, a marine geochemist based at Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, Germany. My main goals on this trip

are to collect microscopic fossils known as foraminifera, which live in a broad range of ocean environments. By identifying key types of foraminifera and later performing chemical analysis on their shells, it is possible to recreate past ocean circulation, an important step in understanding the Indonesian Throughflow in the past.


After a long journey from Bandung culminating in a 4am bedtime, the group arrived in Samarinda on the Island of Borneo, our `base camp´ for the main portion of the fieldwork. Waking up groggy and bleary-eyed, but nonetheless enthusiastic to get into

the field, the group quickly got ready and departed for our first locality- the `Stadium Section´.


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The whole Stadium section – lots to work with!



This section, a roadcut carved in 2006 to allow access to a sports stadium (the largest in South East Asia) perched imposingly

at one end of the outcrop, provides a range of lithologies. Thick, dark grey mudstones beds, occasionally with the presence of fossilised oysters, are capped with lignite (coal-rich) beds and overlain by channeled sandstone deposits. Lateral variations in thickness of the sandstones are observed, with plenty of well preserved cross bedding, ripple marks and flaser laminations (discontinuous mud laminations within a sandstone bed). A wide-scale cyclicity is noted within the bed structure, indicating a repeated change in depositional environments. A tentative interpretation would be of a delta environment exhibiting sea level cyclicity, but I will leave this for the stratigraphers to comment upon more!


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Cross-bedded sandstone at the Stadium section



After this, with storm clouds threatening (though they narrowly missed us in the end!) we proceeded further down the section to some larger carbonate deposits. The keen palaeontologists wasted no time in identifying a range of fossils- coral reefs

(branching and platy), molluscs, bryozoans, algae and large benthic foraminifera. This will no doubt be a section many will be revisiting in the coming weeks!


After a brief lunch, we had a short group logging exercise on the first section. Learning to log stratigraphic units is an incredibly useful tool for palaeontologists and geologists alike, and so this exercise proved to be a revelation for many in the group without

a geological background. With the group  beginning to wane in the strong Indonesian heat, we returned to the hotel for some well earned food and sleep, looking forward to further surprises this complex area of Indonesia holds.


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Researchers interpreting the stratigraphy of the section


By Elena Lo Giudice, University of Kiel


This is Elena, a PhD student at the University of Kiel, in Germany. I’m an oceanographer so this is my first time on land and I never thought that the life of a geologist could be so exciting.


Our adventure started early in the morning trying to communicate with our driver, a very nice, patient and always-smiling guy. After a couple of misunderstandings we arrived at the outcrop and we started the initial investigation of the area. Our curiosity about a missing part of the rock succession drove us at first to the playground of a school, which was built in the middle of the section. Here we were accepted as rockstars - everybody wanted a picture of us - and then we reached the base of the outcrop, a very important point for our work. We were working on the edge of a mining area - there are lots of coal mines here. We will work on mined outcrops higher up in the section later this week but first we need to have health and safety training so we can be safe around the mining roads.


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Nathan and me with students at the local school


Our work today consisted of logging the outcrop, for instance defining the different rocks and geological structures present in the strata – from the base to the top - and measuring them. We make this information into a diagram (a log) so that other people on our trip can use them when they want to collect from the section. This way they will know where their fossil or rock samples came from and when we work out the ages and palaeoenvironments of the sections, they can relate that information back to the fossil faunas and floras they have identified and have more information on how they lived.


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Layers of clay, silt and sandstone at the Stadion Section near Samarinda


So, after this amazing day, I came back to the hotel with our driver’s smile impressed in my mind, a lot of pictures with the school guys and, of course, 80m of logged section, what can I ask more for just a single day?


By Amanda Frigola Boix, University of Bremen


My name is Amanda and I am a mathematician. You’ll be wondering what I am doing here. I am using climate models to reconstruct the ancient climate of the Indonesian region and I will compare model outputs to the data collected by my Throughflow colleagues. How can we do this? They are taking samples of fossils that will allow them to derive different properties of the past water currents and I am here to learn what these techniques are and how they can be used.


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Geologists pontificating

I am enjoying this opportunity to stick my nose into the geology world. Geologists are passionate people to the point that some white marks on a rock (coralline algae ) can make their eyes shine like a child’s, they love photographing pencils to scale objects, not only rocks, they scale anything, even butterflies.





Today we visited two limestone outcrops, one between Teuggarong and Senoni and the second one close to Senoni. The aim of the trip was to get a general overview of the place, think about which team members could be interested in it and whether it would be possible to make a good log of it. To get there we drove through forty kilometres of winding road, through rice fields, mud, palm trees and colourful wooden houses built on the river Mahakam. The outcrops were located in quarries, often family businesses with strong people but with an extremely easy and sincere smile at the same time. Among them an old man, who instantly recognized the Dutch in our group, as he used to deal with then when Indonesia was a Dutch colony.





By Frank Wesselingh, Naturalis Museum, Leiden


The amazing volcanoes that straddle Java are here for a reason. This is a short essay on how Indoaustralian nutrients enrich day-to-day Indonesian life.


The first physical disorders are already occurring within our group: toothache here, bronchitis there and some of the inevitable stomach disorders. However, the team is in good spirits, certainly after an inspiring day of workshop that included some of the basics of writing a blog.


So here you have a blog which tries to explain why there are so many volcanoes around us, written by your molluscan palaeontologist Frank.


There are really many volcanoes on Java, I think seventeen of them are classified as active. Many of them have the characteristic conical volcano shape that I learnt as a kid volcanoes should look like. Java is located on the southeast tip of the Eurasian continent, the large plate on which the United Kingdom (and Ireland and the rest of mainland EU) is located.


Only a few hundred kilometers to the south of Bandung there is the plate that contains India and Australia, the Indoaustralian plate. That plate and the Eurasian plate are converging. In some places the plates collide and huge mountains, the Himalayas are uplifted. In other areas, such as south of Java, the Indoaustralian plate dives under the Eurasian plate, because of the slightly heavier weight of the former.



the process of making a volcano


The submerging plate is drawn into the hot mantle and melts: magma begins to form. Because the submergence occurs under an angle, the melting takes place deep under the Eurasian plate. When enough magma is formed it will seek its way upward and will form volcanoes, like those on Java. When you encounter a row of volcanoes, like here, or in southern Alaska or Peru, you can be certain there must be a subducting plate nearby.


Volcanoes on West Java



A part of the lava and ashes spewed by the Java volcanoes has an Indoaustralian origin! They are rich in nutrients and make very fertile ground. You can see this in the landscape. Crawling up the flanks of the volcanoes are vegetable plots and villages. People live in places they’d better not and as shown by the recent Merapi eruption, the likelihood of casualti increases.


the fertile grounds around the volcano


Upside-down canoe volcano

Posted by Lil Stevens Nov 23, 2010

By Simone Arragoni, University of Granada, Spain


Indonesia… Just the sound of this word is enough to excite every geologist’s fantasy!! And that’s the place where we are right now!


Here the geology is something living, not just strange and boring words on a book: Indonesia is the hot and restless daughter of the convergence between the Indo-Pacific and Australian plates, animated by earthquakes, tsunamis, giant slides and….volcanoes, of course!!



We are now in Bandung, 140 km east of Jakarta, close to the Tangkuban Perahu Volcano (the “overturned boat-shaped” volcano), so we have enjoyed a “wet” tour in the lush rainforest which covers the flanks of the mountain, reaching a small crater with steam and boiling water springs. There you can even cook an egg and eat it in the foggy atmosphere created by the hot steams and the showery rains.



But the best is yet to come… through a slippery and narrow “natural staircase” we eventually reach the top of the volcano and have a look inside the main crater. And there you do feel that the mountain is alive, blowing its white fumes and quietly sleeping before the next eruption…Towards the east endless and mysterious mountains form the backbone of Java, while thousands meters below your feet the Australian plate is being pushed northwards and downwards in the mantle. The emotion is too strong (and the humidity too!), so we have to go away and eat something.


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The Tangkuban Perahu Volcano


We go down to Lembang, stopping at a typical Indonesian restaurant, where you can eat the famous ayam goreng (fried chicken). This is the real “Indonesian experience”, eating strange and spicy things and drinking hot tea and mango juice while the rain is hitting the roof.


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Javanese ayam goreng


The best conclusion for such a nice day would be a crazy ride on a rollercoaster-like road, packed up in a small van that will carry us to the hotel and the desired hot shower.


Hunting fossils in Borneo!

Posted by Lil Stevens Sep 7, 2010

Hello, over the next couple of months me and other scientists from the Natural History Museum are going to tell you about our field trip to Indonesia. We're going there to look at fossil tropical marine creatures from 20 million years ago and we will try to work out how they lived and how environmental change might have effected them.


At the moment we are getting our equipment together, having our injections, applying for visas and buying trousers-for-explorers (the ones that turn into shorts - yikes!). It's all quite exciting and we hope we'll be ready in time to fly out ion the 18th September.


We'll fly via Singapore to Jakarta in Java and then spend a week learning about stratigraphy in Bandung, just south of Jakarta. This is a teaching trip for Marie Curie Early Stage Researchers, so I'm looking forward to learning with them. Stratigraphy, for example, is the study of when and how rocks were laid down and what you can say about past environments by studying them.


After Java we'll fly to Balikpapan, which is a city in Kalimantan, western Borneo. From there we will travel north to Samarinda and start our field work. As far as I know, this will involve travelling to wherever rocks of the right age are exposed and looking to see what they contain, like corals or molluscs.


We will be posting pictures, video and text to this page throughout our trip, so log in to Nature Plus to hear the news of our adventures!


Meet the Natural History Museum explorers:


            Dr Ken Johnson                                      Dr Jeremy Young                     Dr Jon Todd

           Corals researcher                                Microfossils researcher          Molluscs researcher

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Miss Nadia Santodomingo      Miss Emanuela Di Martino         Dr Lil Stevens

      Corals researcher                    Bryozoans researcher       Curator and palaeobotanist


The Mission:

We will work with people from other European and Indonesian institutions looking at how changes in the environment have affected coral reefs and shallow tropical marine ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrasses. This area has been a marine diversity hotspot for the last 20 million years and we want to look at the corals, molluscs, bryozoans, algae, and microfossils to understand how these organisms have interacted, evolved and adapted over that time. We will also study the dynamic geology of the area and the effects of ocean currents that flow from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Our discoveries will help us to understand why tropical marine ecosystems host a high biodiversity,and will be used to address issues associated with human disturbance and global climate change.


If you would like to read more about the project, go to the Indo-Pacific Ancient Ecosystems Group