Who are the people of SVP?
Members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology come from many different backgrounds and live and work all around the world. Here we highlight the life and work of one of our members so that you can get to know them better. Paleontologists that have been profiled in the past are also listed so that you can go back and get to know them as well: Past PaleoProfiles
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Undergraduate education: B.S. in Geology from University of Wisconsin
Postgraduate education: Universities of Vienna, Colorado, and California
Current Position: Curator Emeritus, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, Alaska, USA
General map of Alaska with Colville River and other references. Courtesy of Anne Pasch.
Like many Alaskans, I am a transplant from another state, and in this case, the great state of Wisconsin. I am not your typical vertebrate paleontologist. Vertebrate paleontology came late in my career. I am a good example of the old adage that “it is never too late to learn.” I received a Bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin and then continued with my graduate studies at several universities including the Universities of Vienna, Colorado, and California.
As a geologist, I had concentrated on studying the deposits and landforms left by great glaciers, so Alaska was a logical place to end up. I did not begin my adventures as a vertebrate paleontologist, until I had taught for over 30 years. Most of my teaching career was spent teaching general geology, historical geology, and environmental geology at the University of Alaska in Anchorage following invaluable experience at the high school level. But in 1990 my career took a wonderful and exciting turn. It was at that time that I first became involved with the discovery, collection, and study of the fossil vertebrate record in Alaska.
Alaska is a wonderful place to be a field scientist, especially if you are a geologist and paleontologist. I have flown in to some of the wildest country on Earth by small bush planes and helicopters. I have rafted over a hundred miles on Alaska’s largest Arctic river and have been in on some of the most astonishing paleontological discoveries in the Arctic region, from Cretaceous dinosaurs to spectacular fossil forests of the early Tertiary (~55 million years ago).
Anne with colleagues Lee and Sabra Reid in Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska collecting fossils related to the discovery of the first ankylosaur dinosaur from the Arctic, July 1991. The ankylosaur was found in near shore marine rocks of the Late Cretaceous Matanuska Formation. The team was flown in by helicopter and then back-packed out. Photo courtesy of Anne Pasch.
Anne in raft on the Colville River, July 1998 prospecting for new dinosaur trackway sites along some 125 miles of river. Photo courtesy of Anne Pasch.
Anne with colleagues Roland Gangloff and Marilyn Barker and a crew of students and volunteers at Umiat, Alaska on the Arctic Coastal Plain in July of 1998. Note rock plates with dinosaur footprints. Tracks and trackways of birds, theropod, ornithopod, and thyreaphoran dinosaurs were found during ten days of rafting and prospecting along the Colville River. Photo courtesy of Anne Pasch.
My first Alaskan dinosaur quest took place in 1990. It involved one of the most rugged horseback rides of my life, through some of the most spectacular country in Alaska — the Talkeetna Mountains some 70 miles northeast of Anchorage. The “task” was to document a site where hunting guides had found the fossils of an ankylosaur, an armored dinosaur. Not only did this fossil turn out to be the first ankylosaur (Edmontonia) ever to be found in Alaska (or north of central Alberta, Canada for that matter), but we also found what may be the earliest specimen of a hadrosaur found in North America (around 90 million years ago).
Both specimens were preserved in marine sediments and were probably the result of “bloat and float” after dying in a river and floating out to sea. An added bonus on this trip was meeting a twelve-year-old girl named Lizzie May-Williams. She was in on the discovery and subsequent excavation of this first Alaskan dinosaur find and is Alaska’s most famous “girl paleontologist.” Alaska is so large and so little paleontology has been done that new discoveries are made almost every place the rocks are exposed. Lizzie has become one of the best fossil finders in the state.
Another adventure was the discovery of the first dinosaur trackways on Alaska’s North Slope.
This required two consecutive years (1997–1998) of rafting over a hundred miles on the Colville River, which descends from the famous Brooks Range and meanders to the Arctic Ocean. Our crew of seven flew in by small fixed-wing aircraft, landing on gravel bars in the Colville River. Then we took rafts and worked our way east, stopping wherever exposures were good or geologic maps indicated the right age and type of rocks. Each year, we found more types and numbers of tracks and trackways. We documented them with maps, latex peels, and photographs. It will take years to measure and analyze what we found over a total of only three weeks of work.
My most recent project is only 60 miles from my Anchorage home and returns me to the Talkeetna Mountains. I have been working with state agencies to document a spectacular buried forest that was uncovered during coal mining operations. A team of volunteers, colleagues, and students joined me in a race to salvage part of a time window that portrays an ancient forest and a record of mammals before the site was covered and lost to the mining industry. We have documented over 50 standing trees. Part of one of these trees (a six-ton specimen!) resides in a rock garden at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Hundreds of beautiful fossil leaves were collected and will reside in the University of Alaska Museum’s collections where they will be further studied along with huge chunks of the fossil trees. One of my former students is now engaged in studying hundreds of fossil mammal tracks that he discovered in the rocks associated with the fossil forest.
Future Plans and Directions
I hope to continue my efforts to collect and preserve specimens and data from endangered fossil sites whenever they come to my attention. I am presently becoming involved with a project near to my home in Anchorage. It is called the Bering Glacier Project and involves biologists, geologists, and paleontologists.
The project plans to make detailed maps of ice movements between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. I am engaged in documenting the environmental changes brought about by the ice front movements during this time using fossil mollusks and other organic materials. Hopefully, we may even turn up some fossil mammals such as mammoths, horse, bison, or other Pleistocene hangers-on that might have outlasted the great extinctions around 10,000 years ago.
Why not? So far I have been able to help change the paleontological record in Alaska with my discoveries. That is what I really love about my work — you never know what you may find. So keep on looking and never let anyone tell you that everything of any importance has already been found.
Ask a Question
To ask Anne a question about dinosaur fossils, or anything else, just email email@example.com and we'll forward your email. If you don’t hear back right away, please be patient. Remember, she may be off collecting more fossils right now!