July 4 Fossil sm

New project uncovers old fossils

Jul 17, 2017

It seems every year, miners at Syncrude and other oil sands operations are finding more proof that this area of northeast Alberta was once a sea.

Just a few short months after we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first fossil discovery at Syncrude, new ones have been uncovered.

This time, on-site paleontologists found several fossils at the Aurora Clean Water Return (ACWR) project, located about seven kilometres from Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray.

“In early June, we discovered isolated skeletal remains, such as vertebral elements from marine reptiles, likely from ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs,” says paleontologist Sam Wilson whose team works with Syncrude to recover fossil findings. “We also found several invertebrate specimens such as bivalves, or clams, and ammonites.”

Sam and his team determined the fossils are from the Clearwater Formation, aging them approximately 100 to 110 million years old.

Once fully excavated, the fossils were documented and will be submitted to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, which has a collection of more than 130,000 fossils.

“It's very exciting work and it makes you feel extremely small in the grand scheme of things,” says Paul Sturkenboom, Syncrude Construction Manager, PE Bitumen Production. “It’s such a positive thing to be able to support this kind of work and opportunity for the paleontologists.”

Sam’s group, Nautilus Paleontology contracted through a construction company, has been involved with other Syncrude projects where fossils were recovered. He says paleontologists will continue to monitor the ACWR and expect to find additional fossil material throughout the remainder of the project.

(photo courtesy of Paul Sturkenboom)