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United Kingdom II

Lulworth Cove, Dorset, England

Stephen Kerce, Collector

On September 10, 2010, I left London with my friends Phillip and Leila for a weekend trip through Dorset. It was all to be new to me, and part of it was for me to retrace some of the steps my Mother had travelled with these same friends years before. But our first stop was put on the itinerary by me: Lulworth Cove, the eastern gateway to the Jurassic coast of south England.

Lulworth Cove, Dorset, England

Part of the fascination of Gary's Common Ground project for me has always been the subtheme of geological change and the evolution of life on earth. So I definitely wanted to collect some soil for the project on the Jurassic Coast. This section of the coastline is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stretches for almost 100 miles from Old Harry Rocks in Dorset in the west to Orcombe Point in Devon in the east. It is the only place on Earth where 185 million years of the Earth’s history are sequentially exposed. Although called "Jurassic", the coast exposes rocks from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods spanning the entire Mesozoic era, between 250 million and 65 million years ago.

At the far west end, the cliffs date to the Middle Triassic period, some 250 million years ago, when what is now England was located in the center of the vast supercontinent Pangaea. The climate was dry and arid with desert basins and forests of conifers instead of ferns. The first dinosaurs evolved during this time and most groups of four legged animals had emerged by the end of the Triassic, including frogs, turtles, crocodiles and the first true mammals.

More toward the middle of this coast and geological timespan, the rock formations represent the early Jurassic period of about 180 million years ago. By this time the continental plates had started to drift apart, the sea-level started to rise, and a warm, shallow sea flooded over what is now Dorset and East Devon. The rich fossil finds around Lyme Regis attest to the diversity of life found in these seas.

One of these fossils, and the person who discovered it, proved to be especially important for the modern understanding of life on earth. That person was Mary Anning and her discovery in 1811 was the first complete skeleton of an ichthyosaur, a dolphin-like marine dinosaur. She also discovered the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found and the first pterosaur skeleton found outside of Germany. Her discoveries contributed to fundamental changes in scientific thinking during her lifetime and became key pieces of evidence for the concept of the extinction of species.

On the eastern end of the coastline are remnants from the Cretaceous period, 140 million to 65 million years ago. In the early Cretaceous, much of Britain was again above sea-level and the strata in southern England were deposited under lake and river conditions. A few million years later, there was another global rise in sea-level flooding most of Britain, where marine conditions then prevailed.

It was from these Cretaceous deposits that I collected soil at Lulworth Cove. Here I was able to sample the Wealdon clay created from river deposits and the Greensand and Gault clays created by marine deposits. This was the first soil sample that I gathered for Gary, and unfortunately I didn't have Phillip take a picture of me. But here are some photos of the cove and collection sites.

Collecting Soil for Common Ground 191

Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove


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