I recently attended the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Awards in Maskwacis, Alberta. I was fortunate to meet Dr. Russ Schnell. He is the Deputy Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Global Monitoring Division, in the United States. He grew up in the Battle River region and shared a fascinating story about discovering 70 million year old “Rosselia Worm Fossils” in 1958 in the bed of Castor Creek at the confluence of the Battle River.
Dr. Schnell was kind enough to allow me to publish a story he had written some years ago. I shot the video of Dr. Schnell as he was telling the story of how the fossils were formed.
The following story is adapted from the book “Stories from Life: Beauty Everyday As It happens”, 2016, Jane Ross ed., ISBN:978-0-9695841-2-4, Friesens Books, Altona, Manitoba, 325 pages (for a copy contact: Jane Ross <[email protected]>).
Petrified Buffalo Hearts, Indian Maiden Breasts, Stalagmites and 70 Million Year Old Worm Poop
By Dr. Russ Schnell, B.Sc., Ph.D., Dr.Sci. (Hons).
It was a Saturday in August 1958. The summer day was hot up on the open prairie in east-central Alberta. The air was much cooler in the narrow valley, especially in the shadows. And most of the valley was in shadows from trees growing on the rims above the sandstone cliffs.
The rock was stored in my parent’s garage for 50 years until I brought it to Colorado, USA, where I now live.
About 1:00 PM, the noon wiener roast was over and we had waited the obligatory one hour after eating before going swimming. Everyone knew that you would get cramps and drown otherwise! No matter that the water was only 4 feet deep at the deepest, and then only behind the beaver dams. And that the water was to cold to do much other than dip a few times, dog paddle for 10 feet, then shout out that it was “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”1 and splash to shore and stand around a smoky campfire of poplar branches. It was too early in the day for mosquitoes, and even if they had been out, the eye-burning smoke would have kept them away from our tender, lily white bodies. Only our faces, necks and arms were tanned from spending every possible hour outside playing, hiking, swimming and riding bikes over the 20 square mile area of grasslands and creek valleys we considered our “territory”.
On this day, walking in the water bare footed on the bedrock, we would occasionally feel smooth, rounded, tapered stones under the water. We recovered some of these “stones” which were very heavy for their size and that appeared to be composed of iron. At least they looked the colour of rusted iron!
No one seemed too concerned that the sparks from the fire could ignite the surrounding dry grass and possibly spread for miles. Hey, we were six 9-12 years old boys, friends since toddlers, invincible, girls yet to be discovered, having another boy’s day out along the creek, 2 miles from Castor town. We stood naked, dripping and shivering, occasionally stirring the fire back to life to keep warm while roasting (flaming) marshmallows on slender willow switches we had cut and peeled earlier on which to roast the wieners.
1. “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” is possibly an old naval saying. A monkey was a brass plate with holes in which iron cannon balls were stacked. When it got very cold the brass would contract more than the iron cannon balls and therefore the balls would pop out and roll off the brass monkey! Of course we did not know that then. We had heard older boys make the “brass monkey” statement when they were around girls who would giggle, so we thought it was “big” to talk like that.
Before roasting the wieners, we had played “stretch”, a game where two boys stand facing each other then throw a hunting knife to stick no more than 2 inches to the side of an opponent’s bare foot. If the knife stuck in the ground and was not more than the allowed 2 inches away, the recipient of the thrown knife moved his foot to touch the blade and then took a turn throwing his hunting knife to stick near the foot of the first thrower. The game ended when one person’s legs could no longer stretch further apart, and that person was declared the loser. There were always losers, never winners! All boys carried hunting knives in hip scabbards that summer. It was the thing to do.
A more imaginative member of the group said they felt like fossil Indian maiden breasts.
Now, to a pivotal juncture in this story. One reason we played in this particular part of the valley was that the creek had cut through to bedrock making it easy to cross on a solid rock footing. In most other stretches of the creek, the bottom was soft mud into which you would sink up to your knees or deeper. On this day, walking in the water bare footed on the bedrock, we would occasionally feel smooth, rounded, tapered stones under the water. We recovered some of these “stones” which were very heavy for their size and that appeared to be composed of iron. At least they looked the colour of rusted iron! They were conical in shape and every one had a well formed, round indentation on the apex. On the broad end there was generally (but not always) a finger size hole near the centre. The stones varied in size from a large potato to a small watermelon.
Since we found the heart shaped rocks at the base of a cliff we “knew” was an Indian buffalo jump, some of us thought they were petrified buffalo hearts. Supporting this supposition was the fact that one of the group had found a black, perfectly shaped, sharp, fluted arrowhead near the creek on a sandy path worn by deer coming down the valley wall to cross the creek. A more imaginative member of the group said they felt like fossil Indian maiden breasts, not that any of us could confirm how a maiden’s breast felt. One such “petrified buffalo heart”, presented upside down, is shown below.
I took one of the “buffalo hearts” home in my backpack wondering, occasionally, over the hour hike back to town, why I was carrying a rock that was so heavy. The rock was stored in my parent’s garage for 50 years until I brought it to Colorado, USA, where I now live.
But, I digress from the timeline. On the hike back to town our ragtag group diverted to look at the body of a dead cow lying in a pasture. We had discovered it a few days earlier and were interested in looking at it again. On the discovery visit, the cow must have been dead for only a few days. It was bloated like an overextended balloon, there were flies buzzing around the mouth, eyes and anus, but otherwise the cow was as if sleeping on its side like a horse. On this second visit, the carcass was less bloated, but to our great surprise had been completely hollowed out from the rear.
There were no intestines, no lungs, no heart, no stomach, no blood. The interior cavity was dry as dust, the hide was intact and the “roasts” were still on the thighs. We surmised that coyotes had devoured the soft insides by chewing from the butt end into the body cavity.
Within a few minutes, he printed out a copy of a scientific paper on ancient marine worms that made burrows in the seafloor and left imprints of their existence.
Before leaving the carcass we convinced, cajoled or otherwise enticed the youngest boy, who wanted to be part of the “big boys” group, to play “coyote” and crawl into the interior of the cow. He did so to our great amusement as we beat on the hide covered ribs stretched taut like a large reddish drum. When we returned to the carcass a week or so later, it was picked apart and remnants were being pecked at by magpies. What meat remained was a seething mass of white maggots.
Fast forward 50 years to 2008. By this time I knew that the conical rock was not a petrified buffalo heart or a maiden’s breast. I was a slow learner! I was now convinced though that the rock was a stalagmite formed by iron rich water that had dripped onto a cave floor over thousands of years. I looked on the Internet for similar stalagmites, but did not find any. Still, sure of my analysis, I wrote a letter to the director of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta enclosing photos, and described where these “stalagmites” were found and asking how old they were. I wrote the letter on heavy, expensive looking stationary with an official U.S. government letterhead festooned with gold embossed logos, and signed with a number of titles. I figured that might get his attention and a response.
A few weeks later I received an email thanking me for the letter and photos, and suggesting that the “stalagmite” was possibly a random iron accretion. Although not a paleontologist or geologist, I still believed that this rock was made by a deliberate, not random process. After further correspondence, Dr. David Eberth, Senior Research Scientist, Royal Tyrrell Museum, agreed to meet in Castor, Alberta in late June, 2009, and to come to the valley to look at what I still believed were stalagmites. I flew up from Colorado and David, myself, a sister and 5 friends from Castor proceeded out to the valley now owned by another friend from toddler days. He took us to an area of the creek where there were many of the “stalagmites” and we each collected a few specimens. David asked to see an exposed cliff so he could possibly find some of these iron rocks embedded in their natural habitat. Gary Dunkle, the land owner, duly took us to such an embankment and David found a few of the conical rocks imbedded in a loose, grey, alkaline soil in an exposed cliff face.
Then he told us that a world authority on such creatures was Professor Murray Gingras ’95 B.Sc., ’99 Ph.D., Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta.
To my great surprise, the “stalagmites” were oriented conical point down in the cliff face. This is not how stalagmites form! David now lost some of his prior cool composure, as he convinced me that my earlier conjectures were incorrect, that we were looking at a 70 million year old seashore deposit, and these iron accretions had probably once been made by something related to the seashore.
In a humorous throwback to events 50 years earlier, one of the fossils that David had excavated became dislodged and rolled down the steep cliff splashing into the creek behind a beaver dam. We convinced Eric Neilson ’88, B.Sc. Agriculture and ’09, B.Ed. and now a local school teacher, to wade into the water and retrieve the fossil. The water was over four feet deep and Eric had to fully submerge to finally locate and recover the fossil that was embedded in silt. There was no fire to get warm and dry beside this time!
We returned to the insurance and real-estate offices of Dale Emmett, one of the members on this current expedition, where David used a computer to begin looking up something called “Rosselia” on the Internet. Within a few minutes, he printed out a copy of a scientific paper on ancient marine worms that made burrows in the seafloor and left imprints of their existence. Then he told us that a world authority on such creatures was Professor Murray Gingras ’95 B.Sc., ’99 Ph.D., Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta. Small world!
We departed the office in triumph and sojourned to a nearby bar where Ed Ries, a local rancher and another member of the days’ expedition, bought us a round of beer to toast our success. While at the bar, Brenda Scott ’73, B.Ed. (sister, also on the excursion) brought out some perfectly preserved fossil snails that she had collected the day prior in a nearby fossil bed. David was quite interested, as these were fresh water snails that rarely fossilize into such perfect iron accretions. He wanted to know where they are found, but we declined to tell him as only a few members of our family know the location, and we do not want the location to be picked over. Someday we might show him, but that will be another story.
So how did worms living in the sediment in a 70 million old marine seashore make 8 pound “petrified buffalo hearts?” First, the worm is not like the garden variety earthworm one finds digging in Alberta garden soil. Instead it was thought be an elongated creature (let us say about one foot long) living vertically in seabed sediment with tentacles that could spread out over the seafloor to capture small organic particle or small creatures touching the tentacles. A stylized depiction of the worm and its burrow is shown below.
The fossilized worm burrow lay at the bottom of the ocean for eons becoming covered by many feet of sediment.
The worm would slide down into its burrow to digest its meals, to poop and to get away from predators. To accommodate the poop, it would push out the sides of its vertical tube home which was probably easy to do as it was living is soft sediment. Eventually the worm would die or move on to a new home leaving the organic evidence of its existence within its seabed home.
Now for the rare events that produced the “petrified buffalo hearts” and exposed them for observation today. At some point 70 million years ago, the organic-rich waste in the worm hole was brought into sustained contact with a freshwater stream carrying dissolved iron compounds. This iron slowly fossilized the poop and food detritus. The fossilized worm burrow lay at the bottom of the ocean for eons becoming covered by many feet of sediment.
Eventually the land rose and the fossils were exposed by the Castor Creek that eroded through an uplifted area of the former beach. Some of the exposed fossils settled on bedrock where they are found today. Others are still slowly sinking in the muck at the bottom of the creek.
The Castor Rosselia fossils are rather rare in that they are well formed, well preserved iron accretions, and in the words of Dr. Gingras in an email to Dr. Eberth and copied to me, he states: “Rosselia are normally much smaller than the cannon-balls you show”.
And so we come full circle in a small valley in East-Central Alberta; cannon-balls to cannon-balls.
Dr. Russ Schnell, Deputy Director, NOAA, Global Monitoring Division, Boulder, CO
Russ was born and raised in Alberta, Canada and educated at the Universities of Alberta; Newfoundland; Hawaii; Wales; Wyoming and Colorado. He holds degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Atmospheric Resources and Atmospheric Science.
Dr. Schnell discovered biological ice nuclei in 1970 now used in ski hill snowmaking worldwide, and by their removal on plants, prevention of frost damage to -3C. These nuclei are important in precipitation formation with papers from around the globe now being published on the topic.
His research, as Director of the Arctic Gas and Aerosol project in the 1980s, established that Arctic Haze was air pollution from Eastern Europe. For 7 years he was director of the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii, where the steady global increase in carbon dioxide that forms the backbone of the greenhouse gas atmospheric warming, was established.
He has conducted research on ozone destruction in the Arctic and Antarctic, ozone production from fossil fuel production and on the changing chemical composition of the atmosphere driving climate change.
He has published 125 scientific papers, nine of them in Nature, a premier scientific journal, and holds patents in plant science and biochemistry.
Russ has lived, traveled or worked in 92 countries, and on every continent including the North and South Poles.
In 2002, he received the NOAA Administrator’s Award for his work as director of the Mauna Loa Observatory.
In 2007, Dr. Schnell was recognized as one of the co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In 2008, he was awarded the U.S. Department of Commerce Silver Medal the highest honorary recognition the Department bestows and in 2011 both the NOAA Distinguished Career and the NOAA OAR Outstanding Science Communicator Awards.
Dr. Schnell’s non-work interests include building wooden trains for children, “Little Free Libraries” for donation and real-estate investing.
He grew up near the Battle River in East Central Alberta. I met him while attending the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Awards held in Maskwacis, AB on September 21, 2019.
Danielle Smith warns Trudeau gov’t she’s going ahead with natural gas projects despite regulations
‘We’re not going to sit and wait while they break the law, drag their feet, make us take them to court, spend years creating economic uncertainty for our investors’
After Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault brushed off Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s invocation of the “Sovereignty Act” as being merely “symbolic,” the Alberta leader warned him that her province will be building new gas-fired power plants regardless of his new “clean energy” rules.
“Well, he [Guilbeault] will learn that if he does not back down from his outrageous and unconstitutional targets of 2035, it’ll be more than symbolic,” said Smith Tuesday after being asked by a reporter about Guilbeault’s comments.
“We’ll proceed with developing our baseload power on natural gas with the best available technology.”
Smith said that the use of the Sovereignty Act, which was invoked on Monday for the purpose of shielding Alberta from future power blackouts due to federal government overreach, will help the province “make sure that we are able to shield any corporation from any kind of criminal liability.”
“Whether that means that we have to de-risk it by being the generator of last resort or we have to purchase some of those plants so that we operate them ourselves, so that we’re able to continue on with having a reliable power grid,” she said.
The Sovereignty Act resolution calls on Alberta’s cabinet to “order all provincial entities not to recognize the constitutional validity of, enforce, nor cooperate in the implementation of the CERs [Clean Electricity Regulations] in any manner, to the extent legally permissible.”
Guilbeault on Monday came out with a statement concerning Alberta’s invocation of the Sovereignty Act, claiming that its use will “create fear and uncertainty over collaboration and positive results for Albertans.”
He also later claimed while speaking to reporters that Smith’s action using the Sovereignty Act is just “symbolic.”
After announcing Monday that she has had “enough” of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s extreme environmental rules, Smith said her province has no choice but to assert control over its electricity grid to combat federal overreach.
Unlike most provinces in Canada, Alberta’s electricity industry is nearly fully deregulated. However, the government still has the ability to take control of it at a moment’s notice.
A draft version of the federal government’s CERs introduced by Guilbeault projects billions in higher costs associated with a so-called “green” power transition, especially in the resource-rich provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, which use natural gas and coal to fuel power plants.
Business executives in Alberta’s energy sector have also sounded the alarm over the Trudeau government’s “green” transition, saying it could lead to unreliability in the power grid.
‘We’re not going to sit and wait while they break the law’
While speaking to reporters Tuesday, Smith noted how Alberta will proceed with ensuring its power grid is stable and secure, and that the province will not “sit and wait” around for the Trudeau government to continue breaking “the law.”
“So, there’s this is just the indication that we’re moving on this. We’re not going to sit and wait while they break the law, drag their feet, make us take them to court, spend years creating economic uncertainty for our investors,” said Smith.
“We’re going to start commissioning those plants now because we need them now.”
The Smith government said that while it does not like the route of taking back power production under state control, it says this is the only way the province can keep the current Liberal government, or any other future government, from interfering in provincial power production.
Two recent court rulings dealt a serious blow to the Trudeau government’s environmental activism via legislation. The most recent was when the Federal Court of Canada on November 16, 2023, overturned the Trudeau government’s ban on single-use plastic, calling it “unreasonable and unconstitutional.”
The Federal Court ruled in favor of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan by stating that Trudeau’s government had overstepped its authority by classifying plastic as “toxic” as well as banning all single-use plastic items, like straws, bags, and eating utensils.
The second victory for Alberta and Saskatchewan concerns a Supreme Court ruling that stated that Trudeau’s law, C-69, dubbed the “no-more pipelines” bill, is “mostly unconstitutional.” The decision returned authority over the pipelines to provincial governments, meaning oil and gas projects headed up by the provinces should be allowed to proceed without federal intrusion.
The Sovereignty Act resolution calls on Alberta’s cabinet to “order all provincial entities not to recognize the constitutional validity of, enforce, nor cooperate in the implementation of the CERs in any manner, to the extent legally permissible.”
It also orders that the province investigate the “feasibility of establishing a provincial Crown corporation for the purpose of bringing and maintaining more reliable and affordable electricity onto the grid in the event that private generators find it too risky to do so under the CERs.”
The Trudeau government’s current environmental goals – in lockstep with the United Nations’ “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” – include phasing out coal-fired power plants, reducing fertilizer usage, and curbing natural gas use over the coming decades.
The reduction and eventual elimination of the use of so-called “fossil fuels” and a transition to unreliable “green” energy has also been pushed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) – the globalist group behind the socialist “Great Reset” agenda – an organization in which Trudeau and some of his cabinet are involved.
Alberta’s projected surplus balloons: Mid-year budget update
Mid-year update: Keeping Alberta’s finances on track
Alberta’s government continues to manage the province’s finances responsibly with the future in mind.
Alberta continues to lead the nation in economic growth and is forecasting a surplus of $5.5 billion in 2023-24, an increase of $3.2 billion from Budget 2023. The province’s fiscal outlook continued to improve in the second quarter of 2023-24, boosted by strong bitumen royalties and higher income tax revenues.
However, volatile oil prices, continued inflation challenges and uncertainty due to slowing global growth could still affect the province’s finances going forward. Debt servicing costs will be higher than previous years due to higher interest rates, reinforcing the importance of the government’s commitment to balance the budget.
“Alberta continues to stand out as a leader when it comes to fiscal stability and economic resilience in the midst of so much global uncertainty. Our second-quarter fiscal update is another positive report, showing strength in Alberta’s finances and economy and positioning us for future growth and prosperity.”
The government continues to spend responsibly, maintaining its commitment to keep funds in the province’s contingency for disasters and emergencies. The government’s new fiscal framework requires the government to use at least half of available surplus cash to pay down debt, freeing up money that can support the needs of Albertans for generations. The government continues to reduce the province’s debt burden and will pay down a forecasted $3.2 billion in debt this fiscal year.
Alberta’s government is turning its focus to developing next year’s budget, so it supports Albertans’ needs and the province’s economic growth while maintaining the government’s commitment to responsible spending within the fiscal framework. Budget 2024 consultations are open and Albertans are encouraged to share their feedback to help set the province’s financial priorities.
- Revenue for 2023-24 is forecast at $74.3 billion, a $3.7-billion increase from Budget 2023. The increase is due to increases across different revenue streams. In addition, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil is forecast to average US$79 per barrel over the course of the fiscal year, in line with the Budget 2023 forecast.
- Personal and corporate income tax revenue is forecast at $21.8 billion, $1.8 billion higher than at budget.
- Bitumen royalties are forecast at $14.4 billion, an increase of $1.8 billion from budget.
- Overall resource revenue is forecast at $19.7 billion, $1.3 billion higher than the budget forecast.
- Beginning in 2024, Alberta’s government will continue to offer fuel tax relief when oil prices are high, even as the province transitions back to the original fuel tax relief program, which is based on average quarterly oil prices.
- Albertans will save some or all of the provincial fuel tax on gasoline and diesel when oil prices are $80 per barrel or higher during each quarter’s review period.
- Although oil prices have been below $80 in recent weeks, Albertans will continue to save at least four cents per litre on the provincial fuel tax in the first three months of 2024 as the tax is phased back in.
- The government’s fuel tax relief efforts, which include the pause to the end of 2023 and additional savings over the first three months of 2024, are forecast to reduce other tax revenue by $524 million in 2023-24.
- Expense for 2023-24 is forecast at $68.8 billion, a $481-million increase from Budget 2023.
- Capital grants are up marginally from Budget 2023, but down from the first-quarter forecast, mainly due to funding schedules for Calgary and Edmonton LRT projects.
- Debt servicing costs are forecast to increase $309 million from budget, a reflection of ongoing high interest rates and inflation.
- Total expense has increased by $1.9 billion, $0.5 billion is directly offset by revenue and $1.4 billion is absorbed by the $1.5-billion contingency.
- In total, $123 million of the 2023-24 contingency remains unallocated.
- $1.2 billion in disaster and emergency costs are forecast for the current fiscal year.
- $750 million for fighting wildfires in the province
- $165 million for AgriRecovery to support livestock producers affected by dry conditions
- $253 million to provide financial assistance to communities for uninsurable damage from spring wildfires and summer flooding
- $61 million for evacuation and other support
- The operating expense forecast has increased by $319 million, including an additional:
- $301 million for Health
- $48 million for Advanced Education
- $48 million for Energy and Minerals
- $33 million for Mental Health and Addiction
- $30 million for Education
- $14 million for Indigenous Relations
- Offset by decreases of $187 million for lower-than-expected program take-up of affordability payments and re-profiling of TIER spending to 2024-25.
Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund
- The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund’s market value on Sept. 30, 2023, was $21.4 billion, up from the $21.2 billion reported at March 31, 2023.
- The Heritage Fund returned 0.9 per cent over the first six months of 2023-24.
- Over the five-year period ending on Sept. 30, 2023, the Heritage Fund returned 5.9 per cent, which is 0.5 per cent above the return of its passive benchmark. While the Heritage Fund is outperforming its benchmark return, it is below the long-term real return target of 6.9 per cent, again a result of interest pressures.
- The Heritage Fund generated net investment income of $1 billion in the first half of the fiscal year.
- Alberta’s economy continues to be resilient, with continued growth projected over the three-year forecast.
- Alberta’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow 2.8 per cent in 2023, in line with the Budget 2023 forecast.
- Despite interest rate increases, high prices and slower global economic growth, Alberta’s economy is forecast to keep expanding. The pace of growth, however, will be slower compared with the last two years when the province was recovering from the pandemic.
- The amount of surplus cash available for debt repayment and the Alberta Fund is determined after a number of required cash adjustments have been made. For 2023-24, this includes $5.1 billion from the 2022-23 final results to start the year.
- The Alberta Fund contribution for 2023-24 is forecast at $1.6 billion.
- Money in the Alberta Fund can be used toward additional debt repayment, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, or one-time initiatives that do not permanently increase government spending.
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