The Brock Award for 2013

The Canadian Museum of Nature has a long history of research with expertise and leadership in species discovery and work in the Arctic.

Collage: Three people hold down a yellow tent as a nearby helicopter takes off, and a view of a mountain.

Top: Rybczynski and fellow team members keep their tent from blowing away as the helicopter that ferried them to even more-remote sites on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, takes off. Bottom: A nearby mountain shortly after a summer snowfall. Images: Martin Lipman © Martin Lipman

Reginald Walter Brock.

Reginald Walter Brock. Image: © Canadian Museum of Nature

We continually produce new knowledge that is published in the scientific literature. Our scientific productivity in botany, zoology, mineralogy and palaeobiology result in 50–60 manuscripts each year; a full list is in our annual report.

We ask our research experts to have their best publication considered for the annual Brock Award, the museum’s internal prize for excellence. This healthy competition has gone on for over two decades and is named after a former leader of the museum, Reginald Walter Brock, Ph.D.

As a past Director (1907–1914), Brock was responsible for moving the early collections into the museum’s then-new building, and for recognizing and rewarding excellence in his scientific teams. One of Brock’s rituals was to award a can of tomatoes for great accomplishments in field work. We carry on this charming tradition.

Collage: A can of tomatoes in front of a polar-bear mural, and Natalia Rybczynski sitting inside a tent with a satellite radio beside her.

Left: The emblem of the Brock Award: a can of tomatoes. Non-perishable and easy to use, canned food is of great value on a field expedition. Right: The winner of Brock Award 2013, Natalia Rybczynski. Images: Myriam Thibodeau © Canadian Museum of Nature, Martin Lipman © Martin Lipman

The Brock Award for a scientific publication in 2013 was awarded to Natalia Rybczynski, Ph.D., for her publication Mid-Pliocene warm-period deposits in the High Arctic yield insight into camel evolution (produced with colleagues J. Gosse, R. Harington, R. Wogelius, A. Hidy and M. Buckley).

In this paper, the team reports their discovery of 3.5 million-year-old fossil material from the Strathcona Fiord area of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, in the High Arctic.

Collage: The fossil bone fragments of the High Arctic camel, laid out on sand, Natalia Rybczynski holding a small fossil bone in one hand and examining it using a small magnifying glass, a man standing on a sandy slope and digging a hole to collect samples, and a rocky outcrop with hills in the background.

Top: The 30 fossilized bone fragments belonging to a leg of the giant camel discovered in the High Arctic by Rybczynski and her team. Centre left: Rybczynski scrutinizes a fossil. Centre right: Team member and geologist John Gosse of Dalhousie University collects samples. Bottom: The area near Strathcona Fiord where the fossils were found. Images: Martin Lipman © Martin Lipman

Rybczynski knew they had found a piece of the right tibia (lower leg) of a large mammal, but it took the help of new technology (called collagen fingerprinting) to be sure that they had found the remains of a relative to modern-day camels.

An illustration depicting three camels and four flying birds in a landscape with trees.

Illustration of the High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, about three and a half million years ago. The camels lived in a boreal-type forest. The habitat includes larch trees and the depiction is based on records of plant fossils found at nearby fossil deposits. Image: Julius Csotonyi © Julius Csotonyi

The findings add significantly to our data on the evolution of camels and help us understand the origin of anatomical specializations seen in modern camels. The work of Rybczynski and her team also adds to our knowledge of this ever-changing region of our country.

Collage: Four people hiking up a sandy slope, Natalia Rybczynski looking closely at the ground while lying on slope, and a view of the sandy, hilly terrain where the camel bones were discovered.

Top: The palaeo team surveying the upper reaches of the site where the camel was found. Middle: Rybczynski collecting samples at the site. Bottom: Team members are dwarfed by the terrain as they work at various levels of site. Images: Martin Lipman © Martin Lipman

This entry was posted in Arctic, Fossils, Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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