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Utah Dino Bones, Salt Lake Migrations, Tree Canopies. Sept. 21, 2018, Part 1

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If you stood in southeastern Utah over 200 million years ago, you’d be overlooking the ocean. The landlocked state wasn’t quite the same landscape of scarlet plateaus and canyons you might see today, but a coastal desert where sand dunes butted up right against the sea. And it was home to some of the earliest dinosaurs. In this region of Utah, today known as Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument, the remains of dinosaur relatives, known as protodinosaurs or “dinosaur aunts and uncles,” are buried in the Earth. Their bones tell the stories about the dawn of dinosaurs, prehistoric Utah, and a much warmer Earth.

In the northern reaches of Utah’s Great Salt Lake sits Gunnison Island, a narrow strip of land just a mile long and half a mile wide. Despite its small size, the island hosts the world’s second largest white pelican rookery, with an average of 20,000 birds and 6,000 nests. Biologist Jaimi Butler of Westminster College’s Great Salt Lake Institute calls the birds the “polar bears” of Great Salt Lake—because as lake waters drop, the birds’ island refuge is now threatened by humans, coyotes, and other predators. Butler and her team have installed cameras on the island, and citizen scientists can now use these “PELIcam” images to help Butler and her colleagues catalog the white pelican population on the island—and the appearance of predators, too.

Forest ecologist Nalini Nadkarni pioneered the exploration of tree canopies—the “new frontiers” of the forest, using hot air balloons, rock climbing gear, and cranes. There, high in the trees, she found soil coating the branches, much like the soil on the forest floor—and unique adaptations, like the water-gathering abilities of spiky bromeliads. In this segment, recorded live at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, Nadkarni takes Ira on a tour of the forest canopy, talks about how fashion can be a tool for science communication, and describes her work communicating science to underserved populations, like inmates in prisons around the nation—from minimum security to Supermax.

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