Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Discovery Lecture Series

Friday, June 3, 2022
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Palos Verdes Underwater: A Paradise 150 Million Years in the Making

by Dr. Austin J.W. Hendy, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

The Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of the most fossiliferous and geologically interesting regions in western North America. The rocks and fossils from this area were first documented in the 1850s, and by the early 1900s the Palos Verdes Hills had become a classic region for the study of California geology. This rich geologic and paleontological record continues to attract scientists studying climate change, sea level fluctuations, evolution, tectonics, and natural hazards today.

The origins of the rocks underpinning the Palos Verdes Hills, and indeed the greater Los Angeles region, date back to the Mesozoic era, some 150 million years ago. However, the most consequential events in the area's history began about 20 million years ago (Miocene epoch), as large blocks of the North American continent were ripped away, spun around, and transported some several hundred miles. In doing so, the mountains and islands that are iconic to Angelenos came into being, and the Los Angeles Basin was formed. This process, in association with global climate change, regional oceanographic processes, and ongoing tectonic activity resulted in the accumulation of more than 15,000 ft of organic-rich sediments in the basin, from which vast petroleum resources ultimately formed.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the rapid economic and cultural development of Los Angeles during the 20th century is intimately tied to these geological events. Repeated ice ages and intervening warm periods over the last two million years (Pleistocene epoch) had tremendous impact on landscapes and coastline of Los Angeles and the Palos Verdes Hills. Indeed, the latter were likely an island during much of their history, until perhaps just 60-80 thousand years ago. Because of the expectation of future warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean, interpreting the geologic and environmental process that influenced our past landscape and faunas continue to be of scientific interest.

Dr. Austin Hendy is a paleontologist, geologist, adventurer, teacher, and proud San Pedro local. He completed his early studies in New Zealand, before moving to the US to undertake a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati. Austin held post-doctoral fellowships at Yale University, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the University of Florida before joining the staff of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 2014. As Curator of the Invertebrate Paleontology collection, he oversees the second largest collection of fossil invertebrates in North America, supervises collection staff and vibrant student interns, teacher training, and volunteer initiatives.

Dr. Hendy conducts fieldwork through Central and northern South America, and western North America. His research and curatorial work are funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and he focuses on the biodiversity, biogeography, and paleoecology of Cretaceous-Cenozoic marine communities, and the application of those data to broad questions in paleobiology. In large part his research focuses on the response of marine communities to both Earth's climatic and oceanographic changes. His fieldwork concentrates on filling temporal and geographic gaps in our understanding of Cretaceous-Cenozoic marine ecosystems, and he enjoys working with students and colleagues from the global south to improve documentation of poorly known faunas and to advance science knowledge and training in those areas. He has recently developed the museum's Los Angeles Underwater exhibit, contributes to the Diversity Initiative for the Southern California Ocean project, and is an active proponent for increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in the scientific and museum community.

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