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IGCP project advances research into Asia-Pacific’s Cretaceous period

A 3D illustration of a flock of the Caudipteryx dinosaur, reptile bird that lived in China during the Cretaceous Period. Photo: Shutterstock/Catmando

Flowers first bloomed and dinosaurs roamed the Earth – and became extinct – during the Cretaceous period, which ended some 65 million years ago. It’s a time of immense importance in the understanding of the history of our Earth’s development and an ongoing project by UNESCO’s International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) aims to improve knowledge on the ecosystems of that time in Asia-Pacific and enrich global geoscience discussions.

The IGCP’s Asia-Pacific Cretaceous Ecosystems project, which began in 2013 and is set to conclude at the end of this year, has made significant contributions to research on Cretaceous land, ocean, biosphere and ecosystems in the region and served as a platform to bring regional voices into the global discussion.

More than a dozen countries from Asia-Pacific have been involved in the project, including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The project has enabled scientists, students, geologists and others working in these fields in Asia-Pacific countries to collaborate and share information not only with each other, but also with peers outside of the region, including in Canada, France, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the US.

Students and those just starting out in scientific careers have benefited extensively from the symposia held under the project as well as opportunities to participate in field surveys and laboratory work as part of the project.

Many of them have attended three separate international meetings under the project and the sharp increase in the publication of journal articles by project participants during that time is testament to the spirit of collaboration the initiative has inspired.

The meetings were reported on in major Japanese geological and paleontological journals, as well as in a thematic session in the online journal Island Arc titled, "Land-Ocean Linkages and Biotic Evolution during the Cretaceous: Contribution from Asia and Western Pacific," as well as numerous other national and international publications. The Island Arc issue was a great opportunity for non-native English speaking Asian scientists to share their scientific endeavours with an international audience.

The project has also been successful in raising public awareness of the importance of geosciences and the significance of geoparks, through providing scientific advice, leading excursions, lectures and symposium keynotes, etc.

Several members working for museums and universities have also spearheaded efforts to carry out similar efforts to raise awareness on the significance of Cretaceous geology and palaeontology, which often prove particularly popular with schoolchildren.

The success of the project has also been reflected in recognition awarded to its participants. Yale University's Peter R. Crane, working with Masamichi Takahashi of Niigata University in Japan, received the 30th International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in December 2014 for his contributions to plant systematics and evolution, especially pertaining to the origin of angiosperm during the Crustaceous period.

International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) 

Project 608 - Asia-Pacific Cretaceous Ecosystems