Prof Smith’s geological research is focussed on the interactions of Earth systems and organisms from the late Neoproterozoic to the Ordovician, using a combination of palaeobiology, sedimentology and geochemistry. Specific research questions he has addressed recently include the transition from warm-water carbonates to glacial conditions at the start of the Sturtian Snowball Earth event; complex feedback loops as drivers of the Cambrian Explosion; the sequence stratigraphy of Cambro-Ordovician carbonate systems on the Laurentian margin; and the use of oxygen isotopes in conodonts to reconstruct water masses in Ordovician oceans.
Paul also has interests in the application of digital technologies to science museums, particularly in the areas of 3D visualisation, virtual reality and the evaluation of user experience. Much of this work is carried out in collaboration with the Product Evaluation Technologies (PET) research group at Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick.
The Lower Cambrian Sirius Passet fossil locality
Stratigraphic section from pre-Snowball Earth rocks to the Lower Ordovician, Ella Ø, north-east Greenland
Paul Smith is Director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Professor of Natural History. He is also a Fellow of Kellogg College. Prior to coming to Oxford he was Head of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, as well as Director of the Lapworth Museum of Geology. He has spent most of his career working in university museums in Cambridge, Copenhagen, Birmingham and Oxford.
Paul undertook his BSc in geology at the University of Leicester before moving to the University of Nottingham for his PhD on the micropaleontology of conodonts from the Ordovician of Greenland. His PhD was followed by postdoctoral posts working on conodont palaeobiology in Nottingham and on the sedimentary basin analysis of Arctic regions in Cambridge. He has over thirty years' experience of Arctic field expeditions and was awarded the Polar Medal in 2017.
The Sirius Passet Lagerstätte of North Greenland-A geochemical window on early Cambrian low-oxygen environments and ecosystems.
Hammarlund, EU, Smith, MP, Rasmussen, JA, Nielsen, AT, Canfield, DE, Harper, DAT
The early Cambrian Sirius Passet fauna of northernmost Greenland (Cambrian Series 2, Stage 3) contains exceptionally preserved soft tissues that provide an important window to early animal evolution, while the surrounding sediment holds critical data on the palaeodepositional water-column chemistry. The present study combines palaeontological data with a multiproxy geochemical approach based on samples collected in situ at high stratigraphic resolution from Sirius Passet. After careful consideration of chemical alterations during burial, our results demonstrate that fossil preservation and biodiversity show significant correlation with iron enrichments (FeHR /FeT ), trace metal behaviour (V/Al), and changes in nitrogen cycling (δ15 N). These data, together with Mo/Al and the preservation of organic carbon (TOC), are consistent with a water column that was transiently low in oxygen concentration, or even intermittently anoxic. When compared with the biogeochemical characteristics of modern oxygen minimum zones (OMZs), geochemical and palaeontological data collectively suggest that oxygen concentrations as low as 0.2-0.4 ml/L restricted bioturbation but not the development of a largely nektobenthic community of predators and scavengers. We envisage for the Sirius Passet biota a depositional setting where anoxic water column conditions developed and passed over the depositional site, possibly in association with sea-level change, and where this early Cambrian biota was established in conditions with very low oxygen.
Brain and eyes of Kerygmachela reveal protocerebral ancestry of the panarthropod head.
Park, T-YS, Kihm, J-H, Woo, J, Park, C, Lee, WY, Smith, MP, Harper, DAT, Young, F, Nielsen, AT, Vinther, J
Recent discoveries of fossil nervous tissue in Cambrian fossils have allowed researchers to trace the origin and evolution of the complex arthropod head and brain based on stem groups close to the origin of the clade, rather than on extant, highly derived members. Here we show that Kerygmachela from Sirius Passet, North Greenland, a primitive stem-group euarthropod, exhibits a diminutive (protocerebral) brain that innervates both the eyes and frontal appendages. It has been surmised, based on developmental evidence, that the ancestor of vertebrates and arthropods had a tripartite brain, which is refuted by the fossil evidence presented here. Furthermore, based on the discovery of eyes in Kerygmachela, we suggest that the complex compound eyes in arthropods evolved from simple ocelli, present in onychophorans and tardigrades, rather than through the incorporation of a set of modified limbs.