School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Staff

Photo of Orla Bath-Enright

Orla Bath-Enright

  • Qualifications: BSc
  • Role Title: PhD Researcher
  • Address: School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Burnaby Building, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth, PO1 3QL
  • Telephone: 02392 846045
  • Email: orla.bath-enright@port.ac.uk
  • Department: SEES
  • Faculty: Science

Biography

I am a geologist with interests in both sedimentology and palaeontology; and a particular focus on exceptional fossil preservation. My current research activities involve novel taphonomic experiments.

  • 2014-present: PhD research, University of Portsmouth
  • 2010-2014: BSc (Hons. Earth and Ocean Sciences), National University of Ireland, Galway

Teaching Responsibilities

I assist in lab demonstrations for a number of units within the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. I also contribute to some undergraduate fieldtrips.

Units that I assist in:

  • SEES _419: Sedimentology and Palaeontology
  • SEES _537: Sedimentary Processes and Facies Analysis

Research

The Burgess Shale biota: short distance bustling commuters or long distance serene surfers?

Supervisors: Dr. Nicholas Minter (Portsmouth), Dr. Esther Sumner (Ocean and Earth Sciences, University of Southampton), Prof. Gabriela Mángano and Prof. Luis Buatois (Dept. Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan)

The Burgess Shale of Canada is a world-famous Middle Cambrian fossil Lagerstätte; renowned for its exceptional preservation of soft-bodied organisms and the insights it has provided into the Cambrian Explosion. It was traditionally interpreted as the product of dilute turbidity currents and that the organisms were carried some distance from one environment to another. More recently, analysis of the degree of disarticulation of the fossils has been used as evidence to suggest transport must have been minimal. Crucial to these arguments is the nature of any sedimentary flow processes and their impacts upon disarticulation. The precise explanation of the deposition and entombment of organisms within the Burgess Shale hold key insights into the ecological structures and types of environment inhabited by early communities.

The principal objective of my project will be to conduct novel, systematic taphonomic experiments with analogue organisms in an annular flume tank. This will allow me to accurately replicate a range of laminar to turbulent sediment-laden flow types, with realistic particle sizes and concentrations; and in which flow velocity, duration and deceleration may be modulated. I will test whether different analogue organisms are capable of remaining intact, or not, when subjected to different flow types of varying duration; and thus whether (i) the organisms could have been living a large distance from, or (ii) must have been in close proximity to, the environment of deposition.

The results from my research will enable constraints to be set on transport distances in order to test the competing hypotheses for the Burgess Shale biota. I will compile indices of decay and fragmentation that will enable quantification and comparison of the degree of disarticulation across experiments and with Burgess Shale fossil material. These new indices may then be extended to other fossil Lagerstätten. The results will also help to focus attention on sedimentary signatures and the types of sediment-laden flow deposits that may yield new exceptional fossil discoveries.

Funding

  • University of Portsmouth, Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Bursary (2014-2017: £56,667). The Burgess Shale biota: short distance bustling commuters or long distance serene surfers?
  • Irish Geological Association, Undergraduate Grant (2013: €300). The Geology of the Castletown area in the South of the Isle of Man.

Achievement and Recognition

  • Palaeontological Association Undergraduate Prize

Professional Memberships

  • Palaeontological Association
  • International Association of Sedimentologists
  • British Sedimentological Research Group