In the heart of the third-largest city in North America, geologic processes have conspired to create the richest Ice Age fossil site on Earth. For more than 50,000 years, underground crude oil has seeped to the surface, trapping plants and animals in the world-famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Over the past century, their remains have helped scientists paint a picture of the Ice Age, a time when saber-toothed cats, mammoths, camels, dire wolves, and giant ground sloths roamed across North America in ecosystems as biodiverse as the modern African savanna.
What happened to this lost world, and what does it mean for our planet today? Dr. Emily Lindsey, assistant curator and excavation site director at La Brea Tar Pits, leads a virtual tour of the site that covers 20-million-years, from ancient seabed to LA’s modern car culture. The history of Los Angeles is inextricably intertwined with oil, which literally fueled the city’s economic and geographic expansion. Today, the rich fossil treasure troves preserved in petroleum are being used not just to reveal the past, but to help plan for a climate-resilient future in one of the continent’s most populous and biodiverse regions.
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