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College of Science & Engineering



TCU geology professor John Holbrook was published in the latest issue of Sedimentology for his groundbreaking research in the analysis of the origins of the Dockum Group strata, which make up the rocks of Texas’s Palo Duro Canyon. The paper, worked on in collaboration with his master’s student Sam Walker, highlights the role mega monsoonal flash floods play in creating this strata and why these rocks are vast sources to find early Mesozoic vertebrates.

Holbrook says, “The rocks of the Palo Duro Canyon are not just beautiful, they also tell a story…that story is of a dry landscape in the mid-wastelands of the once mega-continent Triassic Pangaea - a landscape also periodically vexed by massive mega monsoonal storms. The floods washed the land of the early dinosaurs and the remnant survivors of therapsid ‘Permian monsters’ preserving the respective first and last of these ancient reptiles in the rivers and lakes that would be their forever watery grave.” Holbrook and Walker reveal that Texas is home to beautiful scenery, but it’s also a playground for research that can help us better understand Earth.

Holbrook says, “Our research clearly draws international attention to TCU. The paper outlines a type of desert river system typified by megafloods that is just beginning to be understood by the research community, and it will draw considerable attention from a global research community working to understand past earth surface processes, and a community trying to understand dryland megafloods in the modern world.” TCU's proximity to the Palo Duro Canyon facilitates research opportunities for eager geology students.

One of the greatest surprises in conducting this research was how their findings had gone undiscovered for so long. “The rocks of the Palo Duro record a continuous and enduring record of deposition dominated by the variety of deposits these megaflood rivers can yield. There it was hiding in plain sight all this time, in one of the most visited places in Texas! It ever reminds us that the Earth always has something new to teach us, no matter how much we think we have already looked,” Holbrook says.

Learn more about Sedimentology and TCU’s Department of Geological Sciences.