Initiating a Paleontology Inventory and Database at Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Phil F. Brease
Denali National Park & Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755

Abstract—Denali, at 6 million acres, is one of several large-acreage National Park Service units in Alaska where paleontological resources are poorly known, and the large volume of existing geologic and paleontologic data is inadequately organized. With the help of a Geologic Society of America volunteer, Denali began an evaluation of the existing literature, and catalogued 1068 cited fossils from 276 localities as reported in 46 journal articles, government documents, and other sources. Additionally, site localities were checked on maps and entered into the park Geographic Information System (GIS) to make preliminary determinations on reported locality accuracy and precision. Fossil materials at Denali include Paleozoic and Mesozoic marine invertebrates and microfossils, Mesozoic and Cenozoic plant material, and Cenozoic insect and pollen detritus.


Denali National Park and Preserve is located in South-central Alaska, where there is a long history of marine deposition (Precambrian to late Mesozoic) which has been continually affected by tectonic shortening and/or accretion since at least the late Paleozoic (Csejtey, et al, 1982). Although most of the park geology is only reconnaissance mapped at a scale of 1:250,000, and the structural history of tectonic accretion is less than favorable to fossil preservation, some 40 rock units (see table 2.) have been identified that exhibit fossil remains. These fossil occurrences are reported in various publications, reports, theses, maps, manuscripts, inventory forms, and journal articles. Some of these records exist in obscure forms or in limited print (grey literature), many duplicate or overlap information, and no single systematic database exists that can be used for park paleontological resource management, or for research evaluations. Additionally, the park has fewer than 5% of reference samples from major fossil localities.

To rectify these conditions, a proposal was developed to do a literature search, design a useful database format, input known paleontology literature and citations, delineate descriptive (mapped) localities, and perform locality checks for accuracy and for providing park examples of some sites and fossils. This proposal was provided to the NPS Geologic Resources Division in the Winter of 1997 for assistance in personnel and/or operational funding. In early December, the project description was forwarded to the Geological Society of America (GSA) for consideration in the intern program within their Institute for Environmental Education. GSA approved of the project and offered to advertise, screen applicants, and provide a stipend to the selected intern.

After advertisement in the magazine "GSA Today," GSA received some 35 applications for the intern position in Denali. Through this process, an intern with previous relational database experience was selected, and arrived at the park in mid-May, 1997. The intern worked as a team member of the Physical Sciences Branch, Research and Resource Preservation Division, at Denali National Park. The primary duties involved the design, set-up and record entry of a new Paleontology database for the park, coupled with a few site visits for data confirmation.

Relational Database Management System

Database requirements for paleontological information are similar to many other database themes. The database must provide for data organization, offer a search or find function, and have variable presentation formats to satisfy a wide range of investigation or report requirements. We choose Microsoft Access (2.0) because it provided these capabilities, is commonly available within government computer purchase packages, and is the current, NPS sanctioned database program .

The paleontology database design at Denali originally involved about 15 fields, but numerous design revisions were made through the course of data input to accommodate differing citation data and evolving search and cross-correlation database manipulations. Some of the more difficult field categories requiring custom designs included multiple authors, multiple citations, varying and sometimes conflicting taxonomic details, varieties of coordinate and common locality descriptions, varying geologic descriptors, and multiple collector/repository combinations. To track data input and to record location confidence, additional yes/no fields were included for citations, maps, and actual field locations.

The database fields are given below in three major form-entry categories:

Citation Fields include: Citation ID, Source ID, Locality ID, Fossil Type, General Fossil Type, Invertebrate Type, Era, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, Species, Age in Years, Repository, Collection Number, Collector, Year, and Notes;

Locality Fields include: Map Number, Locality ID, Cited Locality Number, Precise Locality, Terrane, Quad, Quad Number, Section, Range, Township, Latdeg., Latmin, Latsec, Longdeg, Longmin, Longsec, Rock Unit, Lithology, and Notes;

Publications Fields include: Source ID, Title, Author 1, Author 2, Other authors, Year, Journal, Publisher, Vol/Page, and Notes.

In addition to three input forms, the database is structured with 8 tables, 16 queries, and 5 reports which provide for rapid data filters, correlations and cross-tabulations. However, customized data manipulations are quite simple in Microsoft Access.

Table 1—Paleo-taxonomy in Denali National Park and Preserve.


*ALL RECORDS 10 17 26 47 306 161

Mollusca (271) Bivalves (143) Dysodonta (54) Inoceramus (12)

Gryphea (3)

Buchia (21)

Minotis (7)

Ostrea (2)

Halobia (2)

Lima (3)

Desmodonta (13) Pleuromya (11)

Isodonta (1)

Cephalapoda (100) Amminoids (78) (24+ varieties)

Blemnoids (19) (2+ varieties)

Gastropoda (19) (+3 varieties)

Brachiopoda (107) Articulata (40) (7+ varieties)

(19+ varieties)

Cnidaria (170) Anthozoa (136) Tabulata (21) (8+ varieties)

Rugosa (20) (2+ varieties)

Scleractinia (15)

Hydrozoa (34) (3+ varieties)

Arthropoda (95) Trilobita (6) (2+ varieties)

Arachnida (9) (2 varieties)

Insecta (78) Coleoptera (69) (14+ varieties)

Hymenoptera (6)

Hemiptera (1)

Trichoptera (2)

Crustacea (2) Cladocera (2) Daphnia (2)

Echinodermata (48) Crinoidea (15)

(33 unspecified)

Gymnolamatea (7)

Bryophyta (5) Sphagnacea (3)

Porifera (2)

Conodonts (93) (19+ varieties)

Radiolarians (86) (17+ varieties)

Pollen (83) (35+ varieties)

Plants (58) Angiospermae (15) (9+ varieties)

Gymnospermae (4)

Dinoflagillates (2)

Foraminifera (2)

Algea (2)

Vertebrate (1) (Fish skeletal remains)

Trace Fossils (1) (Worm burrows)

* specified taxa/numbers represent abundance at lowest identifiable levels.

* this table represents park record as of January 1998.

For the spatial database, record locations were originally placed on USGS 1:63,360 scale topographic quadrangle maps for initial assessment of descriptive precision. If significant problems or conflicts were not identified by this process (i.e. questionable physiography, wrong rock units, or conflicting location reports) then the localities were transferred to the park GIS database through our ArcView software. Citations/localities were thus bounded by reported sites within a 49-quadrangle window. Although this boundary limit includes some lands outside Denali National Park , it also encompasses most rock units and terranes of central Alaska, in their entirety.

Database Results and Status

The Denali paleontology database consists of 1068 cited fossil records from 276 localities as reported in 46 documents. The records show the dominate fossil type to be mega-invertebrates (729 records), but a small variety of other flora and fauna are also present in the park. Table 1., "Paleo-Taxonomy in Denali National Park and Preserve," provides a view of those taxonomic numbers and diversity with ten mostly marine invertebrate phyla, two major marine categories, as well as insects, spiders, plants, mosses, pollen, algae, trace fossil records, and 1 vertebrate record. The Phylum Mollusca, particularly Class Pelecypoda, represent the greatest numbers and greatest diversity, while the lone vertebrate record (fish skeletal elements) stands as the most limited in diversity and numbers.

Age representation is currently split between 414 Paleozoic records, 465 Mesozoic records, 165 Cenozoic records, and 24 records of undetermined age. Although the greatest number of fossil records was found in the Mesozoic, the greatest faunal diversity is within the Paleozoic Era. Table 2, "Rock Units, Age, and Fossil Types in Denali National Park and Preserve," demonstrates this greater Paleozoic diversity, with the majority of fossil records falling in the early Paleozoic, and most of those fall within the Devonian Period, or in a range encompassing the Devonian Period. Much of this record can be attributed to the abundance of fossiliferous carbonate shelf and upper slope deposits in the early Paleozoic rocks of Denali, and conversely, the lack of such fossiliferous carbonate rocks in the flysch sequences that dominate the Mesozoic rock units.

Of the 276 localities, approximately 80% have been precisely located on hard copy maps (1:63,360 USGS Topographic Quadrangles) and the remaining 20% lacked adequate information to plot exact positions.

Although it is assumed that the bulk of the paleontology data within and around the park has been entered in the database, several external and less formal citations, collections, and other reports are not yet included. Continued database development and field inventories are planned for future field seasons. We wish to thank the Geological Society of America for their part in making this project happen.

Table 2—Rock units, age, and fossil types in Denali National Park and Preserve. Numbers in parantheses indicate number of records currently recorded from the park.


Oc limey shales, sanstone, siltstone Early-Mid Ordovician mega-invert. (2)

Sl marblized limestone Early-Mid Silurian Cnidaria & algae (5)

Dos limestones & shales Ordovician - Devonian Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca, conodonts & radiolarians (15)

Dms marble Ordovician - Permian Cnidaria & Echinodermata (16)

Kms argillite & chert Ordovician - Penn. conodonts & radiolarians (11)

msl dolomite-limestone (melange) Silurian - Devonian? Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Echinodermata, Porifera, Gymnolaemata, Arthropoda &

conodonts (39)

mnl limestone (melange) Devonian - Cretaceous Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Echinodermata, Mollusca & conodonts (35)

TRPs cherts, carbonates & congl. Devonian - Permian Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca, Echinodermata, & conodonts (41)

Pzus clastics & carbonates Mid-Devonian - Penn. Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca, Echinodermata, Gymnoleamata, Arthropoda &

Forams (35)

ls limestone Midille Devonian Cnidaria (3)

Dl clastics & carbonates mid-late Devonian Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca & Echinodermata (61)

Dsb chert Late Devonian Mollusca, radiolarians & conodonts (11)

TRdv limestone, chert, volcanic breccia Late Devonian - Triassic Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca, Echinodermata, Gymnolaemata, conodonts &

radiolarians (67)

Kmn argillites, chert & conglomerate Missip. - Cretaceous Cnidaria, Mollusca & radiolarians (4)

Pd continental clastics Middle Pennsylvanian plant (1)

TRcg conglomerate w/ chert clasts Permian - Late Triassic Cnidaria, conodonts & radiolarians (4)

TRrb red sandstones & conglomerates Permian - Late Triassic Cnidaria (2)

TRcs silty limestone Triassic conodonts (5)

JTRlb limestone Triassic Brachiopoda & Cnidaria (4)

TRbd siltstone, greenstone & argillite Late Triassic Cnidaria, Mollusca, Porifera & radiolarians (13)

TRlb limestone Late Triassic Brachiopoda, Cnidaria, Mollusca & radiolarians (16)

Pzsl carbonaceous/calcarious shale Late Triassic conodonts (1)

JTRrs calcarious sandstone Late Triassic Cnidaria & Mollusca (5)

JTRs limestone & calcarious sandstone Upper Triassic Cnidaria, Mollusca & Echinodermata (57)

TRvs argilites & marble Late Triassic Cnidaria & Mollusca (11)

Js limestone & calcarious sandstone Early Jurassic Mollusca (41)

JTRta chert, limestones & tuff Jurassic Mollusca & radiolarians (33)

KJa chert & argillite Jurassic - Cretaceous Mollusca, & radiolarians (29)

KJs flysch sequence Jurassic - Cretaceous Brachiopoda & Mollusca (28)

KJfk limestone & flysch Early Cretaceous Mollusca (4)

KJf argillite & chert Mid Cretaceous Mollusca, & radiolarians (5)

KJfl limestones, clastics & argillites Cretaceous Brachiopoda, Mollusca, & conodonts (31)

Tcs siltstone, sandstone & shale Cretaceous - Paleocene plants, pollen, conodonts, dinoflagillates & vertebrate [fish skeletal elements] (128)

Ts conglomerates & sandstone Tertiary (Paleocene) plant (6)

Tfv clastics & carbonates Eocene? conodonts & plants (17)

Tcb argillaceous sandstone & siltstone Oligocene - Miocene plant (17)

Q,Qs,Qa sands, gravels & unconsolidated Quaternary plants, insects, pollen

* Rock unit nomenclature from Reed and Nelson, 1980, and Csejtey, et al, 1992.


Csejtey, B. Jr., et al. 1982. The Cenozoic Denali Fault System and the Cretaceous Accretionary Development of Southern Alaska. Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 87, No. B5, pp 3741-3754.

———. 1992. Geology and Geochronology of the Healy Quadrangle, Alaska, USGS Miscellaneous Investigation. Series, Map I-1961.

Reed, B.L. and S. W. Nelson. 1980. Geologic Map of the Talkeetna Quadrangle, Alaska. USGS Miscellaneous Investigation Series Map I-1174.