Public Release: 

Atlas of Coastal EcoSystems

Williams College

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Feb. 18, 2010 -- The University of Arizona Press has announced publication of the "Atlas of Coastal Ecosystems in the Western Gulf of California: Tracking Limestone Deposits on the Margin of a Young Sea."

Emphasizing the intricate workings of the Gulf and focusing on limestone production, the process undertaken by mollusks, coral, and coralline algae that play a role in the carbon cycle, the book answers the questions "What was the richness of 'fossil' ecosystems in the Gulf of California?" "How have those ecosystems changed over time?" and "Which ecosystems are more amenable to conservation?"

The atlas is co-edited by Markes E. Johnson and Jorge Ledesma-Vazquez. Johnson is the Charles L. MacMillan Professor of Geology at Williams College. Ledesma is associate dean of the Marine Sciences Faculty at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC).

The two scientists have worked together as field partners in Mexico since 1990. Much of their collaborative research has been supported by The Petroleum Research Fund through the American Chemical Society, which promotes participation by undergraduate students with grants to institutions like Williams College.

Dean A. Dunn, geologist by training and program manager of the Office of Research Grants at the American Chemical Society, welcomed the new atlas as an "impressive body of work" and a manifestation of the kind of "cutting-edge research" that comes out of grants dedicated to the support of science at undergraduate schools.

The volume features the work of 16 researchers from Mexico and the United States and its publication marks the culmination of four years of work and research that began following a Gulf of California Conference in 2004, where the editors presented some of the first high-resolution satellite images showing the location of limestone deposits on the Baja California Peninsula and its associated islands. The chapters written by Johnson and Ledesma showcase the research of the many Williams and UABC students they supervised during the last 20 years.

The atlas is a lavishly illustrated reference. Its high-quality satellite images and field photos help to illustrate the intricacies of the Gulf ecosystems, making the text a valuable resource for earth and marine scientists who study coastal areas.

The satellite photos contained in the volume are the product of joint research by faculty and students carried out at the Remote Sensing and GIS Laboratory at Williams College. A novel aspect of the volume is inclusion of a CD with full coastal coverage through a set of 26 overlapping satellite images that anyone with a computer can access and study.

The Gulf of California is acknowledged as one of the richest bodies of water on the planet. This atlas captures the dynamics of natural cycles in its fertility that have been in near continuous operation for more than five million years since the Baja California Peninsula was separated from mainland Mexico in an ongoing tectonic process that eventually will sunder upper California along the San Andreas Fault on the U.S. side of the border. Tens of million of years from now, the entire peninsula will transform itself into an island with an inside passage from end to end.

Johnson is also the author of "Discovering the Geology of Baja California: Six Hikes on the Southern Gulf Coast," published by the University of Arizona Press in 2002. He has been at Williams since 1977, after receiving his B.A. from the University of Iowa and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His main interests include Silurian stratigraphy, biostratigraphy and sea level changes, the history of geology, and paleoislands of all geological ages. His teaching at Williams has ranged from courses on invertebrate paleobiology to paleoecology and stratigraphy. He is currently conducting sabbatical studies on Paleoislands under the support of grants from the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation and the National Geographic Society.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college's 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students' educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student's financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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