Meet Victoria S. Engelshiøn – a new PhD student at NHM, UiO

Victoria Sjøholt Engelschiøn is a new PhD at Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo. She will be working on a project titled “Biofacies of the Middle Triassic dysoxic succession in the Arctic”. Her supervisors are Associate Professor Øyvind Hammer (UiO, main supervisor) and Professor Atle Mørk (UiB) and Professor Jørn Hurum (UiO).

For my PhD project I will be describing a marine ecosystem that existed on today’s Svalbard more than 235 million years ago, in the Middle Triassic Period. In 2016, I completed my MSc in geology at NTNU with a specialisation in palaeontology from the Natural History Museum, UiO. For my MSc thesis, I studied large-sized ichthyosaurs from the Early Triassic of Svalbard. As part of the Spitsbergen Mesozoic Research Group I have spent many summers excavating fossils on Svalbard since I first joined the group in 2012. In August, I went back in order to spend one month on Edgeøya together with a team of geologists from UiT and NTNU who are all looking to understand the Middle and Late Triassic of Svalbard. We collected a large number of samples, of which many will form the basis of the PhD project.

The Middle Triassic rocks on eastern Svalbard contain layers that are exceptionally rich in fossils. As a palaeontologist my main interest is to study these fossils, the environment they lived in and how they were preserved. Shales with a high organic content are typically linked to ocean anoxia. However, the Middle Triassic succession on Svalbard has been known for its fossil richness for more than a hundred years. How can there have been such an abundance of life in an environment with such varying oxygen levels? What can the preservation of fossils tell us about the sedimentary environment?

The focus for my PhD will be to study and describe the faunal assemblages of the Middle Triassic rocks on Svalbard in order to understand the environment they were preserved in. The Early to Middle Triassic was a period of turmoil, with the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event marking the start of it. The global marine ecosystems are thought to only fully stabilise in the Middle Triassic. Do we see any traces of this on Svalbard? How does the fauna here compare to the faunas elsewhere in the world? How are the anoxic layers and the fossil rich layers linked?

For the next three years I will be part of the Norwegian Centre for Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in Oslo. Here, I will collaborate with other researchers that are currently investigating the Triassic fossils of Svalbard.