"I have always thought of taxonomy as putting together the pieces of a puzzle."
That’s the perspective of AAPG member Richard Denne, a geologist with Marathon Oil in The Woodlands, Texas.
And for him, biostratigraphy is one of the more challenging and frustrating pieces of the puzzle – similar, one imagines, to trying to find Tiger Stadium in a 1,000-piece puzzle that, when finished, would feature Baton Rouge, La.
It's not just a random reference. But more about that later.
The frustration, Denne adds, was in never having enough pieces to complete his task, especially in his early days when he was a consultant.
"Although I enjoyed the thrill of identifying rare species or finding new forms, I was continually frustrated at only being given a few pieces of the puzzle," he said.
That changed, though, when he began working for Marathon as advanced senior geologist, biostratigraphy adviser upstream technology-worldwide geoscience – and was given access to many more of them.
It is not, though, just about having more to work with; it's also the company he keeps – literally, figuratively.
"I am able to work with a team,” he said, “and not in isolation."
And what Denne has learned, both at Marathon and even before when he was a consultant, is the focus of his paper on taxonomy at this year's AAPG Annual Convention in New Orleans: Microfossil Taxonomy in the 21st century.
One figure who will loom large at the forum – in fact, someone who looms large in the entire discipline – is AAPG Honorary Member Ed Picou, a New Orleans-based consultant and proud alum of Louisiana State University, based in Baton Rouge.
Denne says that few in the profession mean as much.
"I chose this topic (for the Picou symposium) in part because I knew that it was one that Ed considered of major significance,” he said, “as evidenced by his role in the production of the GCSSEPM Gulf of Mexico Basin Biostratigraphic Index Microfossils volumes."
Denne says the focus of his part of the session will concentrate on:
- The need for a better understanding of how species are defined – specifically with detailed measurements – and how they are inter-related.
- How this knowledge can be used to further refine our biostratigraphic models and increase consistency between paleontologists.
- How computer data and analysis – no matter how sophisticated – can overcome inaccurate misidentification of species.
- How the biostratigraphy community needs to do a better job of communicating species concepts to future generations, especially as local Gulf Coast experts retire.
The above may be the content of the discussion; Picou is clearly the subtext.
Edward Beauregard Picou Jr., who hails from Baton Rouge – it's always been a home game for him – graduated from the school he loves, Louisiana State University, in 1955. He joined Shell in 1957 and began a 45-year career in the petroleum industry, culminating in 1989, when he was promoted to exploration consultant, Shell Exploration’s highest technical rank.
After his retirement, he continues his involvement with the industry as a paleontological consultant.
But through those years he always stayed close with LSU’s geology faculty and the university. Picou was a charter member of the LSU Geology Alumni Advisory Council and chaired the group more than 10 years and was inducted into the school's Hall of Distinction for his work in geology and geophysics.
He also is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1981 and in addition to AAPG holds honorary membership in the Society for Sedimentary Geology, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, New Orleans Geological Society and Gulf Coast Section Society of Sedimentary Geology. Picou also served as AAPG treasurer in 2000-02.
Denne says his relationship with Picou goes back through many of those decades.
"I first met Ed Picou over 20 years ago as a Ph.D candidate at LSU," says Denne, adding that even then, "his support for the LSU geology and geophysics department was strongly felt."
But when people talk of Picou, very few mention his awards or honors. Rather, they talk of his integrity, council and his mentoring.
And Denne is no exception.
"Over the last couple of years I have had numerous discussions with Ed on making a change in my career path as I investigated several options,” Denne said. “This eventually led to my current position as biostratigraphy adviser at Marathon Oil."
Picou once compared paleontology to that of a suspense novel and talked about the excitement of not knowing what would come next.
Denne, like so many who have been touched by his long-term friend, says Picou not only stoked his excitement in the profession, but also did something else equally as important.
"Although I began my career as a competitor, it has always been clear to me that Ed’s integrity was unquestionable," he says, perhaps thinking about all those pieces to the puzzle, "and that I could come to him for advice."