Scott Sampson, PhD

  • Photo credit: Jim Henson Company

Scott Sampson is a paleontologist whose research has been devoted primarily to the ecology and evolution of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs. He has conducted fieldwork in a number of countries, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. His work has recently expanded to include ecopsychology, investigating how humans form emotional attachments with nature.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 1

    Sampson, S. D. 2012. The topophilia hypothesis: Ecopsychology meets evolutionary psychology. Pp. 23-53 in P. H. Kahn and P. H. Hasbach (eds.), Ecopsychology: Science Totems, and the Technological Species. MIT Press, Boston.

  • 2

    Sampson, S. D., Loewen, M. A., Farke, A, A., Roberts, E. M., Forster, C. A., Smith, J. A., Titus, A. L. 2010. New horned dinosaurs from Utah provide evidence for intracontinental dinosaur endemism. PLoS ONE, 5(9): e12292. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012292

  • 3

    Sampson, S. D. and Witmer, L. M. 2007. Craniofacial anatomy of Majungatholus atopus (Theropoda: Abelisauridae) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir 8, 3(Suppl. to 2): 32-102.

  • 4

    Sampson, S. D., Carrano, M. T., Forster, C. A. 2001. A bizarre predatory dinosaur from Madagascar: implications for the evolution of Gondwanan theropods. Nature, 409: 504-505.

  • 5

    Sampson, S. D., Witmer, L. M., Forster, C. A., Krause, D. W., O’Connor, P. M., Dodson, P. and Ravoavy, F. 1998. Predatory dinosaur remains from Madagascar: Implications for the Cretaceous biogeography of Gondwana. Science, 280: 1048-1051.

CURRENT PROJECTS

The Kaiparowits Basin Project

The Kaiparowits Basin Project, initiated by Scott Sampson in 2000, is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional research effort spearheaded by a collaboration of three organizations: the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (including fellow curators Ian Miller and Joe Sertich), the Natural History Museum of Utah, and the Bureau of Land Management.

The project’s geographic focus is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, encompassing 1.9 million acres of extremely rugged, largely roadless terrain. Because of its sheer inaccessibility, this region was the last in the lower 48 states to be formally mapped and is America's last great (relatively) unexplored "dinosaur boneyard."

Discoveries include dozens of dinosaur and other vertebrate species, the bulk of which are new to science. Most of these discoveries have been made in the late Campanian (77-75 million year old) Kaiparowits Formation, extensively exposed in the central Kaiparowits Plateau region. The newly discovered dinosaur assemblage now includes at least 16 distinct species, many exceptionally preserved with nearly complete skulls and some with skin impressions. Among them are duck-billed dinosaurs (Gryposaurus, Parasaurolophus), horned dinosaurs (Utahceratops, Kosmoceratops, Nasutoceratops), dome-headed dinosaurs, armored dinosaurs, and carnivorous dinosaurs (Teratophoneus, Hagryphus).

Nondinosaurian animals are also plentiful, including numerous previously unknown species of fishes, amphibians, turtles, crocodylians, and mammals. Meanwhile, work on fossil plants has unearthed the highest diversity plant assemblage known from the Campanian. Together these finds are being used to generate one of the most detailed pictures to date of a Mesozoic ecosystem.

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The Human-Nature Project

The average North American child now spends 7 to 10 hours each day looking at screens and about four minutes per day outdoors—a reduction in outside time of about 90 percent within a single generation. This indoor migration has transformed childhood, contributing to skyrocketing rates of obesity, attention-deficit disorder, diabetes, and heart disease. Today’s children may represent the first generation to have a life span shorter than their parents.

Meanwhile, the roots of our present ecological sustainability crisis are also tied to a dysfunctional human-nature relationship. Repairing that relationship with a transformed worldview, one that reinserts humans inside nature, has become a central challenge of our time. Abundant research demonstrates that reconnecting people with nearby nature will be an essential element in achieving such a transformation.

Given this imperative, ecopsychology—the field designated to explore the human-nature relationship—is poised to become one of the most critical areas of inquiry in the 21st century.

Scott Sampson, a member of the editorial board of the journal Ecopsychology, is working with his colleague Peter Kahn, of the University of Washington, to bring this nascent field into the psychological mainstream.

In 2012, Sampson put forth the “Topophilia Hypothesis,” which postulates that humans possess a genetic bias to form emotional bonds with nearby nature. He is currently investigating how people form affective attachments with nature, and how this process changes from early childhood through adulthood. These findings will be summarized in an upcoming book (Houghton Mifflin Press). Sampson is also actively investigating how nature connection efforts might be escalated rapidly to include more diverse audiences at an urban scale.

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