Ian Miller, PhD

Dr. Ian Miller is a paleontologist who uses fossil leaves to interpret past climates, fossil ecosystems, and how western North America, particularly in terms of its mountains and basins, has changed over the last 100 million years. These data help us understand climate change and the evolution of life on earth.

  • POSITIONDepartment Chair of Earth Sciences and Curator of Paleontology
  • EXPERTISE Fossil plants
  • PhD

    Yale University

  • PHONE NUMBER303.370.8351
  • EMAIL[email protected]
  • RESUME Click to Download
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  • 1

    Miller, I.M. 2010. The Rockies: Season 2, Episode 7. Interview on How The Earth Was Made. The History Channel.

  • 2

    Miller, I. M. and Prevec, R. 2006. Palaeobotany in the digital age: Unearthing the future of taxonomy: Palaeontologia Electronica, vol. 9 (2).

  • 3

    Miller, I.M. and Hickey, L.J. 2010. The Fossil Flora of the Winthrop Formation (Albian-Early Cretaceous) of Washington State, USA. Part II: Pinophytina. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History 51(1), p. 3-96.

  • 4

    Miller, I. M. and Hickey, L.J. 2008. The Fossil Flora of the Winthrop Formation (Albian-Early Cretaceous) of Washington State, USA. Part I: Bryophyta and Pteridophytina: Yale Peabody Bulletin, 49(2), p. 135-180.

  • 5

    Royer, D.L., Miller, I.M., Peppe, D.J., Hickey, L.J. 2010. Leaf economic traits from fossils support a weedy habit for early angiosperms: American Journal of Botany 97(3), p. 438-445.

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The Snowmastodon Project™

On October 14, 2010, bulldozer operator Jesse Steele was excavating a reservoir near Snowmass Village when he saw bones coming over the top of his bulldozer blade. Within two days, scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were on site, and within two weeks a Museum team was excavating what has become one of the most significant scientific discoveries in Colorado history.

The find is an exceptionally preserved Ice Age ecosystem. As of December 2010, the site had produced the remains of eight to 10 American mastodons, four Columbian mammoths, a Jefferson's ground sloth, four gigantic bison, two Ice Age deer, snails, iridescent insects, and plant matter that is still green after more than 45,000 years.

News of the once-in-a-lifetime discovery spread like wildfire throughout Colorado, generating enormous public interest. In the Roaring Fork Valley, 8,500 school children lined up to see the bones and learn about the discovery from Museum educators. During two days in November, more than 3,500 people in Snowmass Village and 2,500 people in Denver attended Mammoth and Mastodon Madness Days to see the fossils and learn more about the Ice Age in Colorado.

For the next six months, the Museum is focusing on preserving the bones from this Ice Age treasure trove and planning next steps. Museum scientists have assembled a team of more than two dozen scientific experts who will gather in Snowmass Village in May 2011 to continue this amazing excavation

Get Involved

Click here to get caught up on everything that happened in the field, learn what scientists are doing now to preserve the bones, and find out the latest discoveries from our team of experts.

The Kaiparowits Basin Project focuses on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in southern Utah, led by Dr. Scott Sampson of the University of Utah. GSENM is located in an extremely remote and wild area and was one of the last regions in the lower 48 states to be explored. This amazingly beautiful area is full of fossil plants and animals between 95 and 74 million years old and is arguably one of the last unexplored dinosaur bone yards in the United States.

The dinosaur species being discovered are new to science. Many of them are so well preserved that impressions of their skin are common.

Relying on other branches of geology and paleontology, the Kaiparowits Basin Project looks to understand the ancient environments in which the dinosaurs lived. This includes studying fossil plants. Dr. Kirk Johnson and Dr. Ian Miller of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science are doing this basic paleobotanical exploration and excavation.

"It's huge, big country that's really hard to work in. The fossils plants are difficult to find, but when you do find them, they are gorgeous," said Dr. Johnson.

The story emerging from these fossil discoveries shows a diversity of life that lived in a swampy, subtropical coastal plain overrun by flowering plants. As research and fieldwork continues, more elements of this ancient narrative will come to light.

"Think about fossil leaves as trading cards. It's possible to collect hundreds and hundreds of them, and with this sort of sample size you can begin to rebuild lost ecosystems," Dr. Johnson said.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation, the KT Challenge Fund, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Paleolatitude of Cretaceous and Paleogene Terranes on the West Coast of North America

North America did not always exist it does today. Over billions of years, continents have morphed and shifted. Dr. Ian Miller developed a new method for estimating the ancient latitude, or paleolatitude, of modern regions.

The "Baja BC hypothesis" suggests that western Washington State, British Columbia, and southern Alaska originated at the latitude of Mexico. Using fossil leaves, Dr. Miller discovered remarkable correlations between the paleoclimate of these now distant regions.

First, Dr. Miller used modern plants to determine the relationship between leaf margins (edges), mean annual temperature (MAT), and latitude. Next, he used fossil leaves from various regions to determine the MAT of different latitudes and elevations during the Cretaceous period (110 to 100 million years ago).

Dr. Miller's team then studied fossil leaves from 43 plant species collected in the Winthrop Formation, a mid-Cretaceous sandstone formation in northern Washington. Using leaf margin analysis, they determined that the MAT of the region during the mid-Cretaceous was about 74°F, suggesting a subtropical or tropical climate.

When compared to Dr. Miller's MAT profile, the data from the Winthrop formation indicates that western Washington State, British Columbia, and southern Alaska indeed originated at the latitude of Mexico.

Surface Uplift of the Colorado Front Range

Taxonomy of Late Mesozoic and Early Cenozoic North American floras


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