Summer undergraduate researchers travel to Iceland to explore volcanoes

July 19th, 2019

Iceland – In our last post, Team Geochemistry was getting ready to head to Iceland for some field work on volcanoes. Our goals were to map and sample volcanoes that erupted under glaciers, which have since retreated, exposing the pillow lavas and ash that formed when lava met ice. We met up with a research team from the Dickinson College Earth Sciences Department, and also brought Dr. Shelley Judge, Wooster’s structural geologist. Together, we collected over 30 samples, took 1000s of photos, flew the drone for 8 hours, and made 100s of structural measurements. Overall, it was a successful and productive field season, with some laughs along the way! Layali Banna, member of Team Geochemistry (and basalt goddess), describes their field experience.

[Guest blogger Layali Banna] Last week, team geochemistry went to Iceland. We met up with some old friends there, but we met some new ones as well. In total there were ten of us and we were ready to take Iceland by storm.

All of us walking along Undirhlíðar (from left to right: Phoebe, Dr. Edwards, Marisa, Dr. Judge, Dr. Pollock, Kendra, Layali and Ethan; Hannah Is behind the camera taking the photo.)

After a long day of flying we decided to mostly take it easy, just doing a short walk around a nearby quarry to learn more about what we will be looking for out in the field.

Dr. Pollock posing for her glamour shot.

The second day was much different though – we spent almost all day out on Hannah’s site collecting samples for her project at Bræðravirki ridge. Divided into two teams, one group walked the ridge collecting samples, while the other group used a drone to map the ridge. This was a prime time up at the ridge since there was no snow cover, unlike past years where the gullies were hidden by snow, allowing us a great look at it without anything in the way.

Kendra smiling with Prestahnúkur in the background, which is a rhyolite volcano.

A gulley on Bræðravirki that was buried in snow during past years was now accessible for sampling.

Our third day in Iceland after that long day in Bræðravirki we spent the morning inside working on our field books and collecting some data, making observations on our samples.

 

Everyone working together to look through all the samples we had collected the day prior.

The latter half of the day we surveyed Undirhlíðar and ended up goofing around a bit at a certain spot called the bowl.

Kendra and Marisa trying to figure out how they are going to climb up the side of the bowl.

After our half day we returned to Undirhlíðar. This time we were split up into three groups all doing different things in separate areas. One group mapped with drones, another analyzed and mapped deformation bands, taking samples and pictures of the bands, and the last group went and took samples for Marisa’s project.

A beautiful, thick, glassy dike found on Undirhlíðar.

Time for a snack break! Marisa is eating a nutritious energy boosting cookie.

Finally, on our last day in Iceland everyone was given a free day to do what they want, exploring some of the natural wonders the island has to offer as well as touring the capital of Iceland, ReykjavÍk.

Hannah finally getting her photo taken instead of her always being the one taking them at Krýsuvík thermal zone.

The group stopped for some famous Icelandic street dogs in ReykjavÍk, Kendra is ready to dig in.

All too soon it was time for us to pack our bags and say goodbye to our friends and Iceland. It was time to head back to Wooster and work on the samples we collected in the lab.

 

A continental heat wave won’t stop Wooster Geologists …

July 18th, 2019

… but it will slow us down! Today Nick Wiesenberg, our excellent departmental technician, and I tool a short day trip to southeastern Indiana to collect fossils for my upcoming Paleoecology course. It was in the middle of what may be globally the hottest month on record, as well as the start of a long extreme heat event in North America. It was plenty hot and sticky, but the fossils were toasty warm and inviting. Nick is shown above on my favorite outcrop of the Upper Ordovician Whitewater Formation along US 27 (locality C/W-148). It is no doubt the most photographed section on this blog.

Here is the same scene in March 2017 with Wooster students Luke Kosowatz and Matthew Shearer. Note the white icicles!

And here am I testing the concept that baggy clothes are cooler. I’m standing on an outcrop of the Upper Ordovician Liberty Formation exposed along IN 101 (locality C/W-149).

Nick and I were successful in filling a box with beautiful fossils for lab exercises, and we were happy to retreat to the air-conditioned car for the four-hour ride back home!

Tree Corps Visits the Tree Ring Lab

July 11th, 2019

Tree Corps visits the Wooster Tree Ring Lab. Tree Corps is a program run out of the Holden Arboretum designed to provide training to the arboriculture workforce in the Cleveland Area. It is funded by the Cleveland Foundation and this is the second year the group has visited Wooster. We all learned a lot from each other and everyone got to core some of the oaks on campus with the end of assessing tree health and age.

The group discusses the information that can be derived from the tree-ring record. This black oak shows outward signs of deterioration, however inside it is solid. In terms of management, the location of the tree with respect to foot traffic,  balanced with other pressing tree issues across campus, all need to be considered when assessing the possible removal of this tree.

Nick extracts a core from the oak and discusses the reasons for the various discolorations of the wood.

Josh Charlton (class of 2019, purple shirt) was visiting the lab and offers some advice in coring – thanks Josh for your help.

 

 

 

 

 

We also spent some time coring pin oaks on campus. Great fast growing trees – the group mounted up the cores and analysis of the tree rings is underway. Thanks to Tree Corps for making it down to the lab, we look forward to following the future progress of the group in arboriculture.

The week leading up to international field work

July 6th, 2019

Wooster, OH – In the week leading up to field work, Team Geochemistry was frantically trying to “put out fires” and clean up loose-ends.

The “fires” started first thing Monday morning, when a leak in the geochemistry lab caused the ceiling to collapse. Fortunately, the students and cleaning staff were quick thinking and all ended well.

Next, we tried to wrap up our petrology classification project, which involved lots of microscope work. Classifying minerals in the microscope was more challenging than we expected, and we still have more work to do when we return from the field.

Finally, we had to gather our field gear, double-checking that we had everything we needed. Undoubtedly, there will be something that we forgot.

Even with the frantic pace of the week, we still made some time for an ice cream (or two!). It was the Fourth of July holiday, after all.

Team Geochemistry in currently en route to Iceland for some field work. We’ll be reunited with Marisa, our teammate from Dickinson College, along with Dr. Ben Edwards and three other Dickinson students. Dr. Shelley Judge, from Wooster, is also joining us for this field excursion. Look for updates from the field late next week!

Columbia Bay’s Emerging Landscape

July 5th, 2019

I had the distinct pleasure of working in Columbia Bay, Alaska for ten days along with researchers Drs. Tim Barrows from the University of Wollongong – Australia, Peter Almond of Lincoln University, New Zealand, and Wooster’s own, Nick Wiesenberg.

Tim with the retreating West Branch glaciers in the background.

Peter with the spectacular backdrop of the calving glaciers in the West Branch.

Nick reclining in the old growth mountain hemlock forest overlooking Lake Terentiev – sure to be a classic tree-ring record of past climate.

Logistic centered on travel in an aluminum skiff. Captain Peter took the helm and Nick kept us off the ice, which on some days was easier than others (see below).

One of the primary objectives was to sample boulders on moraines and bedrock surfaces to determine the timing of glacial changes in Columbia Bay. Tim and Nick sampling for cosmogenic dating on a surface outside of the Little Ice Age limit.

Sampling a boulder that is well vegetated. Note the bug nets – we did notice the bugs.

Peter is a soil scientist and he dug pits on most surfaces we studied; here a well-developed spodosol is revealed. It had been years since we have dug soil pits and I was amazed. Future trips will include soils work and a stout spade.

The geomorphology was interesting at all turns – here is a beach berm that likely formed when the glacier, now 25 km away, was nears its maximum during the early decades of the 20th century. Note the trees growing on the surface; a nice project for dendrogeomorphology.

In 1909 Tarr and Martin observed the then expanded and soon to be advancing Columbia Glacier – the top panel is their photograph taken in 1909 with the Columbia Glacier looming over a remanent forest. The lower panel is a photo from the same location in June of 2019.

We were also fortunate to work on Heather Island (great thanks to the Tatitlek Corporation for permission to visit the Island). The upper panel is the Tarr and Martin 1909 photograph from near the summit of Heather Island and the lower photograph was taken in June of 2019.

The photo above was taken in June of 2014 – note the location of the calving glacier in the background relative to the photo below taken in June of 2019.

The active ice in the west arm of Columbia Bay is now 4 tributary glaciers – a dramatic change in less than five years.

Summer research from an undergraduate perspective

June 29th, 2019

Wooster, OH – While Dr. Pollock was away at a business meeting for the Council on Undergraduate Research, Team Geochemistry was hard at work in the Wooster X-ray lab. Here’s what they thought about last week:

This week, team geochemistry was left without Dr. Pollock for a few days, but that didn’t stop them from getting lots done! Layali and Kendra have been hard at work processing the results from last week’s full XRF run. They compared the results of standards and the accuracy of a few different programs to make sure the instrument is calibrated correctly. They are hoping to understand why their previous run gave some surprising results. 

Layali looking through some trace element data.

Hannah has been continuing to prepare her samples, working hard to polish volcanic glass that she will send off to Oberlin College for analysis using a scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDS). She has also been taking pictures of and looking at thin sections of her samples, hoping to understand more about their composition.

Hannah viewing the photos she took of her thin sections.

This week marks the halfway point of the team’s project. Having spent the majority of that time living on campus, the team has some insights on what it’s like to be here during the summer and what it’s like working on their project:

We all agree that it is much different than being on campus during the academic year – there are far fewer students around and much less to do on campus. It can get a little boring being here because it’s easy to fall in to a routine – go to work, eat, watch TV, sleep, and then wake up to do it again. We have found it necessary to find activities to break up this cycle, including hikes at a nearby park, excursions for bubble tea and Sheetz, board games, and movie nights. We have become great friends over these few weeks and have found that doing things together outside of work makes living on campus much more fun. It is best to have a car on campus (or to befriend someone who has a car) so that you can get out and find things to do. However, it is also quite easy to walk downtown to go to some shops or restaurants, so even without a car, there is a lot to do.

Simply working on this project is also something that is very different for all of us. We aren’t used to working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Being stuck in the lab can be really tiring, so we have found that taking breaks to play games or to take a walk around campus really help us stay awake and productive. We are learning lots of new skills, meaning it’s very important to stay focused and attentive so that we can get the most out of this wonderful experience. We can’t believe that we are halfway through our time here this summer!

 

A Wooster Geologist has a great time in Central Europe

June 23rd, 2019

This month I had the privilege (and generous funding from a Luce Award) to attend the 18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association in Liberec, Czech Republic. I was also able to participate in the pre conference field trip which began in Budapest and ended in Prague, including the four countries above. I posted daily blog entries recording the trip, which are listed at the bottom of this post.

This region is physiographically and geologically diverse, from great river floodplains to high mountains still with snow. The complex tectonic history has meant that a variety of rocks have been folded and uplifted to the surface. Our field trip route map is online and below.

Field trip route.

The field trip was entirely within the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed in 1918 at the end of World War I. I used this as my primary historical context for the trip, but we also saw 13th century castles and memorials and sites of the 20th Century Cold War.

Below are links to the daily posts. My traveling companions have many more excellent images on their Facebook pages.

June 9: A Wooster Geologist in Budapest
June 10: Wooster Geologist in Hungary and Slovakia
June 11: Wooster Geologist in the High Tatras Mountains of northern Slovakia
June 12: Wooster Geologist in Slovakia and Austria
June 13: A Wooster Geologist at Austerlitz and other Czech places
June 14: Into a bit of the Czech Cretaceous
June 15: A visit to the Devonian of the Czech Republic. And then Prague, of course
June 22: 18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association. Liberec, Czech Republic

The field trip party at Austerlitz. A fine group.

18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association. Liberec, Czech Republic.

June 22nd, 2019

Liberec, Czech Republic — This small Czech city is our base for the 18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association. Kamil Zágoršek is again our hard-working host. Above is the Liberec Town Hall.

Liberec has a deep history, which was particularly fraught just before and during World War II. This city was German and named Reichenberg and in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia after World War I. In the infamous 1938 Munich Agreement it was given to Germany. Following its liberation by the Soviets in 1945, almost all of the inhabitants of Liberec were deported to Germany. This was virtually the entire city. Czechs then moved in (or were moved in by the Czechoslovak government).

The German roots of the city are now visible in the architecture of old city blocks, much of it run-down.

Whole city blocks were razed to build standard Soviet Bloc housing complexes.

This is the Imperial Grand Hotel in Liberec where I stayed with most of the IBA participants.

This is the same building in 1938 following the Munich Agreement. It became the Nazi headquarters for administration of the Sudetenland.

On a less grim note, here is the building (“G”) in the Technical University of Liberec where we held the IBA meeting.

I always arrive early to check out the speaking equipment — and the speaker’s view. Anticipation is excruciating.

My long-time friend and colleague Paul Taylor was the speaker before me. He’s good at this — very good.

The title slide for my presentation. It went well enough, and I know the audience appreciated the landscape images of southern Utah. This talk was based on work done this past year in Utah, along with bryozoan studies Paul and I did 20 years ago.

At last I headed home on Friday, June 21. After an adventurous car ride through the very center of Prague, I arrived at an airport hotel. Here’s the view from my window. Pretty close!

Hands-on experience troubleshooting geochemical instruments

June 21st, 2019

Wooster, OH – Team geochemistry returned to Wooster this week with a serious focus on sample prep and data quality. Anyone with geochemical research experience understands the importance of preparing samples carefully and thoroughly, and having an analytical instrument that is well-calibrated for your samples. Some of our recent analyses have yielded surprising results, and now we’re double checking our sample prep process and instrument calibration to make sure the data are reliable.

Kendra and Layali are loading samples into the XRF. They are gaining a lot of hands-on experience operating the instrument.

The XRF measures the chemical composition of samples by exciting them with an X-ray beam. The X-ray beam causes the atoms in the sample to emit their own X-rays, which travel through a series of filters and crystals and are measured by a detector. The signal from the detector is converted to a concentration using a calibration curve that was made by measuring standards with known concentrations.

We are running the XRF at full capacity with drift-correct samples, unknowns, and standards, so that we can test the quality of the calibration and resulting data.

But we didn’t just work in the lab all week. We’re also preparing to for our upcoming trip to Iceland. We needed to pick up a few things, like rain gear. Only the essentials, of course.

A visit to the Devonian of the Czech Republic. And then Prague, of course.

June 15th, 2019

Liberec, Czech Republic — Today the IBA field party visited the Koněprusy area, including the Koněprusy Caves. Inexplicably I took no pictures, probably because I was trying not to bump my head in the wet and narrow passageways.

Nearby is a quarry in Devonian limestone. We squatted in what shade we could find to look for fenestrate bryozoans with considerable success.

The final stop of our field trip was beautiful Prague. It was a hot, hot summer day, and a sea of tourists flowed through the streets. I will forego sharing images of the spectacular sights, except for a few personal shots.

Our host managed to find a quiet corner where we could enjoy iced coffee (without ice) and lemonade (without ice or anything lemon, but I’m not complaining).

The suitably kinetic sculpture of Prague icon Franz Kafka.

Finally, the statue of Saint Wenceslas overlooks Wenceslas Square, scene of such Czech political and social history. It is most famous for hosting massive rallies during the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended the communist regime. St. Wenceslas has seen much else as well. You can feel the drama lodged in the stones.

Just as a thunderstorm began (note the clouds), we left Prague for an uneventful drive to Liberec, where we will spend the next week a the 18th conference of the International Bryozoology Association. It was a great excursion. Thank you to our host Kamil Zágoršek!

 

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