Archive for June, 2009

Estonia Geology Research Team in Place (More or Less)

June 30th, 2009

KOGUVA, MUHU ISLAND, ESTONIA–We are spending our first night together in a small model village (N58.59638°, E23.08559°) designed to show what farming life was like in 19th century Estonia. Our rooms have rough-hewn wooden walls, rope mouldings, and iron bedsteads. We’re a bit concerned that we will have to milk cows before breakfast. The weather is simply perfect.

In the photo below you see Bill Ausich (on the left), a paleontologist from The Ohio State University, Mark Wilson, Palmer Shonk, and Rob McConnell. You may see Rob in these clothes for awhile. In his epic journey here from Montana, his luggage has yet to arrive!

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Pillows, Pillows, Everywhere

June 30th, 2009

Today, we spent nearly all day mapping and sampling one pillow quarry. We found that the pillows are highly varied in size, shape, and orientation. Todd is interested in understanding the relationship between pillow morphology and the physical properties of the magma. He hypothesizes that magma viscosity plays a large role in controlling pillow size. To test his hypothesis, he and his trusty field assistants (Adam and Rob) measured the dimensions and orientations of several pillows. They also sampled the interior and glassy rinds so that Todd can analyze the geochemistry when we return to the States. Tomorrow = another day = another quarry.

Adam, Rob, and Todd working in the pillow quarry.

Adam, Rob, and Todd working in the pillow quarry.

Thoughts on Leaving Svalbard

June 30th, 2009

Peaks of Spitsbergen, Svalbard, poking up through the clouds as we took off for Oslo.

Peaks of Spitsbergen, Svalbard, poking up through the clouds as we took off for Oslo.

I’m now in Tallinn, Estonia, awaiting the arrival of Bill Ausich (OSU Professor), Rob McConnell, and Palmer Shonk (intrepid Wooster Senior Independent Study students). Our fieldwork will begin tomorrow once the team is assembled with our Estonian host, Olev Vinn (University of Tartu).

Yesterday I spent several more hours with paleontologist Hans Arne Nakrem of the Natural History Museum in Oslo. We had excellent discussions of possible joint projects with material from Svalbard, and even me joining a future expedition there. (I know what to expect now!) There are very interesting Jurassic carbonates which need analysis for bioerosion and other trace fossils. It is also clear that many of the numerous marine reptile skeletons, especially the common ichthyosaurs, have invertebrates associated with them and other odd features beyond the vertebrate paleontology. Hans Arne and I have discussed exchanging students during the summers, and the easy framework the University of Norway has for visiting scholars in the summer. We’ve opened new doors for future Wooster geology research. In combination with the Alaska and Iceland teams, we’re gaining quite the northern exposure!

Solving the Jigsaw Puzzle

June 29th, 2009

Wooster geologists Terry Workman and Greg Wiles are joined by Alena Giesche (Middlebury College), Jessa Moser and Tom Lowell (U. Cincinnati) on Alaska’ Kenai Peninsula undertaking paleoclimate research. We are coring lakes in collaboration with The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to get a better understanding of climate change and precipitation changes since the Ice Age.

Jessa, Alena, Terry and Tom researching glacial retreat at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

Jessa, Alena, Terry and Tom researching glacial retreat at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park


Tom, Alena and Terry paddling the "The SS-Morass" to the coring site on Jigsaw Lake
Jessa (team geophysicist) spins up gear to image the stratigraphy below the lake and a sonar image of the lake floor
Alena archives another meter of sediment as Terry looks on.

Alena archives another meter of sediment as Terry looks on.

Once upon a time, there were three pillow quarries

June 29th, 2009

Ben Edwards arrived from the States today. After a short morning of getting acclimated, he and the Wooster crew headed out to the field with our Icelandic colleagues, Steina and Hauker. We visited 3 quarries that expose the internal architecture of 2 different pillow ridges. Pillow ridges form during subglacial eruptions, where the the ice melts and the lava is quenched. Thanks to the heavy machinery, we are able to see natural cross sections of the ridges, and we’re observing a lot of unexpected details. Most quarries show nicely preserved pillows, with radial cross sections and glassy rinds. Vesicles appear in a variety of patterns, sometimes concentrated in the center of the pillow or in concentric zones around the center. Surprisingly, there are a lot of intrusions as well. We observed one of the best examples of a feeder dike in contact with its lava flow. There were also some irregular and sheet-like intrusions that stood out against the wall of pillows. Clearly, there are a lot of questions to be answered here. Todd is going to address some of those questions in his I.S.

Adam using a hand lens to identify phenocrysts.

Adam using a hand lens to identify phenocrysts.

Pillow lavas with a hammer for scale. Notice the radial joints. The pillows are surrounded by brown, altered glass.

Pillow lavas with a hammer for scale. Notice the radial joints. The pillows are surrounded by brown, altered glass.

A light gray dike intrudes through black, glassy, brecciated material and feeds an upper unit of gray pillows.

Todd (on the right) is pointing to a light gray dike that intrudes through black, glassy, brecciated material and feeds an upper unit of gray pillows.

Iceland: The Beginning

June 28th, 2009

We made it to Iceland! We landed Friday morning and have been busy having fun (and seeing great geology). Our chefs have been cooking excellent meals.

Adam, Rob, and Todd eating their awesome salmon dinner on the first night.

Adam, Rob, and Todd eating their awesome salmon dinner on the first night.

All of the food has been fantastic, especially the cheese. Todd likes it so much, he bought a whole block of it for himself! Rob and Todd have eaten fish for every meal and plan to continue for the entire trip.

As soon as we landed, we traveled along the southern coast to meet a group of geologists on a field trip. We’ve seen glorious columnar joints, complicated intermingled granophyre and basalt, and highly altered hyaloclastite. We also ventured all over a glacier, where we drank some melt water and stood in a glacial cave.

Todd, Rob, and Adam standing in a glacial cave.

Todd, Rob, and Adam standing in a glacial cave.

At one stop, we walked along a black sand beach. Well, most of us did.

Adam taking a snooze.

Adam taking a snooze.

Todd and Rob made rock sculptures and signed the sand.

Todd and Rob on the black sand beach.

Todd and Rob on the black sand beach.

Just down the road, we visited the Dyrholaey bird sanctuary. The basaltic lavas and hyaloclastites have been carved into interesting shapes by the crashing waves.

Todd, Rob, and Adam on a VERY stable rock bridge.

Todd, Rob, and Adam on a VERY stable rock bridge.

Hyaloclastites are glassy fractured rocks formed when lava erupts explosively in water. One of us attempted to find the source of the lava…in the COLD Atlantic ocean.

Rob (in the red trunks) searches for the lava source while his comrades (lower right corner) observed his methods.

Rob (in the red trunks) searches for the lava source while his comrades (lower right corner) observed his methods and took notes. They concluded that they should not follow.

In Hveragerdi, we observed the effects of the hotspot in action. We hiked along a trail that had fumaroles, hot springs, and mud pots. The local stream is heated by drainage from the hot springs and serves as a natural hot tub.

Todd and Rob soaking in an Icelandic stream.

Todd and Rob soaking in an Icelandic stream.

We’re in Hafnarfjordur tonight, staying with Steina, one of our Icelandic colleagues. Tomorrow starts our field work – we’re headed to Todd’s site: Undirhlithar.

Geology Along the Fjords of Svalbard

June 27th, 2009

Today I took a day trip with about 25 other people on the small ship M.S. Polargirl in Isfjorden. The geology in view was fantastic, it didn’t rain, and the sun came out occasionally in the morning. I also got to answer numerous questions about geology from my fellow passengers, which I enjoyed. This little trip also gave me more information about the stratigraphy and interesting geological issues which future Wooster students may be able to address.

There are many abandoned mines along the shores of the fjords. Most are easy to spot because the mine developers wanted to be able to transfer their products directly to ships from the shore. Two types were visible on this trip: gypsum mines and coal mines.

Abandoned gypsum mine at Skansen.  The gypsum and anhydrite units are visible as white units at the base of the mountain on the right.  The mine is on the left almost completely covered by talus and snow.  The mine was abandoned soon after it was started in the 1920s because there was more anhydrite than gypsum in the units.

Abandoned gypsum mine at Skansen. The gypsum and anhydrite units are visible as white units at the base of the mountain on the right. The mine is on the left almost completely covered by talus and snow. The mine was abandoned soon after it was started in the 1920s because there was more anhydrite than gypsum in the units.

This is the abandoned Russian coal-mining town of Pyramiden.  We were unable to land there because of the thick pack ice between us and the harbor.  The town was evacuated quickly in 1998 as it became evident it could not survive economically without the subsidies it had received from the Soviet Union.  I wanted to see its "northernmost statue of Lenin".

This is the abandoned Russian coal-mining town of Pyramiden. We were unable to land there because of the thick pack ice between us and the harbor. The town was evacuated quickly in 1998 as it became evident it could not survive economically without the subsidies it had received from the Soviet Union. I wanted to see its "northernmost statue of Lenin".

The very steep mountainsides on the edge of the fjords have developed spectacular talus cones dropping down into the sea.

Talus cones along the margin of Tempelfjord.  Can you tell which two cones are not natural?

Talus cones along the margin of Tempelfjord. Two cones were modified by the glacier now confined to the adjacent fjord.

We also saw three glaciers nosing into their fjords. One is still calving off icebergs.

Iceberg from the Tunabreen Glacier at the proximal end of Tempelfjord.

Iceberg from the Tunabreen Glacier at the proximal end of Tempelfjord.

With the Nordenskiold Glacier in the background, along with pack ice, this is as far as I can tell the northernmost Wooster geologist on June 27, 2009 (at N78.64044°, E16.43892°).  He certainly is the coldest Wooster geologist on this date.

With the Nordenskiold Glacier in the background, along with pack ice, this is as far as I can tell the northernmost Wooster geologist on June 27, 2009 (at N78.64044°, E16.43892°). He certainly is the coldest Wooster geologist on this date.

Two short clips: the ship moving into pack ice outside Pyramiden, and waves lapping onto an iceberg in Isfjorden.

A Bit of the Triassic in Svalbard

June 27th, 2009

NEAR DIABASODDEN, SVALBARD–Yesterday’s field trip was a brief survey of three Triassic (Anisian to Carnian) siliciclastic units, with students concentrating on the third. From bottom to top they are the Botneheia Formation (a gray to black shale with numerous bits of ichthyosaur bone), the Tschermakfjellet Formation (shales notable for the many Monotis bivalves preserved within them), and the De Geerdalen Formation (mostly sandstones with excellent ripples and hummocky cross-stratification). We concentrated primarily on the De Geerdalen, with the students measuring various sedimentological parameters. I was amazed at what they could do in a constant high wind and while encumbered by all the cold-weather gear. My students who complain that they are too cold or the mountain is too steep will now hear about the sturdy students in Norway!

Triassic units in the field area near Diabasodden, Svalbard.

Triassic units in the field area near Diabasodden, Svalbard.

My small contribution was identifying fossils, especially trace fossils which would be useful for paleoenvironmental interpretations. We found Chondrites, Rhizocorallium, Lockeia, and Diplocraterion in the De Geerdalen Formation, along with occasional infaunal bivalve molds and a brachiopod-rich shell hash in a carbonate. It all indicated relatively shallow water to me, just below normal wavebase.

A bonus was the set of modern geological processes around us as we worked. The river coming out of the De Geerdalen has made a great little delta, complete with a sediment plume showing the prevailing current in this part of the fjord. There are also various cold-climate features including patterned soil and mounds of frost-heaved rocks.

De Geerdalen Delta, Svalbard.

De Geerdalen Delta, Svalbard.

Besides the introduction to a particular set of geological issues, I learned on this trip how critical the logistics are for organizing work in this part of the world. Keeping track of all the equipment needed for any geological expedition, and then adding the requirements of a long trip in an open boat (those survival suits being just one factor), then the Arctic weather preparations, and finally the rifles and other polar bear precautions — a lot more than just ordering the vans and a few box lunches! I am very grateful to Maria Jensen, my Norwegian host, for inviting me on this trip with her students. She was busy enough without a clumsy American along.

Any activity which involves survival suits and rifles …

June 26th, 2009

SVALBARD, NORWAY–A geological high adventure today when I joined a field trip of Norwegian faculty and international graduate students on a day trip to a Triassic section north of Longyearbyen. We met at the University of Norway research station (a fantastic facility) for orientation and equipment. My host is Maria Jensen, a Norwegian geologist who specializes in siliciclastic sedimentology and stratigraphy.

University of Norway research station (UNIS) in Longyearbyen.

University of Norway research station (UNIS) in Longyearbyen.

We then were issued survival suits (always a good sign), rifles (not for me, unfortunately), helmets, and other gear. We were a group of ten, so we loaded into a single Zodiac boat. I was the last onboard because I had difficulty on the dock in the cold wind putting on my survival suit, which is one piece with built-in boots and gloves. (Students jump in and out of them — not me! I felt like an astronaut … or a very big toddler). Luckily the only thing I dropped in the ocean was my helmet, which I grabbed back. Since I was last in the boat, I had the privilege of being bounced around in the bow on our long trip across heavy seas (well, to me). I held up my end, though.

Outcrops of Triassic rocks near Diasbodden, Svalbard.

Outcrops of Triassic rocks near Diasbodden, Svalbard. N78.34480°, E16.36062°.

I would have had photos of the boat trip, but sealed as I was in the suit, and the fact that I was not going to release a hand (or even a foot) on the journey, all my photos are land-based. When we arrived at the outcrop I saw how it was worth any wet and bumpy ride. Fantastic exposures — and we climbed right up them in a howling wind. (A real test of equipment where the slightest action requires thought. You don’t want to lose your gloves or hat over the cliff into the ocean. My expensive purchases at REI this summer were well worth the price.)

View from the Triassic outcrops into a nearby valley.  Note blue sky which appeared for a few hours.

View from the Triassic outcrops into a nearby valley. Note blue sky which appeared for a few hours. View from N78.33986°, E16.35474°.

I’ll post later about the geology when I get a better connection. It was incredible. I was even able to make a few contributions as the only paleontologist on the trip.

The steep terrain we worked on above the fjord.

The steep terrain we worked on above the fjord. Maria Jensen is on the right.

Another even bumpier and wetter ride back to Longyearbyen. (I grip to the few ropes for life itself while students slept beside me unconcerned.) No bears on this expedition, but a few reindeer and lots of shore birds. A fantastic experience for geology, wilderness, and adventure.

N78.20316°, E015.59476°

June 25th, 2009

View from my room in a "guesthouse" a few long kilometers south of Longyearbyen.

View from my room in a "guesthouse" a few long kilometers south of Longyearbyen.

LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD, NORWAY–The sun makes a crazy circle in the sky. Polar bear warnings. Houses on stilts. Muck for soil. (“Don’t worry. You can only sink three feet.”) Russian coal miners. International scientists. Cruise ship tourists. Stunning vistas of rock, ice and snow. This is certainly one of the most dramatic places I’ve been lately! As you can see from the images, geology is one of the main attractions here, from glaciers (one is just up the road from my guesthouse) to the massive rock exposures from every time period and much of the Precambrian. Tomorrow I take a trip out into it with faculty and students from the University of Norway.

Abandoned coal mine outside of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway.

Abandoned coal mine outside of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. This mine was destroyed by the Germans in World War II (I've heard those words a lot lately) and then rebuilt in the 1950s.

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