Archive for June 27th, 2009

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.