Archive for July, 2009

The Pavant and Canyon Ranges: Windows into the Sevier Orogeny

July 26th, 2009

Pavant and Canyon Ranges, Utah. Research Day 6 (July 15).

The old slogan for geologists is that the best geologists are the ones who have seen the most rocks. So, today, instead of spending time in the Green River Formation, we joined Ohio State’s field camp on their yearly visit to the Pavant and Canyon Ranges.

Because of my affiliation with OSU’s field camp through the years (this year I helped teach the first half of field camp), the Wooster Crew stayed in the same apartment complex in Ephraim as the OSU crowd. Each day, we were able to interact with other professors, TAs, and students. So, when we found out the day of their Pavant and Canyon Range trip, we decided to tag along. For their Junior I.S., both Phil and Bill read literature on the Sevier Orogeny in Utah, and today’s visit to these ranges enabled us to first-hand witness some of the figures published in this literature that we had read earlier in the spring.
The Pavant Range and the Canyon Range expose some of the large thrust sheets associated with the Sevier Orogeny, along with some additional small-scale faulting and folding due to the regional compression.

We welcomed the trip to the Pavant Range.  The photo above is a typical stream dissecting the canyon where the Pavant Thrust is exposed.  Temperatures in the Canyon were slightly cooler than what we had grown accustomed to back in Ephraim, where we had been working in 99 F temps for the past few days.  Everyone was tempted to wade in these cool streams during our lunch break.

We welcomed the trip to the Pavant Range. The photo above is a typical stream dissecting the canyon where the Pavant Thrust is exposed. Temperatures in the Canyon were slightly cooler than what we had grown accustomed to back in Ephraim, where we had been working in 99 F temps for the past few days. Everyone was tempted to wade in these cool streams during our lunch break.

Bill and Phil are posing in front of one of the small folds in phyllites associated with compression events in the Pavant Range.

Bill and Phil are posing in front of one of the small folds in phyllites associated with compression events in the Pavant Range.

The Wooster and OSU gang looks at some of the rocks exposed in the Pavant Range.

The Wooster and OSU gang looks at some of the rocks exposed in the Pavant Range.

This is another spectacular fold in the Pavant Range that shows several folding generations.

This is another spectacular fold in the Pavant Range that shows several folding generations.

Wooster makes it to the Canyon Range Thrust overlook!  Behind Bill is the famous exposure of the Canyon Range Thrust, where synorogenic conglomerates were deposited at the front of the thrust sheet.  The exposure is located in Oak Creek Canyon in the Canyon Range.

Wooster makes it to the Canyon Range Thrust overlook! Behind Bill is the famous exposure of the Canyon Range Thrust, where synorogenic conglomerates were deposited at the front of the thrust sheet. The exposure is located in Oak Creek Canyon in the Canyon Range.

Bill, The Human Antennae (…or our own Statue of Liberty)

July 26th, 2009

White Hill, north of Ephraim, Utah. Research Day 5 (July 14).

We devoted most of today to mapping the largest and most continuous tuff in the Green River Formation. Our goal was to walk completely around White Hill while mapping the tuff with a Trimble GeoXH Handheld. This was part of Bill’s project, so he was in charge of GPS data collecting, while Phil was the “point man” (i.e., he walked ahead of Bill, all the while trying to keep on top of the tuff even when it was in nearly covered intervals). Bill used an antennae with the handheld GPS; however, the only catch to our plan was that we did not have an antennae rod. So, Bill walked around White Hill with GPS and stylus in one hand and the antennae in the other, striking a pose like the Statue of Liberty. This enabled us to get sub-2 ft resolution, which is good data for his mapping project.

Bill is showing off his technique of taking GPS readings in one hand, while becoming the "Human Antennnae" with the other.
We started mapping the tuff at road level (~5,620 ft elevation) and ended the day at the top of White Hill (~6,381 ft elevation).  Due to the dip of the beds, it was a slow, steady climb throughout the day.  However, the view at the top of White Hill is gorgeous.  For example, the photo above is a view to the W of the Gunnison Plateau (San Pitch Mountains).  On a clear day in central Utah, you can see for miles.

We started mapping the tuff at road level (~5,620 ft elevation) and ended the day at the top of White Hill (~6,381 ft elevation). Due to the dip of the beds, it was a slow, steady climb throughout the day. However, the view at the top of White Hill is gorgeous. For example, the photo above is a view to the W of the Gunnison Plateau (San Pitch Mountains). On a clear day in central Utah, you can see for miles.

Working in the Quarries

July 26th, 2009

White Hill, north of Ephraim, Utah. Research Days 3-4 (July 12-13).

In the Green River Formation exposed in the Sanpete Valley, there are numerous large and small quarries that provide excellent exposures of the unit. In some places, the Green River contains massive bedding — perfect as quarry stone for buildings in the area.

Over the course of these next few days, we measured a 175 ft stratigraphic section through the Upper Member of the Green River Formation in one quarry, but then moved on to measure additional stratigraphic sections through three additional quarries. By the end of the two days, Phil and Bill were becoming experts at measuring sections.

Here is a scenic view of a portion of White Hill that contains two quarries.  These quarries, although small, provided evidence of the shoreline of the Green River lake in this area.

Here is a scenic view of a portion of White Hill that contains two quarries. These quarries, although small, provided evidence of the shoreline of the Green River lake in this area.

Bill is at the edge of one of the small quarries, trying to find both stromatolite beds and mudcracks within the Green River.

Bill is at the edge of one of the small quarries, trying to find both stromatolite beds and mudcracks within the Green River.

Some of the stromatolites in the Green River are only a few inches in height; others -- like the one pictured above -- are quite large and easier to recognize.

Some of the stromatolites in the Green River are only a few inches in height; others -- like the one pictured above -- are quite large and easier to recognize.

View of the top of one of the larger stromatolites (pencil for scale).  For some of the loose stromatolites, we could actually peal back the individual layers to see the textural features.

View of the top of one of the larger stromatolites (pencil for scale). For some of the loose stromatolites, we could actually peal back the individual layers to see the textural features.

View of the underside of the elusive mudcracks that we tried to find in situ.  Mudcracked slabs were abundant as float, but they proved to be difficult to find in place due to the platy bedding in the quarries.

View of the underside of the elusive mudcracks that we tried to find in situ. Mudcracked slabs were abundant as float, but they proved to be difficult to find in place due to the platy bedding in the quarries.

Here's a view of one of the larger quarries on White Hill.  Bill and Phil are in the photo for scale.

Here's a view of one of the larger quarries on White Hill. Bill and Phil are in the photo for scale.

The guys are busy trying to "mine out" a thin green tuff bed within the limestones of the Green River.  As Phil put it, finding this green tuff was "money", because it will help us correlate this quarry to other stratigraphic sections in the area.

The guys are busy trying to "mine out" a thin green tuff bed within the limestones of the Green River. As Phil put it, finding this green tuff was "money", because it will help us correlate this quarry to other stratigraphic sections in the area.

We ended the days working in the quarries with a beautiful double rainbow back at the Ephraim apartments in the evening, shortly after dinner.

We ended the days working in the quarries with a beautiful double rainbow back at the Ephraim apartments in the evening, shortly after dinner.

Cedar Adventure to Excursion Ridge

July 26th, 2009

Intro
Kelly and Colin standing on one of the lower ridges near Excursion Ridge.

Today we hiked up Excursion Ridge to collect yellow-cedar samples for Colin’s I.S. On the trek up to the cedar stand, we hiked up the road and passed the dam used for the Falls Creek hydroelectric project. They plan to harness the power of Falls Creek to provide summer power to Gustavus.

Dam
The dam on Falls Creek. They regulate the flow of the creek to provide power while still allowing enough water for the fish. It is a controversial project due to questions on power provided versus environmental impact.

The day was uncharacteristically beautiful, and the expedition turned out to be fruitful. We collected samples from 43 yellow-cedars, with at least two samples from each tree. While at the site, we also collected samples from lodgepole pines dominating the meadow to satisfy our scientific curiosity. All in all a very productive day.

Coring
Colin places a core into the straw after extracting it from the tree.

Meadow
The meadow located at the top of the sample site, dominated by lodgepole pines and covered by arctic cotton.

Lunch
Dr. Wiles and Kelly walk through the meadow to the lunch site.

Introducing Ourselves to the Green River Formation

July 26th, 2009

Ephraim, Utah.  Research Day 2 (July 11).

Field work began on one of the cuestas north of Ephraim, commonly called White Hill. This particular cuesta rises to a height of 6,381 ft in elevation — a good climb for our first day out in the field in the dry Utah heat. We used our first official day as a day of reconnaissance, examining several quarries located on White Hill and also examining a rather large tuff exposed around the cuesta. Phil is planning on conducting research primarily in the quarries in an attempt to stratigraphically correlate the Green River Formation locally, while Bill is going to research the multiple tuff beds present in the formation.

Below, Phil (left) and Bill (right) are eager to begin work in one of the quarries located on White Hill.  Although only 8:00 am, the morning temperatures are in the mid-70s, but they will rise to the mid-90s by the afternoon.

Below, Phil (left) and Bill (right) are eager to begin work in one of the quarries located on White Hill. Although only 8:00 am, the morning temperatures are in the mid-70s, but they will rise to the mid-90s by the afternoon.

The guys are hard at work examining the various lithologies, which range from lime mudstones to boundstones and everything in between.

The guys are hard at work examining the various lithologies, which range from lime mudstones to boundstones and everything in between.

View of the largest tuff that was erupted into the Green River lake.  In places, the tuff is up to 4 ft thick and represents a moment in geologic time.

View of the largest tuff that was erupted into the Green River lake. In places, the tuff is up to 4 ft thick and represents a moment in geologic time.

Wooster Comes to Central Utah

July 26th, 2009

Ephraim, Utah.  Research Day 1 (July 10).

This summer Phil Blecher and Bill Thomas will both be tackling separate problems in the Eocene Green River Formation of central Utah. They both arrived in Ephraim, which is a small town in the Sanpete Valley that is nestled between the Wasatch Plateau to the east and the Gunnison Plateau (San Pitch Mountains) to the west. Within hours, they took a field trip from Ephraim (elevation 5,560 ft) up to the top of the Wasatch Plateau (elevation >10,000 ft) with some students from the Ohio State field camp.  At this time of year, the top of the Wasatch Plateau along “Skyline Drive” still has snow along the roadside, so it is a good way to get out of the heat of the valley for a few hours.

View to the NE of the Sanpete Valley and adjacent Wasatch Plateau.

View to the NE of the Sanpete Valley and adjacent Wasatch Plateau.

News from the North

July 25th, 2009

Colin and Kelly standing in front of Mendenhall Glacier. Last year, the ice was where they are standing.

Colin and Kelly standing in front of Mendenhall Glacier. Last year, the ice was where they are standing.

After arriving in Juneau, we went on a quick tour of the town before grabbing a bite to eat and setting up camp across the lake from Mendenhall Glacier. A constant misting rain provided a fitting welcome to Alaska.
The next day we hiked up to the glacier itself while waiting for Dan Lawson and his crew to finish the necessary errands before our chartered flight to Gustavus.

A view of foggy mountains from the Cessna on the flight to Gustavus.

A view of foggy mountains from the Cessna on the flight to Gustavus.

Once in Gustavus we met the final member of our party, Sarah Laxton, who had arrived at the house before us.
The next morning the entire crew loaded into the Capelin, a small research ship, and Justin (our captain) drove us over to our first site, Beartrack, where Dr. Wiles, Kelly and Colin were dropped off for the next two nights.

The Capelin, our trusted research vessel.

The Capelin, our trusted research vessel.

The Fairweather Range, as viewed from the Capelin.

The Fairweather Range, as viewed from the Capelin.

We set up camp in a small wooded area across from Beartrack Mountain and set off on a medium length hike marred only by an arduous return trek through a bunch of windfall.

Our small camp in the woods. The area was almost an island during high tides, connected only by a tombolo to the mainland and, during low tide, another island via tombolo.

Our small camp in the woods. The area was almost an island during high tides, connected only by a tombolo to the mainland and, during low tide, another island via tombolo.

In the mud just outside of our campsite, Beartrack lives up to its name.

In the mud just outside of our campsite, Beartrack lives up to its name.

The next morning we embarked on an arduous vertical hike up Beartrack Mountain, made even more difficult by a section that had been ravaged by an avalanche, making the climb that much more difficult. Large Sitka spruce dominated the lower slopes. As we rose in elevation, some mountain hemlocks were mixed in until finally towards the top only mountain hemlock remained.

Kelly and Sarah core a mountain hemlock near our lunch site during one of the fleeting moments of sunlight.

Kelly and Sarah core a mountain hemlock near our lunch site during one of the fleeting moments of sunlight.

Colin uses the increment borer to core another mountain hemlock.

Colin uses the increment borer to core another mountain hemlock.

One added benefit of our ever increasing elevation was one of many quite beautiful views of the fjord.

One added benefit of our ever increasing elevation was one of many quite beautiful views of the fjord.

Once at our top site (next to a radio repeater station) we all split up and went off to different ridges to core some more hemlocks closer to treeline.

Dr. Wiles head off with his trusty increment borer towards one of the ridges to core some yellow cedar.

Dr. Wiles head off with his trusty increment borer towards one of the ridges to core some yellow cedar.

The next day we were picked up by the Capelin by Justin, Dan, Sarah and the rest and went by boat to upper Muir Inlet to collect samples of wood killed by glacial advances for Kelly’s I.S. These samples ranged from 8000-2000 years before present. To find these samples we hiked up to Dan’s study sites which were located in fluvial valleys where debris flows and erosion due to rain had uncovered old pieces of wood. Along the way, we saw lots of evidence of glacial presence, ranging from moraines to huge glacial erratics. It was hard to fathom that the entire hike had been covered by glaciers a mere 30 years ago.

Sarah standing in front of a huge glacial erratic (one that didn’t have that far to travel). Notice the sediment in front of it that had been pushed along during the glacier’s advance.

Sarah standing in front of a huge glacial erratic (one that didn’t have that far to travel). Notice the sediment in front of it that had been pushed along during the glacier’s advance.

The crew advances on at a time down the steep slope into the valley.

The crew advances on at a time down the steep slope into the valley.

Dr. Wiles cores a trunk along the base of the streambed.

Dr. Wiles cores a trunk along the base of the streambed.

Colin digs out a piece of wood from the wall of the valley.

Colin digs out a piece of wood from the wall of the valley.

The next day was similar. We hiked up to another stream valley to collect more samples.

Dan cuts a cross-section with his chainsaw.

Dan cuts a cross-section with his chainsaw.

On our way back down to the shore from the stream valley, the fog began to roll back and a wonderful View of Muir Inlet was revealed.

On our way back down to the shore from the stream valley, the fog began to roll back and a wonderful View of Muir Inlet was revealed.

After we relocated to another valley nearer the base of the inlet, we located some wood that we think is 8000 years old.

After we relocated to another valley nearer the base of the inlet, we located some wood that we think is 8000 years old.

After four long days in the field, we finally returned to the house for much needed showers and access to a clothes dryer. Today was spent recuperating and going over what had already been done and what still remains to do. Sadly, we also had a casualty in our ranks. Sarah flew back home to British Columbia this evening with what is probably a fractured arm.

Professor Greg Wiles in the news and a new book

July 24th, 2009

Earlier this summer the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom ran a photo essay about scientists working hard to sort out climate change questions. One of the people featured is Wooster professor of geology Greg Wiles in a classic photo first run in National Geographic.

From the Guardian, May 14, 2009 issue.

Wooster's own Greg Wiles looking buff as he cores a log in Alaska for dendrochronological and paleoclimate research (from the May 14, 2009, issue of the Guardian).

This photograph (and a description of Greg’s work) is now included in a new book titled Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe.

Destroy, Pound, Crush, Grind

July 19th, 2009

After a relatively uneventful journey and a short stay in Wooster, we’ve made it to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. We’re spending the week analyzing our samples on Dickinson’s X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (XRF) and X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD). First, we need to turn our rocks into powder. We typically begin by cutting down the sample on a rock saw.

Adam slicing some of his rhyolites. It's a dirty job.

Adam slicing some of his rhyolites. It's a dirty job.

Then we grind the smaller pieces to get rid of any contamination introduced by the saw.

Adam grinding. It's a cleaner job.

Adam grinding. It's a cleaner job.

The samples get cleaned in a sonicator.

Todd cleaning his pillow basalts.

Todd cleaning his pillow basalts.

And the clean samples get set out to dry.

Todd's glasses drying on the lab bench.

Todd's glasses drying on the lab bench.

Finally, the samples can be crushed. We can crush them in a shatterbox or by hand using an agate mortar and pestle.

Rob powdering his zeolites by hand.

Rob powdering his zeolites by hand.

Voila! We have powder!

Pretty rock powders in neat little vials.

Pretty rock powders in neat little vials.

Blog Worlds Collide

July 14th, 2009

Now that we’re finished with field work, we’re back on the road. First, we stopped at Godafoss, one of Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls (also an excellent location for columnar joints!).

The Woo Crew stands at the edge of Godafoss, "waterfall of the gods."

The Woo Crew stands at the edge of Godafoss, "waterfall of the gods."

Next, we headed to Krafla, an active volcanic region in northern Iceland. Krafla includes Namafjall, a geothermal field with hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. It also encompasses Viti, a famous volcanic crater. The information center was open when we arrived, so we stopped to watch a short movie about Krafla’s eruptive history and how the Icelanders use Krafla’s geothermal energy to generate electricity. We even had a chance to look into the powerplant while it was operating.

Lobate flow at Krafla.

Lobate flow at Krafla.

Lava drips on the inside of a lava tube.

Lava drips on the inside of a lava tube.

Glassy texture on a pahoehoe lava flow.

Glassy texture on a pahoehoe lava flow.

Today, we’re back in Reykjavik. We had an opportunity to visit the Culture House, a museum that houses some the medieval sagas. The intricate details preserved in many of the ancient manuscripts were impressive.

The Woo Crew hangs out in Reykjavik.

The Woo Crew hanging out in Reykjavik.

After the Culture House, we bumped into some familiar faces…the Hales Fund Iceland Group! Blog worlds collided.

The Woo Crew joins forces with the Hales Group and invades Reykjavik.

The Woo Crew joins forces with the Hales Group and invades Reykjavik.

We chatted about rhyolites and glaciers, then headed to Reykjavik’s ultimate bakery. According to Rob, “It was good. Period.”

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