Archive for July, 2009

Iceland Permeates Our Everything

July 12th, 2009

Done! Today was our last day in the field. Rob finished hunting for zeolites on Vatnsdalsfjall.

Rob finishes his field work today.

Rob finished his field work today.

To get to the last field area, we had to cross “the deadly fields of sadness,” hummocky and swampy fields that are treacherous to walk across. One of us (guess who?) wished for a “luck dragon to fly us to the top of the mountain.” Then we had to cross a river. Adam kindly offered piggy-back rides to everyone. Rob took him up on it. Meanwhile, Todd and Meagen took a different approach.

Adam gives Rob a lift across the river.

Adam gives Rob a lift across the river.

Success!

Sweet success!

Todd tests his waterproof boots.

Todd tests how waterproof his boots are.

Yesterday, Adam finished his field work, but the day started with a small adventure. On our way to Adam’s last field site, the car somehow found a ditch! Fortunately, a nice elderly Icelandic farmer knows charades, and Meagen was able to ask him for help. He came to the rescue with his dog and his tractor! After that, we hit the rhyolite jackpot and Adam completed all of his I.S. sampling.

The Woo Crew with our trusty rental car.

The Woo Crew with our trusty rental car.

Like the Estonia Crew, we’re almost ready to head home, but not before we see Krafla and meet with the Hales Fund Iceland Group.

The Woo Crew completes a successful field season.

The Woo Crew completes a successful field season and walks off into the sunset (if only the sun would set!).

Estonia Geology Team heads for home

July 11th, 2009

luggage071109TALLINN, ESTONIA–It is always a good sign for a geologist when you leave with twice as many bags as when you arrived. There is a careful shuffle to make certain the rocks we are taking home are arranged so that no bag is over 50 pounds. Not so hard for me this time because, like Meagen, my heavy boots are casualties, along with a pair of jeans, a jacket, and two shirts. (Try writing those into a grant request.)

Bill and the Baltic Boys left very early this morning for Helsinki, where they are now in a long layover until they depart for Kennedy Airport in New York this afternoon. I’m waiting in the Tallinn terminal for my flight to Copenhagen, and then to Chicago and finally to home.

All has gone very well. The Estonia Geology Team will check in now and then with blog entries detailing their lab work and other projects related to their thesis research and professional papers. We are again grateful to Olev and Ingrid Vinn and Helje Pärnaste for their invaluable assistance while we were in Estonia. A beautiful country and a beautiful people. We also want to thank Suzanne Easterling at Flair Travel for sorting out the complicated arrangements, including making sure an errant train ticket reached me in Moscow over five weeks ago.

UPDATE:  Everyone arrived home … with their luggage!

Short summer field movies

July 10th, 2009

TALLINN, ESTONIA–On my last evening in Estonia this year I finally had time to figure out how to post some of the short video clips I’ve taken over the past several weeks. The Iceland group pioneered the concept on this blog with their excellent Great Basalt Race. I can’t come close to matching that excitement, but since we have this cool equipment I might as well display the results! These clips are also now included in the appropriate blog posts.

First, going back to the May work in Israel, here is a brief view of some girls dancing just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Next is a simple pan from outside Andrey Dronov’s cottage in Russia looking at the Lynna River. Then sailing into pack ice in Isfjorden, Svalbard, Norway. Soon afterwards I filmed waves lapping on an iceberg in the same area. Finally, today we saw some Medieval dancing in the town square of Tallinn, Estonia.

I’ve also uploaded a couple of very short movies from the 2005 Wooster Israel expedition: Yoav Avni explaining some geology at Makhtesh Ramon, and Jeff Bowen collecting in Makhtesh Gadol.

No Oscars coming my way for these, but maybe a little flavor of these places is conveyed by the sound and movement. The clips are also mercifully short!

Langadalsfjall: Big Enough for Only One

July 9th, 2009

Over the past few days, Todd has been helping Yexary map a gabbro body in Skagastrond. They were highly productive and finished mapping today! Meanwhile, Adam, Rob, and Meagen are still on the wild rhyolite chase. Yesterday, we found rhyolite in a stream cut near Skagastrond, just where the map said it would be.

Adam and Rob getting their feet wet in a stream that Meagen refused to cross.

Adam and Rob getting their feet wet in a stream near Skagastrond that Meagen refused to cross.

Today, we climbed Langadalsfjall in search for rhyolite that was mapped near the very top. On the way up, we found lots of dikes intruding the sheet flows. The exposures were so great that we couldn’t help but sample.

Dikes intruding lavas - Adam for scale.

Dikes intruding lavas - Adam for scale.

We finally made it to the spot where the rhyolite should be only to find piles of rhyolite talus, grassy meadows, and white tuff. Despite our disappointment, we sampled the talus and enjoyed the awesome view.

Rob and Adam at the top of Vatnsdalsfjall.

Rob and Adam at the top of Langadalsfjall.

Unfortunately, we have a casualty to report. Rob thinks that Langadalsfjall is only big enough for one, so he tried to kill Adam in a rock avalanche and throw Meagen off a cliff. Thankfully, Adam and Meagen survived to see another day, but Meagen’s boots didn’t.

Part of Meagen's boot didn't make it back to base camp today.

Part of Meagen's boot didn't make it back to base camp today.

The wonder of natural history museums

July 9th, 2009

TALLINN, ESTONIA–Scientific museums preserve specimens and information from generations of researchers, collectors and students. The interiors of a typical paleontological museum contains windowless rooms filled almost to the ceiling with cabinets, each with dozens of drawers containing carefully labeled and cataloged specimens. Because information grows rapidly in science, the most important information on those labels is not the identity of the fossils but where they were found. The names and even systematic categories often change over the years as we learn new characteristics of particular groups, but the location information will always be critical for the value of the specimen for future researchers.

Today we visited the Institute of Geology at the Tallinn University of Technology. We were hosted by Dr. Helje Pärnaste, a paleontologist who specializes in Ordovician trilobites. She generously spent the day with us going through the collections. Using one of the best electronic cataloging systems we have ever seen, she was able to take us to drawers containing specimens from our study localities. We were able to add to our faunal lists and see better preserved fossils which will help in our future identifications. We concentrated on crinoids, of course, and were able to calibrate what we found which was truly new and see many other examples.

The Estonia Geology Research crew examining specimens in the Institute of Geology collections (left); a typical museum drawer (right).

The Estonia Geology Research crew examining specimens in the Institute of Geology collections (left); a typical museum drawer (right).

Much of our work involves finding specimens from our study locations and making quick and simple photographs for later reference.

Much of our work involves finding specimens from our study locations and making quick and simple photographs for later reference.

Again another scientific colleague we did not know before this trip helped us immensely and has become a friend. It is a remarkable universal fellowship. I hope we are able to return many such favors back in the United States.

A full geological circle

July 8th, 2009

View from a room in the St. Barbara Hotel, downtown Tallinn, Estonia.

View from my room in the St. Barbara Hotel, downtown Tallinn, Estonia (N59.431802°, E24.743355°).

The Wooster Geology Estonia team is now safely in Tallinn preparing for our visit to the paleontological collections in the university museum tomorrow. For me a private joy is that our hotel building is made of Ordovician limestone, the very same stone that I studied a month ago in Russia.

The Wild Rhyolite Chase

July 7th, 2009

The Woo-Crew has been working feverishly on their Iceland I.S. projects. Rob and Todd have been climbing the northern end of Vatnsdalsfjall for days, searching for zeolites. The last day was spooky as the thick fog cover came in and out with the wind direction, making it impossible to see at one moment and clear blue skies the next. Rob and Todd accomplished so much that they have been able to help Yexary, a Syracuse geology major, in her field area.

Yexary, Todd, and Rob mapping gabbro by the shore in Skagastrond.

Yexary, Todd, and Rob pausing to pose while mapping gabbro by the shore in Skagastrond.

Not only does the Iceland crew excel in Mineralogy and Petrology, but also in Invertebrate Paleontology (much like the Estonia group). We’ll see your unaltered hard parts and raise you an zeolite-filled olivine basalt!

Todd and Rob in the fossil-crouching position on the Skagi shore.

Todd and Rob in the fossil-crouching position on the Skagi shore.

The same day that they hunted fossils, Rob and Todd saved a baby duck that was struggling in a net on the shore. They are genuine heroes.

Adam, meanwhile, is on the hunt for the elusive rhyolite. After some early success, he has run into basalt where rhyolite has been mapped. Unfortunately, all of the rhyolite is mapped at the top of the mountains, so Adam has made several trips to the top just for the fun of it.

Adam at the top of Vatnsdalsfjall.

Adam at the top of Svinadalsfjall.

At the top of Svinadalsfjall, Adam, Rob, and Todd found a word spelled out in rocks: L-i-e-t-u-v-a. We don’t know what it means, but we decided to spell U-S-A in rocks right next to it.

Rob and Todd claim a mountain for the USA.

Rob and Todd claim a mountain for the USA.

Todd strikes a pose on the way up Vatnsdalsfjall.

Todd strikes a pose on the way up Vatnsdalsfjall.

Estonian Independent Study fieldwork completed!

July 7th, 2009

KURESSAARE, SAAREMAA, ESTONIA–Today in a cold drizzle we measured the last section and bagged the last sample for our field projects. Tomorrow we leave the beautiful island of Saaremaa and drive to Tallinn. The next day we will study fossils in the University of Tallinn collections to complete our survey of the Silurian communities preserved in this part of the Baltic.

Rob McConnell is sorting out the paleoecology and paleoenvironments of the upper Mustjala and lower Ninase Members of the Jaani Formation (Wenlock) at three sites on the northern coast of Saaremaa. He has some very cool stromatoporoids, corals and bryozoans which are sometimes complexly intergrown and are almost always bored with long, thin holes.

Wonderfully symmetrical and large stromatoporoid (a kind of fossil sponge) preserved in the Undva Cliff, northwestern Saaremaa coast.  The surrounding blue-gray sediment is a calcarous clay with other smaller fossils such as brachiopods and bryozoans.  The stromatoporoid itself is a community with endosymbiotic corals and worms.  (Mustjala Member, Jaani Formation, Wenlock).

Wonderfully symmetrical and large stromatoporoid (a kind of fossil sponge) preserved in the Undva Cliff, northwestern Saaremaa coast. The surrounding blue-gray sediment is a calcarous clay with other smaller fossils such as brachiopods and bryozoans. The stromatoporoid itself is a community with endosymbiotic corals and worms. (Mustjala Member, Jaani Formation, Wenlock).

Palmer Shonk has a single locality on the Sõrve Peninsula of southwestern Saaremaa with an extraordinary accumulation of crinoids in both growth positions (as extensive holdfasts) and as storm-tossed skeletal debris. These rocks and fossils are part of the Aigu Beds (Kaugatuma Stage, Pridoli). We think that there were low mounds of calcareous mud colonized by numerous species of crinoids, bryozoans and stromatoporoids which were occasionally swept by strong currents and buried in coarse sand and gravel made almost entirely of crinoid bits. Palmer will work out the ecological structure of those original communities and then the environmental history which led to these thick storm deposits.

Crinoid holdfast seen sideways in the Aigu Beds, Kaugatuma Stage, Pridoli.  This structure is like the tap root of a tree.  It penetrated the sediment, tapering downwards, and produced lateral branches (radices) which held the crinoid in place in a relatively energetic marine environment.  Unlike a tree root system, this crinoid holdfast did not take up nutrients for the organism.  Crinoids are animals which filter the seawater for food with a head and arms at the opposite end of the stalk.

Crinoid holdfast seen sideways in the Aigu Beds, Kaugatuma Stage, Pridoli. This structure is like the tap root of a tree. It penetrated the sediment, tapering downwards, and produced lateral branches (radices) which held the crinoid in place in a relatively energetic marine environment. Unlike a tree root system, this crinoid holdfast did not take up nutrients for the organism. Crinoids are animals which filter the seawater for food with a head and arms at the opposite end of the stalk.

The Wooster 2009 Estonia Geological Research Team.  Photograph kindly taken by our colleague Bill Ausich.

The Wooster 2009 Estonia Geological Research Team. Photograph kindly taken by our colleague Bill Ausich.

Some fieldwork actually improved by rain

July 7th, 2009

UNDVA CLIFF, SAAREMAA, ESTONIA–I’ve never had anything good to say about rain during geological fieldwork, but our colleague Bill Ausich from Ohio State University insisted that it makes echinoderm fossils stand out better against the rock matrix. Turns out he’s right.

Two calices of the eucalpytocrinid crinoids at the Undva Cliff locality.  When wet the pure calcite of their skeletons contrasts brilliantly with the surrounding dark rock matrix.

Two beautiful calices of the eucalpytocrinid crinoids at the Undva Cliff locality on Saaremaa. When wet the pure calcite of their skeletons contrasts brilliantly with the surrounding dark rock matrix.

The Beauty of the Estonian Countryside

July 5th, 2009

PANGA PANK, SAAREMAA, ESTONIA–One of the primary joys of geology is the privilege of working outside, especially in wild areas. Walking through green forests or desert wadis or up steep volcanic mountainsides or along rocky coastlines gives us the natural context for our research. We are small parts of that monumental human enterprise to understand the Earth and the life upon it.

Saaremaa is a treasure of wild places, even though it has been settled for centuries. The photographs below come from the Panga Cliff Nature Reserve which includes one of our coastal localities.

The Panga Cliff (left) and deep forest floor moss on a trail along its top (right).

The Panga Cliff (left) and deep forest floor moss on a trail along its top (right).

A common purple flower we see often (left) and wild strawberries which we pick and eat to and from our outcrops.

A common purple flower we see often (left) and delicious wild strawberries which we pick and eat as we walk to and from our outcrops.

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