Archive for September, 2009

Remains of a Jurassic Tropical Forest

September 2nd, 2009

MAKHTESH RAMON, ISRAEL–As part of a mine reclamation project in the Makhtesh Ramon National Park near Mitzpe Ramon, the ranger noticed large pieces of fossilized wood coming from the tailings of a bauxite mine which were being trucked to fill large excavations.  Rather than bury these specimens forever, he called the Geological Survey to take a look.  Yoav Avni, one of my Israeli colleagues and a good friend, took me there this morning to see the fossils and help remove them from the debris piles.

Examining pieces of Jurassic tree trunks with the Makhtesh Ramon ranger (center).

Examining pieces of Jurassic tree trunks with the Makhtesh Ramon ranger (center).

The wood is from the lower part of the Ardon Formation, a Jurassic unit lying unconformably on Triassic sediments.  The forest was on the equator during the Early Jurassic, which could make it significant.  Most of the wood is coalified, with some patches of silicification.  We’ll take samples to the Geological Survey headquarters in Jerusalem on Sunday to examine them more closely.  This was a fun little detour because I’ve never seen Jurassic coal — nor had a front-end loader help me sort out specimens!

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Wooster Geologist in Israel (Again)

September 1st, 2009

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–I’m sitting here with a view of one of my favorite places: the little town of Mitzpe Ramon near the center of the Negev Desert in southern Israel. It is poised on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon, a large erosional crater which looks a bit like the Grand Canyon with its steep rocky cliffs and sharp angles, although it lacks a river flowing through the bottom.

Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, as viewed from N30.61134°, E34.80097°.

Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, as viewed from N30.61134°, E34.80097°.

I drove here this afternoon in a tiny little rental car from Ben Gurion Airport about two and a half hours to the north. After surviving the noon-day Tel Aviv traffic (they’re not honking at me, I tell myself, at least not most of them), the scenery on the drive is fantastic. The Negev Desert starts near Beersheva where the last of the trees and brown grass gives way to bare yellow rock with a very thin scattering of Bedouin camps and the occasional IDF base. The terrain, animals and vegetation in the Negev Highlands near Mitzpe Ramon look very much like their equivalents in the Mojave Desert of California, save the occasional camel and ancient ruins like the city of Avdat a few miles north of Mitzpe Ramon.

The ruins of Avdat as seen from Route 40 north of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel.

The ruins of Avdat as seen from Route 40 north of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel.

This trip is another part of my research leave this semester. I will be returning to the Jurassic Matmor Formation exposed in Makhtesh Gadol (“The Big Crater”) northeast of Mitzpe Ramon. This is the site of past Independent Study work by Wooster students (Jeff Bowen, Meredith Sharpe, Sophie Lehmann, and Elyssa Belding). My goal is to tie these projects together with a unified stratigraphic model, and to collect various specific fossil groups for further study. I also want to scout out new study topics for future students. I’ll be here for ten days and hope to post blog entries often. Sleep is pulling at me relentlessly now, though, after 24 hours of travel. Lie-la tov! (Good night!)

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