Archive for August 16th, 2010

Palisade Falls in Hyalite Canyon, Montana

August 16th, 2010

Today, we ended the indoor classroom portion of the Teaching in the Field Workshop with a lively discussion on the use of technology in the field. Everyone seemed to agree about its usefulness in research; however, there were many different views when the discussion turned to the use of technology in the field when teaching students how to map. Digital mapping is used by state geological surveys and the USGS, but the techniques are not universally used in the classroom and in field camps across the country. When this friendly debate was concluded, it was time for dinner. Instead of eating in the conference room in the student union, the workshop coordinators had organized a picnic for us overlooking Hyalite Reservoir.

Hyalite Canyon is located just south of Bozeman in the Gallatin Range, and it exposes rocks of all ages — Archean gneisses through Eocene volcanics. Before dinner, we hiked to Palisade Falls for a spectacular view that underscored the fact that I was definitely not in Ohio.

As we walked to Palisade Falls in Hyalite Canyon, we followed a wonderful stream flowing through a sub-alpine forest.

As we walked to Palisade Falls in Hyalite Canyon, we followed a wonderful stream flowing through a sub-alpine forest.

Palisade Falls, shown above, was gorgeous during the early evening light.

Palisade Falls, shown above, was gorgeous during the early evening light.

Notice the wonderful columnar jointing that makes up the wall for Palisade Falls.  It was very difficult to pull 50+ geologists off of this outcrop, but dinner was ready!!

Notice the wonderful columnar jointing that makes up the wall for Palisade Falls. It was very difficult to pull 50+ geologists off of this outcrop, but dinner was ready!!

The rest of the week, the workshop on Teaching in the Field is actually taking to the field to put boots on the ground.

Summer coming to an end…

August 16th, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jesse Davenport

Dear Meagen and Shelley, I hope you both like extremely sheared metamorphic and igneous 2 billion year old rocks because I have about 100 of them coming to Scovel in about a week.

But really I have had an amazing time in Montana and am sad to see my time out west coming to an end, yet I am happy to be returning home after 3 months of travel. I would have liked to update you all a little more often on what has been happening in Big Sky country, but the internet situation and the communication in general is rather limited.

On our daily traverses we encountered diorite, tonalite, mica schist, marble, mylonite, amphibolites, quartzite, and Yellowstone related volcanics (although we weren’t particulary interested in these). We saw many signs of wildlife both actually seeing and other signs. Cattle sightings were especially common, but we also saw elk, antelope, moose, golden eagle, bald eagle, badger, marmot, ferret, fox, and hawks. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we didn’t see any bear but all the locals tell us they are there black and grizzly.

There is still a lot of work to be done even though field work is over. We came into the project with some general questions, but now we have the data, the rocks, and the field observations that we need to make a significant scientific contribution to the understanding of the geologic evolution of the area. This project marks a pinnacle achievement in the area which has had very little work done and is already misunderstood in the scientific community geologically speaking.

I am looking forward to working with Meagen and Shelley on my project and taking the opportunity that the Keck Consortium COW Geology Department gave me to produce a significant piece of scientific literature.

Our field area, Antelope Basin.

Our field area, Antelope Basin.

A view of Saddle Mountain.

A view of Saddle Mountain.

Some nicely sheared rocks in an outcrop in Antelope Basin.

Some nicely sheared rocks in an outcrop in Antelope Basin.

Fossils on the Meuse-Argonne Battlefield

August 16th, 2010

Cretaceous oysters in marly sediment near Baulny, northeastern France.

VIENNE LE CHATEAU, FRANCE–To my delight, while exploring the Meuse-Argonne area this morning, I found an exposure of marly Cretaceous sediments very near where my Grandfather’s tank brigade assembled for an attack at dawn on October 4, 1918. The sediment is poorly consolidated and saturated with water, as expected. Mud again — the same mud that must have been an annoyance and danger to those nervous tank crews that October morning.

The Cretaceous marl in a roadside outcrop near Baulny, France (N49.25672°, E5.01696°).

Some of the fossils from today cleaned up in the hotel room. (They must hate it when I do this.)

The fossils are small oysters, and they are there by the thousands. The only other species I saw were serpulid worm tubes attached to their upper valves. When found in place the oysters are articulated (both valves still in place). The facies is very similar to that of the Paleocene Clayton Formation we saw earlier this summer in Mississippi.

Could Rolland Snuffer, an 18-year-old corporal from Kansas, have imagined that 92 years later one of his grandsons would be collecting fossils in this war-ravaged place? I think he would have been very pleased. His experiences here must have been horrendous. He was the gunner/commander of a two-man FT-17 Renault tank in a unit which took heavy casualties during this action.

Corporal Rolland Snuffer was in Company C of the 345th Tank Battalion attached to the First Division. North is at the top. Map courtesy of Brad Posey.

The village of Fléville today (from N49.30578°, E4.96945°). The 345th Tank Battalion captured this town on October 4, 1918, but the infantry did not follow because of German fire from the west bank of the Aire River.

The village of Exermont then and now.

Corporal Rolland Snuffer in an undated family photograph.

There were over 117,000 American casualties, including 26,000 dead, in the Meuse-Argonne battle, with about the same number for the Germans and another 70,000 French dead and wounded. This was the most costly battle ever fought by Americans. Our losses were far less than those suffered by our European cousins, but we still shared with them the profound effects of this war on a generation. It is hard to imagine this peaceful French countryside convulsed by war, but then it happened again 22 years later. That must have been a bitter pill for the veteran Doughboys to swallow after they survived the War to End All Wars.

A book on the battle I highly recommend: To Conquer Hell by Edward G. Lengel (2008, Henry Holt and Company).

Battle of the Mines: Vauquois, 1915-1918

August 16th, 2010

Mine craters on the Butte de Vauquois, northeastern France.

VIENNE LE CHATEAU, FRANCE–The influence of geology on war is shockingly clear on the Butte de Vauquois (N 49° 12′ 20.20”, E 5° 4′ 11.42”). This large hill (290 meters in elevation) is an outlier of the chalky detritic sandstone (silicarenite) [thanks, Jean-Claude Porchier] backbone of the Argonne Massif, with the small village of Vauquois originally on the top. (That “originally” should give you a clue to what’s coming.) It had immediate strategic value in September 1914 when the invading German Army captured it and began to shell French supply routes to Verdun running alongside the Aire River. The French desperately wanted it back.

The French Army attacked the Butte de Vauquois with thousands of men several times. Since they lacked the strategic advantage of topographic height, they suffered enormous casualties, only capturing the southern side of the hill in March 1915. The top, with its ruined village, became a no-man’s land.

The French then began building mine tunnels through the dry and stable bedrock towards the German lines. Soldiers from coal-mining areas were employed to dig caverns underneath the German trenches. These excavations were then filled with explosives and ignited, creating massive craters on the surface which troops attempted to exploit. The Germans, who employed over 100 military geologists in their ranks, responded with their own tunnels and explosions under the French lines. Eventually almost 25 miles of tunnels riddled the Butte de Vauquois, with each side building explosive caches and attempting to intercept the enemy tunnels. An astounding 531 French and German mines were exploded here by September 1918, splitting the hill in two parts with a row of craters. The destruction was so immense that the village of Vauquois completed disappeared. Thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed here, with 8000 completely missing and presumably buried in collapsed tunnels and trenches.

A tunnel constructed in 1916 from the French trenches into the Butte de Vauquois.

This hellish underground war finally ended in September 1918 when the American First Division bypassed the hill during the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the Germans retreated. To this day only a few of the Vauquois tunnels have been reopened. There is still much unexploded ordnance in the mines, and no one wants to disturb what has become a massive tomb.

Google Earth view of the Butte de Vauquois, with north at the top. The chain of craters through the middle of the hill is obvious. The tiny white dots on the southern edge of the craters near the middle of the image include the monument pictured below.

French monument to the dead on Butte de Vauquois. It stands where the village of Vauquois was completely erased by the underground war.