Archive for October, 2010

George Davis (Wooster ’64) receives a prestigious award from the Geological Society of America

October 31st, 2010

DENVER, COLORADO — George H. Davis, structural geologist extraordinaire and a 1964 geology graduate from Wooster, will receive the Structural Geology and Tectonics Career Contribution Award from the Geological Society of America at this annual meeting. This honor is given “to an individual who throughout his/her career has made numerous distinguished contributions that have clearly advanced the science of structural geology or tectonics.” George has certainly done that. He is now Regents Professor (Emeritus) and Provost Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Here is the award citation and George’s response as a pdf from GSA.

George Davis ('64) in his element. (From his website.)

Thoroughly bored at GSA: A Wooster Geologist Faculty Talk

October 31st, 2010

DENVER, COLORADO — How I very much enjoy those few minutes AFTER giving a presentation, especially a Geological Society of America talk. That sense of renewed life, the rush of completing a task which was months in preparation, and the step back into the inviting shadows of the lecture room. I’ll just repeat my first and last slides below, and then link to the abstract. You will, I hope, see the joke in my blog post title!

Tree Rings and the Huna Tlingit People: A Wooster Student Geologist Talk

October 31st, 2010

Sarah Appleton ('12) presenting her research at the 2010 GSA meeting.

DENVER, COLORADO — The Wooster Geologists are very proud today of our own Sarah Appleton, who just gave a professional talk at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting this morning.  Her topic was sorting out a historical mystery about Eighteenth-Century migrations of the Tlingit in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Sarah did a superb job.  This is the first time in my memory that one of our junior geology majors gave a national talk.  Well done, Sarah.  (And now I have to prepare for my own talk!)

Teaching Paleontology in the 21st Century

October 31st, 2010

My friend Leif Tapanila from Idaho State University giving his presentation in the Teaching Paleontology session this morning. If you look closely you'll see he's wearing a monkey hat for eccentric reasons of his own.

DENVER, COLORADO — The teaching of paleontology has changed dramatically over the course of my teaching career, and this excellent topical session at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting was designed for direct conversations about paleontological pedagogy. It was convened by four paleontologists (Peg Yacobucci, Rowan Lockwood, Warren Allmon and Bruce Macfadden) and had an array of successful teachers explaining what they do, what they want to do, and where they see opportunities.  Wooster geology alumna Tricia Kelley was a participant talking about how to present evolution to students who may not be open to the idea.

The primary lesson I learned, along with a dozen examples of better ways to teach, was that we must emphasize to our students and the public that paleontology is a science at the intersection of geology and biology and so it has much to offer to debates about evolution, climate change and public policy.  Too often we get caught up in the details of taxonomy (brachiopods are usually given as the example!) and forget to make the connections from ancient fossils to concerns we have in the world today.

Wooster Geologists in Denver! (Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America)

October 30th, 2010

DENVER, COLORADO — The above image is the view from my hotel room looking west on an exquisitely beautiful day. You can’t beat this setting for a geological conference! All four Wooster Geology faculty and a record number of 11 Wooster students are here in Denver attending the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America. We hope to post blog entries about this conference and our participation like we did last year. Wooster has a strong presence at GSA despite our small size. You can get a sense of it by searching for “Wooster” in the technical program.

When I registered for the meeting this afternoon at the GSA counter, it was our own Stephanie Jarvis (’11) in charge as a volunteer. As I was leaving the Convention Center I then ran into a happy group of other Wooster seniors: Andrew Retzler, Jesse Davenport, Elizabeth Deering, and Micah Risacher (all of whom you can find in this summer’s blog posts). This is going to be a fun and useful meeting!

The Convention Center in Denver where all the geological magic will happen. If you look closely on the far right you might make out a big blue bear pawing at the windows.

And some useful donations are very small

October 24th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — The Wooster Geology Department is in the process of receiving a very large gift of geological specimens described in the last post. It is also worth noting that some small gifts can be very interesting as well. Last week a local family gave us a handful of fossils; one of them was this fascinating specimen:

Platyceratid snail (Palaeocapulus acutirostre) on a crinoid calyx (Logan Formation; Mississippian of Wooster, Ohio).

Platyceratid gastropods are a Paleozoic group most famous for parasitizing crinoids. They drilled small holes through the crinoid thecal plates and apparently slurped out the gut contents of the unfortunate echinoderms. We usually find platyceratids only as isolated shells (as below), so to be given a specimen of a crinoid calyx with a platyceratid still in place is a treat. Wooster students are fortunate to see it, and once again a donor makes a lasting contribution — even in a single fossil.

Platyceras pulcherrimum from the Logan Formation (Mississippian) of Wooster, Ohio.

Gifts for generations of geology students

October 24th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — The Geology Department at Wooster has received many donations of rocks, minerals and fossils over the years. Collectors are always passionate about their specimens, so when they decide to donate their treasures they want them to go where they will be most useful. What better place than a college? We put collections to work right away in our teaching labs and display cases. Because rocks are so durable, these are gifts which serve for decades.

About a third of the rock, mineral and fossil collection recently donated to the Geology Department at Wooster. Here they are in their original home.

Today Meagen Pollock and I visited the Ohio family of a geology alumna and began the process of transferring their donated specimens to Wooster: gorgeous crystals, an amazing diversity of fossil shells, and spectacular dinosaur bones. There are so many boxes that we will have to make a second trip in a cargo van to transport the rest. It is the largest donation we have ever been given.

An exceptionally complete collection of fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals is part of the donation.

Our teaching will be improved by access to these new specimens, and they will stimulate the imaginations of generations of students. We hope to post later on how this collection is being used in our labs and hallways.

Wooster Geologist in Virginia

October 17th, 2010

Statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson overlooking the fields from Henry Hill where the first Battle of Bull Run was decided in 1861.

MANASSAS, VIRGINIA–We’ve had several posts in this blog on the geology of battlefields (Leningrad, the Meuse-Argonne, Vicksburg, Bear River, Brice’s Crossroads). These places are almost always beautiful: peaceful green fields, quiet forests and grass-covered hills which belie the tragedies they hosted. In each there is some aspect of the underlying geology which shaped the landscape and provided obstacles or advantages for the combatants. Often the geological features are dramatic (like the chalk cliffs and ridges of northern France), but sometimes they are subtle. The two Civil War battlefields at Manassas (The First and Second Battles of Bull Run) are examples of the latter.

The Henry House on the Bull Run battlefield in Manassas, Virginia.

On this beautiful October day my wife Gloria and I explored Henry Hill in Manassas, where the First Battle of Bull Run had its most critical moments. The landscape there is subdued with low hills and shallow valleys. The smallest rises and hollows made all the difference as the Confederate and Union soldiers fired at each other for hours.

The Bull Run battlefields are in the Culpepper Basin, a Late Triassic to Early Jurassic half-graben formed during the rifting of North America from Africa and Europe. The basin filled with thousands of meters of sediment, most of it terrestrial in origin (from lakes, rivers, streams, alluvial fans). The unit forming the foundation of Henry Hill is the Groveton Member of the Bull Run Formation (Upper Triassic). Turns out the Groveton is mostly siltstones and shales with a few resistant coarse sandstones. It is these sandstones that are slightly more resistant than the other lithologies, so they made the small protrusions that either gave artillery regiments firing platforms or sheltered infantry sprawled on the ground behind them. The sand was deposited by meandering rivers across the Triassic landscape. These seemingly random ancient river bends ended up making the difference between life and death on an American battlefield.

Resistant sandstone in the Groveton Member of the Bull Run Formation (Upper Triassic) exposed on Henry Hill.

Closer view of an exposed sandstone in the Groveton Member on Henry Hill.

Wooster celebrates National Fossil Day

October 13th, 2010

Crinoid holdfasts and bryozoans on a cobble from the Ordovician of northern Kentucky.

WOOSTER, OHIO–Today we are celebrating the first annual National Fossil Day (or at least I am!). Be sure to check out that link from the National Park Service — it contains the official National Fossil Day song! My recognition of this special day is to post some photographs of nice fossil specimens from the Wooster collections. You can find larger versions of these photos — and hundreds more — on my Wikimedia page. Here’s to fossils: beautiful messengers from the distant past.

Shark teeth (Scapanorhynchus) from the Upper Cretaceous of southern Israel. These were collected by Andrew Retzler ('11).

Rudist bivalves from the Upper Cretaceous of the Omani Mountains.

Tentaculitids from the Devonian of Maryland.

Thecideide brachiopods, cyclostome bryozoans and serpulids encrusting a bivalve shell from Zalas Quarry (Jurassic: Callovian-Oxfordian) in southern Poland.

Fossil leaf (Viburnum lesquereuxii) with insect damage; Dakota Sandstone (Cretaceous) of Ellsworth County, Kansas.

The value of amateur paleontology

October 10th, 2010

Brian Bade in the midst of his fossil collection and paleontological library.

SULLIVAN, OHIO–Last month I gave a talk to the North Coast Fossil Club about an obscure fossil group, the hederelloids. My purpose, besides simply enjoying the good company of fossil enthusiasts, was to show the audience a type of small and encrusting fossil they have all collected but probably didn’t notice because these creatures do not (at least to the naked eye) look very interesting. Sure enough, many in the club remembered seeing these fossils, and some had learned a considerable amount about them. Members began to send me specimens in the mail for further study.

One gentleman, though, told me he had hundreds of hederelloid fossils on Devonian brachiopods and corals collected in Ohio, Michigan and Ontario — and that I was welcome to use whatever specimens I needed to advance the science. Today I visited Brian Bade in nearby Sullivan, Ohio. His collection of these fossils and many more astounded me. He has thousands of specimens, matched with an extensive paleontological library. The fossils are very well curated (that is, we can easily tell the collecting localities and stratigraphic horizons) and expertly prepared. Brian is generous with his treasures and wants nothing more than to see them used in scientific studies. I borrowed several dozen encrusted brachiopods and corals to get started on a hederelloid taxonomy project.

Brian Bade with one of many, many drawers of specimens.

Brian is an excellent example of why amateur fossil paleontologists are essential to the progress of professional paleontology. He has a very keen eye for finding fossils and keeping them in their proper geological context (“provenance”). He instinctively can tell which specimens may be most interesting to science, and he shares with the professionals an appreciation for their beauty and rarity. Brian knows how to work with landowners and quarry managers to make sure access to fossil sites is maintained, which is a skill sometimes lacking in casual collectors. Amateur paleontologists often have far more time for fieldwork than the professionals, and usually have more experience in sorting out particular kinds of fossils in their specialties. Many paleontological studies rely upon the skills of amateurs to provide the raw data. Indeed, “amateur paleontologist” is not quite the right title considering the knowledge base and experience these men and women have accumulated. I prefer to call them simply “paleontologists”.

Devonian brachiopods in one of Brian's drawers. This year's paleontology class can now identify them from here!

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