Archive for November, 2010

Trays of trilobites, buckets of belemnites ….

November 26th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — Last weekend we picked up another load of rocks, minerals and fossils donated by the family of one of our loyal alumni. We will be sorting through them for months getting them ready for displays and our teaching collections. Among the treasures are large numbers of particular items, especially fossils. I want to highlight two of many such sets. The trilobites are Phacops bufo from the Silica Shale (Devonian) of northeastern Ohio; the belemnites below are from the Jurassic of Wyoming. (Belemnites from the Upper Cretaceous of Germany and the Jurassic of Israel have been featured in this blog, as have beautiful trilobites from the Middle Cambrian of British Columbia, Canada.) Numerous nearly-identical fossils such as these play an important role in our teaching. We can, for example, have a fossil in front of each student during lectures for immediate reference (and quizzing!). It is also possible to have biometric measuring exercises in our labs with these fossil “populations” of particular species. Gifts again put to work in education!

An Afternoon of Rocks and Minerals at Cornerstone Elementary

November 16th, 2010

Tuesday we had the pleasure to work with Mrs. Gaut’s and Ms Long’s (standing) third grade classes. Wooster Geology seniors Stephanie Jarvis and LaShawna Weeks taught 32 well-prepared students mineral and rock identification.

LaShawna shows the group the fine art of using the streak plate in mineral identification.

Steph explains the characteristics of metamorphism. The fellow in the lower left is eager to share his view of the processes associated with metamorphic rocks.

LaShawna discusses the formation of sandstone and quizzes the group on the depositional environment.

Steph explains the nuances of the rates of mineral crystallization.

It was clear that the group was ready to take their new knowledge of 14 minerals and 10 rocks to the next level.

GeoJeopardy!

November 11th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — Dr. Meagen Pollock had a great idea: a geology Jeopardy game to liven up a Geology Club meeting … and to encourage the retention of all that knowledge we’re serving up daily. She used a software package from the Communication Studies Department and question sets from all the geology faculty. The contest was much fun, especially as we watched a team of sophomores and first-years dominate their older peers. I’m sure in the rematch next semester the upper class students will be highly motivated!

Putting donated fossils to work

November 5th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — Last month we began integrating a large collection of rocks, minerals and fossils into our teaching program in the Department of Geology. These specimens were donated by an Ohio family who lovingly gathered them over decades. They displayed these natural wonders to friends, neighbors and children for their beauty and their educational value. Now we have started to use some of the specimens in our classes.

Invertebrate Paleontology students Sarah Appleton, Megan Innis (the TA), Melissa Torma and Michaela Caventer examine donated bivalve fossils. We are especially impressed with the large articulated Eocene oyster Michaela is holding.

Andrew Retzler holding two vertebrae of the Jurassic dinosaur Camarasaurus. We used these in the History of Life course.

Side view of the Camarasaurus vertebrae. These bones were reconstructed from dozens of fragments.

It is not just fossils in a paleontology lab

November 4th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO — To understand ancient life a paleontology student must also know a considerable amount about modern life. In our Invertebrate Paleontology course this means that students study, for example, modern clams to provide a context for the fossil clams they are interpreting. In the above image the class today is dissecting modern infaunal clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) and mussels (Mytilus edulis). I buy them at the local grocery store so that they are fresh and with no preservatives. That means there are always challenges opening them — and always a mushy mess afterwards! It is worth it, though, to sort out the anatomy of these bivalves and match their soft parts to the hard parts we find in the fossil record. It is also a reminder that the stony fossil we study today once had its gooey living moment!

Another GSA presentation from a Wooster Geologist: Long-term tree ring records from Glacier Bay National Park

November 3rd, 2010

A happy Greg Wiles on the shore of Glacier Bay, Alaska.

(by Stephanie Jarvis, ’11)

Professor Greg Wiles, the Ross K. Shoolroy Chair of Natural Resources at Wooster, finished off the series of Wooster presentations at this year’s Geological Society of America Annual Meeting with his talk: “Multi-millenial-scale tree ring records from Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve: Paleoenvironmental reconstruction and placing ongoing cryosphere-ecosphere changes into a long-term context”. He presented this work in a session on research in National Parks this morning. ¬†Highlighting this study with Dan Lawson and Wooster students in the park and surrounding area (see the Alaska tag for this blog), Greg described the timing of glacial advances and retreats as determined by dendrochronology, and the applications of these results to understanding the history of the native Tlingit people. ¬†As the National Parks belong to everybody, and our projects are often funded by government agencies (i.e., taxpayers), the communication of this research in a coherent and understandable manner is one of the many duties of scientists and a great way to close out the 2010 Annual GSA Meeting!

International Research Experiences for Undergraduates (Posters Part II)

November 2nd, 2010

Dr. Meagen Pollock discusses the challenges and rewards of leading international expeditions for undergraduates. She contributed her insights during a special poster session on International Research Experiences for Undergraduates sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Dr. Pollock is a Geoscience Councilor for CUR. Her contribution was coauthored with Dr. Mark Wilson. Wooster students and faculty presented results of international research from Iceland and Israel during this GSA Annual Meeting.

A Contribution to Understanding Tree Growth and North Pacific Climate

November 2nd, 2010

Stephanie Jarvis contributes to a special session on Pacific Climate. Her talk was title Non-Stationarity in Mountain Hemlock Growth Along the Gulf of Alaska . She summarized a portion of her undergraduate thesis work and its relevance to understanding tree-ring proxy records along the Gulf of Alaska.

Steph is a veteran of undergraduate research and of contributing at GSA. Last year she presented a poster at the National Meeting in Portland Oregon on a REU project she participated in during the summer of 2009.

Wooster Geology Alumni Gather at the 2010 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting

November 1st, 2010

DENVER, COLORADO — It has been a tradition for decades that Wooster Geology alumni, faculty and students meet one evening during the annual GSA conference. This year we had forty people come by; a good number of them are pictured above. There were many other Wooster alumni who were running their own events at the same time and could not attend. What a joyous gathering it was … and an excellent opportunity for our current students to meet a diverse group of successful geologists who shares their academic heritage.

Anomalocaris now not so scary

November 1st, 2010

Whitey Hagadorn beginning his GSA talk on the feeding abilities of Anomalocaris. The large room was packed.

DENVER, COLORADO — I very much enjoyed a talk this afternoon by Whitey Hagadorn (a Wooster favorite since his Osgood lecture last year) entitled: “Putting Anomalocaris on a soft-food diet?” Even though Whitey says Anomalocaris “may still have been a fearsome predator”, slurping up worms from the mud is not the same as crunching trilobites. Spaghetti vs. steak.

Whitey’s presentation was an excellent example of testing a hypothesis with fossil evidence. If Anomalocaris really did bite through trilobite cuticle, surely it should have been able to at least close its mouth more than halfway and be able to apply the necessary forces? Whitey and his colleagues modeled the mouthparts of Anomalocaris and the exoskeletons of trilobites and subjected them to various engineering analyses. Turns out that the story of these nektic predators grabbing and killing trilobites just can’t be true. Their mouths could exert significant sucking forces, though, so maybe they were predators on soft-bodied worms they pulled from the sediment. Their “teeth” then may have served mainly to keep the worms from sliding out once in the mouth. Not nearly so dramatic, but a much more sensible take on the fossil evidence.

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