Archive for July, 2011

Alaska 2011

July 6th, 2011

Guest Blogger: Sarah Appleton

Wooster Geology takes its students all across the globe and this time they have traveled to the distant land of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (, Alaska, for a better look at the sedimentation, ancient forests, and glacial processes at work there. Three of Wooster’s finest, Dr. Greg Wiles, Joe Wilch (Junior), and Sarah Appleton (Senior) ventured out into the Alaska back-country for a chance to study at three amazing sites within Glacier Bay; Wachusett Inlet, Casement Glacier, and Mount Wright. Each site gleaned a tidbit that falls into the overall complex story of glaciations and ice melt throughout the Holocene time period.

A map of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

The team of Wooster geologists set out on the 14th of June for their wilderness study aboard the proud vessel, The Capeland. Captain Justin Smith and the Capeland took out five brave scientists ready to brave the wilderness in order to learn more about the natural world around them.

Captain Smith standing on the front of the Capeland as they are getting ready to leave.


Our team of Wooster Geologists we accompanied out into the field by two noble scientists from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, Meagan and Ed. They were out studying the effect of wood in the stream on the amount nitrogen present and the presence of different microbial organisms in the water and soil of the stream. They brought with them their brilliant sea faring skiff, Porcupine, (which they affectionately refer to as Porkey) who blazes through land and sea.

Porkey the skiff, blazing a trail on land and sea.

The Capeland dropped both groups of dedicated scientists off at their first campsite, a large outwash fan near the head of Wachusett Inlet. We dropped off our gear and got right to work. The first order of business was to investigate the Plateau Glacier, an ice remnant across the fjord near to Megan and Ed’s site of study. They lead us bravely through the maze of alders to their study site below two small lakes, and pointed us upstream toward the source of the water, the glacier. We hiked up and made our way out of the alder and brush and onto the glacial outwash plane. A cool breeze blew around the glacier, which at first glance appeared to be gone. On a closer inspection we discovered that the glacier was still there, buried in sand and gravel.

Platueau Glacier, an ice remnant, buried in sand and gravel with the melt water from the ice flowing out in front.

We approached the glacier enthusiastically ready to investigate and set about exploring the ice. There were caves in the ice where the glacier had melted and many little braided streams carrying the silty water away from it. All too soon it was time to travel back to meet our fellow scientists and travel back across the fjord. We beat our way back down through the brush and alder to the shore where we met Megan and Ed, who sailed Porkey back across the water to our camp. Once ashore we set up camp and made dinner. It was a great first day in the field.

Sarah Appleton and Joe Wilch exploring Plateau Glacier ice remnant.

Wachusett Inlet: The Unnamed Valley

Day two began bright and early, with oatmeal and hot chocolate or coffee. It was time for the real work began. The plan of attack was to tackle the right side of the recently deglaciated unnamed valley whose base we were camping on. The hike began through a few alders and quickly emerged onto a more tundra like moraine that consisted of large boulders covered in lichen, moss, and dryas. Carefully, we picked out way up the ridge keeping close to the thundering outwash/melt water stream. We walked along the edge inspecting the valley below. What we saw was very promising, large freshly eroded walls of sediment features that helped to tell the story of the past glaciations and deglaciations. We pause frequently to photograph the left wall which we could see as well as to take photos of our beautiful surroundings. As we could, we climbed down into the valley and began to work along the wall mapping out the different sediment layers and taking photographs. We hiked well up into the mountain until we reached a point where the stream divided into two where we took a break for a snack, rest, and more photographs.

Sarah Appleton and Joe Wilch taking a break high on the mountain overlooking Wachusett Inlet.

We made our way back down the valley this time working the other side of the large moraine that was present. The hypothesis we formed was that this moraine was part of the small unnamed glacier at the top of the mountain. Using the same method as before, our team worked back down the mountain looking at the sediment featured in relation to the in situ forests we saw. Once back at camp we made dinner and plans for our next day’s work. Megan and Ed were kind enough to offer us a ride around the large outwash stream the next morning on their way across the fjord so that we would be able to work the other side of the valley. The outwash stream was a bit too large to be crosses on foot except for at low tide. Our return would be at low tide so we planned to attempt to cross the stream on the way back to allow us more freedom while working on the left side of the valley.

Sarah Appleton and Joe Wilch climbing/sliding down the slope for a better look at some in situ tree stumps.

The hike up this side of the valley covered the same type of terrain that we saw on the other side of the valley. Our group crashed through the alder and brush up the opposite side of the moraine to the tundra like section and again kept to the edge of the stream to get a good view of the valley walls. We hiked to the site use below the moraine as we planned the previous day and began to work our way down the valley mapping the different sediment features in relation to the in situ tree stumps. The biggest mystery was what layer of sediment the trees we rooted into. As we worked we pondered this and then we spotted it, a stump that was rooted upright in a layer of dark organic soil. This was the key to being able to figure out more about the first site we were looking at. It was an awesome breakthrough.

Joe Wilch standing above the tree rooted in the organic layer of sediment.

We climbed out of the highest bowl and began to hike down to the second and third bowls repeating our procedure for the first one. Overall it was a productive day! Once we had all the data we thought we could glean from the site for the day we hiked back down the mountain to camp. We were almost to camp the only thing keeping us from it was the raging outwash stream. Dr. Wiles lead the way across the stream carefully picking out a good way. Joe followed once Dr. Wiles had made it across. Finally, Sarah attempted to cross the stream…SPLASH! Down she went for her first swim of the trip. Fortunately, camp was very close so dry clothes were not far away though on the warm Alaskan day the swim was quiet refreshing. This wrapped up our work in Wachusett Inlet.

Joe Wilch crossing the raging water of the outwash stream.

On June 17th the team rose to a bright sunny if a bit cool day. After breakfast Megan and Ed took Porkey up the Inlet to attempt to make radio contact with the outside world so that we would know when the Capeland was arriving to pick us up for our move to Forest Creek and Casement Glacier. As they drove out of sight we began to pack up gear and lay wet gear out to dry in the sun on large boulders. We helped them load their boat and waved them off. After they had left we moved all of our gear down the beach to the shore and settled in for lunch, naps, and time to update our notebooks. We waited patiently for the Capeland, stirring once to move our gear up above high tide as the water came in before the boat arrived. The Capeland dropped us off at Forest Creek, a former outwash stream of Casement Glacier and we set up camp in two beach meadows.

Dr. Wiles setting up camp in the second beach meadow filled with strawberry flowers.

Casement Glacier

Once camp was established and we had helped Megan and Ed unload their gear we decided to make a run up the short trail to Casement Glacier to investigate what we would spend the next three days studying in depth. It was a little bit later in the day about six o’clock  in the evening and the outwash was only 3 km away from camp. We began our hike chatting about what we might find once we arrived at the glacier. Beating through a row of alder and what luck! We found a moose trail! The moose trail appeared to go to the glacier, so we began to follow the way of the moose. The moose trail was fairly easy to follow until we arrived to the near end of our journey, where our moose trail swung to the right and away from our goal. We were about two and a half hours into our hike, so much for a short trail! The three of us crashed through a thick bunch of alder and emerged on the endless outwash plain of Casement Glacier.

The outwash plain goes on and on my friends, some people started crossing it not knowing what it was, and it is the outwash plain that never ends!

In the distance we could see a corner of bedrock and Sarah decided that we should walk out to peek around it. That turned out to be a bad decision. The outwash plain and the large section of bedrock tricked the eye and were much farther than they appeared. The three geologists peeked around the corner, caught their breaths, and turned around to head back to camp and dinner.

Casement Glacier

One small glitch occurred, however, once you are in the alder it all tends to look exactly the same and so our brave scientists got turned around looking for the way of the moose. After an hour or so of circling around the alder the team finally located the moose trail and ran down the mountain to avoid getting caught in the dark, which in an Alaskan summer doesn’t happen often. Finally, the team stumbled out of the alder and back onto the beach. We were bushed and grabbed a bagel for dinner and crawled into our tents and out of the killer bugs.

Joe Wilch and Sarah Appleton standing in front of Casement Glacier.

The next day we stiffly got out of our tents, ate breakfast, and gathered our gear. We set out again on the way of the moose crossing the lakes of the killer giant toads and battling the flesh eating mosquitoes through the moose sandbox and past look out rock. We kept our heads down and practiced the Alaska wave. The Alaska wave can be done in a wide variety of ways, some people prefer to use the back and forth method, others wave with a willow branch, and some swat in a violent fashion. Trudging onward the scientists finally reached the land of the endless outwash plain. They put their heads down and continued to march. Eventually, they reached the corner of bedrock and two large boulders were chosen as a suitable site for a rest and lunch. We continued our procedure that we started in the valley at Wachusett Inlet taking pictures and looking in depth of the sediment in relation to the in situ stumps along the wall of the exposure.

Sarah Appleton standing on the lower tier of a buried forest that is topped by a layer of glacial till.

The sediment features were much less clear at this site most of what we saw was glacial till and bedrock though we did see a section of sediment that appeared to be lake sediments with the trees rooted just below the layers causing up to hypothesize that the trees were growing when a lake came in and flooded them causing them to die and then be run over by a glacial advance. Joe and Sarah hiked up the outwash to further investigate the site. They walked up to the margin of the glacier and discovered even more buried forests up around the corner of the glacier. These were left to be tackled another day, and we made the journey back across the vastly different lands to our base camp.

Joe Wilch pondering the mysteries of Casement Glacier.

Wolf Point

The next day, everyone was exhausted from the brutal hikes to Casement Glacier so we opted to work in a different site to mix it up and allow our legs a chance to heal. Our camp mates, Megan and Ed, said that they saw some old wood in their site, so we decided to go and investigate. Wolf Point is a nice little stream that was across Muir Inlet from our camp. It was an easy walk back to through the alder. The stream was much bigger than the one at their previous site, and required frequent crossing. The first thing we did when we got to the stream was too investigate the old wood. There were several pieces in the stream itself being beaten by the water. After stopping to look at the wood we continued up the stream to catch up with Megan and Ed for lunch. We were nearly there when another stream crossing came up. Dr. Wiles picked his way across it and Sarah was following just behind when SPLASH! Swim number two. She stood up then scurried across the stream. The dry clothes were a relief as was the fact that the rain had finally stopped.

Some old wood mixed in with modern wood caught in the stream.

After lunch we opted to stay and help Megan and Ed with their experiment. We helped them get their water samples and soil samples for the day learning about what they studied and their methods for doing so. All too soon we had completed another field day and it was time to head back to camp. We began to trek back to the beach and were doing well until we came to another stream. Then SPLASH! Sarah’s third swim of the trip. Apparently, you must be so tall to cross the stream and she was just not big enough or more likely needs more practice. This time fortunately, Sarah did not get too wet.

Megan and Ed taking a water sample while Sarah watches in the background.

We pushed onward to the beach and the boat which was floating in the water patiently waiting on our return. Our crew climbed into the boat and sailed back to the beach. Throughout the day we had talked about dinner and decided that we would have quesadillas cooked over the propane stove. We were all really looking forward to this meal. Sarah put in charge of cooking them paired with chicken flavored rice. It turned out to be a great meal that everyone enjoyed while standing around a campfire on the beach as the sun peaked through the gray overcast sky to set behind the mountains. It was a good and relaxing day learning about other research that was done in Glacier Bay.

Large eagle drying out on a small twig.


The next day was our last full day at the Forest Creek camp we were set to leave the next morning for Sandy Cove. With the daunting hike to Casement Glacier looming over us we took out time getting ready this morning thought hoping to make somewhat of a decent start. We ate breakfast and gathered our gear that we would need for the day. Once we were ready we piled it up on the beach and went to help get Porkey back into the water. With the five of us pushing the skiff nobody was really watching our surroundings as the metal boat scraped its way down the beach. We successfully managed to get the boat into the water and had turned around to pick up the rest of Megan and Ed’s gear and put it back into the boat. Megan saw it first and called BEAR!

The bear that crept up on us as we pushed Porkey back into the water.

We all froze and began to scan down the beach looking for the bear. Most of us missed it at first because we were looking out down the beach instead of close to us. The bear was less than 100 meters from us and walking right along the shore in our direction. This is one of those moments all the bear safety lectures kick in. We grabbed the remaining gear and grouped together on the beach to make ourselves look bigger. We yelled and clapped our hands or waved trying to get the bear to move away. This bear did not look so good. His fur was dull and shedding out and he was thin. He seemed less than interested in us but gave us a couple more meters space as he walked around us and continued down the shore. He paused every now and again to turn over a good size rock in search of eels to snack on. He took so long and was, fortunately, ignoring us that we began to joke that he was turning over every third rock just to annoy us. Megan and Ed snapped some pictures while we watched and waited for the bear to move on.

The bear as he continued down the beach.

The Wooster team began to make plans on the best way to start our hike that did not encroach on the bear since he was going in the same direction down the beach that we would need to head once it was safe. The bear made it down to the corner of the beach and we decided it was safe to creep back to camp and gather our gear to leave. Our team made it part way up the beach when the bear jerked around and came a few steps in our direction. We froze and looked at each other. The bear apparently had forgotten all about us until we moved again. He took a few more steps in our direction and we quickly walked back down the beach to regroup. Unfortunately, the bear was headed for our camp. We all dashed back to camp and grabbed pots and pans to scare the bear off and protect our turf. This is park policy so that the bears do not get too used to humans and become a more dangerous problem. The bear still did not run from us but did wonder away to the nearby meadow to snack on the grass there. Periodically, he would stand up on his hind legs and look at us over the brush. Finally, he moved on to do whatever bears do in the late morning.

And under rock number three? More eels!

With our last day burning down we took off for Casement Glacier, again following the way of the moose. The hours passed quickly with everyone more on guard looking for bears and any other wildlife that was certainly lurking just beyond the next bush, rock, or tree. Eventually, we plodded to the perceived safety of the endless outwash plain where you can see forever in all directions. We passed by a small kettle lake and suddenly heard something crashing through the alders on the side it. A moose charged out of the brush and galloped away from us. It was neat to get to see one of these animals so close up and a relief that it chose to run away unlike the bear who was content to simply ignore us. We then moved on to lunch in our usual spot with everyone remaining a little jumpy. Before long, it was time to get back to work.

We hiked further down the outcrop and around the side of the glacier. We began to work out way back looking at the stratigraphy in relation to the tree stumps that we saw in place. There were six forests still in place in relation to the small section of lake sediment that we saw there. It was much smaller than the section we studied in Wachusett Inlet. We worked our way back down away from the glacier going over each of the sections. All too soon it was time to return back to camp and we took off on the brutal hike back.

McBride Glacier

The next day was bright sunny and clear giving us an excellent view of the beautiful coastal mountains across from our camp at Forest Creek. We got up ate breakfast and quickly tore down camp to be ready for the arrival of the Capeland which was supposed to arrive at 10 am and we had a bit of a leisurely morning. We loaded our gear and then we headed to McBride Inlet with a team that was tearing down a climate station there.

Three Wooster geologists mugging for the camera in front of McBride Glacier.

McBride Inlet is the home of a tidewater glacier with the same name. We hiked into the glacier after the Capeland dropped us off along the steep shoreline. The shore and inlet were littered with icebergs of all sizes that we all enjoyed taking photographs with and of. It took about an hour to hike in to the knob where we could see the glacier. Here we admired the glacier and ate our lunches while Nick Wiesenberg and Dan Lawson got to work tearing down the climate station. We did not get to see any glacial calving while we watched the glacier just admired and enjoyed the view. Instead, we watched the seals down in the inlet sun bathing on the icebergs and the Kittiwakes swoop and fly around their nesting site on the opposite cliff.

Seals sun bathing on icebergs in McBride Inlet.

Once the team had torn down the climate station we headed back to the beach and the waiting Capeland pausing to occasionally take pictures of the ice. Once back on the boat we swung by the Forest Creek camp to pick up Porkey and then we were off to Sandy Cove raft to drop of Dr. Wiles and Sarah Appleton who would be hiking up to a refugia site on Mount Wright to do some coring of the old trees there. A refugia is a forest of trees that were not run over during the last glaciations and are very old in age relative to the other trees which are moving back into the bay from the coast.

Shopping for icebergs?

After sleeping in a tent for eight days the Sandy Cove raft seemed luxurious with its bunk beds and small kitchenette. The rest of the day was spent on the raft relaxing and preparing for the long days hike up onto the ridge behind Mount Wright.

Sandy Cove Raft!

Mt Wright/Sandy Cove

Early in the morning Dr. Wiles and Sarah Appleton began the climb up the ridge to the Mount Wright refugia. The hike was long and intense walking first through the lowland forest, crossing a bog, and then crashing through the brush on the way up the mountain to the old growth forest. The day was bright sunny and clear which made for beautiful conditions to hike.

View of Beartrack Mountain from the back porch of the Sandy Cove raft.

We hiked up to the upper tree line for a better view. Once at the top we paused to take in the beauty that surrounded them and pictures.

View from the top of the third ridge on Mount Wright!

We sat for a time and rested, overlooking the ground just covered and spotted something gray darting among the patches of green in the snow. Once the gray blur paused to sniff our tracks and we realized it was a wolverine. The wolverine began to follow our tracks back the way we had come. This was sort of frightening to see it track us and to walk down and see its tracks next to ours.

The Wolverine tracking us back the way we had come.

We headed back down to the refugia site and got to work coring trees. Several hours were spent coring trees in the beauty of the forest. All too soon it was time to slide back down the hill through the raspberries and devils club to the shore where we had parked Porkey on loan to us from Megan and Ed. We rowed across the water to the raft and dinner.

The refugia on the ridge behind Mt. Wright in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

The next day we laid out our gear to dry and updated our field notes from the day before. The Capeland picked us up and took us back to Gustavus where we loaded our gear up and went to research housing. There we unpacked our personal belongings, took a much needed shower, and met the other scientists staying there as well. We then had a spaghetti dinner courtesy of Nick and went to bed.


After a great time in Gustavus it was time to fly back to Juneau for a day and a half before we flew home. Saturday morning we boarded Fjord Flying and flew to Juneau.

The plane in which we returned to Juneau.

Once in Juneau we helped to unload our gear from the plane and out into the rental car. From there we went to our favorite Juneau eatery, Donna’s, for breakfast for lunch. After a great and satisfying meal we went to find a place to camp at the Mendenhall campgrounds. Nick and Dr. Wiles carefully picked out the perfect campsite for us to stay. It was lovely with the lake just behind us through the trees. We set up out tents all in a row and set off on a hike to the Mendenhall Glacier!

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska.

We chose to hike the west side trail and go out onto the glacier. The hike was a breeze after all the back country hiking we had done in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. There was a trail that had good footing and a hand rail when the trail narrowed on an edge. After hiking for a while we made it to the glacier. The cool glacier breeze was refreshing as we cooled off from our hike and explored the glacier, the surrounding bedrock, phyllite, and glacial till. Within the glacial till we were able to find old logs that had been run over by the glacier in the past. We began to wonder about their age and their story. Another student’s future IS???

Sarah Appleton and Nick Wiesenberg hiking on Mendenhall Glacier.

Once our curiosity had been thoroughly sparked we began to hike back down the trail to camp. That night we ate a wonderful meal prepared by Nick over the campfire of bratwursts, complete with onions and green peppers, potato chips, and orange juice followed by a delicate desert of ‘smores made with peanut butter cups or regular chocolate depending on your taste. A great day indeed!

Sarah Appleton and Nick Wiesenberg exploring the Mendenhall Glacier.

Return to a Silurian crinoid forest

July 5th, 2011

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–Today our Wooster Geology team visited a favorite outcrop of mine: the Äigu Beds of the Kaugatuma Formation exposed on the northwestern shore of the Sõrve Peninsula on Saaremaa. These are Late Silurian (Pridoli) limestones with a great abundance of crinoid fragments — so many that they are locally called “ringstones” (see the above image of a crinoid stem and isolated ring-like columnals). Palmer Shonk (’10) studied this outcrop for his Independent Study thesis. We returned here today to collect more field data so that Palmer, Olev Vinn, Bill Ausich and I can write a professional paper on the depositional system and paleoecology.

The limestones show significant storm beds made of skeletal debris, especially the crinoids but also corals, stromatoporoids, bryozoans, brachiopods and trilobites. The most remarkable aspect of this exposure is the presence of an in situ crinoid “forest” of holdfasts (the part of the crinoid that holds it to the sediment). Our job today was to find out more about the non-crinoid fauna since Palmer and I have already mapped out the crinoid holdfasts. We hope to soon publish a rare look at a Silurian crinoid community essentially preserved in place.

The Kaugatuma outcrop on the Sõrve Peninsula of Saaremaa. This was a Russian amphibious landing zone in 1944. You can bet you’ll read more about that story later!

The star-shaped fossil with the hole in the center is a crinoid holdfast in place at Kaugatuma. There are dozens of these scattered across the outcrop. The crinoid is Enallocrinus. The hole in the center is the hollow lumen of the crinoid stem.

Nick found this calyx of another crinoid known as Eucalyptocrinites. Such well preserved calices are rare.

Nick also found this very nice trilobite pygidium (tail piece). It is preserved well enough that we can probably later identify it to the genus level.

Last day at Undirhlíðar

July 4th, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND: Guest blogger: Lindsey

Today we wrapped up my field work in Undirhlíðar by double-checking our annotated photos and a brief tour of the West wall to confirm our hypothesis that the olivine rich pillow unit continued consistently along this section. We had a quick lunch before heading off to Krysuvik, about 30 minutes south of where we were staying to see some sights we had read about yesterday but had unfortunately missed on our excursion. We first came to Kleifarvatn, a large lake with black sand beaches with a legendary worm-like monster residing in its depths. We spotted it immediately:

Nessy's cousin

We then traveled a little further to Seltun, a large geothermal field seated at the base of a ridge. This area was drilled to supply energy to nearby Hafnarfjordur, but a silica build up in the borehole caused the area to explode in 1999. Another interesting thing to note about this area is the legendary Hverafugl, or “hot spring bird” that supposedly hops into a geothermal vent to hide from humans when they approach. People don’t really believe they exist anymore as a picture has never been taken of one, but older generations believe the birds are apparitions in the steam that represent spirits of the dead. We did not see any Hverafugls, they were clearly hiding.

A geothermal vent at Seltun geothermal field

I decided to stick my hand in to see if it was hot- it was. Can you imagine what the vikings must have thought when they first saw water boiling up out of the ground?

Theory to practice

We then continued a little further to Graenavatn, a strange green lake that is supposedly an old explosion crater. The green color is due to the minerals from the nearby geothermal field as well as algae.


At this point we turned around and came back as we had seen a lot of the peninsula yesterday, and seeing as we haven’t shared the sights on the blog yet, we thought our Estonian colleagues would appreciate seeming some coastline with real cliffs- no offense Nick, your study site is really cute! We started in Hafnarfjordur and ended in Rekjavik (bad map) but saw some incredible things along the way!

The first stop was at Leif the Lucky’s bridge, a spot where you can travel across the bridge from the North American to the Eurasian plate. It was so cold, rainy and windy!

Travis and I halfway between two continents

Stop number 2 was Valahnukur, a coastal area with dramatic black cliffs and powerful waves. We added Icleandic horses to our wildlife list as some were in a field right off the road to the ocean.

Windblown Icelandic horses

The cliffs hosted a large population of seabirds, the most famous of which was the Great Auk, a now extinct breed of flightless bird. The last Great Auk was apparently shot, killed and eaten on a small island 10 km off the coast. Some countries try breeding programs, Iceland has a BBQ.

The Great Auk statue at Valahnukur contemplates its demise

Our last stop of mention yesterday was in Gunnuhver, a geothermal area named after Gunna-a legendary witch/vengeful woman depending on the guide book you read. The story that I like best is that Gunna didn’t like her neighbor, so killed him and his wife. The other villagers instructed her to hold on to a knotted rope, she complied and they then dragged her into the geothermal springs where she perished. We all thought that this story was missing some explanations and was probably literally translated from Icelandic.

Gunna's grave

After a long afternoon of sightseeing, we headed back home to cook dinner at our cozy guesthouse.

Happy Fourth of July to our Estonian colleagues in return! Today we found BBQ sauce and corn-on-the-cob at the grocery store and had a lovely celebratory dinner!

Travis makes liberal use of the lighter fluid

Perhaps if we had been able to combine the Estonian weather with our Icelandic dinner we would have had a pretty good approximation of an American Fourth of July!

Off to Travis’s study site in Blonduous tomorrow.

Back to the Big Island for the Fourth of July

July 4th, 2011

KURESSAARE, SAAREMAA, ESTONIA–The Wooster Geologists Estonia Team today braved the Baltic Sea again and took a ferry from the island of Hiiumaa to return to their previous field sites on the island of Saaremaa. We worked at Soeginina Cliff on the western coast (shown above) to finish up Nick Fedorchuk’s Independent Study field research on the Wenlock-Ludlow (Silurian) erosional sequence. It was a fun day because we now have hypotheses to test about these rocks and fossils. More on those later.

The above rock shows an advantage we have studying exposures on rocky coastlines. The waves erode blocks of limestone from the cliff and polish them up on the boulder-strewn beach. We can thus see our rocks in three dimensions rather than just the flat cross-section we would normally have. The trick, though, is to know from where in the section the boulders were derived!

We found some excellent sections through the numerous oncoids in our outcrops as well. We saw that many are formed around gastropod (snail) shells — very much like a Jurassic version I recently described as one of Wooster’s Fossils of the Week.

Tonight we will celebrate the 4th of July with a pizza dinner in downtown Kuressaare. It is as close to American food as we can get here. On this holiday we salute the Wooster Geologists Iceland Team also far from home on the front lines of science!

Tubes, Trolls, and the West Wall

July 4th, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND- [guest bloggers Travis and Lindsey]

We only spent about 2 hours in Undirhlíðar yesterday due to the gale force winds that sent basalt shrapnel flying into our faces, in particular our eyeballs. It wasn’t raining luckily, as raindrops probably would have been lethal at that wind speed. We made an awesome discovery though on the Northeast wall- A lava tube! We were climbing up a talus pile when we noticed the hole leading down into the wall.

Travis is either falling in or being dragged in by a troll.

Here is what Travis and I hypothesized:
1. Troll den
2. Center of the earth
3. Dinosaurs
Unfortunately, Dr. Pollock didn’t let Travis get into the lava tube, though he tried his best to convince her. Reasons Travis thought getting inside the lava tube was a good idea:
1. We would find the base of the pillow unit
2. She would become the most famous geologist of all time
3. Dr. Wilson would let me
Reasons Dr. Pollock said no:
1. Because I said so

Travis may be convinced not to go into the lava tube but Lindsey still clings to the idea.

We then moved on to the West wall and found basalt that looked drastically different than anything we had found in the East wall.

The West Wall, Undirlihdar Quarry.

Sizable olivine and plagioclase crystals were in all of the rock units we saw in the Southern end of the West wall.


Large olivine phenocrysts within the basalts of the west wall!

Today is our last day of field work in the quarries, we’ll keep you updated on our continued adventures.

Saying goodbye to the little island of Hiiumaa

July 3rd, 2011

KÄINA, ESTONIA–Today we had our last visit to our Silurian quarry working site (where I photographed the Paleofavosites coral fossil above, which by the way was preserved upside-down in the sequence), and then we had lunch in the town of Kärdla overlooking the Baltic. Tomorrow we take the early morning ferry back to the larger island of Saaremaa where we resume fieldwork. Here are a few last photographs from Hiiumaa.

The other Silurian outcrop on the island: Kallaste Cliff. A bit overgrown, we think.

Some purple flowers found in the woods near our field site.

Yellow flowers in the quarry itself. I do know the one on the left is a daisy!

Whitish flowers and then a moth-covered thistle. I photographed this Six-Spot Burnet moth earlier, but three on one flower deserved another image. I'm sparing you the photos of them mating!

Our hotel on Hiiumaa. For most nights we were the only ones there. The students said it reminded them of "The Shining".

A walk to the sea after lunch in Kärdla. We have enjoyed this weather very much.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Nummulitid foraminiferans (Eocene of the United Arab Emirates)

July 3rd, 2011

The Great Pyramids of Egypt are made primarily of a yellowish limestone. About 40% of that limestone is made of the fossil type pictured above. These are foraminiferans (single-celled organisms with shells) that lived by the countless billions during the Eocene (56 to 34 million years ago) in the Tethys Ocean. They are called Nummulites from the Latin nummulus, which means “little coin”. They have the honor of having been first described by the 5th Century BCE Greek historian Herodotus, who noticed them in the Pyramid stones. (He thought, by the way, that they were fossilized lentils.)

(From R.A. Lydekker (1894), Life and Rocks.)

If you slice a nummulitid test (what we call a foraminiferan shell) like a bagel, the inside is revealed to be a long spiral. The single-celled organism built the shell by progressively adding to this spiral, making the largest foraminiferan tests ever known, some over 15 cm in diameter. (Most foraminiferans have tests about the size of a pinhead.)

I collected our Wooster Nummulites during fieldwork with my colleague Paul Taylor near Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. I thought at the time that I was picking up two species: a small one and a significantly larger one. I later learned that these are two versions of the same species. Nummulites reproduced alternately sexually and then asexually. This alternation of generations is seen today in many living foraminiferans, and we see an analogue in some plants like ferns.

Nummulitids are the stars of a strange story in paleontology. A British zoologist who was at the time assistant keeper of invertebrates at the British Museum (Natural History) wrote a book (The Nummulosphere, 1912) and a series of papers with the astonishing thesis that all rocks were actually made of foraminiferan tests — all rocks! Even basalt, granite and meteorites are organic in origin. The late Stephen Jay Gould told the tale of Randolph Kirkpatrick (1863-1950) memorably in his compilation of essays The Panda’s Thumb (Norton, 1980). Kirkpatrick’s work is well worth reading for his incredible arguments. (Lava, for example, is melted “siliceous nummulitic rock” recycled back to the surface.) The tortured logic to show the remains of Nummulites tests in igneous rocks is oddly entertaining.

“Fig. A [Plate XXI]. Section of rotten trachyte [a volcanic rock] permeated with sulphur from interior of upper crater of Tenerife, x 4.5. The coils of a much-blasted nummulite in perpendicular section are visible to the trained vision.”


Using the iPad in geologic field work-Part 2

July 2nd, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND- Guest Blogger: Lindsey Bowman

Our Estonia-based colleagues certainly have an advantage when it comes to timely blog posts; lagging three hours behind we are now appearing redundant in our post topic! We too have been using the iPad 2 in the field, particularly today in Vatnsskarth quarry as the rain has turned into intermittent mist. As Dr. Pollock and Travis took notes in their classic Rite in the Rain field books, I trailed along behind and took photos and annotated directly in front of the outcrop they were sketching.

Annotating the East wall of Vatnsskarth

We found it incredibly useful to take the photo and be able to reference the wall directly in front of us, as subtle differences between columnar and pillow basalts are sometimes hard to see in a photo. We also struggled a little with the glare, but found that Iceland’s weather was actually advantageous as we never saw the sun today. Below is an example of a photo annotated in the field:

Base of the pillow ridge showing glacial sediment directly overlain by basaltic pillows.

However, some photos do require more detailed annotation later in the cafe over a latte.

Annotation of a photo taken previously in the field

Below is a photo from Undirhlíðar that I plan to use in some capacity of my I.S.:

Undirhlíðar- SE wall

We also wanted to share one of our equipment finds that leaves us worry-free about tossing the iPad into our day packs with basalt samples and other sharp or heavy objects. Below is the Otterbox case that we have on the iPad, which not only keeps it safe, but also acts as an easel-like stand for when we want to use the iPad on a flat surface.

Otterbox case leaves us worry-free about the iPad's safety!

We have been using the annotation app ArtStudio which we have found to be flexible and intuitive. We are using a Just Mobile AluPen with the app to make drawing easier; like Dr. Wilson, I have found the stylus helpful.

Stylus > Finger

Finally, to keep the iPad safe from the rain and mist, we have found that a gallon-sized ziploc bag works just fine.

Tomorrow we will head back to Undirhlíðar, since we finished in Vatnsskarth today. We are hoping for clear skies, but watching the mist blow through the quarry and across the rocky landscape today was beautiful. Dr. Pollock mentioned how easy it is to visualize Icelandic folklore and legends in weather like this, and honestly, imagining ghostly vikings emerging from the billowing mist didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Using the iPad in geological fieldwork

July 2nd, 2011

KÄINA, ESTONIA–It is not yet one of my regular bits of field equipment, and I am certainly far from an expert with its use, but I can say a few things about the value of an iPad in geological fieldwork. This summer I have used it in Israel, Poland and Estonia and it has served me very well.

Despite the dramatic photos here, I have used my iPad2 mostly indoors. It is by far the most convenient field library I have ever had. Laptops are great for storing and displaying pdfs of papers and maps, but it just can’t beat the convenience of simple taps on the iPad screen to pull up astonishingly clear text and images. I use PDFReader Pro so I can easily zoom in and out on the screen with the classic Apple two-finger move. I add documents to this reader and others with Dropbox (recommended to me by Lisa Park), which has the advantage of syncing with all my other computers. (I seem to have more than a few now.) It has never been easier in a remote location to read documents and share them with students and colleagues. My trusty MacBook Pro seems terribly primitive for reading now.

Although I haven’t used them on this trip, I want to mention the excellent geological map programs of Integrity Logic. I have map programs for California, Utah and Ohio. Each comes with 25 layers, including bedrock geology, roads, mines, earthquake epicenters and much more. They are essentially GIS products for the iPad and iPod. I’ve found them most useful when traveling through (or flying over) a region I want to know more about.

For making typed notes indoors and out, I like the app Evernote because the typing is intuitive and it does a good job of correcting my mistakes. I would not use this for serious writing (I can’t yet break free from the laptop for that), it is good for quick notes and, astonishingly, audio recordings and photographs through the iPad camera. I can, if I want, easily talk about an outcrop to my iPad and have it archive my precious words. (I haven’t yet.)

I use Bamboo Paper for sketches in the field and with colleagues around the dinner table. It is great for outlining crazy ideas in six colors. As with Evernote, the results can be emailed from the iPad. (Although I must say, I haven’t made any such notes worthy of leaving the device!) By the way, for sketching I very much like the Boxwave Stylus rather than relying on my fat fingers.

There is a behavioral barrier I’ve had to overcome before taking my iPad into the field itself. Carrying this precious machine in my backpack along with hammers, chisels, water bottles and, eventually, bags of rocks seemed a bad idea. I have a protective cover for the screen, but no sealed box for the whole iPad. I know they’re out there, but I haven’t found one I like. Instead I seal it into a separate pocket as far away from hard, sharp and wet things as possible. So far, no problems, but I hesitate pulling it out in the wilderness with all those hazards for electronics. I’ll get more accustomed to it, I’m sure. (Although I still feel that way about my camera.) Of course, no one would use an iPad in the rain — another reason I don’t work in Iceland.

The most useful apps in the field are again PDFReader Pro for accessing documents downloaded through Dropbox, Evernote and Bamboo Paper. I have been experimenting with Sketchbook Express for taking photographs in the field with the iPad and then annotating them on the spot. It is a very useful way to remember something visual, and the images can be exported out through email. Again, none of these jottings are publication quality — they are quick notes to myself. There is much potential in this latter application for more sophisticated field observations and records.

Taking an image of an outcrop with the iPad camera and then annotating it with Sketchbook Express.

Example of an annotated field image. Not brilliant because it is intended for my own notes alone. (The blogger's dilemma.)

Finally, general iPad apps I like as a geologist include Disaster Alert (realtime maps of disasters around the world), Sunrise Clock (especially helpful when you’ve crossed significant amounts of latitude!), Google Earth (of course), Star Walk (for starry nights), various language translation programs (I try), and GW Mail (for Groupwise email accounts — easier than accessing through a computer).

Again, I’m just starting with the iPad so I know there is much I’m missing. It has not replaced my laptop (I can’t write blog posts with it, for example), so I’ve actually increased the electronics I carry around on trips. I had an awkward moment in the Tel Aviv airport when a security officer looked at my US cell phone, Israeli cell phone, iPod, iPad, Macbook Pro, and GPS and asked why I needed all these things! Indeed. The future no doubt will have some sort of iPad-like device that does it all.

Feel free to add information and ideas through the comments below!

(Photos courtesy of Rachel Matt.)

First day of field work in Undirhlíðar Quarry

July 1st, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND: Guest Blogger: Lindsey Bowman

Today Travis, Dr. Pollock and I started our field work in Undirhlíðar Quarry. It was cold, windy and rainy- perfect for our new rain gear!

Geochemists at work

We started mapping the quarry walls in detail where Becky Alcorn ’11 left off, and made it along the East wall in about six hours. We observed some gorgeous pillow lavas, the most abundant formation in the quarry.

Pillow from the East wall

Undirhlíðar is much larger than I had originally imagined it (certainly a  grander scale than Estonian quarries). Here’s a great picture taken by Travis:

Undirhlíðar quarry wall under consideration by Dr. Pollock and Lindsey Bowman

To brighten up this post, I’d like to nod to the colorful and abundant flora of Iceland. Barren? I think not.

Nootka Lupin outside Undirhlithar

Wood crane's bill

The only fauna that we’ve seen besides seagulls are these unfortunate fish- species unknown.

Dried fish- yummy!

Finally, below is a video taken by Travis today to give you an idea of Undirhlíðar in 3D-

Tomorrow we head to Vatnsskarth to continue our field work!

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