Archive for June, 2013

Wooster Geologists return to the Negev

June 30th, 2013

LizzieOscarSteph063013MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–These are the shining faces of Team Israel 2013 of the Wooster Geology program. From the left is wind-challenged Lizzie Reinthal (’14) from Ohio, Oscar Mmari (’14) from Tanzania, and Steph Bosch (’14) from Pennsylvania (and soon to be an Arizonan). We arrived this afternoon in our destination town of Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Highlands of southern Israel. This is our first geological stop: a short walk from the hotel to the northern rim of the magnificent Makhtesh Ramon, a deep erosional feature often called the “Grand Canyon of Israel”. If you look back in our Israel blog entries (such as this one) you’ll see this is a traditional setting for our first images! (And the students get their first geological examination on an Israeli outcrop.)

We are in Israel for two weeks pursuing research as part of Wooster’s Senior Independent Study program. Lizzie will be looking at the taphonomy of crinoids in the Jurassic Matmor Formation, Oscar will be studying the origin and economic value of an extensive set of Cretaceous phosphorites, and Steph will be studying rare but important bryozoan fossils from the Matmor Formation, which was deposited near the equator during the Jurassic.

Getting to this spot in the middle of the desert took lots of planning. (Thanks, Suzanne Easterling and Patrice Reeder!) Oscar flew to Tel Aviv from Tanzania via Ethiopia a few hours before us. I was worried about his connections and getting through immigration, but it worked out splendidly — Oscar was there to greet us as we emerged from the arrivals gate. We then packed into a rental car and drove south about three hours to Mitzpe Ramon. The weather is excellent — far cooler than the deserts today in the southwestern USA!

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mosasaurid teeth from the Cretaceous of Morocco

June 30th, 2013

PrognathodonTeethKhouribgaCretaceousThese impressive teeth are from the mosasaurid Prognathodon and were found in the Upper Cretaceous phosphorites near Khouribga, Morocco. They are not actually a matching set — I just arranged them to look fearsome.

Prognathodon_lutigini_Dmitry_Bogdanov(Prognathodon lutigi from the Upper Cretaceous of Russia. Reconstruction by Dmitry Gogdanov via Wikipedia.)

Prognathodon (the name means “front-jaw tooth”) was a very large mosasaurid, with some specimens up to 12 meters in length. They were cosmopolitan in extent, being found throughout the world in Campanian to Maastrichtian deposits. They lived in deep waters as shown by some specimens with strengthening bony rings around their eye sockets. They were essentially sea-going lizards, and big ones at that.

Note that the teeth are stout and blunt. They were not adapted for tearing flesh but rather crushing hard-shelled prey they found on the seafloor. One skeleton was found with some stomach contents intact, including a sea turtle, a variety of fishes, and an ammonite. This is not the usual diet of other mosasaurid genera which were nektic (swimming) predators.
Louis_DolloPrognathodon was named in 1889 by the famous Belgian paleontologist Louis Antoine Marie Joseph Dollo (1857-1931). Paleontology and History of Life students will immediately recognize that name because of Dollo’s Law: “evolution is not reversible”. (Or its corollary: extinction is forever!) He started his career as an engineer, graduating at the top of his class in 1877 from the École Centrale de Lille. He worked as a mining engineer and, as luck would have it, quickly discovered an extraordinary mass burial of the dinosaur Iguanodon. Studying this genus and other fossil reptiles became his passion. In 1882 he became an assistant naturalist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. One of his many remarkable contributions was to begin to think of fossils as once living organisms in ecological networks. In this sense he essentially founded paleobiology. In 1912 he received the Murchison Medal from the Geological Society of London. Not too shabby for an engineer.

References:

Buffetaut, E. and Bardet, N. 2012. The mosasaurid (Squamata) Prognathodon in the Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) of the Cotentin Peninsula (Normandy, northwestern France). Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183: 111-115.

Schulp, A.S., Polcyn, M.J., Mateus, O.,  Jacobs, L.L., Morais, M.L. and Silva Tavares, T. 2006. New mosasaur material from the Maastrichtian of Angola, with notes on the phylogeny, distribution and palaeoecology of the genus Prognathodon. On Maastricht Mosasaurs 45: 57-67.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A barnacle-bored belemnite from the Jurassic of Spain

June 23rd, 2013

Hibolites_barnacle_borings585Two subjects of previous Fossil of the Week posts are combined together here: a belemnite (the elegant Hibolites hastatus) and barnacle borings (the ichnofossil Rogerella). This specimen is from the Jurassic of Moneva Teruel, Spain.

(Living belemnites reconstructed by Bogdanov on Wikipedia)

(Living belemnites reconstructed by Bogdanov on Wikipedia)

Belemnites are extinct cephalopods, oddly enough. The specimen is the guard or rostrum — a calcitic internal skeleton that gave the squid-like animal rigidity. Because they are made of solid, stable calcite, these guards can be extremely common in the fossil record, especially in the Jurassic and Cretaceous. Some people call these “belemnite battlefields”, probably because the fossils look so much like bullets.

de_BlainvilleHibolites hastatus was named by Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville (1777-1850) in 1827. He was a French naturalist with many accomplishments, especially in anatomy and systematics. He spent most of his career in the Faculty of Sciences at Paris, where he was a colleague (and eventual ideological enemy) of the epic Georges Cuvier. In 1830 he took over from the “father of invertebrate zoology” Jean-Baptiste Lamarck as the chair of natural history. Clearly he ran in powerful circles.

The yellow features in this close-up above are holes drilled by acrothoracic barnacles, which were then filled with fine-grained dolomite. The trace fossil thus formed is known as Rogerella. It is found from the Devonian all the way to today. Its presence on these belemnite guards shows that these structures laid for enough time on the seafloor that they could be colonized by barnacles. They are thus an indicator of the taphonomy (or history from death to discovery) of these fossils.

References:

Doyle, P. and MacDonald, D.I.M. 1993. Belemnite battlefields. Lethaia 26: 65-80.

Lambers, P. and Boekschoten, G.J. 1986. On fossil and recent borings produced by acrothoracic cirripeds. Geologie en Mijnbouw 65: 257–268.

Mariotti, N. 2002. Systematics and taphonomy of an Early Kimmeridgian belemnite fauna from the Mediterranean Tethys (Monte Nerone, Central Apennines, Italy). Geobios 35: 213-232.

Congratulations Team Utah!

June 20th, 2013

UTAH – Congratulations to Team Utah on completing a successful field season!

Team Utah 2013 at the end of their last day in the field. From left to right: (front) Dr. Thom Wilch (Albion), Michael Williams ('16, COW), Ellen Redner ('14, Albion), Cam Matesich ('14, COW), Adam Silverstein ('16, COW); (back) Kyle Burden ('14, COW), Dr. Meagen Pollock (COW), Ben Hinks ('14, Albion), Candy Thornton ('14, COW), Tricia Hall ('14, COW), and Dr. Shelley Judge (COW).

Team Utah 2013 at the end of their last day in the field. From left to right: (front) Dr. Thom Wilch (Albion), Michael Williams (’16, COW), Ellen Redner (’14, Albion), Cam Matesich (’14, COW), Adam Silverstein (’16, COW); (back) Kyle Burden (’14, COW), Dr. Meagen Pollock (COW), Ben Hinks (’14, Albion), Candy Thornton (’14, COW), Tricia Hall (’14, COW), and Dr. Shelley Judge (COW). Credit: T. Wilch

Although we’re parting ways, the students will be working on the research. They have plenty of data to analyze and lab work to do, so continue following the blog to stay updated on their progress.

The 16th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association

June 17th, 2013

1.Building061013CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–The IBA meeting has now ended and, as this is posted, I should be winging my way home across the Atlantic. It was a fantastic experience. This is a unique organization, of which I’m now proud to be a member of council. It is a combination of paleontologists and biologists who share a passion for the Phylum Bryozoa in all its manifestations. We had 77 oral presentations and dozens of posters spread among 80 participants, including students, academics, museum scientists, and very keen citizen scientists. The “international” component is taken very seriously: of the 80 people present, 27 countries were represented.
2.MeetingRoomWall061413All the sessions were held in the Palazzo delle Scienze building shown at the top of the page. We shared it with the regular student body, so it was a lively place. Directly above is the back wall of our meeting room with images of famous scientists who lived in Italy, from the Greeks to the 20th Century.
3.MeetingRoomCeiling061413Italians leave no ceiling unpainted. I’m not sure who the people are depicted above us, except that Amerigo Vespucci must be the one holding a map of the Americas. This room certainly makes you feel part of the international scientific enterprise.
4.KevinTalking061013Here is one of our participants, Kevin Tilbrook, giving a presentation. All our communications were in English. Imagine the challenge of talking in your second or third language with someone else doing the same thing. I am continually amazed by the language skills here.
5.FirstSlide061413My talk was on Friday morning, June 14. My first slide is shown above. My friend Paul Taylor and I examined two purported bryozoans common in the Paleozoic and showed that they were certainly not members of that phylum, despite some superficial resemblances.
6.ConclusionSlide061413This is our conclusion slide. As you can see, it is relatively easy to say what something is not, but quite another to say what it is!
7.Palazzo Biscari 061413The IBA conference dinner is always a big event. This one was among the most spectacular. We had dinner in the historical Palazzo Biscari. This is a view from the terrace towards the central Duomo complex.
8.Palazzo Biscari Dinner 061415The ballroom is a Baroque fantasy. To complete the image, dinner was preceded by a choral performance from a Sicilian choir tucked back in the alcove. They sang many, many pieces, including some national favorites from countries represented among us.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 8.03.57 AMAnd here is the group photo. Like many, I wasn’t ready for this shot, so I’ll be impressed if anyone can find me in here!

Our meeting was a spectacular success in terms of the science shared and learned, and the Sicilian cultural experiences. Thank you very much to organizers Antonietta Rosso and Rossana Sanfilippo from the University of Catania!

Return to Mount Etna

June 16th, 2013

1.Etna2001flowview061613CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–The very last field trip stop — and final event — of the International Bryozoology Association Conference was a trip to the south side of Mount Etna. We drove to a spot that had significant activity in 2000 and 2001. Several lateral craters appeared on the side of the mountain, and the lava flows buried parts of a restaurant and shop complex. They threatened to destroy the base of a cable car system, but firefighters with hoses managed to divert the flow by cooling it with water.
2.LateralCrater061613My Belgian friend Hans De Blauwe and I decided to choose one of these smaller craters and hike to it within our allotted visit time. We picked this one in the center because of its symmetry and the flows that streamed from it. All of these features in and around this cone formed in 2001.
3.LateralConesRow061613We soon saw that our cone was the first of at least three cones descending in a row down the slope. The lava flow shows very distinct levees on its sides where the lava lapped over its banks and cooled, creating a walled channel.
4.BouldersEtna061613There are many car- and house-sized boulders of non-vesicular basalt scattered about. I assume these were thrown from the throats of explosive craters.
5.LavaTube061613We found this very cool lava tube, indicated first by a long walled channel that apparently represents a collapsed portion of the tunnel. A lava tube is formed when the periphery of a flow cools into hard rock and the still-fluid interior empties. We explore a beautiful ancient example on our Mojave Desert field trips.
6.HansLavaTube061613Our lava tube is open at both ends. Here Hans is crouching in the larger of the entrances.
7.LavaTubeInterior061613I took a flash image of the interior. You can see small “lavasicles” (cooled drips of lava) on the ceiling, along with a white crust of some sulfurous minerals.
8.HansAA061613Here Hans is picking his way through the aa flow. In the lower right is another lava tube that extends back about three meters.
9.FlowerMounds061613The flowers on this volcanic slopes are very interesting. Hardy pioneers, they are. There are numerous clusters of these mounds of greenery. It appears that the plants settled on a bit of ash and then grew centripetally. The surrounding ash was eroded away, but the roots of these plants held onto their patches, eventually producing mounds as the surrounding sediment was removed.
10.SpinyFlowers061613The mounds are made mostly of this spiny flowering plant. Maybe Hans will provide me with names later.
11.PurpleFlowers061613These purple flowers often form in rings around the bases of the mounds.
12.LavaFlowersWhite061613Nice white flowers on the 2001 ash layers.
13.LavaDaisies061613Somehow there are always daisies around, even in the most surprising places.
14.ViewCatania061613Finally, here is a view from our craters toward Catania and the coast. A 2001 lava flow is directly below us. In the middle distance you can see a series of small cones, many of which were active in historical times. Catania is certainly in a volcanic hazard zone. The geologists, though, worry far more about earthquakes here than eruptions. An eruption, after all, gives you much more warning than a sudden and devastating ‘quake. Considering all this, and despite the occasional tornado and blizzard, Ohio looks like one of the safest places on Earth.

And to beautiful and much wetter Ohio I now return.

EtnaAshClose[A late addition to this post (June 23, 2013). Above is a close-up of ash erupted from Mount Etna in April 2013.]

Sandstone Appreciation Day

June 16th, 2013

Zion National Park, Utah – Team Utah took a break from the volcanic field to explore some of Utah’s (more famous) sedimentary rocks. We visited Zion, Utah’s first National Park.

Zion is a geological wonderland, featuring striking sheer cliffs and narrow slot canyons.

Zion is a geological wonderland, featuring striking sheer cliffs and narrow slot canyons.

The students took the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools.

The students hiked the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools. Credit: T. Hall

This is the Court of the Patriarch, so named for figures from the Old Testament by Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916. Abraham Peak is on the far left. Isaac Peak is in the center. Jacob Peak is the white peak that can be viewed just beyond Mount Moroni.

This is the Court of the Patriarchs, so named for figures from the Old Testament by Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916. Abraham Peak is on the far left. Isaac Peak is in the center. Jacob Peak is the white peak that can be viewed just beyond Mount Moroni on the right.

View of The Narrows, a trail that winds through the slot canyons carved by water through the Navajo Sandstone.

View of The Narrows, a trail that winds through slot canyons in the famously cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone.

The Wooster crew cools off in the Virgin River at the end of an awesome day in Zion. Credit: T. Wilch

The Wooster crew cools off in the Virgin River at the end of an awesome day in Zion. Credit: T. Wilch

Limestones, basalts, the wine-dark sea and the brooding volcano

June 16th, 2013

1.BasaltLimestone061613CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–Today we had our last field trip associated with the 2013 International Bryozoology Conference. We traveled to the east coast of Sicily at Castelluccio, which is south of Catania and north of Syracuse. The weather could not have been better. It was, as a commenter has said, “impossibly beautiful”.

The view above is of Early Pleistocene limestones resting on tholeitic basalt flows. As our guides said, in this place we could see the interplay of extensional tectonics, regional uplift, and glacially-controlled sea-level changes. The visuals were stunning. In the background you can see the east flank of Mount Etna.
2.Thalassinoides061613The limestones were of shallow-water origin and very diverse. One layer was almost completed bioturbated (biologically stirred up) by crustaceans, producing a trace fossil of connected tunnels called Thalassinoides.
3.FossilScallops061613Fossils were abundant in some units. Here is an horizon rich in scallop shells. These shells are often preferentially preserved because they are made of hardy calcite rather than chemically unstable aragonite like most other mollusk skeletons.
5.Dike061613The interactions between the basalt flows and the calcareous sediments were fascinated. Above you see a black basaltic dike cutting vertically through the limestones. Why there are no visible baked zones is a mystery to me.
4.BakedZone061613In this image we have basalt above and sediments below. The pink color of the limestones tells us they were cooked by the hot lava that flowed over them.
6.Beachrock061613There are a variety of post-depositional geological processes operating at this outcrop. One of them is the superimposition of beachrock during sea-level highstands. Beachrock is a cemented sediment formed in the surf zone by precipitation of carbonate. This particular beachrock was plastered onto an eroded limestone cliff like stucco. You can see black basalt among the diverse clasts.
7.EtnaBayView061613Over it all rules Mount Etna, here viewed from the top of the outcrop. It was unusually smoky today, which does not show well in our photographs because of the murky haze. We headed to this behemoth for the second and last stop of our field trip.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A sawfish rostral tooth from the Upper Cretaceous of Morocco

June 16th, 2013

Onchopristis_numidus_052013_585More fossil fish teeth this week. This impressive, barbed tooth is from the ancient chondrichthyan sawfish Onchopristis numidus (Haug, 1905). It was found in the Tegana Formation (Cenomanian, Upper Cretaceous) near Kem Kem, Morocco (and is yet another contribution from our alumnus George Chambers).
Onchopristis_numidus_groupThese are all rostral teeth, meaning they are the sideways teeth on each side of the snout (rostrum) of the sawfish. They each have a barb for entangling prey. Like modern sawfish, O. numidus would have lived along the bottom and occasionally thrashed about, wounding smaller fish and crustaceans so that it could catch and eat them.

onchopristis_size_guideOnchopristis numidus was the largest sawfish known, making it a formidable predator.

Onchopristis_diagram

Of course, seeing it against a human profile makes it more real!

Spinosaurus_OnchopristisDespite its size, O. pristis had a famous nemesis: the dinosaur Spinosaurus. Barbed teeth of the sawfish have been found embedded in the jaws of this beast. The above image is from the show Dinosaur Planet, as is this Youtube clip of the two struggling (with one clearly losing).

And yes, Spinosaurus is coming as a future Fossil of the Week!

References:

Martill, D.M. and Ibrahim, N. 2012. Aberrant rostral teeth of the sawfish Onchopristis numidus from the Kem Kem beds (? early Late Cretaceous) of Morocco and a reappraisal of Onchopristis in New Zealand. Journal of African Earth Sciences 64: 71-76.

Slaughter, B.H. and Steiner, M. 1968. Notes on rostral teeth of ganopristine sawfishes, with special reference to Texas material. Journal of Paleontology 42: 233-239.

Slaughter, B.H. and Thurmond, J.T. 1974. A lower Cenomanian (Cretaceous) ichthyofauna from the Bahariya Formation of Egypt. Annals of the Geological Survey of Egypt 4: 25-40.

Serious Geologizing in Utah

June 13th, 2013

UTAH – Team Utah has been seriously geologizing in the Ice Springs Volcanic Field over the past two days. Here’s a photo-journal of the crew at work.

Ben Hinks ('14, Albion) examines a stack of thin pahoehoe flows in his field area. Credit: M. Pollock

Ben Hinks (’14, Albion) examines a stack of thin pahoehoe flows in his field area. Credit: M. Pollock

Cam Matesich ('14, Wooster), Ben Hinks ('14, Albion, and Tricia Hall ('14, Wooster) looking for samples in an 'a'a lava flow in Cam's field area. Credit: T. Wilch

Cam Matesich (’14, Wooster), Ben, and Tricia Hall (’14, Wooster) look for samples in an ‘a’a lava flow in Cam’s field area. Credit: T. Wilch

Synchronized hammering was the only way we could get samples of the tough lava. From left to right: Cam Matesich, Ellen Redner ('14, Albion), Kyle Burden ('14, Wooster), and Ben Hinks. Credit: M. Pollock

Synchronized hammering was the only way we could get samples of the tough lava. From left to right: Cam, Ellen Redner (’14, Albion), Kyle Burden (’14, Wooster), and Ben. Credit: M. Pollock

Ellen hands Ben the fruits of her labor. Credit: T. Wilch

Ellen hands Ben the fruits of her labor. Kyle is ready to bag it. Credit: T. Wilch

Candy Thornton ('14, Wooster) directs the data collection at her field site. Credit: T. Wilch

Candy Thornton (’14, Wooster) directs the data collection at her field site. Credit: T. Wilch

Kyle, Ben, and Candy document the stratigraphy of an isolated lava pillar in the middle of a depression. Credit: T. Wilch

Kyle, Ben, and Candy document the stratigraphy of an isolated lava pillar in the middle of a depression. Credit: T. Wilch

Adam Silverstein ('16, Wooster) makes an excellent scale. Credit: M. Pollock

Adam Silverstein (’16, Wooster) makes an excellent scale. Credit: M. Pollock

 

Michael Williams ('16, Wooster) and Cam use the GPS to map the location of features in Candy's field site. Credit: A. Silverstein

Michael Williams (’16, Wooster) and Cam use the GPS to map the location of features in Candy’s field site. Credit: A. Silverstein

Tricia measures the orientation of volcanic striae. Credit: M. Pollock

Tricia measures the orientation of volcanic striae. Credit: M. Pollock

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