Archive for July, 2014

After 5 weeks in the field…my first blog!!

July 15th, 2014

EPHRAIM, UTAH — My apologies for not blogging sooner, but things have been very, very busy out here in the Sanpete Valley.  I spent the first 4 weeks doing my usual summer teaching at Ohio State’s Geology Field Camp.  This summer, we have 22 students — one of whom is Tricia Hall (’14).  During her time at Wooster, Tricia spent 2 summers with me in Utah doing research that eventually culminated in her I.S. on deformation bands within the Sixmile Canyon Formation.  She decided to pursue graduate studies at Ohio State, and her new advisor (Terry Wilson) is the director of the field camp.  So, Tricia is currently completing field camp this summer before beginning her M.S. research in the fall.  It has been wonderful for me to continue to teach her about the joys of Utah geology!!

I’ve been teaching with a great cast of characters:  Terry (OSU), Cristina Millan (OSU), and Dan Kelley (BGSU).  We have had rotating faculty the past 5 weeks, and I have enjoyed every minute of teaching with them this summer.  I always cherish these summer nights in Ephraim, because although they are filled with work, they are also filled with a ton of laughter.  Days are long (6 am to 10+pm with students), so making sure that you are enjoying the teaching is paramount.

Below is a photo that I took from an overlook of Palisade State Park, with its golf course and swimming hole in view.  One of our field camp exercises involves a cross-section W-E across the Sanpete Valley.  This view to the SW encompasses much of the cross-section transect.  Although I cannot give away any field camp secrets for next year’s class, I will say that there is some amazing geology here, with spectacular faults, folds, and unconformities.

Palisade Overlook

One of the most exciting evenings at field camp this year began as a very typical night after dinner.  Students were all extremely busy, diligently trying to finish an assignment by 10 pm.  All of a sudden, there was a low “roar”, and the apartment building began to shake.  We were actually experiencing a nearby earthquake!!  How cool is that?  Needless to say, myself and Cristina (co-instructor) quickly exited our apartment — only to witness all of the other geologists racing out of their rooms in excitement.  You can read about all of the details of the Spring City 4.2 earthquake (which was only about 10 miles to the NE) at:

I was exceptionally excited, because its epicenter was on the flanks of the Wasatch monocline, where I did much of my dissertation research.  Although we had several aftershocks, field campers only felt the one episode of shaking.  It was a great educational moment, because Ephraim lies in the transition zone between the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province.  This region exhibits some of the easternmost normal faulting associated with Basin and Range extension in Utah.

Please look for additional blogs in the very near future.  I currently am working with 4 Wooster students since finishing my teaching duties at field camp.



Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Silicified chonetid brachiopods from the Permian of West Texas

July 11th, 2014

Dyoros planiextensus Cooper and Grant 1975 585Above are four valves of the chonetid brachiopod Dyoros planiextensus Cooper and Grant, 1975. They are preserved by silicification and were recovered from a block of the Road Canyon Formation (Roadian Stage of the Guadalupian Series of the Permian System) from the Glass Mountains of southwestern Texas. It is from the same unit and location as the rhynchonellid brachiopod presented two weeks ago in this blog. (Please see that entry for additional links and explanations of the preservation.)

It took me awhile to work out the systematics of this species, so I must show you in exquisite detail —

Phylum Brachiopoda
Class Strophomenata Williams et al., 1996
Order Productida Sarytcheva and Sokolskaya, 1959
Suborder Chonetidina Muir-Wood, 1955
Superfamily Chonetoidea Bronn, 1862
Family Rugosochonetidae Muir-Wood, 1962
Genus Dyoros Stehli 1954
Species Dyoros planiextensus Cooper and Grant, 1975

Like music!

The chonetid brachiopods (at the suborder level) can be extremely common in Permo-Carboniferous units. I’ve seen hillsides in southeastern Ohio that seemed coated with them as they eroded from the shales beneath. They were well adapted to living on soft sediments with their flat, thin shells. In life they had a series of small hollow spines extended from the hinge line (the straight parts of the shell where the valves articulated; top in the photos above) to help anchor them as juveniles and possibly serve as extensions of their sensory systems.

Just a short entry this week. If all proceeded by plan, I’m somewhere deep in China right now!


Cooper, G.A. and Grant, R.E. 1975. Permian brachiopods of West Texas, III. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 19:795-1921.

Racheboeuf, P.R., Moore, T.E. and Blodgett, R.B. 2004. A new species of Dyoros (Brachiopoda; Chonetoidea) from Nevada (United States) and stratigraphic implications for the Pennsylvanian and Permian Antler Overlap assemblage. Geobios 37: 382-394.

Stehli, F.G. 1954. Lower Leonardian Brachiopoda of the Sierra Diablo. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 105: 257-358.

An unexpected early return from China, but at least I got to see the inside of a Chinese hospital

July 7th, 2014

Sign Abdominal PainWOOSTER, OHIO — I am safely home far too early from my China adventure, and here begins a painful tale. I tell it first to complete the 2014 China Expedition story, and because there may be some lessons for geologists on field trips far from home. It is also a record to remind me of unexpected events in the field. I’ll say at the start that I’m fine now and was never in danger.

On my very first morning in China, after a good sleep in a Shenyang hotel, my host Zhang Yongli picked me up for a tour of Shenyang Palace. It was great, as you can see from the blog post, but I was not feeling well. Yongli took me to a restaurant with excellent dumplings, but I ate little because of stomach discomfort. I attributed it to the long series of flights that ended the previous evening. Yongli took me back to the hotel for a rest in the early afternoon. It was only when I returned to my hotel room that a familiar pain slowly manifested in my left-side lower back. It began to ramp up and I knew exactly what it was: a kidney stone was starting its own long journey through my urinary system. Since I had a very bad kidney stone episode two years ago that lasted for many days and required an operation, I knew I was in trouble. I telephoned Yongli and he arrived to take me to a hospital for assessment and pain medication. (Please note that I unknowingly brought this kidney stone with me. It had nothing to do with conditions in China.)
Shenjing Hospital of China Medical University WikimediaAfter walking to one hospital (which was actually less painful than sitting), we were directed to another with better facilities: Shengjing Hospital of China Medical University (shown above with a Wikipedia image). We took a taxi to get there. Quick-thinking Yongli telephoned his wife, Wang Fei, to meet us there because she had better English skills for translation. She was a critical player for the next several hours. Alas she now only knows me as a grimacing American gamely smiling through a long series of procedures and waits. She and Yongli were fantastic, supportive and generous friends of mine during this odyssey. They were, in fact, my only friends in China, and I had just met them.

The emergency room at Shenjing Hospital is a series of large connected spaces lined with various medical speciality stations. There were hundreds of people there when we arrived. Despite my first impression (and fear) of chaos, the medical system was efficient and effective. If I was in an American big city emergency room my time from arrival to diagnosis would have likely been the same. The processes, though, were very different from anything I’ve experienced state-side.

Fei and Yongli first took me to a check-in at the “abdominal pain” counter. We received several slips of paper that would eventually be passed through stations, signed and stamped before and after procedures were completed. They next took me to the ultrasonic scanning station to get a slip of paper in queue, and then do the same for a CT scan. I was clearly not the only kidney stone sufferer there. I may have been Kidney Stone #12 for all I could tell. While we waited for these procedures, I joined a line to provide a blood sample. When my time came I just extended my arm and they did the job, applying tags to the vial to be delivered to the lab.

At each station Fei would explain my situation to the nurses. Since there was always a crowd listening, I could tell when she got to the description when a dozen faces would turn to sympathetically gaze on my misfortune. I was the only Westerner I could see, but I heard there was another being shepherded around.

Kidney stone CT scanClose up of a CT scan of my innards showing the offending stone as that little light point. [Update: My doctor in Wooster was able to easily use the Chinese CT data to confirm the diagnosis.]

Kidney stone records 070314After the procedures, we waited two hours for an assessment by a doctor. For that we returned to the abdominal pain counter. Fei worked her way in and talked to the doctor on the other side of a computer monitor (above). She had my analysis results and the CT scan summary film, along with a CD of the scan itself. The doctor, in one sentence as far as I could tell, said there was a stone indeed present, it was “5 millimeters”, and it “will pass”. Case closed.
Medicine boxAt that point with a diagnosis in hand Fei and Yongli went to the pharmacy counter and got the above pain medication. At least we thought it was for pain. Note how it is labeled specifically for kidney stones with the image. It is called “Quercus salicina Extract” and now I’ve learned from Mr. Google that it is a treatment directly for kidney stones. Whether it is an herbal remedy or effective treatment is something I’ll ask my doctor in Wooster tomorrow. It did nothing for the pain, but I imagined that it did. Lesson there.

That evening the pain considerably diminished, so much that I thought the stone had passed and I would be OK. The next morning I was doing OK enough to leave with our team of four geologists on a flight to Guiyang, even enjoying a dinner there that night. The Fourth of July was pain-free. I didn’t know that the stone just found a place to rest.

At dawn of July 5 in my Guiyang hotel room the pain had fully returned. I knew then I could not continue with the expedition. We were going to be driving for several hours into the countryside. The remoteness and chance of a complication, let alone the continuing pain, made it clear it was time for me to go home. My new colleagues were completely supportive and worked hard to get me back to Beijing and a flight the next afternoon to the USA. Because I had good wireless I could text my wife Gloria, who called our travel agency’s emergency number and booked me a new set of tickets. Professor Gong very kindly accompanied me on the flight from Guiyang to Beijing, and then booked me into a Beijing hotel for that night. He stayed there too, making sure I knew how to get to the airport and my flight on July 6.
Beijing airport 070614Soon after Professor Gong left Beijing to return to his home in Shenyang, my brutal little kidney stone emerged in my hotel room and I captured it. This good news meant my long flight back home would be far more comfortable. (The start in Beijing is recorded in the image above.) That was indeed the case, and I arrived in Cleveland at about 10:00 pm on July 6. Home and family never felt better.
Stone 2 070714And here’s an image I made of my very inconvenient kidney stone this morning in the lab. I can’t tell, but it appears to be the common variety made of calcium oxalate, making the mineral weddellite. (See, there is some geology here!) I’ll update this composition after a lab analysis. [Update: Calcium oxalate monohydrate confirmed.]
Stone 3 070714While that first side may look all smooth and rounded, this other side shows one crystal spike in the upper right still in place. There are many broken spike bases around the stone’s periphery. Evil, eh? This stone will soon be analyzed in the Wooster urology lab to give me a better idea of how to prevent these from occurring again.

What did I learn from all this about becoming ill while on a field trip? A list —

1. Have good colleagues in the country or region who know well the local language, customs and laws. My new Chinese friends were fantastic, even though my malady had disrupted elaborate plans made months ago.

2. Book airline tickets through a good travel agency. We use the Professional Travel office in Wooster, with the incomparable Suzanne Easterling as our agent. She has saved us from travel problems numerous times, and when she is out of the office we are covered by a 24-hour service that is fantastic. It would have been very difficult for us to rebook tickets on our own, especially with me in extremis.

3. Bring a variety of electronic devices for communication. I had my iPhone, iPad and Macbook laptop computer. Often only one of these could catch the wireless signal enough to send and receive messages, and I could never predict which would be best.

4. Take all the medications you might possibly need. I was ready for intestinal disorders, infections, and malaria, and I had diphtheria and polio vaccinations in advance, but I didn’t imagine a kidney stone would chose this Chinese interval to start its fateful descent. I had no special pain medications other than aspirin — the good stuff is still sitting in my medicine cabinet at home.

5. Make sure all emergency numbers and addresses are easily available in a variety of formats. This is obvious to anyone who has taken students in the field. I print out and electronically store this information in multiple places. I could easily slip a list from my pack to show colleagues and officials.

6. For foreign trips, register your schedule with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. I always do this when I’m taking students to Israel, but I didn’t even think of doing the same for me alone in China. I could have been admitted to a Chinese hospital, or been detained by the police, without any US representative knowing where I was. I had all the correct USA numbers, but on this trip I learned that making telephone calls in China is not easy for a beginner.

7. If you have a condition that might cause problems, have a medical analysis before a long trip. Now this looks painfully obvious. I didn’t think I had a “condition”, though, because I thought the lack of a stone in the past two years meant that my diet changes had eliminated the problem. That was naive.

8. Finally, listen very carefully to your body’s clues. I may have been able to detect that my stone hadn’t passed while still in Shenyang, thus cutting probably two days out of the time it took to actually go home. I think I denied the small signs because I so much wanted to go into the field.

What did I gain from this brief trip to China? Quite a bit, when I think it through. A list again —

1. I met my new Chinese colleagues. We had worked together on manuscripts in the past, but this was the first time we could talk. I like them very much, and they are enthusiastic about geology and paleontology. Zhang Yongli is very interested in pursuing fossil hard substrate studies like I do along with my friends Paul Taylor, Michal Zaton, Olev Vinn, Leif Tapanila and others. Yongli will be the first in China to do this in earnest, so he will make a huge contribution to the field. I hope he can visit me in Wooster so that we can study together the hard substrate collections we have and visit classic field localities. In a way we had a successful conference during this short interval.

2. I saw China! Shenyang Palace was an inspiring historical location, downtown Shenyang showed me a developed northeastern Chinese city in action, and Guiyang was an example of a lesser-developed southwestern city. I even got to taste the special air in Beijing. I saw everyday China, and I conversed with top Chinese geologists. With no exceptions Chinese people were kind, considerate and helpful everywhere I went. They smile and laugh often, which is a contrast to people in most countries I’ve visited.

3. Through my discomfort I experienced much compassion and understanding from people I had just met. I disrupted their plans, but they adapted and had not a whisper of complaint.

My kidney stone was not life-threatening, so as far as medical emergencies go this was minor in scale and consequence. I had to leave a great field trip, though, without seeing the rocks and fossils. Way too bad, but such was fate. In her China travel advice to me before leaving, my friend Susan Clayton said, “Just remember if you’re uncomfortable with something on the trip that ‘this too shall pass’.” Who knew that she would be so literally correct!

The karst topography around Guiyang, China

July 5th, 2014

Karstic Guiyang 1GUIYANG, CHINA — I find this karstic landscape enchanting. Photo taken at the airport.

Karstic Guiyang 2

An evening dinner in Guiyang, China

July 4th, 2014

Guiyang Dinner 070414GUIYANG, CHINA — After the long flights from Shenyang via Nanjing, Team China (let’s just call it that!) arrived in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province. We had an excellent view of the surrounding karstic mountains. I hope to have images of these tomorrow because they are simply enchanting. Above is our evening dinner, hosted by two men from the city. On the far left is Guan Changqing, an associate professor of geology at Northeastern University, then Wang Lin Song, chief engineer of a steel company in Guiyang, Professor Gong En-Pu from the Geology Department of Northeastern University (and our leader), Guo Shu Wei, a senior engineer at the local steel company, and me. Zhang Yongli took the photo with my iPhone. A classic Guizhou dinner is before us. It was very good. Among the many toasts, Yongli and I managed to get one in to the Fourth of July.

Sea cucumber dish 070414One of the dishes contained these green slices of holothurian (sea cucumber). Turns out this delicacy is specially provided for honored guests, so I have now eaten my first echinoderm. I can cross them off the list of invertebrate phyla to taste. I’m sure I’ll have many more culinary surprises.

Speaking of surprises, just before bedtime a team of policemen visited my room asking many questions and studying my passport and visa closely. I’m assured this is standard practice when a foreigner comes to town.

Tomorrow we drive for about three hours to Ziyun County for the start of our fieldwork.


Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A barnacle and sponge symbiosis from the Middle Jurassic of Israel

July 4th, 2014

Barnacle boring bioclaustration 1

[Programing note: Wooster’s Fossil of the Week is now being released on Fridays to correspond with the popular Fossil Friday on Twitter and other platforms.]

This week’s fossil is again from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of southern Israel. (What can I say? We have a lot of them!) We are looking above at a crinoid pluricolumnal (a section of the stem made of several columnals) almost completely encrusted by a calcareous sponge (the sheet-like form with tiny pores). A round oyster is attached to the sponge in the lower center. In the left half you see the items of our interest this week: ovoid holes produced by barnacles. This specimen was studied by Lizzie Reinthal (’14) as part of her Senior Independent Study on the taphonomy of the Matmor crinoids.
Barnacle boring bioclaustration 2These barnacle holes are interesting because we can see in this closer view that the sponge grew around them. There is thickened sponge wall at the margins of the holes, and the feature in the middle is a thick mound built around one of these holes. The barnacles in the holes and the sponge were living together. If they weren’t either the sponge would have overgrown the empty holes or the barnacle would have cut through the dead sponge skeleton. This is an example of symbiosis. It would be a facultative relationship because the sponge and barnacle did not need each other to survive; each does just fine without the other. It could be considered parasitic if the barnacles acquired nutrients the sponge would have ordinarily received, or vice versa.
Barnacle boring bioclaustration 3This third view is of the edge of the sponge skeleton as it partially overlaps the barnacle holes. Now we see the nature of the intergrowth. The barnacle holes are actually borings into the crinoid pluricolumnal below. They are the trace fossil called Rogerella, which we have seen before in this blog. The sponge grew along the crinoid substrate covering all sorts of small holes, cracks and crevices, but when it reached these borings living barnacles were still in them filter-feeding away with their filamentous legs. The sponge thus laid its skeleton right up to the hole edges, eventually surrounding them with their spongy matrix.

The holes are borings, a kind of trace fossil. The structure created when the sponge surrounds a living boring barnacle like this is more difficult to name. It is not technically a bioimmuration (see Taylor, 1990) because the barnacles were not passively subsumed within the sponge skeleton. It may be a bioclaustration (Palmer and Wilson, 1988) because the sponge adapted its skeleton to isolate and surround the barnacle. I think we can at least say these are trace fossils in the ethological (behavioral) group called Impedichnia (Tapanila, 2005) because the barnacles acted as impediments, or limiting factors, to the growth of the sponge.

I love these examples of symbiosis in the fossil record, and the interesting debates about their interpretations.


Cónsole‐Gonella, C. and Marquillas, R.A. 2014. Bioclaustration trace fossils in epeiric shallow marine stromatolites: the Cretaceous‐Palaeogene Yacoraite Formation, northwestern Argentina. Lethaia 47: 107-119.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Parasitism of Ordovician bryozoans and the origin of pseudoborings. Palaeontology 31: 939–949.

Tapanila, L. 2005. Palaeoecology and diversity of endosymbionts in Palaeozoic marine invertebrates: Trace fossil evidence. Lethaia 38: 89–99.

Taylor, P.D. 1990. Preservation of soft-bodied and other organisms by bioimmuration: A review. Palaeontology 33: 1–17.

Vinn, O. and Mõtus, M.A. 2014. Symbiotic worms in biostromal stromatoporoids from the Ludfordian (Late Silurian) of Saaremaa, Estonia. GFF (in press).

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1994. Earliest preservation of soft-bodied fossils by epibiont bioimmuration: Upper Ordovician of Kentucky. Lethaia 27: 269–270.

Shenyang, China

July 3rd, 2014

Shenyang Palace 070314SHENYANG, CHINA — My first post from astonishing China. I’ve been here about a day and a half now and am simply floored by all I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve seen a fair bit of the world, but no place like China. I’m providing here just a few images of Shenyang as just a taste of the adventure. We are twelve time zones away from Wooster, so I’m still feeling too ragged to write much prose. The image above is of Shenyang Imperial Palace, sometimes called by its old name Mukden Palace. It was built in the 17th Century by the first emperors of the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China. This is the iconic Dazheng Hall, where the emperors held court surrounded by their Manchu cohorts. It is all stone and heavily laquered wood. The red color signifies happiness, the yellow royalty, and the green (not unexpectedly) the glories of nature.

Yongli 070314This is Zhang Yongli, my Chinese host and now good friend. He took me to the Palace this morning as both an introduction to China and a chance to walk around a bit to dispell the fog of travel. (It was 27 hours from Cleveland to my hotel in Shenyang. I will feel it for awhile!)

Shenyang Palace map 070314This is a map of the palace. It is the only Imperial Palace outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was, in fact, modeled on its Beijing equivalent, but it has a distinctly northern flavor of Manchu culture.

karstic stones 1 070314The geological notes here include most notably these naturally-eroded limestones from southern China used as statuary in one part of the palace. All the hollows and holes in these smooth limestones were produced by karstic weathering in a very humid climate. The Chinese call them “lake stones” and very much appreciate their elegance.

Shenyang busy street 070314Outside the quiet palace is the very busy business district of Shenyang. Traveling by taxi through this city of over six million people is extraordinary. Somehow it all works, though, and people get to where they’re going by foot, bicycle, bicycle-cabs, carts, trucks and cars.

Shenyang morning 070314And this, finally, is the view from my hotel window. I’m staying in a hotel owned by my hosts at Northeastern University very close to campus. Tomorrow we leave for Guizhou Province in the south (a five-hour set of flights) and begin our fieldwork in Carboniferous reefs.

More later!


Wooster Geologist en route to China

July 1st, 2014

China departure signDETROIT AIRPORT, MICHIGAN — My long anticipated trip to China has started. I have a bit of a wait in Detroit before boarding a 14-hour flight to Beijing, followed by a connection on to Shenyang. I am visiting China by invitation from geologists at Northeastern University in Shenyang. My host is Yongli Zhang, an invertebrate paleontologist and geologist. Soon after I arrive we fly to Guizhou Province in the southeast of the country to do fieldwork on Carboniferous carbonates, including fossiliferous reef sequences. My job is to assess the hard substrates and, we hope, find a boatload of encrusters and borings. I’ve never been to China, so this will be an adventure in many ways. Everything will be new to me in the oldest of countries.

Right now all four Wooster Geologists are in the field and, effectively, off the grid. Dr. Shelley Judge is in Utah, Dr. Greg Wiles is in Alaska, and Dr. Meagen Pollock is in British Columbia. We will post entries when we can. Don’t worry about Wooster’s Fossil of the Week — it has now moved to Fridays and several posts are already lined up to appear each week!

« Prev