Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

First Wooster paleontology field trip of the year: the glorious Ordovician of Ohio

August 31st, 2014

1CaesarCreek083114Today the Invertebrate Paleontology class at The College of Wooster drove south to one of our favorite outcrops: the Waynesville, Liberty and Whitewater Formations (= Bull Fork Formation) at the emergency spillway in Caesar Creek State Park. I enjoy taking students to this extensive exposure because it has diverse fossils, is easy for beginners, and it is hard to get lost here! The rain was unrelenting on our drive down, and it continued well past our arrival at the Visitor Center. The park manager very helpfully showed us a new park movie and gave us a talk about the Army Corps of Engineers (which runs the dam and lake). This occupied us as the rain slowed and finally ended soon after we approached the rocks. You’ll see surface water as a theme in these photos because the spillway turned into meandering streams and wetlands.

2Brachs083114Above is an example of why we visited Caesar Creek. The fossils are fantastically abundant and well preserved. The students had a simple charge: collect a diverse array of fossils, enough to fill two large bags each. They will prepare and identify their fossils throughout the semester as a field/lab exercise. Since I’ve shown these fossils many times in this blog, I’ll use the rest of the post to show off my students.

3TrevorBrianKevin083114Heading up the north end crew is (from the left) Trevor Shoemaker, Brian Merritt, and Kevin Komara. (You’ll see that I get better with the people photos as I moved south.)

4Chloe083114Chloe Wallace is here in the foreground braving the mud on her knees.

5KelliSpencer083114Kelli Baxstrom (upper left) has a nearly full bag, and the flash of purpleness in the lower right is Spencer Zeigler.

6Mary083114Mary Reinthal shows her enthusiasm for her first fossil expedition.

7Andrew083114Andrew Conaway was always easy to find on the outcrop.

8Annette083114Annette Hilton is here examining a slab full of small strophomenid brachiopods.

9Cassidy083114Cassidy Jester has a slab almost too large for her bag. Note the standing water behind her.

CurtisGalen083114Curtis Davies (back) and Galen Schwartzberg show the happiness that comes with fossil collecting (especially when the rain stops).

DanJeffKrysden083114Dan Peraza-Rudesill and Jeff Gunderson are joyfully receiving instruction from the class Teaching Assistant, Krysden Schantz.

GalenSharron083114Galen Schwartzberg (left) demonstrates that he can even find fossils here with his eyes closed as a cynical Sharron Osterman looks on. Both of these students are from Seattle, so rain is no discomfort for them. (Nor mud, in Galen’s case.)

MaeKaitlin083114Mae Kemsley and Kaitlin Starr proudly carry their first bags of fossils.

Meredith083114Meredith Mann reaches with mud-stained fingers for more fossil treasures.

William083114William Harrison is a senior who wanted to come along for the fun and to possibly add to his senior independent study materials. He was a great help with his advanced paleontological knowledge.

zPaleoGroup083114And here is the class at the end of the session with their collections. I was very pleased to see how dry everyone was. We had a window of respite for collecting because soon after lunch it began to rain again. We were only missing Julia Franceschi, who had a scheduling conflict. I’m looking forward to seeing all these fossils once they are cleaned and prepared in our paleontology lab. At the end of the semester each student will have a full report on the fossil fauna at Caesar Creek, including identifications and paleoecology.

Wooster Geologists begin the 2014-2015 school year

August 30th, 2014

GeoClub2014_585What a fine group of geologists we had at the first meeting of the College of Wooster Geology Club this week. We have an ambitious year ahead of us with outside speakers, student presentations, course field trips, and our biennial Mojave Desert Spring Expedition. Our number of geology majors has grown significantly as well, which is delightful for the faculty and staff. This great photo was taken by our departmental chair, Greg Wiles. Too bad he couldn’t have been in his own expertly composed image.

Links to our course offerings this semester can be found on our Geology Department Courses page.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Orthid brachiopods from the Middle Devonian of New York

August 29th, 2014

Tropidoleptus carinatus 585On the first day of the Invertebrate Paleontology course at Wooster, I give all the students a fossil to identify as best they can. Everyone gets the same kind of specimen, and they can use any means to put as specific a name on it as possible. Most students struggle with the exercise, of course — I just want them to spend some time looking at fossils online and getting a feel for distinguishing characteristics and preservation. This week, though, one student nailed it. Meredith Mann (’16) identified the target fossil above as Tropidoleptus carinatus (Conrad, 1839) from the Middle Devonian of  New York. I suppose if I asked she could have told me it was from the Kashong Shale Member of the Moscow Formation, and that it was collected by my friend Brian Bade. Nicely done, Meredith!

Tropidoleptus carinatus (Conrad, 1839) is a member of the Orthida, an order of brachiopods that lived from the Early Cambrian up to the Permian extinction. Orthids are a difficult group to characterize because they were so variable in shell shape and form. T. carinatus, for example, is one of the few orthids to have a concavo-convex shell, meaning that one side is concave (on the right in the image above) and the other convex (left). Most orthids are biconvex, meaning that both sides are convex. (A lima bean would also be biconvex by this definition.)

I like these little brachiopods because their shells are often encrusted by wonderful little creatures like bryozoans, Allonema, Ascodictyon, and microconchids. Each shell had the potential of hosting its own little community of encrusters.

Toward an Isopach Map of the Cedar Creek Mastodon Bog

August 27th, 2014

tooth Wooster’s Climate Change class is starting the semester by  coring a bog adjacent to a recent Mastodon find in Morrow County, Ohio. The Mastodon work and related excavation is being led by Nigel Brush, University of Ashland.  Above is a photo (courtesy of Nigel Brush) of the original mastodon tooth find.

probe3After a fairly extensive theoretical conceptualization – theory was successfully brought to practice and in some cases the probe was sunk over 20 feet into the soft mud of the bog. The 20+ feet of mud is a record of environmental change over the last ~15,000 years.

probe2The lead probe team – one taking notes, one operating the GPS, one on the blunt end of the probe, and two others reflecting on the experience.

total_station                     The survey team shares a humorous moment while setting up the total station.

probe1

Sharing another humorous moment as an interdisciplinary (Archaeology/Spanish/ Geology) tile probe team – note the Mastodon Excavation Site in the background.

bog_map

The Google earth map above shows the tile probe points taken for the construction of the isopach map. The area of the tight spacing of data points in the northwest is the excavation site. Now for the contouring of the map and the determination of where the team will extract sediment cores.

tall

The auger team sampled down to almost 18 feet and discovered that the stratigraphy is blue glacial lake clays overlain by a marl (with snail shells), which is overlain by organic-rich mud. This sequence and its details will become clearer when the site is cored on 6 September.

washing_upWashing up and wondering about how the Mastodon may have met its fate along the shore of a muddy lake during the Pleistocene.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Remanié fossils in the Lower Cretaceous of south-central England

August 22nd, 2014

Faringdon ammonite smThe last two editions were about a bryozoan and borings from the Faringdon Sponge Gravels (Lower Cretaceous, Upper Aptian) of south-central England. This week we have some Jurassic fossils from the same unit. That sounds a bit daft at first — Jurassic fossils in a Cretaceous unit? — until it becomes obvious that these are older fossils reworked into a younger deposit. In this case underlying Jurassic ammonites have been unearthed and tossed around with sediment in Cretaceous high-energy tidal channels. These older fossils in a younger context are called remanié, meaning they have been “rehandled” in a fancy French way.

The above image is an example of remanié in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels. It is a partial internal mold of a Jurassic ammonite. Drilled into it are several holes attributed to Early Cretaceous bivalves and called by the trace fossil name Gastrochaenolites. The ammonite fossil was eroded out of an outcrop of Jurassic rock and then bored while rolling around in what would become the Faringdon Sponge Gravels.
Ammonite frag 2 072014This is another Jurassic ammonite internal mold. The jagged lines are the sutures of the ammonite (remnants of the septal walls). This mold was phosphatized (partially replaced with phosphate) before it was reworked into the Cretaceous gravels. Many remanié fossils are phosphatized because of long exposure on the seafloor.
Ammonite frag 1 072014Finally, this is a fragment of another Jurassic ammonite internal mold in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels. It has an odd shape because it has disarticulated along the sutures. We are looking at the face of one of the septa, or at least where this septum would have been if it hadn’t dissolved. You can see some tiny borings that were made by Cretaceous polychaete worms.

In one of the cobbles in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels I found an identifiable ammonite. It was Prorasenia bowerbanki, which indicated that the cobble was derived from the Lower Kimmeridge Clay or Upper Oxfordian clays. The above ammonites are likely from the same Jurassic sequence. This means these fossils were roughly 45 million years old when they were reworked into the sponge gravels. Today it would be as if Eocene fossils were eroding out of a cliff and being incorporated within a modern sediment. When you think about it, this is a relatively common occurrence.

References:

Murray-Wallace, C V. and Belperio, A.P. 1994. Identification of remanié fossils using amino acid racemisation. Alcheringa 18: 219-227.

Pitt L.J. and Taylor P.D. 1990. Cretaceous Bryozoa from the Faringdon Sponge Gravel (Aptian) of Oxfordshire. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology Series, 46: 61–152.

Wells, M.R., Allison, P.A., Piggott, M.D., Hampson, G.J., Pain, C.C. and Gorman, G.J. 2010. Tidal modeling of an ancient tide-dominated seaway, part 2: the Aptian Lower Greensand Seaway of Northwest Europe. Journal of Sedimentary Research 80: 411-439.

Wilson, M.A. 1986. Coelobites and spatial refuges in a Lower Cretaceous cobble-dwelling hardground fauna. Palaeontology 29: 691-703.

From the Russian wilderness to the big city!

August 15th, 2014

Guest Blogger: Sarah Frederick (’15)

Arriving in Moscow was a sharp return to reality. Suddenly all of the things that had come to feel normal while we were in Kamchatka – the winding gravel roads and little towns with random meandering livestock that would peek in your windows – were replaced by traffic jams and the overwhelming immensity of the city!

Russia Blog Pics - 09One unique experience in Kamchatka was shopping. Shopping, like everything else in Russia is a very long, arduous process that takes hours longer than it should. Above is shown a typical store in Kamchatka. All of the goods are located behind the counter, so each item had to be individually requested from the shopkeeper. However, in all likelihood the first shop you visited would not have half of the items you required, so you would have to visit two or three additional establishments to find everything you needed. Even so, simple necessities like bread or beer were not always available. Also, take note of the high tech abacus being used!

The items we purchased were also completely foreign to me. While I was initially pretty skeptical, everything was quite tasty if you had an expert cook like Tatiana to prepare it!

Russia Blog Pics - 13Cow-in-a-can anyone? More commonly referred to as Tushonka.

Russia Blog Pics - 15There are a variety of culinary influences present. Lots of Uzbek cuisine, but we also encountered Georgian, Russian, and Ukrainian dishes. A common afternoon meal with borscht, beat soup of Ukranian origin, is pictured above.

While in Moscow we toured the Institute, a towering majestic building, one of seven built around the city, which houses several departments of Moscow State University, a museum, faculty and students.

Russia Blog Pics - 16An apartment in the wing to the right was actually our home for the duration of our visit.

 While in Moscow we of course visited the touristy section of the city.

DSCN2787The Kremlin

Russia Blog Pics - 17Dr. Wiles with our two hosts, Olga and Vladimir in front of St. Basils.

DSCN2794One of the prominent monuments on the Red Square is Lenin’s tomb. He has been on public display since shortly after his death in 1924.

Russia Blog Pics - 03One last picture from Kamchatka. Thanks for following us through our journey! We look forward to reporting on our findings from the lab soon!

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Abundant borings in Early Cretaceous cobbles from south-central England

August 15th, 2014

Faringdon cobble in matrix 071714Last week I described a cyclostome bryozoan on the outside of a quartz cobble from the Faringdon Sponge Gravels (Lower Cretaceous, Upper Aptian) of south-central England near the town of Faringdon. This week I’m featuring a variety of heavily-bored calcareous cobbles from the same unit. One is shown above in its matrix of coarse gravel. The holes are bivalve borings known as Gastrochaenolites. As a reminder, these gravels are very fossiliferous and were deposited in deep channels under considerable tidal current influence (see Wells et al., 2010).

Faringdon cobble 1 071714The large and medium-sized flask-shaped borings are all Gastrochaenolites. In the suite of cobbles described in Wilson (1986), there are three ichnospecies of bivalve borings: G. lapidicus, G. cluniformis and G. turbinatus. It is thus likely, although not necessarily, an indication that at least three bivalve species were boring the soft calcareous claystone to make secure homes for their filter-feeding. The thin, worm-like borings are Maeandropolydora, which were probably made by polychaete “worms”.

Faringdon cobble 3 071714Some of the Gastrochaenolites lapidicus borings have remarkably spherical chambers, a testament to the uniform lithological character of the rock.

Faringdon cobble 5 071714Occasionally bivalve shells are found still preserved in their crypts, along with nestling brachiopods. Some shell bits are visible in the borings above.

FaringdonCobble 585 071714Some of the cobbles are so heavily bored that they fall apart quickly on removal from the matrix. On the Cretaceous seafloor this intensity of boring must have reduced many cobbles to bits before burial — a classic example of bioerosion.

Diagram 071714What is very cool about these Faringdon cobbles is that the borings often overlapped inside, creating a network of tunnels and small cavities that hosted dozens of bryozoan, foraminiferan, sponge, annelid worm, and brachiopod species. This is a diagram from Wilson (1986) showing the combination of external encrusters in a high energy, abrasive world, and coelobites (cavity dwellers) in the protected enclosures. A diverse community can be found on each cobble, inside and out. In a future post I will describe some of these coelobite fossils.

References:

Pitt L.J. and Taylor P.D. 1990. Cretaceous Bryozoa from the Faringdon Sponge Gravel (Aptian) of Oxfordshire. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology Series, 46: 61–152.

Wells, M.R., Allison, P.A., Piggott, M.D., Hampson, G.J., Pain, C.C. and Gorman, G.J. 2010. Tidal modeling of an ancient tide-dominated seaway, part 2: the Aptian Lower Greensand Seaway of Northwest Europe. Journal of Sedimentary Research 80: 411-439.

Wilson, M.A. 1986. Coelobites and spatial refuges in a Lower Cretaceous cobble-dwelling hardground fauna. Palaeontology 29: 691-703.

The power of hand-held x-ray fluorescence analysis comes to Wooster

August 13th, 2014

1DSC_4341WOOSTER, OHIO–Dr. Meagen Pollock, our mineralogist-petrologist and instrument scientist extraordinaire, should be writing this post, but she was off campus during this event. It is left to the paleontologist, of all people, to file this report. Despite my technological naïveté and more biological than chemical orientation, I quite enjoyed myself. I certainly learned a lot.

Today we had a training session to learn how to use our new Bruker Tracer III-SD portable X-Ray Fluorescence instrument (pXRF), which is shown in the above image. The resemblance to a hand phaser from Star Trek is no accident. The legend is that the inventor developed the casing directly from a Star Trek toy. The fact that it really does shoot radiation out of the front makes it über cool (and a bit more dangerous than the toy!).

We have this wonderful instrument through the leadership of Dr. Melissa Schultz in the Chemistry Department and our own Meagen Pollock. They wrote a successful proposal to the Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grant program for seed money, and then the Geology and Chemistry departments, along with the Dean’s Office, provided the remaining funds needed for the purchase. This handy instrument will not only be used by the geologists and chemists, but also our archaeologists and art department. This is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration possible at a small school that makes large acquisitions possible. As with all our instruments, this one is intended to further our faculty-student research programs.

I’m not the one to provide a tutorial on how x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis works, so you have a link for the details. In short, the instrument fires a beam of x-rays through an oval window about 3-4 mm in width. The x-ray photons strike a target intended for analysis, penetrating into the very atoms with energy high enough so that some are ionized by having electrons ejected from their orbitals. When electrons from lower orbitals are removed, higher orbital electrons “fall” into their places, releasing photons (thus “fluorescence”). These photons are collected by a detector in the instrument. The energy of the photons released by the target is characteristic of the type of elements the atoms represent, thus diagnostic of composition. (Really, visit the linked page!) That we can now hold such analytical power in one hand is a scientific dream come true. This device is a superb complement to our excellent X-Ray Analysis lab in the Geology Department.

2DSC_4344Our two excellent trainers, Mike and Zach, spent the better part of a day taking us through the conceptual background for XRF analysis, safety issues, and then practical use. Despite the ray-gun look to the device, much of our use of it is likely to be in a lab hooked up to a laptop computer, as shown above. This is a very easy arrangement for doing non-invasive analyses of various small objects and liquids. We also received a complex tripod to use for scanning large items, such as paintings or other artworks. The pXRF is placed in an acrylic holder and pointed upwards. For some analyses, especially for light elements, a vacuum pump can be attached.

3DSC_4347Dr. Nick Kardulias, our senior archaeologist, provided the first and it turned out only specimen for analysis today.  This is a piece of obsidian from the western United States. Obsidian is a superb target for XRF analysis because it is a glass with smooth surfaces and a complex composition. There is already a set of settings and filters available for obsidian analysis. Archaeologists (and geologists) can use chemical compositions to “fingerprint” particular obsidian deposits for provenance analysis of isolated fragments. (Provenance is the history of origin and place of an object or material.) That obsidian arrowhead in Illinois, for example, may be made of obsidian gathered in California. Above you see the obsidian being placed on the detector window.

4DSC_4348A metal cap is placed over the specimen to shield us from scattered x-rays. The radiation is not high, but we take all the precautions we can. The instrument is then controlled through the computer interface.

5DSC_4350This is an example spectrum produced by the pXRF instrument and associated software. (It is of the above obsidian sample after four runs for those of you scrutinizing the details.) The peaks represent emitted photons, and thus particular elements. Spectral analysis here is complex, but the software has many built-in routines to ease the process.

6DSC_4352When the pXRF is hand-held and directed at a target, the data is summarized and displayed on this attached PDA screen. This is the kind of analysis I like — point and shoot! You’re looking here at data from an included standard, a piece of stainless steel, hence the high amount of iron, chromium and nickel. This is how I want to use the pXRF: in the field shooting various rocks like in the last image on this 2011 blog post by Meagen. It is nothing short of magic to get an elemental analysis of a stone in front of you in real time.

Thank you again to Melissa and Meagen, as well as our leaders in the administration, for managing the purchase of this superb tool for the community!

Coring Across Kamchatka

August 12th, 2014

Guest Blogger: Sarah Frederick (’15)

After traversing every stretch of road within Kamchatka at least twice, 5 bear sitings, and becoming intimately familiar with Kamchatka mosquitoes (they come in three sizes!), we are on our way to Moscow. All in all we cored over 500 trees! So I am sure that everyone back in the lab can hardly wait for our return…

Russia Blog Pics - 05

Russia Blog Pics - 10Coring larch trees in the mountains of the Eastern Range.

Coring took us to every reach of the Kamchatka Peninsula. We made our way as far north as Ust-Kamchatsky, a port city that was strategically important during the Cold War when the entire peninsula was closed to nonresident Russians and foreigners alike. Then we drove all the way west to the Sea of Okhotsk before returning east to Petropavlovsk, a large port city on the Pacific.

During our travels we have explored a variety of environments. While the most pervasive by far was the taiga, swampy coniferous forests, we also appreciated the beauty of spring in the tundra.

Russia Blog Pics - 18Spring blossoms.

The devastation caused by the frequent volcanic eruptions was also evident. We frequently came across open ash fields and even pyroclastic flow deposits!

Russia Blog Pics - 08The desolate remains of a pyroclastic flow (fast moving current of hot gas and rock) produced by the adjacent volcano.

Besides collecting cores, we also learned a bit about the local culture and history. In Esso, we visited the museum where we learned about the traditional practices of the indigenous peoples and how they survived Kamchatka’s harsh climate.

Russia Blog Pics - 01

The main building of the museum exhibits the beautiful woodwork typical of the region.

Russia Blog Pics - 02

A reproduction of a traditional home of the Koryak people. In order to optimize heat retention, the structure is built partially underground and in the shape of an oven. It even has an escape hatch out of the top for when snow buries the structure.

Esso is also significant as the starting point of the Beringia, Kamchatka’s traditional dog sled race, which in the 1990s held the record for the longest dogsled race, rivaling Alaska’s Iditarod.

Back in Petropavlovsk we visited Kamchatka’s Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, scientists from which have most generously hosted and guided us on our journey. Along with several visiting Japanese geologists, we were given a tour of the museum of Volcanology. Here we learned about Kamchatka’s most active volcanoes and the work of the volcanologists in the region. They were most excited about a recent discovery of diamonds in the ash of the Tolbachik Volcano, which made me re-evaluate the goals of our expedition to that site. Had I known, I would have been far more interested in sifting through the sediment for diamonds than in the trees…

Russia Blog Pics - 14

Finally, for those have been asking about the bears. Here is a cutie that we came across on one of our last days in the field. These Kamchatka brown bears are very large, though not a big threat to humans, particularly in the summer when food is plentiful.

Volcanoes, Mosquitoes, and Bears, Oh My!

August 9th, 2014

Guest Blogger: Sarah Frederick (’15)

After three weeks in Russia it sure feels great to be back on US soil! Since we didn’t have internet access during this expedition, our blog posts come a bit delayed. Here is a bit about our first week in Kamchatka: If, like me, you have never played the board game Risk, you likely have never heard of Kamchatka. So to give you some context of where we are, below is a map of the North Pacific. As you can see, this peninsula, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, is further east than Siberia and it is not far from Alaska. However, since flights between Alaska and Kamchatka are extremely limited, we were forced to fly the long way around. map

After our nearly 40hr journey, crossing 16 time zones, it was a relief to arrive in Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka.

Untitled

Above is a picture taken on top of an extinct volcano that overlooks the city. From L to R, Tatiana Kuderina (Senior Researcher at Moscow University), Sarah Frederick (’15), Vladimir Matskovsky (Researcher at Moscow University) and our lovely host Tatiana. This picture is an achievement, because as you will notice, it is the only picture in which all of the Russians are smiling!

eruption We were greeted in Kamchatka, the land of many mosquitoes, bears, and volcanoes, by scientists from the Volcanology Institute. And after a day of recovery we headed north into the great wild. While there have been no bear attacks, just three sitings so far, we were lucky enough to witness a small volcanic eruption during one of our expeditions!   Though described in the literature as ‘pristine’ and ‘untouched,’ over the past week we have found much of Kamchatka far from that with the forests along the single main road (unpaved dirt and gravel) having been clear cut. Even so, with a lot of help from our driver, Vasily, and his mighty passenger truck, we managed to locate old growth larch in the north. truck While our quest for trees has required us to spend extensive time in the swamps being devoured by millions of mosquitoes, we also made it to some of the more picturesque parts of Kamchatka as well. The highlight thus far was our trekup the Tolbachik volcanic complex where we were greeted by unseasonably clear weather. Not only could we see the majestic glacier topped volcanoes of the Eastern Range, but to the west, the towering volcanoes of the Median Range were also visible! tobal We are now heading south for our last few days of tree hunting. It is our hope that the tree ring data that we are collecting will help to connect the extensive network of tree ring chronologies developed for the Gulf of Alaska with those from the West Pacific. Helping to develop a better understanding of North Pacific climate.

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