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An Epic Geologic Competition in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

October 26th, 2014

VIRGINIA KENDALL, CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK (CVNP) — What an absolutely awesome day for geology in the field!!  One of my geologic mentors once told me that “every day in the field is a day of vacation”, and today proved to be just that day.  Late October…temperatures above 60 degrees…with the fall colors everywhere!!  I could not have asked for a better day to take my Structural Geology class to “The Ledges”, part of Virginia Kendall, which is only about an hour north of campus.  Essentially, we have a National Park right in northeast Ohio, and fall is the best time to visit the area.

However, we were not just going there for a day hike.  We were on a mission.  I set up a scenario for my class:  CVNP exposes strata that in the subsurface is rich in oil and gas.  The goal for the students was to undertake a complete geologic study (including the stratigraphy, sedimentology, structure, and geomorphology) of the exposed rock in the area as an analog in order to better assess oil and gas fluid migration in the subsurface.  The class was split into two teams — seniors vs juniors.  Each team is not permitted to talk to one another about data collection, analysis, or synthesis.  Eventually, these Research and Development (R&D) Teams will share their findings with Wooster’s Production Experts (Drs. Pollock, Wiles, and Wilson) via a poster presentation later in the semester.

So, while there were literally hundreds of people out for a day hike near The Ledges, Wooster’s geologists were busy at work.  The Ledges is located just south of Happy Days Visitor Center and southeast of Peninsula, OH.

lock-29-location-map_585blogThe area between State Route 303 and Kendall Ledges Road (where there are all the green hiking trails) was our field area for the day.

DSC01285_585blog

The R&D Teams quickly noticed the amazing joint sets that are exposed all along The Ledges.  Essentially, we have ledges in this area due to the large fracture system (i.e., joints) affecting the rocks.  These joint sets are very easy to measure and to access due to a wonderful trail system next to the exposures in Virginia Kendall.  Notice above that these joints can be at various orientations and that those in the photo above appear to be nearly perpendicular to one another.

DSC01271_585blogLet me introduce the R&D Team of Woo seniors (’15), from left to right: Coleman Fitch, Zach Downes, Willy Nelson, and Leo Jones.  It appears that they are discussing their team’s strategy early in the day.  Michael Williams (’16), of the opposing team, is in the background.  Is Michael trying to eavesdrop on the opposing team?

DSC01269_585blogTwo members of our R&D team of Woo juniors (’16) are taking notes on this rock exposure.  Eric Parker (left) and Kaitlin Starr (right, white hat) appear to be focused on the gorgeous geology.

DSC01276_585blogThe other two members of the R&D team of Woo juniors (’16) were found hiding in a dark “slot canyon” among the joints.  Michael Williams is in the front, while Adam Silverstein is in the orange hoodie, peeking out from deep inside the “canyon”.  It appears that the juniors are separated from one another!!  It is OK; everyone had maps and GPS units, so perhaps their strategy for the day was to divide and conquer?

DSC01274_585blogWow!!  Check out this entrance to Ice Box Cave, which was formed by the intersection of several joint sets.  Unfortunately, we were not able to go any closer to the cave entrance than this, because…

DSC01273_585blog…the National Park Service is trying to save the bats, which are susceptible to White-Nose Syndrome.

DSC01278_585blogNow, I could not just end the blog without showing you such a wonderful photo.  Check out the amazing set of cross-beds that you can see exposed in the upper half of the photo.  These rocks, which are some of the youngest rocks exposed in CVNP, have been interpreted to be deposited by ancient stream deposits.  Superimposed on the cross-bedding is the characteristic honeycomb weathering that affects many of the sandstone exposures along The Ledges.  And, notice that some of the rocks appear to be more brown or rust colored; some scientists have identified limonite and pyrite (two iron-rich minerals) in the unit.

What an awesome day to be a geologist!!  Who else gets to spend a great fall day with friends, enjoy the weather, learn a little more about rocks, and measure joints along the way?  Geology rocks.

 

 

Wooster Geologists return to the Cedar Creek Bog and Excavation Site

October 25th, 2014

DigOverview102514WOOSTER, OHIO–Greg Wiles and I got to experience a bit of field archaeology today at the Cedar Creek Mastodon excavation site. Greg’s Climate change class has visited the site and its associated bog twice this semester: once to do some soil probing and exploration, and then again to extract a core from the bog. This time Greg and I went to consult with the chief archaeologist of the site, Nigel Brush of Ashland University. Nigel wanted our opinions on the stratigraphy of the dig, especially those parts associated with mastodon remains and flint artifacts. The hypothesis the archaeologists are testing is that the mastodon bones and flint blades are part of an ancient butchery site.  It was a joy to join our friends on this fantastic Fall day.

BonesFlagged102514Who doesn’t love an archaeology site? All that enthusiastic hard work with brushes, spades and trowels revealing hidden treasures. Those little orange flags above are tagging bits of mastodon bone that the volunteer excavators have uncovered for mapping and collection. Several schools are represented at this site, and at least a couple dozen citizen scientists.

HannahJim102514Wooster is represented at the dig by archaeology professor Nick Kardulias, along with two of his students shown above. Hannah Matulek is on the left; Jim Torpy on the right.

BoneFragment102514Here is some mastodon bone embedded in one of the excavation walls. The bones are scattered, with some large pieces and many small fragments.

Sieving102514This is the line of sieves for sorting through the excavated sediment. Pleasant enough work today, but I can imagine it’s not so fun in the rain and sleet.

GregSoilProbing102514And now for our bit of work. Greg went off into the bog with a soil probe to plan out a new trench to be dug by the landowner. This trench will help correlate the strata in the excavation with what Greg and his students have cored from the bog.

StratView102514I spent most of my time in the excavations examining the simple layering of the sediments. At the bottom we have a coarse conglomerate with cobble-sized rounded grains. The bones and artifacts lie on top of and among these clasts. Above that unit is a matrix-supported conglomeratic mud with broken rock fragments. At the top is a loam representing the disturbed (plowed) part of the section.

MudWithClasts102514This is a closer view of that middle unit with the “floating” angular rock fragments. My quick assessment (just a suggestion!) is that the coarse gravels beneath are part of a deltaic complex feeding into the bog, which was at the time a marl lake. The mud-with-clasts above it is a debris flow from the surrounding elevations that cascaded down the creek channel and its banks, entombing the bones and artifacts under a slurry of muddy debris. There is scattered charcoal throughout this unit and the top of the cobbles below. Maybe a forest fire denuded the upstream slopes and led to a rain-soaked mudslide? Then again, the charcoal could have come from an ancient barbecue of the mastodon meat.

In any case, Greg and I had a great time visiting our archaeological colleagues on such a fine day.

 

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A pair of molded nautiloids from the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky

October 24th, 2014

1 Nautiloid pair 091314Two nautiloids are preserved in the above image of a slab from the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky. (I wish I knew which specific locality. This is why paleontologists are such fanatics about labeling specimens.) The top internal mold (meaning it is sediment that infilled a shell now dissolved away) has been covered in a previous blog entry. This week I want to concentrate on the nautiloid at the bottom.

These nautiloids belong to the Family Orthoceratidae McCoy, 1844, which existed from the Early Ordovician (490 million years ago) through the Triassic (230 million years ago). They had conical, aragonitic shells with walls inside separating chambers (camerae) and a central tube (the siphuncle) connecting them. They were swimming (nektic) predators that could control their buoyancy through a mix of gases and liquids in the camerae mediated by the siphuncle.

What is most interesting here is the preservation of these nautiloids. The aragonitic shells were dissolved away at about the same time the internal sediment was cemented, forming the internal molds. These molds were exposed on the seafloor, attracting encrusting organisms. This means the dissolution and cementation took place quickly and in the marine environment, not after burial. This rapid dissolving of aragonite and cementation by calcite is typical of Calcite Sea geochemistry, something we don’t see in today’s Aragonite Seas.
2 Nautiloid siphuncle 091314Above is a close view of the cemented siphuncle of the lower nautiloid, heavily encrusted by a trepostome bryozoan.
3 Bryozoan undersideEven more cool, the outside of the lower nautiloid was encrusted by several trepostome bryozoan colonies. When the shell dissolved it left the undersides of these bryozoans exposed, as seen above. These undersides often contain the remains of shelly organisms the bryozoans encrusted (see the Independent Study project by Kit Price ’13) and even soft-bodied animals (epibiont bioimmuration; see Wilson et al., 1994).

A neat package here resulting from biological, sedimentological and geochemical factors.

References:

Palmer, T.J., Hudson, J.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Palaeoecological evidence for early aragonite dissolution in ancient calcite seas. Nature 335 (6193): 809–810.

Sweet, W.C. 1964. Nautiloidea — Orthocerida, in Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Part K. Mollusca 3, Geological Society of America, and University of Kansas Press, New York, New York and Lawrence, Kansas.

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.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel

October 17th, 2014

Fig. 2 Aspidiscus1bw_scale 585The stark black-and-white of these images are a clue that the fossil this week has been described in a paper. Above is the scleractinian coral Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck, 1801) from the En Yorqe’am Formation (Cenomanian, Upper Cretaceous) of southern Israel. The holes are developed by and around tiny bivalves and given the trace fossil name Gastrochaenolites ampullatus Kelly and Bromley, 1984. This specimen was collected during my April trip to Israel, a day recorded in this blog. I crowd-sourced the identification of these corals, and they were highlighted as earlier Fossils of the Week. Now I’d like to describe them again with new information, and celebrate the publication of a paper about them.

En Yorqe'am040914aThis is the exposure of the En Yorqe’am Formation where Yoav Avni and I collected the coral specimens approximately 20 meters from its base in Nahal Neqarot, southern Israel (30.65788°, E 35.08764°). It is an amazingly fossiliferous unit here with brachiopods, stromatoporoid sponges, zillions of oysters, gastropods, ammonites and the corals.

The abstract of the Wilson et al. (2014) paper tells the story: “Specimens of the small compound coral Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck, 1801) containing evidence of symbiosis with bivalves have been found in the En Yorqe’am Formation (Upper Cretaceous, early Cenomanian) of southern Israel. The corals have paired holes on their upper surfaces leading to a common chamber below, forming the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites ampullatus Kelly and Bromley, 1984. Apparently gastrochaenid bivalve larvae settled on living coral surfaces and began to bore into the underlying aragonitic skeletons. The corals added new skeleton around the paired siphonal tubes of the invading bivalves, eventually producing crypts that were borings at their bases and bioclaustrations at their openings. When a boring bivalve died its crypt was closed by the growing coral, entombing the bivalve shell in place. This is early evidence of a symbiotic relationship between scleractinian corals and boring bivalves (parasitism in this case), and the earliest record of bivalve infestation of a member of the Suborder Microsolenina. It is also the earliest occurrence of G. ampullatus.”

Fig. 3 BoringPair2bw_scale 585 Paired apertures of Gastrochaenolites ampullatus in the coral Aspidiscus cristatus.

Fig. 4 EmbeddedBivalve1bw_scale_rev 585Polished cross-section through a specimen of Gastrochaenolites ampullatus in an Aspidiscus cristatus coral. In the lower left of the chamber are layered carbonates (A) representing boring linings produced by the bivalve. An articulated bivalve shell (B) is preserved in the chamber. The chamber has been roofed over by coral growth (C).

Thank you very much to Tim Palmer and Olev Vinn for their critical roles in this paper, and, of course, thanks to Yoav Avni, the best field geologist I know.

References:

Avnimelech, M. 1947. A new species of Aspidiscus from the Middle Cretaceous of Sinai and remarks on this genus in general. Eclogae geologicae Helvetiae 40: 294-298.

Gill, G.A. and Lafuste, J.G. 1987. Structure, repartition et signification paleogeographique d’Aspidiscus, hexacoralliaire cenomanien de la Tethys. Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 3: 921-934.

Kleemann, K., 1994. Associations of corals and boring bivalves since the Late Cretaceous. Facies 31, 131-140.

Morton, B. 1990. Corals and their bivalve borers: the evolution of a symbiosis. In: Morton, B. (Ed.), The Bivalvia: Proceedings of a Memorial Symposium in Honour of Sir Charles Maurice Yonge (1899-1986) at the 9th International Malacological Congress, 1986, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, pp. 11-46

Pandey, D.K., Fürsich, F.T., Gameil, M. and Ayoub-Hannaa, W.S. 2011. Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck) from the Cenomanian sediments of Wadi Quseib, east Sinai, Egypt. Journal of the Paleontological Society of India 56: 29-37.

Wilson, M.A., Vinn, O. and Palmer, T.J. 2014. Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 414: 243-245.

 

The geological setting of Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania

October 11th, 2014

Great Meadows 101114On July 3, 1754, colonial lieutenant Colonel George Washington fought and lost a small battle on this site in southwestern Pennsylvania. He and his 400 men had built this makeshift fort about a month before in anticipation of an attack by several hundred French soldiers and their Indian allies. The French were incensed at Washington and his troops after they killed or captured most of a French party at the Battle of Jumonville Glen two months before. (Accounts vary as to who was at fault for that deadly encounter as France and Britain were not at war.) The Battle of Fort Necessity was just one day long, and the British under Washington had the worst of it. Washington accepted French surrender terms and he and his men were allowed to march home. This pair of skirmishes between the French and British started the French and Indian War,  known outside of the USA as the Seven Years’ War. It quickly became a global fight between empires; in many ways it was the first modern world war. And it all started in this lonely part of the Pennsylvania country.

Washington chose to place his ill-fated fort, a reconstruction of which is shown above, in a high grassy spot known as the Great Meadows. It is situated near two passes in the Allegheny Mountains, and thus sits strategically beside major trails. Washington liked the area because there was plenty of feed for his pack animals and horses, lots of available water (too much, it turned out), and it was not in the midst of the endless woods of the region.
Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 5.19.55 PMThis geological map of the area (from the National Park Service) shows that the fort was situated on the Upper Carboniferous Glenshaw Formation. This unit has much clay, trapping water in the thin soil above (“Philo Loam“). Further, the area is a floodplain, thus making the area a kind of wetland with grasses and sedges. Great for horse grazing, not so good for walls, buildings or trenches.
Entrenchments 101114Here we see the shallow entrenchments made by Washington and his men as they awaited attack. The clayey soil and pouring rain made a mess of these boggy trenches.

Fort inside 101114Inside the fort was a simple square building used mainly to keep supplies and wounded men dry, During the battle it was partially flooded with rainwater.

British view 101114This is the British view from the fort of the surrounding woods. Washington miscalculated his placing of the fort because the French and Indians could easily hit it with musket shots while hiding among the trees.

French Indian view 101114The French and Indian view of the hapless fort. It was easy to rain bullets on the British from the woods with little fear of the return fire.

Braddock road trace 101114Nearby is a trace of the military road Washington’s unit had blazed through the Pennsylvania woods on their way to the French Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh. The British General Edward Braddock enlarged this road the next year in his famous march to a spectacular defeat nearby (the “Battle of Monongahela“).

We can’t fault Washington too much for his choice of a fort location. He did not have the resources to clear a large patch of forest, so the meadow would have to do. He expected to be reinforced soon, so he saw the fort as a temporary measure of protection. The rain was beyond his control that July day, and the clay-rich meadow floor ensured wet misery and ruined supplies. The French surprisingly gave good terms for surrender because they were wet, too, in those woods, and they also expected more British and colonial troops would arrive soon. They feared being surrounded, and so thought their message to Washington and his countrymen had been sufficiently made. How different our world would be if the French were not so generous here in southwestern Pennsylvania!

Additional Reference:

Thornberry-Ehrlich, T. 2009. Fort Necessity National Battlefield Geologic Resources Inventory Report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR—2009/082. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An early bryozoan on a Middle Ordovician hardground from Utah

October 10th, 2014

ORBIPORA UTAHENSIS (Hinds, 1970) 072014Last week I presented eocrinoid holdfasts on carbonate hardgrounds from the Kanosh Formation (Middle Ordovician) in west-central Utah. This week we have a thick and strangely featureless bryozoan from the same hardgrounds. It is very common on these surfaces, forming gray, perforate masses that look stuck on like silly putty. Above you see one on the left end of this hardground fragment. (The circular object to the right is another eocrinoid holdfast.)
Kanosh bryo eo 072014Here is a closer view of the bryozoan, again with one of those ubiquitous eocrinoids encrusting it. The holes are the zooecial apertures. Each zooecium is the skeletal component of a living bryozoan individual (zooid). Note that the walls are thick and granular between the zooecia. All the zooecia look pretty much the same, and there are no other structures like spines, pillars or maculae. This is about as simple as a bryozoan gets.

It is impossible to be certain without a thin-section or acetate peel showing the interior, but I’m pretty sure this Kanosh bryozoan is Orbipora utahensis (Hinds, 1970). It matches fairly well the description in Hinds (1970), who named it Dianulites utahensis, and it fits within the redescription by Ernst et al. (2007).

Several years ago we would have called this a trepostome bryozoan and left it at that. These are, after all, the “stony bryozoans” with thick calcite skeletons and long zooecia. However, the group to which Orbipora belongs is unusual because they have no polymorphs (small zooecia different from the primary zooecia) and have granular skeletal textures rather than laminated. We think the granular walls may be because the original skeletons were made of high-magnesium calcite that later altered to low-magnesium calcite and dolomite, losing details of the microstructure. Orbipora is thus in an as yet undescribed new order of bryozoans. [Update: See comment below from Paul Taylor.]

The Kanosh hardgrounds and their attaching faunas are important in geological and biological history because they are telling us something about the geochemical conditions of the seawater when they formed. We think this was a peak time of Calcite Seas, when low-magnesium calcite was a primary marine precipitate and carbon dioxide levels were high in the atmosphere and seawater. Hardgrounds would have formed rapidly because of early cementation, and aragonite and high-magnesium skeletons would have altered soon after death. The abundant Kanosh communities and substrates are critical evidence for these conditions that were superimposed on the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE). We thus have a delightful combination of seawater geochemistry (and, ultimately, the tectonics that controls it) and evolution intertwined in the history of these rocks and fossils.

References:

Ernst, A., Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 2007. Ordovician bryozoans from the Kanosh Formation (Whiterockian) of Utah, USA. Journal of Paleontology 81: 998-1008.

Hinds, R.W. 1970. Ordovician Bryozoa from the Pogonip Group of Millard County, western Utah. Brigham Young University Research Studies, Geology Series 17: 19–40.

Marenco, P.J., Marenco, K.N., Lubitz, R.L. and Niu, D. 2013. Contrasting long-term global and short-term local redox proxies during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event: A case study from Fossil Mountain, Utah, USA. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 377: 45-51.

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J., Guensburg, T.E., Finton, C.D. and Kaufman, L.E. 1992. The development of an Early Ordovician hardground community in response to rapid sea-floor calcite precipitation. Lethaia 25: 19-34.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Eocrinoid holdfasts on a Middle Ordovician hardground from Utah

October 3rd, 2014

Kanosh Hardground 072014 smBack in the late 1980s and early 1990s, several students and I did fieldwork in the Middle Ordovician Kanosh Formation in west-central Utah. One year we were joined by my friend Tim Palmer of the University of Aberystwyth. Together, Chris Finton (’91), Lewis Kaufman (’91), Tim and I put together a paper describing the carbonate hardground communities in this remarkable formation (Wilson et al., 1992). At top is an image of one of the surface of one of these hardgrounds. It is covered with holdfasts of rhipidocystid eocrinoids, a kind of primitive echinoderm.
Fossil Mountain UtahMost of the hardgrounds we studied in the Kanosh Formation were found here at Fossil Mountain near Ibex, Utah. (If you want to consider Ibex a place, at least.) It was a beautiful place to work, and it is still highly productive for geologists and paleontologists (see Marenco et al., 2013, for the latest investigation).

Kanosh eocrinoid 2The encrusters on the Kanosh hardgrounds are dominated by two groups: bryozoans (which we’ll highlight next week) and stemmed echinoderms (this week’s subject). The echinoderms are represented by thousands of these small attachment structures called holdfasts. The stem of the echinoderm was attached here to the hardground. The entire skeleton of the echinoderm, including the hardground, is made of low-magnesium calcite, so they are very well preserved. Surprisingly, the hardground communities in the Kanosh have very few sponges or borings.

Kanosh eocrinoid 3 072014The holdfasts come in a few varieties with subtle morphological differences. Here we have one with a tri-radiate center.

Kanosh eocrinoids 1Sometimes the holdfasts blended together on the hardground surface, which was probably the result of competition for attachment space. Note the tri-radiate centers.

Mandalacystis diagramFrom a few plates we found, it appears that the rhipidocystid eocrinoid holdfasts are from a creature like Mandalacystis, which is pictured above from Figure 1 of Lewis et al. (1987). We can’t tell for certain without more of the skeleton, but the holdfasts are very similar to what has been described for the genus.

These Middle Ordovician hardgrounds were formed at an interesting time in the chemistry of the oceans and the development of marine invertebrate faunas. More on that next week!

References:

Ernst, A., Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 2007. Ordovician bryozoans from the Kanosh Formation (Whiterockian) of Utah, USA. Journal of Paleontology 81: 998-1008.

Lewis, R.D., Sprinkle, J., Bailey, J.B., Moffit, J. and Parsley, R.L. 1987. Mandalacystis, a new rhipidocystid eocrinoid from the Whiterockian Stage (Ordovician) in Oklahoma and Nevada. Journal of Paleontology 61: 1222-1235.

Marenco, P.J., Marenco, K.N., Lubitz, R.L. and Niu, D. 2013. Contrasting long-term global and short-term local redox proxies during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event: A case study from Fossil Mountain, Utah, USA. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 377: 45-51.

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J., Guensburg, T.E., Finton, C.D. and Kaufman, L.E. 1992. The development of an Early Ordovician hardground community in response to rapid sea-floor calcite precipitation. Lethaia 25: 19-34.

In the footsteps of Charles Darwin: Geological excursion into the Central Andes

October 1st, 2014

01ViewOppositeAconcagua100114MENDOZA, ARGENTINA–Today I had one of the finest geological field trips in my life. The scenery was stunning, the geology extraordinary, and the history deeply moving. Being able to share the experience with so many of my geologist friends, old and new, was a bonus. I also thought how much my Wooster Geology colleagues would have enjoyed this excursion. There were volcanics for Meagen, glacial deposits for Greg, and the most extraordinary structural geology for Shelley. This was a mid-meeting field trip of the Fourth International Palaeontological Congress entitled “Darwin and the Highest Andes”. It was led by Victor Ramos and Laura Giambiagi.

The purpose of the trip was to explore the Central Andes from Mendoza almost to the border with Chile, cutting a cross-section through the ranges. We followed the route Charles Darwin took between March 29 and April 5, 1835. This experience was heaven for me: history and geology combined.02TectonicContext100114The above image is from Jordan et al. (1983, issue 3 of Episodes) reproduced in our guidebook. It shows the flat-slab subduction beneath the Andes as well as the three ranges we visited (Precordillera, Frontal Cordillera, and Principal Cordillera). We traveled from right to left on this diagram perpendicular to the mountains.

03Precordillera101014The Precordillera was impressive enough by itself. Here is the dirt road we followed up the eastern slope. It is an enlarged mule path used for centuries as part of the road between Chile and Argentina. Most famously this is the route General José de San Martín used in his epic 1817 Crossing of the Andes to defeat the Spanish as part of the Wars of Independence. Charles Darwin, of course, took the same route in 1835.

04Guanico100114We saw many guanacos (Lama guanicoe) on the way up into the mountains. These camelids native to the area have delightful black faces and skittish ways.

05PrecordilleraNearTop100114Looking west across the Precordillera near the top. The clouds we see stayed around the Mendoza area, but we were above them and had a wonderful sunny day.

06DarwinTree100114Our first major stop was at a petrified forest in Triassic rift valley sediments. Darwin described these tree trunks, which are coarsely replaced by calcite, as part of a buried conifer forest that had been tilted to the west. The sediments are mostly fine volcanic grains. He counted 52 trees, but I found only a few during our stop.

07GuidebookPillar100114Darwin wrote that one of the fossil trees reminded him of “Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.” Who could guess that one of my photographs from Israel would make it into the guidebook as a consequence!

08DarwinForestViewWest100114The view west from Darwin’s Forest shows the beginning of the Frontal Cordillera. The terrain here is very much like that of the Mojave Desert in California, even including a species of Larrea (creosote bush).

MZ and me from Michal Rakocinski1My Polish colleague Michał Zatoń and me with the magnificent Frontal Cordillera. Thank you Michal Rakocinski for the image.

09MarkDarwinForest100114Here I am at a plaque honoring Darwin at the fossil forest. An earlier marker had been destroyed by a small group of local Creationists. Evolution is not very controversial in Argentina, but some of their Creationists are apparently vandals. This plaque has been made especially thick and heavy.

10LunchStop100114We ate lunch while admiring this view of Triassic volcanics near the start of the Frontal Cordillera. The stone work is the Picheuta Bridge.

11PuentedelInca100114We are now in the Principal Cordillera of the Andes. I’m looking along old railroad tracks at Puente del Inca into the magnificent High Andes.

12SouthviewPuentedelInca100114This is the opposite view. Note the fine, fine weather. We needed only light jackets or sweaters.

13BridgePuentedelInca100114Puente del Inca itself is a natural bridge of travertine-cemented landslide debris. Thermal springs like these are scattered along the axes of the Principal Cordillera of the Andes. This bridge, sadly, had nothing to do with the Incas, although they did extend this far south.

14GuidebookCrossSection100114Darwin drew a cross-section of the Principal Cordillera, including this site at Puente del Inca (on the middle right). This is an image from the guidebook of our trip.

15Aconcagua100114The most impressive part of our trip (I’m avoiding “high point”!) was this view we had of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the southern and western hemispheres. Essentially it is Miocene volcanic rocks unconformably atop folded Cretaceous sedimentary deposits thrust on top of Paleogene rocks. This iconic mountain often has snow blowing off its crest, producing white clouds. Darwin mistook these for ash emissions and thought this was an active volcano.

16DarwinShelter100114Our last stop was at Casuchas del Virrey, a brick structure built in 1765 for Spanish officials making the hazardous trip between what would become Chile and Argentina. (They would have rather communicated by sea through the Magellan Strait, but the British were making that difficult.) Darwin himself stayed here, so this little building is often called “Darwin’s Shelter”. The doorway is so high because of the accumulation of snow here in the winter.

17VictorRamos100114Thank you to Victor Ramos for being such an effective, knowledgeable, humorous and patient guide for this trip. He is a structural geologist, but also quite good with sedimentology, paleontology and history. He made this excursion one we will long treasure in our memories of the Andes. Thank you also to my Wooster colleagues for making this trip possible for me.

Darwin and the High Andes copy(Late update, October 4th: Field trip group photo courtesy of Beatriz Aguirre-Urreta.)

Nothing quite like the feeling of completing your presentation: Day 2 of the International Palaeontological Congress

September 30th, 2014

DSC_4540MENDOZA, ARGENTINA–I promise, the images will be much more interesting in the next post! Today we concentrated on talks. I finally was able to deliver mine in the same session as Leif Tapanila above. It was a crowded little room, but the presentations kept us well entertained and informed.

I learned a lesson: without any outward indication of the time in a talk, I do tend to prattle on. There were no clocks or green-yellow-red lights for the speakers, and I was reluctant to try to read my watch in the darkness. To my surprise one of the session chairs told me mid-talk that I had two minutes left. Aghast and in a panic as the rule-follower I am, I sprinted to my last slides and finished. The organizers were laughing afterwards, though, because when they say “two minutes” it is for Latin American speakers who will typically take at least five minutes to end. I had a full five minutes, but as time-structured Norte Americano, I used only one!

My talk was titled “Changing Diversity and Intensity of Marine Macroboring Through the Phanerozoic”. Two critical slides, for the record, are below. They were surrounded by caveats!

Slide48_093014Slide49_093014I even earned a certificate! (As did everyone else.)

DSC_4551I very much enjoyed the presentations by Luis Buatois and Gabriela Mangano on Ediacaran and Early Cambrian bioturbation and trace fossils, as well as a talk by Al Curran and colleagues on the trace fossil Ophiomorpha. Leif Tapanila’s lecture on Triassic wood borings was fascinating, as was a spectacular presentation on Early Jurassic dinosaur nests and eggs in Patagonia.

IPC4 talk from Michal RakocinskiMichal Rakocinski managed to get a photo of me as I started my talk. I’ve never seen myself before in talking mode.

Tomorrow is field trip day, so this blog will return to images of geological scenery!

The Fourth International Palaeontological Congress starts well

September 29th, 2014

Zaton092914MENDOZA, ARGENTINA–After an excellent opening lecture last night by Dr. Beatriz Aguirre-Urreta (“Palaeontology in the Southern Hemisphere: Benchmarks in the History of Discovery and Research”), we got down to the technical talks today in the Mendoza Sheraton for the 4th International Paleontological Congress. There were many presentations to choose from, as usual, so I had an eclectic mix today. Above is my colleague Michał Zatoń delivering an interesting talk on Devonian faunas in Laurussia. I also enjoyed a presentation by Linda Frey on Devonian paleoecology in Morocco (full disclosure: Paul Taylor and I were in the long list of co-authors), Andrei Dronov on Ordovician trace fossils in Siberia, and Bruce Runnegar on the classic Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia. It is a joy to have so many of my people in the same place at the same time.

Posters092914Well, usually. As you can quickly deduce from this scene, the almost 1000 attendees at this meeting have stretched the capacity of the venue. This is one of the lanes for the poster session. I got in about six feet. Nevertheless, I had a good time speaking with Marcelo Carrera about his Lower Ordovician tabulate corals, and Alycia Stigall (whose poster is visible on the right) on her fantastic online Ordovician Atlas program.

Tomorrow I have a Paleontological Society meeting in the morning, and then I give my talk in the afternoon. As always, I’ve divided this meeting mentally into two parts: pre-talk and post-talk!

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