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Almost ready for British Columbia

June 24th, 2014

Guest Blogger: Liz Plascencia
 

It’s safe to say that time truly does fly. Seemingly having know Mary and Julia for years, I am reminded that my arrival to The College of Wooster was a little over a week ago.

 
As a rising junior, Earth Sciences major from Dickinson College I will be accompanying, Ben Edwards, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at Dickinson College, Meagen Pollock, Assistant Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster, and undergraduate students Mary Reinthal (Wooster ’16), Julia Franceschi (Wooster ’16), and Will Kotchtitsky (Dickinson ’16) to Northern British Columbia. Through our investigation of pillow lava last year at two quarries in southwest Iceland we are now going to spend a couple of weeks collecting similar data and samples from northern British Columbia, Canada. Though pillow lava is one of the most abundant volcanic units in the world, there is still much to be done in terms of quantitatively and qualitatively categorizing them. Thus that will be one of our main tasks this summer. 

IMG_6085

Under the guidance of Doctor Pollock, Mary, Julia, and I spent a couple of prep weeks preparing pressed pellets and glass beads from past Pillow Ridge, Canada samples.

 

Mary preparing a pressed pellet (Wooster ’16)

Mary preparing a pressed pellet (Wooster ’16)

We're all packed up. Our flight departs from Cleveland Airport around noon tomorrow and so the adventure begins.

We’re all packed up. Our flight departs from Cleveland Airport around noon tomorrow and so the adventure begins.

Beginning our journey from Vancouver all the way up to Pillow Ridge, Mt. Edziza. 
 
4 planes, 2 SUV’s, and 2 helicopters —  this surely is going to be a geological journey to remember.

Scanning at the Natural History Museum

June 24th, 2014

PDT SEM 062414LONDON, ENGLAND — I know of no one better at the art of Scanning Electron Microscopy than Paul Taylor of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in London. He is a master at producing superb images, having now made more than 16,000 of them. (I know the number because my job today was to log each image we made in that notebook to his right.) We had a superb session with this SEM and a set of corynotrypid bryozoans from the Bromide Formation (Upper Ordovician) of Oklahoma. More on our results later.

After my seminar presentation today, Paul and his wife Patricia took me out to dinner and a walk in the South Bank neighborhood of London. Apart from getting there on the Jubilee Line of the Tube during rush hour (a remarkable exercise of human transportation on a mass scale — and human tolerance), I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Work continues with the SEM tomorrow.

A day’s work in the Natural History Museum, London

June 23rd, 2014

NHM exterior 062314LONDON, ENGLAND — This is one of my favorite places in the world. It is a Victorian cathedral of science: The Natural History Museum in London. Today I began three intense days of research with Paul Taylor in his paleontology lab.

Lab desk 062314Here is my lab station. Today I did the most alpha level of alpha paleontology: sorting fossils for later detailed examination. You see above trays of specimens sitting to the right of the microscope. My task was to examine each fossil for the encrusters (sclerobionts) on its surface, as well as any other interesting features like bioerosion or evidence of biotic interactions. After I finished these trays –

Specimens to go 062314– there were plenty of other trays to plow through. Paul and I had an assembly line going where he washed the fossils and I sorted.

zigzag 062314This beautiful creature in one of Paul’s excellent Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images is what we were primarily looking for today. It is an undescribed zig-zag cyclostome bryozoan from the Bromide Formation (Upper Ordovician, Sandbian) of the Arbuckle Mountains in Oklahoma. Paul and other colleagues from the Natural History Museum collected the trays of fossils we’ve been sorting while on an expedition to Oklahoma in 2013. This bryozoan type encrusts larger bryozoans, brachiopods, and other shelly substrates in this assemblage. Tomorrow we will use the SEM on the new specimens we discovered today in the expedition’s materials.

I also give a seminar at the museum tomorrow afternoon on Wooster Geology work in the Jurassic of Israel. Yikes.

 

 

Wooster Geologist in London at the British Museum

June 22nd, 2014

Front BM 062214LONDON, ENGLAND — I arrived late last night in London after a series of delays in my departure from Poland, so I was pleased that today was a Sunday so I could chill a bit before work with Paul Taylor tomorrow. If I can visit one place in London (other than the Natural History Museum, of course) it is always the British Museum (above). As you can see, the weather was spectacular — and the crowds took advantage of it. I thought I’d just highlight a set of exhibits that is very cool, despite the fact that few visitors seem to spend much time with it.

Enlightenment textIt is the “Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century” gallery. I think it is well done and highly evocative, at least for scientists. My favorite part is there on the right end: “The Natural World”.

Enlightenment cabinetThe cases are deliberately old-timey to evoke the “cabinets of curiosity” 18th Century polymaths had for their collected treasures. In fact, some of these cabinets themselves date back to that period. Here we see rocks, fossils, plants and animals collected by Enlightenment explorers, philosophers, historians, and just plain rich guys. These were the very specimens that thrilled and puzzled some very great minds — not that we don’t have plenty of mysteries remaining about them.

Mastodon BM 062214This is a mastodon jaw (Mammuthus americanum) collected “near the Ohio River” and given to the museum in 1768. It was called “The Unknown American” and thought to be from some extinct carnivorous elephant-like beast.

Smith fossils BM 062214My favorite set of fossils here was collected and used by the famous William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839)  in his pioneering work on geological correlation and mapping. Fossils like these were crucial to working out the relationships of rock layers (“strata”) and early concepts of Earth history. There is something inexplicably enchanting about seeing objects handled by past luminaries.

Schist sarcophygusOn an unrelated but geological note, I have a complaint about a small number of the displays. This ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is an example. What is the rock type here? I’d say a basalt or maybe a fine-grained granodiorite (like the Rosetta Stone).

Schist closer BM 062214Here’s a closer view of the sarcophagus. The sharpness of the carving shows how fine-grained and massive this rock seems to be. (I know the rules — no scratching the artifacts to test their properties.) But what does the sign say?

Schist signBlack schist? No way. Schist is foliated and flakey and most decidedly not massive and so superbly suited to carving. Maybe someone will correct my notion of “schist”, but right now I’m certain this part of the label is wrong. I’ve seen this fairly often in museum displays: the rock types given don’t always match what appears to be the actual lithologies. Not enough geoarchaeologists to go around, I suppose.

Romano British hed 062214Here’s a cool Romano-British sculpture that did have a proper identification as “limestone”. (And to be fair, most are correctly labeled.) I liked this artifact in particular because you could look closely at the broken bits –

Ooids 062214The rock is made primarily of these little calcitic spheres called ooids. I would not be at all surprised to learn that this is a Portlandian (Upper Jurassic) limestone from southern England.

It was a fun day at one of the world’s finest museums. Tomorrow I begin work at another.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A silicified rhynchonellid brachiopod from the Permian of West Texas

June 22nd, 2014

Rhynchonellid crura Permian Texas 585Sometimes fossils can be more useful when broken than whole. Above is a much-abused rhynchonellid brachiopod from the Road Canyon Formation (Middle Permian, Roadian, about 270 million years old) found in the Glass Mountains of southwestern Texas. It is part of a set of silicified fossils we etched out of a block of limestone in the last century. The shell has been replaced with resistant silica, so it was easy to extract from the limestone matrix with a long bath in hydrochloric acid that dissolved the carbonate but left everything else. The fossils are like delicate little glass husks. We’ve featured them in this blog several times.

Update: Matt Clapham kindly corrected me in the comments, and it is worth repeating in the text: “It’s Stenoscisma. The large spoon-shaped projection is actually called a spondylium, formed from merged dental plates and it’s quite distinctive for the Stenoscismatidae. The crura are broken but still visible in your specimen; they are the little struts parallel to the narrowest part of the spondylium. There are five Stenoscisma species that appear common in the Road Canyon Formation and yours looks most similar to Stenoscisma triquetrum to me (weakly sulcate with ribs that are somewhat subtle but still extend near the beak).” I made a bonehead mistake labeling the spondylium incorreectly, hence the “c”. Here’s to the value of Twitter, blogging, and knowledgeable colleagues!
Rhynchonellid Permian Texas 585Here’s the dorsal side of the specimen for completion. The exterior is in poor shape.

I’d love to identify this specimen to at least the genus level [update: see above and the comments!], but there is not enough detail preserved, at least for my skill set. The Permian brachiopods of West Texas were famously studied by G. Arthur Cooper and Richard E. Grant in the 1960s and 1970s. The numbers of species are overwhelming in this ancient reef system, and almost all of them are preserved in this delicate way.

References:

Cooper, G.A., and Grant, R.E., 1964, New Permian stratigraphic units in Glass Mountains, West Texas. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin 48: 1581-1588.

Cooper, G.A., and Grant, R.E. 1966. Permian rock units in the Glass Mountains, West Texas, In: Contributions to stratigraphy, 1966: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1244-E: E1-E9.

Cooper, G.A. and Grant, R.E. 1972. Permian brachiopods of West Texas, I. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 14: 1–228. [and five other volumes]

Olszewski, T.D. and Erwin, D.H. 2009. Change and stability in Permian brachiopod communities from western Texas. Palaios 24: 27-40.

A Nazi hiding hole in Middle Triassic rocks (Będzin, Poland)

June 20th, 2014

Tunnel bunker 062014SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — On my last full day in Poland, Michał Zatoń and his family took me on a tour of the city they live in and where my hotel is located: Będzin. The history of this place is very long, stretching back to the Neolithic, and for us it is dominated by World War II and the horrifying events that took place here from the earliest days of the war in 1939 until its liberation from the Germans in 1945. I thought I’d highlight one part of that history recently excavated and with a geological context.

The above view is looking down a tunnel in a complex bunker constructed by the Germans in 1944. Its purpose was to serve as a refuge from Allied bombing and reconnaissance flights near the end of the war. It had been sealed off and all but forgotten after the Germans retreated in 1945. The city of Będzin is now excavating it to be an underground museum. We were fortunate to have a private tour this morning.

Entrance bunker 062014These are the street level entrances into the bunker complex. You can see the solid rock outcrop behind the doorways.

Unfinished bunker 062014Much of the bunker is unfinished, like this portion. The steel arches are the modern effort to stabilize the roof and walls to make it safe for the public.

Fossilized cement 062014The Germans left in a hurry. This is a pile of unused bags of cement mix. In the decades since they were placed they have essentially fossilized into solid masses of concrete.

Muschelkalk bunker wall 062014This is the leading edge of construction where the concrete was laid against the rock wall. The reddish-yellow limestone is the Muschelkalk (Middle Triassic) unit we visited earlier this week. This is a strong rock suitable for tunneling because it can be easily carved out. This interval is probably equivalent to the crinoid-rich top of the Muschelkalk.

Nazis 062014This is one of the few photos made at the time in 1944 when the bunkers (although unfinished) were opened for use. It is taken from this website (in Polish). The man on the left (Hans Kowohl) was the mayor of the city, and the one in the middle was reportedly hanged as a war criminal in 1946, although I can find no mention of his identity.

Thus ends my Polish experience this summer with great colleagues, wonderful rocks and fossils, and a deep, often disturbing, history. I was challenged on many different levels.

Castles in Poland I expect, but a desert?

June 19th, 2014

Zamek Mirow 061914SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — Today my colleague Michał Zatoń took me and his family (wife Aneta and son Tomasz) on a tour of the Polish Jura, an upland with spectacular exposures of Jurassic rocks and the castles who love them. Above is the castle I consider most dramatic: Zamek Mirów from the 14th Century. Note the large mass of white bedrock at its base. This is a natural outcrop on which the castle was built. This will be a theme.

Mirow Oxfordian bioherms 061914Here we see a series of these white rocks jutting dramatically across the landscape. They are Upper Jurassic (Oxfordian) sponge-rich silicified limestones that grew as bioherms (organic mounds) on portions of seafloor elevated because of igneous intrusions below. The sponges loved being raised off the deep seabed and continued to grow upwards. Since many of them were siliceous sponges, after death their silica was mobilized into the surrounding sediment as a cement. This process produced these outcrops of very hard silicified limestones just waiting to host a castle or two.

Oxfordian limestone 061914Conveniently, the rocks can be quarried to produce the stones used in castle construction. Fossils are quite common in the building stones, like this ammonite external mold.

Zamek Bobolice 061914This is a reconstructed castle built on the outcrops.  (Zamek Bobolice; also 14th Century in origin.)

Zamek Smoleniu 061914Zamek Smoleniu was the smallest castle we visited, but somehow the scariest to climb. Getting to the top of that tower was a challenge.

Zamek Ogrodzieniec view 061914Zamek Ogrodzieniec was the largest and best known castle we visited today. It is haunted, but I ain’t scared.

Zamek Ogrodzieniec 061914The outer fortifications of Zamek Ogrodzieniec have very impressive outcrops of the Oxfordian silicified limestones.

Pustynia Bledowska 061914Now what about that mysterious Polish desert? Well, turns out it isn’t a desert in the official sense (it receives a lot of rain), but it sure looks like a desert. Pustynia Błędowska is its name in Polish. It is definitely an odd patch: 32 square kilometers in the midst of rich Polish pine forests. This place is so deserty that the German Afrika Korps trained here before going to northern Africa, and the Polish military uses it as a proxy for Middle Eastern situations. There is a lesson for humanity here as well: In the 13th and 14th Centuries the forest in this area was completely logged to provide charcoal for smelters producing silver and lead ingots. The removal of the trees exposed highly mobile glacial sands, which blew around enough to create dunes and soil too unstable for the trees to recolonize. This is a medieval ecological catastrophe. The Błędów Desert is now protected from human traffic so it has a chance to be absorbed back into the surrounding forests.

The Gleiwitz Incident completes the grim prologue

June 18th, 2014

Gliwice Tower 061814(It is the nature of this blog that our most recent entries are at the top, making it a bit awkward to read what is here the third part of a trilogy of posts today. You might want to start with my visit to Góra Świętej Anny.)

Above is a radio tower in Gliwice, Poland. It is an impressive construction in its own right, being made of wood with brass connectors in 1935 by Germans. It is the second tallest wooden structure (118 meters) in the world. How it survived World War II is a mystery to me.

This radio tower is famous for being the site of the Gleiwitz Incident on August 31, 1939. At the time Gleiwitz was within Germany near the Polish border. German SS troops staged a bloody attack on the radio station and tower to make it look like Polish Silesian nationalists were responsible. This was at least conceivable because of the tensions in Silesia between Germans and Poles for centuries, especially in the year after World War I. Of course, the Poles had nothing to do with the Gleiwitz violence. The Nazis used it as a pretext to attack and invade Poland on September 1, 1939. Last week my colleagues and I visited Westerplatte in Gdansk where the first “official” shots were fired. In some ways, though, the war started here.

Michal Tomasz Gliwice 061814Here are my patient and friendly colleagues Michał Zatoń and Tomasz Borszcz at the base of the Gliwice radio tower. They are very tolerant of my passion for history and geology.

 

 

Geology and nationalism at Góra Świętej Anny

June 18th, 2014

Google Earth 061814Geology, of course, is so much our fundamental basis for being that we rarely think about it. Occasionally, though, particular geological circumstances play direct roles in history. Today as I was visiting Góra Świętej Anny with my geologist friends I was intrigued by events that took place here in 1921 that provided another twist in the story that leads to the cataclysm of World War II.

The image at the top is from Google Earth showing the low prominence of Góra Świętej Anny in the center. It is not particularly high (just 406 meters), but it dominates the surrounding low countryside of fertile fields, productive mines, and scattered factories. As noted in our previous blog entry, Góra Świętej Anny is elevated because it has a core of resistant basalt from an extinct Paleogene volcano. It was an isolated volcano (the furthest eastern exposed basalt in Europe) and thus forms an isolated hill.
View 2 061814This is a view west from Góra Świętej Anny. The haze in the background is from large smokestacks on the right.
Silesian monument 1 061814On Góra Świętej Anny is the above monument to Polish Silesians who rebelled against the Germans throughout history (Teutonic knights are portrayed on the right panel), particularly during a 1921 battle on this elevation. The monument was dedicated in 1955 during “communist times” and shows many elements of Soviet-style design. It contains within it ashes from Poles killed in the Warsaw Uprising in 1945, and it is on the site of a German mausoleum that was dynamited to oblivion during liberation in 1945.
Silesian monument 2 061814These lead outlines represent Polish workers advancing against German troops in 1921 on Góra Świętej Anny. It is a story too complex for a blog entry, but here was the Battle of Annaberg between German Silesians and Polish Silesians during the Third Silesian Uprising. The Poles had taken this hill and defended it against an attack of German Freikorps, which were essentially World War I soldiers who had refused to demobilize in the chaos following the Armistice. The Poles were eventually forced off Góra Świętej Anny at great cost to the Germans. Later international commissions then divided up Silesia between Germans and Poles, with this area falling to the Germans. Polish Silesians, of course, took this very hard and continued to resist the Germans. Tension in this area eventually fed into pretexts for the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the start of World War II.
Nazi Amphiteater old imageGerman nationalists, many of them early members of the Nazi Party, wanted to make Góra Świętej Anny (or Annaberg, as they called it) a kind of shrine to their past and future efforts to make Silesia part of the Reich. They built a mausoleum (seen in the top right in this pre-war image) and a large amphitheater called a Thingstätte. The idea was to have Nazi rallies here with the dead from 1921 elevated above in some sort of Valhalla. The excavation of the amphitheater is what exposed the Middle Triassic Muschelkalk rocks for our study today.
Nazi amphitheater front 061814The amphitheater today survives for Polish festivals (it is a delight to hear the ring of schoolchildren’s voices here) and visiting geologists. (It is part of a geological interpretive trail). At the top of this view is the 1955 Polish monument on the site of the destroyed Nazi mausoleum.
Nazi amphitheater 061814The Germans cut most of the trees of the area down when they made the amphitheater. The Poles have allowed the forest to return. There is something profound about the peaceful, natural healing this reforestation represents.

The Triassic limestones at Góra Świętej Anny, Poland

June 18th, 2014

Gora sw. Anny signSOSNOWIEC, POLAND — My friends Michał Zatoń and Tomasz Borszcz took me on a very pleasant day trip to Góra Świętej Anny in southwestern Poland about an hour’s drive northwest from Sosnowiec. This is a place of considerable geological and historical interest. It is an eroded volcanic caldera and the easternmost occurrence of the fine-grained igneous rock basalt in Europe. You would think I’d be able to show you at least a bit of basalt, but we saw only the surrounding Middle Triassic limestone country rock. (Sorry, Dr. Pollock.) We’ll talk about the history later. Now we’ll look at the geology.

Muschelkalk long 061814Here is a great exposure of the Muschelkalk, a Middle Triassic sequence of limestones and dolomites that extends across central and western Europe. This is its best exposure in Poland. The rock appears very massive in this old quarried wall, but it actually has many distinct layers. Michał is standing at the top of stairs that lead down into a massive Nazi amphitheater called a Thingstätte, but more on this later.

Muschelkalk brachs 061814Part of the Muschelkalk unit is dominated by terebratulid brachiopods, many of which are seen on this slab.

Triassic encrinite 061814The topmost Muschelkalk here contains thick beds made primarily of crinoid skeletal debris, a kind of deposit known as an encrinite. We’ve seen encrinites before in this blog.

trace fossil sign 061814You don’t often see informative signs dedicated to the description of a trace fossil type. Rhizocorallium commune is the most common ichnofossil in this part of the Muschelkalk. It is a ropy, loopy tube produced in this case by crustaceans, probably including the decapod shrimp Pemphix.

Rhizocorallium 061814The slabs used to pave the walks and plazas in this area are filled with Rhizocorallium commune traces.

View 061814Finally, this is a view west from Góra Świętej Anny towards the Oder River. It is the highest place around, dominating this fertile valley rich with farms, mines and factories. This will be the reason it is so culturally and historically significant in Silesia.

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