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A Wooster Geologist goes to a Bigfoot meeting

August 29th, 2015

1 Bigfoot head reconstruction 082915ORRVILLE, OHIO — The First-Year Seminar course I teach at Wooster is called “Nonsense! (And Why it’s So Popular)“. It is ostensibly about exploring irrational ideas in human society, such as astrology, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, quack medicine, the “paranormal” and the like, but more fundamentally concerned with critical thinking and writing. It is about skepticism and learning how to test ideas and express the results. It is great fun because there is of course an endless carousel of nonsense to choose from every semester. We’re careful not to ridicule people, but we assess myths and misconceptions ruthlessly. Understanding why people believe weird things (from the title of one of our textbooks) turns out to be just as interesting as the ideas themselves, and it reveals the many filters and barriers between us and “reality” or “truth”. There are fuzzy boundaries around every topic, and our empathy for people who have poorly-supported world views grows throughout the course. Still, we can call some concepts nonsense even if the people professing them are sympathetic. The existence of Bigfoot is unsupported by physical evidence. The claim that Bigfoot has been thriving in Ohio for thousands of years is utter nonsense.

So why do people believe that an eight-foot tall hominid has been hiding all this time in the woods and swamps of crowded Ohio? To gain some insight, today my wife Gloria and I went to a Bigfoot presentation held at the Orrville Public Library by the founders of American Primate Exploration (APE from now on!). It was a fascinating two hours. You can see what the primary program was like by watching this video made from an earlier but nearly identical event.

2 Bigfoot presentation 082915The main presenter was Dan Baker, pictured above, the founder of APE. He first described the history and organization of his organization, emphasizing the number of “research teams” they have across North America and even into Australia. All the teams are staffed by what he termed “self-described experts on Bigfoot”, then noting that no one is a real expert on Bigfoot (thus leveling the field with scientists, I suppose). Mr. Baker moved immediately into anatomy, showing how Bigfoot has a flexible foot structure that includes a “midtarsal break”, unlike most humans. This means that Bigfoot footprints show a distinctive pressure ridge behind the ball of the foot, separating them from the typical human footprint. He had to admit, though, that one in 13,000 humans has such a mid-tarsal break. Turns out it is actually one in 13, so he was three orders of magnitude off. [Update: Check out the “midtarsal break” on these fake Bigfoot tracks.]

3 Bigfoot footprint casts 082915Above is a selection of the footprint casts displayed at the meeting. As you may can see, sorting out evidence for a midtarsal break from a regular human-like arch is dodgy business. Plus, some of those Bigfoot impressions are flat throughout, a feature attributed to “casting errors” by one of the presenters.

I was amazed to see that the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film of a “Bigfoot” now named “Patty” was a central piece of “evidence” for the existence of Bigfoot. Mr. Baker breezily dismissed all accusations of fraud on the part of Patterson and Gimlin, which include a confession from the man filmed in the ape suit. This ancient clip, it turns out, is now holy script in the Bigfoot movement, so no skeptical analysis will make a dent in this belief system. Mr. Baker even brought a footprint cast that he proudly showed was signed by Bob Gimlin himself. A sacred relic.

4 Bigfoot handprint 082915I was introduced to evidence new to me: Bigfoot handprints. Here is one that was apparently made in 1995 by Paul Freeman in the Blue Mountains, Washington. Note the opposable thumb. Pretty impressive how that animal pushed his whole hand down into the mud. (The fingers are shortened here because, one of the APE crew said, “he didn’t clean out the holes first”.) Mr. Baker said that this cast all all the work of Paul Freeman was “legit”, despite claims that the man was a fraud. You can follow up on the Paul Freeman story here: “A few of Freeman’s “Bigfoot-related” discoveries were found to be faked, including manmade hair samples, and a few of his finds remain “unknowns.” (Although softened, this criticism is heresy in Bigfoot circles.) Freeman’s most famous film of a Bigfoot was shown approvingly at our event. Freeman had an unusual ability to find Bigfoot, proponents say. Unusual indeed.

After these items, Mr. Baker and the following speaker (Raymond V. Gardner II, APE Field Researcher) spent the remaining time describing their own encounters with Bigfoot in Ohio. Carroll County (about an hour and a half east of Wooster) is a hotspot, as is the area around Spencer in Medina County (just a half hour up the road). In fact, Ohio itself is second only to the Pacific Northwest in Bigfoot reports. The stories were what you would expect: fleeting glimpses before a camera could be deployed, howls and “wood-banging” in the night, “trampled grass” after a night of “activity”. One long segment was an audio recording of an APE team describing some squatting shape in the midnight woods. There was a brief mention of giving some vocal Bigfoot recordings to “a Native American” who could apparently translate them into some sort of pidgin English. (I’ve never heard that before.) I also learned that Bigfoot may be able to “see in the infrared” and thus avoid the ubiquitous trail cameras in the Ohio woods.

The questions from the audience were interesting. Most there were true believers from their tone, but some skeptics lurked. One of the best questions asked why we don’t see evidence of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest right now as unprecedented wildfires tear through the forests. Shouldn’t Bigfoot be flushed out into the open, or at least a few smoking bodies be found? No, was the answer. Bigfoot is very smart, very crafty, very quick, and very good at hiding. The lack of evidence is not evidence that they don’t exist. I also learned from an audience member that Bigfoot sometimes speaks in “backwards Indian” and “the Douglas Dialect“.

My conclusion is that we attended a service with true Bigfoot believers. The lack of evidence for the creature is quickly explained away to preserve the tenets of the faith. Bigfoot proponents have invested their identities in its existence, no matter how implausible. No amount of scientific skepticism can overcome a belief unencumbered by a need for physical evidence or even biological possibility. Bigfoot believers have a strong community reinforced daily with testimonies and acts of resistance against skeptics. As with any community, there are social roles to fill, from the leadership to “field researchers”. There is even an Ohio Bigfoot Hall of Fame for the ambitious. If your subject is defined by perpetual ambiguity, your arguments for it can be impervious to logical analysis. This was an excellent field experience for me to bring back to my First-Year Seminar class next week.

Thank you to the good and earnest officers of APE for the presentation (free to the public), and to the Orrville Public Library for hosting the event.

Here’s a cool book to explore the origins and details of Bigfoot mythology —


Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An encrusted and bored oyster from the Upper Jurassic of northern England

August 28th, 2015

1 Passage Beds Oyster shell bored 585This week’s fossil is a celebration of classes beginning again at Wooster, and a memory of excellent summer fieldwork. It isn’t especially attractive, but it has paleontological significance. We are looking at a broken surface through a thick oyster from the Passage Beds Member of the Coralline Oolite Formation (Upper Jurassic, Oxfordian) exposed on the north side of Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, England. It was collected by Meredith Mann (’16) as part of her Senior Independent Study research in June. One of her project goals is to assess the sclerobionts (encrusters and borers) that lived on and within hard substrates in this interval. This thick shell is a start.
2 Passage Beds borings 585In this closer view we can see three rounded objects penetrating the oyster shell. These are bivalve borings called Gastrochaenolites. They were open holes excavated by drilling bivalves that were later filled with sediment and cement.
3 Passage oyster encrusters 585The outer surface of the oyster shell is covered with encrusting oysters and serpulid worm tubes. These will be more visible later after Meredith prepares the specimens. The first thing she is likely to do is use some bleach to remove the modern marine algae. Our specimens were all collected near the high-water tide level on the rocky north coast of Filey Brigg (N54.21823°, W00.26904°).
4 Meredith Passage Beds  072415Meredith is here standing against the Passage Beds Member on June 14, 2015. Her feet are on the top of the underlying Saintoft Member of the Lower Calcareous Grit Formation. About a meter and a half above her head is the base of the overlying Hambleton Oolite Member (Lower Leaf) of the Coralline Oolite Formation. As we took this photo the sea was pounding behind us on a rising tide.
5 Passage Unit 1 fossils 072415Here is a cluster of oysters preserved in the lowest unit of the Passage Beds. It is a sandstone distinct from the overlying limestones. There is much evidence of high-energy transportation of shelly material.
6 Meredith collection 072315Here are Meredith’s specimens from this site, all cleaned and in stratigraphic order. A critical part of her work will be a petrographic analysis of the Passage Beds Member. We hope to show you these thin-sections next month.
7 Meredith Filey Brigg point 072415Meredith celebrating the end of her fieldwork as she confronts the rising sea on the tip of Filey Brigg (N54.21560°, W00.25842°).

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A blastoid from the Lower Carboniferous of Illinois

August 21st, 2015

Pentremites IL 585It is sometimes hard to believe that exquisite fossils such as the above are sometimes very common. The above is a theca of the blastoid Pentremites godoni (DeFrance, 1819) found in the Lower Carboniferous (Mississippian) of Illinois. (Thanks to expert Colin Sumrall for the identification.) In some places these fossils can be picked up by the hundreds.

Blastoids are stemmed echinoderms that appeared first in the Ordovician and went extinct at the end of the Permian. They were most diverse and abundant in the shallow carbonate seas of the Lower Carboniferous, especially in North America. They are much beloved and studied fossils.
Pentremites IL basal 585The basal side of the above theca shows that blastoids had a small circular stem attachment, much like their cousins the crinoids. They extended numerous feeding appendages (brachioles) from their ambulacra (the five “petals” on the upper surface and sides) for filter-feeding. The theca is made of calcitic plates that are tightly fused together, thus ensuring they survive the vicissitudes of preservation.
Pentremites close 585In this close view of the top of the theca are five holes (spiracles) surrounding a central pit (the mouth) One spiracle (in the upper right) is larger than the others. It contains the anus and is thus called an anispiracle. The spiracles are openings into the interior of the theca, which contained a complexly-folded respiratory system called the hydrospire.

Pentremites godoni has a complicated taxonomic history. The original type specimen of the species (a specimen used as the definition of the species — a Platonic ideal form!) was destroyed in the middle of the 19th Century in a museum fire. The specimen was illustrated and described (although not named) in 1808 by James Parkinson (see below).
Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.55.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.59.30 PMParkinson (1808, pl. 13) referred to this specimen as “an asterial fossil from America; probably of the nature of the encrinus.” Encrinus was a term used at the time for crinoids. Fay (1961) describes the convoluted way Parkinson’s specimen above became the type not only for the species, but also how P. godoni came to define the genus Pentremites as well. That Parkinson (1808) diagram, though, is the only image of the original specimen, and probably the first illustration of a blastoid.


Atwood, J.W. and Sumrall, C.D. 2012. Morphometric investigation of the Pentremites fauna from the Glen Dean Formation, Kentucky. Journal of Paleontology 86: 813-828.

DeFrance, J.M.L. 1819. Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelles 14, EA-EQE, p. 467.

Fay, R.O. 1961. The type of Pentremites Say. Journal of Paleontology 35: 868-873.

Parkinson, J. 1808. Organic remains of a former world. London, Noraville & Fell, v. 2, p. 235-236, pl. 13.

Waters, J.A., Horowitz, A.S. and Macurda, D.B., Jr. 1985. Ontogeny and phylogeny of the Carboniferous blastoid Pentremites. Journal of Paleontology 59: 701-712.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A very large Upper Jurassic ammonite from southern England

August 14th, 2015

1 Titanites fragment Bowers QuarryThe shard above doesn’t look like much. It comes from a specimen far too large for us to excavate, let alone pack onto a plane for the trip home.
2 TitanitesinrockHere’s a view of one of the full specimens still in bedrock.
3 KN&Titanites 2002And here we see a liberated specimen with Katherine Nicholson Marenco (’03) for scale 12 years ago. This is the ammonite Titanites anguiformis Wimbledon and Cope, 1978, from the Portland Freestone (anguiformis Zone, Portlandian, Upper Jurassic) exposed on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, southern England. Katherine and I, with help from Rich Poole (’03), Clive Griffiths, Tim Palmer and Paul Taylor, worked there in the summer of 2002 looking at encrusting faunas on shells for her Independent Study project. We could only take bits home, hence the fragment above. It was a wonderful field season in a spectacular place.

Titanites anguiformis is one of the largest ammonites, with specimens up to a meter in diameter. Our specimens above are all molds made of limestone; the aragonitic shells dissolved away. These lumbering beasts were swimming predators like all ammonoids, feasting on a variety of invertebrates in a shallow Jurassic sea.
4 CoombefieldBlocks2Our team spent most of its time in active building stone quarries like this one (Coombefield) looking at excavated blocks of Portland Freestone. This rock is one of the most comon building stones in England.
5 KNChiselling2The many surfaces of the blocks exposed fossils in a variety of orientations. Here is Katherine doing what she did for three weeks: chiseling bits of shell from the limestone.
6 Titanitesclose-up1Our goal was to collect surfaces like this. We have here an internal mold of Titanites anguiformis. The inner surface of the shell (a cryptic space) was encrusted by bryozoans, serpulid worms and oysters. When the aragonitic shell dissolved, the undersides of the encrusters were exposed like we see here. We then studied the attachment surfaces of the encrusters, looking at their growth patterns and successional overgrowths. Katherine’s work resulted in this GSA presentation.

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon CoolPix2500 2002/06/18 10:24:09 JPEG (8-bit) Normal Image Size:  1600 x 1200 Color ConverterLens: None Focal Length: 5.6mm Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern 1/900.9 sec - f/4.5 Exposure Comp.: 0 EV Sensitivity: Auto White Balance: Auto AF Mode: AF-S Tone Comp: Auto Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Electric Zoom Ratio: 1.00 Saturation comp: 0 Sharpening: Auto Noise Reduction: OFF [#End of Shooting Data Section]This fossil bit is thus a reminder of a great field season on the coast of southern England many years ago.


Falcon‐Lang, H. 2011. The Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. Geology Today 27: 34-38.

Wimbledon, W.A. and Cope, J.C.W. 1978. The ammonite faunas of the English Portland Beds and the zones of the Portlandian Stage. Journal of the Geological Society of London 135: 183-190.

Wooster Geologist at Niagara Falls

August 10th, 2015

1 American FallsLOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 10, 2015) — I know, such a cliché image, but you know it had to happen on this trip. This morning Andrej Ernst and I packed up 78 pounds of bryozoan-rich Silurian rocks and mailed them to Kiel, Germany. (Thank you to the kind and patient people at both UPS and the USPS.) We celebrated our success with a trip to Niagara Falls. Above is the view of American Falls from Prospect Point.

I can’t recommend going to Niagara Falls at the height of the season, especially since the parking system seems to be in disarray and run by 14-year-old boys, and the lines are like Disneyland on the Fourth of July. Nevertheless, there is no way I’m going to let the German visitor spend a week in Niagara County and not see the main attraction.

2 Cave of the Winds MWYellow plastic ponchos and sandals are for the regular public, not geologists.

3 Andrej wet 081015Andrej is very pleased to intimately meet the water pouring over the falls. We tried not to remember that it all flows from Lake Erie.

Tomorrow I take Andrej to a Buffalo hotel where he will wait until his flight back home to Germany. I then make the long drive back home to Wooster. A successful end to my 2015 field season. Lots of ideas now for next year!

Please use the tag NY2015 for a link to all the posts on this trip.

For our records, here are the localities visited on this trip —

GPS # Location Latitude, Longitude Notes
112 Caleb’s Quarry N 43.20092, W 78.46021 Bryozoans in Lewiston E
113 Gasport Quarry N 43.19973, W 78.54436 Lewiston E, Burleigh Hill contact
114 Gasport Road N 43.19144, W 78.57550
115 Niagara Rd/Railroad North N 43.17556, W 78.72086 Top of Lewiston B
116 Niagara Rd/Railroad South N 43.17377, W 78.72364 Top of Lewiston E
117 Cherokee Unconformity N 43.18355, W 78.70266
118 Craine Street N 43.17995, W 78.71020 Gasport Formation, glacially-truncated fossils
119 Hickory Corners parking N 43.18435, W 78.75449 Reynales, Hickory Corners Member; Aeronian
120 Niagara Gorge Lewiston B N 43.14851, W 79.04095 Lewiston B; Sarle Reefs
121 Buffalo Creek South N 42.84728, W 78.60229 Wanakah; Rhipidomella beds
122 Buffalo Creek North N 42.84871, W 78.60202 Wanakah; Pleurodictyum beds
123 Bethany Center N 42.93250, W 78.13408 Centerfield Limestone Member, Ludlowville
124 Hickory Corners SR93 site N 43.18464, W 78.75394 Reynales, Hickory Corners Member; Aeronian
Jeddo Creek Tributary N 43.20175, W 78.47350 Carl’s “washings” locality; top of Lewiston B

Final day in the Silurian of New York

August 9th, 2015

1 Caleb new excavationLOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 9, 2015) — This was the last day in the field for Andrej Ernst and me. We met all our goals (collecting bryozoans from the Rochester Shale, finding sclerobionts anywhere, and learning more about New York fossil localities) and had a great time. Now we have two days left to pack our specimens, ship those going to Germany, and review our notes. We will probably get some time tomorrow to see Niagara Falls!

We worked this morning in Caleb’s Quarry, a place we visited on our first day. Paul Chinnici, one of the fossil enthusiasts working this quarry, was our generous host. We were impressed with how much has changed in just the five days since our last time here. The large excavation above, for example, is new. This is fossil-collecting at a very large scale!

2 Caleb blocksAndrej searched for more bryozoans in the top layers of the shales while I studied these blocks of resistant calcareous siltstones and limestones. They are from a layer about midway down in the quarry. The shales erode to clay around them while they stand in relief.

3 Caleb block plan viewThe blocks have excellent trace fossils, including Chondrites seen in this bedding-plane view on the top of a block. Chondrites was made by small animals mining the sediments for deposited organic material.

4 Caleb block side viewThe trace fossils cut down into the siltstone, seen here in side view. The tunnels are filled with a clay-rich sediment that weathers a lighter color, giving us this contrast.

5 Caleb turbiditeMany of the blocks show a turbidite-like structure, with coarse shelly debris at the base and cross-bedded siltstone above. This may mean that the deep-waters that accumulated the clays to make the gray Rochester Shale were occasionally disturbed by massive turbidity flows of a sediment-water slurry. Were these triggered by storms or seismic events connected to orogenies to the east?

6 Caleb block stone in placeBecause of the recent excavations at Caleb’s Quarry, we were able to see this persistent calcareous siltstone in its stratigraphic context. It is here marked by the hammer. Note the gray shales above and below.

With this last observation, our fieldwork is officially done!

7 Paper pulp factory Lockport CaveDuring the afternoon we again visited the Erie Canal locks in Lockport. This time we took a tour of “Lockport Cave”, which is really a set of tunnels dug in the mid-19th century to channel river water through “races” to power factories. It is quite an ingenious use of hydropower before electricity. Above are the remains of the last of these water-powered factories, a paper pulp mill.

8 Lockport Cave entranceWe entered the main tunnel through a massive pipe that used to bring fast-flowing water to water wheels in the paper factory. The pipe is eight feet in diameter, and the water flowed at about 12 miles per hour.

9 Lockport Cave entrance pipeThis is the only one of my interior photos to succeed. The place was fascinating, even if it was cool, damp and dark. The trip included a short underground boat ride along a narrow water channel.

10 Upside-down railroad bridgeFinally, just because it is cool, here is the Lockport Railroad Bridge over the Erie Canal. It is called “the upside-down bridge” because the trusses are underneath the tracks. The legend is that the railroad company built the bridge this way to limit the height of boats on the canal, thus limiting its competition for cargo transport!

Return to the Silurian of New York

August 8th, 2015

1 Cichorium intybus SR 93 585LOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 8, 2015) — Andrej and I began some deep collecting of Silurian localities in the Lockport area today in our survey of the bryozoan and sclerobiont faunas. The sites are, shall we say, not the most attractive, so let’s start with this common but gorgeous flower along the roadsides in western New York: Cichorium intybus (chicory). It is an invasive perennial from Europe that now has a global distribution. It has its uses as a coffee substitute, livestock feed, and salad stock. I love the color and serrated leaves.

2 Andrej Hickory CornersAnd here is why we lead with a flower. Andrej Ernst is sorting through samples from the Hickory Corners locality on State Route 93 in Lockport. The fossiliferous limestone here is the Hickory Corners Member of the Reynales Formation (Lower Silurian, Aeronian). The bryozoans are wonderfully diverse, and the top of the unit is a bored carbonate hardground. We happily collected here most of the morning, despite the trash and traffic.

3 Lewiston B beds Niagara RoadWe returned to a site along railroad tracks at Niagara Street in Lockport to collect from the Lewiston Member, part B, of the Rochester Shale. Again, the bryozoans here are fantastic, including my new favorite, a delicate cyclostome named Diploclema.

4 Lewiston E Burleigh Hill Shale LaFarge QuarryOur last site of the day was along the entrance road to a quarry. With all the surrounding rock, the only fossiliferous horizon is exposed in a shallow drainage cut in the road itself. Andrej is pulling a few bryozoans from the top of Lewiston Member, part E, of the Rochester Shale. The thick shales above him are the Burleigh Hill Formation.

5 Erie Canal at LockportWhen our work was done for the day, we became tourists and visited the Erie Canal locks in Lockport. (Hence the name!) This is a view looking east from the bottom of the two-lock sequence. We wanted to see the locks actually transport a boat, but it was a slow Saturday afternoon.

6 Erie Canal Lock LockportA view of the massive doors upstream of one of the modern locks. The engineering feats here date back to the early 1820s.

7 Crinoidal cross-sets Erie CanalGeology is evident here too. This is a block of crinoidal limestone showing cross-stratification. Many of the older buildings in Lockport are made of Silurian stone excavated to create the Erie Canal.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Small and common orthid brachiopods from the Upper Ordovician of Ohio

August 7th, 2015

Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875) slab 1 585
One of the many benefits of posting a “Fossil of the Week” is that I learn a lot while researching the highlighted specimens. I not only learn new things, I learn that some things I thought I knew must be, shall we say, updated. The above slab contains dozens of brachiopods (and a few crinoid ossicles and bryozoans). I have long called the common brachiopod here Onniella meeki. Now I learn from my colleagues Alycia Stigall and Steve Holland at their great Cincinnatian websites that since 2012 I should be referring to this species as Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875). Jisuo Jin sorted out its taxonomy in a Palaeontology article three years ago:

Phylum: Brachiopoda
Class: Rhynchonellata
Order: Orthida
Family: Dalmanellidae
Genus: Cincinnetina
Species: Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875)
Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875) slab 2 585This slab, which resides in our Geology 200 teaching collection, was found at the famous Caesar Creek locality in southern Ohio. It is from the Waynesville/Bull Fork Formation and Richmondian (Late Ordovician) in age.
Cincinnetina meeki (Miller, 1875) slab 3 585You may see some bryozoans in this closer view. This bed is a typical storm deposit in the Cincinnatian Group. The shells were tossed about, most landing in current-stable conditions, and finer sediments were mostly washed away, leaving this skeletal lag.


Jin, J. 2012. Cincinnetina, a new Late Ordovician dalmanellid brachiopod from the Cincinnati type area, USA: implications for the evolution and palaeogeography of the epicontinental fauna of Laurentia. Palaeontology 55: 205–228.

A day’s excursion into the Middle Devonian of western New York

August 7th, 2015

1 Wanakah at Buffalo CreekLOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 7, 2015) — Today Andrej Ernst and I were able to join Brian Bade and his friends on a collecting trip up Buffalo Creek in Erie County, New York. Our goal was simply to look for interesting fossils in the Wanakah Shale Member of the Ludlowville Formation (Middle Devonian) and enjoy the fellowship of fossil enthusiasts. Success on both counts. It was a great day, and rather fun wading through the cool waters of the creek as we examined the shale on the banks.

2 Wanakah TrilobiteHere is an external mold of a trilobite in the soft Wanakah Shale. An external mold is an impression of the exterior of the organism. If you look at this upside-down it pops into reverse relief! This fossil is not recoverable because it would break into bits with any attempt to hammer it out. Andrej and I found plenty of bryozoans here, along with other cool fossils.

3 Bethany Center Centerfield LimestoneAs a bonus we also were able to visit the Bethany Center exposure of the Centerfield Limestone, also Middle Devonian. There isn’t much left of the exposure, as you can see, but we still found numerous encrusting organisms (sclerobionts) on brachiopods and the abundant rugose corals. We also got plenty of sun here.

Team Utah 2015

August 6th, 2015

Guest bloggers: Julia Franceschi and Mary Reinthal

What do you get when you have zero cloud coverage, 90-degree heat, and a desert? Aside from the start of a bad joke, you get a snippet of the College of Wooster geology’s 2015 expedition to Black Rock desert Utah. It was here that some of the College’s senior geology students—Krysden Schantz, Michael Williams, and Kelli Baxstrom—collected some sunburns and samples for their Senior Independent Studies. These research projects range anywhere from trying to figure out the date of the lava flow to mechanisms of emplacement (e.g., channelized vs. inflated flows). Some of the students that went, however, went because they were able-bodied field assistants who could handle the heat. Geology major Julia Franceschi said this about her field assisting experience:

“Utah was extremely hot and there were some days (and by some days I mean everyday) where 3 liters of water were not enough. But we managed to get a lot of good data, even though my boots took a beating (R.I.P). ”

Chloe Wallace and Julia Franceschi use the Trimble GPS to make cm-scale measurements of the topography.

Chloe Wallace and Julia Franceschi use the Trimble GPS to make cm-scale measurements of the topography.

When the plane finally landed in Salt Lake City, Utah, a 2 ½ hour drive took the crew to Fillmore, the location of their field site. The first day, Friday, started around 11AM, but the crew learned quickly that the earlier they started, the less intense the sun (and heat) was.

Team Utah meeting to distribute equipment and plan the field day.

Team Utah meeting to distribute equipment and plan the field day.

Like for most groups, the first day was devoted as a get-accustomed-to-the-field day, that entailed some reconnaissance and exploration. The rest of the week was spent doing eight hours a day of research and studies. According to Dr. Meagen Pollock, walking on a’a is “nonsense” and more often than not, each day was faced with new challenges. Chloe Wallace and Julia conducted high resolution GPS location and elevation data. Dan Misinay took photographs and helped Krysden conduct transects to record vegetative cover. Michael and Kelli spent most of their days mapping the area and attempting to understand volcanic features. Some days, however, were graced with the occasional snake or rainbow to change up the scenery. It was a successful trip.

One of our lizard friends.

One of our lizard friends.

A snake friend, warming itself in the morning sun. Photo credit: Dan Misinay

A snake friend, warming itself in the morning sun. Photo credit: Dan Misinay

Kelli and Dr. Judge measuring striae.

Kelli and Dr. Judge measuring striae.

Krysden is in her element among the lavas.

Krysden is in her element among the lavas. Photo Credit: Dan Misinay

Contemplating lava emplacement clearly brings joy to Michael.

Contemplating lava emplacement clearly brings joy to Michael. Photo Credit: Dan Misinay

Dan helps Krysden with her vegetation survey.

Dan helps Krysden with her vegetation survey.

We were treated to a double rainbow over our field site after a light sprinkle in the desert.

We were treated to a double rainbow over our field site after a light sprinkle in the desert.

And a show of wild flowers! Photo Credit: Kelli Baxstrom

And a show of wild flowers! Photo Credit: Kelli Baxstrom

Team Utah proudly representing Wooster Geologists!

Team Utah proudly representing Wooster Geologists!

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