Wooster Geologists prepare for the 2016 annual Geological Society of America meeting

September 22nd, 2016

216-copyThe Geology Department at The College of Wooster is sending a record number of students to the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver next week. Seventeen students, eleven of whom are presenting in some way, will be going to this large gathering of geologists (some 7000 are expected to attend). As part of our preparations, the Geology Club holds a “Mock GSA” in which students show their posters for the first time and practice their poster patter. In the foreground above is Geology Club president (and epic student leader of this trip) Sarah McGrath (’17) discussing her poster with emeritus faculty Dr. Sam Root.

205-copyWe needed two rooms to display all the posters. It was fun!

More later from Denver.

Black & Gold Weekend – The Tree Ring Lab

September 17th, 2016

Thanks to Beau Mastrine and Campus Grounds we continue to celebrate the designation of “Tree Campus USA“. Today is Black and Gold Weekend and the Wooster Tree Ring Lab students explained their research, conversed about trees, and learned from College arborists and the City of Wooster.

group

The Tree Ring Lab table located along the Memorial Walk. Clara explains the utility of tree-ring research and global change, while her staff looks on.

jeff

Jeff shares a dendro – joke with the new Dean of Students.

field

Colby from the Grounds Crew explained that this unique stratigraphy under the turf on the football field can absorb as much as 12 inches of rain per hour. That is  some serious infiltration.

beau

Beau makes ice cream – handmade with the help of a tractor.

andrew

Andrew takes a break from the Tree Ring table.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: New Early Silurian crinoids from Estonia

September 16th, 2016

1 Hilliste crinoidsIt has been a good year for new fossil taxa on this blog. I’m pleased to present a fauna of Early Silurian crinoids from the Hilliste Formation (Rhuddanian) exposed on Hiiumaa Island, western Estonia. They are described in a paper that has just appeared in the Journal of Paleontology (early view) written by that master of Silurian crinoids, Bill Ausich of Ohio State University, and me, his apprentice.

Here’s the simplified caption for the above composite image: Rhuddanian crinoids from western Estonia: (1) Bedding surface comprised primarily of crinoid columnals and pluricolumnals; (2) Radial circlet of an unrecognizable calceocrinid; (3) Basal circlet of an unrecognizable calceocrinid; (4) Holdfast A: Virgate radices anchored in coarse skeletal debris; (5) Holdfast D: Simple discoidal holdfast cemented to a bryozoan; (6, 7, 8) Hiiumaacrinus vinni n. gen. and n. sp.: 6, D-ray lateral view of calyx, 7, E-ray lateral view of calyx, 8, basal view of calyx; (9) Holdfast B: Dendritic holdfast in coarse skeletal debris; (10) Eomyelodactylus sp. columnal; (11) Holdfast C: Simple discoidal holdfast cemented to a tabulate coral; (12) Two examples of Holdfast E: Stoloniferous holdfasts cemented to a tabulate coral; (13) Protaxocrinus estoniensis n. sp. lateral view of partial crown, top of radial plate indicated by line.

Here is the abstract: “Rhuddanian crinoid faunas are poorly known globally, making this new fauna from the Hilliste Formation of western Estonian especially significant. The Hilliste fauna is the oldest Silurian fauna known from the Baltica paleocontinent, thus this is the first example of the crinoid recovery fauna after the Late Ordovician mass extinction. Hiiumaacrinus vinni n. gen. n. sp., Protaxocrinus estoniensis n. sp., Eomyelodactylus sp., calceocrinids, and five holdfast types are reported here. Although the fauna has relatively few taxa, it is among the most diverse Rhuddanian faunas known. Similar to other Rhuddanian crinoid faunas elsewhere, the Hilliste crinoid fauna contains crinoids belonging the Dimerocrinitidae, Taxocrinidae, Calceocrinidae, and Myelodactylidae; most elements of the new fauna are quite small, perhaps indicative of the Lilliput Effect.”
3 Hilliste diagramNo crinoid paper is complete without camera lucida drawings (scale bar for all figures is one mm): (1) Hiiumaacrinus vinni n. gen. and n. sp.; (2) Radial circlet of an unrecognizable calceocrinid; (3) Basal circlet of an unrecognizable calceocrinid; (4) Protaxocrinus estoniensis n. sp.
4 Olev062511There are two new species and one new genus here. Hiiumaacrinus vinni is named first after the lovely Estonian island where the species is found, and then after our good friend and colleague Olev Vinn (above) at the University of Tartu. Olev first introduced me to the Ordovician and Silurian of Estonia, and then was an excellent field companion for Bill and me on our Estonian field trips.
2 Hiiumaa mapA reminder where Hiiumaa Island is, and for that matter, the nation of Estonia.

5 HillisteQuarry071312Here is Hilliste Quarry on Hiiumaa Island. Still one of my favorite places to work. Very, very quiet.

6 HillisteAusich071112Here is Bill Ausich in the quarry during our 2012 expedition. The pose is known among paleontologists as “the Walcott“.

7 Holdfasts071112Here is one of the specimens collected by Bill in July of 2012. You may recognize this field scene as figure 12 in the top image of this post. These are two examples of crinoid holdfasts on a tabulate coral.

Please welcome Hiiumaacrinus vinni and Protaxocrinus estoniensis to the paleontological world!

References:

Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2016. Llandovery (Early Silurian) crinoids from Hiiumaa Island, Estonia. Journal of Paleontology (early view).

Ausich, W.I., Wilson, M.A. and Vinn, O. 2012. Crinoids from the Silurian of Western Estonia (Phylum Echinodermata). Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 57: 613‒631.

Ausich, W.I., Wilson, M.A. and Vinn, O. 2015. Wenlock and Pridoli (Silurian) crinoids from Saaremaa, western Estonia (Phylum Echinodermata). Journal of Paleontology 89: 72‒81.

2016 Wooster Paleontologists Field Trip

September 11th, 2016

paleo-class-2016-smallIt was a beautiful day for fieldwork. Every fall I take Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology class into the field to collect specimens for study and analysis during the rest of the semester. It’s fun because these students have only completed two weeks of the course and almost everything is new. One steady change over the years has been in the number of paleo students. Gone are the days when we could all pile into a 15-passenger van and spend three days in Kentucky. Now we have to take a bus, and tight student schedules limit us to one day. These constraints mean that going to Caesar Creek Lake in Warren County, Ohio, is the best choice. We’ve been here now several times. here we examine Ordovician fossils in limestones and shales of the Waynesville, Liberty and Whitewater Formations (all of which equal the Bull Fork Formation).

collecting-091116The weather was ideal, but the night before saw heavy rains. Bit of a mud fest today.

brach-slab-091116The fossils, of course, are world-class in the Cincinnati area. Here’s a wonderful slab of strophomenid brachiopods with Josh Charlton’s hand for scale. At least the rains washed the rocks clean!

lab-sink-091116Next stop for the students: washing their specimens in the lab sink at Wooster. Anyone who has worked in the Cincinnatian knows that the clay can be particularly tenacious. Students learn paleo from the very basics!

 

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Tiny athyridide brachiopods from the Lower Carboniferous of the West Midlands of England

September 9th, 2016

1 Hustedia radialis 585These little brachiopods were also in the recent gift package from Clive Champion, our English brachiopod expert and friend. They tested my photographic skills, being too large for our photomicroscope and at the limit of resolution for my camera with its extension tubes. They are the athyridide Hustedia radialis (Phillips, 1836) from the Chadian-Arundian Limestone (Viséan, Lower Carboniferous) exposed near Wetton, Staffordshire, England. Brachiopods of this size are often referred to as “micromorph“, with some debate as to whether they are dwarfed adults or juveniles. With this fauna the consensus is the former.

Athyridide brachiopods are “spire-bearing”, meaning they have complexly-spiraled lophophore supports (brachidia) inside their shells. The lophophore is a tentacular device that creates a water current and traps organic bits from it for nutrition. These tiny critters thus had surprisingly elaborate feeding systems. The first paleontologist to grind through these minuscule shells to sort out the twists and turns of their microscopic brachidia is a hero of science.
2 John Phillips (1800-1874)Hustedia radialis was named in 1836 by one of the most important English geologists of the 19th Century, John Phillips (1800-1874). He originally called it Terebratula radialis, a common genus name applied at the time to biconvex brachiopods with pedicle openings (the hole for the attaching stalk visible at the pointy end of the shell).
3 Geology of YorkshireHe named it in the second volume of his Geology of Yorkshire series.
4 Brachs PhillipsSee if you can find the two figures of Terebratula radialis in Plate XII of the book. (Hint: small, triangular and ribbed!)

John Phillips was born in Wiltshire in 1800. His mother was a sister of the famous William “Strata” Smith, another founding father of modern geology. Phillips father and mother died when he was only seven years old, so William Smith took over raising him, despite his genteel poverty. Phillips traveled with Smith throughout England in the course of making Smith’s famous 1815 map. Phillips had a spotty formal education, but was clearly a quick study. By 1824 he was organizing museum fossil collections in Yorkshire, and in 1826 he became keeper of the Yorkshire natural history museum. Phillips then advanced very quickly, helping organize the new British Association for the Advancement of Science, becoming a professor of geology at King’s College London, and then at the age of 34 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. All the while he kept up a prodigious rate of publication. The honors and positions continued for Phillips, with him eventually becoming a Reader of Geology at Oxford University. A remarkable career with such an unpromising start.
5 Phillips 1841 160Phillips published the first geological time scale in 1841, inventing the term “Mesozoic” in the process. The above clip is from Phillips (1841, p. 160).
6 Phillips 1860 time scaleHere is his 1860 version of the geological time scale (Phillips, 1860, p. 51).

After an April 1874 dinner at All Souls College in Oxford, John Phillips fell down a flight of stone steps, dying the next day. No doubt but for this fall he would have continued producing geological work into the next decade.

References:

Brunton, C.H.C. 1984. Silicified brachiopods from the Viséan of County Fermanagh, Ireland (III). Rhynchonellids, spiriferids and terebratulids. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology 38: 27–130.

Brunton, C.H.C. and Champion, C. 1974. A Lower Carboniferous brachiopod fauna from the Manifold Valley, Staffordshire. Palaeontology 17: 811–840.

Mottequin, B., Sevastopulo, G. and Simon, E. 2015. Micromorph brachiopods from the late Asbian (Mississippian, Viséan) from northwest Ireland (Gleniff, County Sligo). Bulletin of Geosciences 90: 307-330.

Phillips, J. 1836. Illustrations of the geology of Yorkshire, Part 2. The mountain limestone district. 253 pp. John Murray, London.

Phillips, J. 1841. Figures and Descriptions of the Palaeozoic Fossils of Cornwall, Devon and West Somerset. 231 pp. Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, London.

Phillips, J. 1860. Life on the earth: its origin and succession. 224 pp. Macmillan and Company, London.

7 Gould bookplateFun feature of that last reference: Google Books scanned a personal copy of Stephen Jay Gould, a famous American paleontologist and evolutionary theorist.

8 Darwin quoteOn one of the front pages is this penciled note: ‘Unreadable, dull’ – Charles Darwin to [unknown] 15/1/61. [UPDATE: See comment from Katherine Marenco below.]

Wooster Geologists begin the 2016-2017 academic year

September 1st, 2016

Geology Club 2016 585The Wooster  Geologists have started the school year with our traditional Geology Club group photo on a fine late summer morning. We’re looking forward to an exciting time with healthy course enrollments and enthusiastic Senior Independent Study students. Dr. Meagen Pollock is on leave this year, bless her heart, so Dr. Greg Wiles, Dr. Shelley Judge and I have extra opportunities. Dr. Wiles is again our valiant Chair. This is also one of the biennial years we run our spring Mojave Desert field trip.

Geology Seniors 2016 585And here are those seniors, most of them anyway, with their summer data collections completed and their advising schedules set. You’ll be hearing more from them in this space.

Our previous group images can be found at these links: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008.

Thanks to our Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder, our 2016 annual report is available online as a pdf. You can check out our curriculum, yearly schedule, faculty profiles and the like on our Wooster Geology Department pages.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mystery fossil solution — an oyster from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

August 30th, 2016

Mystery fossils 081916 585Last week I gave my students in Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology course a fossil to identify (shown above), using any techniques they want. This was their first task in the course, so it was difficult for most of them. I hope it was a good introduction to practical paleontology and the mysteries of taxonomy. One student, Josh Charlton, nailed it all the way to the species. Several other students got close.

These are Middle Jurassic oysters properly identified as Praeexogyra hebridica (Forbes, 1851). I collected them many years ago from the Frome Clay (Bathonian) at Langton Herring along the coast of Dorset, southern England. They are extremely common fossils there, crunching underfoot as they erode out into the surf. These oysters lived in estuaries, where there was a mix of fresh and marine waters. In 1976, John Hudson and our friend Tim Palmer sorted out the systematics and  evolution of this oyster species, moving it from Ostrea and Liostrea to the genus Praeexogyra.
Forbes diagramThis oyster species was originally described in 1851 as Ostrea hebridica by Edward Forbes (1815-1854) from Jurassic sediments on the Scottish Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides (hence the name). As was typical of many nineteenth century fossil descriptions, the illustrations (above) and diagnoses are not particularly helpful. Forbes (1851) wrote, “Being very familiar with the oysters of the Wealden and Purbeck I cannot admit this identification, nor can I refer the Loch Staffin shell to any known fossil, although, as usual in this variable genus, it is difficult to express in words its marked distinctions.” We wouldn’t get away with such a conclusion for a new species today, but to be fair, oysters are notoriously difficult to describe. Forbes knew that this species “inhabited brackish water” in the Jurassic.

Forbes bust to useEdward Forbes FRS, FGS (above) was born on the Isle of Man in 1815, the year of Waterloo. He was, as they said then, a sickly child unable to attend a regular school for long. He traveled to London when he was 16, though, to study art. That didn’t work out, so he became a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. Forbes was intrigued more with natural history than medicine (a common story!), so he dropped his medical plans and set out to become a naturalist skilled in paleontology, mineralogy, zoology, anatomy and botany. His younger brother David became a well-known mineralogist. Edward Forbes caught on quickly. In 1838 he published a summary of the mollusks found on the Isle of Man. He was 23 years old. Forbes traveled widely, accumulating more observations, experiences and colleagues. He had many publications and advocated numerous hypotheses about the distribution of life forms. Some had lasting value (like the distribution of flora before and after glaciation intervals) and others were a bit naive (such as his idea that there is no marine life below 300 fathoms). He was a president of the Geological Society of London (1853), and in 1854 became the Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh, his driving ambition. Unfortunately his health problems caught up with him and he died that year at age 39.

Edward Forbes played a critical role in the history of science by being a mentor of Thomas Henry Huxley. Forbes advised Huxley as a young man and helped him publish his earliest works. Forbes introduced Huxley to his circle of colleagues, which eventually led to the latter’s election to the Royal Society while only 26 years old. Huxley wrote a touching obituary for his young friend Edward Forbes.

References:

Anderson, F.W. and Cox, L.R. 1948. The “Loch Staffin Beds” of Skye; with notes on the molluscan fauna of the Great Estuarine Series. Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh 23: 103-122.

Anderson, T.R. and Rice, T. 2006. Deserts on the sea floor: Edward Forbes and his azoic hypothesis for a lifeless deep ocean. Endeavour 30: 131-137.

Forbes, E. 1851. On the Estuary Beds and the Oxford Clay at Loch Staffin, in Skye. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 7(1-2): 104-113; plate 5, figs. 4a-4c.

Hudson, J.D. and Palmer, T.J. 1976. A euryhaline oyster from the Middle Jurassic and the origin of the true oysters. Palaeontology 19: 79-93.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A puzzle for my paleo students!

August 26th, 2016

Mystery fossils 081916 585Every year I start my Invertebrate Paleontology course by giving every student an “unknown” fossil to identify. (Here is last year’s version.) This is not always easy since each student gets the same species from the same horizon and with the same preservation. As classes get larger (I have 27 students this semester) I have to dig deeper into my collections. I found some good ones today that have enough variation to challenge them.

These students are just beginning the journey, of course, so they usually know little about fossils. This exercise gets them into the online fossil literature immediately, and provokes early questions about the information used in taxonomy and the dilemmas of systematics based on morphology alone. Their task:

  1. Identify the fossil by scientific name as narrowly as possible. Phylum is a start, then Class, Order and so on down to the grand prize of correctly determining the species.
  2. Estimate the age of the fossil. Finding the period during which it lived is good; the actual stage it was found in, better.
  3. Make an educated guess at where this fossil was found. Chances are if you are right about the name and age, and then consider the places my students and I do fieldwork, you’ll come up with at least a region.

Next week I will post here the identity and collecting location of these fossils, along with the name of the student who came the closest to the right answers. You, Dear Reader, can make a guess in the comments!

Wooster Geology’s 2016 Annual Report

August 23rd, 2016

reportsThanks to the hard work, skills and dedication of Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder, our 2016 annual report is now available.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Another molluscan assemblage from the Miocene of Maryland (side two)

August 19th, 2016

1 Calvert 2 585Last month we featured a fossil slab kindly donated by Dale Chadwick of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dale is an enthusiastic fossil collector with a very useful website for his favorite sites and specimens. I promised to show the other side of this rock, and here it is.

Again, this is a fine sandstone from the famous Calvert Formation (lower to middle Miocene) exposed at the Calvert Cliffs, Plum Point, Calvert County, Maryland, in the stratigraphic Shattuck Zone 10. Some horizons are especially fossiliferous with large numbers of gastropods and bivalves. This is what we refer to us a death assemblage, meaning these shells are not preserved in their life positions but how they accumulated just before final burial. These rocks and their fossils were the initial basis of Susan Kidwell’s important work on taphonomic feedback, or how shell accumulations affect the succeeding living communities.

So what are the prominent fossils in this slab? Dale has the answers on his website. I’ve annotated the image and made a list below:

2 Calvert 2 585 labelsA Astarte sp. (a veneroid bivalve)
B Glycymeris parlis (an arcoid bivalve)
C Siphonalia devexa (a buccinid gastropod)
D Turritella variablis (a turritellid gastropod)

Thank you again to Dale Chadwick for this gift! I will use it in my paleontology course this very month.

References:

Kelley, P.H., 1983, Evolutionary patterns of eight Chesapeake Group molluscs: Evidence for the model of punctuated equilibria: Journal of Paleontology 57: 581–598.

Kelley, P.H. 1988. Predation by Miocene gastropods of the Chesapeake Group: stereotyped and predictable. Palaios 3: 436-448.

Kidwell, S.M. 1986. Taphonomic feedback in Miocene assemblages: Testing the role of dead hardparts in benthic communities: Palaios 1: 239–255.

Kidwell, S.M., Powars, D.S., Edwards, L.E. and Vogt, P.R. 2015. Miocene stratigraphy and paleoenvironments of the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, in Brezinski, D.K., Halka, J.P. and Ortt, R.A., Jr., eds., Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015: Geological Society of America Field Guide 40, p. 231–279.

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