Team Utah Takes to the Field

June 26th, 2017

Guest Blogger: Addison Thompson (’20, Pitzer College) writes about our first 3 days of field work.

6.23.17 For the Utah group, the first day in the field was daunting yet rewarding as our intrepid group of young geologists made themselves acquainted with the Ice Springs Volcanic Field.  The Ice Springs Volcanic Field, located in the Black Rock Desert of Utah, is home to many old cinder cone volcanos that currently lay dormant.  In the past the cinder cones were active volcanos, spitting and oozing lava.  The lava flows have since cooled and currently take the form of basaltic rocks spilling out from four primary cinder cones, Miter, Crescent, Pocket and Terrace.

The day began at 7:15am with breakfast, after which foods were divided for lunch, sandwiches were assembled, and packs were equipped and made field ready.  Everything was ready, as was the team and off the Utah group went to the field site, arriving just after 9am.  After days of anticipation, stepping out of the car face to face with what the group had read so many articles and papers about was magical.  In no time, the group  was on their way, climbing up the service road, and eventually up the cinder cone named Miter in order to get a lay of the rocky land.

Team Utah atop the Mitre cinder cone

The terrain comprised uneven, sharp, basaltic rocks and was difficult to traverse, but the group managed.  After climbing Miter, the next move was to follow the presumed Miter lava flow path which eventually emptied into a flat basin, an area interpreted to be where a lava flow once pooled.  A good section of pahoehoe, a ropy formation of a basaltic rock, was quickly identified, and its sample was taken.

Sam Patzkowsky (’20 Franklin and Marshall College and Team Keck member) dislodging a piece of Pahoehoe to be used as a sample.

With the success of the pahoehoe find, it was time for lunch.  Shade was hard to come by, so people did their to take refuge from the incessant beating of the sun.  Water was a must.  After lunch the group split up in the attempt to identify the Mitre/Crescent lava flow boundary, not an easy task.  Regardless of the difficulty, progress was made and we ended the day with promising evidence that could work towards our hypothesis.  After a long first day in the field, morale was high but energy was very low; dinner was a welcomed sight.

6.24.17 Waking up on the second day was a breeze.  The group had a plan in mind and very little was left to chance.  First on the chopping block was a visit to the Carbon-14 dating site followed by accessing the area that is believed to house the Miter/Crescent boundary.  Sadly the Carbon-14 dating site was only accessible by a private road, so that idea was nixed.  Next up was entering the lava flows from the north west side via a rarely traveled dirt access road.  The going was bumpy but eventually the car made it to a suitable stopping point.  The walk to the toes (the extent) of the lava flows was a brief flat jog that took minutes; however, the real challenge began when it became necessary to climb the lava flows in order to press on.   Over the course of the trip, the sharp basaltic rocks have claimed many a causality, so the group favored precision over speed.  In searching for Miter/Crescent boundary evidence, it was impossible to ignore other important geologic occurrences.  One of these interesting being a large boulder, about 8ft. tall, comprised of lava bombs that must have been part of a cinder cone that rode a lava flow to the edge.

Measuring a boulder that was transported to its current location by a lava flow.

This helped give an idea about the power of the flows.  Measurements of the boulder were taken along with photos for reference.

As the group pressed deeper into the flows they began to notice an accumulation of large basaltic slabs sticking out of the ground in all directions and angles.  Dr. Pollock noted that information about these slabs could be important towards our ultimate goal, so slab measurements needed to be taken, twenty in all.  Taking a slab measurement consisted of noting the coordinates of the hunk of rock, its width in centimeters, taking photos of the slab under examination, and lastly noting the size of the vesicles (holes created by the expulsion of gas during the cooling process).

Two members of Team Keck measuring a slab’s width.

The reward was lunch and maybe shade.  Luckily, shade was easier to find than the day before and the group crouched, laid, and sprawled under the angled rocks.  But like all good things, lunch came to an end.  Regardless of the heat, the group was always eager for more field work so they decided to push farther east in search of a boundary that had previously been visible from a birds eye map.  At the boundary, samples were to be taken for geochemistry analysis.  Eventually the boundary was reached and the samples were taken.  After a efficient day in the field it was time to turn around.  Dinner was burgers and everyone went to sleep soon there after.

6.25.17  The third full day in Utah did an excellent of of testing everyones nerves.  A special thanks goes out to Dr. Pollock for her cool disposition in the face of a turbulent situation.  The day began as a normal day does with breakfast, then lunch packing, and finally going over the mission of the day.  The catch was that the back right tire of the car that didn’t want to go along with the plan.  Minutes away from the field site the low tire pressure sign flashed on the dashboard so the group turned around and went to go get air for the noticeably deflated tier.  However the issue was that the tire had a puncture, not that it simply had low pressure.  With the spare now on the car, there was no backup and driving over rocky terrain without a spare tire is a disaster waiting to happen, so the call was made to switch rental cars.  This required Dr. Pollock driving the rental up to the Salt Lake Airport to exchange cars, a two hour trip both ways.  This exchange took a majority of the day so there was sadly no time left for field work.  This was definitely a disappointment, but the group handled it well.  The day was instead spent relaxing, uploading information from the field and doing any other minor housekeeping chores.  Emily Randall (’20 College of Wooster and Team Keck member) created a map locating every coordinate where a sample had been taken.  Finally towards the end of the day a few members went on a hike along an ATV path that wound towards the mountains behind the camp site.

A panoramic taken from the hike.

Although no field work was conducted it was a productive day.

 

Team Alaska Day One

June 25th, 2017

Day one involved team Alaska hiking the East Glacier Trail led by Brian Buma, a forest ecologist from the University of Alaska Southeast. Their goal was to sample yellow-cedar trees at high elevation sites and understand how the dynamics of the forest relate to climate change. The trip was off the beaten path after 2 miles and continued for another 6 miles through a steep, muddy, dense understory. The group only stopped to eat lunch, but it was a sublime day with amazing company. Upwards of 50 samples were collected from a boggy environment, known as a “muskeg”. After a very long but exciting day the group headed down the trail for home-cooked fish tacos. Yum!

Brian Buma, forest ecologist, gives the group information regarding adolescent cedar trees.

The group treks through the unknown terrain, they may be lost.

After realizing they were not actually lost Team Alaska catches their breath and admires the views atop the mountain.

Chris measures the DBH, diameter at breast height, to assist Brian Bumas’ study of these economically, culturally, and ecologically important trees.

Alora stands in the foreground to upstage the natural beauty of the mountain, it is possible to look good in a bug net!

Team Alaska poses for a quick photo-op before starting their fieldwork.

Josh, member of Team Alaska, reads his field notes and records data.

Kerensa labels a straw, containing a yellow-cedar tree core for future analysis.

Malisse, renowned multi-tasker, records field notes, holds cedar cores and protects herself from the hordes of insects trying to sample her blood. Thanks to Jesse Wiles for the photographs.

A Strong Start to the 2017 Keck Gateway Project

June 22nd, 2017

Guest Blogger: Addison Thompson (’20 Pitzer College and Team Keck Member)

The 2017 Keck Gateway Team.

Amid our first official day at the College of Wooster, spirits were high as we embarked on the five week Keck Gateway Project.  The Gateway Project encompasses two different scientific enquiries which will span three states; Ohio, Utah, and Alaska.  The goal of the project centered in Utah is to determine the age of geologically young lava flows (now igneous rock) in the Ice Springs Volcanic Field of central Utah in order to add another piece to the unsolved puzzle of the Earth’s geologic history.  The goal of the project centered in Alaska aims to gain a better idea of why Cedar trees in Juneau are in decline.  The information gained from the students working in Alaska will help pinpoint specific environmental factors that are adversely affecting ecosystems, trees in particular.  This portion of the project is one week long.

Evidence of a tree core.

Once the data from the Utah and Alaska field sites are complied, both teams will return to the College of Wooster to complete lab tests in order to answer each respective hypothesis. This portion of the project is roughly three weeks long.  The participants of the project also have the opportunity to attend and present the findings of their research at the GSA’s (Geological Society of America) annual conference in Seattle in mid-October.

The first full day of the project was a beautiful one and we dove into the topic material with gusto.  We began at 9am in the geology department which is located in Scovel Hall and had a discussion about the rules of authorship and the details of what mentoring means with Dr. Pollock and Dr. Wiles.  Following that, details for the field work trips (Utah and Alaska) were coordinated and supplies like rock hammers and chisels were evenly distributed.  At that point it was time to break for a much needed lunch.  The Keck group met back at Scovel Hall around 1:30, just in time for a jaunt around the Oak grove led by Dr. Wiles, during which the group cored three trees to determine their age.

The processing of coring trees involves inserting a hollow drill into the tree, then removing the sample of the tree located in the hollow drill.

An excited Team Alaska member extracts her tree core.

The Alaska team will use this method hundreds of times in order to determine the health of trees in a large area.  With the first day complete, our group looks forward to strengthening our bonds and embarking on our geology research.

On the second day, the Utah group and the Alaska group split to their respective labs to discuss the minutia of the trips.

The Utah group examined basaltic rocks from the Black Rock Desert, the location where they will be conducting their fieldwork.

These rocks had previously been dated via two techniques: one being Varnish Microlamination (VML) which aims to date the rocks by measuring the coating on rock surfaces, the other being Cosmogenic Nuclide Dating which measures the accumulation of radioactive isotopes in the surfaces of the lava flows.

Meanwhile the Alaska group learned more about tree coring, a practice they will become very familiar with during their stay in the last frontier.

This concluded our work for the day, and we broke for lunch.  The rest of the day was spent preparing for our arduous journeys to the field sites the following morning.  We went shopping to stock up on various items for the trips.  The day came to a conclusion with a delicious dinner and some frisbee outside Douglas Hall.

Much to their chagrin, the Alaska group was departing the College of Wooster at 4am on the third day.  The Utah group was given a more lenient departure time, 6am, because their destination was 2,113 miles closer to the College.  There were no issues rising bright and early and both groups headed to Cleveland Hopkins Airport with anticipation of the journey ahead of them and slightly weary eyes.  To make matters more interesting for the Alaska group, their travel plans routed them through Dallas Fort Worth…not quite in their desired direction but they were sports nonetheless. And so the day went, a travel day.  The Utah group touched down in Salt Lake City in the mid afternoon and began the two hour drive to the town of Fillmore, only stopping once for a much needed dinner.  Eventually the group made it to their campground and settled in their cozy cabins.  After a long day of travel and two hours lost, a rest is what the doctor ordered.  As of writing this, the Alaska group is currently still in transit to Juneau.  Tomorrow marks the first official day of field work in the Black Rock Desert for the Utah group and there is an excited fervor hanging in the air.  All the tools and measurement devices are prepped and ready to go.

 

 

 

 

Wooster Geologist/Historian on the San Andreas Fault

June 17th, 2017

Berkeley, California — Brandon Bell (’18) is a double major in geology and history at Wooster. He has a classic double-major thesis that combines both disciplines: the early history of modern seismology following the Great San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. He is focused on the growing international communications among scientists about earthquakes, especially between Japan and the United States. Brandon thus is studying the geology of earthquakes as well as original documents generated through these international discussions. Brandon received Copeland Funding from the college to visit the Bay Area of northern California to work in the libraries and visit the San Andreas fault itself. The above image is of the beautiful University of California campus in Berkeley.

Brandon has his own detailed and illustrated blog describing his adventures. Check it out! He is still adding to it.

Special thanks to Dr. Peter Roopnarine at the California Academy of Sciences for meeting with Brandon and adding to his knowledge and experiences.

Wooster Geologists in Europe (Summer 2017)

June 10th, 2017

This summer Professor Mark Wilson and Independent Study student Macy Conrad (’18) were in Europe for geological adventures. Professor Wilson first attended a meeting in Vienna, and then traveled to Paris to meet Macy for her IS fieldwork in southwestern France with Dr. Paul Taylor, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London. Here are the detailed posts of the adventures:

May 27: Wooster Geologist in Austria
May 28: Wooster Geologist in Vienna
May 30: A Wooster Geologist on the Somme Battlefield
June 1: Wooster Geologists begin fieldwork in southwestern France
June 2: A day of geology on the coast of southwestern France
June 4: Wooster Geologists get to work in southwestern France
June 5: A day of collecting Cretaceous fossils on the southwestern coast of France
June 6: A day of rocks and churches in southwestern France
June 7: Revisiting the Gironde Estuary for our last day of fieldwork in France
June 8: Wooster Geologists visit Saint-Emilion in southwestern France

Looking ahead —

June 30: Cleaning and labeling the oysters in Wooster’s paleontology lab
July 19: Meanwhile, what are the Wooster Paleontologists up to?

The above stratigraphic chart, courtesy of Platel (1999) via Paul Taylor, shows the three Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) units studied in southwestern France: The Biron, Barbezieux, and Aubeterre Formations.

Here is Macy at Caillaud with the very white, chalky and fossiliferous Biron Formation. The succeeding Barbezieux and Aubeterre formations look pretty much the same!

Since it was Europe, there were plenty of cultural delights, some with useful outcrops immediately at hand.

Please check out the posts linked above, or follow the tags “Austria” and “France”.

The Natural History Museum in Vienna.

Our final list of localities, with registered localities first, followed by the complete detailed list —

Chemin Aubeterre 155 C/W-745
Caillaud south 162 C/W-746
Plage des Nonnes 164 C/W-747
Archiac 166 C/W-748
Pointe de Suzac 168 C/W-749
Bonnes 171 C/W-750

 

Location GPS Unit Position
Garage Esso Route D17 Aubeterre 153 Biron N45° 16.212′ E0° 10.274′
Route D17 Aubeterre 154 Barbezieux N45° 16.127′ E0° 10.268′
Chemin Aubeterre 155 Barbezieux N45° 16.088′ E0° 10.257′
50 m up lane Aubeterre 156 Barbezieux N45° 16.115′ E0° 10.229′
Back Chateau entrance Aubeterre 157 Aubeterre N45° 16.362′ E0° 10.262′
Car Park Aubeterre 158 Aubeterre N45° 16.344′ E0° 10.176′
Le Maine Roy 159 Maurens N45° 19.383′ E0° 07.885′
Chalais roadcut 160 Biron N45° 16.642′ E0° 02.395′
Cliff north of Mortagne 161 Segonzac – upper N45° 28.963′ W0° 47.943′
Caillaud south 162 Biron N45° 31.805′ W0° 53.629′
Caillaud north 163 Biron N45° 31.916′ W0° 54.206′
Plage des Nonnes 164 Aubeterre N45° 33.534′ W0° 57.895′
Roadcut above Plage des Nonnes 165 Aubeterre N45° 33.627′ W0° 57.894′
Archiac 166 Aubeterre N45° 31.413′ W0° 17.909′
Chez Allard 167 Segonzac N45° 37.040′ W0° 11.546′
Pointe de Suzac 168 Aubeterre N45° 34.933′ W0° 59.352′
Pointe de Suzac south 169 Aubeterre N45° 34.599′ W0° 59.382′
Mirambeau 170 Barbezieux N45° 22.211′ W0° 34.252′
Bonnes 171 Barbezieux N45° 14.735′ E0° 08.935′

Wooster Geologists visit Saint-Émilion in southwestern France

June 8th, 2017

La Barde, France — On our last full day in southwestern France, Independent Study student Macy Conrad (’18) and I had a cultural visit with our host Paul and Patricia Taylor to the ancient town of Saint-Émilion. This town, set in a place that has been inhabited for millenia, is a World Heritage site amidst extensive vineyards and wineries. It has many architectural and historical treasures, which we could only touch upon during our short visit.

This wall is all that remains of a 13th-Century monastery demolished in 1337. It is referred to as the “Great Wall”. The building stones in this wall and most of the town itself are Oligocene limestones, some rich with fossil fragments.

The interior of the Collegiate Church, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

12th-Century frescoes still survive in the Collegiate Church of Saint-Émilion. This set shows the grisly story of Saint Catherine.

The cloisters of the Collegiate Church. Imagine the characters who walked through these passages, from Crusaders of the 12th Century to occupying German soldiers of the 20th.

More 13th century frescoes in the cloisters.

The building stones show magnificent weathering over the last 700 years or so.

The most elaborate weathering accentuates burrow systems in the Oligocene limestones. Later building stones in other regions were actually carved to show apparent weathering patterns like these.

Our lunch view. The bell tower is for a church carved into the limestone below. This is another underground church like the one we visited in Aubeterre.

Our lunch in Saint-Émiliion. Yes, fieldwork is tough in southwestern France. Macy Conrad (’18) is on the left, with Patricia and Paul Taylor and then me.

I want to add an image of the war memorial in Saint-Émilion. Every French village, town and city has at least one. They were erected after World War I and usually inscribed with hundreds of names. The World War II local dead are often inscribed later on the bases.

Finally, a few images from our delightful lodgings in the Taylor home at Bard’s End, La Barde. This is the lounge, which held livestock when this was a farmhouse in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The lounge from the other side, with Paul Taylor entering from outside.

The multi-talented Macy was a great help to the Taylors as they assembled a set of furniture from Ikea.

All our dinners were outside on the patio facing the River Dronne. Delightful!

Thank you again to Paul and Patricia Taylor for making this research expedition such a success and pleasure. We will report our results in later posts!

Macy and I leave tomorrow morning on a long train trip to Paris. I then fly home and Macy continues her European adventure with a visit to friends in Norway. Team France is done with fieldwork. The extensive labwork begins this summer with our specimens.

 

 

Revisiting the Gironde Estuary for our last day of fieldwork in southwestern France

June 7th, 2017

La Barde, France — Today Paul Taylor, Macy Conrad (’18) and I had our last fieldwork in France for this expedition. We returned to sites along the eastern shore of the Gironde Estuary to study the Biron Formation (Campanian, Upper Cretaceous), thus completing our three-part stratigraphic survey along with the Barbezieux and Aubeterre Formations. Macy is seen above crouching at the Caillaud South locality.

This is a view of the Caillaud South cliff from the south. The camera can’t convey how very white the rocks are and still keep the rest of the image in a correct exposure. A salt marsh is in the foreground.

The Pycnodonte vesicularis oysters are common at the Caillaud south locality, but they are well cemented into the limestone matrix. We’re looking here at an articulated shell with the right valve on top. This would have been the oyster’s living position.

There is a normal fault exposed in the Caillaud. It is still Biron Formation in either block, but the facies are slightly different on one side from the other.

This part of the estuary was the site of a significant Gallo-Roman settlement.

We also revisited the north side of Caillaud, where again it is Biron Formation with about a meter of Barbezieux on top of the cliff. The structures to the left are fishing towers.

Bryozoans are abundant in this exposure. Here is a nice bryozoan colony, probably the cyclostome Meliceritites, according to Paul.

Talmont-sur-Gironde from the south. This tiny place receives half a million visitors a year. Note the tidal mudflat in the foreground. We were near low tide.

This is an aerial view of the village, courtesy of Wikipedia. It is nearly surrounded by the sea at high tide. The village was founded in 1284 by Edward I of England. In 1652 it was destroyed by the Spanish. I’m surprised it survived World War II.

I’ll end this post with a French wildflower of some type we saw today. It symbolizes the beautiful countryside we had the privilege to explore. Thank you again to Paul and Patricia Taylor for hosting us so elegantly. Paul was also a spectacular field driver on the small country roads, and his knowledge of the fossils and stratigraphy is astonishing.

We have one more day in southwestern France, and then Macy and I head back to Paris.

 

 

A day of rocks and churches in southwestern France

June 6th, 2017

La Barde, France — This is our second-to-last day in southwestern France on this research expedition. Macy Conrad (’18), Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London) and I are continuing our study of sclerobionts on Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) oysters. I know the images of us facing into yet another set of white rocks are getting dull, so we’ll get the field shots out of the way first! Above, Macy is looking at the Barbezieux Formation just outside the village of Bonnes, a locality new to us on this trip.

Our second stop was one we visited last week: the Barbezieux Formation exposed in a narrow lane (“Chemin”) in Aubeterre. Another successful day with the Cretaceous oysters and their associates.

We visited two notable churches during our journey today. This one in St. Aulaye is notable for its very old tower and preserved Romanesque facade.

The Medieval carvings around the entrance are delightful. This is a man and what is apparently his donkey.

The second church we visited as in Bourg-du-Bost. This is a Thirteenth-Century building mostly intact.

The interior is richly decorated, and had automated organ music playing as we entered. The lights also switched on and off in a pattern I didn’t catch.

This church is known for its 13th century frescoes still mostly in place with their original colors.

The ceiling of the sanctuary is magnificent. Much attention was given over the centuries to detailed ornamentation and preservation in this relatively small country church. It survived countless wars in this region, including the most devastating ones of the 20th century.

Location GPS Unit Position
Bonnes 171 Barbezieux N45° 14.735′ E0° 08.935′

A day of collecting Cretaceous fossils on the southwestern coast of France

June 5th, 2017

La Barde, France — Today Team France returned to the Gironde Estuary on the southwest coast of France to study the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) fossiliferous limestones and marls. We visited new sites and some we scouted out last week. Above is Pointe de Suzac, just south of Royan, where the Aubeterre Formation is well exposed. It was another beautiful day. Rather cool, in fact, during the morning.

The oyster beds we’re interested in are very well exposed here. The shells appear to be in random orientations, likely the result of storm waves stacking them up in piles.

In fact, at the outcrop is the modern equivalent: recent oyster valves piled together.

The southern side of Pointe de Suzac shows at least six of these oyster beds in the Aubeterre Formation, each separated by a thin marl rich in erect bryozoan fragments. The bedding planes are also exposed here, giving us a three-dimensional view of the deposits.

The sediments below the oyster beds are rich in other fossils. Macy found regular echinoids, rudists, pectenids, unknown flat bivalves, and isolated large oysters. The unit is thoroughly riddled with Thalassinoides shrimp burrows.

The branching fossils here are bryozoans. The small disks are large foraminiferans.

The headlands of Pointe de Suzac are dominated by thick concrete bunkers and gun emplacements that were part of the “Atlantic Wall” built by the Germans in World War II. Note the battle damage on this one.

This area held the last pockets of German resistance to the Allies in Europe. It was heavily bombed and shelled in 1945 during the liberation of Royan, which was a horrible event for the local French citizenry.

Later in the day we returned to the roadcut above Plage des Nonnes to see the oyster beds in the Aubeterre Formation. Macy and Paul are examining the shells in, again, six beds, separated by the same fossiliferous marls.

Not all localities are beautiful in France! Our last stop of the day was in a parking lot in Mirambeau. Here we looked at a very bryozoan-rich part of the Barbezieux Formation.

Another successful day. Thank you again to Paul for the expert guidance and driving!

Location GPS Unit Position
Pointe de Suzac 168 Aubeterre N45° 34.933′ W0° 59.352′
Pointe de Suzac south 169 Aubeterre N45° 34.599′ W0° 59.382′
Mirambeau 170 Barbezieux N45° 22.211′ W0° 34.252′

Wooster Geologists get to work in southwestern France

June 4th, 2017

La Barde, France — After a day of almost solid rain, we woke up the next morning to brilliant weather in southwestern France. Macy, Paul and I drove to the small town of Archiac, where we collected a bag full of gorgeous specimens of the oyster Pycnodonte vesicularis from the Aubeterre Formation.

The oysters could be easily pulled from the marly matrix. Our goal was to collect as many specimens with fossil sclerobionts on them as we could. Sclerobionts are organisms that live in or on hard substrates, in this case it means borings and encrusters.

Thanks to Paul Taylor for this modification of the stratigraphic column from Platel (1999). The three formations we are collecting from are the Biron, Barbezieux, and Aubeterre, all in the Upper Campanian.

We also visited an outcrop of the Segonzac Formation near Segonzac itself so Paul could collect bryozoans. We were at the edge of a vineyard.

The view from our last outcrop was wonderful. Peaceful countryside. That’s our field car parked on the roadside.

Location GPS Unit Position
Archiac 166 Aubeterre N45° 31.413′ W0° 17.909′
Chez Allard 167 Segonzac N45° 37.040′ W0° 11.546′

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