Shenyang, China

July 3rd, 2014

Shenyang Palace 070314SHENYANG, CHINA — My first post from astonishing China. I’ve been here about a day and a half now and am simply floored by all I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve seen a fair bit of the world, but no place like China. I’m providing here just a few images of Shenyang as just a taste of the adventure. We are twelve time zones away from Wooster, so I’m still feeling too ragged to write much prose. The image above is of Shenyang Imperial Palace, sometimes called by its old name Mukden Palace. It was built in the 17th Century by the first emperors of the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China. This is the iconic Dazheng Hall, where the emperors held court surrounded by their Manchu cohorts. It is all stone and heavily laquered wood. The red color signifies happiness, the yellow royalty, and the green (not unexpectedly) the glories of nature.

Yongli 070314This is Zhang Yongli, my Chinese host and now good friend. He took me to the Palace this morning as both an introduction to China and a chance to walk around a bit to dispell the fog of travel. (It was 27 hours from Cleveland to my hotel in Shenyang. I will feel it for awhile!)

Shenyang Palace map 070314This is a map of the palace. It is the only Imperial Palace outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was, in fact, modeled on its Beijing equivalent, but it has a distinctly northern flavor of Manchu culture.

karstic stones 1 070314The geological notes here include most notably these naturally-eroded limestones from southern China used as statuary in one part of the palace. All the hollows and holes in these smooth limestones were produced by karstic weathering in a very humid climate. The Chinese call them “lake stones” and very much appreciate their elegance.

Shenyang busy street 070314Outside the quiet palace is the very busy business district of Shenyang. Traveling by taxi through this city of over six million people is extraordinary. Somehow it all works, though, and people get to where they’re going by foot, bicycle, bicycle-cabs, carts, trucks and cars.

Shenyang morning 070314And this, finally, is the view from my hotel window. I’m staying in a hotel owned by my hosts at Northeastern University very close to campus. Tomorrow we leave for Guizhou Province in the south (a five-hour set of flights) and begin our fieldwork in Carboniferous reefs.

More later!


Wooster Geologist en route to China

July 1st, 2014

China departure signDETROIT AIRPORT, MICHIGAN — My long anticipated trip to China has started. I have a bit of a wait in Detroit before boarding a 14-hour flight to Beijing, followed by a connection on to Shenyang. I am visiting China by invitation from geologists at Northeastern University in Shenyang. My host is Yongli Zhang, an invertebrate paleontologist and geologist. Soon after I arrive we fly to Guizhou Province in the southeast of the country to do fieldwork on Carboniferous carbonates, including fossiliferous reef sequences. My job is to assess the hard substrates and, we hope, find a boatload of encrusters and borings. I’ve never been to China, so this will be an adventure in many ways. Everything will be new to me in the oldest of countries.

Right now all four Wooster Geologists are in the field and, effectively, off the grid. Dr. Shelley Judge is in Utah, Dr. Greg Wiles is in Alaska, and Dr. Meagen Pollock is in British Columbia. We will post entries when we can. Don’t worry about Wooster’s Fossil of the Week — it has now moved to Fridays and several posts are already lined up to appear each week!

Going off the Grid for Pillow Lavas

June 29th, 2014

Tatogga Lake, British Columbia – We’ve been traveling for four days and have finally arrived at our destination: Tatogga Lake. Tomorrow, we’ll be traveling by helicopter to our field site. It’s the first helicopter ride for most of us and we’re pretty excited about the birds-eye view of our subglacial pillow ridge (not to mention the gorgeous scenery). Although we’re eager to get started on our research goals, we’ve enjoyed the journey. In Wells Gray Provincial Park, we saw some of the most beautiful waterfalls and glaciovolcanic features. On the drive, we visited the world’s largest fly rod. I think our bear spotting count is up to at least 9 now. The best is yet to come, and we hope to have some fantastic photos to share with you when we come out of the field sometime next week. Until then, we’ll be off the grid, happily geologizing!

20140628-230202-82922728.jpg Most of the crew at Spahats Falls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. From left to right: Dr. John Greenough (UBC Okanagan – not part of the pillow team, but conducting research in Wells Gray), Will Kochitzky (Dickinson), Dr. Meagen Pollock, Erica (Dr. Greenough’s grad student), Julia Franceschi (Wooster), Mary Reinthal (Wooster), and Liz. Placenscia (Dickinson). Not pictured: Dr. Ben Edwards, to whom the photo credit belongs.

Pillows, and Dikes, and Bears. Oh My!

June 28th, 2014

Guest Bloggers: Mary Reinthal, Julia Franceschi, and Liz Plascencia

Greetings from Smithers, British Columbia! It is day three on the road and we are less then 2 days away from arriving at our field site – Pillow Ridge here we come! So far we have seen an array of fascinating geological features, including massive walls of pillow lavas, dikes, glacial deposits, and water falls all at Wells Gray Provincial park. The stunning landscape and picturesque views have impressed all of us.

20140627-234355-85435269.jpg Roadside geology where the crew is looking at a dike that intrudes tuff-breccia at Second Canyon in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Photo credit: Liz Placenscia

20140627-235010-85810903.jpgHere’s an example of a pillow lava with a fractured glass rind, like the ones we’ll see in Pillow Ridge.

20140627-235333-86013931.jpg We also got to see a few of the 39 named Wells Gray waterfalls, like this one, Spahats Falls, with its fantastic columnar-jointed lava flows.

20140628-000004-4876.jpg Three bears have been sighted on the trip thus far. Here’s one that we saw along the side of the road, munching on some grass. Photo credit: Liz Placenscia

Last day of work at the Natural History Museum, and some special visitors

June 25th, 2014

pdt16846 copyLONDON, ENGLAND — I know it is an acquired taste, and way too esoteric, but I think the above scanning electron micrograph is beautiful. This is an undescribed species of the cyclostome bryozoan Corynotrypa from the Upper Ordovician Bromide Formation of Oklahoma. There are all sorts of juicy details in this image that tell us about the growth and development of this extinct colonial organism, its paleoecology, and even its evolutionary relationships. It is also just plain exquisite. Paul and I had a productive and enjoyable time scanning this and several other Ordovician bryozoan specimens in our exploration of the early cyclostomes.

Paul and I stumbled upon something very surprising in our scanning this morning. We think it is potentially significant. Sorry for the tease, but we’re not ready to announce it yet. I just want to say again that we had a very good day of science!

Davis family 062514This afternoon we had great visitors to the Natural History Museum in London and its behind-the-scenes collections. From the left is Hudson Davis, his grandfather the prominent structural geologist George Davis (Wooster ’64), another grandson named, curiously, George Davis, and Merrily Davis. Paul (on the far right) gave all of us an excellent tour of the museum, including special collections and an emphasis on the awesome bryozoans. Paul and I were very impressed at how well prepared the Davis family was for this experience. They had excellent questions and a deep appreciation for natural history. It was also good to see a bit of Wooster here!

Photo by George Davis.

Photo by George Davis.

B.C. Bound Part II: Here’s to Not Getting Eaten by Bears

June 25th, 2014

Guest Bloggers: Julia Franceschi and Mary Reinthal

A little over a week ago at Spoon market in downtown Wooster, we met our research collaborators from Dickinson College. Although it was the first time we met rising junior Liz Plascencia and Dr. Ben Edwards, after a little talking and a lot of food, it seemed like we had known them for years.

It turns out Liz is just like us: she loves the outdoors, she doesn’t want to get eaten by a bear in the field (*potentially*) and, of course, she loves rocks. It was a good sign for the weeks to come, because together, we prepared mentally and physically for the impending two-week trip to British Columbia, Canada (maybe not mentally, but we definitely went to the gym together).


Pillow Ridge in British Columbia has exceptional pillow lava exposure. These pillows were created by subglacial volcanic features, and were subsequently sheared by a retreating glacier, thus making for an excellent work site to study these lavas. It is our hope to observe, characterize, and model the pillow-dominated area for reconstruction of the stratigraphy, and study a variety of pillow samples for geochemical analysis.

So in the weeks preceding the trip to Pillow Ridge, Wooster students Adam Silverstein, Mary Reinthal, Julia Franceschi (and of course Liz) did a lot of preparation from previously collected samples from the area. We made pressed pellets, fused glass beads, picked glass chips for volatile analysis. It wasn’t all physical work. Sometimes we read papers on pillow lavas for three hours in Broken Rocks over coffee with Dr. Pollock. Sometimes we did equipment checks and learned how to use a Brunton compass. It was a very “independent minds working together”-type atmosphere, but everyday was a lot of fun. See below for an exciting array of pictures portraying the lab work. 

This is the much talked about Liz Plascencia (with 9/10 of Adam Silverstein). They are in the process of weighing samples.

This is the much talked about Liz Plascencia (with 9/10 of Adam Silverstein). They are in the process of weighing samples.

This is a happy teaching moment at the XRD. Pictured is the one and only Dr. Pollock, and one of the tree-ring-lab students, rising sophomore Sarah McGrath.

This is a happy teaching moment at the XRD. Pictured is the one and only Dr. Pollock, and one of the tree-ring-lab students, rising sophomore Sarah McGrath.

This is rising Junior Mary Reinthal doing major and trace element graphs on Excel. Doesn’t she look happy? Because she loves geology, that’s why.

This is rising Junior Mary Reinthal doing major and trace element graphs on Excel. Doesn’t she look happy? Because she loves geology, that’s why.

Julia Franceschi of the class of 2016 is packing equipment with incredible skill. This girl knows camping.

Julia Franceschi of the class of 2016 is packing equipment with incredible skill. This girl knows camping.


Having accomplished a lot in the past couple of weeks together, we are now preparing in the last hours to fly out to Vancouver. Together we make an interesting team. We range in field experience from beginner to advanced. We have put in a lot of work, and are now ready for “roughing it” in the field. We have our tents packed and our ugly sweaters prepared. Ready or not, British Columbia, the Wooster and Dickinson crew are coming. And we are prepared to make memories and come back more knowledgeable than when we left (or at least with better thigh muscles/definition). Here’s to a new adventure!

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. 


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.

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