Pillows, Trolls, and Dried Fish

June 26th, 2016

Hafnafjörður, Iceland – Cara Lembo (Amherst), official Keck Iceland 2016 Guest Blogger.

Greetings from rainy Iceland! After spending 4 full days in the field we are spending a rainy day inside discussing projects and compiling our data.

Inside the Lava Hostel on a rainy Sunday morning.

Inside the Lava Hostel on a rainy Sunday morning.

We spent our first day and a half in Iceland inside the Undirhlíðar quarry – an ideal place to observe cross sections of pillow lavas and other volcanic deposits.

Michelle Orden and Anna Thompson with a shelved lava tube in the Undirhlíðar quarry. The tube was likely refilled with the darker lava.

Michelle Orden (Dickinson) and Anna Thompson (Carleton) with a shelved lava tube in the Undirhlíðar quarry. The tube was likely refilled with the darker lava.

A pillow in the Undirhlíðar quarry.

A pillow in the Undirhlíðar quarry.

After getting a feel for many different types volcanic deposits in the quarry, we headed out to survey the ridge South of the quarry and observe these deposits “in the wild.”


Keck students hiking across the ridge.

Keck students hiking across the ridge.

We surveyed the ridge for the next day and a half. Highlights include discovering an unexpected tephra cone and learning how to tell the difference between goats and sheep. According to Ben you say, “Goaty, Goaty raise your tail!”

Students and Ben observing a diamict deposit on the ridge.

Students and Ben observing a diamict deposit on the ridge.

Once we surveyed the whole ridge, we started our mapping project with a gully on the southwest side of the ridge.


The gully we mapped. We discovered lots of fractured pillow lavas and dikes.

The gully we mapped. We discovered lots of fractured pillow lavas and dikes.

Michelle looking for trolls in the lava field below the gully. (The trolls we are looking for: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/p__/images/f/fa/The_Trolls_(Frozen).jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140116003401&path-prefix=protagonist)

Michelle looking for trolls in the lava field below the gully (the trolls we are looking for).

We’ve also sampled some local Icelandic cuisine such as Skyr, chocolate covered licorice and, to Dr. Pollock’s dismay, Harðfiskur (dried fish).



Ben with Harðfiskur. The dried fish has an incredibly potent smell that we cannot get out of the van.

Ben with Harðfiskur. The dried fish has an incredibly potent smell that we cannot get out of the van.

Overall it has been an exciting first week in the field. More to come as we continue working in the field and trying to adjust to the never-ending daylight.


Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Encrusting cyanobacteria from the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati region

June 24th, 2016

1 pdt19598 D1253Deep in the basement of the Natural History Museum in London, Paul Taylor and I were examining cyclostome bryozoans encrusting an Upper Ordovician brachiopod with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). This is one of our favorite activities, as the SEM always reveals tiny surprises about our specimens. That day the surprises were the smallest yet – fossils we had never seen before.

2 Infected brachWe were studying the dorsal exterior surface of this beat-up brachiopod from a 19th Century collection labelled “Cincinnati Group”. (Image by Harry Taylor.) We knew it was the strophomenid Rafinesquina ponderosa, and that the tiny chains of bryozoans encrusting it were of the species Corynotrypa inflata. We’ve seen this scene a thousand times. But when we positioned the SEM beam near the center of the shell where there was a brown film …

3 pdt16920 D1253… we saw that the bryozoans were themselves encrusted with little pyritic squiggles. These were new to us.

4 pdt19580 D7139In some places there were thick, intertwining mats of these squiggles. We later found these fossils on two other brachiopod specimens, both also Rafinesquina ponderosa and from 19th Century collections with no further locality or stratigraphic information.

5 pdt19578 D7139Last week Paul and I scanned these specimens again and began to put together an analysis. We believe these are fossil cyanobacteria. They are uniserial, unbranching strands of cells that range from 5 to 9 microns in length and width. Some of individual strands are up to 700 microns long and many are sinuous. The cells are uniform in size and shape along the strands; there are no apparent heterocysts. They appear very similar in form to members of the Order Oscillatoriales.

6 CyanobacteriaCyanobacteria are among the oldest forms of life, dating back at least 2.1 billion years, and they are still abundant today. The fossils are nearly identical to extant forms, as seen above (image from: http://www.hfmagazineonline.com/cyanobacteria-worlds-smallest-oldest-eyeball/).

7 pdt19599 D1253Paul made this remarkable image, at 9000x his personal record for high magnification, showing the reticulate structure preserved on some of the fossil surfaces. Note that the scale bar is just 2 microns long. These are beautiful fossils in their tiny, tiny ways.

We have not seen these cyanobacteria fossils before on shell surfaces, so we submitted an abstract describing them for the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver this September. We are, of course, not experts on bacteria, so we are offering our observations to the scientific community for further discussion. Here is the conclusion of our abstract —

“We suggest the cyanobacterial mats developed shortly before final burial of the brachiopod shells. Since the cyanobacteria were photosynthetic, the shells are inferred to have rested with their dorsal valve exteriors upwards in the photic zone. That Cincinnatian brachiopod shells were occupied by cyanobacteria has been previously well demonstrated by their microborings but this is the first direct evidence of surface microbial mats on the shells. The mats no doubt played a role in the paleoecology of the sclerobiont communities on the brachiopods, and they may have influenced preservation of the shell surfaces by the “death mask” effect. The pyritized cyanobacteria can be detected with a handlens by dark squiggles on the brachiopod shells, but must be confirmed with SEM. We encourage researchers to examine the surfaces of shells from the Cincinnatian and elsewhere to find additional evidence of fossilized bacterial mats.”


Noffke, N., Decho, A.W. and Stoodle, P. 2013. Slime through time: the fossil record of prokaryote evolution. Palaios 28: 1-5.

Tomescu, A. M., Klymiuk, A.A., Matsunaga, K.K., Bippus, A.C. and Shelton, G.W. 2016. Microbes and the Fossil Record: Selected Topics in Paleomicrobiology. In: Their World: A Diversity of Microbial Environments (pp. 69-169). Springer International Publishing.

Vogel, K. and Brett, C.E. 2009. Record of microendoliths in different facies of the Upper Ordovician in the Cincinnati Arch region USA: the early history of light-related microendolithic zonation. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 281: 1-24.

Keck 2016 Arrives in Iceland

June 21st, 2016

Hafnafjörður, Iceland – What a fantastic day! Dr. Ben Edwards and I are leading a 6-student Keck trip to Iceland to study a glaciovolcanic ridge. It was a long travel day, but everyone (and their luggage) arrived safe and sound. No need to waste any time – soon after we set up camp, we headed to the field.

Ben Edwards (left) and the Keck students discuss their initial observations of pillow lavas and dikes.

A beautiful day welcomed us to our field site, but we couldn’t stay for too long because we had a birthday to celebrate.

Carl-Lars celebrated his birthday today during his first visit to Iceland, among his newfound Keck friends.

Today’s introduction was brief, but we’ll continue to post about our work and adventures over the next month.

Wooster Geologist high in the air!

June 20th, 2016

1 Fig 7 062016Editor’s note: The following post is from guest blogger Annette Hilton (’17) about her extraordinary research experiences this summer. Annette gets around: You may remember her post last summer from the American Museum of Natural History.

This summer I have the privilege of working an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) internship with NASA Student Airborne Research Program (NASA SARP). The program has employed 32 undergraduates from all over the United States to explore airborne Earth science with four amazing mentors, all associated with NASA and universities from around the USA.

2 Seal 062016The program takes place in southern California—the first week spent in Palmdale, CA, where the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center is located. The second week SARP is split into four teams of eight students for specific research areas—Coastal Ocean and Remote Sensing, Forest and Remote Sensing, Atmospheric Chemistry, and Whole Air Sampling—and team field trips. The remaining six weeks will be spent in Irvine, on the UC Irvine campus, for data analysis.

Fig 1 062016Figure 1. Armstrong Flight Research Center, where all of NASA’s Earth Science airborne campaigns take place. The hangar pictured above houses several planes, including the DC-8.

SARP flies two missions on board the DC-8, NASA’s airborne laboratory. On Saturday June 18th I flew on board the DC-8 for a six hour flight over the Central Valley and Santa Barbara Channel.

Fig 2 062016Figure 2. Map of flight plan for the DC-8 on June 18th. The red circle indicates an area we had to unexpectedly plan around, as President Obama was camping with his family in Yosemite. This map does not include our added flight path above the Santa Barbara channel.

Fig 3 062016Figure 3. The DC-8 outside the hangar at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.

Fig 4 062016Figure 4. As you can see, the plane has been heavily modified for all the scientific equipment it houses! Most instruments on board sample and analyze data real time.

Fig 5 062016Figure 5. Inside the DC-8. The aircraft had just returned from a six week mission in South Korea, called KORUS-AQ, an international cooperative air quality field study. Because of this, the DC-8 was decked out with all the KORUS-AQ instruments, which SARP was able to have access to! When I was on board there were at least 40 different instruments, as well as most of the KORUS-AQ team.

Fig 6 062016Figure 6. More scientific goodies!

During the six hour flight we primarily flew in the Planetary Boundary Layer (PBL) (~1000-4000 ft altitude) in order to be close to emissions over the Central Valley. Our flight plan included flyovers of large dairy farms, oil fields, agricultural fields, and the Santa Barbara channel. We flew a few missed approaches where we got to about 40 feet above ground before flying back up to the PBL in areas of particular interest as well as a vertical spiral to create a profile of the atmosphere. I was even able to ride for 20 minutes in the cockpit and speak briefly with the pilots! Luckily, I was not one of the students on board who became ill during the flight. Flying in the PBL is very hot and a bumpy ride!

Fig 8 062016Figure 7. Outside my window in the PBL over the Central Valley.

Fig 9 062016Figure 8. Outside my window over the Santa Barbara channel, in smoke from the Sherpa Wildfire.

The first SARP flight on June 17th flew over the Los Angeles Basin. In addition, SARP has access to another one of NASA’s planes, the ER-2 (a pilot only plane), which will fly two missions for SARP above the same areas the DC-8 flew in order to obtain high altitude data (the ER-2 can fly up to 70,000 ft). SARP will also have access to the data obtained during the KORUS-AQ mission, as well as ground-based data during the second week field trips. My group, Coastal Ocean and Remote Sensing, will be traveling to Santa Barbara for a day cruise out on the channel to collect water samples. These data will eventually be used to calibrate and validate both airborne and satellite data obtained during SARP over the coastal area.

Fig 10 062016Figure 9. The Coastal Ocean and Remote Sensing group in front of the DC-8.

I am very excited to be in California this summer working with a wonderful group of peers and mentors at SARP. SARP has access to a plethora of data which I will utilize to design my own research project for the summer, which I also hope to continue during my senior independent study at Wooster.

A shout out to all the wonderful professors in the Wooster Geology Department who I owe many thanks to for their help in being able to participate in such an amazing experience! Thank you for all you do.

Wooster Geologists in England: Team Dorset

June 19th, 2016

Cassidy Bridport Sands 060716Cassidy Jester (’17) and I have now finished our fieldwork in southern England this month. Cassidy traveled through Britain afterwards, and I went on to London and the Natural History Museum. It was all a success thanks to my friends and colleagues Tim Palmer and Paul Taylor, with critical help from our new friends Bob Chandler and John Whicher. Our daily blog entries can be accessed at the UK2016 tag.

Team Dorset 0n Hive BeachTim Palmer, Cassidy Jester (’17) and Mark Wilson on Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, England.

Here is a table of our locality information for reference:

GPS# Latitude Longitude Location
138 50.96268903 -2.503268039 Frogden Quarry
139 50.96319797 -2.501848983 Frogden Quarry older
140 50.93710503 -2.601833018 Babylon Hill
141 50.94292902 -2.556813983 Louse Hill
142 50.79496597 -2.71623401 Coombe Quarry, Mapperton
143 50.70015801 -2.734380998 Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock
145 50.81626003 -2.771674013 Horn Park
146 50.70154396 -2.737065973 Burton Bradstock snuffboxes

Final day at The Natural History Museum … and one more Jurassic snuff-box

June 17th, 2016

1 Chandler snuff-box cutLondon, England — My last day in London was spent working on GSA abstracts and examining one last ferruginous oncoid (“snuff-box”) from the Jurassic (Bajocian) of southern England. Bob Chandler donated to the cause a large discoidal snuff-box. We cut it (cross-section through the center shown above) and revealed its intricate internal structure.

2 Chandler snuff-box nucleusThe typical limestone nucleus is smaller than I expected, but it still shows typical features such as bioerosion.

3 Snuff-box horn 061716This specimen has beautifully-developed “horns” around the periphery. They are made of laminae not connected to the central cortex. Paul Taylor suggested that they form when the snuff-box is no long being moved about. Nice specimen. Cassidy Jester (’17) will have much to figure out in her Independent Study focused on these objects.

I’ve had a great and productive time on this expedition to England. Thank you again to my amigos Tim Palmer and Paul Taylor, as well as John Whicher, Bob Chandler and Consuelo Sendino. Science marches on.

Addendum: This is the way I like my Tube stations — empty! Take me home, District Line to Paddington. Saturday, June 18, 5:08 a.m.

Fulham Broadway tube station at 0508

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Symbiotic interactions in the Silurian of Baltica

June 17th, 2016

EcclimadictyonThis week’s fossils are from work Olev Vinn (University of Tartu, Estonia) and I did last summer that is soon to appear in the journal Lethaia. (An early electronic version of the manuscript has been available since November.) After numerous smaller studies describing symbiotic relationships recorded in Silurian fossils in the paleocontinent Baltica, we wrote a summary paper under Olev’s leadership. All the images are take by Olev and in the paper itself. I love this kind of study because it is about fossils as living, interacting organisms, not just static sets of characteristics.

For example, the top image is of the stromatoporoid Ecclimadictyon astrolaxum (a kind of hard sponge) with embedded rugosan corals (Palaeophyllum, with arrows) from the Jaagarahu Formation (Sheinwoodian) exposed at Abula cliff, Saaremaa Island, Estonia. The stromatoporoid and corals were growing together, each having their particular needs met and maybe even enhanced by the other.
syringoporidThe network of holes in this stromatoporoid from the Paadla Formation (Ludfordian) of Katri cliff, Saaremaa, represent the corallites of a syringoporid coral. Again, the coral and sponge formed an intergrown association.
ChaetosalpinxThis is a thin-section view of what was likely a soft-bodied worm (represented by Chaetosalpinx sibiriensis, noted by a white arrow) embedded in the tabulate coral Paleofavosites cf. collatatus from the Muksha Subformation (Homerian), Bagovitsa A, Podolia, Ukraine. Again, the worm was embedded in the living tissues of the host.

We found 13 such symbiotic associations in the Silurian of Baltica. Most of these interactions involved large skeletal organisms like stromatoporoids and corals, which provided stable hosts for smaller sessile filter-feeders and micro-predators. This work is part of a larger study looking at evolutionary trends in symbiotic associations during the Paleozoic.


Tapanila, L. 2005. Palaeoecology and diversity of endosymbionts in Palaeozoic marine invertebrates: trace fossil evidence. Lethaia 38: 89–99.

Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2016. Symbiotic interactions in the Silurian of Baltica. Lethaia 49: 413–420.

Vinn, O., Wilson, M.A. and Motus, M.-A. 2014. Symbiotic endobiont biofacies in the Silurian of Baltica. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 404: 24–29.

Research in a paleontological paradise

June 16th, 2016

1 NHM front 061616London, England — If any center of scientific research can be sacred, the Natural History Museum of London is a holy of holies for paleontology. Its deep history, highly skilled researchers and staff, and magnificent architecture makes it a very special place. As I wrote before, it is a secular cathedral of science, particularly life science.

2 NHM cathedral of scienceIt is no accident the design of this building reflects a place of worship. Who do you think the white figure on the raised platform in the center is? He might as well be sitting on the altar.

3 Darwin presidingOf course! A portrait on Darwin’s upper left, not visible here and probably rarely noticed, is of his colleague Alfred Russel Wallace.

4 Darwin's NHM viewThis is Darwin’s view of the main hall and entrance of the museum. Six million visitors per year pass under his gaze.

5 Paul and SEM 061616This morning Paul and I worked with a scanning electron microscope to study particular fossils we had set aside for closer examination. Paul is the best scanning electron microscopist I have met.

6 SEM stageThis is the open stage and chamber of the SEM, with a brachiopod fixed in place by Paul for scanning. It is a complicated apparatus that can move the specimen in almost all directions in a vacuum under the electron beam.

7 Cortex pdt19574The first specimen we worked with was one of the Jurassic snuff-boxes. This is part of Cassidy Jester’s Independent Study project and her continuing research with Tim Palmer and me. Paul and I are mystified by the pattern we see here in the cortex of the snuff-box.

8 Ooid pdt19575These are two ferruginous ooids embedded in the cortex of the snuff-box. They show exactly the same mysterious irregular platy objects. Tim Palmer suggests they may be limonite, which is amorphous (without crystals). We’ll test that idea later with mineralogical and elemental analysis.

9 Jeffrey Thompson at NHM 061616I was delighted to see my friend Jeffrey Thompson in the palaeontology section doing research for his dissertation at the University of Southern California. He made an earlier appearance in this blog when he was just a kid.

10 Oscar Mmari and Jubilate Lema in LondonFor lunch I met my former student and veteran of an Independent Study field trip to Israel Oscar Mmari (on the left) and fellow Wooster graduate Jubilate Lema on the right. Both of these young Tanzanians are now making their way in the world. Oscar starts this fall at Imperial College, and Jubilate is an economist working with an investment firm in Johannesburg, South Africa. We had a delightful meal and walk around the museum neighborhood.

11 Dinner view 061616My long day ended with an excellent dinner with Paul and Patricia Taylor at the Swan Restaurant along the Thames River. This was our view from the table. This will all seem a dream in just two days time.


Another day of research at The Natural History Museum, London

June 15th, 2016

1 Mapped brach 061516London, England — I spent most of my museum time today at a keyboard, but in a splendid and collegial setting. Very productive and stimulating conversations with Paul Taylor and Consuelo Sendino, but mostly screen time. I drew little map boxes on a brachiopod, for example, as shown above.

2 Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.23.30 PMI also used Image J to measure cell sizes, as shown in the above screen shot. More on what this is about tomorrow.

3 Winchendon Road viewFinally, I thought I’d share the view from my attic window of Winchendon Street. I think I hear and see every flight in and out of Heathrow!

4 London helicopterIncluding police helicopters. Often.

A day at the Natural History Museum in London

June 14th, 2016

1 Drawer of brachiopodsLondon, England — My first full day at The Natural History Museum in London was interesting and inspiring as always, but it did have its tedium. This drawer of Ordovician brachiopods, for example. I scanned each with my handlens in the dim lighting looking for a particular kind of encruster.

2 Drawers of brachiopodsDrawer after drawer. Saw many curious fossils, but not one example of what I was looking for. Not an uncommon experience!

3 Harry photographing 061416One of the best parts of a museum visit is meeting skilled staff. Harry Taylor is a master photographer of fossils. Paul Taylor and I took him a fossil this morning and he immediately created a superb image for our work. In my inexpert photograph above, what looks like a blast furnace behind the camera is his lighting and flash system.

4 Harry Paul photographyHarry and Paul discuss the image on screen.

5 Bryo copyHere is a small version of the final result of Harry’s artistry. The original file is 111 megabytes! This is a brachiopod (Rafinesquina ponderosa) from the Cincinnatian rocks of southern Ohio. It is encrusted with something special I’ll describe in a later post. We’ll use this high-resolution image for detailed mapping of this surface.

6 Emanuela Di Martino SEM 061416Paul and I visited our colleague Emanuela Di Martino to congratulate her on Italy’s recent win in the Euro 2016 football tournament. She is operating the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Paul and I will be using in two days. I’ve sat here for many hours scanning specimens with Paul.

7 Tony Wighton cuttingPaul and I had a bryozoan we wanted to cut in half to study its interior. Tony Wighton immediately sliced it for us.

8 Tony Wighton polishingTony then gave each half a mirror finish, producing spectacular specimens that considerably enhance the value of the collections.

It was a good day at the museum. The rain stopped long enough for us to get fresh hamburgers at the nearby open market for lunch, and then we had drinks at the Victoria & Albert Museum next door. I don’t take any of this for granted!

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