Wooster Geologist at Niagara Falls

August 10th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final day in the Silurian of New York

August 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With this last observation, our fieldwork is officially done!

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

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

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

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

Return to the Silurian of New York

August 8th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7th, 2015

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

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

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

Into the Niagara Gorge

August 6th, 2015

1 Lewiston-Queenston Bridge 080615LOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 6, 2015) — It holds one of the strongest river currents in the world, the gorge of the Niagara River below Niagara Falls. That tremendous flow has cut a deep canyon through the Silurian rocks of the region, providing a superb opportunity for geologists to see the local stratigraphy and paleontology. Today our team walked into the gorge from Lewiston, New York, to explore the section. Carl Brett was our guide. Above is a view of the gorge at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge that joins the USA on the right with Canada on the left. The forests are plenty dense, but there are rocks in those steep walls.

2 Gorge trailWe hiked along the Gorge Trail on the USA side upriver from Lewiston. The trail is actually an old road built for transport of construction materials used for the hydroelectric dams upriver.

3 Gorge block 080615We learned most of the geological context by examining fallen blocks along the trail. This was an interesting way to see the stratigraphy because the different formations dropped blocks randomly along the path.

4 AE080615I tried to get a surreptitious picture of my German colleague Andrej Ernst.

5 Grimsby crossbedsThe Grimsby Formation (Lower Silurian, Llandoverian) is a sandstone that has numerous sedimentary structures, including nice cross-sets.

6 Kinneyia Grimsby Niagara GorgeAndrej found this nice specimen of an enigmatic feature called Kinneyia. It may be a function of gas build-up underneath microbial mats on the ancient seafloor. I’ve always called it “elephant skin”.

7 Niagara Gorge section 080615A view of the gorge wall above us.

8 Rochester collecting Niagara GorgeWhen the trail reached the Rochester Shale, we spent some time searching it for fossils. The most common finds were cystoids (especially Caryocrinites) and the odd coronoid Stephanocrinus.

9 Andrej Carl 080615Andrej Ernst and Carl Brett on the Rochester Shale outcrop in the Niagara Gorge. Andrej noted many neglected bryozoans in the fossil fauna exposed here.

10 Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating StationsOur final stop was opposite the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Stations built on the Canadian side of the gorge. It is an awesome feat of engineering, and a prodigious amount of concrete.

We had an excellent time in the Niagara Gorge. I was at last able to see some of the nuances of Silurian stratigraphy that Carl Brett was explaining. As you can see, the weather was ideal.

We said goodbye to Carl at the end of the day as he departed for fieldwork in nearby southern Ontario.

 

Wooster Geologist in New York

August 5th, 2015

1 Calebs Quarry 080515LOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 5, 2015) — What looks like an ordinary commercial quarry above is actually quite unusual. It is an excavation done entirely by amateur paleontologists (“citizen scientists”) to collect and preserve fossils from the Rochester Shale (Upper Silurian, Wenlockian). The story of Caleb’s Quarry is well told in the linked American Museum of Natural History article. It is near Lockport, New York, and one of the most famous fossil sites in the region. I’m lucky to be here.

This late summer expedition to New York is to help my German friend Andrej Ernst (University of Hamburg/University of Kiel) collect bryozoans from the Rochester Shale. This bryofauna is inadequately described for phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses, so Andrej has a grant to do the deed from outcrop sampling to preparation, analysis and publication. While assisting Andrej, I am also scouting out new localities for future geology Senior Independent Study projects at Wooster. We will be in Niagara and Erie Counties for a week doing this work.

2 CarlCalebsAbsolutely critical to the project is the field advice and direction of Carl Brett (University of Cincinnati). Carl is without peer when it comes to many paleontological and geological topics, but for the Silurian of New York he is one of the gods. Carl grew up in the region and has been studying the rocks and fossils since he was a young teenager. He gave us two days of magnificent stratigraphic instruction, and he introduced us to the amateur team digging at Caleb’s Quarry. We were also joined for three days by Brian Bade, a citizen scientist from Ohio with an extraordinary passion for fossils, along with deep knowledge and appreciation for how science works.

3 FredandCarlCalebsFred Barber, one of the excavators at Caleb’s Quarry, is here showing Carl Brett magnificent crinoids collected from this locality.

4 Crinoid Calebs 080515The gray shale matrix is homogenous and soft enough to be removed from the fossil by an expert preparator. This crinoid shows outstanding preservation down to the pinnules on its arms.

5 Bryozoan Calebs reconstructedOf course, Andrej and I are most interested in the bryozoans from Caleb’s Quarry. Here is a beautiful specimen that has been carefully reconstructed.

6 StriispiriferCalebsI found these brachiopod-rich beds intriguing. Striispirifer is a new name to me.

7 DalmanTriloCalebsTrilobites are always the stars of Paleozoic fossil sites like this. While we were at the quarry we watched one of the excavators (Kent Smith) unearth this gorgeous specimen. I believe it is Dalmanites limulurus.

8 ChondritesCalebsThe trace fossils here are very interesting. There may be project possibilities with this ichnofauna because of the diversity present at the quarry and the bedding plane exposures. This is the trace fossil Chondrites.

9 Jungle Jeddo tributaryAfter our quarry visit today we then stopped at some other exposures of the Rochester Shale. This scene shows what fieldwork is like without quarries and roadcuts! We are here along a tributary of Jeddo Creek, at the top of Lewiston Member B of the Rochester Shale. Hard to tell, eh?

10 Brian Jeddo Tributary Lewiston BHere Brian Bade is examining a deeply weathered section along the creek. Years ago Carl Brett took advantage of this disaggregation of the Rochester Shale to sieve the sediment for small fossils. He has generously given us the “washings” from this cut, which represent months of his work as a graduate student. They are loaded with tiny bryozoan bits, along with many other taxa.

11 Cherokee UnconformityWe ended the day with a look at several other outcrops in the Lockport area. The impressive contact here between the massive sandstone and the underlying red shales is called the Cherokee Unconformity. It is a megasequence boundary correlated across most of North America. It was thought until recently to be the Ordovician-Silurian boundary, but now all you see in this image is considered latest Ordovician.