Congratulations Team Utah!

June 20th, 2013

UTAH – Congratulations to Team Utah on completing a successful field season!

Team Utah 2013 at the end of their last day in the field. From left to right: (front) Dr. Thom Wilch (Albion), Michael Williams ('16, COW), Ellen Redner ('14, Albion), Cam Matesich ('14, COW), Adam Silverstein ('16, COW); (back) Kyle Burden ('14, COW), Dr. Meagen Pollock (COW), Ben Hinks ('14, Albion), Candy Thornton ('14, COW), Tricia Hall ('14, COW), and Dr. Shelley Judge (COW).

Team Utah 2013 at the end of their last day in the field. From left to right: (front) Dr. Thom Wilch (Albion), Michael Williams (’16, COW), Ellen Redner (’14, Albion), Cam Matesich (’14, COW), Adam Silverstein (’16, COW); (back) Kyle Burden (’14, COW), Dr. Meagen Pollock (COW), Ben Hinks (’14, Albion), Candy Thornton (’14, COW), Tricia Hall (’14, COW), and Dr. Shelley Judge (COW). Credit: T. Wilch

Although we’re parting ways, the students will be working on the research. They have plenty of data to analyze and lab work to do, so continue following the blog to stay updated on their progress.

Return to Mount Etna

June 16th, 2013

1.Etna2001flowview061613CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–The very last field trip stop — and final event — of the International Bryozoology Association Conference was a trip to the south side of Mount Etna. We drove to a spot that had significant activity in 2000 and 2001. Several lateral craters appeared on the side of the mountain, and the lava flows buried parts of a restaurant and shop complex. They threatened to destroy the base of a cable car system, but firefighters with hoses managed to divert the flow by cooling it with water.
2.LateralCrater061613My Belgian friend Hans De Blauwe and I decided to choose one of these smaller craters and hike to it within our allotted visit time. We picked this one in the center because of its symmetry and the flows that streamed from it. All of these features in and around this cone formed in 2001.
3.LateralConesRow061613We soon saw that our cone was the first of at least three cones descending in a row down the slope. The lava flow shows very distinct levees on its sides where the lava lapped over its banks and cooled, creating a walled channel.
4.BouldersEtna061613There are many car- and house-sized boulders of non-vesicular basalt scattered about. I assume these were thrown from the throats of explosive craters.
5.LavaTube061613We found this very cool lava tube, indicated first by a long walled channel that apparently represents a collapsed portion of the tunnel. A lava tube is formed when the periphery of a flow cools into hard rock and the still-fluid interior empties. We explore a beautiful ancient example on our Mojave Desert field trips.
6.HansLavaTube061613Our lava tube is open at both ends. Here Hans is crouching in the larger of the entrances.
7.LavaTubeInterior061613I took a flash image of the interior. You can see small “lavasicles” (cooled drips of lava) on the ceiling, along with a white crust of some sulfurous minerals.
8.HansAA061613Here Hans is picking his way through the aa flow. In the lower right is another lava tube that extends back about three meters.
9.FlowerMounds061613The flowers on this volcanic slopes are very interesting. Hardy pioneers, they are. There are numerous clusters of these mounds of greenery. It appears that the plants settled on a bit of ash and then grew centripetally. The surrounding ash was eroded away, but the roots of these plants held onto their patches, eventually producing mounds as the surrounding sediment was removed.
10.SpinyFlowers061613The mounds are made mostly of this spiny flowering plant. Maybe Hans will provide me with names later.
11.PurpleFlowers061613These purple flowers often form in rings around the bases of the mounds.
12.LavaFlowersWhite061613Nice white flowers on the 2001 ash layers.
13.LavaDaisies061613Somehow there are always daisies around, even in the most surprising places.
14.ViewCatania061613Finally, here is a view from our craters toward Catania and the coast. A 2001 lava flow is directly below us. In the middle distance you can see a series of small cones, many of which were active in historical times. Catania is certainly in a volcanic hazard zone. The geologists, though, worry far more about earthquakes here than eruptions. An eruption, after all, gives you much more warning than a sudden and devastating ‘quake. Considering all this, and despite the occasional tornado and blizzard, Ohio looks like one of the safest places on Earth.

And to beautiful and much wetter Ohio I now return.

EtnaAshClose[A late addition to this post (June 23, 2013). Above is a close-up of ash erupted from Mount Etna in April 2013.]

Sandstone Appreciation Day

June 16th, 2013

Zion National Park, Utah – Team Utah took a break from the volcanic field to explore some of Utah’s (more famous) sedimentary rocks. We visited Zion, Utah’s first National Park.

Zion is a geological wonderland, featuring striking sheer cliffs and narrow slot canyons.

Zion is a geological wonderland, featuring striking sheer cliffs and narrow slot canyons.

The students took the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools.

The students hiked the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools. Credit: T. Hall

This is the Court of the Patriarch, so named for figures from the Old Testament by Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916. Abraham Peak is on the far left. Isaac Peak is in the center. Jacob Peak is the white peak that can be viewed just beyond Mount Moroni.

This is the Court of the Patriarchs, so named for figures from the Old Testament by Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916. Abraham Peak is on the far left. Isaac Peak is in the center. Jacob Peak is the white peak that can be viewed just beyond Mount Moroni on the right.

View of The Narrows, a trail that winds through the slot canyons carved by water through the Navajo Sandstone.

View of The Narrows, a trail that winds through slot canyons in the famously cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone.

The Wooster crew cools off in the Virgin River at the end of an awesome day in Zion. Credit: T. Wilch

The Wooster crew cools off in the Virgin River at the end of an awesome day in Zion. Credit: T. Wilch

Limestones, basalts, the wine-dark sea and the brooding volcano

June 16th, 2013

1.BasaltLimestone061613CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–Today we had our last field trip associated with the 2013 International Bryozoology Conference. We traveled to the east coast of Sicily at Castelluccio, which is south of Catania and north of Syracuse. The weather could not have been better. It was, as a commenter has said, “impossibly beautiful”.

The view above is of Early Pleistocene limestones resting on tholeitic basalt flows. As our guides said, in this place we could see the interplay of extensional tectonics, regional uplift, and glacially-controlled sea-level changes. The visuals were stunning. In the background you can see the east flank of Mount Etna.
2.Thalassinoides061613The limestones were of shallow-water origin and very diverse. One layer was almost completed bioturbated (biologically stirred up) by crustaceans, producing a trace fossil of connected tunnels called Thalassinoides.
3.FossilScallops061613Fossils were abundant in some units. Here is an horizon rich in scallop shells. These shells are often preferentially preserved because they are made of hardy calcite rather than chemically unstable aragonite like most other mollusk skeletons.
5.Dike061613The interactions between the basalt flows and the calcareous sediments were fascinated. Above you see a black basaltic dike cutting vertically through the limestones. Why there are no visible baked zones is a mystery to me.
4.BakedZone061613In this image we have basalt above and sediments below. The pink color of the limestones tells us they were cooked by the hot lava that flowed over them.
6.Beachrock061613There are a variety of post-depositional geological processes operating at this outcrop. One of them is the superimposition of beachrock during sea-level highstands. Beachrock is a cemented sediment formed in the surf zone by precipitation of carbonate. This particular beachrock was plastered onto an eroded limestone cliff like stucco. You can see black basalt among the diverse clasts.
7.EtnaBayView061613Over it all rules Mount Etna, here viewed from the top of the outcrop. It was unusually smoky today, which does not show well in our photographs because of the murky haze. We headed to this behemoth for the second and last stop of our field trip.

Serious Geologizing in Utah

June 13th, 2013

UTAH – Team Utah has been seriously geologizing in the Ice Springs Volcanic Field over the past two days. Here’s a photo-journal of the crew at work.

Ben Hinks ('14, Albion) examines a stack of thin pahoehoe flows in his field area. Credit: M. Pollock

Ben Hinks (’14, Albion) examines a stack of thin pahoehoe flows in his field area. Credit: M. Pollock

Cam Matesich ('14, Wooster), Ben Hinks ('14, Albion, and Tricia Hall ('14, Wooster) looking for samples in an 'a'a lava flow in Cam's field area. Credit: T. Wilch

Cam Matesich (’14, Wooster), Ben, and Tricia Hall (’14, Wooster) look for samples in an ‘a’a lava flow in Cam’s field area. Credit: T. Wilch

Synchronized hammering was the only way we could get samples of the tough lava. From left to right: Cam Matesich, Ellen Redner ('14, Albion), Kyle Burden ('14, Wooster), and Ben Hinks. Credit: M. Pollock

Synchronized hammering was the only way we could get samples of the tough lava. From left to right: Cam, Ellen Redner (’14, Albion), Kyle Burden (’14, Wooster), and Ben. Credit: M. Pollock

Ellen hands Ben the fruits of her labor. Credit: T. Wilch

Ellen hands Ben the fruits of her labor. Kyle is ready to bag it. Credit: T. Wilch

Candy Thornton ('14, Wooster) directs the data collection at her field site. Credit: T. Wilch

Candy Thornton (’14, Wooster) directs the data collection at her field site. Credit: T. Wilch

Kyle, Ben, and Candy document the stratigraphy of an isolated lava pillar in the middle of a depression. Credit: T. Wilch

Kyle, Ben, and Candy document the stratigraphy of an isolated lava pillar in the middle of a depression. Credit: T. Wilch

Adam Silverstein ('16, Wooster) makes an excellent scale. Credit: M. Pollock

Adam Silverstein (’16, Wooster) makes an excellent scale. Credit: M. Pollock

 

Michael Williams ('16, Wooster) and Cam use the GPS to map the location of features in Candy's field site. Credit: A. Silverstein

Michael Williams (’16, Wooster) and Cam use the GPS to map the location of features in Candy’s field site. Credit: A. Silverstein

Tricia measures the orientation of volcanic striae. Credit: M. Pollock

Tricia measures the orientation of volcanic striae. Credit: M. Pollock

Scientific Outreach in Iceland

June 12th, 2013

ICELAND – Team Iceland is nearly ready to return to the states, but not before we share what we’ve learned with the Icelandic community. Our home-away-from-home, the Hraunbyrgi guesthouse, is also home for the Hafnarfjörður scouts. To celebrate the end of their season, the scouts are having a large, nationwide camp-out at a site just south of the pillow quarries. So, for their final meeting, the scouts met with Team Iceland to learn about our research.

Dr. Ben Edwards shows the local scouts a sample of a pillow basalt.

Dr. Ben Edwards shows the local scouts a sample of pillow basalt.

The scouts learned that they’ll be camping along a ridge made of pillow basalts, which formed when lava erupted under a glacier. They also heard about the kinds of information that we can learn from the pillow basalts, like how the upper portion of the ocean floor is formed and how thick the ice was that once covered the Reykjanes Peninsula.  The scouts returned the favor and taught Team Iceland a few new Icelandic words. What a fantastic way to end a successful field season!

Team Utah Version 2.0

June 11th, 2013

UTAH – Field work has officially begun for Team Utah, Version 2.0. The team consists of three Wooster seniors (Kyle Burden ’14, Cam Matesich ’14, Candy Thornton, ’14) and two Wooster sophomores (Adam Silverstein ’16, Michael Williams ’16). Tricia Hall (’14) is a returning member who has graciously agreed to stay in Utah after her IS field work to help us with our data collection. This year, we’re also joined by Dr. Thom Wilch and two senior geologists (Ellen Redner ’14 and Ben Hinks ’14) from the Albion College Department of Geological Sciences. Needless to say, we’re a small army, and we’re ready to find the answers to questions raised during last year’s reconnaissance investigations of Ice Springs Volcanic Field in the Black Rock Desert.

Dr. Shelley Judge gives a brief overview of the local and regional geology before heading out to the field.

Dr. Shelley Judge gives a brief overview of the local and regional geology before heading out to the field.

We began the morning at the top of the cinder cone and found a new exposure that was uncovered in the last year.

We began the morning at the top of the cinder cone and found a new exposure that was uncovered in the last year.

I know what you’re thinking…it looks like a wall of pillow lavas. (By the way, Team Iceland’s work on pillow lavas continues.)

It's actually a wall of welded bombs and spatter.

It’s actually a wall of welded bombs and spatter. These blobs of lava were ejected explosively during an eruption and fused to one another on the rim of the cone.

Kyle Burden ('14), shown here taking careful notes, will be working on the welded bomb wall using an approach similar to the one Team Iceland used on pillow lavas. He'll be collecting high-resolution images with a GigaPan and making careful measurements of bombs across the exposure.

Kyle Burden (’14), shown here taking careful notes, will be working on the welded bomb wall using an approach similar to the one Team Iceland used on pillow lavas. He’ll be collecting high-resolution images with a GigaPan and making careful measurements of bombs across the exposure.

After a morning on the cinder cones, we descended into the lava fields.

Candy Thornton ('14) contemplates her field area. She'll be documenting features in the lava flows to determine whether they inflated as they were emplaced.

Candy Thornton (’14) contemplates her field area. She’ll be documenting features in the lava flows to determine whether they inflated as they were emplaced.

One of the features that Candy will be studying are these striae, which are grooves that formed on the sides of a mound called a tumulus. The striae indicate that the interior of the mound moved up relative to the outer crust while the lava was partially molten.

One of the features that Candy will be studying are these striae, which are grooves that formed on the sides of a mound called a tumulus. The striae indicate that the interior of the mound moved up relative to the outer crust while the lava was partially molten.

 

 

Products of an angry giant

June 4th, 2013

SicilyCyclopeanIslands060413CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–They may look like impressive sea stacks to you, but it turns out these are three huge stones thrown by the aggrieved and wounded cyclops Polyphemus at Odysseus as he escaped that infernal cave. Who knew?

This morning we traveled north of Catania to the Ciclopi Marine Protected Area near Aci Castello and Aci Trezza to look at the evidence of the ancient volcanic activity that led to Mount Etna, and to snorkel and dive on the life-encrusted rocks in the blue, blue waters.

Island060413We took a boat ride all of about 300 meters across the bay to the tiny island of Lachea, shown above. Notice that there is a crack running through the rocks seen just above the boat. This is an active fault that runs through the middle of the island. Also note that there is a mix of light and dark rocks visible.

IslandBasalticIntrusion060413Lachea is a combination of whitish marls and claystones above with black basalt injected from below. This is the very beginning of volcanic activity in this region as hot magma began to work its way into the overlying sediments of a shallow sea. When the lava erupted onto the seafloor, masses of pillow basalts formed (see previous post). The cyclopean rocks in the top image are eroded roots of the massive basalt flows. They show beautiful columnar jointing.

Etnafromisland060413From Lachea we can see the glowering outline of Mount Etna, the true giant in our story.

StationSign060413The island of Lachea and its surrounding rocks has been the site of a research station for over a century. The fauna and flora of both the island and the seafloor down to 110 meters are protected by law.

IslandLizard585This pretty green lizard is common on Lachea and apparently endemic (found only there). It is Podarcis sicula ciclopica. Its mating season of three months is about to begin, so there was much lizardly activity.

Grotto060413One of the first places we visited on the island was this tiny historical grotto. Only five of us could crawl into this completely dark chamber at a time. Once inside you can carefully stand up and (at least some of us) touch your head on the ceiling. That turned out to be a mistake because the guiding biologists then show you the unique cave spiders hanging on their webs about your ears!

Lunch060413Finally I must show you at least one of our large Sicilians lunches, this one back in Catania after our morning marine excursion. We are eating well, if a bit later than usual — and with much more time in the process!

 

A Journey Inside the Volcano

May 31st, 2013

ICELAND – You may remember that Team Iceland is trying to determine the origin of interesting columnar-jointed features exposed in the interior of a subglacial pillow ridge. We have several hypotheses, one of which is that they could be related to the internal magma plumbing system. There’s no better way to know what’s inside of a volcano than by actually going there. Fortunately, we’re able to explore the interior of nearby Thrihnukagigur Volcano through the Inside the Volcano Tour. If you have the chance, you should check out their amazing image and video galleries.

Thrihnukagigur has three volcanic peaks, one of which is a cinder cone with a crater that opens up into a 400 ft deep volcanic chamber. Our goal was to explore the chamber for units and structures that might be analogous to the features we observed in the quarries. The tour began with a 2 mile hike to the volcano over lava flows that were 4,000 and 10,000 years old.

View of Thrihnukagigur Cone and the Inside the Volcano hut (at the base to the right) from the surrounding lava fields. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

View of Thrihnukagigur Cone from the surrounding lava fields. The Inside the Volcano tour has a warm hut at the base of the cone. (The white structure is difficult to see against the field of snow). Photo Credit: Ellie Was

At the hut, we were fitted with safety equipment for our descent into volcano.

At the hut, we were fitted with safety equipment for our descent into the volcano. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

We crossed this bridge to get into the open-air basket that took us into the volcanic chamber. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

We crossed this bridge to get into the open-air basket that took us into the volcanic chamber. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

The view down the open volcanic neck from the basket. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

The view down the open volcanic neck from the basket. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

View from below of the lift descending into the chamber.

View from below of the lift descending into the chamber.

Michael Williams ('16, Wooster), Adam Silverstein ('16, Wooster), and Liz Plascencia ('16, Dickinson) in the volcano. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Michael Williams (’16, Wooster), Adam Silverstein (’16, Wooster), and Liz Plascencia (’16, Dickinson) in the volcano. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

We saw some features that are analogous to our quarry observations. Here, on the left, we see a contact between the underlying Moberg Formation and the overlying lavas that make up much of the volcanic center. The dark black vertical rocks near the center of the photo are dikes that cut across the lava flows and have heated and altered the surrounding rocks, turning them red.

We saw some features that are analogous to our quarry observations. Here, on the left, we see a contact between the dark underlying Moberg Formation and the colorful overlying lavas that make up much of the volcanic center. The black vertical rocks near the center of the photo are dikes that cut across the lava flows. The dikes have heated and altered the surrounding rocks, turning them red.

This appears to be an irregularly shaped intrusion with an open cavity.

This appears to be an irregularly shaped intrusion with an open cavity that might have transported magma to different parts of the volcano during the eruption. Notice the person in the center bottom for scale.

I have failed to mention that we battled driving sleet and 45 mph winds to hike to and from the volcano. Here's part of our group linking arms to stay on their feet as they hike back from the volcano. Our guides were superb and made sure everyone was safe during each part of our trip.

Did I mention that we battled driving sleet and 45 mph winds to hike to and from the volcano? Here’s part of our group linking arms to stay on their feet as they hike back from the volcano. Our guides were superb and made sure everyone was safe during each part of our trip. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Ellie Was ('14, Dickinson), Alex Hiatt ('14, Wooster), and Aleks Perpalaj ('14, Dickinson) after their return hike. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Ellie Was (’14, Dickinson), Alex Hiatt (’14, Wooster), and Aleks Perpalaj (’14, Dickinson) after their return hike. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Team Iceland warms up with hot coffee and homemade Icelandic stew.

Team Iceland warms up with hot coffee and homemade Icelandic stew. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

The t-shirt that says it all. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

The t-shirt that says it all. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

It was an incredible Icelandic experience! Much thanks to the Inside the Volcano Team for their excellent knowledge, guidance, and hospitality!

Fantastic Weather Makes Productive Field Days

May 28th, 2013

ICELAND – Team Iceland made the most of the beautiful weather over the last two days. After spending all day in the field yesterday, we went back after dinner;  the lighting was just right to take GigaPan images of the field site.

Aleks ('14, Dickinson) and Ben (Dickinson) set up the GigaPan to take a panoramic image of the quarry.

Aleks (’14, Dickinson) and Ben (Dickinson) set up the GigaPan to take a panoramic image of the quarry.

This is a simple panorama made of three images stitched together. The GigaPan system allows us to merge over 100 images to produce a high-resolution image.

This is a simple panorama made of three images stitched together. The GigaPan system allows us to merge over 100 images to produce a high-resolution image.

Our plan is to couple the high-resolution GigaPan images with elevation information from the laser range finger. Here, Michael ('16, Wooster) and Ellie ('14, Dickinson) are recording the elevations of contacts along the quarry walls.

Our plan is to couple the high-resolution GigaPan images with elevation information from the laser range finder. Here, Michael (’16, Wooster) and Ellie (’14, Dickinson) are recording the elevations of contacts along the quarry walls.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are mapping and sampling the different units. Adam ('16, Wooster) and Aleks ('14, Dickinson) are ready to sample a glassy pillow lava.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are mapping and sampling the different units. Adam (’16, Wooster) and Aleks (’14, Dickinson) are ready to sample a glassy pillow lava.

Alex ('14, Wooster) describes a volcanic breccia unit.

Alex (’14, Wooster) describes a volcanic breccia unit. Photo Credit: Aleks Perpalaj

Liz ('16, Dickinson) carefully describes the mineralogy and vesicularity of a sample.

Liz (’16, Dickinson) carefully observes the mineralogy and vesicularity of a sample. Photo Credit: Aleks Perpalaj

Ben and I are having a blast working in the quarry (no pun intended).

Ben and I are having a blast working in the quarry (no pun intended). We’ve seen a number of interesting features that have our minds racing. Photo Credit: Aleks Perpalaj

We're currently puzzled over these large, light gray, columnar jointed features.

We’re currently puzzled by these large, light gray, columnar jointed features.

 

The puzzling features are associated with these steeply dipping pillow lavas, which might lead to some insights into their origin.

The puzzling features are associated with these steeply dipping pillow lavas, which might lead to some insights into the origin of the features and enhance our understanding of the formation of subglacial pillow ridges.

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