First day at Vatnsdalsfjall

July 7th, 2011

BLONDUOS, ICELAND: Guest Blogger: Lindsey

Yesterday was our first day of field work on Vatnsdalsfjall, a mountain located on the Skagi peninsula. Vatnsdalsfjall exposes lavas erupted 7 million years ago from an ancient rift located to the West. We know this because the lava flows in this area dip towards the ancient rift axis in the West; yes Dr. Judge, we used a Brunton compass! We hiked up through a sheep field to the base of the outcrop; we then continued hiking up a gulley until we started to see zeolites. The first zeolites we saw were also found with a green clay:

Green clay and filled vesicles in our first zeolite-bearing outcrop

As we climbed higher, we continued to see zeolites in a variety of sizes. Travis’s tip to me was to look for the white zeolites, as these are more diagnostic of their environment of formation (temperature). It was important to keep track of the units we were climbing up through, as boundaries between flows were frequent.

Travis demonstrates proper use of a field notebook

Because of the steeply dipping flows, we had to bear in mind that as we got higher, the units being exposed were actually stratigraphically underlying the units we had seen earlier at the base of the gully. One particular unit of note was a gorgeous plagioclase rich marker bed; it also had zeolites in it that we sampled:

Plagioclase-phyric marker bed

Overall yesterday, we sampled a total of 50 meters of zeolites, and according to Rob Lydell’s (’10) notes, we have about 50 meters left to sample today. Due to the fog we experienced yesterday morning, we decided to go out this afternoon so that we could see a little bit better:

Travis perches on a slope to take notes, notice the fog in the background!

Unfortunately, this has given me more time to dread this afternoon’s hike-Travis and I are pretty sure that Vatnsdalsfjall literally translates to “Death Mountain” in english as this is the steepest thing he or I have ever hiked.

"How do Mountain goats do this?!?!" -Travis

Not only is it steep, the loose apple to watermelon-sized talus makes every step treacherous; I bit it a couple of times and I have the bruises to show for it! I know our Alaskan colleagues probably have no sympathy as it sounds like their hiking was rigorous as well! However, the successful sampling we completed yesterday as well as the panoramic views of the valley below over PB&J at lunchtime make it well worth it.

Thingvellir and the trip North

July 6th, 2011

Blonduos, Iceland-

[Guest blogger: Travis Louvain]

So as we completed the research on the Reykjanes Penninsula, we traveled up north to the Skagi Peninsula to a town called Blonduos.

Car pictures are always a necessity.

On the way we stopped at a place called Thingvellir. This site is home of the first Icelandic Parliament and a beautiful national park.

A beautiful stream that cuts right through the middle of the main fissure.

The place was chosen by the early Icelanders because it was relatively easy to access and because it is a amazingly flat valley. Why is this? Well that’s where the geology comes in. This national park is not only home to the first parliament but also it is a site of active rifting.

 

Path through the middle of a large fissure leading to the site of the original parliament. When it met they used to make speeches from the taller side of the fissure to a crowd listening on the other side.

So the flat valley is actually the result of the two plates rifting away from one another. This can clearly be seen in the large fissures which are a highlight of this site.

 

Large fissures run through the ground all over the place. Some are only a foot deep, but some drop for tens of feet.

The rift valley from atop the large fissure.

After this we continued driving north mostly along the coast. At one point we went under a large fjord by way of tunnel and under the following mountain before coming out on the other side where we stopped for lunch. As we drove we saw many sheep and horse farms. We also drove up into the mountains where the mountain tops were still covered with snow.

Snowy mountaintop. We continued seeing sheep roaming even at these high altitudes.

As we drove to Blonduos we passed my field site and decided to ask permission to go up the mountain side. As I sat in the car wondering whether or not I was going to have an I.S. or not, I couldn’t help but laugh at Dr. Pollock making gestures with her arms while talking to the lady who owned the land. It turns out that the lady spoke English fairly well and Dr. Pollock was just using large hand gestures cause she liked to, but the good news was that she gave us permission to go up the mountain.

After this, we continued to Blonduos which happened to be very close. We checked in to our cabin which was complete with a kitchen, bathroom, fridge, propane grill, and a hot tub. Yes, a hot tub!

Well to wrap up today I finished a video that I’ve been working on from our fourth day where we explored the southern portion of the Reykjanes Peninsula. I hope you enjoy it.

The Southern Reykjanes Adventure

Last day at Undirhlíðar

July 4th, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND: Guest blogger: Lindsey

Today we wrapped up my field work in Undirhlíðar by double-checking our annotated photos and a brief tour of the West wall to confirm our hypothesis that the olivine rich pillow unit continued consistently along this section. We had a quick lunch before heading off to Krysuvik, about 30 minutes south of where we were staying to see some sights we had read about yesterday but had unfortunately missed on our excursion. We first came to Kleifarvatn, a large lake with black sand beaches with a legendary worm-like monster residing in its depths. We spotted it immediately:

Nessy's cousin

We then traveled a little further to Seltun, a large geothermal field seated at the base of a ridge. This area was drilled to supply energy to nearby Hafnarfjordur, but a silica build up in the borehole caused the area to explode in 1999. Another interesting thing to note about this area is the legendary Hverafugl, or “hot spring bird” that supposedly hops into a geothermal vent to hide from humans when they approach. People don’t really believe they exist anymore as a picture has never been taken of one, but older generations believe the birds are apparitions in the steam that represent spirits of the dead. We did not see any Hverafugls, they were clearly hiding.

A geothermal vent at Seltun geothermal field

I decided to stick my hand in to see if it was hot- it was. Can you imagine what the vikings must have thought when they first saw water boiling up out of the ground?

Theory to practice

We then continued a little further to Graenavatn, a strange green lake that is supposedly an old explosion crater. The green color is due to the minerals from the nearby geothermal field as well as algae.

Graenavatn

At this point we turned around and came back as we had seen a lot of the peninsula yesterday, and seeing as we haven’t shared the sights on the blog yet, we thought our Estonian colleagues would appreciate seeming some coastline with real cliffs- no offense Nick, your study site is really cute! We started in Hafnarfjordur and ended in Rekjavik (bad map) but saw some incredible things along the way!

The first stop was at Leif the Lucky’s bridge, a spot where you can travel across the bridge from the North American to the Eurasian plate. It was so cold, rainy and windy!

Travis and I halfway between two continents

Stop number 2 was Valahnukur, a coastal area with dramatic black cliffs and powerful waves. We added Icleandic horses to our wildlife list as some were in a field right off the road to the ocean.

Windblown Icelandic horses

The cliffs hosted a large population of seabirds, the most famous of which was the Great Auk, a now extinct breed of flightless bird. The last Great Auk was apparently shot, killed and eaten on a small island 10 km off the coast. Some countries try breeding programs, Iceland has a BBQ.

The Great Auk statue at Valahnukur contemplates its demise

Our last stop of mention yesterday was in Gunnuhver, a geothermal area named after Gunna-a legendary witch/vengeful woman depending on the guide book you read. The story that I like best is that Gunna didn’t like her neighbor, so killed him and his wife. The other villagers instructed her to hold on to a knotted rope, she complied and they then dragged her into the geothermal springs where she perished. We all thought that this story was missing some explanations and was probably literally translated from Icelandic.

Gunna's grave

After a long afternoon of sightseeing, we headed back home to cook dinner at our cozy guesthouse.

Happy Fourth of July to our Estonian colleagues in return! Today we found BBQ sauce and corn-on-the-cob at the grocery store and had a lovely celebratory dinner!

Travis makes liberal use of the lighter fluid

Perhaps if we had been able to combine the Estonian weather with our Icelandic dinner we would have had a pretty good approximation of an American Fourth of July!

Off to Travis’s study site in Blonduous tomorrow.

Tubes, Trolls, and the West Wall

July 4th, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND- [guest bloggers Travis and Lindsey]

We only spent about 2 hours in Undirhlíðar yesterday due to the gale force winds that sent basalt shrapnel flying into our faces, in particular our eyeballs. It wasn’t raining luckily, as raindrops probably would have been lethal at that wind speed. We made an awesome discovery though on the Northeast wall- A lava tube! We were climbing up a talus pile when we noticed the hole leading down into the wall.

Travis is either falling in or being dragged in by a troll.

Here is what Travis and I hypothesized:
1. Troll den
2. Center of the earth
3. Dinosaurs
Unfortunately, Dr. Pollock didn’t let Travis get into the lava tube, though he tried his best to convince her. Reasons Travis thought getting inside the lava tube was a good idea:
1. We would find the base of the pillow unit
2. She would become the most famous geologist of all time
3. Dr. Wilson would let me
Reasons Dr. Pollock said no:
1. Because I said so

Travis may be convinced not to go into the lava tube but Lindsey still clings to the idea.

We then moved on to the West wall and found basalt that looked drastically different than anything we had found in the East wall.

The West Wall, Undirlihdar Quarry.

Sizable olivine and plagioclase crystals were in all of the rock units we saw in the Southern end of the West wall.

 

Large olivine phenocrysts within the basalts of the west wall!

Today is our last day of field work in the quarries, we’ll keep you updated on our continued adventures.

Using the iPad in geologic field work-Part 2

July 2nd, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND- Guest Blogger: Lindsey Bowman

Our Estonia-based colleagues certainly have an advantage when it comes to timely blog posts; lagging three hours behind we are now appearing redundant in our post topic! We too have been using the iPad 2 in the field, particularly today in Vatnsskarth quarry as the rain has turned into intermittent mist. As Dr. Pollock and Travis took notes in their classic Rite in the Rain field books, I trailed along behind and took photos and annotated directly in front of the outcrop they were sketching.

Annotating the East wall of Vatnsskarth

We found it incredibly useful to take the photo and be able to reference the wall directly in front of us, as subtle differences between columnar and pillow basalts are sometimes hard to see in a photo. We also struggled a little with the glare, but found that Iceland’s weather was actually advantageous as we never saw the sun today. Below is an example of a photo annotated in the field:

Base of the pillow ridge showing glacial sediment directly overlain by basaltic pillows.

However, some photos do require more detailed annotation later in the cafe over a latte.

Annotation of a photo taken previously in the field

Below is a photo from Undirhlíðar that I plan to use in some capacity of my I.S.:

Undirhlíðar- SE wall

We also wanted to share one of our equipment finds that leaves us worry-free about tossing the iPad into our day packs with basalt samples and other sharp or heavy objects. Below is the Otterbox case that we have on the iPad, which not only keeps it safe, but also acts as an easel-like stand for when we want to use the iPad on a flat surface.

Otterbox case leaves us worry-free about the iPad's safety!

We have been using the annotation app ArtStudio which we have found to be flexible and intuitive. We are using a Just Mobile AluPen with the app to make drawing easier; like Dr. Wilson, I have found the stylus helpful.

Stylus > Finger

Finally, to keep the iPad safe from the rain and mist, we have found that a gallon-sized ziploc bag works just fine.

Tomorrow we will head back to Undirhlíðar, since we finished in Vatnsskarth today. We are hoping for clear skies, but watching the mist blow through the quarry and across the rocky landscape today was beautiful. Dr. Pollock mentioned how easy it is to visualize Icelandic folklore and legends in weather like this, and honestly, imagining ghostly vikings emerging from the billowing mist didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

First day of field work in Undirhlíðar Quarry

July 1st, 2011

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND: Guest Blogger: Lindsey Bowman

Today Travis, Dr. Pollock and I started our field work in Undirhlíðar Quarry. It was cold, windy and rainy- perfect for our new rain gear!

Geochemists at work

We started mapping the quarry walls in detail where Becky Alcorn ’11 left off, and made it along the East wall in about six hours. We observed some gorgeous pillow lavas, the most abundant formation in the quarry.

Pillow from the East wall

Undirhlíðar is much larger than I had originally imagined it (certainly a  grander scale than Estonian quarries). Here’s a great picture taken by Travis:

Undirhlíðar quarry wall under consideration by Dr. Pollock and Lindsey Bowman

To brighten up this post, I’d like to nod to the colorful and abundant flora of Iceland. Barren? I think not.

Nootka Lupin outside Undirhlithar

Wood crane's bill

The only fauna that we’ve seen besides seagulls are these unfortunate fish- species unknown.

Dried fish- yummy!

Finally, below is a video taken by Travis today to give you an idea of Undirhlíðar in 3D-

Tomorrow we head to Vatnsskarth to continue our field work!

When Volcanoes Erupt

April 6th, 2011

WOOSTER, OH – Students in the Geology of Natural Hazards course spent a day studying the products of volcanic eruptions. Here are some of the outstanding samples in our volcanic collection:

Reticulite is a delicate network of basaltic glass that forms during Hawaiian fire fountaining. Volatiles expand easily in the low-viscosity magma, creating a dense network of interconnected vesicles separated by thin strands of quenched lava (sideromelane).

Accretionary lapilli are rounded pea-sized pieces of tephra that consist of volcanic ash. Ash aggregates into balls because of electrostatic forces in the eruption column.

Volcanic bombs are formed when lava is ejected and becomes airborne. The fusiform bomb has a rounded aerodynamic shape with an elongated tail, which tells us that the material was molten when it was ejected and was shaped as it traveled through the air.

The glassy surface of this basalt shows the classic ropy texture of pahoehoe. Ropy pahoehoe develops when the surface of a lava flow becomes partially solidified and wrinkles as the underlying lava continues to flow.

Deep in the heart of a lava flow

March 17th, 2011

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–This morning the Wooster Geologists enjoyed an ancient lava flow from the inside. We found our way to a lava tube near the center of the Mojave National Preserve and explored the interior with flashlights and flash cameras. It helped that there were a few “windows” in the basalt roof where sunlight could stream in. As Meagen Pollock (she who lives for basalt) explained, a lava tube is formed when a flow cools on its exterior portions while the lava is still moving.  When the lava drains out at the end of the flow, the result is a long tunnel of basalt.  Lava dripped from the ceilings, making the igneous equivalent of stalactites.  As the flow receded, it left horizontal “bath tub rings” along the side of the tube. It was fun to speculate on how many lava tubes remain undiscovered beneath the many square kilometers of basalt exposed in the Mojave Desert.

Igneous delights at Amboy Crater and in the Granite Mountains

March 16th, 2011

Greg Wiles on the rim of Amboy Crater.

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–This afternoon the Wooster geologists studied two very different magma products in the southern part of our field area. After lunch we drove to Amboy on historic Route 66 and then hiked up to the rim of Amboy Crater. Here we saw the extrusive, mafic rock basalt at its finest in the cinder cone itself and the lava flows across the valley.

Desert iguana on the basalt near Amboy Crater.

After Amboy, we traveled north to the Granite Mountains and examined wonderful alkali granites weathering into rounded boulders. The feldspar crystals in these intrusive felsic rocks were extraordinarily large and numerous, and there were many xenoliths scattered throughout. The countryside here was lush with desert vegetation that made our all-too-brief stop most enjoyable.

An exposure in the Granite Mountains, California.

The feldspar-rich alkali granite in closer view.

“A Creative Adventure”: Wooster Geologist Featured in a Higher Education Article

October 5th, 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO–”When College of Wooster Assistant Professor Meagen Pollock stands in front of one of her geology courses, she’s thinking beyond what her students need to accomplish during that class period, or even during that semester. Pollock is constantly thinking about how she can ensure that her students—all her students—develop good research skills.” This is the beginning of an article in the October 2010 AAC&U News, a widely-read publication of the Association of American Colleges & Universities. The topic is Wooster’s signature Independent Study program. Katie Holt of the Wooster’s Department of History is also featured. We are very proud of our colleagues … and just love the fact that one of our geology students in the field is pictured as an example!

Ali Drushal Sloan ('09) doing Independent Study fieldwork in northern Iceland.

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