The Bear Post

July 25th, 2014

One of the wonderful benefits of working in the wilderness is the potential for interaction with wildlife. Sometimes, we’re entertained by energetic jackrabbits. Sometimes, camels eat our lunch. Always, we keep safety at the forefront.

The British Columbia team was fortunate to see majestic bald eagles, curious stone sheep, and many (many) marmots in their natural habitat. We also saw several bears.

Most of the bears that we saw were black bears eating the fresh grass alongside the road.

Most of the bears that we saw were black bears eating the fresh grass alongside the road.

However, the very first night in the field, we saw grizzlies.

The yellow arrow is pointing to a momma grizzly and her cub. Part of our group is standing on the edge of our campsite.

The yellow arrow is pointing to a momma grizzly and her cub. Our anxious group is standing on the edge of our campsite.

We were well prepared for a moment like this. Before going to the field, we had several long discussions about bear safety. We knew that the best strategy is to avoid a confrontation. At all times, each of us carried our own bear spray, a pepper spray with a strong propellant. We also had bear bangers, fire-cracker cartridges that are launched with a pen-like launcher. One of the first things we did when we arrived in the field was practice using the bear spray and bear bangers.

The bangers worked just as they were designed when we used them that first night. We spotted the momma grizzly and her cub walking across the ridge toward our camp. They didn’t change their course after the first bear banger, so we set off another. The second banger caused them to stop, and the third startled them into running in the opposite direction. Confrontation avoided!

As an added precaution, we set up a portable electric bear fence around our tents. The gentle tick of the fence was a comfort at night.

Another Perspective on British Columbia

July 17th, 2014

Guest blogger: Liz Plascencia

15 days. 22 bears. 4 bald eagles. 47 rock samples.

Wow. What a trip. I, a native Los Angeles city dwelling kid, have had the utmost pleasure of accompanying such a dynamic and energetic team of geologists to Mt. Edziza. Northern British Columbia is absolutely unreal. Far from the city lights and piercing sirens, our camp was nestled between Pillow Ridge and Tsekone Ridge. We spent a solid five days in the field collecting a variety of physical samples such as pillow lava, breccia, lapilli tuff, xenoliths, etc. We also spent a great deal of time quantitatively and qualitatively describing pillow lava from the west side of Pillow Ridge with trend and plunge measurements, vesicularity estimates, phenocrysts estimates, and horizontal and vertical measurements. Within those five days we celebrated a birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY MEAGEN), Canada Day, The Fourth of July, and overall triumph of a great trip.

The team observing a dyke at Second Canyon, Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC.

The team observing a dyke at Second Canyon, Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC.

Eve Cone in the distance at dusk.

Eve Cone in the distance at dusk.

Quite possibly the greatest thrill of my life, so far.

Quite possibly the greatest thrill of my life, so far.

We are back in lab for these next couple of weeks processing the rock samples from the field. I am really going to miss these two goons. Mary and Julia were the most welcoming Scots. Hopefully there will be more Dickinson College and The College of Wooster collaborations in the near future.

Returned from British Columbia

July 16th, 2014

Bears = 22

Bald Eagles = 4

Wolves = 2

Stone Mountain Sheep = 4

Marmots = Too many

Helicopter Rides = 2

Impromptu Trip to Hyder, AK = 1

Samples Collected = 47

Successful Trip? Most definitely

Fieldwork in British Columbia was hard. We covered a lot of ground both in transit and during hikes, made a number of pillow descriptions, and brought back more samples than we had initially intended. It was also cold, it rained, it snowed, it hailed, the wind blew, bears roamed near camp, and the talus slopes were unforgiving. But it never felt like work because each day was met with laughter, learning, beautiful sunsets, Nutella, and a definite feeling of accomplishment. It is so difficult to explain just how amazing our time in British Columbia was, because it was one of the most unforgettable experiences ever. The images below allow for a visual story of our trip, when words simply don’t suffice.

Photo credit to Mary R; The provincial park where we camped (located near Pillow Ridge) allows no vehicle access, which makes traveling by air critical. Note basecamp in the background.

Photo credit to Mary R; The provincial park where we camped (located near Pillow Ridge) allows no vehicle access, which makes traveling by air critical. Note basecamp in the background.

Photo credit to Liz P; A nice pillow exposure interlaid with tuff breccia on Pillow Ridge, with Julia F. for scale.

Photo credit to Liz P; A nice pillow exposure interlaid with tuff breccia on Pillow Ridge, with Julia F. for scale.

Photo credit: Mary R; Mount Edziza stratovolcano located west of basecamp.

Photo credit: Mary R; Mount Edziza stratovolcano located west of basecamp.

Photo credit: Julia F; A sunset view from basecamp. Pictured on the horizon is Eve Cone, one of the youngest cinder-cone volcanoes in the provincial park.

Photo credit: Julia F; A sunset view from basecamp. Pictured on the horizon is Eve Cone, one of the youngest cinder-cone volcanoes in the provincial park.

Photo Credit: Ben E. British Columbia field excursion summer 2014, we made it (more or less) in one piece.

Photo Credit: Ben E. British Columbia field excursion summer 2014, we made it (more or less) in one piece.

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

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).

PREP WORK/ WHY WE ARE GOING:

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.

T-MINUS 24 HOURS:

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. 

IMG_6085

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.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Marrella splendens (Burgess Shale, Middle Cambrian, British Columbia)

January 15th, 2012

The first story about this iconic fossil is the trouble I went through to get the photograph above. Our specimen of Marrella splendens is preserved in the common Burgess Shale fashion as a thin dark film on a black piece of shale. A normal photograph would show just a black rock with a grayish smudge. To increase the contrast, I coated the fossil with mineral oil and used very bright lights to capture the image. I then tweaked the contrast further with Photoshop. Curiously, a black envelope appeared around the specimen that resembles the famous dark stain found with some Burgess Shale fossils. It may be remnants of body fluids.

Before I go further, I must clarify the origins of this fossil from the Burgess Shale (Middle Cambrian) near Burgess Pass, British Columbia, Canada. I did NOT collect it. The Burgess Shale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so collecting there is restricted to a very small group of paleontologists who have gone through probably the most strict permitting system anywhere. I had a wonderful visit to the Burgess Shale with my friend Matthew James in 2009, and we followed all the rules. (The above is a photo of the Burgess Shale outcrop and its extraordinary setting.) Our Wooster specimen was in our teaching collection when I arrived. I suspect it was collected in the 1920s or 1930s. Marrella splendens is one of the most common Burgess Shale fossils, so no doubt there are many out there in older collections.

(Reconstruction from Stephen Jay Gould's famous Burgess Shale book titled "Wonderful Life".)

Marrella splendens is supposedly the first fossil Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered in the Burgess Shale in 1909. He called it a “lace crab”, and then later as a strange trilobite. Later work by Harry Whittington demonstrated that it was neither a crab nor a trilobite. It is likely a stem-group arthropod (near the base of arthropod phylogeny).

Marrella splendens was probably a bottom-dwelling deposit-feeder living on organic material in the seafloor sediment. There are thousands and thousands of specimens known in the Burgess Shale. They are preserved in many different angles, providing the first evidence that some sort of sedimentary mass movement was involved in the formation of this famous unit.

Walcott invented the name Marrella in honor of John Edward Marr (1857-1933). Marr was a paleontologist at Cambridge University in England. By the end of his career he was a Fellow of the Geological Society and the Royal Society, hence FGS and FRS follow his name.

Reference:

García-Bellido, D.C. and Collins, D.H. 2006. A new study of Marrella splendens (Arthropoda, Marrellomorpha) from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, British Columbia, Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 43: 721-742.

Saying goodbye to the Canadian Rockies — for now

August 10th, 2009

FIELD, BRITISH COLUMBIA–The IPREP team left the Canadian Rockies yesterday morning with many educational and research ideas, new friends, and thousands of photographs to be shared with students and colleagues. It was an extraordinary experience. We thank Matthew James of Sonoma State University in California for organizing this complex trip, and Randle Robertson of the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation for his generous support of our work and arranging the trail guides. I highly recommend a visit to Field, British Columbia, for anyone interested in paleontology, geology, and natural history. If you go, I guarantee you’ll enjoy your stay at the immaculate and well-designed Fireweed Hostel. Kim and Craig Chapman were friendly, efficient and generous hosts.

There is one more post to come from this trip — a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta.

The IPREP team just below Helen Lake on the hike to the Cambrian stromatolites.

The IPREP team just below Helen Lake on the hike to the Cambrian stromatolites.

Middle Cambrian stromatolites high in the Canadian Rockies

August 9th, 2009

FIELD, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA–Our study group was fortunate to meet Whitey Hagadorn (Amherst College and Denver Museum of Natural History) and Sally Walker (University of Georgia) for a hike to an exposure of stromatolites in the Pika Formation (Middle Cambrian) near Lake Helen and Lake Katherine in Banff National Park. A stromatolite is a finely-laminated sedimentary rock produced by mats of cyanobacteria in a shallow sea collecting and trapping thin layers of sediment. They are relatively common features in Precambrian sediments (the oldest of fossils, in fact) and become significantly more rare in younger rocks (although they are still around today). These Cambrian stromatolites are interesting because of what they can tell us about Cambrian marine conditions, including tidal dynamics, bioturbation, and grazing herbivore pressures.

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Stromatolites exposed as domal structures in this eroding outcrop of the Pika Formation (Middle Cambrian) above Helen Lake in Banff National Park.

A natural cross-section of the Pika Formation stromatolites showing their laminated nature and sediment which has accumulated around their heads.

A natural cross-section of the Pika Formation stromatolites showing their laminated nature and sediment which has accumulated around their heads.

A hardground (light unit) exposed in cross-section in the sediment between stromatolite heads.  This is a layer of carbonate sediment which was cemented on the seafloor and then eroded by currents.  The dark sediment was deposited later on top of the scoured surface.  The hardground layer had been previously burrowed when still soft.

A hardground (light unit) exposed in cross-section in the sediment between stromatolite heads. This is a layer of carbonate sediment which was cemented on the seafloor and then eroded by currents. The dark sediment was deposited later on top of the scoured surface. The hardground layer had been previously burrowed when still soft.

Beautiful folds in the rocks above the Pika Formation stromatolites.  They are nearly recumbent in some parts.  I'll leave their interpretation to my structural geologist colleagues Sam Root and Shelley Judge!

Beautiful folds in the rocks above the Pika Formation stromatolites. They are nearly recumbent in some parts. I'll leave their interpretation to my structural geology colleagues Sam Root and Shelley Judge!

A marmot on the banks of Helen Lake.  Not at all camera shy, this little guy.

A marmot on the banks of Helen Lake. Not at all camera shy, this little guy.

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