Some wildflowers from the western islands of Estonia

July 17th, 2012

TALLINN, ESTONIA–This is a tradition on my field trips: a sampling of flowers we’ve seen. We are so fortunate to be working in such a beautiful place. It would be a pity not to share. I don’t have any identifications, so feel free to add them in the comments. [The above flower is Campanula persicifolia.]

(Actually I do know that this is a thistle and a Six-Spotted Burnet moth.)

This wild rose has raindrops from the first downpour we experienced at Undva Pank.

This geranium-like flower is one of the most common on Saaremaa.

This is the first time I’ve seen these little red stars.

These long yellow shoots were found only on the alvars on the Sarve Peninsula on Hiiumaa.

These look a bit like Mountain Laurel at home.

I have no idea what these lily-like flowers are. They are striking in the field.

A museum visit: Institute of Geology at Tallinn University of Technology

July 17th, 2012

TALLINN, ESTONIA–This morning Bill Ausich and I examined fossils in the collections of the Institute of Geology at Tallinn University of Technology (the cool exterior of which is shown above). The Chief Curator, Ursula Toom, generously came in from her vacation to show us some important Ordovician and Silurian crinoid specimens, as well as assemblages from the Lower Silurian throughout Estonia. We had an excellent time looking at gorgeous fossils in a classic museum. (We were here in 2009 with Rob McConnell and Palmer Shonk as well.)

It must be an interesting place if they bolt a rock up off the ground in front!

Bill is here looking at crinoids Ursula set aside for us to examine. Note his use of an iPad for taking notes and images, just like Wooster geologists did last year at Ohio State. Bill carries his entire pdf library with him on his iPad, and makes many annotated images of museum specimens.

Typical hall of cabinets in the Institute of Geology. Each set of drawers is on a mechanical device for closing the aisles to increase storage space.

This is a row of cabinets with one drawer opened. Note the use of a drawer partially opened underneath for support. (A rough experience once before I learned this trick …)

A typical drawer of specimens. These are newly collected from the Reinu Quarry by our friend and colleague Olev Vinn.

A specimen label. Unfortunately some are nearly indecipherable. Sometimes it is because a Russian worker was transliterating information into Latin letters. There is often an interesting mix between the Russian, Estonian and English languages. Fortunately Ursula and others can quickly translate for us!

We enjoyed working in the Institute of Geology collections very much. They are not only superbly organized, much of their content is listed (and even imaged) online. We saw many critical specimens, and Bill was able to borrow some important crinoids. Thank you to Ursula for her kindness and excellent assistance!

 

Goodbye Hiiumaa, Hello Tallinn!

July 16th, 2012

TALLINN, ESTONIA–Early this morning the Wooster/OSU geologists left the Estonian island of Hiiumaa on the ferry from the port of Heltermaa (58° 52′ N, 23° 3′ E; seen above). After a 90-minute ferry ride, we landed on the Estonian mainland. We looked briefly at some quarries near Pusku south of Haapsalu (the limestones were too dolomitized for our liking) and then made the two-hour drive to Tallinn. After negotiating the most miserable intersection in Europe (which is under perpetual construction), we at last gassed up our cars and turned them in to the Sixt rental agency. There is nothing quite like the feeling of returning vehicles safely after such a long trip — it is only topped by returning students safely to their homes, of course! We are now in Tallinn for two nights. Bill and I have an appointment with the chief curator at the Institute of Geology in Tallinn as our students take a day off in the city. We are all staying at the St. Barbara Hotel near Old Town — a place beloved by many past Wooster students (depending on whether we have drunk Russians serenading us from the street all night.) I like that the building stone is a beautiful local Ordovician limestone.

The coiled-and-ribbed fossil mystery deepens on Hiiumaa

July 15th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–It has been a rainy day on the Estonian island of Hiiumaa. The Wooster geologists stayed inside most of the day to work on their Geological Society of America abstracts. Bill Ausich and his Ohio State University team, though, returned to the Hilliste Quarry and continued to collect fossils. To our great surprise, they picked up two more specimens of that strange planispirally-coiled shell that Richa found on July 13. One is shown above, and the “venter” view is shown below. All specimens were found in a yellowish unit that matches the matrix in the fossils (although we’ll check in the lab to make certain). These new finds reduce the chances that the fossils are a product of “site contamination” in which a visitor discards specimens from a previous trip, often to make room for new ones. That is still a possibility, but an increasingly remote one.

So what are these? They look very much like Mesozoic ammonites, all the way down to deflections of ribs along the periphery as you might be able to see above. (Specimen photography in a hotel room has its challenges.) The earliest ammonoids, the larger group that contains ammonites, appear in the Devonian (the period after the Silurian), so it is unlikely we are looking at that group. They are certainly mollusks, though, so most likely gastropods (snails) or nautiloids. Coincidentally enough, Wooster alumnus James St. John has a webpage with a photograph of a coiled, ribbed nautiloid known as Graftonoceras, which you will note has many similarities with our mystery critter. The specimen he photographed is in the museum at, of all places, Ohio State!

The last holdouts of pagan Europe

July 14th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–The little island of Muhu between Saaremaa and the Estonian mainland, had a large prehistoric population — much larger than it has today. The Muhu Estonians built a large fort of stone heaps near the western coast opposite Saaremaa so that they could control the traffic and trade through the Small Strait. The remains of that fortification are seen above. In January 1227, Teutonic Crusaders cornered the last of the pagan Estonians in this stronghold. (They were, in fact, among the last pagans in all of Europe.) Reports say that 20,000 soldiers besieged 2500 Estonian warriors for six days here. All the Estonians were killed save one, who escaped by pretending to be a victorious crusader. Most of the stones of the fort were removed to build the causeway between Muhu and Saaremaa, but the site remains as a ring of earthen walls and a stone monument (below) marking the bloody battlefield.

Wooster geologists return to Saaremaa and Muhu one last time

July 14th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–Today the Wooster/OSU team crossed the strait between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa to visit some earlier sites one last time on this trip. The Ohio State paleontologists stayed on the northern part of Saaremaa to look for crinoids and Panga, Ninase and Undva Cliffs; the Wooster geologists went farther south and west to visit Soeginina Pank (above) and Nick Fedorchuk’s 2011 field area. This was important to us so that we could compare observations here to Richa Ekka’s exposure of these beds on the eastern side of the island.

Richa stands by Nick’s Soeginina locality to compare it to her own rocks. This Soeginina section seems considerably more dolomitized in the west than the east.

Jonah and Richa at Nick’s outcrop. Richa is pointing to the Wenlock/Ludlow boundary horizon, and Jonah is showing the stromatolite layer near the top of the section. Richa’s section in the east begins somewhere above her finger.

We were impressed by how poorly preserved the stromatolites are in Nick’s section compared to the gorgeous specimens Richa studied earlier this week. You can barely make out the laminae in this western sample. Look here at its equivalent in the east.

Another difference we noted between the Richa and Nick sections was that Nick’s has thin coral branches (above) in storm layers whereas Richa’s does not. Nick’s oncoids are also larger and more complex.

The amount of damage the Soeginina Pank outcrop received in the last year is astonishing. I had worried about our hammer blows leaving noticeable marks on the rocks. The freshly fallen blocks on the cliff above appeared since our visit last June. Much of this is likely due to ice floes slamming into the rocks during the winter.

After our observations at Soeginina Pank, the Wooster geologists drove to Muhu to visit an historical site (more later on that), then went north through Orissaare to Triigi where we reunited with our OSU companions and boarded the ferry for the ride back to our hotel on Hiiumaa. Our two matching field vehicles are seen above at the front of the ferry. We weren’t going to miss the last ferry to the island!

Quarry work continues on Hiiumaa

July 13th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–It was a beautiful Baltic day in the Hilliste Quarry on Hiiumaa. Thunderstorms swept by us to the east, but we stayed dry and enjoyed the quickly-changing cloudscape. The Wooster/OSU team was again studying the Hilliste Formation for both its crinoid content and general paleoecology. We did very well.

The typical limestone in the quarry is a biosparite/grainstone as seen above. The most common grains are bits of crinoid stems. The OSU team has found a few crinoid calices and calyx parts, but not as many as you would think given the enormous amount of crinoid skeletal debris in the unit.

It looks like a theme of this year’s Wooster study in the Hilliste Formation may be the sclerobiont (hard substrate-dwelling) fauna, especially the encrusters on corals, stromatoporoids and crinoid stems. Above you see an auloporid coral (the larger tubes connected at their bases) encrusting a favositid coral. Our other encrusters include crinoid holdfasts (three varieties), cornulitids (a kind of worm tube), sheet-like bryozoans, runner-like bryozoans (corynotrypids), and erect bryozoan holdfasts. As far as I know, no one has described a Rhuddanian sclerobiont fauna before.

We have our share of mysteries. Richa picked up the above coiled shell this morning. Bill and I have not seen anything like it in the Silurian before. If these were Jurassic rocks we would have called it a partial ammonite. We know it is not, but we don’t know what it is. A gastropod like Poleumita discors? A nautiloid cephalopod similar to Bickmorites? We’ll have to figure it out later in the lab.

Here is Jonah on the north quarry wall. We dress him brightly every day so we don’t lose him in the Estonian woods.

Richa is in her own world in the western part of the quarry looking for more paleontological treasures.

And finally, our Estonian animal of the day: a spider dutifully guarding her eggs in the quarry floor rubble. I suspect this is the Robust Crab Spider: Xysticus robustus (Hahn, 1832).
 

 

Exploring the Estonian island of Hiiumaa

July 12th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–The Wooster/OSU geology team took a break today from our usual field routine. We spent the morning consolidating notes and specimens (yes, that means the students slept very late) and then the afternoon seeing some of the major Hiiumaa sites. The highlight was visiting Hiiumaa’s iconic attraction, the Kõpu Lighthouse on the Ristna Cape. It is the oldest lighthouse in the Baltic states and reported to be the third oldest continuously-operated lighthouse in the world. It was completed in 1531 and has been working ever since. The Hanseatic League demanded a lighthouse here beside the most important trade route in the Baltic Sea. The original light was a fire that required 1000 cords of firewood every year, nearly deforesting the surrounding peninsula. The Germans bombed it in 1941, but only damaged its optical structures on top. It was an important navigational aid until 1997 when it was replaced by a modern radar system.

A model of the medieval version of the Kõpu lighthouse in the Tallinn Maritime Museum. Access to the top platform was by a long ladder. The light was a bonfire of pine wood.

The lighthouse staircase is incredibly narrow and steep, being cut into the structure in the 19th century. (Prior to this there was a wooden staircase on the outside.) Richa is better built for such a place than me!

Richa and Jonah wanted an answer to the famous “O-H-I-O” pantomime our OSU friends like to construct, so they made a C-O-W version. The lighthouse window here at the top is the “O”, you see. Maybe it will catch on. Maybe …

Near the end of the afternoon we visited the Ristna Lighhouse and one of the westernmost points on the island. (This is where Alyssa found her famous trilobite.) Richa and Jonah noted that large igneous boulders make excellent posing platforms at the edge of the sea.

As a brief nature vignette, here is a dung beetle (Geotrupes stercorosus) we saw deep in the Estonian woods at our lunch spot. I’m sparing you the dung itself!

What are the chances?

July 12th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–Today the Wooster/OSU Estonia geology team had a day of sightseeing on Hiiumaa. (More on this later.) One of our stops was the Ristna Lighthouse on the Ristna Cape in the far northwest of the island. We walked out onto a gravel spit directly opposite the lighthouse (which you can see as a red tower in the distance above). On the far western end, jutting into the Baltic Sea, Alyssa Bancroft reached down between our feet and picked up this cobble:

How amazing is that? One of the best fossils of the trip. Sure this trilobite lacks important details like stratigraphy and original location, but the story of its finding makes it a treasure!

Another new Independent Study project appears: The Hilliste Formation paleoenvironments and paleoecology

July 11th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–Today Jonah Novek officially began the fieldwork for his Independent Study research: a sedimentological and faunal analysis of the Hilliste Formation (Lower Silurian, Rhuddanian) on Hiiumaa Island, Estonia. Jonah will be continuing the work begun by Rachel Matt (’12) last year in the Hilliste Quarry a few kilometers east of Käina (N 58.87390°, E 022.97198°). He has already today been ably assisted by the generous Ohio State University crew and Richa who gave him numerous fossils they collected from the limestones and shales. Jonah and Richa completed the stratigraphic column today (essentially measurements and descriptions of the rock units, from bottom to top) and began to collect fossils from each unit. We will return at least one more day this week for continued collection.

The Hilliste Formation is very important in evolutionary and ecological studies because it records an Early Silurian “recovery fauna” that lived after the massive end-Ordovician extinctions. There are very few other shelly faunas of this age in the northern hemisphere. This may be the only one that has survived from the ancient paleocontinent of Baltica. The preservation of the fossils is excellent. Above is a heliolitid coral from the unit we have designated “Hi-2″.

Bill Ausich of Ohio State (pictured above in a heroic pose that we call “the Walcott“) found what I think is the most interesting fossil of the day in the Hilliste Quarry. His goal has been to discover as many crinoid calices as possible in the Silurian of the western Estonian islands. Finding such treasures in the Hilliste Quarry started a bit slowly, but he collected this fascinating specimen:

It is a favositid coral surface with two crinoid holdfasts attached. These holdfasts are essentially single roots with little rootlets that gripped the corallites of the coral. There is no more persuasive indicator that crinoids lived with corals here! I had not seen holdfasts like these before, which shows again the value of working with colleagues in the field.

There are also inorganic mysteries in the Hilliste Quarry. Above is an image of a bedding plane near the base of our section (unit Hi-1) that displays ripple marks in a micritic (fine-grained) limestone matrix. The compass shows the north direction, as does the measuring stick. We don’t know how ripples are formed in such a fine sediment (the particles would have been near clay size), nor what environmental forces they indicate. We do know that some show interference patterns (possibly from wave currents) and that they show similar directional orientations.

The only place in the quarry that exposes our lowest unit, by the way, has this wasp’s nest hanging over it. The wasps understandably are quite irritated by hammer blows on the rocks around them, so we must be watchful at this spot!

Good luck to Jonah as he begins his capstone college intellectual adventure. We’ll have more about this project later this week!

 

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