GPS Training for Summer Fieldwork

May 17th, 2013

WOOSTER, OH – In preparation for the summer field season, some Wooster Geologists are being trained on new GPS equipment.

Wooster Geologists learn to set up the GPS prior to taking it to the field.

Wooster Geologists learn to set up the GPS prior to taking it to the field.

We learned the importance of thoughtfully crafting a data dictionary prior to heading to the field. Features and  attributes were entered into a database that helps us organize our data as we collect it. For Team Utah, we’ll be collecting features like fractures, joints, tumuli, and samples.

Then we went to the quad to learn how to collect different types of features.

Then we went to the quad to learn how to collect different types of features.

It was a gorgeous day to be training in the field. We learned to collect points, lines, and areas. We also learned about data accuracy and how to ensure that our data are high quality.

Tricia Hall ('14) and Dr. Shelley Judge work together to map a sidewalk.

Tricia Hall (’14) and Dr. Shelley Judge work together to map a sidewalk.

After two days of training, we’re ready to collect GPS data on the cm-scale. This summer, we’ll be able to produce high-resolution maps of our field area and test hypotheses about lava emplacement.


Using the iPad in geological fieldwork

July 2nd, 2011

KÄINA, ESTONIA–It is not yet one of my regular bits of field equipment, and I am certainly far from an expert with its use, but I can say a few things about the value of an iPad in geological fieldwork. This summer I have used it in Israel, Poland and Estonia and it has served me very well.

Despite the dramatic photos here, I have used my iPad2 mostly indoors. It is by far the most convenient field library I have ever had. Laptops are great for storing and displaying pdfs of papers and maps, but it just can’t beat the convenience of simple taps on the iPad screen to pull up astonishingly clear text and images. I use PDFReader Pro so I can easily zoom in and out on the screen with the classic Apple two-finger move. I add documents to this reader and others with Dropbox (recommended to me by Lisa Park), which has the advantage of syncing with all my other computers. (I seem to have more than a few now.) It has never been easier in a remote location to read documents and share them with students and colleagues. My trusty MacBook Pro seems terribly primitive for reading now.

Although I haven’t used them on this trip, I want to mention the excellent geological map programs of Integrity Logic. I have map programs for California, Utah and Ohio. Each comes with 25 layers, including bedrock geology, roads, mines, earthquake epicenters and much more. They are essentially GIS products for the iPad and iPod. I’ve found them most useful when traveling through (or flying over) a region I want to know more about.

For making typed notes indoors and out, I like the app Evernote because the typing is intuitive and it does a good job of correcting my mistakes. I would not use this for serious writing (I can’t yet break free from the laptop for that), it is good for quick notes and, astonishingly, audio recordings and photographs through the iPad camera. I can, if I want, easily talk about an outcrop to my iPad and have it archive my precious words. (I haven’t yet.)

I use Bamboo Paper for sketches in the field and with colleagues around the dinner table. It is great for outlining crazy ideas in six colors. As with Evernote, the results can be emailed from the iPad. (Although I must say, I haven’t made any such notes worthy of leaving the device!) By the way, for sketching I very much like the Boxwave Stylus rather than relying on my fat fingers.

There is a behavioral barrier I’ve had to overcome before taking my iPad into the field itself. Carrying this precious machine in my backpack along with hammers, chisels, water bottles and, eventually, bags of rocks seemed a bad idea. I have a protective cover for the screen, but no sealed box for the whole iPad. I know they’re out there, but I haven’t found one I like. Instead I seal it into a separate pocket as far away from hard, sharp and wet things as possible. So far, no problems, but I hesitate pulling it out in the wilderness with all those hazards for electronics. I’ll get more accustomed to it, I’m sure. (Although I still feel that way about my camera.) Of course, no one would use an iPad in the rain — another reason I don’t work in Iceland.

The most useful apps in the field are again PDFReader Pro for accessing documents downloaded through Dropbox, Evernote and Bamboo Paper. I have been experimenting with Sketchbook Express for taking photographs in the field with the iPad and then annotating them on the spot. It is a very useful way to remember something visual, and the images can be exported out through email. Again, none of these jottings are publication quality — they are quick notes to myself. There is much potential in this latter application for more sophisticated field observations and records.

Taking an image of an outcrop with the iPad camera and then annotating it with Sketchbook Express.

Example of an annotated field image. Not brilliant because it is intended for my own notes alone. (The blogger's dilemma.)

Finally, general iPad apps I like as a geologist include Disaster Alert (realtime maps of disasters around the world), Sunrise Clock (especially helpful when you’ve crossed significant amounts of latitude!), Google Earth (of course), Star Walk (for starry nights), various language translation programs (I try), and GW Mail (for Groupwise email accounts — easier than accessing through a computer).

Again, I’m just starting with the iPad so I know there is much I’m missing. It has not replaced my laptop (I can’t write blog posts with it, for example), so I’ve actually increased the electronics I carry around on trips. I had an awkward moment in the Tel Aviv airport when a security officer looked at my US cell phone, Israeli cell phone, iPod, iPad, Macbook Pro, and GPS and asked why I needed all these things! Indeed. The future no doubt will have some sort of iPad-like device that does it all.

Feel free to add information and ideas through the comments below!

(Photos courtesy of Rachel Matt.)

A pleasant spring afternoon of geology in Ohio

April 22nd, 2010

The College of Wooster 2010 Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class in Spangler Park near Wooster, Ohio. Small classes are such a delight!

WOOSTER, OHIO–I let my Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class talk me into an afternoon field trip to Spangler (or Wooster Memorial) Park just west of town. It was a perfect day of sunshine and cool breezes. While I made plans to measure sections and do other formal geological work, we ended up just enjoying the creek, birds, flowers, rocks, fossils, trees and other delights of Ohio in the spring. We could not have found a better way to celebrate Earth Day.

With the fancy nails of Megan Innis for scale, this is a granitic dropstone in a greenstone known as the Gowganda Tillite. In one of those wonderful geological twists, this rock is a glacial deposit formed in Ontario, Canada, 1.8 billion years ago. It was much later carried to Ohio by a Pleistocene glacier. The dropstone is thus at least twice-removed by ice from its original source.

The class crossing Rathburn Run which flows through the park. The creekbed has many fossiliferous pieces of sandstone, shale and limestone.

An Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) on an oak leaf in Spangler Park.

Urban Dinosaurs

May 27th, 2009

My last geological fieldwork (if we can call it that) in Israel on this trip was to examine the Upper Cretaceous limestones and dolomites exposed in Jerusalem. I far prefer my rocks be found in pristine wilderness areas with only bird songs in the background, but the right rocks, of course, can be anywhere. Sometimes, then, we have to work with traffic zooming by, sirens wailing, blasts of car exhaust, and schoolchildren offering to hammer the rocks for us.

The coolest location was in the moshav of Beit Zeit, just five minutes from downtown Jerusalem. (A moshav is a type of cooperative agricultural community, although in this case heavily urbanized.) A beautiful trackway of ornithomimosaur dinosaur footprints is exposed on a bedding plane of Lower Cenomanian limestone.


The site is of great importance because thus far these are the only dinosaur tracks known in the entire Middle East. The local community purchased the land and erected a protective roof over the trackways. They had a mural painted showing what the area may have looked like in the Cretaceous, installed a custom-made life-size dinosaur model on the bedding plane, and made the area into an educational park. You can see for yourself what happened later. The surrounding fence was too low, so it became a drug hangout, vandals spray-painted the mural and then broke the dinosaur into bits. (The crater where the dinosaur stood is just visible in the photo.)  This natural wonder was simply too accessible to the public.  There are plans to protect the site more thoroughly, and then reconstruct the displays.

I was able to collect a small piece of the limestone bedding plane for analysis back in Wooster. My hypothesis is that the limestone is a marine hardground which cemented very soon after the dinosaurs waded across it, thereby preserving the prints. A thin-section of the rock may show if it had these early cements.

The rest of our urban geological work was on the streets of Jerusalem. Rocky outcrops are common because the city is built on several steep hills which have been quarried for thousands of years. We were able to correct the geological map in some places because of new exposures, and I gathered several ideas for future projects.

Mizzi hilu ("sweet rock"), a lithographic biomicrite member of the Judea Group (Turonian).

Mizzi hilu ("sweet rock"), a lithographic biomicrite member of the Judea Group (Turonian).

The Drawbacks of Working in the Golan Heights

May 26th, 2009

combined052609Today we could visit only one Jurassic site in the Golan. The others were in a militarily sensitive area to which we were not admitted, even after a long conversation with the commanding officer and classic geological special pleading. (“But our American guest, a famous geologist, has come thousands of miles just for these important rocks!”)

So, the fossil of the day will be a Jurassic belemnite from the top bed of the Zohar Formation. These are among the simplest of fossils (basically a calcite dart) but they are remnants of sophisticated cephalopods which are relatives of the modern squid. The fossil belemnite “guard” acted as a stiffening and weighting device inside the soft body.

Belemnite from the Jurassic Zohar Formation.  Note sliver of coin on the right for scale.

Belemnite from the Jurassic Zohar Formation near Neve Atif, The Golan. Note sliver of coin on the right for scale.

Fieldwork in the Golan Heights

May 25th, 2009

I finally got out into the field today. My Israeli colleagues and I left Jerusalem early in the morning and arrived about noon in the Druze village of Majdal Shams on the slopes of Mount Hermon. It is a lovely place with steep hillsides and extraordinary views over green valleys filled with cherry and apple orchards. (I’ll write another post sometime about the complicated politics here, including a long lunchtime lecture I tolerantly received from a Druze man about all the problems in the world coming from “America and the West”. It may have been a good thing that I didn’t quite understand what he was saying until it was explained to me later!)

Part of Majdal Shams seen from the town center and facing Mount Hermon.

Part of Majdal Shams seen from the town center and facing Mount Hermon.

One of the cultivated valleys near Majdal Shams.

One of the cultivated valleys near Majdal Shams.

Our goal today was to examine three marine Jurassic formations (from bottom to top in the geological fashion): the Zohar (mostly limestone), Kidod (mostly shale), and Beersheva (mostly limestone). I had two primary questions: What indications can we find in these rocks of the water depth when they were deposited? What was the intensity of bioerosion of the corals and sponges in these units? Both questions are part of larger studies placing these rocks in context with the rest of the known Jurassic world. This region was on the equator when these units were formed, so we have an unusual opportunity to study Jurassic equatorial ecological conditions.

As is often the case in paleontology, we found some of the best fossils at the boundaries between formations. The top of the Zohar and bottom of the Kidod have wonderful ammonites, belemnites, bivalves, and brachiopods, some appearing to show patterns of microbioerosion. The top of the Beersheva has massive corals and sponges which are thoroughly bored by bivalves, some of which are still in the crypts they excavated for themselves.

On the left is a very large ammonite we found in the top of the Zohar Formation.  Note the hammer for scale.  On the right is a closer view of a partially silicified coral from the top of the Beersheva with holes drilled in it by bivalves, some of which are still in place.

On the left is a very large ammonite we found in the top of the Zohar Formation. Note the hammer for scale. On the right is a closer view of a partially silicified coral from the top of the Beersheva with holes drilled in it by bivalves, some of which are still in place.

All the indications we could find showed that the limestone units were clearly shallow water deposits. The thick shales of the Kidod were laid down in deeper waters well below wave base. Much more work is required, though, before we can come to any conclusions. This is a reconnaissance trip to sort out potential projects for Wooster Senior Independent Study students and my own research. I now see many opportunities here.

Fieldwork Audio Post

May 20th, 2009

Speaking of fieldwork, check out my audio podcast on a typical day of fieldwork in Iceland. I learned how to make this (and do a lot of other neat stuff) in the Instructional Technology Fellows Workshop.

Preparing for a Geological Expedition

May 18th, 2009

The challenge of preparing for a geological expedition is to be ready for anything and yet also be as mobile as possible. We will be measuring, collecting, mapping, drilling, digging, and photographing, all while making certain the team is well fed, watered and safe. Yet all our equipment has to be packaging in a way that enables us to move quickly through an airport and quickly into a jeep or bus. Fortunately electronic gear has diminished in size and weight (and become way cool) as packs and bags have increased in strength and number of pockets.

Field gear for Summer 2009 trip to Israel

Field gear for the Summer 2009 trip to Israel

I leave on Wednesday for fieldwork in northern Israel with my colleague Amihai Sneh from the Geological Survey of Israel. With luck my next post will be from Jerusalem on Thursday or Friday. Meagen Pollock will be leading an expedition to Iceland later this summer; Greg Wiles is going to Alaska; Shelley Judge will be off to Utah. Soon we will all be posting blogs from these various places. Travel is one of the many joys of being a geologist.