Wooster Geologist in Wales and England (June 2018)

June 20th, 2018

I spent two weeks in wonderful places making presentations, doing research, scouting for student Independent Study projects, and seeing friends and colleagues. Here is a guide to the blog posts by date —

June 6: Bryozoologists gather in Wales
June 7: Bryozoologists on the rocks in South Wales
June 8: Last day of the Larwood meeting: Museum collections and a coal mine tour
June 9: A Smith Map in Wales
June 10: A Wooster Geologist in Wales (continued)
June 11: A narrow-gauge train trip in Mid Wales
June 12: Bored marbles, slate mines, and a castle in North Wales
June 13: Last day for this Wooster Geologist in Wales … for now
June 14: Stone cannon balls from Aberystwyth Castle
June 15: Wooster Paleontologist in London (again)

Thank you to Caroline Buttler, Tim and Caroline Palmer, and Paul Taylor for being such excellent, generous and creative hosts!

Wooster Paleontologist in London (again)

June 15th, 2018

London, England — The Natural History Museum is one of my favorite places on Earth. It is a secular cathedral of science; a celebration of life’s long history and glorious diversity. I’ve had the pleasure of working here many times, and each visit renews the enchantment. I’ve arrived to do a few days work in Paul Taylor‘s lab and the associated fossil collections.

Inside the bowels of the museum are thousands of drawers of specimens carefully preserved for research. This is an example of one drawer. It happens to be full of Ordovician bryozoans.

It may look chaotic, but this is a center of fossil bryozoan research — Paul Taylor’s office and lab. I’ve been visiting Paul in this space since 1985. Note the small patch of labelled specimens on the desk in the foreground. They’re from me.

These are specimens I brought for us to study. The brown one on the left is a bryozoan-encrusted bivalve collected this year in the Middle Jurassic of Utah. The pink-labelled specimens come from Macy Conrad’s (’18) Independent Study work, part of our team project on Upper Cretaceous bryozoans from SW France. Eventually many of these fossils will be imaged with the NHM Scanning Electron Microscope, with which Paul is a master.

This year I’m staying in a small hotel near the Earl’s Court tube station, just a 15-minute walk from the museum. Very convenient.

With this post my Wales and England travel posts end. Later I’ll write about the results of our various projects. Thank you again to my hosts Caroline Buttler, Tim & Caroline Palmer, and Paul Taylor. I am fortunate to have such friends and colleagues.

Last day of the Larwood meeting: Museum collections and a coal mine tour

June 8th, 2018

Cardiff, Wales — On our last day of the Larwood Meeting, we finished up business in the morning and then had guided tours of the marine, mollusc, and fossil collections in the National Museum Wales (above).

Highlights for me included this modern gastropod shell (a cold-water whelk from Alaska) collected by my hero Captain James Cook in 1778 a year before he was killed. A quote from Cook: “Ambition leads me … farther than any other man has been before me”. James Kirk of Star Trek is partly modeled after him.

Here’s another evocative modern shell: Conus gloriamaris, once thought to be the rarest shell and thus enormously valuable.

Here is the label for the specimen. It lists the 12 known specimens at the time. It is still popular among collectors, but now much more common. The excellent mollusc type collection of the Cardiff Museum is online.

The last activity for the Larwood crew was a tour of a coal mine turned into a museum: The Big Pit. Coal in South Wales played a huge role in the Industrial Revolution, as did Welsh iron ore. This mine tells the story of coal in Wales by taking visitors underground into the workings.

We couldn’t take images in the mine itself because of fire hazards, but Hans Arne Nakrem got a shot of the group prepared to go down the shaft. We had a great time with our story-telling guide. Our walk through the tunnels was punctuated by the loud bangs of my helmet on the ceilings. (It’s not just that I’m tall — it’s also that I bend far less!)

And that was the end of the 15th Larwood Meeting. Thank you again to Caroline Buttler and her team for such an excellent event. We all learned more about our precious bryozoans, with the bonus of getting to explore parts of beautiful South Wales.

Bryozoologists on the rocks in South Wales

June 7th, 2018

Cardiff, Wales — There is a tradition at bryozoology meetings that we get out into the field as a group. Caroline Buttler (our organizer) and Lesley Cherns (Cardiff University) took us during the afternoon to two sites. The first (shown above) is the excellent Carboniferous-Triassic-Jurassic section at Ogmore-by-Sea. Tim Palmer took me here on an epic field trip three years ago, and my blog post from then has some of the important geological details. Basically, we have an extensive exposure of the Carboniferous Limestone (High Tor Limestone, Dinantian in age), topped by an unconformity with Triassic wadi deposits in some places and a Jurassic limestone (Sutton Stone, Hettangian). The group above is scampering about on an exposure of the Carboniferous Limestone.

Here the bryozoologists are examining the unconformity between the Carboniferous Limestone (which they’re standing on) and the Jurassic Sutton Stone above.

Andrej Ernst (University of Hamburg) managed to find tiny bryozoans in the Carboniferous Limestone.

Hans Arne Nakrem (University of Oslo; Natural History Museum) and me looking studious with the Carboniferous Limestone.

The Carboniferous Limestone has fantastic sections through large rugose corals.

The trace fossil Zoophycos (“rooster tails”) is also common in the Carboniferous Limestone.

Our second stop was at an Upper Triassic section at The Bendricks along the coast. Here we see desert and flash flood deposits with … wait for it …

… dinosaur footprints! One rather battered example of a print from a three-toed theropod dinosaur is shown above. (Grallator is the ichnogenus.) These were among the earliest dinosaurs, so seeing such a trackway is very cool. You can read here a detailed assessment of the tracks.

Thank you again to Caroline Buttler and Lesley Cherns for arranging this fun trip.

Wooster Geologists in Southwestern Utah (May 2018)

May 25th, 2018

This month, our geological technician Nick Wiesenberg and I had the privilege of taking two Wooster Independent Study students into southwestern Utah to do research on the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic). The students were Ethan Killian (’19) on the left and Galen Schwartzberg (’19) on the right. (You’ll get better view of them in the links below where we have blog entries for each day.) I plotted out the localities during a solo expedition last month. We hope we are re-establishing a field area for several more years of work.

This is the local stratigraphic column (modified from that on the Zion National Park website). The area is dominated by the majestic Navajo Sandstone, with our Carmel Formation one of the very few carbonate units.

Our main study areas. 1 = Gunlock region; 2 = Eagle Mountain Ranch; 3 = Dammeron Valley; and 4 = Diamond Valley (“Water Tank”).

Here are links to our daily blog posts —

May 16: Team Jurassic Utah sets to work
May 17: Team Jurassic Utah on the Ranch
May 18: Projects designed, Team Jurassic Utah begins fieldwork
May 19: A day for Jurassic oysters
May 20: Jurassic hardgrounds and Holocene lava flows in southwestern Utah
May 21: Team Jurassic Utah finishes essential data collection
May 22: Zion National Park and life in Santa Clara, Utah
May 23: An oyster ball nursery and Veyo pies on our last field day in SW Utah
May 24: Science and culture on Team Jurassic Utah’s last day

And here are the coordinates of our localities —

N Latitude Longitude Wooster Locality
Location name
37.27875299 -113.78777 C/W-157 C/W157
37.30712598 -113.740137 Eagle MT Road
37.25407499 -113.60516 C/W-751 Water tank
37.308755 -113.73653 C/W-142 Eagle Mtn Ranch cliff
37.27879096 -113.787768 Section base
37.27341698 -113.77961 C/W-752 Double layer DL
37.27298004 -113.778876 C/W-753 Hardground East
37.27855903 -113.787448 C/W-754 Hardground West HW
37.28063799 -113.80023 C/W-755 HFW Hardground
37.27056798 -113.776038 C/W-156 Nursery

Update: Nick heroically drove our samples back to our Wooster paleontology lab. What treasures there are in these three boxes!

Science and culture on Team Jurassic Utah’s last day

May 24th, 2018

Santa Clara, Utah — We spent our last full day in this beautiful state enjoying nature, visiting local historical sites, and ending with a fantastic museum. This morning began with a short journey through Snow Canyon State Park, which is just up the road from Santa Clara. This is a miniature Zion with the same Navajo sandstone, mostly white at the top and red below. The morning light was perfect. Note Nick on the rocks above!

Image by Galen.

Here is an example of the lower red rocks. The foresets on these Jurassic dunes are easy to pick out.

After Snow Canyon we toured the Jacob Hamblin Home in Santa Clara. This house, built in 1862-3, is the oldest surviving structure in Santa Clara. Jacob Hamblin (1819-1886) was a Mormon pioneer with a complicated history but generally known as an honest broker of frontier disputes.

The second floor of the home is a surprisingly large space used as a bedroom for the 11 children and as a community gathering place.

Our final cultural visit was to the St. George Utah Temple of the Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). It is an exquisite structure amidst carefully groomed gardens. We went to the Visitor Center and received a very thorough account of its construction.

Our very last event was suitably paleontological and Jurassic: The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. This building is constructed over an in situ set of dinosaur trackways in the Moenave Formation (Lower Jurassic).

The tracks are amazingly well preserved and numerous. Above is the dinosaur trace Eubrontes.

Our friend Andrew Milner, Site Paleontologist and Curator, gave us a guided tour, pointing out the extraordinary amount of biological information that can be deduced from trackways.

It is with this wonderful plunge into the world of Early Jurassic terrestrial fauna that our expedition ended. Tomorrow we fly from Las Vegas back to our homes, with Nick driving our precious samples to Wooster. We had a great time. Stay tuned for the laboratory analyses!

An oyster ball nursery and Veyo pies on our last field day in southwestern Utah

May 23rd, 2018

Santa Clara, Utah — When you want to sort out how something grows but can’t actually watch it do it, you look for examples of individuals in various developmental states. You can learn a lot about human growth, for example, by studying a group of people from infants to seniors. We do the same with Jurassic oyster balls: find a diverse population and sort out the relative ages. Today we revisited a site in the Gunlock area which in the 1990s yielded some “baby” oyster balls, thus gaining the name “The Nursery” (C/W-156). On its last day of fieldwork, Team Jurassic Utah (specifically Ethan) found the wonderful array of young oyster balls shown above, from least-developed on the right to most-developed on the left. These will be most useful in our lab analyses this fall.

Here is our last field view of the Gunlock outcrops, mostly the Double Layer (DL) locality. One of our landmarks, Square Top Mountain, rises in the background.

And the last image of Team Jurassic Utah at work. Thanks, Nick.

As we passed through the village of Gunlock, we gave Jay Leavitt two nearly-spherical oyster balls as gifts for him and Judy. They were essential to us for access to private lands, and we had great conversations. The equally generous Hyrum and Gail Smith also received oyster ball presents. I hope they realize what treasures these are. Jay looks a bit dubious!

While in Gunlock we had permission to visit the backyard of a well-known collector, now deceased, who had a pile of oyster balls. Turned out the astounding petrified wood collection dwarfed any we had ever seen!

We had lunch at the famous bakery in tiny Veyo that produces delicious pies.

Beef pot pie followed by strawberry-rhubarb pie. Yum!

Unfortunately we’re going to miss the Utah UFO Festival this weekend in nearby Cedar City! I so would be going.

Our very last fieldwork in the afternoon was anticlimactic. We climbed over this huge exposure of Carmel Formation in Dammeron Valley looking for our holy trinity: oyster balls, hardgrounds, encrusted shells. We found none of these. At least it’s one place to scratch off the paleo list. Lots of potential here for sed/strat projects, though.

Team Jurassic Utah 2018 is done with fieldwork. Tomorrow will be spent visiting local areas of interest, and then we fly out of Las Vegas on Friday.

Zion National Park and life in Santa Clara, Utah

May 22nd, 2018

Santa Clara, Utah — Visiting Zion National Park is an obvious activity for Team Jurassic Utah, considering it is made of beautiful Jurassic rocks. We took the opportunity today. Well, half of the team. Galen and I weren’t feeling well, so Nick took Ethan to the magnificent place. Here they are at The Narrows, with some random people above watching. They had a great time as Galen and I recovered quickly enough back at the base.

Speaking of our base, I should describe it. Our place in Santa Clara is embarrassingly luxurious. I’m forbidden from camping out in southern Utah (an incident with gnat bites and anaphylaxis about 20 years ago!), so I usually stay in motels. Our administrative coordinator Patrice Reeder had a great idea: why not look into Airbnb rentals in the area? She found one on our main route to Gunlock. It is indicated by the red pin above near the southern end of the Santa Clara lava field. Appropriately, this place is called Lava Falls at Entrada. It is significantly cheaper than motel rooms, and much more roomy and private. We’ve also saved on food as Nick, Galen and Ethan are avid (and skilled) cooks.

Here is our own Lava Falls #8 house. The attached garage makes it even more convenient for storing gear and specimens, and for loading and unloading the vehicle.

As you saw from the aerial image, this development is in the lava field, remnants of which surround us. For geologists, this has been a very convenient, comfortable and efficient place to stay. Great idea, Patrice.

Nick brought his mountain bike on the trip, which has been highly useful in the field because he can go off on scouting trips and cover a lot of territory. He also likes to ride the trails at night because of the cool air and lack of other people. Last night he met up with a fox and got this great picture.


Team Jurassic Utah finishes essential data collection

May 21st, 2018

Santa Clara, Utah — A dull but direct title. Every Independent Study advisor knows this critical point in the process: when your students have collected the data necessary to actually do their projects. With discovery-based science like ours on this expedition, you never know what incidents or vagaries in the field will occur before minimum data is acquired. We reached that point today for Galen and Ethan. The final three field days now are gravy!

We started at a very familiar site: Eagle Mountain Ranch (EMR), its iconic cliff is shown above. (Thank you again, ranch owners Hyrum and Gail Smith.) We collected here encrusted and bored bivalve shells from the Carmel Formation exposed on the steep slopes. Most shells had to be pounded out of the rock with hammers and chisels, so it was briefly a noisy place. We did very well, finding bryozoans, encrusting bivalves, sabellids, and a variety of borings, from what I could tell with my hand lens. The full glories of the specimens will be known after we wash them up and examine them with our lab microscopes.

You may just be able to make out Galen in this view. I’m used to standing for hours on steep hillsides bending over to pick up fossils, but it is getting harder!

Below our fossiliferous units at the Eagle Mountain Ranch are thick “books” of thin-bedded carbonates with beautiful mudcracks. An effect of the repeated hexagonal cracks is that the unit itself develops columnar joints, analogous to those often seen in basalt flows. This is a sedimentary version.

Our site at Diamond Valley is where a large water tank was erected, so we call it WT. The excavation exposed a very fossiliferous layer of the Carmel Formation, and many of the calcitic shells are encrusted and bored.

Like this bryozoan-rich bivalve I collected here last month. It is spectacular, especially considering how rare bryozoans are in the Jurassic of North America.

Ethan manned the chisel today.

Galen gathered specimens from the fossiliferous talus. The team made several important finds, ensuring the happy Galen he’ll have plenty of sclerobiont fossils to analyze for the next year of research. Ethan finished his ostreolith collecting yesterday. Field success!

Jurassic hardgrounds and Holocene lava flows in southwestern Utah

May 20th, 2018

Santa Clara, Utah — Team Jurassic Utah spent the day on Galen Schwartzberg’s Independent Study project, the sclerobionts of the Carmel Formation. We began with the above carbonate hardground at the appropriately named Hardground West (HW) locality. (Just a few meters south of C/W-157 and Ethan Killian’s oyster balls; 14.9 meters stratigraphically below them.) A carbonate hardground is a synsedimentarily-cemented seafloor. Above the ruler can be seen the top layer of this hardground with many round holes. They are bivalve borings called Gastrochaenolites. They are what tell us that this was a rocky surface exposed to marine life. Below the ruler the top layer has been removed, revealing that the limestone beneath is full of internal molds of aragonite-shelled bivalves. The aragonite likely dissolved early in the diagenetic process. Did this aragonite then provide the calcium carbonate to cement the layer above? Maybe, but we haven’t yet come up with a test of this hypothesis.

Here Galen is inspecting a hardground. Note that he knows how to protect himself from the relentless sunlight!

One of our hardgrounds with truncated borings. There is an interesting cluster pattern here.

Encrusting organisms that require hard substrates are another identifying feature of hardgrounds. Here our friends the oysters Liostrea strigilecula are attached to a hardground. These are left valves with the right valves removed.

At the end of the day we stopped to walk around the remarkably fresh lava flows near where we’re staying in Santa Clara. These are part of the large Santa Clara Lava Field, which extends from the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona northwards to Fillmore in central Utah. The flows in this area are as young as 32,000 years old. Above Nick and Galen are standing on a pressure ridge.

There are numerous large lava tubes in this volcanic field. Nick and Ethan stand near a large one with a collapsed roof.

Nick made this image. The flows are very difficult to navigate, so I gained new respect for lava hoppers.

This Google Earth image shows the black lava flows near the Airbnb we are inhabiting (the red pin). Urban growth of Santa Clara is eating away at the basalt. Our home here is called, in fact, “Lava Falls”.

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