Wooster Geologist in Wales

June 23rd, 2015

1 Triassic Lavernock Point Penarth GroupBRIDGEND, WALES (June 23, 2015) — My train journey yesterday was successful. It was close, but I made the four tight connections and arrived in Aberystwyth, Wales, from Thurso, Scotland, on schedule. It took 15 hours. My friend Tim Palmer was there to greet me as I stumbled out of my carriage. I went from rainy, cold Scotland to warm and sunny Wales. The top image is of the Triassic/Jurassic transition at Lavernock Point in south Wales (see below).

2 Tim Caroline houseMy first Welsh night was with Tim in his great country home (with is wife Caroline) on the outskirts of Aberystwyth. It is called The Old Laundry because of its function on a previous manorial estate. I had my best sleep here for the entire trip. Quiet and beautiful.

4 Talley Abbey ruinsOne of Tim’s passions is the study of building stones in England and Wales. As we drove to southern Wales for our geological work, we stopped by interesting stone structures, including the ruins of Talley Abbey, a 12th Century monastery.

5 Tim at Talley AbbeyTim is here examining the dressing stones on a corner of this pillar in the Talley Abbey ruins. I learned that these dressings are usually made of stone that can be easily shaped, is attractive, and will hold sharp edges. In many cases these are called “freestones”.

6 Lower Lias Lavernock dinosaur siteOur first geological stop was at Lavernock Point on the southern coast of Wales. We looked here at the boundary section between the Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic (Lias). In this view we see an alternating sequence of limestones (buff-colored) and shales (dark gray) of the lower Lias. These are marginal marine units with oysters and ammonites. On the left side of the image you can see a broad niche cut back into the cliff. This is the site where the first carnivorous dinosaur in Wales was recently excavated. It is also one of the oldest Jurassic dinosaurs since it was discovered just above the Triassic/Jurassic boundary. More on this dinosaur later.

7 Lower Lias pseudo mudcracksWe wandered across broad intertidal wave-cut platforms at Lavernock Point looking at the limestones and shales of the lower Lias. I was intrigued by these features on some bedding planes. They are not desiccation cracks, but rather some combination of jointing and weathering.

8 Liostrea hisingeri LavernockThe oyster Liostrea hisingeri is very common in this part of the Lias. In the limestones it is sectioned by erosion, resulting in these shelly outlines.

9 Liostrea hisingeri shale LavernockWhen Liostrea hisingeri is present in the shales, it is preserved three dimensionally.

10 Tonypandy street viewAfter our geologizing was done for the day, Tim and I drove up into the Rhondda Valleys just north of our hotel. This was at one time a very busy coal mining and industrial region, but the mines are closed and most of the heavy industry has moved elsewhere. Above is a view down a street in Tonypandy, one of the more famous towns of The Valleys. There were massive riots here in 1910 which eventually a minimum wage for miners in 1912.

A Day in Stromness

June 21st, 2015

1 Stromness Museum sceneSTROMNESS, SCOTLAND (June 21, 2015) — I intended to explore the region around Stromness today as I waited for the late afternoon ferry to Thurso, but it rained continuously. Since I can’t afford to get my meager kit wet while traveling, I was confined to indoors activities, including visiting the excellent though small Stromness Museum.

2 Labradorite as ballastThe bulk of the museum displays are devoted to maritime history, naturally, but there is always some geology. This, for example, is a beautiful piece of labradorite (from, naturally, Labrador) used as ship ballast.

3 Hugh Miller fossilI was very pleased to see this small exhibit on the brilliant polymath Hugh Miller (1802-1856) and the fossils he collected from Devonian rocks in the region. This is his most famous specimen: “The Asterolepis of Stromness”. He was the earliest expert on the Old Red Sandstone and its fossils.

This afternoon I take the ferry across these stormy seas back to the Scottish mainland. I’ve very much enjoyed Orkney, cold and wet though it is.

Neolithic Orkney

June 20th, 2015

1 Brodgar Ring Stone and MoundSTROMNESS, SCOTLAND (June 20, 2015) — After our last sessions of talks in the 2015 Larwood Symposium, we had a guided tour of some spectacular Neolithic sites on the island of Mainland in Orkney. (I know, an island called Mainland. That’s why I linked it.) Above is a standing stone from the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle just a few miles from Stromness. It is part of a World Heritage Site and is very dramatic (especially with a stiff wind off the North Atlantic).

2 Ring of Brodgar weatheringHere is a side view of the stones, with Paul Taylor for scale. They are made of the ubiquitous Old Red Sandstone. Note that when you stand such stones with their bedding vertical like this, the rain works its way between the layers, causing it to split and exfoliate over time. Of course, considering that these stones were erected between 2500 BCE and 2000 BCE, they’re in pretty good shape!

3 Climbing ripples Brodgar stone rotatedA geology moment: This is a side view of one of the Old Red Sandstones, which I’ve rotated horizontal (the image, not the stone!). You can see beautiful climbing ripple laminae.

4 Stenness StonesThe Standing Stones of Stenness may be the oldest such Neolithic structure in Britain. For me it was the most evocative of this ancient and mysterious activity, even if it is the most manicured ring.

5 Stenness StoneThis Stenness stone is one of the most photographed rocks in Orkney.

6 Maes Howe from roadMaes Howe is a Neolithic chambered cairn, possibly built about 2800 BCE. We see here a simple mound across a flat field. The interior is a complex main room with side passages and interior standing stones. This was likely a grave site, but no bones have been discovered in it.

7 Maes Howe closerI wish I could show you the interior, but photography was not allowed. Our party, along with many others, crowded into the chamber after passing through the long and narrow entrance tunnel. Our guide was particularly good at telling the stories of the site and pointing out various archaeological features. On many of the stones are delightful examples of much later Viking runic inscriptions (ancient vandalism, really!).

8 Stabilized beach dunesThe Orkney coastlines have many partially stabilized beach dunes, like these grass-covered examples. Storms, though, can quickly erode them and move vast quantities of sand. Such events have uncovered buried archaeological sites on the shorelines, such as Skara Brae below.

9 Skara BraeSkara Brae is a Neolithic village that was buried for many centuries under such sand dunes. It is now one of the best known archaeological sites in Britain. The sand and sod has been removed from the top of a network of homes and pathways, giving the immediate appearance of World War I trenches.

10 Skara Brae houseThis is one of the homes. It is preserved in remarkably good shape, with all the stone furnishings still in place.

11 Skara Brae mystery stoneThere are many mysterious objects associated with the Skara Brae site, including this fist-sized elaborately carved stone. Any ideas as to its function? Paul Taylor thinks stones like this may have been used for hunting, tied together as bolas.

12 Laird of Skaill captured Bolshevik bannerJust because I find it interesting, here is a banner displayed in the local Laird of Skaill home near Skara Brae, which is open for tours. It is a Bolshevik souvenir captured by one of this blue-blooded family during the North Russia Intervention in Murmansk during the Russian Civil War. History, like geology, is everywhere — and delightfully unpredictable.

Larwood 2015 participantsFinally, here is a group picture of our 2015 Larwood Symposium participants in Stromness. A most congenial and fun group! Thank you very much to Joanne Porter and Jen Loxton for organizing such a spectacular meeting.


Travel days

June 16th, 2015

1 Mae Meredith waiting 061615SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 16, 2015) — Team Yorkshire split up this morning. Mae Kemsley (’16) and Meredith Mann (’16) packed up very efficiently and took a train to London via York. There plan is to see some London sights and then take a night train to Paris, where they will spend a few days.

2 Mae Meredith on train 061615It is always a sweet time to see healthy and happy students at the end of the fieldwork heading off on their own adventures. Bittersweet, though, because we had such a great time and I have one more day in Scarborough.

3 Scarborough station 061615This is the small Scarborough train station. A set of tracks ends here, so there is only one way in and out.

4 Train to York 061615The train that took Mae and Meredith out of Scarborough. I will be on the same train tomorrow as I start a 14-hour journey to Thurso, Scotland, via York, Edinburgh and Inverness.

5 Scarborough Westborough StreetFor the rest of my lonely day, I explored Scarborough. This is Westborough Street with its modern shops and restaurants. Team Yorkshire ate a lot of fish and chips in this neighborhood.

6 Scarborough view 061615Merchants Street is an older part of Scarborough. You can see the walls of Scarborough Castle on the skyline.

7 Grand Hotel 585 061615Finally, one last view of the Grand Hotel, a Victorian building that has a long history, including being shelled by the Germans in 1914. Our hotel was across the street and far less fancy. This afternoon I sat in its lobby and read a book to escape the cold and clammy weather that descended on the city.

Team Yorkshire finishes its fieldwork

June 15th, 2015

1 Speeton Clay at Reighton Sands 061515SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 15, 2015) — It is difficult to believe that yesterday was so cold and wet. Today was beautiful on the Yorkshire Coast. Mae Kemsley (’16), Meredith Mann (’16) and I traveled to Reighton Sands for one last look through Mae’s outcrops. The tide was very low and the sunshine abundant, so we took lots of images and collected another bag of fossils. Above is the Speeton Clay (Lower Cretaceous). It rarely looks so good in photographs.

2 Morning commute 061515A scene from our morning commute from Scarborough. We like sitting in the top front of the double-decker bus.

3 SS Laura boilersThe tide was low enough to expose the pair of boilers from the SS Laura. You may recall this Austro-Hungarian cargo ship ran aground here on November 21, 1897. These heavy and resistant boilers have served as coastal landmarks for over a century.

4 Mussels Barnacles on boilersThe SS Laura boilers are also a significant hard substrate for attaching mussels and barnacles.

5 Flamborough Head 061515The white chalk cliffs of northern Flamborough Head were especially beautiful today. I wish there was a way to record the sounds of thousands of circling seabirds.

6 Red Chalk outcrop 061515We visited an outcrop of the Red Chalk (Hunstanton Formation, Lower-Upper Cretaceous) one last tme to collect more belemnites for Mae’s future analytical work.

7 Red Chalk fossils 061515We found quite a few Neohibolites, along with a coiled serpulid or two.

8 Speeton belemnites in placeThen it was back to the gray Speeton Clay. After yesterday’s rain, the belemnites seemed very easy to find. Today we were after belemnites that had borings and/or encrusters.

9 Mae Meredith frisbee SpeetonMae and Meredith took advantage of the beach to toss a frisbee around. They are both members of Wooster’s superb Ultimate Frisbee team.

10 Speeton sand patterns IIWe walked the long arc of Filey Bay to Filey. I was fascinated with the patterns in the sand left by the receding tide.

11 Speeton sand patterns IThose same sand patterns with a stone producing interference.

12 Filey 061515The seaside portion of Filey, viewed from the south.

13 Last view of Filey BriggAnd finally a view of Filey Brigg from Filey. We were very pleased to have our last field day such a pleasant one. We hope we’ve prepared the way for future Wooster Independent Study projects in this beautiful part of the world.

Battle of Flamborough Head (September 23, 1779)

June 13th, 2015

Flamborough HeadMost of our work as Team Yorkshire this month has been in Filey Bay on the northeastern coast of England. When we look south, as above, we see the northern extent of the famous Cretaceous chalk cliffs that extend far into the south of the country along the Channel coast. This point of chalk that we see jutting into the North Sea is Flamborough Head. If we were here on September 23, 1779, we would have seen here a dramatic naval battle between the Royal Navy and the earliest ships of the Revolutionary United States.

Flamborough Google MapFor orientation, you see Scarborough at the top of this Google map, and then Filey down the coast (with Filey Brigg visible as a thin finger of rock diving into the sea). The top image was taken on the coast at Reighton Gap looking south.

Gilkerson 1In these waters on that September day, Commodore John Paul Jones in the USS Bonhomme Richard (on the right) met Captain Richard Pearson of the HMS Serapis. The painting is by William Gilkerson and is displayed in the US Naval Academy Museum. The battle was a complicated bit of seamanship on both sides, and both sides could claim victory. Overall, though, it was an astounding feat of American arms to have engaged the world’s largest and effective navy in its home waters. The story of the battle is best told by J. Scott Harmon on this website.

Battle map FlamboroughThe initial engagement of the HMS Serapis and USS Bonhomme Richard north of Flamborough Head. (From the US Naval Academy. Go there for a nice set of map animations.)

Richard Willis paintingThis part of the world has seen much dramatic military history, from the Romans to the Germans. We find this battle particularly moving because of the role of the new United States asserting its independence. (Painting by Richard Willis.)

Taking a break to see York

June 12th, 2015

1 Mae Meredith SW York MinsterSCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 12, 2015) — Team Yorkshire went on a holiday today with a visit to York, only a short train ride inland from Scarborough. We needed a break, and in any case the tides were not in our favor at Meredith’s Independent Study field site. It was another extraordinarily warm, clear and dry day. (Unlike the cold, foggy and damp Scarborough we returned to in the evening.)

Above Meredith and Mae stand in front of the southwestern portion of the iconic York Minster.

2 Mae Meredith York StreetHere we are walking down a York street. The city felt very large and busy after our days in Scarborough.

3 River Ouse in York from Skeldergate Bridge 585The River Ouse in York from Skeldergate Bridge. This river divides the city and has been an important transportation and trade route for centuries.

4 Constantine 061215This statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great is a monument to his accession to the office in 306 CE while in York, then known as Eboracum.

We spent time at the Viking archaeological center (Jorvik) and the York Castle Museum before taking the train back “home” to Scarborough. It was a great cultural excursion as we prepare for our last days of fieldwork.

Museum work and a castle visit in Scarborough

June 11th, 2015

1 Scarborough museum workSCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 11, 2015) — It is always useful when doing paleontological fieldwork to visit the local museum to see what specimens they’ve curated over the years. Today Team Yorkshire explored the collections at the Scarborough Museums Trust Woodend storage facility, courtesy of Jennifer Dunne, Collections Manager. Above are Mae Kemsley (’16) and Meredith Mann (’16) examining boxes of specimens from the Speeton Clay and Coralline Oolite, the two units they’re working with.

2 Peltoceras williamsoniThis specimen of the ammonite Peltoceras williamsoni is an example of the kind of material we find in museum collections. It comes from the Passage Beds of the Coralline Oolite — Meredith’s unit. We are not likely to come across such a well-preserved fossil in our short interval of fieldwork. This is not the first Peltoceras in this blog.

3 Peltoceras noteThis note that accompanied the above specimen is from J.K. Wright, an expert with these fossils.

4 Scarborough castle keepAfter our museum work, we took an opportunity to visit Scarborough Castle. (We couldn’t do more fieldwork this afternoon because of the high tides.) This is a spectacular place with over 3000 years of history. It was the site of settlements in about 800 BCE and 500 BCE, and then a Roman signalling station around 370 CE. The castle itself dates back to the 12th Century. In 1645 it was the subject of a long Civil War siege, with Parliamentarians on the outside shelling Royalists on the inside. (The cannonades broke the above castle keep in half.) In December 1914, German battleships fired over 500 shells into it.

5 Team Yorkshire castle 061115Mae and Meredith with the castle keep in the background. Note the fantastic weather!

6 St Marys chapel castleThe remains of St. Mary’s Chapel within the castle walls were built on the site of the Roman signals station. Resident of the castle took shelter here during the 1914 German bombardment.

7 Scarborough from castleA view of Scarborough from the castle walls. We could see all of our field areas along the coast from this vantage point.

A coincidence?

June 9th, 2015

a Shoe Zone SmithSCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 9, 2015) — Why do these geologists look so pleased to be standing in front of a nondescript shoe store? The answer is on the blue plaque above their heads.

b Smith plaque 060915Turns out we’ve been eating breakfast every morning next to the Scarborough home of the heroic geologist William Smith. Auspicious!

Shore defenses

June 8th, 2015

a Beached pillbox closerSCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 8, 2015) — We see many of these World War II concrete defenses along the Yorkshire coastline. This is a pillbox that was likely constructed in 1940 to defend the realm from the Germans. Of course, it was not placed on the sandy beach but up on the steep slopes overlooking the shore. Erosion of that headland since 1940 was complete, leaving this structure on the open beach.

b Slumped pillbox 060815It is a dilemma, building on these sea cliffs of the northern Yorkshire coast. The substrate here is a “boulder clay”, a Pleistocene glacial deposit known as a diamictite. It is easy to excavate, but flows readily under weight and when wet. The sea hammers away at the foot of these soft cliffs as their tops slump downwards. The heavy concrete gun emplacements and observation posts serve their purpose for a few years, and then eventually fall into the sea as the coast retreats. Seventy-five years of coastal erosion has removed a great deal of the cliffs.

c Destroyed pilbox 060815

Beached pillbox 061015

Dismantled pillbox Filey Beach

House with erosion problemGiven what you’ve seen above, would you buy this seaside house?


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