Mark Wilson June 9th, 2015
Turns out we’ve been eating breakfast every morning next to the Scarborough home of the heroic geologist William Smith. Auspicious!
Mark Wilson June 9th, 2015
Turns out we’ve been eating breakfast every morning next to the Scarborough home of the heroic geologist William Smith. Auspicious!
Mark Wilson June 8th, 2015
SCARBOROUGH, 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.
It 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.
Mark Wilson June 5th, 2015
SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 5) — It was a spectacular day on the coast of northeastern England. When Paul Taylor arrived by train at 10:30 this morning, the clouds broke and the sunlight streamed through. Mae and Meredith explored Scarborough in the morning, plotting out where the stores and other useful places are, and Paul and I began to sort through geological action plans.
Peter Rawson, on the left with Paul Taylor, joined us for lunch to give us local field advice. He is the senior author of the Geologists’ Association’s Guide to the Yorkshire Coast, so there was no one better to have as an advisor. We had lunch in one of the classic spa buildings and made our field plans for the next few days.
After lunch we visited the Rotunda Museum (above), which is devoted to the geology of the area. It was built in 1829 out of the Jurassic Hackness stone. William “Strata” Smith suggested the unusual design, and much of the museum is devoted to his accomplishments and legacy.
Bryozoans, of course! Here is an Electra pilosa, the most common species. (Photo by Paul Taylor.) We also saw many serpulids, barnacles, oysters and other sclerobionts. A good view of the present to inform our coming interpretations of past hard substrate communities.
For a cultural interlude we visited the grave of Anne Brontë in the castle church cemetery. The sandstone markers are exfoliating, with most now unreadable. (Choose granite!)
Mark Wilson June 4th, 2015
SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND (June 4) — Wooster Geology’s Team Yorkshire has now arrived for ten days of fieldwork in the Jurassic of the Cleveland Basin exposed in and around this delightful English seaside town. It was a tedious journey for Geology Senior Independent Study students Meredith Mann (’16), Mae Kemsley (’16), as well as their aged advisor (that would be me), but we arrived on the right day in the right place. We had many plane and train problems in transit, and we had to stand during the last leg to Scarborough. Still, happy to be here and get to some excellent geology.
We’re staying in a hotel atop a cliff very near the well-known Rotunda Museum and the Grand Hotel (which was notoriously shelled by the German Navy in 1914). Spectacular views of the bay, town and castle are nearby. Tomorrow our friend Paul Taylor of the Natural History Museum in London and Peter Rawson, retired from the University College London, meet us. We will then begin exploring localities.
Mark Wilson October 11th, 2014
On July 3, 1754, colonial lieutenant Colonel George Washington fought and lost a small battle on this site in southwestern Pennsylvania. He and his 400 men had built this makeshift fort about a month before in anticipation of an attack by several hundred French soldiers and their Indian allies. The French were incensed at Washington and his troops after they killed or captured most of a French party at the Battle of Jumonville Glen two months before. (Accounts vary as to who was at fault for that deadly encounter as France and Britain were not at war.) The Battle of Fort Necessity was just one day long, and the British under Washington had the worst of it. Washington accepted French surrender terms and he and his men were allowed to march home. This pair of skirmishes between the French and British started the French and Indian War, known outside of the USA as the Seven Years’ War. It quickly became a global fight between empires; in many ways it was the first modern world war. And it all started in this lonely part of the Pennsylvania country.
Washington chose to place his ill-fated fort, a reconstruction of which is shown above, in a high grassy spot known as the Great Meadows. It is situated near two passes in the Allegheny Mountains, and thus sits strategically beside major trails. Washington liked the area because there was plenty of feed for his pack animals and horses, lots of available water (too much, it turned out), and it was not in the midst of the endless woods of the region.
This geological map of the area (from the National Park Service) shows that the fort was situated on the Upper Carboniferous Glenshaw Formation. This unit has much clay, trapping water in the thin soil above (“Philo Loam“). Further, the area is a floodplain, thus making the area a kind of wetland with grasses and sedges. Great for horse grazing, not so good for walls, buildings or trenches.
Here we see the shallow entrenchments made by Washington and his men as they awaited attack. The clayey soil and pouring rain made a mess of these boggy trenches.
This is the British view from the fort of the surrounding woods. Washington miscalculated his placing of the fort because the French and Indians could easily hit it with musket shots while hiding among the trees.
Nearby is a trace of the military road Washington’s unit had blazed through the Pennsylvania woods on their way to the French Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh. The British General Edward Braddock enlarged this road the next year in his famous march to a spectacular defeat nearby (the “Battle of Monongahela“).
We can’t fault Washington too much for his choice of a fort location. He did not have the resources to clear a large patch of forest, so the meadow would have to do. He expected to be reinforced soon, so he saw the fort as a temporary measure of protection. The rain was beyond his control that July day, and the clay-rich meadow floor ensured wet misery and ruined supplies. The French surprisingly gave good terms for surrender because they were wet, too, in those woods, and they also expected more British and colonial troops would arrive soon. They feared being surrounded, and so thought their message to Washington and his countrymen had been sufficiently made. How different our world would be if the French were not so generous here in southwestern Pennsylvania!
Thornberry-Ehrlich, T. 2009. Fort Necessity National Battlefield Geologic Resources Inventory Report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR—2009/082. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado.
Mark Wilson July 3rd, 2014
SHENYANG, CHINA — My first post from astonishing China. I’ve been here about a day and a half now and am simply floored by all I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve seen a fair bit of the world, but no place like China. I’m providing here just a few images of Shenyang as just a taste of the adventure. We are twelve time zones away from Wooster, so I’m still feeling too ragged to write much prose. The image above is of Shenyang Imperial Palace, sometimes called by its old name Mukden Palace. It was built in the 17th Century by the first emperors of the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China. This is the iconic Dazheng Hall, where the emperors held court surrounded by their Manchu cohorts. It is all stone and heavily laquered wood. The red color signifies happiness, the yellow royalty, and the green (not unexpectedly) the glories of nature.
This is Zhang Yongli, my Chinese host and now good friend. He took me to the Palace this morning as both an introduction to China and a chance to walk around a bit to dispell the fog of travel. (It was 27 hours from Cleveland to my hotel in Shenyang. I will feel it for awhile!)
This is a map of the palace. It is the only Imperial Palace outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was, in fact, modeled on its Beijing equivalent, but it has a distinctly northern flavor of Manchu culture.
The geological notes here include most notably these naturally-eroded limestones from southern China used as statuary in one part of the palace. All the hollows and holes in these smooth limestones were produced by karstic weathering in a very humid climate. The Chinese call them “lake stones” and very much appreciate their elegance.
Outside the quiet palace is the very busy business district of Shenyang. Traveling by taxi through this city of over six million people is extraordinary. Somehow it all works, though, and people get to where they’re going by foot, bicycle, bicycle-cabs, carts, trucks and cars.
And this, finally, is the view from my hotel window. I’m staying in a hotel owned by my hosts at Northeastern University very close to campus. Tomorrow we leave for Guizhou Province in the south (a five-hour set of flights) and begin our fieldwork in Carboniferous reefs.
Mark Wilson June 22nd, 2014
LONDON, ENGLAND — I arrived late last night in London after a series of delays in my departure from Poland, so I was pleased that today was a Sunday so I could chill a bit before work with Paul Taylor tomorrow. If I can visit one place in London (other than the Natural History Museum, of course) it is always the British Museum (above). As you can see, the weather was spectacular — and the crowds took advantage of it. I thought I’d just highlight a set of exhibits that is very cool, despite the fact that few visitors seem to spend much time with it.
It is the “Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century” gallery. I think it is well done and highly evocative, at least for scientists. My favorite part is there on the right end: “The Natural World”.
The cases are deliberately old-timey to evoke the “cabinets of curiosity” 18th Century polymaths had for their collected treasures. In fact, some of these cabinets themselves date back to that period. Here we see rocks, fossils, plants and animals collected by Enlightenment explorers, philosophers, historians, and just plain rich guys. These were the very specimens that thrilled and puzzled some very great minds — not that we don’t have plenty of mysteries remaining about them.
This is a mastodon jaw (Mammuthus americanum) collected “near the Ohio River” and given to the museum in 1768. It was called “The Unknown American” and thought to be from some extinct carnivorous elephant-like beast.
My favorite set of fossils here was collected and used by the famous William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839) in his pioneering work on geological correlation and mapping. Fossils like these were crucial to working out the relationships of rock layers (“strata”) and early concepts of Earth history. There is something inexplicably enchanting about seeing objects handled by past luminaries.
On an unrelated but geological note, I have a complaint about a small number of the displays. This ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is an example. What is the rock type here? I’d say a basalt or maybe a fine-grained granodiorite (like the Rosetta Stone).
Here’s a closer view of the sarcophagus. The sharpness of the carving shows how fine-grained and massive this rock seems to be. (I know the rules — no scratching the artifacts to test their properties.) But what does the sign say?
Black schist? No way. Schist is foliated and flakey and most decidedly not massive and so superbly suited to carving. Maybe someone will correct my notion of “schist”, but right now I’m certain this part of the label is wrong. I’ve seen this fairly often in museum displays: the rock types given don’t always match what appears to be the actual lithologies. Not enough geoarchaeologists to go around, I suppose.
Here’s a cool Romano-British sculpture that did have a proper identification as “limestone”. (And to be fair, most are correctly labeled.) I liked this artifact in particular because you could look closely at the broken bits —
It was a fun day at one of the world’s finest museums. Tomorrow I begin work at another.
Mark Wilson June 20th, 2014
SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — On my last full day in Poland, Michał Zatoń and his family took me on a tour of the city they live in and where my hotel is located: Będzin. The history of this place is very long, stretching back to the Neolithic, and for us it is dominated by World War II and the horrifying events that took place here from the earliest days of the war in 1939 until its liberation from the Germans in 1945. I thought I’d highlight one part of that history recently excavated and with a geological context.
The above view is looking down a tunnel in a complex bunker constructed by the Germans in 1944. Its purpose was to serve as a refuge from Allied bombing and reconnaissance flights near the end of the war. It had been sealed off and all but forgotten after the Germans retreated in 1945. The city of Będzin is now excavating it to be an underground museum. We were fortunate to have a private tour this morning.
This is the leading edge of construction where the concrete was laid against the rock wall. The reddish-yellow limestone is the Muschelkalk (Middle Triassic) unit we visited earlier this week. This is a strong rock suitable for tunneling because it can be easily carved out. This interval is probably equivalent to the crinoid-rich top of the Muschelkalk.
This is one of the few photos made at the time in 1944 when the bunkers (although unfinished) were opened for use. It is taken from this website (in Polish). The man on the left (Hans Kowohl) was the mayor of the city, and the one in the middle was reportedly hanged as a war criminal in 1946, although I can find no mention of his identity.
Thus ends my Polish experience this summer with great colleagues, wonderful rocks and fossils, and a deep, often disturbing, history. I was challenged on many different levels.
Mark Wilson June 19th, 2014
SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — Today my colleague Michał Zatoń took me and his family (wife Aneta and son Tomasz) on a tour of the Polish Jura, an upland with spectacular exposures of Jurassic rocks and the castles who love them. Above is the castle I consider most dramatic: Zamek Mirów from the 14th Century. Note the large mass of white bedrock at its base. This is a natural outcrop on which the castle was built. This will be a theme.
Here we see a series of these white rocks jutting dramatically across the landscape. They are Upper Jurassic (Oxfordian) sponge-rich silicified limestones that grew as bioherms (organic mounds) on portions of seafloor elevated because of igneous intrusions below. The sponges loved being raised off the deep seabed and continued to grow upwards. Since many of them were siliceous sponges, after death their silica was mobilized into the surrounding sediment as a cement. This process produced these outcrops of very hard silicified limestones just waiting to host a castle or two.
This is a reconstructed castle built on the outcrops. (Zamek Bobolice; also 14th Century in origin.)
Zamek Smoleniu was the smallest castle we visited, but somehow the scariest to climb. Getting to the top of that tower was a challenge.
Zamek Ogrodzieniec was the largest and best known castle we visited today. It is haunted, but I ain’t scared.
Now what about that mysterious Polish desert? Well, turns out it isn’t a desert in the official sense (it receives a lot of rain), but it sure looks like a desert. Pustynia Błędowska is its name in Polish. It is definitely an odd patch: 32 square kilometers in the midst of rich Polish pine forests. This place is so deserty that the German Afrika Korps trained here before going to northern Africa, and the Polish military uses it as a proxy for Middle Eastern situations. There is a lesson for humanity here as well: In the 13th and 14th Centuries the forest in this area was completely logged to provide charcoal for smelters producing silver and lead ingots. The removal of the trees exposed highly mobile glacial sands, which blew around enough to create dunes and soil too unstable for the trees to recolonize. This is a medieval ecological catastrophe. The Błędów Desert is now protected from human traffic so it has a chance to be absorbed back into the surrounding forests.
Mark Wilson June 18th, 2014
(It is the nature of this blog that our most recent entries are at the top, making it a bit awkward to read what is here the third part of a trilogy of posts today. You might want to start with my visit to Góra Świętej Anny.)
Above is a radio tower in Gliwice, Poland. It is an impressive construction in its own right, being made of wood with brass connectors in 1935 by Germans. It is the second tallest wooden structure (118 meters) in the world. How it survived World War II is a mystery to me.
This radio tower is famous for being the site of the Gleiwitz Incident on August 31, 1939. At the time Gleiwitz was within Germany near the Polish border. German SS troops staged a bloody attack on the radio station and tower to make it look like Polish Silesian nationalists were responsible. This was at least conceivable because of the tensions in Silesia between Germans and Poles for centuries, especially in the year after World War I. Of course, the Poles had nothing to do with the Gleiwitz violence. The Nazis used it as a pretext to attack and invade Poland on September 1, 1939. Last week my colleagues and I visited Westerplatte in Gdansk where the first “official” shots were fired. In some ways, though, the war started here.
Here are my patient and friendly colleagues Michał Zatoń and Tomasz Borszcz at the base of the Gliwice radio tower. They are very tolerant of my passion for history and geology.