Visiting an aquarium and historic ships in Gdynia, Poland

June 13th, 2014

Akwarium GdyniaSOPOT, POLAND — After lunch today the Larwood 2014 meeting participants had an excellent field trip to the aquarium in Gdynia on the Baltic coast (above). This aquarium has a diverse and interesting collection, but for me the two historic ships docked alongside were just as fascinating.
Dar PomorzaThis is the Dar Pomorza, a fully rigged ship built in Hamburg, Germany, in 1909 as the Prinzess Eitel Friedrich. It was used as a training ship in the Baltic Sea by the German Navy, and then surrendered to France in 1919 as part of reparations for World War I. The Polish bought it as a training ship for naval cadets in 1929, adding a diesel engine. It was interned in Stockholm during World War II, returning to Polish service in 1946. It became a museum ship in 1983.
Dar Pomorza plankingThe Dar Pomorza is being refurbished, so we had only this close view of new planking being laid on the deck.
Destroyer 2 061314This magnificent ship (above and below) had a long and distinguished career in World War II. It is the Błyskawica, which means “lightning” in Polish. It was built in 1935-1937 by a British firm on contract for the Polish government. On August 30, 1939, the Polish Navy secretly evacuated this ship along with two other destroyers to Great Britain just before the Germans invaded Poland. It was thus able to participate in the war against the Germans throughout the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean. It covered operations in Norway, the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkerque, and the Allied landings in both North Africa and France. It must have been deeply satisfying for the Polish sailors on board the Błyskawica to be able to fight back so long and effectively against the Nazis.

Destroyer sailors 061314Polish sailors by an anti-aircraft gun and torpedo tubes.

Blyskawica_na_AtlantykuThe Błyskawica in the North Atlantic during the war.

Blyskawica MW 061314I couldn’t resist. Thanks to my friend Tomasz Borszcz for taking this photo on the Błyskawica.

An evening of good food, games and talk deep in an Eastern European forest

June 12th, 2014

Polish bbq 061214SOPOT, POLAND — Our surprise dinner this evening was a Polish barbecue in the forest outside Sopot. I am impressed with how much forested land has been preserved around the three connected cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gydnia. With a half-hour drive we arrived at a campsite well isolated from the urban build-up. The excellent food included wild boar, chicken, fish, cold beet soup, and various permutations of cabbage. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my dish of roasted potatoes were actually baked and sweetened apples. We talked and talked, of course, and played darts and fired hard beans with a slingshot at suspended buckets. (Some people were scary-good at this.) It was a great social event that tied the group together in new ways.
Polish woods 061214Nope, nothing spooky about the Polish woods. It’s not like anything happened here …

Wooster Geologist in Jerusalem and the Judean Mountains

April 23rd, 2014

GSI buildings 042314MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Very early this morning (5:05 am) Yoav and I boarded a bus in Mitzpe Ramon for a journey north to Jerusalem. After a change of buses in Beersheva, we arrived in Jerusalem 3.5 hours later. (This is Yoav’s commute to his office!) I was scheduled to give a morning talk at the Geological Survey of Israel‘s headquarters in a crowded haredi (ultraorthodox)  neighborhood. It is always a moment to leave the noisy streets and pass through a gate onto the campus of the Survey, shown above. This is an old British military base from the 1940s, and it shows the wear.

GSI parking 042314The parking here is incredible. The cars are closely imbricated. Drivers who blocked other cars leave their phone numbers on their windshields so they can be summoned to move. Some just leave their keys inside for others to shift them out of the way. Here’s an advantage of taking the bus! The Survey will have a new campus elsewhere in the city in about four years.

Talk chairs 042314Geologist and good friend Amihai Sneh is here setting up chairs for the talk in the conference/tearoom.

Talk set up 042314Here’s my lecture set-up ready to go. The talk went well enough, and my geological colleagues had a lot of good comments and ideas afterwards. As with any presentation, I was most pleased to have it over!

Yoav IS 042314After the talk and lunch, Yoav, Amihai and Eitan Sass (a well-known Israeli geologist and former advisor of Yoav) planned a fieldtrip to further explore Cenomanian units in an attempt to solve some correlation dilemmas. This is the same project we have been working on with the En Yorqe’am Formation to the south. We actually used Yoav’s equivalent of an Independent Study thesis he completed over 25 years ago in Jerusalem. It looks like a master’s thesis. A critical fence diagram from the work is shown above. It was very useful in our explorations.

Yoav Bet Meir Newe DanielYoav is here examining an exposure of the Bet Meir Formation in the Newe Daniel settlement in the southern West Bank. We examined it in several places, noting changes in the amount of dolomitization and fossil content. It was best exposed here because of recent construction.

Nodules Bet MeirDr. Sass has studied these nodules in the Bet Meir Formation and concluded they are after anhydrite nodules. In fact, some still have anhydrite entombed within later quartz replacement. This chalky sediment was likely influenced by flows of dense brines from nearby shallow evaporitic basins.

Newe Daniel 042314Did I mention we were in the West Bank? This was very interesting, and an unexpected visit for me. These settlements are entirely normal once you’re on the inside, but the various layers of security measures on the outside are impressive. I learned a lot about the history of this particular place from my colleagues. Complex, to say the least.

Herodium 042314History moment. From a tower in Newe Daniel you can see a curious conical mountain called the Herodium. It is far too steep to be natural. It was constructed by Herod the Great as a palace and his tomb. The recent discovery of the actual burial site is a dramatic story.

Jerusalem surrender monumentBonus history moment: On the walk from the bus station to the Survey headquarters, Yoav and I passed this monument to the surrender of Jerusalem to British troops on December 9, 1917. This too is a good story. It happened on this spot. Check out the famous image below from that day.



Where sedimentology meets structural geology

April 21st, 2014

A seismite? 042114MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–“Like a hot dog in a bun.” Late this afternoon, while exploring the Eocene (Lutetian) Horsha Formation near the Nabatean/Roman/Byzantine city of Avdat, Yoav Avni and I ran across these odd features in a limestone layer within the chalks (near N 30.79119°, E 34.75494°). They consist of an elongate core of coarse, bioclastic sediment (the hot dog) in chalky sediments folded around them (the bun). They are all oriented in the same direction.

Another seismite type 042114Some are as big as canoes; others like gravy boats. We suspect that these are seismites — sedimentary sturctures formed by seismic shaking. The chalky, water-saturated sediment would have responded plastically as the slightly denser bioclastic sediments above collected in troughs and then began to descend down into the chalk. This is just an idea. If someone else has seen structures like these, please let us know!

Byzantine Cistern 042114Just below these funny structures is this nice Byzantine cistern filled with water. It is on the edge of a wadi, with about a half-meter step above the wadi base. It has this narrow doorway that leads into an interior cavern, all hand-carved. During a flood, the water reaches a level in the wadi where it begins to decant into the cistern, reducing the amount of sediment that would otherwise fill the cavity quickly. A couple of years ago Yoav organized a team to excavate centuries of silt from this cistern. Now it is full from the winter rains, providing a water hole for the local Bedouin children. It also shows that the Byzantine water storage and conservation techniques of 1500 years ago still work fine today.

An ancient Nabatean, Roman and Byzantine city in the northern Negev

July 12th, 2013

MamshitGuardhouseMansion071213MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Our final stop of the final day: Mamshit. Above you see some of the ruins of this city east of Dimona and a short distance west of the descent into the Dead Sea Rift Valley. The highest structure is the “guardhouse” (which overlooked a reservoir) and the lower on the right is known as “the wealthy house”. All the other rocks you see are remnants of mostly homes and other dwellings.

Mamshit was established by the Nabateans as a station along the Incense Route around 50 CE. Most of the primary buildings were constructed in the Second Century after the Nabatean Kingdom became part of the Roman Empire. As a trading city it flourished until the Seventh Century when either the Persian (614 CE) or the Arab Invasion (636 CE) ended its importance and it faded away. Today we toured it for about an hour and we were the only people there.

MamshitDam071213From the Guardhouse one of the three Mamshit dams comes into view. These were the most critical structures in the settlement because they captured the winter runoff in reservoirs that could be used throughout the dry summers. The area behind this dam is now completely silted up. There was a British police post at this site in the 1930s and 1940s running a series of patrols on camels. The Brits rebuilt the dam for their own use.

MamshitWesternChurch071213This is a lavish church (the “western church” or “Church of St. Nilus”) in Mamshit. Beautiful mosaics are still preserved on the floors.

MamshitStudentsExploring071213The Wooster students are her exploring one of the grander houses built in the Second Century.

MamshitDoorways071213Steph and Lizzie are using the doorways to estimate the likely heights of the residents. Looks like they were more Lizzie size than Steph!

This was a suitable place to end the Team Israel 2013 expedition: a location where geology, archaeology, history and culture are combined in ruins still open for interpretation and study. Now we have one more night before departing early in the morning for the airport in Tel Aviv. We appreciate this opportunity for travel and research very much!

Goodbye, Makhtesh Gadol (for now)

July 7th, 2013

GoodbyeMakhteshGadol070713MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Today Team Israel 2013 had its last visit to Makhtesh Gadol, marking the end of Lizzie Reinthal’s and Steph Bosch’s fieldwork. We collected our last specimens from the Matmor Formation, which is exposed only in the center of this magnificent structure. The students above are looking down into the northern part of the makhtesh from the viewpoint at Mount Avnon.

MakhteshGadol070713This is a view from the same spot looking south along the western wall of the makhtesh. You can see a bit of the curvy, narrow road below that we used to enter and exit the makhtesh. This road was built by the British during World War II when they thought there might be oil underneath this breached anticline.

MG_BronzeAgeStructure070713This ring of stones is the remnant of a Bronze Age livestock pen, along with a probable small shelter for the shepherd in the lower left. This features are found throughout Makhtesh Gadol, usually up on the flanks of the walls or the Matmor Hills. I happened to come across this one in today’s walkabout.

LastCollecting070713Finally, here are students collecting at our last site — the southernmost exposure of the echinoderm-rich subunit we’ve found to be so productive. This morning we found … wait for it … two more bryozoans! This is usually not big news in most of the places I’ve worked, but it sure is here. They are again runner-types, but not Stomatopora. Much more to report on these after we get back home with them.

We still have five more working days in Israel. One will be devoted to finishing Oscar’s fieldwork, one to finishing smaller projects in the Makhtesh Ramon area, one to exploration of geological sites Yoav has chosen for us, one for a trip to Jerusalem and the headquarters of the Geological Survey of Israel, and a final day to make sure we’ve done all we came to do.

Geoarchaeology in Timna Valley

July 6th, 2013

StephChalcolithicMine070613MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Wooster senior Steph Bosch is a double major in archaeology and geology. Rather than do a joint Independent Study project, she is actually doing two theses, which will no doubt be challenging this coming academic year, but she is more than a match for the task. Because of her interest in ancient mining, after our trip to Eilat we stopped by Timna Valley to look at some of the oldest mines in the world. Here she is inside a Chalcolithic copper mine at least 6000 years old. It was carved into the relatively soft Cambrian sandstone with stone tools, the marks of some of which can still be seen on the walls. (Elyssa Belding Krivicich will remember sitting in that same place for a photograph back in the day!) I am amazed we could crawl through a warren of these ancient mines, but then the surrounding mountains are riddled with hundreds that are well protected.

TimnaMushroom070613The landscape is fascinating, especially for geologists. The Cambrian sandstone is colorful and easily eroded, producing hoodoos like these as remnants on an intrusive igneous rock substrate.

TimnaArches070613That soft sandstone also weathers into natural arches, two of which you should be able to find in this view of the western wall of the valley.

TimnaSmeltingCamp070613During the 14th through the 12th centuries BCE, the Egyptians had an elaborate and extensive mining and production system at Timna. Here are the remains of a smelting camp where ore was processed to make ingots of copper. In this area is the smelter, a shrine, and a work building that had several rooms, each for a particular industrial purpose.

TimnaSmelter070613The smelter is easy to find because it is still to this day surrounded by fragments of black, glassy slag, a byproduct of the process.

OreCopperTimna070613The copper ore itself is easily seen as green-blue veins in the nearly white sandstone. The sandstone is very porous (it apparently represents the cross-bedded deposits of ancient braided streams) and is easily penetrated by hot waters generated by magmatic activity below. It appears to me to be the copper silicate mineral Chrysocolla.

Timna was a great place to look at the intersection of geology and archaeology.

Field reconnaissance in the northern Negev of Israel

July 1st, 2013

1FoldedPhosphates070113MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–This morning Team Israel 2013 met our friend Yoav Avni, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Israel (GSI), and we traveled north to our field localities. We did a survey of the sites so that we could put together an efficient schedule for our work over the next two weeks. We had a four-wheel drive vehicle from the GSI so we could get to places our little Budget rental car could only have nightmares about.

The first locations were for Oscar Mmari’s Cretaceous phosphorite work. The outcrop pictured at the top of this entry is on the east side of Makhtesh Gadol (N 30.93657°, E 035.03312°). We are looking toward the west at an incredibly asymmetric limb of a syncline. In the upper part of the exposure you can see the rocks dipping almost vertically, yet in the foreground they are nearly horizontal. They make an almost 90° bend. The Mishash Formation phosphatic zone is partly exposed as the white rocks along the side of the wadi. The phosphorites here are very thick and chalky.

2MishhashPhosphates070113A second phosphorite exposure for Oscar is in Wadi Havarim (N 30.84269°, E 34.75509°) not too far north of Mitzpe Ramon. The top of the cherty portion of the Mishash Formation is on the left in the middle; the light-colored units above are phosphorites. In the background is Nahal Zin, a deep valley formed by water draining north into the Dead Sea. The base level of the Dead Sea is so low that the wadis leading to it are rapidly downcut.

3OscarPhosphorite070113Here is Oscar getting is first look at the phosphorites at Wadi Havarim. Later this week we will measure at least one section at each locality and take plenty of samples for thin-sectioning and scanning electron microscopy.

4TraceFossil070113Steph Bosch’s hand gives us a scale for a nice set of trace fossils found in the phosphorite at Wadi Havarim. These look like callianassid shrimp burrows to me. We found some preserved as burrow-fills with apparent fecal pellets forming the outer walls. If true then the trace fossil ichnogenus is Ophiomorpha. This is a good indicator of shallow water.

5PhosphateSign070113We also briefly visited two phosphate mining sites east of Makhtesh Gadol. One has this helpful sign outside describing the geology of these deposits. The phosphorites are shown in yellow. Note that they formed in two synclines, both highly asymmetrical (as shown in our top photo).

6PhosphateMinedValleyWe viewed one phosphate mine where virtually the whole valley has been quarried, producing enormous piles of waste materials. Reclaiming mined terrain like this is especially difficult in this arid climate. Oscar will not only be looking at the geology of these phosphate deposits, but also the economics of mining, which now includes remediation and controls on emissions and water pollution.

7MatmorCollectingFirstDay070113After lunch we drove down into the center of Makhtesh Gadol and plotted out future localities for Steph and Lizzie to do their work in the Matmor Formation. (The above site is at N 30.93837°, E 34.97907°.) I’ve been to these sites many times with students, so it was relatively easy to make our plan for collecting crinoids and encrusting bryozoans tomorrow and next week.

8NabateanCistern070113Finally, no fieldwork in Israel is complete without a touch of archaeology. Yoav took us into a Nabatean cistern and showed us the clever engineering (and strategic plastering) necessary to make this hand-cut cavern into a water trapping and storage facility. This cistern is cut into the Menuha Formation, a chalk unit very familiar to Andrew Retzler (’11). This cistern was originally made sometime between 100 BCE and 100 CE. After the nabateans it was used by the Romans, Byzantines and Arabs. It was last used by Israeli pioneers over 60 years ago.

Tomorrow we return to Makhtesh Gadol and work in the hot sunlight filling collecting bags with tiny bits of crinoids and assorted encrusters. We’ve had a very good start.

The 16th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association

June 17th, 2013

1.Building061013CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–The IBA meeting has now ended and, as this is posted, I should be winging my way home across the Atlantic. It was a fantastic experience. This is a unique organization, of which I’m now proud to be a member of council. It is a combination of paleontologists and biologists who share a passion for the Phylum Bryozoa in all its manifestations. We had 77 oral presentations and dozens of posters spread among 80 participants, including students, academics, museum scientists, and very keen citizen scientists. The “international” component is taken very seriously: of the 80 people present, 27 countries were represented.
2.MeetingRoomWall061413All the sessions were held in the Palazzo delle Scienze building shown at the top of the page. We shared it with the regular student body, so it was a lively place. Directly above is the back wall of our meeting room with images of famous scientists who lived in Italy, from the Greeks to the 20th Century.
3.MeetingRoomCeiling061413Italians leave no ceiling unpainted. I’m not sure who the people are depicted above us, except that Amerigo Vespucci must be the one holding a map of the Americas. This room certainly makes you feel part of the international scientific enterprise.
4.KevinTalking061013Here is one of our participants, Kevin Tilbrook, giving a presentation. All our communications were in English. Imagine the challenge of talking in your second or third language with someone else doing the same thing. I am continually amazed by the language skills here.
5.FirstSlide061413My talk was on Friday morning, June 14. My first slide is shown above. My friend Paul Taylor and I examined two purported bryozoans common in the Paleozoic and showed that they were certainly not members of that phylum, despite some superficial resemblances.
6.ConclusionSlide061413This is our conclusion slide. As you can see, it is relatively easy to say what something is not, but quite another to say what it is!
7.Palazzo Biscari 061413The IBA conference dinner is always a big event. This one was among the most spectacular. We had dinner in the historical Palazzo Biscari. This is a view from the terrace towards the central Duomo complex.
8.Palazzo Biscari Dinner 061415The ballroom is a Baroque fantasy. To complete the image, dinner was preceded by a choral performance from a Sicilian choir tucked back in the alcove. They sang many, many pieces, including some national favorites from countries represented among us.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 8.03.57 AMAnd here is the group photo. Like many, I wasn’t ready for this shot, so I’ll be impressed if anyone can find me in here!

Our meeting was a spectacular success in terms of the science shared and learned, and the Sicilian cultural experiences. Thank you very much to organizers Antonietta Rosso and Rossana Sanfilippo from the University of Catania!

A visit to ancient Syracuse

June 12th, 2013

1. Theater061213CATANIA, SICILY, ITALY–One of the treats of many small scientific meetings, like the International Bryozoology Association conference I am attending now, is that we can have a variety of short field trips for all participants. Today we packed into two buses and spent the afternoon and evening in the city of Syracuse south of Catania.
2. TheaterTop061213Syracuse was founded by Greek colonists (primarily Corinthians) over 2700 years ago. It was the home of Archimedes. He was famously killed there by a Roman soldier when the city was captured in 212 BCE. Cicero called Syracuse “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. The Syracusan tyrant Hiero I (who ruled from 478 to 466 BCE) built the outdoor theater shown at the top of this page. (Don’t call it an “amphitheater”!) Just above is a view of the ancient entrance to the theater above the seats. Greek engineers diverted a stream here to fill fountains and pools and eventually flow down to the front of the theater for refreshment and sometimes to be part of the performances. The theater is still used, so wooden seats have been fixed over much of the ancient stone.
3. SyracuseQuarry061213Behind the theater is this large ancient limestone quarry. You can make out a couple of pillars left in place on the quarry floor, along with characteristic vertical walls and square corners. The sturdy rock here was used to build the city and its walls.
4. QuarryPrisonSyracuse061213On one side of the quarry is this unusual cave called The Ear of Dionysius. It is 23 meters high and goes back about 65 meters. It has an uncanny resemblance to a human ear, hence at least one possible reason for the name. Inside it has smooth walls and a serpentine curve much like a meandering stream. The acoustics are unusual. Apparently even whispers inside can be heard at certain points above the cave’s entrance. The tyrant Dionysius is said to have placed his prisoners in there so that he could listen to their secrets (or to their tortured screams). There is considerable debate (which was repeated in our group) about whether this was all carved by quarriers or is a natural water-eroded slot canyon then modified for human use.
5. CarlPaulSyracuse061213Carl Simpson and Paul Taylor showing stylish Italian straw hats on our trip.
6. SyracuseHarbor061213At dinner this evening we had this wonderful view of the ancient harbor of Syracuse as the sun set and moon appeared above. Across the water on the end of the promontory is the Castello Maniace, which was originally completed as a fortification in 1240. King Ferdinand III gave this structure to none other than Admiral Horatio Nelson in 1799 for services rendered to the Kingdom of Naples. It stayed in private English hands until 1982 when it was given to the province of Catania.

I would describe the dinner, but you probably wouldn’t believe how many various Sicilian treats we had, including the inevitable octopus. It was a memorable evening in the middle of our intense conference.

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