Busy Wooster geology labs this summer

August 1st, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–This has been a particularly active summer in Scovel Hall, home of Wooster’s Geology Department. All our fieldwork eventually results in labwork, so our student geologists have been spending quality time with rocksaws, microscopes, computers and x-ray analytical equipment. I thought it might be fun to walk through the building recording the good science going on.

In the above scene, Kit Price (’13) is cutting Late Ordovician limestones containing fossils she collected on our field trip to Indiana last Saturday. Rest assured that she has all the safety equipment for this saw! Her hands are necessarily close to the diamond-studded blade to control the specimen that she cuts. She is trimming matrix away from the fossils so that they are easier to study and store.

Former student Dr. Katherine Nicholson Marenco (’03) visited this summer from Bryn Mawr to continue work on her Independent Study project on Jurassic fossils from southern England. She brought many new ideas to this work, helped us considerably on the Indiana field trip, and even took the time to train us on using Adobe Illustrator software for geological projects. Above she is wrapping up Jurassic specimens for later study in her lab.

Katherine and I plotted out ideas for our work on the English Jurassic fossils with the chalkboard in the paleontology lab. For some reason I find it easier to think with chalk in my hand!

Also in the paleontology lab is Richa Ekka (’13) continuing her work on Silurian specimens we collected on the southeast coast of Saaremaa Island in Estonia last month. She has made certain all her specimens are properly cleaned, sorted and labeled (“sample management”), and has now started on thin-sections and sedimentological analysis.

Tricia Hall (’14) was part of Team Utah earlier this summer. Now she is working on basalt specimens in the fancy new x-ray analytical lab set up by Dr. Meagen Pollock.

The coolest thing she is doing (well, the hottest, actually) is producing glass “beads” of powdered rock and flux by melting the mixture in an automatic spinning furnace that heats up to more than 1000°C. These beads are then used in the x-ray fluorescence spectrometer for elemental analysis. Above you can see the glowing orange puddle of artificial lava as it cools after being poured from the furnace.

The dendrochronology lab of Dr. Greg Wiles is as busy as ever this summer. The students there are measuring tree ring widths for a variety of projects, including the Independent Study projects of Jenn Horton (’13; above) and Lauren Vargo (’13; below) based on work they did in Alaska this June.

Will Cary (’13) is also working in the dendrochronology lab this summer. His Independent Study involves the ballistics of volcanic bombs in Utah, but he’s spending some time as a digital image expert for Dr. Wiles.

Andy Nash (’14) has been measuring tree-ring widths and doing a little coring for Dr. Wiles this summer. He may miss the quiet days in this air-conditioned lab when he starts two-a-day practices for the football team in ten days.

Nick Wiesenberg has been working in the dendrochronology lab for a long time now. He has an intuitive feel for wood. Here he shows the device for calculating tree ring widths by precisely moving them under a microscope set up with a measuring device.

During all this labwork, our two main Scovel lecture rooms are being extensively renovated to give us a fresh beginning with our fall semester courses that begin in less than a month. It can be a bit hectic, all this activity, but our Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder is keeping it all under control. It is refreshing to see such happy enthusiasm for the geological sciences.


Wooster Geologists in Indiana!

July 28th, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–I’ve seen a lot of fossils in my blessedly long time as a paleontologist, and I’ve had the opportunity to study them in many exotic places. I’m often reminded, though, that one of the best preserved and most diverse fossil faunas is in my backyard: the Cincinnati Region. The fossils here from the Upper Ordovician are extraordinary, and they will always be a resource for paleontological research. They’re just plain fun to find, too. There is a reason why so many American paleontologists have educational roots in the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana area.

Sure, the setting is not always glorious. Instead of castles in the distance, we are often working in roadside ditches, but the fossils are so fascinating that we forget the prosaic American recreational weekend traffic zooming by to local parks, lakes and rivers. In the above image you see Katherine Marenco (’03), Richa Ekka (’13) and Kit Price (’13) today on our first outcrop of the in eastern Indiana just south of Richmond (C/W-148 in our locality system). It is an outcrop of the Whitewater Formation (Richmondian, Upper Ordovician) known by many Wooster geologists from paleontology course field trips to Indiana. It is chock-jammy-full of fossils, as you can see from the random shot below:

We are here today to collect material for Kit Price’s Junior (and then Senior) Independent Study project. She will be studying bioimmuration processes in these rocks. We will have more on her study after we unpack and clean the treasures we collected today.

Accompanying us on this field trip is Dr. Katherine Nicholson Marenco (Wooster ’03), shown above. She is visiting to Wooster to renew work on Jurassic bioimmuration and aragonite dissolution in the Portlandian of southern England, the topic of her Senior Independent Study in 2002-2003. She went on to graduate school and a post-doc position and is now at Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania. We are very fortunate to have her with us because of her expertise on the topic of “upside-down encrusters” and her many creative ideas. We look forward to much collaboration! (You can see her in this old page on Paleontology at Wooster.)

Richa Ekka (above) generously volunteered to help us find and collect fossils. You may remember Richa from her very recent work in Estonia. (It is difficult to believe that just two weeks ago we were on islands in the Baltic.) Richa, as always, found great specimens.

Here is Kit working on our last Cincinnatian outcrop near Brookville, Indiana (C/W-111). Note the very dry grass, a result of the continuing drought in this part of the state. The temperatures today, by the way, were in the pleasant high 60s and low 70s.

Finally, we just had to share a photograph of our rented field vehicle: a Dodge Avenger. We think this is the trendiest car color of 2012: burnt pumpkin.

More in later posts on what we found on this field trip, and Kit’s developing Independent Study project. It was a spectacular field day with excellent fossils and great conversations.

Another new Independent Study project appears: The Hilliste Formation paleoenvironments and paleoecology

July 11th, 2012

KÄINA, ESTONIA–Today Jonah Novek officially began the fieldwork for his Independent Study research: a sedimentological and faunal analysis of the Hilliste Formation (Lower Silurian, Rhuddanian) on Hiiumaa Island, Estonia. Jonah will be continuing the work begun by Rachel Matt (’12) last year in the Hilliste Quarry a few kilometers east of Käina (N 58.87390°, E 022.97198°). He has already today been ably assisted by the generous Ohio State University crew and Richa who gave him numerous fossils they collected from the limestones and shales. Jonah and Richa completed the stratigraphic column today (essentially measurements and descriptions of the rock units, from bottom to top) and began to collect fossils from each unit. We will return at least one more day this week for continued collection.

The Hilliste Formation is very important in evolutionary and ecological studies because it records an Early Silurian “recovery fauna” that lived after the massive end-Ordovician extinctions. There are very few other shelly faunas of this age in the northern hemisphere. This may be the only one that has survived from the ancient paleocontinent of Baltica. The preservation of the fossils is excellent. Above is a heliolitid coral from the unit we have designated “Hi-2”.

Bill Ausich of Ohio State (pictured above in a heroic pose that we call “the Walcott“) found what I think is the most interesting fossil of the day in the Hilliste Quarry. His goal has been to discover as many crinoid calices as possible in the Silurian of the western Estonian islands. Finding such treasures in the Hilliste Quarry started a bit slowly, but he collected this fascinating specimen:

It is a favositid coral surface with two crinoid holdfasts attached. These holdfasts are essentially single roots with little rootlets that gripped the corallites of the coral. There is no more persuasive indicator that crinoids lived with corals here! I had not seen holdfasts like these before, which shows again the value of working with colleagues in the field.

There are also inorganic mysteries in the Hilliste Quarry. Above is an image of a bedding plane near the base of our section (unit Hi-1) that displays ripple marks in a micritic (fine-grained) limestone matrix. The compass shows the north direction, as does the measuring stick. We don’t know how ripples are formed in such a fine sediment (the particles would have been near clay size), nor what environmental forces they indicate. We do know that some show interference patterns (possibly from wave currents) and that they show similar directional orientations.

The only place in the quarry that exposes our lowest unit, by the way, has this wasp’s nest hanging over it. The wasps understandably are quite irritated by hammer blows on the rocks around them, so we must be watchful at this spot!

Good luck to Jonah as he begins his capstone college intellectual adventure. We’ll have more about this project later this week!


A new Independent Study project is born: The Soeginina Beds at Kübassaare

July 9th, 2012

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–Wooster student Richa Ekka now has her Independent Study project. This is a big moment for a Wooster student: choosing the iconic capstone experience to complete the curriculum. Geologists always have delightful choices — so many possible topics and so little time! Richa decided to study the sedimentology and stratigraphy of the Soeginina Beds (lowermost Ludlow) at Kübassaare Cliff in the far east of the island (N 58.43259°, E 023.30978°) near the small village of Kübassaare. (This is the last site Olev showed us yesterday morning.) Jonah Novek and Richa are shown above carefully studying her outcrop. In Wooster geology tradition, all students on a field trip assist each other with the field work. Later this week Richa will be helping Jonah at his outcrops on Hiiumaa Island.

Richa’s goal is to thoroughly describe the rocks and fossils found at this exposure of the Soeginina Beds. She will make a paleoenvironmental interpretation, and then compare her results to those of Nick Fedorchuk (’12) who worked last year on the equivalent beds 70 km west during his Independent Study. There are some immediate clues to the general environment, such as the halite crystal mold pictured above. If halite crystals were forming, then at least part of the time there was hypersaline water about. The Soeginina Beds, though, also include various fossils, so the seawater chemistry could not have been hypersaline through all or even most of the depositional interval. This is where Richa’s bedding plane exposures give her a considerable advantage: she can detect features such as ripple marks, trace fossils, syneresis cracks and body fossils that could be easily missed in the two-dimensional cross-sections of cliff exposures.

The stromatolites, as shown above, are fantastic at Kübassaare Cliff. They are domical, most appearing to have grown as separate structures that blended laterally into single domes.

Some of the stromatolites have an odd banding, which you can see in the image above. It appears to be a color difference alone that is not reflected in the width of the laminae. One of many mysteries Richa will grapple with!

Above are some large recrystallized oval shells we found today in Richa’s section. They may be ostracods. If so, they are the largest I have ever seen. Ostracods would make sense in this very shallow environment, but so also would some bivalves.

Finally, we read in the scant literature on the Soeginina Beds that they have “eurypterid fragments”. We saw plenty of brownish flakes that could be bits of eurypterid chitin, but none had any identifiying features until Richa picked up one which clearly has the proximal segments and prosoma of a eurypterid. This is the first identifiable eurypterid I’ve ever seen in the field. Richa is proud and happy! (Even if I made her squint into the sun.)

Richa’s eurypterid. Maybe not museum quality, but far better than any I’ve ever collected! It is a good sign as Richa begins her latest intellectual adventure.

Google Earth location of Kübassaare Cliff on the eastern end of Saaremaa Island.

A rite of passage: Geology Junior Independent Study presentations

May 6th, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–The College of Wooster requires an Independent Study (I.S.) thesis (or performance) from all of its graduates. These are not just extended literature reviews, but unique research projects crafted for and by each of our students. We devote three semesters to the process. Readers of this blog are well acquainted with Senior I.S. work because we highlight each study with multiple entries. The first I.S. semester, which is usually (but not always) taken in the spring of the junior year, gets far less outside attention. This is because most of the work is preparation for the research to come in the following summer and school year. Students and faculty sort out projects for each junior, narrow and focus their objectives, and then do a thorough library study to form hypotheses to test in the field or lab. Occasionally we have specimens to work on as a preview, or have even done some of the fieldwork during Spring Break. No matter what, though, each student eventually presents his or her research ideas to the faculty and fellow classmates. Last week most of our juniors gave their talks and posters. (Two of our juniors are out of sequence; one presented last semester, the other will this summer.)

This presentation is the first of three that these students will give to the department about their projects. It is always the most difficult because the research is just beginning and the students are new to giving talks. By their senior years these same students will feel like veteran speakers and masters of their topics. As juniors, though, the task is daunting. The faculty make the proceedings a little less formal than the senior presentations (note in the photo above Anna Mudd is giving her talk on paleosols from a cart as a podium!), but our juniors are still facing a group of their peers … and scary faculty charged with evaluating their performances. The students came through this year and did very well.

New to the system this year were posters from the Utah group (explained below). Each of these four students still gave an oral presentation, but rather than all repeating the same basic framework information (location, geological setting, etc.), they began their set of talks with these poster discussions. Above we see Kevin Silver starting to explain the Utah integrated projects, with Whitney Sims ready to do her part at the end.

Four students (and Clare Booth Luce award winner Tricia Hall) are going with Dr. Shelley Judge and Dr. Meagen Pollock to the Black Rock Desert in south-central Utah to explore petrological and structural questions:

Will Cary will be looking at the ballistics of volcanic bombs thrown from the eruptions.
Whitney Sims will examine the petrology and geochemistry of particular lava flows.
Kevin Silver is studying xenoliths in these lava flows.
Matt Peppers will be doing a fracture analysis of the Ice Springs lava flow.

Two of our students will be doing Keck Geology Consortium projects this summer:

Anna Mudd is examining paleosols (ancient soils) developed in the northeastern Oregon.
Joe Wilch is assessing metamorphic core complexes in the northern Snake Range of Nevada.

Two students are traveling with Dr. Mark Wilson to the western islands of Estonia:

Richa Ekka will concentrate on petrology and paleoenvironments of Silurian carbonates.
Jonah Novek will study Silurian paleocommunities and recovery faunas.

Two students will be in Glacier Bay, Alaska, with Dr. Greg Wiles:

Jenn Horton and Lauren Vargo will study the reaction of trees (and their rings) to climate change and isostatic rebound.


Melissa Torma is studying Jurassic faunas in Israel with Dr. Wilson.
Kit Price will be examining Ordovician sclerobionts in the Cincinnati region, also with Dr. Wilson.

This summer you will see blog posts from all of the above as they start their senior adventures!

Wooster Geologists at the 2012 Senior Research Symposium

April 27th, 2012

WOOSTER, OHIO–Six Wooster geology seniors presented their research to the campus and public this morning in Kauke Hall on the College of Wooster campus. They were among the first posters in the annual Senior Research Symposium in which Independent Study projects are highlighted and celebrated. They did very well — their geology faculty advisors are proud indeed. Here they are with their presentations:

Sarah Appleton ’12: Dating of the Mid-Holocene History and Glacial Stratigraphy of the Wachusett Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Southeast Alaska. (Links to Sarah’s work on the Wooster Geologist’s blog.)

Lindsey Bowman ’12: Geochemical and Field Relationships of Pillow and Dike Units in a Subglacial Pillow Unit, Undirhlíðar Quarry, Southwest Iceland. (Links to Lindsey’s work on the Wooster Geologists blog.)

Andrew Collins ’12: A Comparison and Analog-Based Analysis of Sinuous Channels on Rift Aprons of Ascraeus Mons and Pavonis Mons Volcanoes, Mars. (Links to Andrew’s work on the Wooster Geologists blog.)

Nick Fedorchuk ’12: Stratigraphy and Paleoecology of the Wenlock/Ludlow Boundary on Saaremaa Island, Estonia. (Links to Nick’s work on the Wooster Geologists blog.)

Rachel Matt ’12: Paleoecology of the Hilliste Formation (Lower Silurian, Llandovery, Rhuddanian) on Hiiumaa Island, Estonia: An Example of a Shallow Marine Recovery Fauna. (Links to Rachel’s work on the Wooster Geologists blog.)

Katharine Schleich ’12: A Geochemical and Petrographic Analysis of the Hrafnfjordur Central Volcano, Westfjords, Iceland. (Links to Katharine’s work on the Wooster Geologist blog.)

Well done, Wooster Geologists!


Non-stationarity in climatic response of coastal tree species along the Gulf of Alaska (Senior Independent Study Thesis by Stephanie Jarvis)

April 15th, 2011

The crew in their XtraTufs. From L-R: Stephanie, Deb, Dan, and Greg.

Editor’s note: Senior Independent Study (I.S.) is a year-long program at The College of Wooster in which each student completes a research project and thesis with a faculty mentor.  We particularly enjoy I.S. in the Geology Department because there are so many cool things to do for both the faculty advisor and the student.  We are now posting abstracts of each study as they become available.  The following was written by Stephanie Jarvis, a senior geology and biology double major from Shelbyville, KY.  Here is a link to Stephanie’s final PowerPoint presentation on this project as a movie file (which can be paused at any point). You can see earlier blog posts from her field work by clicking the Alaska tag to the right.

For my IS field work I traveled to Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Alaska with my geology advisor, Greg Wiles.  Our field crew also consisted of Deb Prinkey (’01), Dan Lawson (CRREL), and Justin Smith, captain of the RV Capelin.  My focus was on sampling mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana (Bong.) Carrière) at treeline sites to study climate response and forest health using tree ring analysis.  While in Glacier Bay, we also sampled interstadial wood (from forests run over from the glaciers that were now being exposed on the shore) and did some maintenance work on Dan’s climate stations throughout the park.  Back in the lab, Wooster junior Sarah Appleton kept me company and helped me out with some of the tree-ring processing, as did Nick Wiesenberg.

The view from treeline.

An interstadial wood stump, in place. The glacier ran over this tree and buried it in sediment, which is now being washed away.

Site map

I ended up processing cores from only one of the three sites I sampled this summer (the others can be fodder for future projects!).  In addition, I used data from several other sites sampled in previous years.  My data consisted of 3 mountain hemlock sites forming an elevational transect along Beartrack Mountain in Glacier Bay (one described by Alex Trutko ’08), 3 mountain hemlock sites at varying elevations from the mountains around Juneau, AK, and 2 Alaskan yellow-cedar sites (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (D. Don) Spach) from Glacier Bay used by Colin Mennett (’10).   My purpose was to look into the assumption of stationarity in growth response to climate of trees over time and changing climatic conditions.  According to the Alaska Climate Research Center, this part of AK as warmed 1.8°C over the past 50 years.

Tree-ring base climate reconstructions are important in our understanding of climatic variations and are a main temperature proxy in IPCC’s 2007 report on climate change.  Climate reconstruction is based on the premise that trees at a site are responding to the same environmental variables today that they always have (thus, they are stationary in their response), allowing for the reconstruction of climatic variables using today’s relationship between annual growth and climate.

Greg coring a tree at treeline.

Crossdating using patterns of variations in ring width.

Temperature reconstructions using different proxies, including tree-rings, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report.

Recent observations, such as divergence (the uncoupling of long-term trends in temperature and annual growth) and worldwide warming-induced tree mortality, suggest that this assumption of stationarity may not be valid in some cases.  Using mean monthly temperature and precipitation data from Sitka, AK that begin in the 1830s, I compared correlations of annual growth in mountain hemlock to climate at different elevations over time.  My results indicate that mountain hemlocks at low elevations are experiencing a negative change in response to warm temperatures with time, whereas those at high elevations are experiencing a release in growth with warming.  Low-elevation correlation patterns are similar to those of lower-elevation Alaskan yellow-cedar, which is currently in decline due to early loss of protective snowpack with warming.  An increasing positive trend in correlation to April precipitation and mountain hemlock growth indicates that spring snowpack may be playing an increased role in mountain hemlock growth as temperatures warm.  The high elevation mountain hemlock trends suggest the possibility of tree-line advance, though I was not able to determine if regeneration past the current treeline is occurring.  Tree at mid-elevation sites seem to be the least affected by non-stationarity, remaining relatively constant in their growth response throughout the studied time period.  This indicates that reconstructions using mid-elevation sites are likely to be more accurate, as the climatic variable they are sensitive to is not as likely to have changed over time.

Cedar chronologies (green lines) compared to temperature (brown line). Bar graph represents correlation coefficients between annual ring width and temperature, with colors corresponding to labels on the chronologies (orange is lowest elevation PI, blue is higher elevation ER). Asterisks represent significant correlations. Note that the relationship has changed from being positive at ER during the Little Ice Age to negative by the second half of the 20th century.

Mountain hemlock chronologies (green lines) compared to temperature (brown line). The top graph is of the Glacier Bay sites, the bottom is of the Juneau sites. Red represents the low elevation sites, green the mid-elevation, and purple the high elevation. Note that the low elevation sites are decreasing in correlation as the cedars have, while the high elevation sites have experienced a release in growth with warming.


Paleoecological Reconstruction of the Menuha Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Santonian), Makhtesh Ramon Region, Southern Israel (Senior Independent Study Thesis by Andrew Retzler)

April 11th, 2011

A typical Menuha Formation outcrop south of the Makhtesh Ramon structure.

Editor’s note: Senior Independent Study (I.S.) is a year-long program at The College of Wooster in which each student completes a research project and thesis with a faculty mentor.  We particularly enjoy I.S. in the Geology Department because there are so many cool things to do for both the faculty advisor and the student.  We are now posting abstracts of each study as they become available.  The following was written by Andrew Retzler, a senior geology major from Wooster, Ohio.  Here is a link to Andrew’s final PowerPoint presentation on this project as a movie file (which can be paused at any point). You can see earlier blog posts from his field work by clicking the Israel tag to the right. Andrew also created a Wikipedia page on the Menuha Formation.

It all began with an 11-hour flight from NYC to Tel Aviv, Israel with Dr. Wilson and fellow geology senior Micah Risacher. The airport process required for international travel of this sort was an adventure in itself. Thorough baggage checks, stern looks from security personnel, and a bombardment of questions dealing with our reasons for travelling were all offset by a seemingly endless and free movie selection on the flight! Eventually, we reached our arid destination of Mitzpe Ramon, the city that would serve as our basecamp for the next two weeks.

One of the reasons behind our trip was to scour the Menuha Formation outcrops throughout the Makhtesh Ramon region (shown above). We were hoping to collect and analyze various fossils in order to reconstruct an environment that once flourished during the Cretaceous. This process also involved taking detailed measurements and notes on each outcrop to create stratigraphic columns of each locality. This would become the basis of my thesis. Of course, none of this could have been possible without the help of our all-knowing field guide, Yoav Avni, and our shark specialist, Stuart Chubb, from the Birkbeck College of London.

Although my thesis has a strong focus on the shark and other fish teeth collected from the Menuha Formation, it also incorporates oysters, trace fossils, and several benthic/planktic foraminiferans. At least ten different species were represented in the isolated teeth: Cretalamna appendiculata, Cretoxyrhina mantelli, Squalicorax falcatus?, Squalicorax kaupi, Scapanorhynchus rapax, Scapanorhynchus raphiodon?, Carcharias samhammeri, Carcharias holmdelensis, and two other fish (Hadrodus priscus and Micropycnodon kansasensis?). Many of these fish were thought to occupy outer shallow marine realms, where the continental shelf begins transitioning into the slope. A few of the sharks are also known for being top Cretaceous predators, four or more meters in length, whose diets included plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and ichthyodectids.

Cretalamna appendiculata tooth, a shark often considered to be an ecological generalist.

Scapanorhynchus rapax tooth. Related to the extant Goblin Shark, S. rapax had the ability to protrude its mouth in order to capture prey.

Cretoxyrhina mantelli tooth. Considered a superpredator of the Cretaceous seas, this shark could reach 5-6 meters in size.

Squalicorax kaupi tooth. The Squalicorax genus is the only group to exhibit serrated dentition, like so, in the Late Cretaceous.

Hadrodus priscus pharyngeal teeth. These teeth would have been found near the back of the throat arranged in a comb-like structure to help crush exoskeletons.

LEFT: The extended left valve of a Pycnodonte vesicularis. RIGHT: Planktic, biserial foraminiferan test (possibly Heterohelix sp.) that has been replaced by silica.

The Menuha Formation consists mainly of white and yellow/brown, glauconitic chalks that were often marly or conglomeratic. This chalk comprised a variety of phosphatic peloids, microteeth, irregular echinoid spines, and benthic/planktic foraminiferans that clearly represent a shallow marine environment.

Irregular echinoid spine recovered from the partially dissolved Menuha chalk.

Microtooth from the Menuha chalk.

Correlating the paleontology with their lithological context, a shallow marine outer continental shelf/middle continental slope environment is suggested as the paleoenvironment of the Menuha Formation. This environment would have also flourished with a variety of small to medium-sized fish, squid, and larger vertebrates (plesiosaurs and mosasaurs) in order to sustain such a shark population. Unlike the deep environment that has often been suggested, my thesis provides strong evidence towards a shallow marine environment during the early formation of the Makhtesh Ramon structure. My work also marks the first identification of the fish teeth within the Menuha Formation, beginning my contributions to the scientific world.

A Paleoenvironmental Analysis of the Zichor Formation in the Cretaceous of Southern Israel (Senior Independent Study Thesis by Micah Risacher)

April 11th, 2011

Editor’s note: Senior Independent Study (I.S.) is a year-long program at The College of Wooster in which each student completes a research project and thesis with a faculty mentor.  We particularly enjoy I.S. in the Geology Department because there are so many cool things to do for both the faculty advisor and the student.  We are now posting abstracts of each study as they become available.  The following was written by Micah Risacher, a senior geology major from Columbus, Ohio.  Here is a link to Micah’s final PowerPoint presentation on this project as a movie file (which can be paused at any point). You can see earlier blog posts from Micah’s field work by clicking the Israel tag to the right.

In the summer of 2011 Wooster geologists Mark Wilson, Andrew Retzler, and I went to the Negev Desert in southern Israel.  We were met by a colleague from England, Stewart Chubb as well as our guide and host Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel.  The small town of Mitzpe Ramon on the edge of the Makhtesh Ramon (Figure 1) would serve as our home for the next two weeks as we explored the Ramon structure.

Figure 1. A look into the Makhtesh Ramon structure.

My research includes the Zichor Formation which can be found throughout the Makhtesh Ramon structure.  However I focused on three separate locations known as the northern, southern, and western locations.  Each location had different features exposed, the southern location (Figure 2) exposed the Zichor very well, yet it was quite hard to get at it.

Figure 2. Southern section with the Zichor section labeled.

The purpose of my I.S. was to determine the paleoenvironment of this particular formation (Zichor) using the paleontology, sedimentology, and stratigraphy seen in the field/lab.  I found many well preserved echinoids (not destroyed by churning waters), Thalassinoides trace fossils, high mud content and shell fragments in the lithology, as well as several minor regression/transgression cycles.  All of these point to a primarily shallow marine environment that would slightly deepen once or twice before shallowing again.

The echinoids (Figure 3) found were so well preserved that they could be identified down to the species level and greatly helped to correlate this assemblage with others like it around the world during that time.  This process both helps to verify my results as well as put my sites in perspective with similar ones around the world.  Hopefully, this study will go a ways into settling the current dispute as to whether or not this region was a shallow or deep sea environment during the Late Cretaceous.

Figure 3. The most prevalent echinoids Hemiaster batnensis and Rachiosoma delamarri respectively; scale bars=1cm.

Bioerosion on oysters across the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary in Alabama and Mississippi (USA) (Senior Independent Study Thesis by Megan Innis)

April 8th, 2011

This is my research team at a road-cut locality in Mississippi. (Photo courtesy of George Phillips.)

Editor’s note: Senior Independent Study (I.S.) is a year-long program at The College of Wooster in which each student completes a research project and thesis with a faculty mentor.  We particularly enjoy I.S. in the Geology Department because there are so many cool things to do for both the faculty advisor and the student.  We are now posting abstracts of each study as they become available.  The following was written by Megan Innis, a senior geology major from Whitmore Lake, Michigan. Here is a link to Megan’s final PowerPoint presentation as a movie file (which can be paused at any point). You can see earlier blog posts from Megan’s field work by clicking the Alabama and Mississippi tags to the right.

During the summer of 2010, I traveled to Alabama and Mississippi with my research team including Dr. Mark Wilson, Dr. Paul Taylor, and Caroline Sogot.  Our trip was about ten days and included fieldwork and research. The purpose of our research was to collect fossils from below and above the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary to try and understand the Cretaceous mass extinction from a microfaunal level.

I chose to focus my thesis on oysters and the sclerobionts associated with these calcareous hard substrates.  Although my study was focused on oysters, I also collected a wide variety of other specimens including nautiloids, ammonites, belemnites, corals, sharks teeth, and bryozoans.

The oyster species present in each system.

When I got back to school in August, I identified all of my oyster species (three total) and began to identify and collect data for the sclerobionts. The oysters from the Cretaceous included Exogyra costata and Pycnodonte convexa and the oysters from the Paleogene included Exogyra costata, Pycnodonte convexa, and Pycnodonte pulaskiensis.

Sample specimens that I collected in Alabama and Mississippi. The oysters in yellow boxes and circles are the oyster species that were used in my study.

I identified nine sclerobionts including Entobia borings; Gastrochaenolites borings; Oichnus borings; Talpina borings; serpulids; encrusting oysters; encrusting foraminiferans; Stomatopora bryozoans; and “Berenicia” bryozoans.  My research showed:

1) Bioerosion of oyster hard substrates was common in the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene and sclerobionts were abundant before and after the extinction.

2) Entobia sponge borings appear to increase in abundance across the K/Pg boundary and become more common in the Paleogene.

3) Gastrochaenolites borings, made by bivalves, and serpulids were more prevalent in the Late Cretaceous, suggesting boring bivalves and serpulids were significantly reduced after the extinction.

4) Encrusting oysters and foraminiferans were more common in the Late Cretaceous, but also relatively abundant on Pycnodonte pulaskiensis in the Paleogene.

5) Encrusting bryozoans were more common in the Late Cretaceous and absent in the Paleogene, suggesting bryozoans were severely affected by the extinction.

6) Talpina borings were only found on Pycnodonte pulaskiensis in the Paleogene, but no significant data was collected elsewhere.

To my knowledge, this is the first study of bioerosion on oysters across the K/Pg boundary.

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