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.

Ottoman_surrender_of_Jerusalem_restored

 

So this is where capers come from

April 11th, 2014

Capparis spinosa multiples wall 040914MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Early Wednesday morning Yoav had a special mission to perform before we began our fieldwork. He had been asked by a botanist to get a sample of a new species of plant endemic to Makhtesh Ramon. The botanist needed it for a DNA study to confirm the species designation and link it to other related plants. This plant is a member of the Capparis genus, the most common species of which (Capparis spinosa) is a common site in our Negev field areas. C. spinosa is shown above growing in cracks of a limestone outcrop in Wadi Neqarot. (Remember that lifestyle!) The common names for the plant are the Thorny Caperbush or just Caperbush. This is where capers grow. Who knew? Capparis Yoav Yacov 040914Here are Yoav and Yacov looking at a specimen of the new species of Capparis. It grows only on the thin soil developed from gypsum exposures in the Triassic section of Makhtesh Ramon. This sulfate-rich sediment is very difficult for other plants to take root, so this species has some valuable adaptations to the geochemistry. Note there are very few other plants around it. The plant shows mostly dead growth from previous years, with the spring sprouting visible in the lower left. Capparis cutting 040914Yoav is cutting some sprigs for the sample. There are several other plants in the vicinity, so we’re not endangering the species! All for science.

Capparis collected 040914The cuttings of the Capparis plant.  Note the recurved spines beneath the branching points for the leaves. For some reason the botanist wanted these samples wrapped in newspaper, not placed in a plastic bag.

Capparis spinosa wadi 040914Here is Capparis spinosa in one of our wadis. It is a mostly upright bush with beautiful white flowers.

Capparis spinosa NegevA Capparis spinosa flower. Delicate and sweet-smelling. The fruit of these flowers are the capers that are harvested both in the wild and from cultivated varieties.

Capparis spinosa Western Wall 053011Now where have we seen these caper bushes before? Why in the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I’ve wondered what these are and where they come from. Turns out they are natives of the Middle East and particularly like growing in the cracks of limestone walls, either natural or artificial. Cool.

Wooster Geologists in Jerusalem

July 10th, 2013

1_JerusalemWalls071013MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–This is the beautiful 400-year-old Turkish wall surrounding Jerusalem. It and virtually all the buildings in Jerusalem is made of “Jerusalem Stone” (a set of Cretaceous micritic limestones, to be pedantic). When the sun rises or sets on them they turn the city into the fabled “Jerusalem of Gold”.

Team Israel 2013 made the long drive up to Jerusalem with our colleague Yoav Avni to meet with geologists at the Geological Survey of Israel, and then visit Hebrew University and the National Natural History Collections. Of course, I also gave the students a tour of the Old City with its incredible history and multi-dimensional culture.

2_YoavOffice071013Had to show an image of Yoav in his office. Typical geologist’s office, I’d say. The Geological Survey of Israel is housed in a century-old complex built as a school by Germans and then occupied by the British Army from 1918 to 1948. It is incredibly cramped so they are moving to new facilities in a few years.

3_FossilSnake071013We saw many, many fossils and modern bones at the National Natural History Museum collections on the campus of Hebrew University. The staff was very generous with their time, and their enthusiasm was inspiring. Our token image: a Cretaceous snake with tiny legs just barely visible.

4_StudentsChurchSepulchre071013Our journey through the Old City was so much fun, even though we had to move relatively quickly. We walked here from the Survey buildings through diverse neighborhoods and then down the newly-renovated Jaffa Street. Here you might be able to make out the three Wooster students in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

5_WesternWall071013We also went to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount complex, a treasured site in Judaism.

6_Dome071013We couldn’t visit the Temple Mount because it was closed, but we did get this excellent view of the Dome of the Rock, an iconic Islamic shrine.

7_ZionGate071013This is the outside of Zion Gate in the Jerusalem Old City walls. The innumerable bullet holes are a reminder of the violence this city has seen over the centuries. Most of these are from the War of Independence (1948-1949) and the Six-Day War (1967).

8_GroupGSI071013Finally, here is our last group photo: Steph Bosch, Lizzie Reinthal, Oscar Mmari, me, and Yoav Avni. Yoav is leaving for Jordan tomorrow so this is the last day he is with us. The photo was taken by my long-time friend, Israeli geologist Amihai Sneh.

What a day in such a place.

Wooster Geologists at the Center of the World

May 30th, 2011

Our visit to Jerusalem was to meet geologists at the Geological Survey of Israel main complex in the western part of the city. Those discussions went very well and we met new people and learned much. Will and I also took the opportunity to spend a few hours in the Old City. Here are some of the sites. The view above is of the Old City from Mount Scopus.

When we say that Jerusalem is the “Center of the World“, we are following a medieval tradition illustrated by this European manuscript page reproduced as a tiled image at the City Hall.

The Geological Survey of Israel headquarters have a very unassuming (and secure) entrance. This is an old World War II British military base that was on the outskirts of the city but is now surrounded by an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. It is a wise move not to advertise the very secular activities going on in there!

Our main walking route from the Survey to the Old City was Jaffa Street, which leads directly to Jaffa Gate. This is looking northwest. There is a new tram system being tested, thus the tracks in the road and lack of cars.

Will in the Old City market on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Outer courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All those people going in and out of that one doorway. Jerusalem now receives a record three million visitors a year.

Turns out the Center of the World is actually within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre … and its exact spot has been marked!

There are very few places in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where you can see the original bedrock of the area. This is a famous crack in the rock below what is supposed to be the crucifixion site and above what is known as Adam’s Grave. Note the strain gauge across the joint. There are geological concerns about the stability of the bedrock and monumental structures built on top of it. I can’t imagine how the Israeli authorities got religious sanction to install that instrument!

Crepuscular rays descending from the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The top of the Holy Sepulchre structure is at the bottom of the image.

Finally, we visited the Western Wall revered in Judaism. Above it (and not visible in this image) are the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem: the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. We thus visited in the space of a few hours sacred spaces of the three Abrahamic religions. Center of the World indeed.

 

Ammonite Identified

September 6th, 2009

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL–I don’t really think the readers of this blog have been anxiously waiting to hear the taxonomic identification of the ammonite I found in the Matmor Formation last week.  It is worth a note, though, to briefly describe how I now know the beauty is Peltoceras solidum.  Yoav and I traveled today to Jerusalem to work in the offices of the Geological Survey of Israel.  While there I was able to examine the ammonite collections of Ze’ev Lewy, a retired paleontologist with the Survey.  He collected the specimen pictured below from the Matmor several years ago.  Dead ringer for my paltry fragments, which show the same external ornamentation and the same internal suture pattern.  Case solved!

Ammonite found in the Matmor Formation at Makhtesh Gadol by Ze'ev Lewy of the Geological Survey of Israel.

Ammonite found in the Matmor Formation at Makhtesh Gadol by Ze'ev Lewy of the Geological Survey of Israel. The close-up on the right is of the suture pattern highlighted with a pencil.

Short summer field movies

July 10th, 2009

TALLINN, ESTONIA–On my last evening in Estonia this year I finally had time to figure out how to post some of the short video clips I’ve taken over the past several weeks. The Iceland group pioneered the concept on this blog with their excellent Great Basalt Race. I can’t come close to matching that excitement, but since we have this cool equipment I might as well display the results! These clips are also now included in the appropriate blog posts.

First, going back to the May work in Israel, here is a brief view of some girls dancing just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Next is a simple pan from outside Andrey Dronov’s cottage in Russia looking at the Lynna River. Then sailing into pack ice in Isfjorden, Svalbard, Norway. Soon afterwards I filmed waves lapping on an iceberg in the same area. Finally, today we saw some Medieval dancing in the town square of Tallinn, Estonia.

I’ve also uploaded a couple of very short movies from the 2005 Wooster Israel expedition: Yoav Avni explaining some geology at Makhtesh Ramon, and Jeff Bowen collecting in Makhtesh Gadol.

No Oscars coming my way for these, but maybe a little flavor of these places is conveyed by the sound and movement. The clips are also mercifully short!

Urban Dinosaurs

May 27th, 2009

My last geological fieldwork (if we can call it that) in Israel on this trip was to examine the Upper Cretaceous limestones and dolomites exposed in Jerusalem. I far prefer my rocks be found in pristine wilderness areas with only bird songs in the background, but the right rocks, of course, can be anywhere. Sometimes, then, we have to work with traffic zooming by, sirens wailing, blasts of car exhaust, and schoolchildren offering to hammer the rocks for us.

The coolest location was in the moshav of Beit Zeit, just five minutes from downtown Jerusalem. (A moshav is a type of cooperative agricultural community, although in this case heavily urbanized.) A beautiful trackway of ornithomimosaur dinosaur footprints is exposed on a bedding plane of Lower Cenomanian limestone.

combinedbeitzeit052709

The site is of great importance because thus far these are the only dinosaur tracks known in the entire Middle East. The local community purchased the land and erected a protective roof over the trackways. They had a mural painted showing what the area may have looked like in the Cretaceous, installed a custom-made life-size dinosaur model on the bedding plane, and made the area into an educational park. You can see for yourself what happened later. The surrounding fence was too low, so it became a drug hangout, vandals spray-painted the mural and then broke the dinosaur into bits. (The crater where the dinosaur stood is just visible in the photo.)  This natural wonder was simply too accessible to the public.  There are plans to protect the site more thoroughly, and then reconstruct the displays.

I was able to collect a small piece of the limestone bedding plane for analysis back in Wooster. My hypothesis is that the limestone is a marine hardground which cemented very soon after the dinosaurs waded across it, thereby preserving the prints. A thin-section of the rock may show if it had these early cements.

The rest of our urban geological work was on the streets of Jerusalem. Rocky outcrops are common because the city is built on several steep hills which have been quarried for thousands of years. We were able to correct the geological map in some places because of new exposures, and I gathered several ideas for future projects.

Mizzi hilu ("sweet rock"), a lithographic biomicrite member of the Judea Group (Turonian).

Mizzi hilu ("sweet rock"), a lithographic biomicrite member of the Judea Group (Turonian).

Geological Survey of Israel Headquarters

May 24th, 2009

The campus of the Geological Survey of Israel (GSI) may not look like much from the outside, but it is a world class scientific institution. It has about 100 employees, most of whom are Earth scientists. The buildings and grounds of the headquarters are understated in part because they are a section of an old Mandate-era British military base, and also because they are embedded within an ultra-orthodox neighborhood one block away from Mea Shearim. (I would have included a photograph of a street scene, but I learned my lesson earlier when I was observed removing a camera from my pocket and was very much chastised.)

combinedsignbuildings052409

Our preparations for this week’s fieldwork include using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software and hardware to create custom maps. We selected the best aerial imagery available and superimposed on it the known geological information, especially the contacts between stratigraphic units.

A GIS station in the GSI offices.  (I know: GIS, GSI ...)  On the left-hand corner of the table is our growing pile of printed orthophotos with superimposed geological information.

A GIS station in the GSI offices. (I know: GIS, GSI ...) On the left-hand corner of the table is our growing pile of printed orthophotos with superimposed geological information.

Finally, in case anyone wonders if I’m eating well enough, you can see from this last image that I’m doing just fine.

jerusalemmcdonalds052409

Walls in Jerusalem

May 23rd, 2009

Our faculty colleagues on the Hales Fund trip to China have posted on their blog a wonderful photographic blog essay of their encounter with the Great Wall of China. It gives me an excuse to show some cool walls I’ve encountered lately on this trip. All of these structures are made from one of the limestone varieties of Jerusalem Stone.

Southwest corner of the retaining wall for the Temple Mount.  The massive lower blocks were carved and emplaced during the reign of King Herod the Great (37 - 4 BCE).

Southeast corner of the retaining wall for the Temple Mount. The massive lower blocks were carved and emplaced during the reign of King Herod the Great (37 - 4 BCE).

Golden Gate (Bab el-Rahma) in the eastern city wall.  Jewish tradition is that the Messiah will pass through this gate into Jerusalem.  Possibly for that reason the Muslim rulers in the 7th Century closed it up and placed a graveyard in fron of it.

Golden Gate (Bab el-Rahma) in the eastern city wall, another construction during Herod the Great's reign. Jewish tradition is that the Messiah will pass through this gate into Jerusalem. Possibly for that reason the Muslim rulers in the 7th Century closed it up and placed a graveyard in front of it.

Middle of the north city wall.  This is the side of the walled city most vulnerable to invaders, so the height of the wall was enhanced by quarrying out the limestone beneath it.  The door leads into one of many subsurface quarries underneath this part of the Old City.

Middle of the north city wall. This is the side of the walled city most vulnerable to invaders, so the height of the wall was enhanced by quarrying out the limestone beneath it. The door leads into one of many subsurface quarries underneath this part of the Old City.

The stones atop Jaffa Gate on the western side of the city walls shows bullet and shell scarring from the 1948 War of Independence.  Jordanian troops held the Old City and the Israelis were desperate to relieve the Jewish Quarter inside.

The stones atop Jaffa Gate on the western side of the city walls show bullet and shell scarring from the 1948 War of Independence. Jordanian troops held the Old City and the Israelis were desperate to relieve the Jewish Quarter inside.

A bit of limestone wall exposed in the Chapel of Adam inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Christian tradition is that this is the burial place of Adam, which was supposed to be directly below the crucifixion site of Golgotha.  The crack you see in the rock was believed by early Christians to have been formed during the earthquake upon the death of Jesus.  Archaeologists suggest that it was a pre-existing crack in an old quarry.  What I found interesting was that someone has placed a strain meter across the crack!  Any movement of the rock here will not be good news for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

A bit of limestone wall exposed in the Chapel of Adam inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Christian tradition is that this is the burial place of Adam, which was supposed to be directly below the crucifixion site of Golgotha. The crack you see in the rock was believed by early Christians to have been formed during the earthquake upon the death of Jesus. Archaeologists suggest that it was a pre-existing crack in an old quarry. What I found interesting was that someone has placed a strain meter across the crack! Any movement of the rock here will not be good news for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The "broad wall" is a remnant of an 8th Century BCE fortification built by King Hezekiah to expand the size of Jerusalem.  It was uncovered while Israeli engineers were clearing the debris in the Jewish Quarter after it was liberated in 1967.

The "broad wall" is a remnant of an 8th Century BCE fortification built by King Hezekiah to expand the size of Jerusalem. It was uncovered while Israeli engineers were clearing the debris in the Jewish Quarter after it was liberated in 1967.

Jerusalem Stone

May 22nd, 2009

Jerusalem is indeed the “city of gold” when the sun rises or sets on it. The slanting rays give the beautiful stonework on the facings of its buildings a golden glow. Since the British captured the city in World War I, it has been the law that all buildings must be faced with Jerusalem Stone, which is a mix of Late Cretaceous limestones and dolomites quarried in this part of the Judean Hills.

City wall near the Jaffa Gate lit by the setting sun.

City wall near the Jaffa Gate lit by the setting sun.

The most beautiful and durable of the stone types is called meleke. It is a Turonian (Late Cretaceous) biomicrite with numerous stylolites (jagged lines showing internal pressure dissolution), some trace fossils, and occasionally numerous molds of fossil mollusks.

Close-up of the meleke variety of Jerusalem Stone.

Close-up of the meleke variety of Jerusalem Stone. Finger is on a small stylolite.

The local stone can be easily seen in outcrops on the north side of the Old City where the walls were built directly atop old quarry sides. The present quarries are now mostly in the West Bank and are very busy supplying stone for new construction throughout Jerusalem.

New construction in western Jerusalem using Jerusalem Stone.

New construction in western Jerusalem using Jerusalem Stone.

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