High-Temperature Geochemistry in Action

July 18th, 2017

WOOSTER, OH – Over the last couple of weeks, our Keck Geology Team Utah has been hard at work in the College of Wooster Geology labs. We collected a dozen samples from Ice Springs Volcanic Field in the Black Rock Desert, Utah to understand the eruption history and the age of the lava flows.

The first processing step is to powder the sample. Addison Thompson (’20, Pitzer College) uses the rock saw to isolate pieces of fresh rock.

Addison and Madison Rosen (’19, Mt. Holyoke College) use a sledge to break the sawn pieces into smaller bits.

Sam Patzkowsky (’20, Franklin and Marshall) cleans the chips so that we can crush them in the shatterbox.

Emily Randall (’20, College of Wooster) sieves the powder and makes sure all of it is small enough for the next step. We sent some of this powder to the Purdue PRIME Lab, where they’ll measure the abundance of 36Cl in our rocks.

Pa Nhia Moua (’20, Carleton College) pulls samples out of a red-hot oven so that we can measure Loss on Ignition (LOI) to determine how much H2O might be in the samples.

Sam and Addison weigh out accurate amounts of the oxidized sample and flux, which lowers the melting temperature and helps our samples melt so that we can make glass discs.

The samples get melted in the fluxer and poured into molds to make glass discs.

The glass discs are loaded in the XRF and analyzed for their major element chemistry. We use the chemistry along with the data from Purdue and the location and orientation of the sample to calculate an age for the lava flow.

We’re using another method called Varnish MicroLamination (VML) dating to provide an independent estimate of the age of the lava. Desert varnish is a dark coating of clays and iron- and manganese-oxides that accumulates on the surface of samples in arid environments. You may have seen ancient petroglyphs carved into the desert varnish. Researchers use the layering in VML to date pieces of rock art. In order to use the VML method, we have to make ultra-thin slides of our rocks so that we can see through the varnish.

Addison pours epoxy into plastic molds to mount the VML samples.

Pa Nhia has been sanding her VML sample for days to grind it to the correct thickness without grinding away the varnish. It’s dirty, delicate work.

By the end of the week, we should have age estimates for the lava flows and a better idea of the sequence of eruptive events that formed Ice Springs Volcanic Field. Check back later for our GSA abstract!

The conclusion of an excellent field season

June 28th, 2017

Guest Bloggers: Addison Thompson (’20, Pitzer College), Pa Nhia Moua (’20, Carleton College), and Sam Patzkowsky (’20, Franklin and Marshall) write about our last day of field work

6.26.17  Despite the often inhospitable conditions of the Black Rock Desert, the cohesion of team Utah made the scientific process enjoyable.  After the immediate success of the first day, it was given that the group would surpass any benchmark that Dr. Pollock had imagined.  The constant willingness for members to go above and beyond what was necessary to advance the mission in the Black Rock Desert was indicative of the excitement the group derived from the task at hand.

Team Utah with cinder cones in the background.

Although sweating, sore arms, and general discomfort at this point was par for the course, the final day in the field was bitter sweet.  The group ended on a high note, collecting a total of seven samples on the day.  Dr. Pollock said, “finding a suitable piece of pahoehoe is like finding a needle in a haystack”, so the group found two.  In addition to the pahoehoe samples, numerous samples were found that were suitable for Varnish Microlamination testing.  With the day complete, the group left the four cinder cones and their vast, puzzling lava flows in search of petroglyphs that were said to be nearby.  These were never found.  The ride back to camp was quiet, people were either staring out the window at the expansive Utah landscape or with their heads rocked to the side catching some z’s.

Pa Nhia Moua Carleton College ’20 demonstrating proper enthusiasm whilst in the field.

Pa Nhia Moua
Carleton College ’20 Member of Team Keck
As we ventured on our last day in the field, we were determined to make up for our day “off the field”. With pride and gratitude, the team worked hard to use all information we learned on the field to search for suitable samples. Hurrah to Team Utah! The seven samples we collected in one day shows our spirit, our optimism, and our growth of knowledge! And as a plus, a massive lava tube (~15-20 m tall) was discovered, and offered us wonderful protection from the shining rays of the sun. Great job team! Now, may luck and knowledge be with us in the labs!

“I could have sworn we parked the car over there.”

Sam Patzkowsky

Franklin & Marshall College ’20

As our trip in Utah comes to a close, I am flooded with all the unique and rewarding experiences that occurred.  One of these experiences that stuck out to me was from our first day in the field; right after lunch we had split up into groups to try and understand what the heck was going on in the immediate area.  My group consisted of me and Addison Thompson (Pitzer College ’20), and as we trudged off away from the other group, it hit me, I had known this kid for all of three days and suddenly we were thrust into a position to work together to attempt to understand the volcanics of this field, unknowing if we’d have a great dynamic or a poor one.  As this work continued, I knew that even if we had different personalities, geology is a field where people can set aside their differences, whatever they may be, and just nerd-out about rocks.  It is truly a unique field of study and one that I am excited to continue working and studying in.  Oh, and Addison is one heck of a group partner, in case you were wondering.

Emily Randall ’20 the College of Wooster collecting a righteous sample of Pahoehoe with colleagues looking on eagerly.

Our resident photogenic individual, Sam Patzkowsky, Franklin & Marshall ’20 beating the heat with a crispy apple.

Team Utah Takes to the Field

June 26th, 2017

Guest Blogger: Addison Thompson (’20, Pitzer College) writes about our first 3 days of field work.

6.23.17 For the Utah group, the first day in the field was daunting yet rewarding as our intrepid group of young geologists made themselves acquainted with the Ice Springs Volcanic Field.  The Ice Springs Volcanic Field, located in the Black Rock Desert of Utah, is home to many old cinder cone volcanos that currently lay dormant.  In the past the cinder cones were active volcanos, spitting and oozing lava.  The lava flows have since cooled and currently take the form of basaltic rocks spilling out from four primary cinder cones, Miter, Crescent, Pocket and Terrace.

The day began at 7:15am with breakfast, after which foods were divided for lunch, sandwiches were assembled, and packs were equipped and made field ready.  Everything was ready, as was the team and off the Utah group went to the field site, arriving just after 9am.  After days of anticipation, stepping out of the car face to face with what the group had read so many articles and papers about was magical.  In no time, the group  was on their way, climbing up the service road, and eventually up the cinder cone named Miter in order to get a lay of the rocky land.

Team Utah atop the Mitre cinder cone

The terrain comprised uneven, sharp, basaltic rocks and was difficult to traverse, but the group managed.  After climbing Miter, the next move was to follow the presumed Miter lava flow path which eventually emptied into a flat basin, an area interpreted to be where a lava flow once pooled.  A good section of pahoehoe, a ropy formation of a basaltic rock, was quickly identified, and its sample was taken.

Sam Patzkowsky (’20 Franklin and Marshall College and Team Keck member) dislodging a piece of Pahoehoe to be used as a sample.

With the success of the pahoehoe find, it was time for lunch.  Shade was hard to come by, so people did their to take refuge from the incessant beating of the sun.  Water was a must.  After lunch the group split up in the attempt to identify the Mitre/Crescent lava flow boundary, not an easy task.  Regardless of the difficulty, progress was made and we ended the day with promising evidence that could work towards our hypothesis.  After a long first day in the field, morale was high but energy was very low; dinner was a welcomed sight.

6.24.17 Waking up on the second day was a breeze.  The group had a plan in mind and very little was left to chance.  First on the chopping block was a visit to the Carbon-14 dating site followed by accessing the area that is believed to house the Miter/Crescent boundary.  Sadly the Carbon-14 dating site was only accessible by a private road, so that idea was nixed.  Next up was entering the lava flows from the north west side via a rarely traveled dirt access road.  The going was bumpy but eventually the car made it to a suitable stopping point.  The walk to the toes (the extent) of the lava flows was a brief flat jog that took minutes; however, the real challenge began when it became necessary to climb the lava flows in order to press on.   Over the course of the trip, the sharp basaltic rocks have claimed many a causality, so the group favored precision over speed.  In searching for Miter/Crescent boundary evidence, it was impossible to ignore other important geologic occurrences.  One of these interesting being a large boulder, about 8ft. tall, comprised of lava bombs that must have been part of a cinder cone that rode a lava flow to the edge.

Measuring a boulder that was transported to its current location by a lava flow.

This helped give an idea about the power of the flows.  Measurements of the boulder were taken along with photos for reference.

As the group pressed deeper into the flows they began to notice an accumulation of large basaltic slabs sticking out of the ground in all directions and angles.  Dr. Pollock noted that information about these slabs could be important towards our ultimate goal, so slab measurements needed to be taken, twenty in all.  Taking a slab measurement consisted of noting the coordinates of the hunk of rock, its width in centimeters, taking photos of the slab under examination, and lastly noting the size of the vesicles (holes created by the expulsion of gas during the cooling process).

Two members of Team Keck measuring a slab’s width.

The reward was lunch and maybe shade.  Luckily, shade was easier to find than the day before and the group crouched, laid, and sprawled under the angled rocks.  But like all good things, lunch came to an end.  Regardless of the heat, the group was always eager for more field work so they decided to push farther east in search of a boundary that had previously been visible from a birds eye map.  At the boundary, samples were to be taken for geochemistry analysis.  Eventually the boundary was reached and the samples were taken.  After a efficient day in the field it was time to turn around.  Dinner was burgers and everyone went to sleep soon there after.

6.25.17  The third full day in Utah did an excellent of of testing everyones nerves.  A special thanks goes out to Dr. Pollock for her cool disposition in the face of a turbulent situation.  The day began as a normal day does with breakfast, then lunch packing, and finally going over the mission of the day.  The catch was that the back right tire of the car that didn’t want to go along with the plan.  Minutes away from the field site the low tire pressure sign flashed on the dashboard so the group turned around and went to go get air for the noticeably deflated tier.  However the issue was that the tire had a puncture, not that it simply had low pressure.  With the spare now on the car, there was no backup and driving over rocky terrain without a spare tire is a disaster waiting to happen, so the call was made to switch rental cars.  This required Dr. Pollock driving the rental up to the Salt Lake Airport to exchange cars, a two hour trip both ways.  This exchange took a majority of the day so there was sadly no time left for field work.  This was definitely a disappointment, but the group handled it well.  The day was instead spent relaxing, uploading information from the field and doing any other minor housekeeping chores.  Emily Randall (’20 College of Wooster and Team Keck member) created a map locating every coordinate where a sample had been taken.  Finally towards the end of the day a few members went on a hike along an ATV path that wound towards the mountains behind the camp site.

A panoramic taken from the hike.

Although no field work was conducted it was a productive day.

 

Expanding Horizons by Mapping the Seafloor

April 24th, 2017

Wooster, OH – Last weekend, The College of Wooster hosted the Expanding Your Horizons conference. About 240 fifth- and sixth-grade girls participated in hands-on science workshops on computer science, math, geology, chemistry, biology, physics, and neuroscience. This year, I went back to my roots in marine geology to run a workshop on how we see what’s on the seafloor.

Pre-workshop selfie, complete with “I love rocks” name tag and photo of the Alvin submersible to jumpstart our conversations.

I put together a version of this activity about how geologists “see” under ice, the ocean, or inside the Earth. Most of the girls guessed that we use sonar to measure the depth of the ocean floor, and this short video was helpful for understanding how sonar works. Each group of girls was given a shoebox containing a mystery letter. They used their “sonar straws” to probe the bottom of the shoebox. They plotted their measured depths on their grid and used their data to interpret the letter in the box.

Poking straws into boxes seems not-at-all scientific and maybe a little silly at first, but the girls starting making and testing hypotheses pretty quickly.

You can see the map of “hits” and “misses” as they record the results of their hypothesis testing.

We found that the easiest letters to identify were those that had right angles, like “I” and “E.” Letters with triangles (like “N”) or curves (like “S” and “C”) were harder to identify.

Along the way, we learned about reproducibility and sampling strategy. As it turns out, if your data point is wrong, or all of your data are clustered in one corner of the map, it’s hard to make an interpretation. Still, each session managed to collect enough data to interpret the word “S-C-I-E-N-C-E” when the groups brought their maps together.

We watched part of a video on women in oceanography and I told them about Deep Sea Dawn, an inspirational woman oceanographer who maps the ocean floor and builds Legos! The girls asked incredible questions about what it’s like to be out at sea and about my favorite rock (basalt, of course). Finally, we watched a video about how we shrink styrofoam cups when we conduct deep-sea research and I showed them some of the cups from my cruises.

Their enthusiasm and energy were the best reminders of why I do what I do. I’m so grateful to all of my colleagues and educators everywhere who work hard every day to inspire the next generation of young geoscientists.

The Bear Post

July 25th, 2014

One of the wonderful benefits of working in the wilderness is the potential for interaction with wildlife. Sometimes, we’re entertained by energetic jackrabbits. Sometimes, camels eat our lunch. Always, we keep safety at the forefront.

The British Columbia team was fortunate to see majestic bald eagles, curious stone sheep, and many (many) marmots in their natural habitat. We also saw several bears.

Most of the bears that we saw were black bears eating the fresh grass alongside the road.

Most of the bears that we saw were black bears eating the fresh grass alongside the road.

However, the very first night in the field, we saw grizzlies.

The yellow arrow is pointing to a momma grizzly and her cub. Part of our group is standing on the edge of our campsite.

The yellow arrow is pointing to a momma grizzly and her cub. Our anxious group is standing on the edge of our campsite.

We were well prepared for a moment like this. Before going to the field, we had several long discussions about bear safety. We knew that the best strategy is to avoid a confrontation. At all times, each of us carried our own bear spray, a pepper spray with a strong propellant. We also had bear bangers, fire-cracker cartridges that are launched with a pen-like launcher. One of the first things we did when we arrived in the field was practice using the bear spray and bear bangers.

The bangers worked just as they were designed when we used them that first night. We spotted the momma grizzly and her cub walking across the ridge toward our camp. They didn’t change their course after the first bear banger, so we set off another. The second banger caused them to stop, and the third startled them into running in the opposite direction. Confrontation avoided!

As an added precaution, we set up a portable electric bear fence around our tents. The gentle tick of the fence was a comfort at night.

Sakurajima Erupts on Volcanology Field Trip

July 23rd, 2013

KAGOSHIMA, JAPAN – It was as if the IAVCEI 2013 organizers planned it. Shortly after arriving at the Arimura lookout on the mid-conference field trip, Sakurajima began erupting.

The start of the eruption as viewed from Arimura lookout.

The start of the 22 July eruption.

The ash cloud rose from Showa crater, located just beyond the summit as viewed from the lookout. Part of the ash cloud ascended into the atmosphere while some of the cloud flowed along the surface in a pyroclastic density current. A pyroclastic density current is a gravity-driven movement of hot gas and volcanic material. (See this interesting twitter conversation about the difference between the terms pyroclastic density current, pyroclastic flow, and pyroclastic surge). The video below shows the initial eruption cloud as it developed.

The eruption column continued to grow as multiple pulses of ash were emitted from the crater. It wasn’t long before the cloud was carried downwind and started depositing ash.

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Up until this point, the eruption was relatively quiet. Most of the sounds were caused by rockfalls and explosively ejected bombs. Then the volcano made an eerie rumbling noise as the flank began to move downslope.

You can hear the collective oohs and aahs as the volcanologists observe the eruption with reverence and awe.

At this point, we thought the show was over.

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The initial eruption cloud migrating away from Sakurajima, depositing ash downwind from the volcano.

Soon after the initial pulse, the deep rumbling sounds began again, and we were treated to a second, larger blast. The ash cloud was much darker and we could see large bombs raining down near the base.

The second column reached higher in the atmosphere, up to about 3 km is what I heard from one of the volcanologists on the field trip. The volcano continued emitting pulses of black pyroclastic material and was still erupting by the time I had to leave the lookout.

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A quiet Sakurajima is illuminated by the moon in our view from the post-trip gala on the ferry. (I heard there was another explosion during the party that I missed.)

The gala ended with a brilliant display of fireworks against the Sakurajima backdrop. Although the fireworks were truly spectacular, I think most of the volcanologists agreed that Sakurajima’s fireworks were the highlight of the day.

The gala ended with a brilliant display of fireworks against the Sakurajima backdrop. Although the fireworks were truly spectacular, I think most of the volcanologists agreed that Sakurajima’s fireworks were the highlight of the day.

If you’re interested in seeing more photos and videos of the eruption, please check out my Google+ album or my YouTube page. Have an eruption story of your own to share? Please comment!

Volcanoes! Volcanoes! Volcanoes!

July 20th, 2013

KAGOSHIMA, JAPAN – The 2013 Scientific Assembly of IAVCEI, the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior, has officially started in Kagoshima, Japan.

IAVCEI leaders and local welcome delegates from ~60 countries in today's opening ceremony.

IAVCEI leaders and local elected officials welcome delegates from ~60 countries in today’s opening ceremony.

The conference is a volcanologist’s dream, with sessions focused on every aspect of volcanology and a mid-conference field trip to Kagoshima’s own volcano, Sakurajima (currently at alert level 3). Day #1 didn’t disappoint. I’ve already co-chaired a session on Lava Flows with a fantastic group of international scientists and gave a talk on the dynamics of pillow-dominated subglacial eruptions recorded in Undirhlithar quarry on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland. You may remember that Lindsey Bowman (’12) and Becky Alcorn (’11) completed I.S. theses in Undirhlithar. Here are some highlights from our presentation:

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Undirhlithar quarry is a unique exposure that  provides insights into the internal architecture of a glaciovolcanic pillow ridge.

We've identified and mapped  pillow lavas, intrusions, and dikes.

Most of the quarry is made of pillow lavas, which are emplaced during effusive subaqueous eruption. We’ve also identified intrusions and dikes that feed the overlying pillow lava flows.

We've also identified tuff and tuff-breccia in the quarry.

There are also fragmental units in the quarry. The tuff, or fine ashy layers, probably represent periods of quiescence between eruptive events. The tuff-breccia, which has larger clasts, are formed during explosive activity and as a result of gravitational collapse along steep slopes.

Combined with geochemical and petrological variations, we've generated a model for how the units exposed in Undirhlithar were emplaced.

Combined with geochemical and petrological variations, we’ve generated a model for how the units exposed in Undirhlithar were emplaced that involves a complex sequence of multiple eruptive events.

The model involves a complex sequence of eruptive events under changing magmatic and eruptive conditions.

The sequence of events occurred under changing magmatic and eruptive conditions, which suggests that even small glaciovolcanic ridges can be constructed in a complicated manner.

Congratulations Team Utah!

June 20th, 2013

UTAH – Congratulations to Team Utah on completing a successful field season!

Team Utah 2013 at the end of their last day in the field. From left to right: (front) Dr. Thom Wilch (Albion), Michael Williams ('16, COW), Ellen Redner ('14, Albion), Cam Matesich ('14, COW), Adam Silverstein ('16, COW); (back) Kyle Burden ('14, COW), Dr. Meagen Pollock (COW), Ben Hinks ('14, Albion), Candy Thornton ('14, COW), Tricia Hall ('14, COW), and Dr. Shelley Judge (COW).

Team Utah 2013 at the end of their last day in the field. From left to right: (front) Dr. Thom Wilch (Albion), Michael Williams (’16, COW), Ellen Redner (’14, Albion), Cam Matesich (’14, COW), Adam Silverstein (’16, COW); (back) Kyle Burden (’14, COW), Dr. Meagen Pollock (COW), Ben Hinks (’14, Albion), Candy Thornton (’14, COW), Tricia Hall (’14, COW), and Dr. Shelley Judge (COW). Credit: T. Wilch

Although we’re parting ways, the students will be working on the research. They have plenty of data to analyze and lab work to do, so continue following the blog to stay updated on their progress.

Sandstone Appreciation Day

June 16th, 2013

Zion National Park, Utah – Team Utah took a break from the volcanic field to explore some of Utah’s (more famous) sedimentary rocks. We visited Zion, Utah’s first National Park.

Zion is a geological wonderland, featuring striking sheer cliffs and narrow slot canyons.

Zion is a geological wonderland, featuring striking sheer cliffs and narrow slot canyons.

The students took the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools.

The students hiked the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools. Credit: T. Hall

This is the Court of the Patriarch, so named for figures from the Old Testament by Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916. Abraham Peak is on the far left. Isaac Peak is in the center. Jacob Peak is the white peak that can be viewed just beyond Mount Moroni.

This is the Court of the Patriarchs, so named for figures from the Old Testament by Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916. Abraham Peak is on the far left. Isaac Peak is in the center. Jacob Peak is the white peak that can be viewed just beyond Mount Moroni on the right.

View of The Narrows, a trail that winds through the slot canyons carved by water through the Navajo Sandstone.

View of The Narrows, a trail that winds through slot canyons in the famously cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone.

The Wooster crew cools off in the Virgin River at the end of an awesome day in Zion. Credit: T. Wilch

The Wooster crew cools off in the Virgin River at the end of an awesome day in Zion. Credit: T. Wilch

Serious Geologizing in Utah

June 13th, 2013

UTAH – Team Utah has been seriously geologizing in the Ice Springs Volcanic Field over the past two days. Here’s a photo-journal of the crew at work.

Ben Hinks ('14, Albion) examines a stack of thin pahoehoe flows in his field area. Credit: M. Pollock

Ben Hinks (’14, Albion) examines a stack of thin pahoehoe flows in his field area. Credit: M. Pollock

Cam Matesich ('14, Wooster), Ben Hinks ('14, Albion, and Tricia Hall ('14, Wooster) looking for samples in an 'a'a lava flow in Cam's field area. Credit: T. Wilch

Cam Matesich (’14, Wooster), Ben, and Tricia Hall (’14, Wooster) look for samples in an ‘a’a lava flow in Cam’s field area. Credit: T. Wilch

Synchronized hammering was the only way we could get samples of the tough lava. From left to right: Cam Matesich, Ellen Redner ('14, Albion), Kyle Burden ('14, Wooster), and Ben Hinks. Credit: M. Pollock

Synchronized hammering was the only way we could get samples of the tough lava. From left to right: Cam, Ellen Redner (’14, Albion), Kyle Burden (’14, Wooster), and Ben. Credit: M. Pollock

Ellen hands Ben the fruits of her labor. Credit: T. Wilch

Ellen hands Ben the fruits of her labor. Kyle is ready to bag it. Credit: T. Wilch

Candy Thornton ('14, Wooster) directs the data collection at her field site. Credit: T. Wilch

Candy Thornton (’14, Wooster) directs the data collection at her field site. Credit: T. Wilch

Kyle, Ben, and Candy document the stratigraphy of an isolated lava pillar in the middle of a depression. Credit: T. Wilch

Kyle, Ben, and Candy document the stratigraphy of an isolated lava pillar in the middle of a depression. Credit: T. Wilch

Adam Silverstein ('16, Wooster) makes an excellent scale. Credit: M. Pollock

Adam Silverstein (’16, Wooster) makes an excellent scale. Credit: M. Pollock

 

Michael Williams ('16, Wooster) and Cam use the GPS to map the location of features in Candy's field site. Credit: A. Silverstein

Michael Williams (’16, Wooster) and Cam use the GPS to map the location of features in Candy’s field site. Credit: A. Silverstein

Tricia measures the orientation of volcanic striae. Credit: M. Pollock

Tricia measures the orientation of volcanic striae. Credit: M. Pollock

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