Scientific Outreach in Iceland

June 12th, 2013

ICELAND – Team Iceland is nearly ready to return to the states, but not before we share what we’ve learned with the Icelandic community. Our home-away-from-home, the Hraunbyrgi guesthouse, is also home for the Hafnarfjörður scouts. To celebrate the end of their season, the scouts are having a large, nationwide camp-out at a site just south of the pillow quarries. So, for their final meeting, the scouts met with Team Iceland to learn about our research.

Dr. Ben Edwards shows the local scouts a sample of a pillow basalt.

Dr. Ben Edwards shows the local scouts a sample of pillow basalt.

The scouts learned that they’ll be camping along a ridge made of pillow basalts, which formed when lava erupted under a glacier. They also heard about the kinds of information that we can learn from the pillow basalts, like how the upper portion of the ocean floor is formed and how thick the ice was that once covered the Reykjanes Peninsula.  The scouts returned the favor and taught Team Iceland a few new Icelandic words. What a fantastic way to end a successful field season!

Team Utah Version 2.0

June 11th, 2013

UTAH – Field work has officially begun for Team Utah, Version 2.0. The team consists of three Wooster seniors (Kyle Burden ’14, Cam Matesich ’14, Candy Thornton, ’14) and two Wooster sophomores (Adam Silverstein ’16, Michael Williams ’16). Tricia Hall (’14) is a returning member who has graciously agreed to stay in Utah after her IS field work to help us with our data collection. This year, we’re also joined by Dr. Thom Wilch and two senior geologists (Ellen Redner ’14 and Ben Hinks ’14) from the Albion College Department of Geological Sciences. Needless to say, we’re a small army, and we’re ready to find the answers to questions raised during last year’s reconnaissance investigations of Ice Springs Volcanic Field in the Black Rock Desert.

Dr. Shelley Judge gives a brief overview of the local and regional geology before heading out to the field.

Dr. Shelley Judge gives a brief overview of the local and regional geology before heading out to the field.

We began the morning at the top of the cinder cone and found a new exposure that was uncovered in the last year.

We began the morning at the top of the cinder cone and found a new exposure that was uncovered in the last year.

I know what you’re thinking…it looks like a wall of pillow lavas. (By the way, Team Iceland’s work on pillow lavas continues.)

It's actually a wall of welded bombs and spatter.

It’s actually a wall of welded bombs and spatter. These blobs of lava were ejected explosively during an eruption and fused to one another on the rim of the cone.

Kyle Burden ('14), shown here taking careful notes, will be working on the welded bomb wall using an approach similar to the one Team Iceland used on pillow lavas. He'll be collecting high-resolution images with a GigaPan and making careful measurements of bombs across the exposure.

Kyle Burden (’14), shown here taking careful notes, will be working on the welded bomb wall using an approach similar to the one Team Iceland used on pillow lavas. He’ll be collecting high-resolution images with a GigaPan and making careful measurements of bombs across the exposure.

After a morning on the cinder cones, we descended into the lava fields.

Candy Thornton ('14) contemplates her field area. She'll be documenting features in the lava flows to determine whether they inflated as they were emplaced.

Candy Thornton (’14) contemplates her field area. She’ll be documenting features in the lava flows to determine whether they inflated as they were emplaced.

One of the features that Candy will be studying are these striae, which are grooves that formed on the sides of a mound called a tumulus. The striae indicate that the interior of the mound moved up relative to the outer crust while the lava was partially molten.

One of the features that Candy will be studying are these striae, which are grooves that formed on the sides of a mound called a tumulus. The striae indicate that the interior of the mound moved up relative to the outer crust while the lava was partially molten.

 

 

A Journey Inside the Volcano

May 31st, 2013

ICELAND – You may remember that Team Iceland is trying to determine the origin of interesting columnar-jointed features exposed in the interior of a subglacial pillow ridge. We have several hypotheses, one of which is that they could be related to the internal magma plumbing system. There’s no better way to know what’s inside of a volcano than by actually going there. Fortunately, we’re able to explore the interior of nearby Thrihnukagigur Volcano through the Inside the Volcano Tour. If you have the chance, you should check out their amazing image and video galleries.

Thrihnukagigur has three volcanic peaks, one of which is a cinder cone with a crater that opens up into a 400 ft deep volcanic chamber. Our goal was to explore the chamber for units and structures that might be analogous to the features we observed in the quarries. The tour began with a 2 mile hike to the volcano over lava flows that were 4,000 and 10,000 years old.

View of Thrihnukagigur Cone and the Inside the Volcano hut (at the base to the right) from the surrounding lava fields. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

View of Thrihnukagigur Cone from the surrounding lava fields. The Inside the Volcano tour has a warm hut at the base of the cone. (The white structure is difficult to see against the field of snow). Photo Credit: Ellie Was

At the hut, we were fitted with safety equipment for our descent into volcano.

At the hut, we were fitted with safety equipment for our descent into the volcano. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

We crossed this bridge to get into the open-air basket that took us into the volcanic chamber. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

We crossed this bridge to get into the open-air basket that took us into the volcanic chamber. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

The view down the open volcanic neck from the basket. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

The view down the open volcanic neck from the basket. Photo Credit: Ellie Was

View from below of the lift descending into the chamber.

View from below of the lift descending into the chamber.

Michael Williams ('16, Wooster), Adam Silverstein ('16, Wooster), and Liz Plascencia ('16, Dickinson) in the volcano. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Michael Williams (’16, Wooster), Adam Silverstein (’16, Wooster), and Liz Plascencia (’16, Dickinson) in the volcano. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

We saw some features that are analogous to our quarry observations. Here, on the left, we see a contact between the underlying Moberg Formation and the overlying lavas that make up much of the volcanic center. The dark black vertical rocks near the center of the photo are dikes that cut across the lava flows and have heated and altered the surrounding rocks, turning them red.

We saw some features that are analogous to our quarry observations. Here, on the left, we see a contact between the dark underlying Moberg Formation and the colorful overlying lavas that make up much of the volcanic center. The black vertical rocks near the center of the photo are dikes that cut across the lava flows. The dikes have heated and altered the surrounding rocks, turning them red.

This appears to be an irregularly shaped intrusion with an open cavity.

This appears to be an irregularly shaped intrusion with an open cavity that might have transported magma to different parts of the volcano during the eruption. Notice the person in the center bottom for scale.

I have failed to mention that we battled driving sleet and 45 mph winds to hike to and from the volcano. Here's part of our group linking arms to stay on their feet as they hike back from the volcano. Our guides were superb and made sure everyone was safe during each part of our trip.

Did I mention that we battled driving sleet and 45 mph winds to hike to and from the volcano? Here’s part of our group linking arms to stay on their feet as they hike back from the volcano. Our guides were superb and made sure everyone was safe during each part of our trip. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Ellie Was ('14, Dickinson), Alex Hiatt ('14, Wooster), and Aleks Perpalaj ('14, Dickinson) after their return hike. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Ellie Was (’14, Dickinson), Alex Hiatt (’14, Wooster), and Aleks Perpalaj (’14, Dickinson) after their return hike. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

Team Iceland warms up with hot coffee and homemade Icelandic stew.

Team Iceland warms up with hot coffee and homemade Icelandic stew. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

The t-shirt that says it all. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

The t-shirt that says it all. Photo Credit: Liz Plascencia

It was an incredible Icelandic experience! Much thanks to the Inside the Volcano Team for their excellent knowledge, guidance, and hospitality!

A Rocky Start

June 11th, 2012

FILLMORE, UTAH – Today’s return to field work after a fun day in Bryce Canyon was a little rocky at first.

We were a little confused about where to begin.

After a short while, we found our purpose.

Whitney and her team spent the day mapping lava flows that breached the northern rim of the cinder cone.

Fortunately, Whitney had Matt on her team, who chiseled samples from the solid rock with his raw strength.

Will and his team spent another day hunting bombs and blocks on the rim.

In the end, it was a fantastic field day. Will has nearly wrapped up his ballistics sampling and Whitney can practically redraw the lava flow map. Back to the lava fields tomorrow!

As We Walk Through Fields of Lava

June 6th, 2012

FILLMORE, UTAH – Whitney and Matt took charge today, leading us on an investigation of the lava flows that extend westward from the Miter cinder cone.

The view of Miter from its lava fields. A tiny reflective spec at its base on the right side of the photo is our van, for scale.

We picked our way across the sharp, rubbly flow surface and learned the importance of careful observation. Although we weren’t looking for bombs and xenoliths, we found both along our path.

A volcanic bomb that has been rafted or carried away from the cone by the lava flow.

Whitney had a successful day of mapping the margins and morphology of a couple of complicated lava flows.

Whitney stands on the boundary between an older, vegetated lava flow on the right and a younger, black lava flow on the left.

Matt’s productive day included finding a spectacular fault exposure, where he made lots of measurements on the fault and associated joints.

Kevin poses at the most significant fault locality, where some of the surfaces display plumose structures for joints and striae for fault motion.

Overall, it was a strong start to the field project, despite the searing sun and blinding wind storm.

A perfectly nice day in the field (if you don't mind winds that will make your hair stand straight out).

We were rewarded for all of our hard work.

For one, we made a new friend.

We also found petroglyphs that showed these radiating straight lines.

The petroglyphs also showed a hand print.

The best reward was the home-cooked meal that we were treated to by Ms. Huntsman, complete with pie.

We hope every day of our field season is just like this one (minus the wind).

 

Collaborative (and sticky) Inquiry in the Geology of Natural Hazards

April 3rd, 2012

Wooster, OH – Today’s hazards class was devoted to lava viscosity. Viscosity plays an important role in controlling how volcanoes behave, from determining how quickly magma ascends to whether the eruption will be explosive or effusive. In Hazards, we’ve been discussing the factors that control lava viscosity, like silica content, volatiles, and temperature. Although we’d love to experiment on real lava, like the folks up at Syracuse University, we just don’t have the right set up. Instead, I borrowed Ben Edwards’ (Dickinson College) idea of using corn syrup. (I’m not the only one).

We simulated lavas of different viscosities by varying the temperature of the corn syrup and adding rice and sand. Then, we poured our “lava” down ramps and timed how fast they moved. We used their velocities to calculate viscosity and compared our results to real lava.

 

We also blew bubbles into our “lavas” to simulate volatiles.

B-WISER

June 26th, 2010

Campers from the Buckeye Women in Science, Engineering, and Research (B-WISER) science camp visited the Geology Department last Thursday to study the role of lava viscosity in volcanic eruptions. We used corn syrup as our ‘lava’ and experimented with ways to increase and decrease the viscosity.

Some of the girls added bubbles to their syrup using highly technical equipment (straws).

After the experiments, we held races for the fastest and slowest lavas. The results were too close to call - at least three groups came out on top at the end of each race.

Although it was a sticky experiment, I think we all had fun in the end. In fact, the girls weren't shy about expressing their excitement about geology.

To top it all off, I received a special thank you – a serenade by the girls. Here it is: the twinkle remix.

Lava pour!

April 16th, 2010

A cauldron of lava poured onto an angled surface at Syracuse University. Photograph courtesy of Jeff Karson, Department of Earth Sciences at Syracuse.

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK–Today I gave a presentation at Syracuse University as part of the fifth annual Central New York Earth Sciences Student Symposium.  My topic was the rise of modern marine ecosystems in the Jurassic.  Exciting enough, of course, but the real fun was in an event which caught me by surprise: a “lava pour” organized by Professor Jeff Karson with the Sculpture Department at Syracuse.  (This is a type of interdisciplinarity I hadn’t seen before!)

The pour, as they call it, began with the addition of about 100 pounds of basalt (collected in Oregon where they have plenty of it) into a hardened steel cauldron.  The cauldron is then lowered into a below-ground furnace and heated for about four hours until all is incandescent.  Several people in protective gear (it would not protective enough for me, though!) open the furnace and attach a winch to the cauldron and lift it to the surface.  At this point the crowd (including me) had been pushing as close as allowed to the furnace.  We immediately backed up when the blast of heat from the cauldron — which was glowing like the sun — struck us.  Molten rock is serious stuff.

A bit of the lava was first poured into a porcelain pipe bent like an elbow with the lower part ending in a large basin of water.  The pipe had been plugged at the base with wax so the lava would build up before flowing through to the water.  The idea was to make a lava pillow, a type of flow structure made when a natural flow meets water as under a glacier, in a lake or in the ocean.  (See the natural pillow lavas studied last summer by the Wooster Iceland Team.)  The wax immediately and explosively ignited, sending a spout of flame upwards which took everyone by surprise (including the crew).  The fire was short-lived, though, as the lava flowed through into the now-boiling water.

The second pour was onto a cold rock monitored by a digital remote thermometer to record its cooling rate.  This time the lava poured out like syrup, making a flat, bubbling sheet which quickly grew a dark crust which spattered tiny glass shards as the cooling bubbles burst.

The third and final pour was onto blocks of dry ice, apparently to simulate the surface of Mars.  (Really.  Not just to “see what happens”.  This is professional geology, after all!)  The lava hit the dry ice with an extraordinary hiss and then skittered off onto the sand below.  Apparently the vapor built up immediately by the rapidly-sublimating ice did not allow the lava to stick or even stay on the ice itself.  The result was ropy strings, droplets and “angel hair” of cooled lava.

Afterwards, when the cauldron had been scrapped empty and the heat had dropped to a tolerable level, we gathered around the three pour sites and marveled.  The flow on the rock slab continued to bubble and crack, producing some exquisite brown fragments of almost-transparent glass.  We picked up a few cooled pieces and tried to imagine this process scaled up to natural proportions.

Thank you to Jeff Karson for such an innovative idea, this lava pour, and sharing it with all of us.  Way cool.  Mike Cheatham has posted a webpage of photos showing our lava pour in its stages.

Wandering in the wilderness one last time

March 11th, 2010

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–This was our last full day in the Mojave Desert, at least for this trip. Technically it was our coldest start yet (40°F), but the bright sun and lack of wind made it seem like our warmest. The day was mostly unstructured because we were going to try to find a geological site none of us had seen here: the lava tubes in the cinder cones area of the Mojave National Preserve. It was a good thing we left our schedule open because we missed not one turn, not two turns, but three crucial turns before we finally entered the tubes. I’ll take full responsibility, although in my defense I must point out that the Preserve is very coy with their signage and directions!

While exploring the desert during our lost phase today, Rob McConnell found this excellent volcanic bomb on one of the cinder cones. Note the streamlines formed as the molten lava cooled as it was thrown into the air. We can even tell which end hit the ground as it landed (the left).

Rob Lydell at the entrance to the lava tube complex in the cinder cones region of the Mojave National Preserve.

Michael Snader, Andrew Retzler and Stephanie Jarvis (looking very straight up!) inside one of the lava tubes with light behind them shining through a hole in the roof.

This light shaft is outlined by eolian dust it is passing through.

After another delicious lunch packed for us by the Desert Studies Center staff (a shout-out to the world-class cook, our friend Eric), we drove north to Resting Springs Pass to study a famous exposure of a welded tuff.  Our last stop was a descent through the 500,000 year-old beds of ancient Lake Tecopa to China Date Ranch where we looked around the oasis and had the famous (and expensive .. and over-rated) “date shakes”. (Think flurry with little date bits thrown in.) The students and other faculty enjoyed them, though, and they were in their eccentric way a fitting end to our Mojave adventure.

Wooster geologists on the welded tuff at Resting Springs Pass.

Adam Samale, Megan Innis, and Rob McConnell sampling the hottest part of the welded tuff series at Resting Springs Pass. (Oh those youthful days of casually perching on cliffsides!)

Andrew Retzler is standing on the down-dropped block on the left side of a fault at Resting Springs Pass, and Stephanie Jarvis is on the upthrown side. What kind of fault is it?

Travis Brown at the front of the store at China Date Ranch near Tecopa, California.

Proof that the date shakes at China Date Ranch were popular. From the top left, clockwise: Andrew Retzler, Micah Risacher, Greg Wiles, Rob McConnell.

Unless my colleagues surprise me this evening, this will be our last post from the Mojave. We will have many more entries for this field trip, though, as we sort through student images and observations back on campus. We will also add more technical notes about the sites we saw, and maybe even throw in a video or two. It has been an extraordinary trip which will live in our departmental memory for a very long time.

Geological diversity: Tuffs, Sands, Limestones and Lava Flows

March 10th, 2010

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–One of the most attractive aspects of geology is how many materials and processes are included in the study of the Earth. Today’s field experiences show this diversity. One of the best reasons to teach in a liberal arts geology program is that we are continually in touch with topics outside of our original disciplinary training. This trip has been so much fun in part because all four of our faculty are involved at each of our stops, and we always learn from each other by having no fear about asking any questions. We seem to be successfully modeling this attitude with our students because they certainly have no hesitation in asking questions either.

Our teaching approach in the field has been to introduce students to the general framework of information about a particular site, and then let them explore the area, each bringing back questions, observations and specimens for a summary session with all the faculty. This has worked very well with this class because they are advanced and very enthusiastic students. Their curiosity has been an inspiration.

This morning was sunny, windy and cold (starting in the forties and not getting past 53°F). It hardly mattered though because we had so many interesting outcrops to study.  Our first stop was Hole-In-The-Wall in the southeastern quadrant of Mojave National Preserve. Here are magnificent tuffs from an explosive volcano eruption about 18.5 million years ago. Dr. Pollock will have more to say about the geological details.

An exposed tuff at Hole-In-The-Wall showing "tafoni", which are small cave-like erosion features.

The loop trail around the major tuff exposure involved a steep climb through a slot canyon with the help of embedded rings. It was indeed physically challenging. Dr. Shelley Judge is shown climbing out with skill; Megan Innis points out the warning.

Our second stop was to climb the Kelso Dunes in the southwestern portion of the Preserve. The pile of sand here reaches 160 meters. It is trapped against the Granite Mountains in an endless swirl of winds. The students climbed the highest and most popular dune in the complex while the faculty chose to ascend a slightly lower but untrampled dune. Oddly enough, when we stood on these dunes in the middle afternoon, for the first time the wind stopped!

The graceful top of one dune at Kelso showing the shallower stoss side, steep lee side, and a small sand avalanche.

Dr. Greg Wiles made a trace fossil in the Kelso Dunes to confound future paleontologists.

Our last two stops were relatively brief.  One was at an outcrop of the Chambless Limestone, a Cambrian unit showing oncolites and dolomite-filled burrow systems.  The other was at the tip of a lava flow from the cinder cones near the center of the Preserve.  We returned to the station in the early evening with sand-filled shoes and sun-reddened faces. Another wonderful day in the Mojave.

Micah Risacher looming dramatically over our Cambrian limestone exposure.

Dr. Pollock wanted us to find her a lava tube. We did, albeit a small one, and she seemed happy enough with it.

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