Checking in from the Far East

August 14th, 2013

We are currently finishing our first leg of field research on Sakhalin Island, Fareast Russia, and today we are traveling to Vladivostok to stage the next two weeks of sampling climate-sensitive trees. This is  collaborative Wooster project funded by NSF with Kevin Anchukaitis (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) and Rosanne D’Arrigo (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory). Our Russian collaborators include Olga Solomina (Russian Academy of Sciences), researchers Ekaterina Dolgova; Eugenio Grabenko Vladimir Matskovsky, Tatiana Maratovna Kouderina and our host on Sakhalin, Yury Gensiorovskiy. Future Wooster student projects will include work on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Sikhote-Atlin Mountains and the Kurile Islands.


The team at our final dinner at the Far East Branch of Geological Institute in Yuhzno-Sakhalinsk.


The group split into two teams to find old and climate sensitive trees on the Island. My group traveled with Victor (above) who ably drove us in the Gas66. Here Victor takes a break on the shore of the Sea of Ohotsk.



Tatiana (originally from Kazakstan) cores a an old larch in a sea of Pinus Pumulus. This site is on the northern most part of the island – the Smit Peninsula.


Camp near Nogliki. Olga and I sampled the larch site near here ten years ago and the group updated this important site by re-coring the trees.


This view is of the many pump jacks and oil wells near Oxa. There are many strong landscapes on the island attesting to an extreme history of logging, oil and gas, fire and political upheaval. In spite of this there are many pockets of old growth forests remaining in beautiful settings.


The large of local foods including a full range of sea food makes for excellent dinners after a long day.



Wooster Geologist in the Far East of Russia — and on Russian TV!

August 14th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 9.53.27 AMDr. Greg Wiles, the Ross K. Shoolroy Chair of Natural Resources at Wooster, is currently on an adventurous dendrochronology research trip to the Far East of Russia, including Sakhalin Island. He will have much more to say about it on this blog when he gets the chance. In the meantime, his wife Theresa Ford sent us this link to a Russian news video about his team and their work. The connection is awkward — the video only works for me on my Safari browser — but it is worth the download time to see our Dr. Wiles explaining those wiggly lines and soda straws filled with wood.

There is also a summer 2004 story in Go Nomad touching on Greg’s previous expedition to Sakhalin Island. Theresa found this too, and it was new to me. Here’s a link to a Russian Academy of Sciences page about that earlier research. It has some nice photographs.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An asaphid trilobite from the Middle Ordovician of the Leningrad Region, Russia

May 5th, 2013

Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859aThis weathered trilobite is nothing like the gorgeous specimens of this genus you can buy at various rock shops around the world and on the web, but it has sentimental value to me. I collected it on an epic field trip in Russia in 2009. We hacked our way through the woods to an exposure of the Frizy Limestone (Volkhov Regional Stage, Darriwilian Stage, Middle Ordovician) where the local people had a side industry of quarrying out these trilobites for international trade. This specimen was the best I found, and it was probably abandoned by other collectors as too damaged. Still, it makes a nice reminder of my Russian experience and I keep it on a cabinet in my office. (By the way, I did not make a Cold War mistake in referring to the “Leningrad Region“. This oblast retains the old name of the city now known as St. Petersburg. Apparently the residents voted to keep it that way after the Soviet Union collapsed.)
Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859bThis is the asaphid trilobite Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859. This group is known for having fantastic eyes, some on long stalks and others with calcareous “eyeshades” above them. This species has more conventional eyes, but they’re still cool.
Asaphus lepidurus Nieszkowski, 1859cA. lepidurus studies us with a cold, dead eye. From this perspective the facial suture is visible as the curved, raised line running from the near eye to the periphery of the cephalon (head). This is a line of weakness the trilobite used to split its exoskeleton for molting (ecdysis). These sutures often have diagnostic value for distinguishing trilobites, especially at the species level.

A. lepidurus was first described and named by Jan Nieszkowski (1833-1866), a Polish paleontologist (and naturalist and medical doctor). He was born in Lublin, Poland, son of an army captain. He studied at the University of Dorpat (now the University of Tartu in Estonia) and soon became an avid and productive paleontologist. He then participated in the January Uprising of Poles against the occupying Russians in 1863. He was captured and exiled to the Russian city of Orenburg, where he died at a young age of typhus.

This little trilobite brings back memories of my Russian adventure, and it is also a reminder that science is never done in a political vacuum. Here’s to the Polish patriot and scientist Dr. Jan Nieszkowski.


Dronov, A., Tolmacheva, T., Raevskaya, E., and Nestell, M. 2005. Cambrian and Ordovician of St. Petersburg region. 6th Baltic Stratigraphical Conference, IGCP 503 Meeting; St. Petersburg, Russia: St. Petersburg State University.

Ivantsov, A.Y. 2003. Ordovician trilobites of the Subfamily Asaphinae of the Ladoga Glint. Paleontological Journal 37, supplement 3: S229-S337.

Nieszkowski, J. 1859. Zusätze zur Monographie der Trilobiten der Ostseeprovinzen, nebst der Beschreibung einiger neuen obersilurischen Crustaceen. Archiv für die Naturkunde Liv-, Ehst-, und Kurland, Serie 1: 345-384.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A strange little echinoderm (Ordovician of Russia)

June 12th, 2011

This small fossil was completely new to me when I found it during my research trip to the Ordovician of Russia in the Fall of 2009.  A side view is shown on the left of this conical skeleton, and the top view is right.  I could tell it was an echinoderm because it has a characteristic structure in its calcitic skeleton known as the stereom (a network of tiny passageways inside the crystals).  Other than that, it was a mystery to me.

My Russian colleague Andrey Dronov showed me that it is of the genus Bolboporites, a strange relative of the crinoid found only in the Ordovician of the Baltic Region and North America.  As you can see in the reconstruction on the right below, it probably lived in the sediment as an upwardly-flaring cone with a single feeding arm (the brachiole) collecting suspended organic matter from passing water for food.  In the fossil view above and right, you can see the hole where the missing brachiole fit; inside of that you can just make out an opening that is likely the mouth.

Bolboporites likely originated on the paleocontinent of Baltica and then migrated to North America.  As far as I can tell it is vanishingly rare over here — I’ve never seen Bolboporites before in the field or in collections.  Now Wooster has one of the very few of these little treasures.

References –

Rozhnov, S.V. 2009. Eocrinoids and paracrinoids of the Baltic Ordovician basin: a biogeographical report. IGCP Meeting, Ordovician palaeogeography and palaeoclimate, Copenhagen, p. 16.

Rozhnov, S.V. and Kushlina, V.B. 1994. Interpretation of new data on Bolboporites Pander, 1830 (Echinodermata; Ordovician), p. 179-180, in David, B., Guille, A., Féral, J.-P. & Roux, M. (eds.), Echinoderms through time (Balkema, Rotterdam).

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!

Thoughts on Future Wooster Geology Research in Russia

June 17th, 2009

I was very impressed by the Ordovician rocks I saw in the Leningrad Region on this past trip.  I had seen parts of the Ordovician System in Estonia nearby, but not to this extent nor this particular facies.  My model for Ordovician rocks had been based too strictly on those I’ve worked with in North America.  Now I realize that the environmental conditions and faunas were significantly different on the ancient continent of Baltica — enough to produce unexpected trace fossils, especially on and in the hardgrounds.  My perspective was changed, and thus the kinds of questions my students and I will be addressing in the next few years.

Nikolai, Sergei, Andrei, me, and my host Andrey in the Sablino Mines. I really don't know why there was a decorated Christmas tree in this cavern!

Nikolai, Sergei, Andrei, me, and my host Andrey in the Sablino Mines. I really don't know why there was a decorated Christmas tree in this cavern.

My Russian host, Andrey Dronov, was extremely generous and patient, freely sharing with me his scientific thoughts and his passion for Russian history and culture.  I could not have asked for better.  Remarkably, I met him for the first time on this expedition.  My other Russian colleagues were great fun, and they also taught me much about Russia and its geology.

I learned that field geology in Russia is difficult and certainly could not be done without a knowledgeable Russian host.  Every outcrop was farther, muddier, steeper and more overgrown than I expected.  In fact, we looked at outcrops American geologists would have given up on years ago.  If the rocks were there, we found them by hacking through the vegetation and digging them out with shovels.

Do you see the outcrops of limestone along the banks of the Lynna River?  Neither do I.  They are there, though, and Andrey and I found them with an epic jungle journey.

Do you see the outcrops of limestone along these banks of the Lynna River? Neither do I. They are there, though, and Andrey and I found them with an epic jungle journey on our last field day.

The major catch to doing Independent Study work in Russia for a student is that we could not take specimens back to Wooster.  We could, though, work in the geological lab facilities at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, collecting enough data and images to keep a student busy for a year back home.  I would look forward to showing a student these unusual rocks and fossils, and I now know how better to prepare for work in Russia!

A Wooster Geologist in St. Petersburg, Russia

June 16th, 2009


I am absolutely stunned by the beauty of this city.  The ornate architecture and building colors combined with the water and changing skies, all marinated in more historical drama than any city should bear, is overwhelming.  I can’t imagine a more different Russian city from Moscow.  I have been privileged to see the sights here as a guest with personal narrative tours.  It is quite the place to emerge into after all those field days.  Our field house is only four hours by train from the city center, yet it seems thousands of kilometers away now.

My work here with Andrey is to look at his collection of Ordovician limestone and fossil samples at the University of St. Petersburg.  That task alone is in an impressive setting.  His office is in the Twelve Colleges building, which was designed by the Italian architect Trezzini and completed in 1742.  It is an extraordinarily long set of twelve connected buildings, all linked by a Mediterranean-style corridor.

My morning walking commute on the left, and the entrance to the Twelve Colleges building on the right.

My morning walking commute on the left, and the entrance to the Twelve Colleges building on the right.

The collections are in a classic old European cabinet room dominated by portraits of generations of geologists and filled with glass-topped sets of drawers.

Twelve Colleges corridor on the left; paleontological collections on the right.

Twelve Colleges corridor on the left; paleontological collections on the right.

After studying the specimens, Andrey took me on a long walk through the city.  Our first stop was the living quarters and laboratory of the university’s most famous professor, Dmitry Mendeleev.  We had a personal tour of this amazing man’s place, complete with stories of his life.  Not only did he develop the periodic table of the elements, but he was also an engineer, economist … and geologist!  He recognized the future value of petroleum and worked on ways for Russia to efficiently use its oil resources.  We then continued across three islands making up the most historical part of the city, seeing all that we could.  With the white nights extending the afternoon light, that was quite a bit.

St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral

On the next day I made my own trip to see a famous ship I’ve long dreamed of boarding: the Cruiser Aurora.  This is the ship that signaled the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 by broadcasting a speech by Lenin and then firing a shot from its forward gun which started the storming of the Winter Palace.  It is also a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War and served throughout WWI and WWII.

The Cruiser Aurora

The Cruiser Aurora

Out of the Russian Woods

June 16th, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA–This Wooster geologist has emerged from the field. I’m now in beautiful St. Petersburg working at the university. I hope I can get more stable access to the Internet soon so I can post the many blogs I wrote while deep in the Russian countryside. Beautiful places, and I’ve had a rapid immersion course in Russian culture! My blog entries are posted by the date I wrote them, so it means you have to scroll back to June 4 for the beginning of this set.

Last Field Day in Russia

June 14th, 2009

NEAR KHAMONTOVO, LENINGRAD REGION, RUSSIA–Last night we had our last group dinner (shashlyk — essentially shish kebab — and delicious brown bread) and lively conversation (most of which I missed, of course, but still enjoyed).  There were over a dozen toasts, my favorite being “to ideas”.  This went on until about 1:30 a.m.
Nikolai, Sergei and Andrei packed up and left in the morning for the long drive back to Moscow.  Andrey and I then sorted out our notes and specimens and did some last fieldwork in the local area.  Since we arrived by train and Nikolai left with the car, we were confined to sites we could walk to from the field house.  The weather is now spectacular, very warm and without a cloud in the sky.  A good time to be a field geologist.  (Not that every time isn’t a good time, but some are better than others!)  Tomorrow afternoon we leave on the 4:00 p.m. train to Volkhov with a connection to St. Petersburg.

Lynna River as it meets the Sass near the field house.

Lynna River as it meets the Sass near the field house.

From Spring to Summer in One Hour

June 13th, 2009

NEAR KHAMONTOVO, LENINGRAD REGION, RUSSIA–Yesterday’s light rains in the morning gave way wonderful sun, as I described earlier.  Then a massive thunderstorm, almost as large as those in Ohio, crashed through and dropped probably an inch of rain in just a few minutes.  The sunlight reappeared after it passed along with much higher temperatures.  Now it is sultry and Russian men are appearing along the river in those skimpy little swimsuits, if any at all.  Bees have become evident, along with black flies.  This morning irises opened up their buds for the first time along the riverbank.  Even the mud has hardened along the steep path to the outhouse, which I thought would never happen.

The many faces.

Because I don’t have a mirror (having an old Silva compass instead of a Brunton), I’ve been taking a photograph of my face every morning just to make sure I didn’t have something like, say, a giant zit between my eyes.  Now a selection of these images from early in the fieldwork to late shows how the weather has changed.  At first I didn’t want to leave the house before I had to, it was so cold (and I still had the down jacket on).  Then I went outside in the down jacket, then in a lighter windbreaker, and finally with  just a shirt.

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