Wet and Cold Wooster Geologists in the Silurian of Central Ohio

April 21st, 2012

DAYTON, OHIO–It was 37°F and raining this morning as three stalwart Wooster Geology students and I worked in a muddy quarry near Fairborn, Ohio (N 39.81472°, W 83.99471°). Our task was to scout out a beautiful exposure of the Brassfield Formation (Early Silurian, Llandovery) for a future field trip by the Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class. Until today this week was sunny and warm in Ohio. Nevertheless, our students persevered and efficiently measured and described the exposed units, and then they searched for glacial grooves and truncated corals on the top surface.

Abby, Steph and Lizzie during a relatively dry moment. The striped stick, by the way, is a Jacob’s Staff divided into tenths of meters. We use these large and simple rulers to measure the thickness of rock units. Our technician Matt Curren made us nice set of these this semester. Previous Wooster students may remember the long dowels we had in the past that Stephanie Jarvis discovered one day were not very precise! Why do we call them “Jacob’s Staffs”? Read Genesis 30:25-43. (This must be the first biblical reference in this blog!)

Dolomite at the base of the Brassfield with a pervasive fabric of burrows. These trace fossils were probably produced by shrimp-like arthropods tunneling in the seafloor sediments.

A well-sorted encrinite (limestone made almost entirely of crinoid skeletal fragments) from the lower third of the Brassfield Formation. These are mostly stem and arm pieces. The articulated portion on the left is a small stem.

A poorly-sorted encrinite. Here you can see a much greater range of bioclast size than in the previous image. There are also some brachiopod shell fragments mixed in.

The Brassfield Formation is a critical one in stratigraphy because most of the other Silurian carbonates in northeastern North America have been altered by dolomitization, which destroys the original fabric and texture of the rock. Fossils become mere ghosts in dolomitized limestone, but here they are superbly preserved.

It may have been a damp and chilly day, but how bad could it have been if we had limestones and fossils in it?

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Eurypterids (Late Silurian of New York)

December 11th, 2011

Few fossils are more dramatic than the long-extinct eurypterids. Above is one of Wooster’s best fossils: Eurypterus remipes De Kay 1825 from the Bertie Waterlime (Upper Silurian) of New York. (Thanks to Roy Plotnick for help with the identification.) As far as eurypterid fossils go, it is average (see Samuel J. Ciurca’s wonderful eurypterid pages for superb specimens), but for our little teaching collection it is a gem. Note that some of the fine details on the appendages are preserved.

Here’s looking at you: a eurypterid head showing the pair of compound eyes. The anterior margin “lip” indicates that this is a “carcass” specimen and not a molt fragment.

Eurypterids are commonly called the “sea scorpions” because of their long segmented body (opisthosoma), fused head segments (prosoma), sharp tail piece (telson) and claws (chelicerae). The scorpions and eurypterids, in fact, likely share a similar common ancestor. It should be no surprise to learn that eurypterids were swimming predators. The name comes from the Greek eury- for “broad” and -pteron for “wing”, referring to the large swimming appendages. Most eurypterids were relatively small like our specimen above, but some were almost two meters in length. They lived from the Ordovician to the end of the Permian Period.

Eurypterid reconstruction in Clarke and Ruedemann (1912). The artist is the famous paleontological illustrator Charles R. Knight.

Eurypterus remipes was the first eurypterid fossil formally described. The American zoologist James Ellsworth De Kay (1792-1851) did the honors while working in upstate New York. De Kay was orphaned at a young age but still managed to attend Yale (but no degree) and then complete an MD at the University of Edinburgh. He was not excited by medicine (one time he said it was “repugnant” to him), so he found himself doing many other things, such as traveling through Turkey (about which he wrote a book) and negotiating ship building contracts with emerging South American countries. Eventually he landed a job with the new Geological Survey of New York, publishing a multi-volume set called Zoology of New York State. Back then the boundaries between the natural sciences were less strict.

James Ellsworth De Kay (1792-1851)

Eurypterus fischeri (Eichwald) from the 47th plate of Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (1904).

De Kay’s Eurypterus remipes was so charismatic that it became the state fossil of New York (although it took them until 1984 to declare it), and it was a global sensation in the mid-nineteenth century. Our little specimen is certainly one of Wooster’s paleontological treasures.

References:

Clarke, J.M. and Ruedemann, R. 1912. The Eurypterida of New York. Volume 1. New York State Museum Memoir 14.

De Kay, J.E. 1825. Observations on a Fossil Crustaceous Animal of the Order Branchiopoda. Annals of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York, i, 1825, p. 375, pl. 29.

Kjellesvig-Waering, E.N. 1963. Note on Carcinosomatidae (Eurypterida) in the Silurian Bertie Formation of New York. Journal of Paleontology 37: 495-496.

Tetlie, O.E. 2006. Two new Silurian species of Eurypterus (Chelicerata: Eurypterida) from Norway and Canada and the phylogeny of the genus. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 4: 397-412.

First Wooster student presentations: The Estonia team

October 9th, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA–The first Wooster students presented today at the Geological Society of America annual meeting. Above is Nick Fedorchuk who talked about his work in Estonia studying the Wenlock-Ludlow boundary on Saaremaa Island and its implication for Silurian stratigraphy and depositional environments in Baltica.

Rachel Matt (above) presented her work on the Lower Silurian fauna found in the Hilliste Formation on Hiiumaa Island, Estonia. These fossils are critical evidence for the recovery of marine communities following the end-Ordovician mass extinctions.

It was fun watching Nick and Rachel interact with geologists who stopped by to see their posters. Not only did they learn a great deal about the rocks and fossils they are studying, they could also see how they fit into larger questions about Silurian plate tectonics and evolution.

Two other Wooster students also showed posters today: Lindsey Bowman and Andrew Collins. Photos and profiles of their work will be posted later.

Exploring the Silurian at the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet in Stockholm: Last day of work for the Wooster Geology Estonia Team

July 12th, 2011

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN–No paleontological expedition is complete until it includes time in the collections of a museum. No single sampling trip like ours can describe the full diversity of a fossil site, no matter how many days we spend scouring the rocks. A traditional museum will combine the finds of hundreds of scientists over two centuries or more. The very best natural history museums, such as the Natural History Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris, and, of course, the Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet in Stockholm (shown above), have international collections from around the world. They set global standards for the documentation of living and extinct biodiversity. They are cathedrals of science to which we make regular pilgrimages, with all the awe and obligation that word includes.

The Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (Royal Museum of Natural History; NRM) has the best collection of Silurian fossils in northern Europe, so we were anxious to go through the drawers and learn what we could about our own Silurian observations in Estonia. Thanks to Jonas Hagström, Senior Assistant Palaeontologist, we were given full access to the Silurian paleontology section.

Rachel Matt investigating the contents of a drawer in the NRM Silurian collections. Note the proper way of pulling open a specimen drawer: always have the drawer beneath partly open in case you accidentally pull the top drawer out too far!

The specimen drawers typically contain fossils in little cardboard trays with paper labels and a variety of stickers and numbers. Half the fun in a museum is figuring out what the organizational system is, then reading labels written in 19th Century cursive. (And in this case, in Swedish!)

Rachel making a simple photographic record of those fossils she finds that are similar to ours or should otherwise be documented for our work. Note that she has her computer open so that she can compare our field images to the museum specimens.

Nick found an excellent collection of eurypterids from the Rootsiküla Formation (Wenlock) in Estonia. He worked with these rocks in the field, but did not find any recognizable eurypterid fossils. Now he has a nice photographic collection of those in the NRM Silurian section.

After we finished our work in the collections, we toured the public displays in the NRM main building. They are fantastic. One of the highlights was this Silurian diorama showing many of our favorite extinct animals. By now you should be able to identify most of them!

Our final portrait of the trip: Nick Fedorchuk and Rachel Matt with an appropriately menacing Tyrannosaurus rex in the background. Tomorrow we leave for home! It has been an exciting adventure of science and culture.

A visit to Kaali Crater for our last day on Saaremaa

July 8th, 2011

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–A dramatic geological site on our last Saaremaa day: the meteorite craters at Kaali. We hiked around the largest crater (shown above) and then visited one of the smaller subsidiary craters nearby (shown below). The main Kaali crater is 110 meters in diameter and about 22 meters deep. The meteorite was between 20 to 80 metric tonnes and was traveling 10-20 km/s. It broke up into pieces 5-10 km above the ground before the multiple impacts. The date of this event is disputed. We have seen ranges in the literature from 4000 to 2700 years ago. Some archaeologists have evidence that an ecological catastrophe followed the impacts with massive wildfires and a drop in crop production for a century. Others think there is a connection between the Kaali event and Baltic mythology. (I think it is a delightful coincidence that the Estonian place name “Kaali” used for this fiery event is coincidentally the same name as the fearsome Hindu goddess.)

To our surprise, the Kaali Museum had a thorough display on the geology of Saaremaa, including this polished cross-section through Nick’s critical Wenlock/Ludlow section.

Our last stop was a virtually abandoned little harbor at Turja on the southeastern coast of the island. It was a nice place for lunch as we contemplated how our fieldwork did not include bears and wolverines (as with our Wooster colleagues in Alaska) or gale-force winds and thick fogs (as experienced by our Iceland friends). We were quite fortunate to gather such excellent geological data with so few such adventures!

Tomorrow we drive to Tallinn to spend a day and a half, and then to Stockholm for a day in the Natural History Museum looking at comparative Silurian material. On Wednesday of next week we fly home.

Paleoecology of the Hilliste Formation (Lower Silurian, Llandovery, Rhuddanian) Hiiumaa Island, Estonia: An example of a shallow marine recovery fauna — An abstract submitted to the Geological Society of America for the 2011 annual meeting

July 7th, 2011

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–Editor’s note: The Wooster Geologists in Estonia found enough material, and had enough time, to write abstracts for posters at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Minneapolis this October. The following is from student guest blogger Rachel Matt in the format required for GSA abstracts:

PALEOECOLOGY OF THE HILLISTE FORMATION (LOWER SILURIAN, LLANDOVERY, RHUDDANIAN) HIIUMAA ISLAND, ESTONIA: AN EXAMPLE OF A SHALLOW MARINE RECOVERY FAUNA

MATT, Rachel M., WILSON, Mark A., FEDORCHUK, Nicholas D., Dept of Geology, The College of Wooster, 944 College Mall, Wooster, OH 44691-2363, VINN, Olev, Dept of Geology, University of Tartu, Ravila 14A, 50411 Tartu, Estonia

The Hilliste Formation (Lower Silurian, Llandovery series and Rhuddanian stage) is well exposed in a quarry in western Estonia. During the deposition of this unit, Estonia was part of the paleocontinent Baltica, which was located near the equator. The Hilliste Formation thus records the recovery of tropical invertebrate marine communities following the mass extinction at the end of the Ordovician. Globally, pre-extinction levels of marine diversity were not met until the Wenlock, about 15 million years after the end of the Ordovician; this formation was deposited about three million years following the event. The Hilliste Formation contains a diverse fauna including brachiopods (orthids, atrypids, rhynchonellids, pentamerids, and strophomenids), corals (favositids, halysitids, heliolitids and rugosans), stromatoporoids, bryozoans, gastropods, crinoids, ostracodes and trilobites. We measured, described and sampled the Hilliste Formation at Hilliste Quarry on Hiiumaa Island, western Estonia. The unit records a regression from depths between normal and storm wavebase to depths at or above normal wavebase. The evidence for this paleoenvironmental interpretation includes more argillaceous beds in the bottom two-thirds of the formation and more biosparite/grainstone upwards. The top third of the formation consists of massive biosparite/grainstone with little clay and overturned and fragmented corals and stromatoporoids indicating high depositional energy. The fauna changes stratigraphically upwards from one dominated by brachiopods and gastropods to a community primarily of corals, stromatoporoids and crinoids. This fauna provides additional information about biotic recovery in eastern Baltica and its implications for the migration of Early Silurian Baltic taxa into other regions.

Stratigraphy and paleoecology at the Wenlock/Ludlow boundary on Saaremaa Island, Estonia — An abstract submitted to the Geological Society of America for the 2011 annual meeting

July 7th, 2011

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–Editor’s note: The Wooster Geologists in Estonia found enough material, and had enough time, to write abstracts for posters at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Minneapolis this October. The following is from student guest blogger Nick Fedorchuk in the format required for GSA abstracts:

STRATIGRAPHY AND PALEOECOLOGY AT THE WENLOCK/LUDLOW BOUNDARY ON SAAREMAA ISLAND, ESTONIA

FEDORCHUK, Nicholas D., WILSON, Mark A., MATT, Rachel M., Dept of Geology, The College of Wooster, 944 College Mall, Wooster, OH 44691-2363, VINN, Olev, Dept of Geology, University of Tartu, Ravila 14A, 50411 Tartu, Estonia

The boundary between the Wenlock Series and the Ludlow Series can be easily observed on the island of Saaremaa in western Estonia. Here, the boundary is distinguished by a major disconformity that can be correlated to a regional regression described in several previous studies. During this time, western Saaremaa was a lagoonal facies that reflected sea-level changes within the Baltic Basin. We measured and described this Wenlock-Ludlow boundary interval at Soeginina Cliff on the western shore of Saaremaa. Here this boundary consists of the Vesiku Beds of the Rootsiküla Formation (Wenlock) overlain by the Soeginina Beds of the Paadla Formation (Ludlow). The Vesiku Beds (Wenlock) record a carbonate lagoonal environment with finely laminated beds and Thalassinoides burrows (indicating oxygenated bottom conditions). The fauna is much less diverse than that in normal marine sediments of the Wenlock. The top surface of these beds (the primary discontinuity surface) shows a microtopography and dissolution consistent with exposure and abrasion. The top 20 centimeters also show diagenetic alteration of the laminated sediments, probably from fluids traveling through the Thalassinoides burrow systems. The Soeginina Beds (Ludlow) show pulsating transgressive sediments with multiple discontinuity surfaces. Large oncoids are common in these beds. They have distinctive shapes because they were initially spherical and later stabilized and grew like small stromatolites upwards. These forms may indicate periodic energy reductions in these transgressive waters. There are also storm beds with biogenic debris including oncoids nucleated on gastropods. This boundary interval is topped by thin dolomites and stromatolites. This example of the Wenlock-Ludlow boundary can be correlated with other such disconformities recorded in a variety of depositional environments, such as in the equivalent reef complexes of Gotland, Sweden.

Wooster Geologists return to Suuriku Cliff, Saaremaa, Estonia

July 7th, 2011

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–Today we visited one of Rob McConnell’s (’10)  Senior Independent Study field sites on the northwest coast of Saaremaa. Suuriku Cliff (N58.50875°, E21.99818°; see above image) is an exposure of the Jaani Formation (Lower Silurian, Wenlock). There are two members here: the upper Ninase (most of the cliff) and the lower Mustjala. Rob sorted out the paleoecology and environments of deposition of these two members using samples from this location and two others.

We were here today to find additional crinoid calices to continue a project Bill Ausich, Olev Vinn and I are pursuing. We found a few, too, although none very photogenic. It was also a chance for us to see more examples of Silurian limestone and fossils before we leave the island on Saturday.

Nick Fedorchuk and Rachel Matt at Suuriku Cliff. We want to show that some Saaremaa cliffs really are more than a meter high!

Panorama of Tagalaht Bay south of Suuriku Cliff near Veere. This bay is where German naval and infantry forces invaded Saaremaa on October 11, 1917, in Operation Albion.

Return to a Silurian crinoid forest

July 5th, 2011

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA–Today our Wooster Geology team visited a favorite outcrop of mine: the Äigu Beds of the Kaugatuma Formation exposed on the northwestern shore of the Sõrve Peninsula on Saaremaa. These are Late Silurian (Pridoli) limestones with a great abundance of crinoid fragments — so many that they are locally called “ringstones” (see the above image of a crinoid stem and isolated ring-like columnals). Palmer Shonk (’10) studied this outcrop for his Independent Study thesis. We returned here today to collect more field data so that Palmer, Olev Vinn, Bill Ausich and I can write a professional paper on the depositional system and paleoecology.

The limestones show significant storm beds made of skeletal debris, especially the crinoids but also corals, stromatoporoids, bryozoans, brachiopods and trilobites. The most remarkable aspect of this exposure is the presence of an in situ crinoid “forest” of holdfasts (the part of the crinoid that holds it to the sediment). Our job today was to find out more about the non-crinoid fauna since Palmer and I have already mapped out the crinoid holdfasts. We hope to soon publish a rare look at a Silurian crinoid community essentially preserved in place.

The Kaugatuma outcrop on the Sõrve Peninsula of Saaremaa. This was a Russian amphibious landing zone in 1944. You can bet you’ll read more about that story later!

The star-shaped fossil with the hole in the center is a crinoid holdfast in place at Kaugatuma. There are dozens of these scattered across the outcrop. The crinoid is Enallocrinus. The hole in the center is the hollow lumen of the crinoid stem.

Nick found this calyx of another crinoid known as Eucalyptocrinites. Such well preserved calices are rare.

Nick also found this very nice trilobite pygidium (tail piece). It is preserved well enough that we can probably later identify it to the genus level.

Back to the Big Island for the Fourth of July

July 4th, 2011

KURESSAARE, SAAREMAA, ESTONIA–The Wooster Geologists Estonia Team today braved the Baltic Sea again and took a ferry from the island of Hiiumaa to return to their previous field sites on the island of Saaremaa. We worked at Soeginina Cliff on the western coast (shown above) to finish up Nick Fedorchuk’s Independent Study field research on the Wenlock-Ludlow (Silurian) erosional sequence. It was a fun day because we now have hypotheses to test about these rocks and fossils. More on those later.

The above rock shows an advantage we have studying exposures on rocky coastlines. The waves erode blocks of limestone from the cliff and polish them up on the boulder-strewn beach. We can thus see our rocks in three dimensions rather than just the flat cross-section we would normally have. The trick, though, is to know from where in the section the boulders were derived!

We found some excellent sections through the numerous oncoids in our outcrops as well. We saw that many are formed around gastropod (snail) shells — very much like a Jurassic version I recently described as one of Wooster’s Fossils of the Week.

Tonight we will celebrate the 4th of July with a pizza dinner in downtown Kuressaare. It is as close to American food as we can get here. On this holiday we salute the Wooster Geologists Iceland Team also far from home on the front lines of science!

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