Summer undergraduate researchers travel to Iceland to explore volcanoes

July 19th, 2019

Iceland – In our last post, Team Geochemistry was getting ready to head to Iceland for some field work on volcanoes. Our goals were to map and sample volcanoes that erupted under glaciers, which have since retreated, exposing the pillow lavas and ash that formed when lava met ice. We met up with a research team from the Dickinson College Earth Sciences Department, and also brought Dr. Shelley Judge, Wooster’s structural geologist. Together, we collected over 30 samples, took 1000s of photos, flew the drone for 8 hours, and made 100s of structural measurements. Overall, it was a successful and productive field season, with some laughs along the way! Layali Banna, member of Team Geochemistry (and basalt goddess), describes their field experience.

[Guest blogger Layali Banna] Last week, team geochemistry went to Iceland. We met up with some old friends there, but we met some new ones as well. In total there were ten of us and we were ready to take Iceland by storm.

All of us walking along Undirhlíðar (from left to right: Phoebe, Dr. Edwards, Marisa, Dr. Judge, Dr. Pollock, Kendra, Layali and Ethan; Hannah Is behind the camera taking the photo.)

After a long day of flying we decided to mostly take it easy, just doing a short walk around a nearby quarry to learn more about what we will be looking for out in the field.

Dr. Pollock posing for her glamour shot.

The second day was much different though – we spent almost all day out on Hannah’s site collecting samples for her project at Bræðravirki ridge. Divided into two teams, one group walked the ridge collecting samples, while the other group used a drone to map the ridge. This was a prime time up at the ridge since there was no snow cover, unlike past years where the gullies were hidden by snow, allowing us a great look at it without anything in the way.

Kendra smiling with Prestahnúkur in the background, which is a rhyolite volcano.

A gulley on Bræðravirki that was buried in snow during past years was now accessible for sampling.

Our third day in Iceland after that long day in Bræðravirki we spent the morning inside working on our field books and collecting some data, making observations on our samples.

 

Everyone working together to look through all the samples we had collected the day prior.

The latter half of the day we surveyed Undirhlíðar and ended up goofing around a bit at a certain spot called the bowl.

Kendra and Marisa trying to figure out how they are going to climb up the side of the bowl.

After our half day we returned to Undirhlíðar. This time we were split up into three groups all doing different things in separate areas. One group mapped with drones, another analyzed and mapped deformation bands, taking samples and pictures of the bands, and the last group went and took samples for Marisa’s project.

A beautiful, thick, glassy dike found on Undirhlíðar.

Time for a snack break! Marisa is eating a nutritious energy boosting cookie.

Finally, on our last day in Iceland everyone was given a free day to do what they want, exploring some of the natural wonders the island has to offer as well as touring the capital of Iceland, ReykjavÍk.

Hannah finally getting her photo taken instead of her always being the one taking them at Krýsuvík thermal zone.

The group stopped for some famous Icelandic street dogs in ReykjavÍk, Kendra is ready to dig in.

All too soon it was time for us to pack our bags and say goodbye to our friends and Iceland. It was time to head back to Wooster and work on the samples we collected in the lab.

 

The week leading up to international field work

July 6th, 2019

Wooster, OH – In the week leading up to field work, Team Geochemistry was frantically trying to “put out fires” and clean up loose-ends.

The “fires” started first thing Monday morning, when a leak in the geochemistry lab caused the ceiling to collapse. Fortunately, the students and cleaning staff were quick thinking and all ended well.

Next, we tried to wrap up our petrology classification project, which involved lots of microscope work. Classifying minerals in the microscope was more challenging than we expected, and we still have more work to do when we return from the field.

Finally, we had to gather our field gear, double-checking that we had everything we needed. Undoubtedly, there will be something that we forgot.

Even with the frantic pace of the week, we still made some time for an ice cream (or two!). It was the Fourth of July holiday, after all.

Team Geochemistry in currently en route to Iceland for some field work. We’ll be reunited with Marisa, our teammate from Dickinson College, along with Dr. Ben Edwards and three other Dickinson students. Dr. Shelley Judge, from Wooster, is also joining us for this field excursion. Look for updates from the field late next week!

Summer research from an undergraduate perspective

June 29th, 2019

Wooster, OH – While Dr. Pollock was away at a business meeting for the Council on Undergraduate Research, Team Geochemistry was hard at work in the Wooster X-ray lab. Here’s what they thought about last week:

This week, team geochemistry was left without Dr. Pollock for a few days, but that didn’t stop them from getting lots done! Layali and Kendra have been hard at work processing the results from last week’s full XRF run. They compared the results of standards and the accuracy of a few different programs to make sure the instrument is calibrated correctly. They are hoping to understand why their previous run gave some surprising results. 

Layali looking through some trace element data.

Hannah has been continuing to prepare her samples, working hard to polish volcanic glass that she will send off to Oberlin College for analysis using a scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDS). She has also been taking pictures of and looking at thin sections of her samples, hoping to understand more about their composition.

Hannah viewing the photos she took of her thin sections.

This week marks the halfway point of the team’s project. Having spent the majority of that time living on campus, the team has some insights on what it’s like to be here during the summer and what it’s like working on their project:

We all agree that it is much different than being on campus during the academic year – there are far fewer students around and much less to do on campus. It can get a little boring being here because it’s easy to fall in to a routine – go to work, eat, watch TV, sleep, and then wake up to do it again. We have found it necessary to find activities to break up this cycle, including hikes at a nearby park, excursions for bubble tea and Sheetz, board games, and movie nights. We have become great friends over these few weeks and have found that doing things together outside of work makes living on campus much more fun. It is best to have a car on campus (or to befriend someone who has a car) so that you can get out and find things to do. However, it is also quite easy to walk downtown to go to some shops or restaurants, so even without a car, there is a lot to do.

Simply working on this project is also something that is very different for all of us. We aren’t used to working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Being stuck in the lab can be really tiring, so we have found that taking breaks to play games or to take a walk around campus really help us stay awake and productive. We are learning lots of new skills, meaning it’s very important to stay focused and attentive so that we can get the most out of this wonderful experience. We can’t believe that we are halfway through our time here this summer!

 

Hands-on experience troubleshooting geochemical instruments

June 21st, 2019

Wooster, OH – Team geochemistry returned to Wooster this week with a serious focus on sample prep and data quality. Anyone with geochemical research experience understands the importance of preparing samples carefully and thoroughly, and having an analytical instrument that is well-calibrated for your samples. Some of our recent analyses have yielded surprising results, and now we’re double checking our sample prep process and instrument calibration to make sure the data are reliable.

Kendra and Layali are loading samples into the XRF. They are gaining a lot of hands-on experience operating the instrument.

The XRF measures the chemical composition of samples by exciting them with an X-ray beam. The X-ray beam causes the atoms in the sample to emit their own X-rays, which travel through a series of filters and crystals and are measured by a detector. The signal from the detector is converted to a concentration using a calibration curve that was made by measuring standards with known concentrations.

We are running the XRF at full capacity with drift-correct samples, unknowns, and standards, so that we can test the quality of the calibration and resulting data.

But we didn’t just work in the lab all week. We’re also preparing to for our upcoming trip to Iceland. We needed to pick up a few things, like rain gear. Only the essentials, of course.

Wooster undergraduate researchers expand their professional networks with cross-college collaboration

June 14th, 2019

Carlisle, PA – Our geochemistry research team spent this week at Dickinson College.

Hannah and Marisa analyzed the compositions of volcanic glasses and crystals using the scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDS).

They worked closely with Dr. Ben Edwards and Rob Dean (technician) to learn how to use the instrument. As with any new technique, it took a few days of practice to figure out how to obtain high quality data, but now we have hundreds of measurements to process when we return to Wooster.

Layali and Kendra processed major and trace element geochemical analyses of diabase from some Pennsylvanian rift basins.

They presented their work to Dr. LeeAnn Srogi and Dr. Tim Lutz, collaborators from West Chester University who visited us at Dickinson for a day. Layali and Kendra are contributing data to an oral presentation that Dr. Srogi will make at the 2019 IUGG General Assembly in July.

In the first two weeks of our undergraduate research project, our students have collaborated with scientists from three different institutions. They are building their professional networks and expanding their future opportunities.

In addition to all of the network-building and research productivity, we had a chance to sneak to nearby Hershey for a short visit (and some milkshakes).

The end of week 2 is bittersweet. Kendra, Layali, and Hannah head back to Wooster, parting ways with Marisa until we meet again in Iceland.

Thanks to everyone who made our Dickinson visit a success. We thank Dr. Ben Edwards and his family for their hospitality, Rob Dean for all of his assistance, Dr. LeeAnn Srogi and Dr. Tim Lutz for making the time to visit us and for excellent discussion, and the Dickinson Earth Science Department for their warm welcome.

Wooster and Dickinson students team up for geochemistry research

June 7th, 2019

[Wooster, OH] – A team of students from Wooster and Dickinson are working together on geochemistry research this summer. We’re using the compositions of Earth materials to understand geologic processes. Our main goal is to study the formation of volcanic ridges that were erupted beneath glaciers in Iceland, but we have a few other projects that we’ll be working on, too.  Thanks to Sherman Fairchild funding, we have 8 weeks to learn a lot of different lab techniques and travel to Iceland to get more samples.

We began our work with a weeklong marathon of preparing samples for analysis in the Wooster X-ray and Dickinson SEM labs.

Kendra and Layali prepared geochemical samples by melting powdered rocks and forming them into glass disks.

Marisa is examining samples of volcanic glasses under the microscope, selecting the freshest chips.

Kendra and Hannah are in the first stages of polishing the fresh glass chips so that they are perfectly smooth. This will let us analyze their compositions on Dickinson’s scanning electron microscope. We can also use the polished glass chips to measure the water contents later in the project.

Layali is tracing images of thin sections. We’ll use the tracings to do some quantitative mineralogical analyses.

It looks she is having fun doing all of this hard work!

The team has been working so hard that they have needed reminders to take breaks. So what to do on a break? How about a game of lab-bench-dino-mancala?

 

#GSA2017 Wrap Up

November 4th, 2017

It’s hard to believe that we were at the 2017 GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington just last week. Once again, the Wooster Geologists had a strong showing.

Macy Conrad (’18) kicked off our student presentations on Sunday with a poster on the paleoecology of encrusting sclerobionts in the Type Campanian of southwestern France. You can read more about Macy’s work in this Fossil of the Week blog post.

Brandon Bell (’18) followed Macy on Monday with his poster on the American scientific and cultural interaction with Japan and Europe after the 1906 earthquake. Brandon learned how historical methods can be used to study geologic phenomena like earthquakes and landslides.

You may remember Keck Geology Team Utah from their summer research exploits. They are Addison Thompson (’20, Pitzer), Madison Rosen (’19, Mt. Holyoke), Emily Randall (’20, Wooster), and Sam Patzkowsky (’20, Franklin and Marshall). At GSA, they presented the results of their research on dating young lava flows in the Black Rock Desert in Utah.

The intrepid Keck Geology Team Alaska, who also blogged about their summer research experiences, presented their dendrochronology research on declining yellow cedar and correlations with climate. They are Chris Messerich (’20, Washington and Lee), Malisse Lummus (’20, Trinity), Alora Cruz (’20, Macalester), and Josh Charlton (’19, Wooster).

Even our own Dr. Wilson had a poster presentation. His research on the bioerosion of oysters in the Type Campanian of southwestern France was the counterpart to Macy’s presentation.

As always, we had a fantastic alumni gathering where we caught up with recent graduates and former Wooster Geologists who have done wonderful things in their careers. Our students had an opportunity to interact with current graduate students, new geology department chairs, and emeritus faculty who specialize in paleontology, sedimentology, geochemistry, oceanography, and a vast range of Earth sciences. Once a Wooster Geologist, always a Wooster Geologist.

 

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.

 

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