Team Utah Visits Bryce Canyon

June 10th, 2012

BRYCE CANYON, UTAH – In recognition of National Get Outdoors Day, Team Utah visited Bryce Canyon National Park. The park is famous for its gorgeous hoodoos. Here are a few pictures from our day.

Team Utah representing Wooster at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center.

Dr. Pollock tries not to be blown over the rim by the wind.

Dr. Judge shows off her field hat.

STOP, Hammer Time

June 8th, 2012

FILLMORE, UTAH – [Guest Bloggers Matt Peppers and Will Cary]

On the morning of the 8th, all seemed well. Much like days before, we all arose and began to pack our lunches for the day. However, as we piled into the car, an ominous light started to blink on the dashboard. Low tire pressure. Concerned, Dr. Judge pulled us into a nearby gas station and checked the tires. Much to our dismay, the left rear tire was 10 psi lower than it should be, a repeat occurrence from a few days earlier. Not wanting to jeopardize our upcoming Mystery Fun Day, Drs. Judge and Pollock made the decision to take the car into a repair shop to have the problem diagnosed. While they were gone, they left us to wreak havoc upon the KOA Kampground. We started by swimming and relaxing by the pool, and ended by swimming and relaxing by the pool. All before lunchtime. We retired to our individual cabins to enjoy the lunches we had packed a few hours earlier in glorious air conditioned komfort.

 

Around 1 pm, the professors returned and it was business as usual. Even though we had lost half of our day to a small hole in the tire (curse you, basalt!) we rushed out to mob Kevin’s project for the afternoon. Arriving on the cinder cone at peak temperature made for a challenging work environment (especially after having spent most of the day in a sun-induced stupor) but we turned the afternoon into a very productive, albeit rushed, day. After reviewing the wall Kevin had used to map his xenoliths, we spread out and tried to collect as many of the 16 different types as we could find. After a few small injuries, stumbles, artistic work with a rock hammer, and some sore hands trying to pry the xenoliths out of the uncooperative host rock, we amassed a small mountain of samples for Kevin. As Whitney struggled to bag and record the samples in the gusting wind, the rest of us made one last sweep of the area for any xenoliths to claim.

Aptly named, the "Avocado" xenolith inspired some dinner choices this evening.

The "Sparkly" xenolith refuses to show its nature in photographs.

 

The "Black and Green" xenolith.

Tricia demonstrates proper hammer usage.

We trooped back down the van, and made the dusty trek back to the kampsite, just in time to shower and recover before we left for dinner at six. After a quick stop to pick up a package containing some hardier field notebooks we went of to dinner followed by a stop for ice cream, where the professors revealed the Fun Trip they had planned for Saturday. We will be driving down to Bryce Canyon on the morrow to spend the day in the park. None of us have been there, so it promises to be a unique experience for us all!

What do volcanic bombs, xenoliths, and giant gypsum crystals have in common?

June 7th, 2012

FILLMORE, UTAH – What do volcanic bombs, xenoliths, and giant gypsum crystals have in common? Not much, except that we saw them all during our long and productive day. We met to pack lunches at 7:30 am and finished with student-faculty meetings at 10 pm, so we’re all ready for a good night’s rest, but we thought we’d give you a quick update on our progress.

We spent the morning as a mob on the rim of the cinder cone, searching for volcanic bombs for Will's ballistics study.

Will found a wide variety of bombs, or material that was explosively ejected from the volcano when it was molten. He made a number of measurements that he'll use in his mathematical models when he returns to Wooster.

In the afternoon, Kevin led a group to look for xenoliths, or foreign rock fragments, in a lava flow. This sedimentary xenolith is affectionately named Neopolitan.

At the end of the day, we visited with Larry Gehre, who so graciously showed us his amazing personal collection of rocks. If you have a sandstone feature in your aquarium, it probably came from Larry.

We were all impressed the size of the gypsum crystals in his scrap pile. Note Will's hat for scale.

Although it was long and challenging, the cool temperatures and partly cloudy skies made for a pleasant day in the field. Back to the lava fields tomorrow to check out some scarps and map flow boundaries. Wish us luck!

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).

 

Orientation in Ice Springs Volcanic Field

June 4th, 2012

FILLMORE, UTAH – [Guest bloggers Kevin Silver and Tricia Hall]

The alarms sounded in the early morning sun, early enough for the outside air to chill the bones. After our standard yogurt and cereal breakfast, we piled into the van and made our way to the Ice Springs volcanic field, the site of our field work for Independent Study. By chance, we met the manager of the quarry along the narrow road in a near head on collision before making our way up the winding road of the cinder cone with the manager’s warnings of careless truck drivers at the forefront of our minds. Once we arrived at the top of the cinder cone, we were able to enjoy the incredible views of the surrounding valley. The first feature we came to was the Crescent crater. As we viewed the expanse of the lava flow below us, it became quite clear at this point that trying to map the entire field would take much longer than the two short weeks that we have to work in Ice Springs.

Looking northeast from the summit of Crescent Crater.

 

After becoming oriented with the area, we made our way to Miter crater and came across extensive exposures of xenoliths. We paused for a snack and to reapply sunscreen before heading out onto the lava flows, and it was here we realized a harsh reality. The lava flows are very complex, but luckily provided better footing than the cinder of the crater slopes. Assessing the lava flows led us to the flows breaching Miter crater. The ascent back up Miter crater proved to be more challenging than expected, but we were truly independent minds working together to find flat ground. Once everybody caught their breath, we wandered back toward the van to make our way back down the cinder cone. We then made an attempt at circumnavigating the volcanic field using the rather primitive roads that were more attuned to cattle herds than cars. This feat proved to be futile as nothing less than an ATV could navigate the rough terrain we encountered. Upon our misfortune, and the near loss of our bumper, we decided to head back to camp. Along the way, we all took a nap, leaving poor Dr. Judge and Dr. Pollock to navigate our group safely back to the camp site in silence.

Tricia Hall standing in front of Miter Crater.

Once back in our accommodations, the kozy kabins, we all went our separate ways for some R&R. We each met individually with the professors to discuss our project ideas once again following our initial introduction to our field site.

Around 5:30 pm, we all piled into the van once more to scavenge for nutrients at the quality establishment known as 5 Buck Pizza. We had 4 of them. They were good. Will and Matt guzzled 8 pieces of pizza each, leaving the rest of us starving.

 

Adventures in Fillmore

June 3rd, 2012

FILLMORE, UTAH – [Guest bloggers Matt Peppers and Will Cary]

As Dr. Wilson so kindly stated in his last blog post, the Utah group arrived safely at Salt Lake City International Airport on Saturday, June 2. After stopping briefly at a Target to get various essentials, we finished our two-hour drive at Fillmore (see here for how the drive went), the town we will reside in for the next two weeks. We are staying at a KOA Kampsite in some kozy little kabins. After getting acquainted with the campsite layout, we explored some of the finer cuisine options, finally settling on Larry’s Drive-In Diner across the road. Will tried a marshmallow milkshake that gave him enough sugar to power through the jet lag associated with the time zone change. After a filling meal, the group headed back to the campsite for a quick group meeting to go over the schedule for Sunday, which promised to be an orientation day to the Black Rock Desert and what we could expect. Following the meeting, everyone felt the effects of travel and promptly retired to their respective cabins for the evening.

Dr. Judge lays out the maps for our field site.

The next morning, the group met at 9:30 to pack lunches for the day followed by an overview of equipment and safety precautions that we would need for our fieldwork. With backpacks set up, we gathered as much water as we could carry and set out to our first meeting with the Black Rock Desert. We drove directly west out of Fillmore and, although we couldn’t get onto it, saw Ice Springs, our future field site. We drove around the flow front boundaries and were impressed by how distinct and steep the boundaries actually were. Because today was an orientation day, we set out to find some lava tubes in the Tabernacle Hill lava field. Although we were unsuccessful in locating them, we had some good experience using the GPS units. In addition, we spent a lot of time looking at pressure ridges in the lava field, which adds additional complexity to some students’ projects.

Admitting defeat in finding the lava tubes (and questioning the signage that lead us to that area), we drove on to White Mountain, a hulking mass of gypsum sand a few minutes away. Looking for a place to get out of the 93° heat to eat our lunches, we headed to the one tree we had seen in the entire trip. Stepping out of the car almost had us believing we were in the Bahamas, and the white sand proved a pleasant place to sit. As we moved under the shade of the tree, two small owls flew out from its branches. Waiting cautiously in the leaves above us were three more owls, who seemed upset that we interrupted their lunch with our lunch (3 dead mice taunted them from next to where we were sitting).

The glare of someone who's had his lunch interrupted.

Imagining we are in the Bahamas.

After getting back into the car, we asked Dr. Judge and Dr. Pollock what our next stop would be. Getting only a, “Classified” as a response, all we could do is bounce around in the back of the car down a dusty road. We were pleasantly surprised when the trip ended at a natural hot spring. We eagerly climbed out of the car and jumped in.

Nature's gift.

We continued our first full day by taking a quick stop back at the campsite for a change into dry clothes before heading to meet Dr. Wilson’s, aunt, Ms. Sylvia Huntsman. She graciously welcomed us into her house where we played with her two dogs, Zeke and Bogey and ate delicious apple cobbler. When eyes started to droop from too much time sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned house, we excused ourselves to go eat more food. The fine cuisine of Fillmore proved itself once again at the “Garden of Eat’n.”

The first day ended with a final meeting back at the campsite to set a schedule for Monday (the 7 am departure time was a harsh return to reality) and a beautiful sunset.

Theory to Practice: An Early GSA Abstract

May 11th, 2012

This semester, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching a special topics lab course in geochemistry. Given our new lab facilities, I decided to approach the class as an analytical geochemistry course. We explored sampling strategies, data quality, and the theory and techniques behind X-ray methods (XRF), electron-beam methods (SEM-EDS), and mass spectroscopy methods (ICP-MS).  Unlike a typical survey course, our course was entirely research-based. We actually became analytical geochemists by conducting an authentic research project on a suite of Icelandic basalts. Our goal was to investigate the development of a structural basin in northern Iceland by interpreting the petrogenesis of lavas that were erupted during different phases of basin construction. This week, we’ve accomplished our goal and have written an abstract to submit to the Fall 2012 meeting of GSA.

Here is the text of the abstract:

A GEOCHEMICAL ANALYSIS OF THE VATNSDALFJALL STRUCTURAL BASIN, SKAGI PENINSULA, NORTHWEST ICELAND

Matthew Peppers, Sarah Appleton, Lindsey Bowman, Andrew Collins, Whitney Sims, Melissa Torma, Meagen Pollock

Vatnsdalfjall, in northwest Iceland, exposes the upper ~700 m of crust formed ~7 Ma ago at the extinct Hunafloi-Skagi rift zone. In general, the lava flows dip gently westward toward the abandoned rift axis, but are interrupted by a local area of steeply dipping lava flows known as the Vatnsdalur Structural Basin (VSB). The VSB is composed of three sequences of lava flows emplaced before, during, and after subsidence. Using the geochemistry (XRF, ICP-MS) of samples gathered in the field in 2006 and 2007 and previous data from Ackerly (2004) and McClanahan (2004), we were able to establish a basic eruptive history for the sequences. Major element analysis shows diverse rock types, including basalt, basaltic andesite, dacite, and rhyolite. Sequence 1 shows the greatest diversity and was primarily affected by mineral accumulation, while Sequences 2, 3, and the dikes follow the trend of a shallow level fractional crystallization model based on a modified parent magma from Sequence 1. Trace element ratios suggest the presence of 1 (or 2) parent magmas, although the intermediate to silicic lavas appear to be generated by a separate process. Sequence 1 contains various lava flows, each with a uniform thickness, emplaced on relatively flat terrain. Sequence 2 was emplaced on top of Sequence 1 as subsidence of the basin was occurring, creating lava flows that thicken toward the basin interior. Intermediate to silicic rocks are absent during this interval and dikes cut Sequence 1 to feed lavas in Sequence 2. After a period of erosion, Sequence 3 was erupted above Sequence 2. Dikes that feed Sequence 3 cut through Sequence 2. The development of the VSB may have been associated with a waning period in the magmatic system, where magmas cooled and evolved (following an evolutionary trend controlled by fractional crystallization) and there was little partial melting of the crust (given the lack of intermediate to silicic lavas).

And some key figures:

Geologic map that shows the location of our samples on Sequence 1 (green), Sequence 2 (pink), and Sequence 3 (blue).

CaO vs. MgO (wt%). Symbols for dikes and Sequences 1, 2, and 3 are as shown on the geologic map. Previous data outlined by the dashed line. Fractional crystallization model shown by the black like. Arrows indicate effects of mineral accumulation. Plagioclase (pentagons) and clinopyroxene (stars) are also shown.

Schematic model (not to scale) for the development of the basin.

I applaud all of the students for their excellent work. They really took ownership of this project and deserve all of the credit. Look for us at GSA in the fall!

Presentations on Capitol Hill

May 7th, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Students and faculty aren’t the only audiences for Wooster I.S. presentations. This year, two Wooster students were selected (out of 850 applicants) to represent the best in undergraduate research at CUR’s Posters on the Hill event. Congratulations to Lindsey Bowman (’12) and Nikolai Radzinski (’13) on their accomplishment! Be sure to check out the press release to hear about their experiences in their own words.

 

Lindsey's research took center stage as she was interviewed by the camera crew.

 

Lindsey presented her I.S. research on subglacial eruptions.

 

Nikolai, a junior biochemistry major, presented his summer research on measuring motor function loss for brain injury victims.

The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Research

June 21st, 2010

Thanks to Dr. Jeff Ryan (left) and Dr. Laura Guertin (center) for putting together a fantastic GeoCUR session.

To celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of the CUR Geosciences Division, our session today started with a lively discussion of what undergraduate research was like 25 years ago. It seems that Princeton had a robust undergraduate research program, but at many other institutions, undergraduate research was either focused on mapping or completely nonexistent. The rock hammers, compasses, and field books from 25 years ago are still essential today, but there is no doubt that undergraduate research has come a long way. Today, undergraduate research involves students operating high-level research instruments (like the microprobe) from a remote location. Field books are digital and traditionally lab-based analytical techniques (like the XRF) are used in the field. More undergraduate students are traveling internationally for research, and many more are getting research experience from the moment they begin their college careers. It is truly an exciting time to be conducting research with undergraduates, but when asked about the future direction for undergraduate geoscience research, the participants raised two significant concerns: the need to reach out to underrepresented groups and the need to stay relevant in a changing society. Clearly, there is much work to be done.

The results of our interactive session on how undergraduate research in the geosciences has changed. (Notice how we mostly erased the "Then" column, for effect of course!). See the GeoCUR blog (http://www.tinyurl.com/geocur) for slides and links from the session.

CUR 2010

June 19th, 2010

I’m at the 2010 National Conference of the Council on Undergraduate Research at Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Tonight, the conference kicked off with a talk by Dr. Robert Full (University of California, Berkeley) on “The Value of Interdisciplinary Research-based Instruction.” I immediately thought of Wooster’s Environmental Studies class that our own Dr. Wiles will be co-teaching with Dr. Susan Clayton (Psychology and Chair of Environmental Studies) as an excellent example of “interdisciplinary research-based instruction.” Tomorrow, I have the privilege of serving on a panel with Dr. Jeff Ryan and Dr. Laura Geurtin, my fellow GeoCUR Councilors, in an interactive session on “How Working with Undergraduate Researchers has Changed with Time.” I’ll be discussing wikis, digital field applications, and international research, but how is a geologist supposed to concentrate when surrounded by such wonderful scenery?

Wasatch Range, as viewed from the Welcome Reception at CUR 2010.

« Prev - Next »