Ketchikan to Klawock

Guest Bloggers: Mihalis Protopapadakis and Amanda Flory

This year the College of Wooster Tree Ring Lab flew to Ketchikan for our 2024 Alaska trip. July 6th and 7th were spent in Ketchikan, where we collected samples from Deer Mountain after a rigorous hike. On July 8th we took a ferry to Prince of Wales Island, where we collaborated with Alaska Youth Stewards in the city of Klawock to create a new tree-ring record of the region. While in Klawock, we had the opportunity to bond with the AYS team and explore the local Tlingit culture.

The city of Ketchikan on a rare sunny day.

The Wooster team in front of a Tlingit totem pole.

The view from halfway up Deer Mountain.

Dr. Wiles riding the saddleback of two cedars.

The Wooster team hard at work.

Sun-rays peeking through remnants of possible staurolite crystals in the phyllite bedrock.

The Deer Mountain tree-ring data up to 1998. The chronology highlights the volcanic eruptions of the 1690s and 1809, extending the tail-end of the Little Ice Age. The team collected samples to update the record with the last 25 years.

Kite surfer catching the waves of the ferry to Prince of Wales island.

Meeting the AYS team and other collaborators in Klawock.

The team after a hard day’s work, in front of a magnificent yellow cedar.

The Wooster team coring a dead cedar deep in the mountains.

The AYS experts coring a cedar.

Bob, the instructor of the AYS group, posing with style.

The temperate rainforest around Klawock.

A beautiful moth posing on cedar.

Old logging road on the way to our second site of the day.

Monument of chainsaws by the team’s airbnb.

We spent our third day in Klawock at the Craig Tribal Association’s Culture Camp.

Nick and Proto carving traditional halibut hooks.

After the Culture Camp, we visited Sealaska’s totem tree yard to collect more samples.

Marked totem log, soon to be sent off to Alaskan artist DB.

Proto coring an enormous cedar log (could not reach the middle).

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Two Environmental Geoscience majors featured in Wooster Magazine

We are proud of all our graduating seniors. When their Senior Independent Study projects are described outside the department, we highlight their excellent work for a larger audience. Corey Knauf (shown above) and Athena Tharenos (shown below) were both featured in the Summer 2024 edition of Wooster Magazine. We hope you can read their IS stories at the link. These beautiful images were taken by our ace college photographer Matt Dilyard.

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Buggin’ Out at Apple Creek


Guest Bloggers: Evie Sanford and Peter Rothstein – On June 11, the 2024 Scovel Summer Research Team visited Apple Creek with Trout Unlimited to analyze the water quality through a macroinvertebrate survey. This study was performed because macroinvertebrates are often used as biological indicators of stream quality due to their response to pollution. Special thanks to Carrie Elvey from OSU CFAES for teaching us about the area, the method, and what it all means for conservation efforts.

Our 2024 collection team!

The team used the kick seine method and dip nets to collect macroinvertebrates from the stream.

In addition to nets, we flipped over rocks to find organisms like leeches, water pennies, and macroinvertebrate larvae.

Carrie taught us about the types of organisms we found.

Final tray for site one

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Mayfly Nymph

Water Penny (Psephenidae sp.)

Site 1 Pollution Tolerance Index by year for the past 12 years. The lowest rating was 27, meaning PTI was excellent for every year measured.


Site 2 Pollution Tolerance Index by year for the past 12 years. The lowest value recorded, November 2013, had a value of 21, indicating good water quality. Other than that, the stream recorded excellent or better water quality throughout the recorded measurements.

Original data sheets were collected for sites 1 (left) and 2 (right).

The stream continues to receive a ranking of excellent – the highest possible rating. This excellent stream health rating for Apple Creek indicates a bright future for the stream.

In addition to the macroinvertebrate survey and our calculated pollution tolerance index, we compiled data from data loggers installed in the stream.


Apple Creek graph showing temperature in blue (ºC) and water levels in black (kPa) measured from a data logger in the stream channel itself. As expected, temperatures fluctuate by season, while water levels change over a shorter time frame. Note that storm events (peaks in water levels) are associated with warmer temperatures in the warm summer months and colder temperatures in the winter/early spring. These data were taken every hour.


Apple Creek 2 showing the temperature in blue (ºC) and water levels (kPa) when a new logger was implemented into a well casing that was installed into the stream bank approximately 10 feet from the channel and about 5 feet deep. In the coming years keeping track of the physical aspects of water flow and temperature should add to the story of environmental and water quality of Apple Creek monitoring efforts by Trout Unlimited, CFAES, and The College of Wooster.  





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James Parkinson, Paleontologist

Ann Arbor, Michigan — This morning I gave a talk at the North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC) about the extensive contributions that the English physician James Parkinson (1755-1824) made to the rapidly growing field of paleontology in the early 19th century. This was initially a surprise to me. I had earlier this year looked up details on the life of Parkinson because he is the namesake for Parkinson’s Disease, but was astonished to learn that he had published extensively on fossils. I joined with co-authors Bill Ausich (The Ohio State University) and Caroline Buttler (National Museum Wales) to explore Parkinson’s life and work and bring him to the attention of a new generation of paleontologists. We saw that Parkinson has been nearly forgotten in modern paleontology despite numerous prescient ideas. I’ve taken the PowerPoint slides of the presentation, removed the animations, and made it into the series of images here. I think they have enough text to convey an outline of Parkinson’s paleontology.

Thank you to my Israeli friend and colleague Yael Leshno Afriat for taking this image of me speaking at the NAPC session. This is the first talk I’ve ever given anywhere without a tie and jacket!

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Twisty little encrusting tubeworms: A new paper describes two new Jurassic spirorbin species, pushing back the origin of the group and giving us a nice paleoecological evolution narrative.

Several of my colleagues and I have been studying the fossil records of tubeworms for almost three decades now. We find them especially interesting because they are often beautifully preserved on hard substrates like shells, rocks and hardgrounds. They represent a relatively simply paleoecological niche: small sessile benthic filter-feeders. Tubeworms are also systematically diverse and polyphyletic (no common tubeworm ancestor). They show much evolutionary convergence over time between separate groups. One of the most dramatic comparisons (if there is drama in such esoteric topics) is between the extinct microconchids and the extant spirorbin serpulids. Their little shells can be nearly identical, separable primarily bu different skeletal microstructures. Microconchids and spirorbins are in the same ecological niche, but when did the former give way to the latter? We now have new evidence that narrows the time gap between the two clades.

Two years ago I had a look through a set of crinoid columns collected in the Callovian (Middle Jurassic) Matmor Formation of southern Israel. The fantastic fossils in the Matmor have been the basis of many papers (and blog posts) from my research group over the past two decades. (The top image of this post shows some of these fossils in the field. Note the abundant crinoid columns.) I was revisiting these crinoid columns for some crinoid-related idea I’ve now forgotten. Instead, I noticed tiny little spiral tubeworms encrusting some of the crinoids. This was immediately an issue — they were either the youngest microconchids (which are Bathonian, a stage below) or the oldest spirorbins (up until now in the Cretaceous, a system above). They fell into the stratigraphic gap between these groups.

I sent the specimens immediately to my friend and colleague Olev Vinn in Estonia. He determined through analysis of the microstructure that these Callovian tubes were of the earliest spirorbins, and that they represented two new species. We invited two other experts into the project who had their own mysterious Middle Jurassic tubeworms. Our paper has now appeared in the journal PalZ. Here is the abstract —

Two new spirorbin species, Neomicrorbis israelicus sp. nov. and Spirorbis? hagadolensis sp. nov., are here described from the Callovian of Israel, together with two new variations of Neomicrorbis israelicus from the late Bathonian of northern France and Callovian of Madagascar. These are the geologically earliest true Spirorbinae. Our new data, and a literature review of microconchids and early spirorbins, suggest that the ecological switchover from spirorbiform microconchids to spirorbin polychaetes took place in the late Bathonian, and that the spread of spirorbins across the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous seas was rapid. The ecospace of spirally coiled spirorbiform microconchids could thus have been competitively taken over by true spirorbins. The true spirorbin polychaetes may have been ecologically more successful than their Paleozoic analogues – the microconchids. The general rarity of spirorbin-bearing localities in Europe from the Bathonian to Albian supports the hypothesis that the Spirorbinae likely originated in the equatorial Tethys and only occasionally spread to the northern hemisphere seas until the end of the Early Cretaceous. Spirorbins finally became common, diverse and widespread in the northern seas by the Late Cretaceous, and even more so in the Cenozoic.

Spirorbins from the Callovian of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Israel. a Longitudinal section of the tube showing growth lamellae characteristic of the serpulids. b Section through the tube showing open tube origin and lack of protoconch. c Neomicrorbis israelicus sp. nov. encrusting a crinoid stem. d–e Neomicrorbis israelicus sp. nov. (holotype) showing four longitudinal keels. f. Neomicrorbis israelicus sp. nov. (paratype). Scale bars: a, b, e, f 300 um; c 5 mm; d 400 um. (From Figure 1 of Vinn et al., 2024.)

a–d Spirorbis? hagadolensis sp. nov. from the Callovian of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Israel. Note lack of the longitudinal keels and rounded tube cross-section. Scale bars: a 400 um; b 200 um; c, d 300 um. (From Figure 4 of Vinn et al., 2024.)

I tell my students to always look for anomalies in scientific observations and data. There are stories to be told when you find something out of place. This is also a case of specimens in a collection being useful for projects unknown at the time they were gathered. This is one reason why have museums to preserve items for unknown future discoveries. The spirobin tubeworms here are certainly not charismatic fossils, but they nonetheless fill in an important evolutionary gap.


Vinn, O. Wilson, M.A., Jäger, M. and Kočí, T. 2024. The earliest true Spirorbinae from the late Bathonian and Callovian (Middle Jurassic) of France, Israel and Madagascar. PalZ (in press)


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Examining Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) North American dinosaur teeth and their palaeoecological implications in the Hell Creek Formation of Carter County, Montana – The Independent Study project of Hudson Davis (’24)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. The following is Hudson’s thesis abstract —

The Hell Creek Formation is an iconic Late Cretaceous formation that is found throughout the states of Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Even though it has been studied for over 100 years, questions about the paleoecosytem it represents still need further research. I here examine dinosaur teeth from the Hell Creek of Carter County, Montana, a section that is understudied compared to other exposures of the formation. While many studies focus on the dinosaur fauna of this ecosystem, most of these studies focus on skeletal material. Dinosaur teeth are abundant within microvertebrate sites in the Hell Creek, and these teeth can tell and confirm similar information to that of the skeletal remains, while also providing information that preservation bias might otherwise obscure. By conducting a tooth census comprised of 1,505 dinosaur teeth and comparing that to similar skeletal censuses, I hypothesize that while certain fauna like Triceratops will, as reflected in the skeletal record, be the most abundant tooth taxa, other species not as common from skeletal remains, such as dromaeosaurs, will be more common from teeth surveys, as their hollow bones are subject to preservation bias. I also predict that different lithologies of microsites will contain different teeth assemblages due to niche partitioning within the environment.

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Morphological Descriptions of Freshwater Sponge Spicules from Brown’s Lake and Their Potential as Paleoenvironmental Proxies When Supplemented with Diatom Biostratigraphy – The Independent Study project of Garrett Ross Robertson (’24)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. The following is Garrett’s thesis abstract —

The BLGR – 01 core, a 1.5-meter sediment core from a kettle lake near Shreve, Ohio, and dated with 210Pb, and 14C records changes in climate, ecology, and sedimentation from the last 2,000 years of the Holocene. Siliceous freshwater sponge spicules and diatom frustule microfossils from the BLGR – 01 core were collected and analyzed to measure population dynamics through time as well as to infer ecological changes in the lake. Our hypothesis that sponge and diatom data would supplement one another was not supported, as sponge data was not of a high enough resolution; but both proxies revealed changes unrelated to one another.

Using the wet oxidation method, 3 genera of freshwater sponge (Racekilea, Heteromeyenia, Anheteromeyenia) and two individual species were identified based on spicule morphology via light microscopy. Sponge biostratigraphy results display a sustained community prior to local deforestation, followed by an abrupt disappearance in silty intervals, concluding with a reemergence 20 years ago. One sponge genus remains locally extinct in Brown’s Lake.

Seventeen diatom genera were recorded, and the eight most prominent (Eunotia, Tabellaria, Cyclotella, Lindavia, Discostella, Gomphonema, Stauroneis, Navicula) were counted at 5cm intervals on smear slides. Spikes and dips in diatom populations suggest periods of warming and cooling that affected these organisms. Radiocarbon dating confirmed the presence of peat that accumulated during the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which was corroborated by the low numbers of diatom frustules in the bottom 30cm of the core.

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On Thinning Ice: A Geoscientific Perspective on the Politics of Resource Exploration in a Changing Arctic – The Independent Study project of Athena Tharenos (’24)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. The following is Athena’s thesis abstract —

Climate forecasting predicts that the decline in northern sea ice will render the Central Arctic Ocean fully accessible for shipping and petroleum extraction purposes by mid-century. These international waters present an opportunity for non-Arctic and Arctic nations to compete and collaborate for regional influence. Such prospects remain possible only with the rapid deterioration of our planet’s northernmost cryosphere, a positive feedback loop that is spurring environmentally harmful trends. Still, the notion of an ice-free Arctic has excited the international community for new opportunities: those contingent upon ecosystem collapse and defined by exploitive opportunism. As local states vie for exclusive control of these emerging northern resources, international bodies aim to humble their authority by promoting sustainable legislation to safeguard global common interests. In making the recent changes that are being experienced by the region a matter of global concern, various parties have leveraged the Arctic situation for their own gain. Ironically, these include both international bodies fighting against environmental degradation as well as those transnational corporations and governing powers looking to seize geoeconomic and geopolitical assets. I call this “the problematization of the Far North.” After reviewing the opportunities and obstacles presented to humanity by the loss of northern sea ice, I am forced to concede that our “Arctic problem” is far too complex for any one proposed solution. The convergence of environmental consciousness and resource competition in the region presents a clear conflict of interest for nation-states. It is impossible to balance the needs of all involved stakeholders without contradicting even the most innocent of intentions. We as a species must abandon our neocolonialist ethos and instead implement effective and sustainable legislation distinguished by community-led adaptive policy. How international and regional leaders choose to address the changes in the Arctic will have global repercussions for climate action and geopolitical cooperation. To understand humanity’s role in the Far North, we must remember to consider the larger consequences associated with our proximate gains and treat the great natural forces of our planet with patience and respect. For future generations to be able to meet their needs, it is essential we proceed with a careful balance of priorities and an urgent commitment to the common good.

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The Coevolution of Humankind and Lake Erie: Past, Present, and Future Interactions – The Independent Study project of Natalie Tanner (’24)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. Natalie Tanner was advised by Mark Wilson (me!) and Nigel Brush because she was a double major in Environmental Geoscience and Anthropology. The following is her thesis abstract —

This Independent Study fosters a dynamic conversation between the communities and stakeholders of Lake Erie, focusing on the cultural evolution, resource exploitation, and conservation practices behind these interactions. This discussion will suggest how to best implement more effective conservation policies in the Lake Erie watershed by examining the importance of the lake to the ecosystem, the relationship between the lake and surrounding communities, and how stakeholder groups propose conservation efforts to the public. The importance of Lake Erie to the regional environment and hydroclimate cannot be understated. Local communities are not only reliant on the lake for food, water, and recreation, but also its role in maintaining the regional climate and ecosystems. Cultural evolution leads to specific resource exploitation to maintain large populations, in this case, often leading to pollutants entering the lake. Human-sourced pollution dates back to Indigenous agriculture, where archeological evaluations of Indigenous sites and their geologic environments suggest that pre-European contact agriculture would have directly caused an increase of sedimentation in Lake Erie. Today, stakeholder groups hold the power to decide the resource exploitation and conservation efforts applied to Lake Erie. Yet often the communities and stakeholders alike feel their efforts fall short of success.

The contamination of the Lake Erie watershed greatly affects the surrounding
communities, not the stakeholders, and yet the communities are not the ones allotted the power to decide the goals of conservation efforts. Theorist, Carol Carpenter, suggests that without the support and involvement of the communities, implementing effective conservation efforts will not often be successful. This conversation will ideally persuade local stakeholders to conduct policy changes regarding their communication techniques and involvement with the populations living in the Lake Erie watershed. Ultimately encouraging stakeholders to place some of their decision-making power back in the hands of the community members and closing the sociopolitical and socioeconomic gaps that are often so prevalent in conservation today.

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The Geoheritage of the Sõrve Peninsula, Saaremaa Island, Estonia: A Silurian Marine Paradise

A geoheritage site is a location where the geological features are worth preserving for scientific and cultural reasons. It is a relatively new term dating back to the 1990s. The purpose of designating a geoheritage site is to mark it as special to protect it from degradation or destruction. The label has no legal status (yet), but it is a start on conserving important geological resources with value beyond the real estate they occupy or resources they contain. There is even now a journal titled Geoheritage for publishing accounts of these places.

My friend Olev Vinn of the University of Tartu suggested that two locations on the Sõrve Peninsula of Saaremaa Island, Estonia, should be designated geoheritage sites for their remarkable Upper Silurian rocks and fossils. He put together a team of paleontologists to work on the paper, and I was fortunate to join them. Olev and I have worked together in Estonia since 2006, and have had many colleagues and Wooster students with us since then (including Professor Bill Ausich of The Ohio State University since 2009).

Our paper has now appeared in Geoheritage. Here is the abstract —

The Upper Silurian exposures on Saaremaa Island, mostly represented by small coastal cliffs, are the best in Estonia. Among these exposures are two coastal cliffs that are in many ways unique. The Pridoli crinoid fauna at Kaugatuma and the Ohesaare cliffs contains several endemic genera such as Methabocrinus, Saaremaacrinus, and Velocrinus, which occur exclusively in the Pridoli of Saaremaa Island. These localities have great potential for future studies of crinoid paleobiology and paleoecology. The fossil symbiotic associations have high value for studies devoted to evolutionary paleoecology. The Kaugatuma and Ohesaare cliffs yield the only symbiotic associations that are known from the Pridoli worldwide. Both cliffs are also famous localities of early vertebrates. The Kaugatuma and Ohesaare cliffs are places of scenic beauty, and the rarity of fossiliferous Pridoli outcrops in the Baltic Sea region makes these cliffs important destinations for European geotourism.

The image at the top of this post is of the Kaugatuma-Lõo ripple-mark coast on the Sõrve Peninsula, one of my favorite geological places. Bedding-plane exposures like this are unusual on the island. This one has numerous crinoid holdfasts (functionally “roots”) and stems of crinoids, many quite large. These are the Middle Äigu Beds of the Kaugatuma Formation. It was essentially a well-preserved crinoid forest on the Silurian seafloor. Palmer Shonk (’10) did his Wooster Senior Independent Study field descriptions and collections here. (He is in the yellow shirt above.) This site also has historical importance as the location of a WWII Soviet amphibious landing in November 1944.

Crinoid holdfast in the Middle Äigu Beds of the Kaugatuma Formation on the Kaugatuma-Lõo ripple-mark coast. This structure is like the tap root of a tree. It penetrated the sediment, tapering downwards, and produced lateral branches (radices) which held the crinoid in place in the energetic marine environment.

Another view of the cross-bedded Äigu Beds of the Kaugatuma Formation on the Kaugatuma-Lõo ripple-mark coast.

The two geoheritage sites on Saaremaa Island, Estonia. (From Figure 1 of the Geoheritage paper.)

This project brings back many delightful memories of fieldwork in Estonia. In fact, we still continue to study our collections for additional research projects. Thank you, Olev, for your leadership over the past two decades!


Vinn, O., Wilson, M.A., Isakar, M. and Toom, U. 2024. Two high value geoheritage sites on Sõrve Peninsula (Saaremaa Island, Estonia): a window to the unique Late Silurian fauna. Geoheritage (in press)

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