Archive for July, 2010

Wooster Geologist in Germany

July 31st, 2010

View of Hamburg, Germany, where my meeting began with a one-day walking tour. This is a view from the very, very high steeple of the St. Michaelis Church. It is reached by climbing, many, many steps -- the open kind where you can see the yawning chasm below you as giant bells rattle the rivets.

KIEL, GERMANY–One of the many joys of being a geologist is attending international scientific meetings. They are always in some location that is convenient for travel and has local field areas the participants want to visit. I am here in northwestern Germany attending a meeting of the International Bryozoological Association. This is an organization that studies, naturally enough, the Phylum Bryozoa, and it includes biologists and paleontologists. Our meetings are remarkably seamless sessions that switch between living and fossil organisms. While I’m certainly not a hardcore bryozoologist, I work with the critters often and very much enjoy learning more about their evolution and ecology.

For this meeting the field areas are diverse and spectacular.  For the biologists there are extensive tidal flats and shallow marine shelf areas on the Baltic coast, and for the paleontologists there are numerous quarries into very fossiliferous Cretaceous chalks. After the meeting I am going on a week-long field trip through western Germany where we will see rocks and fossils from the Devonian through the Miocene. Bryozoans will be a theme, of course, but we will see additional fossil groups, sedimentary structures, folds, faults, dikes and many other things that make the hearts of geologists beat faster. You can count on seeing many images and stories posted here when possible!

Bryozoans from an oil shale in the Ordovician of Estonia, just to put you in the right mood. Anyone who has had a paleontology course will tell you that bryozoans are among their favorite fossils.

Basalt from way, way down south

July 21st, 2010

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND–Andrew Collins, our Wooster Geology student abroad in New Zealand, has posted another set of photographs from his adventures. Of course they include field geology!  Here is one of his images from a recent outing:

Cave Rock near Sumner, which is a suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand. Photograph by Andrew Collins.

This view fits into one of our major themes this year: basalt!  We had plenty of it on the Mojave field trip, the Utah group dabbled in it, and the Iceland team is defined by this dense black rock. Now I’m no expert, but here’s my interpretation of the above outcrop: it looks like a basalt flow over a coarse conglomerate with a magnificent baked zone at the top of the conglomerate (the bright red) and a chilled zone at the base of the basalt.  What do you think?

Goodbye Iceland

July 20th, 2010

Guest blogger: Becky Alcorn

Unfortunately this is our last night in Iceland so I will not be posting again anytime soon. We did have a great last day though. We spent the morning working on my abstract and packing things up before we found a wonderful geothermal area to relax in after our long week. This evening we drove into Reykjavik to say goodbye to Steina, Meagen’s colleague who helped get us into my field site, and enjoyed a real meal that wasn’t peanut butter and jelly. Overall we had a fantastic trip and I’m excited to work on my IS. I’m very sad to say goodbye to this beautiful country, but it’ll be good to be back home.

Enjoying the geothermal water

Today was our first gloomy day

Wooster Takes on the Volcano

July 19th, 2010

Guest Blogger: Becky Alcorn

We just returned from our trip to the volcano and are too tired to give the full details right now, but here are a few pictures from our trip. Meagen promises to write a future blog post on Eyjafjallajokull.

I can't believe Meagen forgot our inflatable raft. How was I ever supposed to touch Vatnajokull?

They were still getting ash at our campsite!

Eyjafjallajokull! It was incredible! I wanted to touch this one too but our bus was leaving.

So much ash on the glacier (and in my shoes)!

A view of the flood path from the top of the mountain we hiked. An excursion bus drove us through the flood plain since our tiny car would probably have just floated away.

Meagen and I at the top of the mountain with ominous Eyjafjallajokull in the background. We were standing on a slope...she's not really that short.

Right before getting back on the bus we ran into Wooster alumni Lisa Beam and Josh Schaffer returning from a three day hike! Seems like a very small world sometimes.

A view of the Wasatch Mountains from above

July 18th, 2010

Looking west over the Wasatch Mountains into the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. Note the beautiful syncline in the center of the image. Flying across the western United States is such a treat for a geologist. These are the kind of structures the Wooster Utah team is enjoying this summer.

I’m so tired I don’t even want to title this.

July 17th, 2010

Guest Blogger: Becky Alcorn

Yesterday we spent the day in Undirhlithar mapping the quarry wall that will be the focus of my IS. We climbed the majority of the wall with the exception of a few unstable places and collected a hearty 25 samples (some from places that I’m still not quite sure how we managed to reach). We finished up in Undirhlithar today and traveled farther south to another quarry, Vatnskarth. Here we could see were the lava met the glacial deposit, which was awesome! We collected samples for Meagen and then came back home so I could get to the nitty gritty of labeling my pictures. I spent many hours today sorting through my pictures and labeling where I collected each sample, which is much more tedious and time consuming than it sounds. Tomorrow we’re heading east for two days to camp and see Eyjafjallajokull! We’ll be sure to post when we return, so if you don’t hear from us in a few days we were probably swallowed up by the volcano.

Bustin out the brunton

Collecting a sample from the top of the quarry. I didn't enjoy being up that high but it was worth it.

One of the many pictures I labeled today even though it was beautiful outside.

The Bonneville Flood and where it began

July 17th, 2010

DOWNEY, IDAHO–Lake Bonneville has been one of the geological themes of my short visit to northern Utah this summer. The remnant wave-cut platforms of its shorelines dominate the geomorphology of the Logan area, and the lake sediments are the basis for the rich soils of the Cache Valley. Today my parents and I visited Red Rock Pass in southern Idaho where this massive lake breached a weak area of limestones and shales 14,500 years ago and then catastrophically flooded the land to the north. The Bonneville Flood was not as large as the Missoula Floods of geological legend, but it left a very similar record of scoured land, scattered boulders, huge waterfalls, and thick gravel bars.

Red Rock Pass near Downey, Idaho. The rocky hill in the center was part of the dam of sedimentary rocks which gave way 14,500 years ago and released the catastrophic Bonneville Flood.

View north from the dam area looking down one of the flood channels. On the left is a rocky outcrop of the original dam. On the right along the side of the channel is a gravel bar running parallel to the current direction.

Tragedy at Bear River: two very different historical narratives

July 17th, 2010

PRESTON, IDAHO–I knew on our drive this morning that Preston, Idaho, is famous as the setting for the Napoleon Dynamite movie. (You can even download “Napoleon Dynamite’s sweet map” of the town.) I did not know that just north of Preston on US Highway 91 is a place of great sadness — and some lessons about history.

Confluence of the Bear River and Battle Creek north of Preston, Idaho.

Bear River and Battle Creek join here in a fertile valley with green meadows and quiet farms. In January 1863, US Cavalry and infantry attacked a camp of Shoshone in what became known as the Battle of Bear River — and then much later  as the Bear River Massacre. You can follow the links to read the full story. I want to call attention to the separate narratives of the conflict found in two sets of memorials on the site:

Older account of the Battle of Bear River on a memorial erected by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and other groups.

A modern sign that is part of a memorial established by the Western Shoshone on a hilltop overlooking the site.

History as with science requires evidence to support hypotheses, and all such ideas are provisional because we never have all the information we need. Some hypotheses are stronger than others, though, as we weigh the evidence and the arguments. The tragedy at Bear River is a case where the more complete story only emerged into the public generations later. It is difficult to believe that one of the largest massacres of Native Americans in history is still so poorly known 147 years later.

Shoshone prayer tree at Bear River.

Sure this is a geology blog, but these wildflowers …

July 16th, 2010

… are fantastic!

Blue flax, Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers near Tony Grove Lake, Cache County, Utah.

Geologists are natural historians, so of course anything natural (or historical!) fascinates us. Stephanie Jarvis showed us some flowers (and mushrooms) in Alaska this summer. Last year we looked at acacia trees in Israel. We’ve even delighted in moss, flowers and wild strawberries in Estonia. The wildflowers this week in Logan Canyon, northern Utah, are extraordinary. In keeping with tradition, I want to share a few.

Colorado Columbine (left); Scarlet Gilia (right).

Blue Flax (left); Sticky Geraniums (right).

Floret of a Giant Gentian (left); florets of the Elephant's Head Figwort (right).

Geysers, Mountains, and Dinosaurs…OH MY! (Subtitle: This Summer is Stromato-Tight)

July 16th, 2010

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Deering

This summer I have been given many amazing opportunities starting with my employment at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Since late May I have been working with 7 other summer staff members giving tours, working in the prep-lab, and excavating Camarasaurus and Allosaurus bones. Excavating bones is a lot different than what you see in the movies and its definitely not as easy, but it is still a lot of fun. We use dustpans, brooms, oyster knifes, and occasionally hammers and chisels to excavate the bones, but before we can remove them we have to take many measurements and GPS coordinates so we can map the bones for further study. This summer we have found many vertebrae, teeth, and even some cranial material! One of the coolest finds was discovered on accident when a staff member broke an Allosaurus humerus in half with a chisel. The inside of the humerus was hollow and had been replaced with an unidentified mineral, making it look like a geode. It was a very unique find for the center.

Two summer staff members and myself working on excavating a Camarasaurus at the BS (Beside Sauropod) quarry at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Two summer staff members and myself working on excavating a Camarasaurus at the BS (Beside Sauropod) quarry at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Thermopolis is only a few hours from both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, so my roommates and I have taken advantage of our location and made a few weekend trips to both parks. They are both amazing! Yellowstone is unique because of the drastic changes in landscape that you encounter while driving through the park. In places it can be very wooded and have an alpine feeling, while in other places it can be very desolate and have lots of geothermal activity. Personally, I liked the more desolate landscape of Yellowstone. It was amazing to see things like geysers, paint-pots, and mineral springs. The Tetons were also incredible. They are younger mountains, so they have less erosion and are more jagged than other mountains. There is absolutely breathtaking scenery in the Tetons and many fun activities as well. If you ever find yourself in Wyoming I recommend seeing both parks.

Fountain Paint-Pot, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Fountain Paint-Pot, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Right now I am in Ephraim, Utah, with Dr. Judge and Jesse Davenport working on my Senior I.S. on stromatolites in the Green River Formation. This past week we have worked hard in the hot sun collecting samples and making strat columns. We have gathered a lot of great samples and lots of important information to include in my paper, but we have had a lot of fun too! I am here in Utah until Tuesday and then I fly back to Thermopolis to finish up the summer.

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