Archive for September, 2010

Visiting a subduction zone in New Zealand

September 29th, 2010

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND–Wooster geology student Andrew Collins has once again visited a fascinating geological locality in New Zealand. He is certainly getting his semester’s worth of adventures, from earthquakes to glaciers. Please visit his blog and see additional photos and descriptions of his trips.

Kaikoura Canyon and associated peninsula and mountains. From:

This time Andrew came about as close to the trench of a subduction zone as is possible without getting wet. He journeyed to Kaikoura on the South Island north of his university base at Christchurch. This town is at the base of a peninsula and squeezed between mountains and the coast. Just a few hundred meters offshore is a deep trough (Kaikoura Canyon) marking a trench where part of the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath New Zealand, producing volcanoes. The trough also forms an oceanic upwelling system that nourishes phytoplankton which in turn are the primary producers for a diverse and abundant community of organisms culminating with seals and whales. Geologists love to visit active places like this — but we don’t buy real estate there!

Andrew noted the uplifted limestones along the peninsula. These are Late Cretaceous in age, adding to the Cretaceous theme in this year’s blog entries. (Click “Cretaceous” in the tag cloud to the right and see.)

Upifted Upper Cretaceous limestones along the Kaikoura coast, New Zealand. Photo by Andrew Collins.

Tectonic fabric exposed in Upper Cretaceous limestones along the Kaikoura coast, New Zealand. Photo by Andrew Collins.

The Southern Alps, surf and a gravelly beach near Kaikoura, New Zealand. Note the low beach ridges formed by storm waves. Photo by Andrew Collins.

Sunday Morning in the Killbuck Valley

September 23rd, 2010

View from the floor of the Killbuck Spillway - corn ready to harvest

Sampling soils from a soybean field - the question at hand is: Is this a no-till field or has it been conventionally tilled over the years?

The core on the right shows horizons with dark organics at the top (down) and lighter more compact loam from a lower horizon. Although practicing no-till now, in-class grain size determinations and inspection along with Google Earth images suggest that this field has been tilled recently. It is likely that the core refusal (as deep as the investigators were able to core) was due to a plow pan or smeared clay horizon from decades of plowing.

The discussion and investigation was intense at the North Wellfield where cornfield soils were examined.

High speed pumps extracting thousands of gallons per minute from the Killbuck Aquifer - here in the North Wellfield pumps were working away on this dry, warm September in Northeast Ohio

In the background of the pump array is the Killbuck River Levee system that protects erosion of agricultural lands and the North Wellfield.

Looking west toward the valley margin. The terrace is Pleistocene in age and composed of gravels. Many industries locate on the gravel terrace - over the years many of the aquifer contamination challenges has occurred because of contaminant disposal into these permeable gravels that made their way into the Killbuck Aquifer.

We greatly appreciate Mark's (The College of Wooster bus driver) driving and his flexibility in logistics. With the recent Tornado in Wooster and major impact of the OARDC campus the trip needed to be rerouted.

New polychaete tubeworm fauna from the Jurassic of Israel

September 21st, 2010

Vermiliopsis negevensis Vinn and Wilson 2010

WOOSTER, OHIO–That may not be the most exciting title I could choose, but it was a fun project nonetheless. My Estonian colleague Olev Vinn and I have a paper in the latest issue of  Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie – Abhandlungen describing an assemblage of sabellid and polychaete tubeworms from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of the Negev in southern Israel. This tubeworm fauna is the first described from equatorial waters in the Jurassic, and there is none like it in the modern world. Our work here is part of a larger project to understand the evolution of tube-dwelling invertebrates.

Introducing a new species to the world through the paleontological literature is a privilege and pleasure. Inconsequential it may be in a larger frame, but a fragment of nature has been brought to the light for the first time since it left the stage millions of years ago. What we know about life has been increased a tiny bit, and there is a new creature to enjoy.

Diagram of Vermiliopsis negevensis, a new serpulid species from the Jurassic of Israel.

What we do during I.S. Meetings

September 20th, 2010

I had an I.S. Meeting with Sam Spencer (’11) this morning. This is what we did:

Sam is working on the geochemistry of a ~200 million year old diabase sheet that intruded into a rift basin in southeast Pennsylvania. When you think of geochemistry, you might think of white lab coats and fancy equipment, but the first step in any geochemistry project is to crush and powder the samples. It’s a dirty job, but I think it’s one of the best parts of geochemistry. Today, Sam took the hammer to a sample we affectionately call the “potato.” It’s a dense, coarse-grained mafic rock that shows spheroidal weathering, which creates piles of brown, rounded potato-like rocks in the field.

A visit to glacier country in New Zealand

September 20th, 2010

Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, New Zealand. Photograph by Andrew Collins.

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND–Our Wooster Geologist in New Zealand, junior geology major Andrew Collins, is on an enforced break from his studies at the University of Canterbury. (The earthquake damage and the continuing aftershocks have given Andrew a new perspective on neotectonics.) Like any good geologist, he took the opportunity to see more of the land. One of his visits was to Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the northwestern coast of South Island. There he saw the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers descending from the Southern Alps into a coastal rainforest. You can see more of Andrew’s photographs and read his narratives on his blog. This year Wooster Geologists also had close encounters with glaciers in Iceland and Alaska.

Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand. Note the internal stratification. Photograph by Andrew Collins.

Wooster Paleontologists in Indiana!

September 12th, 2010

RICHMOND and LIBERTY, INDIANA–The College of Wooster Invertebrate Paleontology class had its field trip today to sunny eastern Indiana. We collected bags and bags of fossils from Upper Ordovician strata for research projects throughout the rest of the course. Each student will be reconstructing a paleocommunity from the fossils, and along the way will learn several paleontological techniques and principles. Our specimens include many strophomenid and orthid brachiopods, trepostome and cyclostome bryozoans, rugose and heliolitid corals, crinoids, nautiloids, a few trilobites, and some mystery fossils I find perplexing. (Always scientific opportunities there!) We hope to show some of our discoveries in later blog posts.

The challenge of this trip was the size of the group: 21 people in five vehicles. It all worked out well for a spectacular field day.

The Invertebrate Paleontology class spreads out along an Upper Ordovician outcrop. Note the great weather.

Travis Louvain and Nick Fedorochuk enjoy a nice exposure.

Hederelloids: Pulled from obscurity! (Well, maybe …)

September 11th, 2010

PARMA, OHIO–This afternoon I gave a talk at a meeting of the North Coast Fossil Club in this suburb of Cleveland. I chose the poorly-known fossil group called hederelloids as my topic because I knew that many people in that enthusiastic group had likely seen and collected them without knowing. They are very common encrusters on Devonian fossils, especially brachiopods, corals and bryozoans from the Middle Devonian of northwestern Ohio. I was not disappointed as several keen members brought me specimens from their collections or told me about large numbers of hederelloids they can send to me for study. Paul Taylor and I have been studying hederelloids for the past five years (as far as I know we are the only paleontologists in this little subfield!) and believe they may hold a key to some curious events in the Devonian and may expand what we know about lophophorate evolution. We need many more specimens, though, for our systematic work. The hard-working, knowledgeable amateur paleontologists in the North Coast Fossil Club are now going to help! Here is a link to the PowerPoint slides of my hederelloid talk. If you just have to know more, here’s a 2008 Taylor and Wilson hederelloid paper as a pdf.

I very much enjoyed talking with members of this club. They love fossils for their beauty, complexity, and historical wonder. To be able to contribute to science is a bonus.

The New Zealand Earthquake: A Wooster Geologist Eyewitness Report

September 4th, 2010

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND–Andrew Collins is a Wooster geology student studying abroad at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Here is his account of Saturday morning’s earthquake:

Just got another tremor as I sat here writing! Certainly is active!

I don’t really know what to say! It was definitely an odd feeling being awoken at 4:30 am to violent shaking. My room’s on the third floor and hangs out right over the walkway, so my first instinct was to get out of there and move toward the support structure of the building. I had a pretty hard time walking down the hallway – eventually I just gave up and sat on the couch and waited for it to subside, at which I point I got dressed and left the building.

I went downtown with one of my flatmates and took these pictures. It was a bit of a mess. We managed to get there before the police had closed off everything, so we got to go some places we probably shouldn’t have. Cars were crushed; facades had been torn from buildings and had basically fallen face-first into the street; fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances were going every which way; and bulldozers were being unloaded off flatbeds at every street corner. It definitely seemed a bit like a dream. I guess the most important thing is that nobody got killed. That’s pretty incredible when you figure that Christchurch is a city of 315,000 sitting on loose soil at the edge of the Pacific Ocean (sounds like a certain other city prone to earthquakes, no?).

(Another tremor)

The ground hasn’t actually stopped moving since the earthquake (it’s been about 32 hours now). It’s constantly trembling and then every once in a while there’s a noticeable aftershock (between 3.0 and 6.0 – most probably between 3 and 4).

Shopfront in Christchurch, New Zealand.

(Andrew Collins will be adding more text and images about the earthquake to his blog later this week. We are very pleased that he is doing fine, and our thoughts go out to the Christchurch community as they begin their recovery.)

Wooster Geologist Experiences New Zealand Earthquake — Story Will Follow

September 4th, 2010

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND–Wooster geology student Andrew Collins is studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand, this semester and was there during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake early Saturday morning. He is fine and I hope will be able to send us his story and some photographs later. We have two earlier posts from him about his New Zealand field experiences with amazing karstic weathering and basalt exposures.

Although this powerful earthquake produced “significant damage“, there are no reports yet of any deaths. It appears to have been an unusually complex tremor — maybe three earthquakes in quick succession. Andrew can tell us how it felt as the jolts woke him up. We are very pleased he is OK.

New Zealand earthquake map from the BBC (September 4, 2010).

The academic year begins: Fall 2010 Geology Club at Wooster

September 2nd, 2010

Students, staff and faculty of the Geology Department, The College of Wooster (2010-2011). Front Row: Sarah Appleton (‘12), Megan Innis (‘11), Katharine Schleich (‘12), Anna Mudd (’13), Ilana Ben-Zvi (’13), Melissa Torma (’13), Jenn Horton (’13); Second Row: Tyler Rhoades (‘XX), Samantha Spencer (’11), Elizabeth Deering (’11), Meagen Pollock (Faculty); Third Row: Patrice Reeder (Administrative Coordinator), Ana Wallace (’12), Lindsey Bowman (’12), Matt Peppers (’13), Andrew Retzler (’11), Michael Snader (’11), Rachel Matt (’12), Kit Price (’13), Tricia Hall (’14); Fourth Row: Lily Christman (’13), Shelley Judge (Faculty), Bridget Kraynik (’11), LaShawna Weeks (’11); Fifth Row: Mark Wilson (Faculty), Junbin Sun (’14), Travis Louvain (’12), Ananda Menon (’14), Stephanie Jarvis (’11) hanging on to Micah Risacher (’11), Greg Wiles (Faculty), Nick Fedorchuk (’12), Will Cary (’13), Jesse Davenport (’11), Becky Alcorn (’11). You’ll note it was hard to actually distinguish “rows” here! This is the largest Geology Club we’ve had in a long time. It is going to be a great year.

You can check out our curriculum on the Geology home page. This year the geology faculty are using an online living syllabus/blog system for our courses, so please click a few links there to see what we’re up to.