Archive for December, 2010

Wooster Geologists Pass Through Travel Hell

December 20th, 2010

I think the lowest moment was this morning as I stood in one of those long, snaking security lines in the Delta portion of Terminal 3 at JFK International Airport. The high ceiling has pigeon nests in it, and the evil birds occasionally fly over the helpless travelers below and poop on their heads.

Following on our previous “Heathrow Diversion” post, this is our final report on a failed geological trip. Because of the snow and ice in England, our London flight was alternately canceled and reinstated (or at least that’s how it was communicated to us). We feared yet another mid-Atlantic diversion or, worse, getting to Heathrow and not being able to return home before the holidays. After many little adventures, we gave up on getting to London. I just arrived in Wooster and Megan is on a flight home to Detroit. My luggage, of course, is missing in action, but fortunately I did not keep in it the Permian type specimens or our Cretaceous collection. [Update: My luggage apparently never left Detroit!]

Throughout this journey we were accompanied by people who just want to get home to their families for the holidays. Here’s to their safe and successful travels.

“The Heathrow Diversion”: Wooster Geologists unexpectedly in New York City

December 19th, 2010

A street scene outside our hotel in New York.

FLUSHING, QUEENS, NEW YORK–It seemed like such a good plan months ago. My Senior Independent Study student Megan Innis and I worked this summer in the American South with Paul Taylor and Caroline Sogot, as documented in this blog. We collected hundreds of fossils from the Late Cretaceous and Early Paleogene, many of which are encrusted with nearly perfectly-preserved bryozoans, serpulids and foraminiferans. The best way to study them is with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), and the world’s expert in such paleontological imaging AND bryozoans is Paul Taylor himself. Since Paul is at The Natural History Museum in London, we planned to take our best specimens to him after classes were over in the Fall and before Christmas. That was the plan — and it still may work out!

Somewhere over Halifax our flight was diverted from London Heathrow because an epic snow and ice storm closed the runways. Delta flew us into JFK International Airport and put us up in a hotel in the middle of Flushing, Queens, New York City. Our flight will be reconstituted this evening and we’ll try again to reach London (and get out on Thursday, we can only hope). We are persevering because this is an important part of Megan’s I.S. project (for which she received Copeland Funds from the college), the fossils we bring will be significant for Caroline and Paul (and they have some for us), and I’m also hand-delivering a set of type specimens from the Permian of Texas. So in the interest of science and education we will soldier through!

In the meantime we are staying in a fascinating neighborhood. It certainly is one of the most diverse places on Earth as it has a colonial understructure (going back to the 17th Century Dutch) and added layers of culture through the centuries. We would have never guessed we’d be wandering its streets today!

Megan examining dried mushrooms and other unknown items outside a Korean-American grocery store in New York.

We even found a bit of geology to discuss in a World War I memorial. Geology is everywhere.

A 1920s marble memorial to World War I soldiers in Flushing, Queens, New York City.

This marble is odd because it has layers rich in muscovite mica. When Megan pointed these out I didn't believe her, but she was right.

There are also inclusions in the marble that look like hornblende. Our petrologist Dr. Pollock will have to figure this one out for us!

The paleontology of hiatus concretions: fossils without sediment

December 15th, 2010

Bryozoans (the thin branching structures) and an edrioasteroid (with the "star") encrusting a hiatus concretion from the Kope Formation (Upper Ordovician) of northern Kentucky.

Way back in 1984, when I was just a green Assistant Professor of Geology, my wife Gloria and I explored a series of Upper Ordovician (about 445 million years old) outcrops in northern Kentucky to plan a paleontology course field trip. It was a rainy day were, as is too often the case, slippery with mud. On our last roadcut exposure of the day I stepped out of the car and found at my feet the cobble pictured above. It had edrioasteroid echinoderms and bryozoans encrusting it on all sides — and we knew we had found something special. We collected dozens of the cobbles in a few minutes. It changed my research trajectory by introducing me to the splendors of hard substrate communities and hiatus concretions.

This post is a celebration of another chapter of that work published next month in the journal Facies (volume 57, pp. 275-300). This time I’m a member of a large team led by my young friend and colleague Michal Zaton of the University of Silesia in Sosnowiec. We thoroughly examined a set of bored and encrusted cobbles from the Middle Jurassic (about 170 million years old) of south-central Poland. It was a pleasure to use some of the same research techniques I employed 26 years ago to help reconstruct an ancient ecosystem and environment.

Hiatus concretions from the Middle Jurassic of Poland.

These cobbles are known as “hiatus concretions” because they collect in an environment when sediment has stopped (gone on “hiatus”, I suppose) and a lag of hard debris accumulates when fine sediment is washed away by currents. Organisms which require a hard substrate (“sclerobionts”) encrust the cobble surfaces (bryozoans, echinoderms, oysters and serpulid worms are most common) or bore into the matrix (sponges, bivalves, barnacles and worms commonly do this). A fossil record thus is formed in the absence of sedimentation, which is a bit different from the usual paradigm.

Various encrusters and borings on hiatus concretions from the Middle Jurassic of Poland.

Encrusting bryozoans on hiatus concretions from the Middle Jurassic of Poland.

I enjoy studying marine hard substrate organisms through time because they show a type of community evolution over hundreds of millions of years. These diverse fossils have also provided countless research opportunities for my Wooster students, and tracking them down has taken us all over the world and throughout the geological column. (The Cretaceous of Israel is another recent example of this work.) It is very satisfying to see a young geologist like Michal Zaton finding pleasure and research success in the same pursuit.

Bryozoans and crinoid holdfasts encrusting a cobble from the Upper Ordovician Kope Formation of northern Kentucky.

Memories of warmer days…

December 2nd, 2010

Now that the semester is winding down and the cold weather has set in, I find my mind wandering back to the beginning of the academic year. It seems like it was years ago, not months, that our Mineralogy class visited Zollinger’s quarry.

2010 Mineralogy class at Zollinger's Quarry in late September.

It didn’t take long for students to discover the beautifully formed gypsum crystals that littered the ground.

From left to right, Will Cary, Matt Peppers, and Kevin Silver caught in the act of discovering the gypsum.

Truly, these are beautiful gypsum crystals.

In fact, next week¬† we’re using some of the crystals that we collected in our discussion of the thermodynamics of crystal nucleation and growth.

Of course, the minerals weren’t the only stars of the show. The students were excited to find these incredible mud cracks with preserved rain drops –¬† comparable to these mud cracks that a fellow geologist at Mountain Beltway observed in Turkey.

Mud cracks and preserved rain drops in Zollinger's Quarry.

A very volcanic tour of New Zealand’s North Island

December 1st, 2010

Mount Ngauruhoe on the North Island of New Zealand.

Our most distant Wooster Geologist this year, Andrew Collins, is now home from his semester abroad in New Zealand. He had many geological adventures, including that massive earthquake in Christchurch with its hundreds of aftershocks. Please visit his blog for the stories.

Andrew’s last trip in New Zealand was to Tongariro National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site) on the North Island. He had, as he wrote, “a spectacular trek” of 20 kilometers between two volcanoes: Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, with a third volcano, Mt Ruapehu, always in view. Mt Ngauruhoe was, as you might have guessed, used as “Mount Doom” in a certain movie series the New Zealanders make a fuss about.

Please enjoy Andrew’s beautiful photographs in this post, and then go to his blog to see them and many others in full size. We are very proud of this Wooster Geology odyssey, and we are also happy to have Andrew safely home!

You can just barely see Andrew as he climbs to the summit of Mt Tongariro.

Note the bright red layers of volcanic cinders.

Beautiful, mineral-filled emerald lakes.

Mineralization along a stream flowing through this active volcanic region.