Archive for June, 2019

Summer research from an undergraduate perspective

June 29th, 2019

Wooster, OH – While Dr. Pollock was away at a business meeting for the Council on Undergraduate Research, Team Geochemistry was hard at work in the Wooster X-ray lab. Here’s what they thought about last week:

This week, team geochemistry was left without Dr. Pollock for a few days, but that didn’t stop them from getting lots done! Layali and Kendra have been hard at work processing the results from last week’s full XRF run. They compared the results of standards and the accuracy of a few different programs to make sure the instrument is calibrated correctly. They are hoping to understand why their previous run gave some surprising results. 

Layali looking through some trace element data.

Hannah has been continuing to prepare her samples, working hard to polish volcanic glass that she will send off to Oberlin College for analysis using a scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDS). She has also been taking pictures of and looking at thin sections of her samples, hoping to understand more about their composition.

Hannah viewing the photos she took of her thin sections.

This week marks the halfway point of the team’s project. Having spent the majority of that time living on campus, the team has some insights on what it’s like to be here during the summer and what it’s like working on their project:

We all agree that it is much different than being on campus during the academic year – there are far fewer students around and much less to do on campus. It can get a little boring being here because it’s easy to fall in to a routine – go to work, eat, watch TV, sleep, and then wake up to do it again. We have found it necessary to find activities to break up this cycle, including hikes at a nearby park, excursions for bubble tea and Sheetz, board games, and movie nights. We have become great friends over these few weeks and have found that doing things together outside of work makes living on campus much more fun. It is best to have a car on campus (or to befriend someone who has a car) so that you can get out and find things to do. However, it is also quite easy to walk downtown to go to some shops or restaurants, so even without a car, there is a lot to do.

Simply working on this project is also something that is very different for all of us. We aren’t used to working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Being stuck in the lab can be really tiring, so we have found that taking breaks to play games or to take a walk around campus really help us stay awake and productive. We are learning lots of new skills, meaning it’s very important to stay focused and attentive so that we can get the most out of this wonderful experience. We can’t believe that we are halfway through our time here this summer!

 

A Wooster Geologist has a great time in Central Europe

June 23rd, 2019

This month I had the privilege (and generous funding from a Luce Award) to attend the 18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association in Liberec, Czech Republic. I was also able to participate in the pre conference field trip which began in Budapest and ended in Prague, including the four countries above. I posted daily blog entries recording the trip, which are listed at the bottom of this post.

This region is physiographically and geologically diverse, from great river floodplains to high mountains still with snow. The complex tectonic history has meant that a variety of rocks have been folded and uplifted to the surface. Our field trip route map is online and below.

Field trip route.

The field trip was entirely within the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed in 1918 at the end of World War I. I used this as my primary historical context for the trip, but we also saw 13th century castles and memorials and sites of the 20th Century Cold War.

Below are links to the daily posts. My traveling companions have many more excellent images on their Facebook pages.

June 9: A Wooster Geologist in Budapest
June 10: Wooster Geologist in Hungary and Slovakia
June 11: Wooster Geologist in the High Tatras Mountains of northern Slovakia
June 12: Wooster Geologist in Slovakia and Austria
June 13: A Wooster Geologist at Austerlitz and other Czech places
June 14: Into a bit of the Czech Cretaceous
June 15: A visit to the Devonian of the Czech Republic. And then Prague, of course
June 22: 18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association. Liberec, Czech Republic

The field trip party at Austerlitz. A fine group.

18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association. Liberec, Czech Republic.

June 22nd, 2019

Liberec, Czech Republic — This small Czech city is our base for the 18th Conference of the International Bryozoology Association. Kamil Zágoršek is again our hard-working host. Above is the Liberec Town Hall.

Liberec has a deep history, which was particularly fraught just before and during World War II. This city was German and named Reichenberg and in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia after World War I. In the infamous 1938 Munich Agreement it was given to Germany. Following its liberation by the Soviets in 1945, almost all of the inhabitants of Liberec were deported to Germany. This was virtually the entire city. Czechs then moved in (or were moved in by the Czechoslovak government).

The German roots of the city are now visible in the architecture of old city blocks, much of it run-down.

Whole city blocks were razed to build standard Soviet Bloc housing complexes.

This is the Imperial Grand Hotel in Liberec where I stayed with most of the IBA participants.

This is the same building in 1938 following the Munich Agreement. It became the Nazi headquarters for administration of the Sudetenland.

On a less grim note, here is the building (“G”) in the Technical University of Liberec where we held the IBA meeting.

I always arrive early to check out the speaking equipment — and the speaker’s view. Anticipation is excruciating.

My long-time friend and colleague Paul Taylor was the speaker before me. He’s good at this — very good.

The title slide for my presentation. It went well enough, and I know the audience appreciated the landscape images of southern Utah. This talk was based on work done this past year in Utah, along with bryozoan studies Paul and I did 20 years ago.

At last I headed home on Friday, June 21. After an adventurous car ride through the very center of Prague, I arrived at an airport hotel. Here’s the view from my window. Pretty close!

Hands-on experience troubleshooting geochemical instruments

June 21st, 2019

Wooster, OH – Team geochemistry returned to Wooster this week with a serious focus on sample prep and data quality. Anyone with geochemical research experience understands the importance of preparing samples carefully and thoroughly, and having an analytical instrument that is well-calibrated for your samples. Some of our recent analyses have yielded surprising results, and now we’re double checking our sample prep process and instrument calibration to make sure the data are reliable.

Kendra and Layali are loading samples into the XRF. They are gaining a lot of hands-on experience operating the instrument.

The XRF measures the chemical composition of samples by exciting them with an X-ray beam. The X-ray beam causes the atoms in the sample to emit their own X-rays, which travel through a series of filters and crystals and are measured by a detector. The signal from the detector is converted to a concentration using a calibration curve that was made by measuring standards with known concentrations.

We are running the XRF at full capacity with drift-correct samples, unknowns, and standards, so that we can test the quality of the calibration and resulting data.

But we didn’t just work in the lab all week. We’re also preparing to for our upcoming trip to Iceland. We needed to pick up a few things, like rain gear. Only the essentials, of course.

A visit to the Devonian of the Czech Republic. And then Prague, of course.

June 15th, 2019

Liberec, Czech Republic — Today the IBA field party visited the Koněprusy area, including the Koněprusy Caves. Inexplicably I took no pictures, probably because I was trying not to bump my head in the wet and narrow passageways.

Nearby is a quarry in Devonian limestone. We squatted in what shade we could find to look for fenestrate bryozoans with considerable success.

The final stop of our field trip was beautiful Prague. It was a hot, hot summer day, and a sea of tourists flowed through the streets. I will forego sharing images of the spectacular sights, except for a few personal shots.

Our host managed to find a quiet corner where we could enjoy iced coffee (without ice) and lemonade (without ice or anything lemon, but I’m not complaining).

The suitably kinetic sculpture of Prague icon Franz Kafka.

Finally, the statue of Saint Wenceslas overlooks Wenceslas Square, scene of such Czech political and social history. It is most famous for hosting massive rallies during the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended the communist regime. St. Wenceslas has seen much else as well. You can feel the drama lodged in the stones.

Just as a thunderstorm began (note the clouds), we left Prague for an uneventful drive to Liberec, where we will spend the next week a the 18th conference of the International Bryozoology Association. It was a great excursion. Thank you to our host Kamil Zágoršek!

 

Wooster undergraduate researchers expand their professional networks with cross-college collaboration

June 14th, 2019

Carlisle, PA – Our geochemistry research team spent this week at Dickinson College.

Hannah and Marisa analyzed the compositions of volcanic glasses and crystals using the scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDS).

They worked closely with Dr. Ben Edwards and Rob Dean (technician) to learn how to use the instrument. As with any new technique, it took a few days of practice to figure out how to obtain high quality data, but now we have hundreds of measurements to process when we return to Wooster.

Layali and Kendra processed major and trace element geochemical analyses of diabase from some Pennsylvanian rift basins.

They presented their work to Dr. LeeAnn Srogi and Dr. Tim Lutz, collaborators from West Chester University who visited us at Dickinson for a day. Layali and Kendra are contributing data to an oral presentation that Dr. Srogi will make at the 2019 IUGG General Assembly in July.

In the first two weeks of our undergraduate research project, our students have collaborated with scientists from three different institutions. They are building their professional networks and expanding their future opportunities.

In addition to all of the network-building and research productivity, we had a chance to sneak to nearby Hershey for a short visit (and some milkshakes).

The end of week 2 is bittersweet. Kendra, Layali, and Hannah head back to Wooster, parting ways with Marisa until we meet again in Iceland.

Thanks to everyone who made our Dickinson visit a success. We thank Dr. Ben Edwards and his family for their hospitality, Rob Dean for all of his assistance, Dr. LeeAnn Srogi and Dr. Tim Lutz for making the time to visit us and for excellent discussion, and the Dickinson Earth Science Department for their warm welcome.

Into a bit of the Czech Cretaceous

June 14th, 2019

Beroun, Czech Republic — Today the International Bryozoology Association pre-conference field party visited a fascinating quarry near Chrtníky, Czech Republic. Ordovician diabase is mined here for road gravel and other industrial uses. This rock was uplifted and exposed during the Mesozoic. In the Late Cretaceous, the sea flooded into valleys excised into the diabase, creating long, narrow seaways with steep cliffs of diabase. Cretaceous marine marls filled the valleys, enclosing lots of fossils.

One of the Cretaceous valleys can be seen in this quarry wall as a brown marl fill.

This is a small valley with whitish Cretaceous sediment between diabase walls.

The left part of the hammer head supports a calcareous sponge. The right shows a micritic limestone with a diabase clast that was eroded from the cliff side.

Earlier in the day we explored the Czech city of Olomouc, where we had spent the night. The statuary is magnificent, as seen here in the city square.

Hercules with his club.

We can’t forget what a nightmare this city was, though, for its Jews during World War II. Olomouc was dominated by Germans before and during the war. Almost all the Olomouc Jews were deported to concentration camps, where most were killed. Small plaques like these are set among the cobblestones, marking the former homes of Jews and their deportation dates.

 

A new paper has appeared: A rugose coral – bryozoan association from the Lower Devonian of NW Spain.

June 14th, 2019

I’m proud to be an author with my two Spanish colleagues, Consuelo Sendino and Juan Luis Suárez Andrés, of a paper just out in the latest issue of Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (we call it “Palaeo-cubed”). I’ll let the abstract tell the story (with some embedded links):

“A new rugose coralcystoporate bryozoan association is here described from the Devonian of NW Spain. This is the first evidence of intergrowths between Devonian rugose corals and bryozoans. In this case bryozoans provided a suitable substrate for the settlement of corals, which were subsequently encrusted by the bryozoans. The hypothesis of intergrowth between living organisms is supported by the absence of encrustation of the rugose coral calices by the cystoporates. We suggest that the association was specific and developed through chemical mediation. This symbiosis was facultative for the bryozoans but likely not for the corals. The association provided the bryozoan host with additional substrate for encrustation as well as protection from various predators, and it allowed the rugose corals to grow in a muddy environment and benefit from the feeding currents of the bryozoans.”

The above images show some of these specimens of corals intergrown with bryozoans. The caption from Figure 2: Intergrowth of fistuliporid bryozoans and rugose corals from the Aguión Formation of Asturias, NW Spain. A. General view of DGO12902. B. General view of MMAGE0033. C. Detail of the corallite, MMAGE0032. D. Magnified corallite of the right side, MMAGE0033.

This cartoon from the paper shows the process in which a coral larva (planula) lands on a living bryozoan, somehow survives the encounter, and then the coral grows together with the surrounding bryozoan colony. The fun part is sorting out the biological and evolutionary context of this relationship.

I thank my colleagues Consuelo and Juan for inviting me into this project. I learned a lot that will be applied to similar intergrowing situations in the fossil record.

Sendino, C., Suárez Andrés, J.L. and Wilson, M.A. 2019. A rugose coral – bryozoan association from the Lower Devonian of NW Spain. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 530: 271-280.

A Wooster Geologist at Austerlitz and other Czech places

June 13th, 2019

Olomouc, Czech Republic –At our very first site, Holubice in the Czech Republic, the Miocene celliporid bryozoans are like baseballs.

The site is in the middle of a vineyard, with the fossils eroding out of the loose sediment at our feet.

This is a shadow-selfie on the fossiliferous ground between the grape vines. As I was taking this artistic image, the field trip bus took off without me! I chased after it but lost hope as it pulled away in the distance. Geez. I had time to consider my few options (my pack with water and passport was on my lonely seat), but then the bus returned for me. My friend the Chinese paleontologist Jun-ye Ma had noticed I was missing. Lesson learned.

The dramatic chapel and memorial for the Battle of Austerlitz (1805) was our next stop. It is situated on one of the critical hills during the battle. The campaign is too complex to summarize here (thus the link), but in short it was a huge victory for Napoleon and it dramatically changed the map of Europe.

The stones in the memorial chapel are rich with Miocene domal bryozoans (the white objects).

Some of the bryozoans are penetrated by borings.

The chapel was constructed during the early 20th century and shows an Art Deco style.

The altar. The chapel doesn’t seem to account for non-Christian fallen soldiers, but that’s not surprising.

The dead from the battle were mostly buried in shallow graves where they fell. The soil of the battlefield continues to yield bones, especially after plowing. The remains are collected and brought to the chapel for eventual burial underneath in a crypt.

The Austerlitz battlefield.

Our first field group photo! We are at the Austerlitz chapel.

This miserable site  is Holubice, where a Miocene bryozoan marl is exposed. The hike in led by Kamil (above) was through a long stretch of high grass and woody brush. The mosquitoes were excited that mammals had suddenly appeared, while nettles stung exposed skin. Plus I didn’t see the bryozoans. I left early to make sure the bus didn’t abandon me here.

Wooster Geologist in Slovakia and Austria

June 12th, 2019

Mikulov, Czech Republic — We have been very fortunate with the weather on our long IBA field excursion. Dazzling sunlit days and relatively cool evenings. Above is our first stop of the day — the Sandberg site with Miocene fossils in a loosely-bound sand.

This is a cool geological setting where a Miocene shoreline is preserved against Jurassic carbonate cliffs. The Miocene sand is the yellowish unit above superimposed on the blue limestones.

Some of the Jurassic carbonates are exposed as boulders that tumbled down the slopes. This boulder has a surface that was exposed to the Miocene ocean and accumulated round bivalve borings (ichnogenus Gastrochaenolites, which has been seen a lot in this blog).

The limestones also have external molds of snails and bivalves.

Another castle! This one very dramatic in its position commanding the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers. It is the Devin Castle, which was destroyed by Napoleon himself in 1809.

This is the Maiden Tower, a cultural symbol of Slovakia.

River confluences are so cool. The Morava on the right is joining the Danube.

At this important confluence, at the border between what was Czechoslovakia and Austria during the Cold War, is a moving memorial to the over 400 people shot while trying to escape through the Iron Curtain.

The long list of names of those killed by the Soviets and their allies along the border.

The last stop of the day was the type section of the Hartl Formation (Middle Miocene, Badenian) near Eisenstadt, Austria. It is another loose sand, this time with common brachiopods and some bryozoans. This section is eroded back, forming a cave. The roof will collapse some day.

These are beach sands with spectacular cross-beds. I collected some sediment to challenge my sedimentology students next year.

Tonight we stay in the historic Czech city of Mikulov on the border with Austria.

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