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!

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!


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 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.

Wooster Geologist in the High Tatras Mountains of northern Slovakia

June 11th, 2019

Bratislava, Slovakia — Today our continuing IBA field trip adventure started in the High Tatra Mountains at this spectacular glacial lake called Štrbské pleso. This is  very popular ski destination in central Europe. The sharp mountain peaks are granitic.

Another view of Štrbské pleso.

This was our modernistic hotel near Štrbské pleso. Excellent views.

We stopped for a tour of Bojnice Castle after leaving the mountains. It has essentially been built and rebuilt since the 11th century and is currently popular in films and weddings needing a fairy-tale castle background. It is ostentatious, of course, with ridiculous sums of money spent by generations of aristocrats to encrust it with gold and artworks.

The castle didn’t impress me, but the fact that it overlies a natural cavern did!

I like my castles in dramatic ruins, and Beckov Castle in western Slovakia  fits that bill well. The castle sits on a limestone klippe, which is an erosional remnant of a thrust sheet.

We went way, way high up through the ruins to the castle’s top.

The bedrock is integrated into the castle walls, as we’ve seen often.

This was the last stop of the day before we reached Bratislava and our next hotel.


Wooster Geologist in Hungary and Slovakia

June 10th, 2019

Štrba, Slovakia — Today our field party drove from Budapest through northern Hungary into Slovakia. The day was brilliantly sunny. Our first stop was at a holy well near Szentkút, Hungary, to examine Miocene fossils (mostly bryozoans). High up in the surrounding hills is a shelf where the mrl is best exposed. Long ago a community of monks established living quarters and a chapel by carving the soft stone. Our outcrop was well exposed because of their work.

Our leader Kamil emerging from one of the stone rooms.

There is some sedimentology and structural geology going on here as well as paleontology. Inside one of the rooms the walls cut through soft-sediment deformation and a normal fault oblique to the corner.

The bryozoans are numerous and well-preserved in the stone walls.

Szentkút was especially religious on the day we visited. It was Pentecost for the Greek Catholic faith, so there were large crowds and colorful clerics around the shrines. I hope we were not noticed walking through.

In case you wondered what a border crossing between Hungary and Slovakia looks like.

We next stopped in Fiľakovo, a Slovakian town with a magnificent castle. We will see a lot of castles on this trip, and as Kamil told us, most were built in the 13th century and destroyed in the 16th. This castle was most impressive to me because of the bedrock it is built on: a Miocene ignimbrite, which is a rock resulting from volcanic eruptions. Most geologists would call it a welded tuff. he Miocene volcanoes still ring the town as wooded hills.

A close view (with my field trip roommate Hans Arne Nakrem for scale) shows the complex stratigraphy of the unit.

There are numerous volcanic bombs and other volcaniclastic bits in the welded tuff.

A view of the town from the castle. When the Ottoman Turks were here I’m sure they couldn’t imagine having a Catholic church in sight.

One of the Miocene volcanoes.

Our last stop of the day was near Štrba, Slovakia, for this small outcrop of Miocene bryozoan marl. ots of high grass.

The High Tatra Mountains of northern Slovakia and southern Poland are now in view! We’ll look at these in more detail tomorrow.


A Wooster Geologist in Budapest

June 9th, 2019

Budapest, Hungary — This month I have the privilege of attending the 18th meeting of the International Bryozoology Association (IBA) in Liberec, The Czech Republic. As is the tradition, there is a pre-meeting field trip, this time to sites in four countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and The Czech Republic. There are 11 participants in a chartered bus setting off for a week of fossils and history, led by that excellent bryozoologist and good fellow, Kamil Zágoršek. We begin in Budapest with a classic view of the beautiful Danube River as it flows past our hotel. It is sunny and very warm.

There will be plenty of fancy views, but fr the local feel I want to include an image of just a regular Budapest block near our hotel.

Our first stop was at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest. It was established in 1802, and as our guiding museum scientist told us, the first 154 years were “normal” (at least for this part of the world), but in 1956, during the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, a Russian tank fired into the museum, causing extensive damage. Shortly afterwards a Soviet jet dropped an incendiary bomb on the building. Tens of thousands of specimens were lost in the ensuing fires. The collections have still not recovered the numbers they had prior to the attacks.

Bryozoologists all love natural history museums, especially when we can open the drawers.

This particular museum doesn’t have a lot of bryozoans (a few drawers), but does have extensive vertebrate collections, fossil and modern.

Every natural history museum I’ve visited has a basement floor with hundreds of stuffed animals that are no longer in fashion for public displays.

The public part of the museum is diverse and well organized. I wouldn’t use Noah’s Ark as the initial theme for biodiversity, but it works here!

Our first locality was an Eocene bryozoan-rich marl site near Mátyashegy, Hungary, just outside Budapest. The bryozoans are numerous, but tiny little critters for my camera!

The second site is another bryozoan marl and sand, this one Miocene near Fót on the outskirts of the Budapest city center.

Our first group dinner was in the center of Budapest, ironically at an American restaurant. Our leader Kamil is at the head of the tables.

That evening we walked up Gellért Hill in the center of the city to see the amazing lights. My phone camera wasn’t up to the challenge, but you may be able to make out Buda Castle here.

At the top of the hill is a massive Soviet monument originally dedicated to the Soviet defeat of the Nazis in Budapest in 1945. The tall structure is the Liberty Statue. After the Soviets left the country (in 1989), the Hungarians removed some statuary and rededicated the monument to “those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”, which includes thousands killed by the Soviets during their occupation.

On my first day in Budapest I was alone, so I visited the former Hungarian Secret Police headquarters, now a museum called The House of Terror. It is a grim but highly informative look at Hungarian life under fascist and then communist rule.

Photography was not allowed inside. The outside of the building has what seems to be an endless row of photos of Hungarians who were executed here. Quite moving. In one of the displays inside is a wall of photographs and names of the “victimizers”, the agents (Russian and Hungarian) who perpetrated these crimes. The point is that we don’t see these atrocities as simply results of a system but also the actions of individuals.

This artwork outside the museum entrance is simply called “Iron Curtain“. The link has a full description and more images.




Birthplace of the Sandusky River

April 6th, 2019

I’ve long appreciated river confluences where two flows join to make a third, “new” river. The most impressive confluence I’ve visited is where the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda Rivers meet to produce the iconic Ganges at Devprayag, India. (The second image in the Wikipedia article is mine.) Of course, such places are only changes in our human geographical classifications. It is a subjective decision to determine which confluence merits naming a new river or stream, essentially marking its “birthplace”.

Today Nick Wiesenberg, his father David, and I had a delightful hike through Lowe-Volk Park in Crawford County, Ohio — about an hour’s drive west of Wooster. Within this small park Paramour Creek and the smaller Allen Run join to make the Sandusky River, as shown above. The Sandusky River then flows about 130 miles north into Lake Erie. The Sandusky has played a critical role in 18th and early 19th century Ohio history, so it was a privilege to visit its origin. The weather was perfect for a short hike in the woods.

Lowe-Volk Park was established around this confluence and three 19th century quarries in the Berea Sandstone, a massive Upper Devonian unit used throughout northeastern Ohio as a building stone. The quarries are now eroded walls of bedrock slowly being covered by vegetation.

As always on trips like this, Nick and David teach me many new things. For example, I knew honeylocust trees are festooned with nasty, long thorns, as you can see on this trunk. What I didn’t know was that these defensive structures evolved in response to animals no longer around — mastodons!The thorns on the honeylocust trunks go as high as a mastodon could reach, and no more. This was apparently part of a coevolutionary relationship in which the trees had no interest in being pushed over by these pachyderms for their delicious seedpods while they were still ripening on their branches. After the seedpods matured and fell to the ground it was to the benefit of the trees for the mastodons to eat them and pass the seeds through their guts for planting elsewhere, hence their sweetness. Now the thorns mount a defense against lumbering ghosts.

Speaking of ghosts, this area was a bloody battleground numerous times, most notably in 1782 at the end of the Revolutionary War. The painting above hangs in the park visitor center. It shows Colonel William Crawford leading an American military expedition against Indian tribes living along the Sandusky River. The Indians, and their British allies, were well informed about this attempted surprise attack and beat it back decisively, giving the name to the fight “The Battle of Sandusky” or “Crawford’s Defeat”. Crawford himself was captured very near the present park. He had a gruesome end in captivity, which was a response to previous atrocities on the part of earlier American raiders who did not, ironically, include poor Colonel Crawford.

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