November 18, 2013 by Erin Spencer
Have you ever faced a moment that might change your life?
Do you remember the feeling? It’s a lot of nervous anticipation combined with excitement and cautious optimism. There’s also a lot of, “how did I get here?”
I know the feeling, because it’s exactly how I feel right now.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop just one block away from the National Geographic headquarters. In one hour, I’ll pack my bag and walk into the lobby, where I’ll be met by a stranger. She will lead me through the building into a conference room where there will be more people I’ve never met. I then have ten minutes to present my research from the summer and try to convince this group of strangers that they made a good investment when they decided to give me a grant. Oh, yea, and this group of strangers consists of some of the top leaders in the field—they are archaeologists, zoologists, writers, photographers, conservationists and anthropologists.
No pressure, right?
So as I sit here, between obsessively practicing my presentation and downing cups of coffee (but let’s be real – it’s not like I need more caffeine), my mind wanders to all of my senior friends who have experienced this exact feeling. That feeling your life is about to change.
When I was a freshman, seniors seemed in a league of their own—the three-year age difference felt like an unbreakable barrier. Although I had senior friends, our friendship was relatively superficial, as there were few that I found I could really relate to. It didn’t bother me much, I had plenty of underclassman friends to occupy my time, but I never quite understood the difference between the seniors and myself. Yea, they’re about to graduate, but we’re all college students, right?
Now that I’m a senior, I see things differently. As underclassmen, you may not know what you’re doing for the summer, but you know that ultimately you’re coming back to W&M. For the immediate future, you’re set. As seniors, we’re staring down a path with a “Road Ends Here” sign, and a great, empty void beyond it. Some view this void with great anxiety, but I find it unbelievably exciting (although ask me again in March and see what happens).
Our last year at school is dedicated to filling that void. Weeks consist of information sessions, job applications, Career Center appointments, and stressed conversations with friends to commiserate about it all. And within that are dozens of tiny moments where you get that feeling. You feel it in that moment right before you hit the “Send” button for that cold email to your dream employer. You feel it right before you drop the application for that fellowship you’ve been dreaming about for months into the mailbox. You feel it as you’re straightening your tie in the waiting area, right before the interviewer calls you in. And although you know there were hundreds of moments that led you to this point, this is the big one. Could this be the moment that changes my life?
Of course, there will be our fair share of rejections and dead ends. But we have no way of knowing, and that uncertainty keeps us pushing forward with each application and interview.
This presentation could be nothing more than a chance for me to practice my public speaking. They could be uninterested or preoccupied. They could be perfectly pleasant, but forget me as soon as I leave the room.
Or, not. I’ll have no way of knowing. I can only focus on putting my best foot forward and hope for the best. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do anyway?
For now, it’s time to go! Fingers crossed!
November 6, 2013 by Stephen Bennett
I hope everyone had a great summer. I am sure there were many internships, jobs and needed relaxing. I traveled to Ghana. I traveled with one of William & Mary’s Social Entrepreneurs, Ali Siddiqui, who serves on the board of the Acumen Fund, the world’s largest social investor, and runs a private equity shop in Pakistan. We traveled to a social enterprise investment in the greater Accra-Tema area that focused on cultivating rice. It contributed to the local community with jobs and opportunities. Mr. Siddiqui provided insight into the importance of understanding the community and being transparent and honest with the community. Foreigners and Ghanaian people operated it, but they distrusted the foreign element in the community. The business owners gave us a tour and explained how Acumen and the community jointly owned it. Although a simple business it was the Acumen fund that helped get it off the ground that gave jobs and social benefits to the people in the surrounding community.
Adam, another student, and I then proceeded to travel with Mr. Siddiqui for the next couple of days as he evaluated the business opportunities in the country for his private firm. We visited various government offices and local business leaders. It opened my eyes to the world of international investing. Mr. Siddiqui examined the ports, the type of infrastructure, the type of raw materials and their quality. He needed to look beyond just economic concerns though. He needed a multifaceted perspective because he had to analyze the culture and the government structure. My liberal arts education from W&M came alive in Ghana as I realized the importance of evaluating each perspective. The College has taught me to blend all the subjects together to really see the greater picture. My anthropology class mixed with my economic development course, which blended with my finance and history courses. I felt that the experience had a greater impact because of my liberal arts background. This provided better insight into understanding international investing, social enterprise, and international relations all in four days in Ghana. I still cannot believe I spent four days there that exemplified the importance of liberal arts and gave me a goal for my career.
The College is a truly special place that extends well beyond the campus. It extends to places where William & Mary students gain these truly unique experiences that open their eyes to the importance of a liberal arts background. William & Mary students continue to learn and pursue unconventional paths because the school continues to offer great opportunities like my trip to Ghana. I went from ushering the Commencement ceremony, to spending a week at the beach with my improv group, to learning about social enterprise and global investing in Ghana, to working in New York City for my summer internship and it made my summer unforgettable. It was a crazy start, but this is the college experience that I can only expect from William & Mary.
Roll Tribe from Ghana,
November 4, 2013 by Chuck Bailey
My family has a tradition of going camping about once per semester. Back in the spring of 2011, as the Appalachians were beginning to green up, we headed west to Rockfish, Virginia for a weekend camping trip to my Uncle Joe’s farm. Joe’s farm is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and I’d call the scenery sublime.
Bedlam reigned as we unpacked and set up camp, so much bedlam that I needed quiet time alone. Off I set on a hike through the woods. A half-mile of hiking brought me to the verge of this old abandoned quarry.
It was a commanding view with spectacular rocks exposed in the walls of the quarry. The bedrock here is a metamorphosed conglomerate, a coarse-grained conglomerate chock-a-block full of clasts, many larger than basketballs. The clasts are fragments of older rocks that were eroded, transported, and deposited long ago.
The conglomerate is stratified, but the layers have been tilted and are lying on end. These layers were tilted past vertical and are overturned – that is, the older layers are structurally above the younger layers (an inverted stratigraphic sequence).
I was giddy with geologic questions. In what depositional environment was this conglomerate deposited? Why are these layers tilted and overturned?
The quarry I’d stumbled upon exposes the Rockfish Conglomerate, a geologic unit in the eastern Blue Ridge first defined by Wilbur Nelson in 1932 for outcrops along the Rockfish River about a kilometer to the southwest (geologists commonly name stratigraphic units for a particular location where the rocks are first described and typically are well exposed, it’s known as the type location). This curious conglomerate has been studied by a number of geologists, but nowhere could I find any reference to the exposure at the quarry.
Since the “discovery” I’ve taken classes to see these rocks and invited other geologists to these outcrops. Callan Bentley at Northern Virginia Community College wrote a blog post and captured a lovely Gigapan image from an early visit to the quarry. Just last year Zach Foster-Baril decided to tackle the Rockfish Conglomerate as his senior research topic. Zach just presented the results of this work as a talk last week at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Denver.
We have learned much from our field and lab work over the past year. Our geologic mapping reveals that the Rockfish Conglomerate was deposited in a trough that was eroded into the underlying and older granitic basement rocks. The trough was later filled with the coarse sediment that became the Rockfish Conglomerate. Years earlier I’d posited that the contact between the basement rocks and the overlying metasedimentary cover rocks was a fault, but Zach’s detailed field data make it clear that the boundary is an unconformity.
As the rocks in the Rockfish area are tilted into an almost vertical orientation we can turn the geologic map on its side to approximate the original geometry of this sequence.
Instead of north, south, east, and west we’ve got stratigraphic up (top) and down (bottom) with the oldest rocks at the bottom. From this perspective it is clear that the granitic basement rocks (green) originally were beneath the Rockfish conglomerate (orange), which occupies an irregular trough a few hundred meters deep. An intrusive gabbro body (lavender), as sills and dikes, cuts both the granitic rocks and overlying metasedimentary rocks.
In what environment were these sediments (now thoroughly lithified rocks) deposited?
Cobbles and boulders are not easily transported: high-energy processes are needed to move bowling ball-sized rocks. Suitable conditions occur in mountain streams where fast-moving turbulent waters rage during floods. As the torrent reaches the mountain front, the current slackens and the stream’s load of cobbles and boulders is deposited at the mountain front creating a distinctive wedge of alluvial deposits out into the valley.
But fast moving water effectively sorts sediment based on its grain size. Particles of similar size are deposited along with each other; so as pebbles are deposited, the sand and mud (the smaller particles) continue to be transported by the flowing water. The Rockfish Conglomerate is a very poorly sorted rock and lacks many of the sedimentary structures we’d expect in alluvial fan deposits.
In the 1980’s Frederick Wehr, at the time a graduate student at Virginia Tech, studied the exposures along the Rockfish River and concluded that the sequence was not a terrestrial alluvial fan deposit, but rather a subaqueous marine deposit formed from glacial outwash and mass flow turbidites. Our observations at the quarry are consistent with Wehr’s interpretations. A glaciomarine origin for these rocks is compatible with 1) the wide range of grain sizes (boulder to silt/sand), 2) the prominent parallel stratification present throughout the Rockfish Conglomerate, and 3) the conformable nature of the overlying strata in the Lynchburg Group.
After the talk my colleague Michelle Markley from Mt. Holyoke College plaintively asked Zach to show the audience some dropstones.
Dropstones are literally stones dropped from above into sediment layers at the bottom of a lake or ocean. They are inferred to form when rock laden lake or sea ice rafted off glaciers melts, thereby “dropping” the sediment, from boulders to mud, that was entrained in the ice. Dropstones commonly deform or deflect the underlying strata and are draped by younger layers of sediment. These sedimentary features are not only visually stunning, but typically taken as key evidence for glaciogenic sedimentation into a basin.
Michelle’s question was right on point, we’d not offered up any dropstones for viewing.
Individual dropstones (called by some geologists – lonestones) are not common in the Rockfish Conglomerate. The picture below highlights a candidate for a Rockfish dropstone, but it won’t win any dropstone beauty contest.
A few plausible reasons for the lack of readily identifiable dropstones in the Rockfish Conglomerate include: 1) the coarse conglomerate was deposited in a proximal position relative to the glacial ice and as such the flux of coarse-grained sediment was huge, 2) abundant ice-rafted debris falling into a coarse mixture of sand is less likely to stand out as a dropstone when there are lots of clasts (no lonestones here), and 3) these rocks experienced later deformation and metamorphism such that the matrix is a recrystallized mixture of quartz and mica which does not preserve fine-scale details of the depositional environment.
Zach’s research provides new data on the Rockfish Conglomerate, but many questions remain. A few include:
- When was the Rockfish Conglomerate deposited? Stratigraphic relations indicate that the Rockfish Conglomerate was deposited during the Neoproterozoic Era between 570 and 1,000 million years ago. The possible age range for when these rocks were deposited is >400 million years, that’s lousy age control.
- What created the trough in the basement complex into which the Rockfish Conglomerate was deposited? Possibilities include either glacial or fluvial erosion during a low stand of sea level.
- Is the Rockfish Conglomerate associated with widespread glacial episodes that occurred during the Neoproterozoic? The Neoproterozoic was a time of tremendous climate oscillation, some researchers argue for a Snowball Earth in which glacial ice covered much of the planet.
- How much strain/deformation has the Rockfish Conglomerate experienced? Outcrop-scale deformation structures are common. To better understand original sedimentary geology we need to quantify the amount of shortening, stretching, and rotation these rocks enjoyed.
- When was the Rockfish Conglomerate deformed, metamorphosed, and tilted? Regional data suggest these events occurred during the Paleozoic Era, but as with the Neoproterozoic: the Paleozoic encompasses an expansive amount of Earth history.
That is the nature of research – some questions get answered and other new ones arise. The good news is that Gussie Maguire, a Geology/English double major and mystery tweeter, has taken up the charge. Her thesis research is aimed at answering some of the outstanding questions regarding the Rockfish Conglomerate. On we go.
August 14, 2013 by Chuck Bailey
In April I delivered a talk on “Finding Faults in Old Virginia” as part of William & Mary’s Tack Faculty Lecture Series. Our study of Virginia’s faults is ongoing and one current project is focused on the boundary between the Blue Ridge and Piedmont regions.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains are underlain by a sequence of antiquated rocks (some older than a billion years) that have been ensconced in North America for a considerable time. During the tectonic collision that created the Appalachians (~250 to 300 mya) bits and pieces of other continental blocks were accreted onto North America—today these exotic terranes are exposed in the Piedmont.
The boundary between the Blue Ridge and Piedmont geologic provinces is a fault: in northern Virginia, it’s the Mountain Run fault and in southern Virginia, it’s the Bowens Creek fault. In central Virginia, the structure that separates the Blue Ridge from the Piedmont is less clear.
Some geologists posit the fault at the Blue Ridge/Piedmont boundary is a fundamental crustal boundary in the Appalachians, whereas others view the structure as minor and insignificant. Geologists also disagree about the kinematics (movement history) along this fault: some argue for reverse or thrust faulting, in which Piedmont rocks were shoved up and over Blue Ridge rocks, while others suggest faulting involved a wrenching movement – in which Piedmont rocks slid laterally past Blue Ridge rocks.
Enter Parker Campbell, a William & Mary Geology major, whose senior research is focused on understanding the Blue Ridge/Piedmont boundary in central Virginia. Off to the field we went. But in the summertime, central Virginia is cloaked in thick foliage concealing the bedrock. Rather than don full field gear to cope with the riotous vegetation, we took to the waters of the James River for a float trip to the outcrops. The James River does an effective job of eroding its bottom and margins such that bedrock outcrops are plentiful.
Our flotilla of three canoes launched onto the Tye River on a pleasant morning. The float would take us 32 kilometers (20 miles) down the river to the little village of Howardsville on the James. We chose this stretch of river because, according to the 1993 Geologic Map of Virginia, we’d cross the trace of the purported Bowens Creek fault four times.
Two kilometers (1.5 miles) into the float the Tye joins the James River and here we crossed to the cliffs on the southeastern bank. An exceptional set of outcrops rise steeply from the water and expose strongly deformed rocks—this is what we’d come for.
This sequence of marble and schist is replete with asymmetric folds, boudinage, mineral veins, and mullions—all of which provide clues as to the rocks’ deformation history.
We examined many outcrops on the two-day trip and collected a cornucopia of samples at riverside outcrops including marble, schist, quartzite, metagraywacke, quartzose phyllite and greenstone. We camped on a low sand bank in mid-channel and passed a warm evening with the waters of the James sluicing close by. Our stomachs enjoyed an eclectic summer menu of fresh and pickled produce.
Good times, all in the name of research!
Back in Williamsburg, Parker’s next tasks are to prepare a suite of petrographic thin sections for microscopic examination and sift through the structural observations to work out the rocks’ deformation history. All William & Mary geology majors complete an independent senior research project—their efforts provide new and valuable data that help to answer an array of outstanding to longstanding geological questions and conundrums. I’m excited about what we observed in the field and am looking forward to collaborating with Parker as we work to understand the geologic history of this enigmatic fault zone.
July 31, 2013 by Erin Spencer
The Florida Keys are in a world of their own. When you leave the Florida mainland and venture south into Key Largo, you cross an invisible boundary into a place where the air is saltier, the sunsets are brighter, and everyone moves just a little bit slower. After living in the Keys for just a month, I’ve fallen in love with the area and all of the little idiosyncrasies that go along with it. Here are a few of my experiences that could only ever happen in America’s tropical paradise.
1. Wearing sunglasses in a downpour
In case you’ve never been to Florida in the summer, let me fill you in. It rains. A lot. And I’m not talking a few sprinkling showers, I’m talking torrential downpours of biblical proportions. The kind where there’s no sense even running for cover because you’re going to be soaked by the time you get there anyway. But fortunately, Florida storms start quickly and end quickly. They come up so fast that you probably can’t finish the thought “it looks like it might rain” before the heavens open and you’re soaked to the bone, but chances are they will only last ten minutes or so. Therefore, I found it wasn’t uncommon to be getting rained on while the sun shone through clouds up ahead, causing the need for sunglasses. Sunglasses in a rainstorm…who knew?
2. Finding a large parrot on your arm before dinner
This happened to me while I was standing outside of a dive shop in Key Largo waiting to meet a friend for dinner. I was on the phone, not paying attention to my surroundings, when I felt something sharp prodding my arm. I looked over and let out a confused yelp when I saw a large macaw sitting on my forearm, his beak about six inches from my face. I returned my phone conversation with “I’ll have to call you back,” and turned my attention to the grinning man in front of me, clearly the owner of the parrot. Turns out he just walked up and let the parrot climb onto my arm (because who doesn’t want to be surprised by a large bird…?) in an attempt to be friendly and welcoming. We had a nice chat and he took a photo before I politely encouraged him to please take his bird off me.
3. Never knowing what day it is
This actually became a serious problem for me. Anyone who has spent any time with me knows I’m absolutely glued to my planner and my to-do lists. If something isn’t on the list, it’s simply not getting done. In the Keys, I never used my planner once. Not once! Most of my interviews were last-minute anyway, so no need to plan far in advance (that’s another thing about the Keys, most planning is done a day or two before). There was nothing consistent about my day-to-day schedule, therefore one week kind of blended into the next. It was a rude awakening to get back to the real world (aka north of Key Largo) and remember that people expect you to know what day it is.
4. Playing bingo with treasure hunters
This was one of my more unusual mornings. I had arranged to meet someone named Pat Clyne through a mutual friend, and I had expected to just grab coffee or something casual. Then somehow I found myself at breakfast with members of the team responsible for discovering the wreck of the Atocha, a Spanish ship carrying silver, gold and jewels that sunk off of the Florida Keys in 1622. Mel Fisher and his crew uncovered the Atocha in 1985, and the wreck is still being salvaged to this day. As it turns out, Pat was part of the original “golden crew” who uncovered the vessel. So like any normal Sunday morning, I found myself at a Key West restaurant, chatting over eggs and grits with Kim Fisher, President and CEO of all the Mel Fisher Family Enterprises and playing bingo with his wife, Lee. I then proceeded to hold over a million dollars in Atocha gold before lunch.
Just another day in the Keys I guess!
July 29, 2013 by Chuck Bailey
As I noted in my last post our summer geologic field research took us to the Beehive State. Our work is primarily focused on Wayne County in the south-central part of Utah. Created in 1892, Wayne County forms an expansive rectangular block of nearly 2,500 square miles. The county is sparsely populated with about 2,700 human inhabitants: that’s an average population density of just over one person per square mile (plenty of elbowroom). The Fremont River neatly traverses the county from the high plateaus in the west, through spectacular red rock terrain, and into the low desert in the east.
By any measure Wayne County is a scenic place, and in an effort to publicize the rugged beauty of the county a local civic group coined the term Wayne Wonderland in the 1920s. Eventually, that wonderland became Capitol Reef National Monument (now a National Park). Today, nearly ¾ of a million people visit the park per year.
Typically, my research students working in a particular region create a research team name. Some past groups include the Grenvillian UberJocks (1999), the Browns Cove BearBait (2006), and the Alberene Dream Team (2011). This year’s research team has embraced the sobriquet – the Wayne WonderMonkeys.
Indeed, we are studying the geology of Wayne County and the county’s landscape is surely a wonderland. But, why the monkey moniker? In the modern era, monkeys are not part of the Wayne County fauna. But as my 11-year old stepdaughter adroitly points out, monkeys are both smart and energetic creatures—an apt description for a group of W&M undergraduates wandering about Wayne County, Utah.
Once again our research is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey’s EDMAP program and we are producing a geologic map of the Lyman 7.5’ quadrangle in cooperation with the Utah Geological Survey. The Lyman 7.5’ quadrangle lies in the southeastern part of the Fish Lake Plateau at the boundary with the Colorado Plateau and Thousand Lake Mountain (elev. 3400 m) dominates the landscape to the east. We focused on the Lyman quadrangle because it’s the place to go to:
- Understand the kinematics and timing of the Thousand Lake Fault System, a major fault that forms the boundary of the Colorado Plateau. Geomorphic evidence suggests that this fault system experienced Quaternary slip, but the magnitude and timing of that movement is poorly understood. Hanna Bartram is evaluating the history and potential seismic hazard associated with this fault.
- Understand the origin of the Rabbit Valley salient, a distinctive topographic feature that extends westward from the flank of Thousand Lake Mountain. The topography is distinctly hummocky and salient could be an old and very large mass movement deposit. Zachariah Fleming’s research is focused on the origin of this enigmatic terrain.
For a more animated view of the Wayne WonderMonkeys’ research and field experiences witness this video they posted.
July 16, 2013 by Erin Spencer
I was lying face down on the couch in the dive shop when Doug came up and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Night dive tonight” he said. “You coming?”
I groaned and peered up at him cautiously. Considering I had spent the last minute and a half calculating how to pick up my Diet Coke without adjusting my position on the couch, the thought of strapping fifty pounds of gear onto my back was particularly uninviting. I muttered something unintelligible.
He laughed. “What else are you going to do tonight? Sit on your couch?”
That was the plan, I thought to myself. I had been diving all morning in an attempt to set lionfish transects with researchers at REEF, and was only in the dive shop to finish the test to get my Rescue Diver certification. The last few days had been grueling; between interviews, travel, and late night edits, I was averaging about 5 ½ hours of sleep and driving up to 150 miles a day. But it only took a few minutes for me to realize I was had—there was no way I could turn down a dive, and Doug knew it.
An hour later I was loading my gear on the dive boat. Although I was still a bit groggy, I had to admit it was a perfect night for a dive—the night was warm and breezy, and the water was finally calm after a week of rough seas and horrible visibility. I closed my eyes and listened to the familiar hum of the engine accompanied by the clanking of weights and tanks as divers prepared their gear. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the site just in time to see the blood orange sun slip behind the horizon, the end of another dramatic Florida Keys sunset. Then, we grabbed our masks, jumped in the water, and started our descent.
The ocean transforms at night. All kinds of animals shake their shyness under the cloak of darkness, and the reef comes alive. Armed with only underwater flashlights, we started pouring over the coral, closely examining every crevice so as to not miss a single creature in our ecological treasure hunt. The steady shhhhhh…blub blub blub of our regulators was the only sound as we drifted along the reef, our flashlights haphazardly darting back and forth. Occasionally we’d hear a sharp tap tap tap of a metal clip against a steel scuba tank, the signal that our divemaster had found something of note. Our first find was a green moray eel wedged under a protective rock ledge, followed by a large barracuda zigzagging through our procession, hunting by the glow of our flashlights. We then found a loggerhead turtle resting by the sea floor, who then swam off lethargically as if he was more bored by our presence than scared by it.
I spent the next hour in a state of constant wonder—I couldn’t look around fast enough to soak in all of the underwater sights. A spotted moray eel struck at unsuspecting fish as a huge southern stingray glided along five feet away. Dozens of brightly colored brittle stars slink back into their coral crevices at my approach, like spiny-tentacled monsters from a child’s nightmare. Translucent squid drifted through the open water, transfixed by my light, as damselfish circled around each other in an elaborate mating dance. I had never seen the reef so vibrant and so alive.
After a while I shut off my light and turned away from the others towards the pitch-black territory behind us. I flipped onto my back and kicked my fins slowly, watching in awe as the sea lit up with the million tiny stars of bioluminescent plankton. Then I moved my hands in slow circles as tiny sparks seemed to shoot out of my fingertips. It was utterly hypnotic.
I was shaken out of my trance as I heard the harsh call of the divemaster. This call was much more frantic than any before, which meant either he had found something particularly amazing, or something was wrong.
I flipped on my light and swam briskly to his side. As soon as he saw me, he grabbed my arm and yanked me down forcefully while pointing under a small, flat rock on the sea floor. It took my eyes a second to adjust…then…
I was so excited that I started yelling into my regulator. This was my holy grail of diving, and Doug knew it. For five years I had looked for an octopus with no luck, yet here it was. It only was there for a split second, just long enough for me to see it’s creamy white skin and bulging eye before it darted under the rock and out of sight. Doug and I sat there for a minute, sharing celebratory high-fives and unintelligible but victorious grunts through our regulators.
We ascended ten minutes later and quickly returned to the boat. Divers swapped stories excitedly, talking over each other to share whatever unusual creatures they had uncovered. I stripped off my wetsuit and took apart my gear, smiling the whole time. I had just experienced the best dive of my diving career and had never felt more passionate about the ocean and the work I was doing to protect it. I spent the ride back to the dock trying to soak in every tiny detail of the warm Florida breeze, the salty ocean air, and the cloudless sky packed with stars.
And to think I almost missed this for a night on the couch.
July 15, 2013 by Chuck Bailey
I’ve just returned to Williamsburg after a month of field research in Utah at Fish Lake and the High Plateaus. I journeyed to Utah with a team of four W&M undergraduates, nicknamed the Wayne WonderMonkeys (more on their name later). June brought copious rain to Williamsburg (more than 25 cm (10”) fell on campus), all the while we enjoyed a long run of sunny and dry weather in south-central Utah.
Fish Lake is the largest alpine lake in Utah. It covers an area of ~10 square kilometers (~4 square miles) at an elevation of 2,688 m (8,843’). This lake formed in a graben, a structural trough created between two normal faults. Grabens develop in regions where the Earth’s crust is extended and stretched. Our past research has documented the geological structure of the Fish Lake region and we’ve mapped the bathymetry and sediment distribution of the lake. Fish Lake’s bottom is covered by copious amounts of smelly organic-rich mud, a bit of sand, and even boulder deposits in places. But how much sediment lies at the bottom of Fish Lake: a few meters (~10’) or a few hundred meters (~1000’)?
Erika Wenrich’s ’14 senior thesis project focuses on determining just how much sediment lies at the bottom of Fish Lake. One way to determine the sediment thickness at the bottom of the lake would be to drill a core out in the middle of the lake. Drilling a full core from a lake’s bottom is an expensive proposition (say, a million dollars or so). A far cheaper method uses gravity to estimate the sediment thickness. Gravity, or more precisely the acceleration due to gravity, is not the same at all locations on Earth.
The acceleration due to the Earth’s gravity (denoted as g, spoken in casual conversation as ‘little g’) varies according to one’s latitude (greater at the poles, less at the equator), elevation (greater at sea level, less at altitude), the surrounding terrain, and due to the density variations in materials below the Earth’s surface (the denser the material, the greater the acceleration due to the Earth’s gravity). We use an instrument, intuitively named a gravimeter, to measure g at a point on the Earth’s surface.
We measured gravity at 55 locations in the Fish Lake basin. At each location we calculated what the theoretical gravity should be at that point (by taking into account the latitude, elevation, and terrain). The difference between the observed or measured gravity and the theoretical gravity at a point is the gravity anomaly. These anomalies provide insight about the subsurface materials and their geometry.
Erika’s research plan involves 1) constructing a gravity anomaly map of the Fish Lake basin, and 2) making a 3D model of those gravity anomalies to estimate the thickness of sediment in the basin. Our task this summer was to lay down a grid of gravity observations around Fish Lake. This winter, when Fish Lake is frozen over, we’ll go back and measure the gravity at sites on the lake itself.
A common question we are asked is “Why do you want to know the sediment thickness in Fish Lake?” or put another way “Who cares how much sediment is in the lake?”. We are interested in the sediment at Fish Lake because it contains a record of tectonic activity as well as climate and environmental change over at least the last two ice ages (past 150,000 years), and perhaps much further back (~1 or 2 million years). Knowing the amount and geometry of the sediment package is a key step towards procuring funding to actually drill a lake core and learn the secrets buried beneath Fish Lake.
June 28, 2013 by Erin Spencer
It’s been eleven months since I first developed the basic idea for The Lionfish Project. I had been bouncing grant ideas off people for weeks, the only thing I had narrowed down was that I wanted to do something with lionfish. One night in August, right before a family vacation to Key West, my Dad and I were driving back from an Orioles game. He dropped me off to pick up my car, and in the 20 minutes it took me to drive home, I developed the outline of the project. It was one of those instances that ideas fall into your lap, and it turned out to be the start of something pretty incredible.
Now, almost a year later, I’m finally here. On Thursday I boarded the Auto Train in Lorton, Virginia for a 17-hour train ride down the East Coast to Sanford, Florida. The entire experience is absolutely surreal—it’s hard to believe that something that once seemed like such an unachievable dream is finally happening. The last eleven months have seen their fair share of tears, rants and doubts as I developed my first ever grant-funded independent research project, but thankfully I had a network of endlessly supportive friends and family to see me through. I owe them a huge amount of thanks, because I know it couldn’t have been easy (especially in February while waiting to hear the results of the grant—I’m surprised I have any friends at all after that! I was a total wreck).
But now the real work begins. I’ve spent the last two months or so focused on logistics—getting releases, contacting interviewees, talking with research stations and pouring over Florida Keys guidebooks. To date, I have eight interviews locked in and many more in the works. Every person I contact leads me to two or three other potential interviewees—to the point that my head is swimming with possibilities. Mostly, I’m humbled by how welcoming and supportive the Florida Keys community has been. Bound together by a common love of their native coral reef, these individuals will support any cause working to save it. I’m rapidly finding that these are some of the most innovative and passionate people I’ve ever met. My time in the Keys will hopefully result in a captivating story about the individuals who are eradicating invasive lionfish—after all, that’s why I’m here. My challenge is to discover and capture these stories in a way that truly does them justice. It will undoubtedly be a learning experience with its ups and downs, and I’ll certainly make mistakes along the way. But from what I’ve seen so far, the stories will ultimately speak for themselves.
Now I’ve just got to go get them.
May 21, 2013 by Chuck Bailey
Remember the Alberene Dream Team from the summer of 2011? This talented group of undergraduates poured themselves into research projects aimed at understanding the geology of the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains that summer and continued their work as part of their senior research during the academic year. Alex Johnson, the youngest member of the Alberene Dream Team, graduated from the College last Sunday (Andrea, Kevin, and Molly were in the class of 2012). The week before landing his diploma Alex helped lead a raucous field review across the Alberene quadrangle.
The U.S. Geological Survey funded our research and as such we have a responsibility to get this geologic map and the attendant data published so the results are accessible to the wider world. A necessary step towards publishing a geologic map is the field review. We invited geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources, academics, and other interested individuals to join us for a day in the field and asked for their critical comments on the map and our geologic interpretations.
We visited 10 outcrops: from roadside exposures of the basement complex, to an old soapstone quarry, to a magnificent outcrop of metabasalt with deformed pillows along the Hardware River. Alex Johnson and John Hollis framed most of the discussion with Professor Brent Owens and I chiming in on occasion. We argued our case and learned from other geologists.
This summer we’ll do a bit of targeted fieldwork to better resolve some problem spots on the map and make revisions based on the comments we received during the field review. Once that is complete we’ll submit it for yet another review. It is a long road to publication, but an important road to travel nonetheless.