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Granola and Jammies

February 25, 2014 by

It’s safe to say that 2013 has been one of the most exciting years of my life so far. I rang in the New Year on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime trip with one of my best friends. And although I spent New Year’s Eve 2013 in the decidedly-less exotic Northern Virginia suburbs, the 364 days in between took me to no fewer than three US states, four European countries, and eight airports. If you’re thinking that I sound like a super cool adventurous jet setter, please keep in mind that it hasn’t ALL been that exciting. (Case in point: I spent last night eating granola and watching PBS in my jammies.)

The truth is that I have had a pretty great year! Among the crazy cool highlights? Getting an A in a crazy-hard government class. Crying real tears at my first-ever Taylor Swift concert. Watching my little sister graduate from high school. Spending a perfect summer day on a road trip to Sonic with my best friend. Swimming under a two-thousand-year-old Roman aqueduct during orientation of my semester abroad. Taking over 600 photos in the less than three days that I spent in Paris. Visiting Strasbourg’s world-famous Christmas markets. Coming home to my family just in time for Christmas. It’s all been amazing.

But despite a great spring semester and an absolutely incredible four months in Montpellier, France, it wasn’t all fun and games. In slightly bittersweet news, 2013 marked the halfway point of my career at W&M. I began the year a carefree sophomore and ended it a junior with an inbox full of emails asking me to file for graduation. It’s weird to think that I’ll be finishing up my major this spring or, horrifyingly, that more than half of the students on campus are now younger than me. Talk about a midlife crisis!

However, the best part of 2013 is that despite how exciting and rewarding it’s been, it’s given me even more to look forward to in the year to come. From the opportunity to return to France to do research this summer, to the chance to work in the Admission Office as an intern, to the amazingly exciting fact that I’m going to be an aunt in a few short weeks, I can already tell that, as great as 2013 may have been, 2014 is going to be even better!

- Elisabeth Bloxam

2013 in Review

February 24, 2014 by

I get it, it’s February. New Year’s decorations have been cleared, sparkling cider bottles recycled, and resolutions left to the wayside. But William & Mary made 2013 possibly the best year yet. Despite being a transfer student, I spent the spring semester of 2013 studying abroad in Grenoble, France. In high school, I had always known that I was going abroad. For a week, a semester, a year, I was going to study outside of the US. When I ended up transferring, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to study abroad.

Oh how wrong I was.

I walked into the Reves Center afraid that my scarlet T was shining extra bright that day. When I sat down and spoke with someone in the office, I explained I was a transfer and I wanted to go abroad, but I wasn’t sure I could still go for a whole semester. The wonderful intern flashed me a ridiculously confused smile, “Of course you can go abroad for a whole semester. Where do you want to go?” It was that simple. Instead of being worried that being a transfer would create a barrier, I was reminded, yet again, that it doesn’t matter how you got to William & Mary; you’re here and the volumes that could be filled with the opportunities available to you wouldn’t even fit in Swem.

After studying abroad, 2013 continued to prove a fantastic year. I spent the summer in Williamsburg as a Senior Interviewer meeting some of the best people at W&M. I then started my penultimate semester taking classes I had been looking forward to since I registered for them, participating in the clubs and organizations I had missed going abroad, and getting to participate in some of my favorite William & Mary traditions including Homecoming and Yule Log. With only a few months left at W&M, I cannot wait to see what 2014 has in store for me.

- Kate Fitzgerald

2013 – Year of Travel

February 20, 2014 by

I woke up on 1 January 2013 in a hotel room in the Kensington neighborhood of London, England after ringing in the New Year with my best friend. We spent a week abroad in celebration and enjoying one final vacation together before the real world took over our school breaks. Little did I know that I would spend so much of my year in Europe, and how much my life would be better for it.

I was fortunate enough to spend my spring break in Germany with my dad. I had been a few times before with him, so this time we got to explore the nooks and crannies of the country. It’s those towns, like Trier or Dielheim, that give the country so much character, where you find real culture.

I then spent 5 weeks of my summer in Cambridge, England as part of our Study Abroad programs. The friends that I made and bonds I strengthened while there are unbreakable. When you travel with someone, especially in a foreign country where high-pressure situations are guaranteed, you really create a relationship that’s incomparable to others. We took the time to go to the National Stud and see the horses and horse races. We got to go in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. We took the ferry to Calais, France so that we could see the White Cliffs of Dover as we sailed away from the British coast. We met up with another friend in Paris who was studying in Montpelier, France for the summer. We enjoyed the Fringe Music Festival in Edinburgh. We met other Americans who were studying abroad. We met a Bulgarian also traveling home from France. We met a Scot on a train.

They say “traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” My past year proves it. Spending so much time in Europe I got to see the world. I got to meet everyday people and students just like me. I got to hear what other people think of the United States. Studying abroad is my biggest piece of advice for prospective students, whether it’s a summer, semester, year, or Branch Out. No matter what: go. When I look back on 2013, travel is what defined it. And now, traveling is what defines me.

- Kelley Quinzio

Oman’s Mega-Sheath Folds

January 30, 2014 by

Shaded relief map of the Muscat area, Oman with Wadi Mayh highlighted.

Shaded relief map of the Muscat area, Oman with Wadi Mayh highlighted. 30-m data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

Oman is a sunny place and cloudy days are rather uncommon.  On Friday, January 10th we awoke to cloudy skies over Muscat.  Today was the day to tackle “the exposure” at Wadi Mayh about 25 km (19 mi.) south of Muscat.  Wadi Mayh is a through-going drainage that offers tremendous exposures of bedrock in its channel and valley walls.

The exposure we wished to see (and photograph) is a steep north-northeast facing slope rising 170 meters (~560 ft.) above the wadi.  At this time of year the face is nearly always in shadow and the bright Omani sun backlights the scene making photography tough.  I thought the clouds would provide just enough cover to mellow the lighting and result in a better picture.

 

Google Earth image of the Wadi Mayh exposure, note its north-facing aspect.

Google Earth image of the Wadi Mayh exposure, note its north-facing aspect.

Alex Johnson and I climbed to a high perch across from the exposure and readied the equipment, but the sun refused to be muted behind the clouds.  We waited patiently.  There were moments of less sun, but we never got the lighting conditions we’d hoped for.  Nevertheless, we put the GigaPan to work, taking a set of 56 images of the rocky face that we later stitched together into a seamless high-resolution image.  What follows is the stitched image that spent some time getting ‘massaged’ in Photoshop to highlight this brilliant exposure and was then uploaded to the GigaPan website.  Try zooming in to the image to see fine-scale details such as fractures, veins, and fold hinges.

(View the Oman Sheath Folds GigaPan.)

These gray limestones lack much contrast, but the layering is readily evident.  It is difficult to appreciate the scale of the image.  Recall the height of the exposure exceeds 150 m (500’); the best scale markers are near the bottom of the image, they are ~7 meters tall (23’) power poles.  This is a huge exposure.

In the view below (of the central part of the face), the rock almost seems to be smiling at the camera.  Follow individual layers and you’ll find that they turn back on themselves and trace out a curious elliptical pattern.  Clearly, the rocks are folded, but these aren’t your everyday folds.  These are sheath folds, and mega-sheath folds at that.

Close up of the central part of the exposure at Wadi Mayh, Oman.  Lower image is a tracing of the layers wrapping around the sheath fold.

Close up of the central part of the exposure at Wadi Mayh, Oman, note bushes for scale.  Lower image is a tracing of the layers wrapping around the sheath fold.  Sheath fold axis trends into the cliff face, approximately normal to the photograph.

Sheath folds are distinctive curvilinear folds in which the hinge actually wraps around on itself.  In three-dimensions sheath folds look much like their name implies, a sheath that might holster a sword (or in Oman, the traditional khanjar!).  When eroded, the tubular-shape of a sheath fold displays a characteristic eye-shape in cross section—that’s what we see on the slopes above Wadi Mayh.

Sheath folds were first recognized in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but, in my opinion, not properly appreciated until the 1990s.  They form when layers are strongly sheared and early formed fold hinges are rotated into cone-like shapes; the long-axis of the sheath fold parallels the direction along which the rocks were most stretched.

Schematic model illustrating the development of a sheath fold.  Note distinctive eye-shape in cross section normal to sheath axis.

Schematic model illustrating the development of a sheath fold. Note distinctive eye-shape in cross section normal to sheath axis.

In 2007 Mike Searle and Ian Alsop published an excellent article in the journal Geology on mega-sheath folds from the Wadi Mayh area.  The sheath folds are developed in shallow marine carbonate rocks of Permian and Triassic age that are in tectonic contact with underlying high-pressure metamorphic rocks formed when the Oman ophiolite was obducted onto the Arabian margin.  The folds in the photo are actually subsidiary folds of an even larger mega-sheath fold about 15 km in length!

For me, sheath folds, regardless of the scale, dramatically illustrate that solid rocks are capable of flow, often in complex, but enticingly beautiful ways.

Annotated and traced image of the sheath folds at Wadi Mayh, Oman

Annotated and traced image of the sheath folds at Wadi Mayh, Oman.

Dispatches from Oman: Juxtaposition

January 14, 2014 by

A new semester awaits 11,000 kilometers away in Williamsburg.  Time to depart Oman, but before heading west towards home there was one last mountain to climb.  I’ve had my eye on this ridge at the north end of Jebel Akhdar for months, as the view from its crest should provide an exceptional overview of the region’s geology.

Shaded relief map of a part of northern Oman.  30-m data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

Shaded relief map of a part of northern Oman. 30-m data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

The ridge stands ~800 m (~2600 ft.) above the small villages of Murri and Ash Shakdar.  We parked the saloon car in the morning shadows and set off—I headed for the ridge, and Alex bore on to the wadi that cuts dramatically through the ridge.  This is an anticlinal ridge and the wadi slices neatly across the anticline providing a spectacular cross section through folded strata.

I walked up the eastern dip slope of this geologic structure to the gently dipping strata along the ridgecrest; below Alex negotiated house-sized boulders in the wadi bottom.

View from the top of the Murri anticline, northern Oman (view to north-northwest). Annotated geology in lower image.  This will be posted as a Gigapan in the coming weeks.

View from the top of the Murri anticline, northern Oman (view to north-northwest). Annotated geology in lower image, note the ophiolite on either side of the Cretaceous strata. The wadi bottom is ~700 m below.  This image will be posted as a Gigapan in the coming weeks.

Rocks exposed along the ridge and in the gorge below are Cretaceous limestones deposited some 95 to 115 million years ago in reefs and shallow warm seas on the northeastern margin of Arabia.  These are the strata that underlie much of the alpine scenery in northern Oman.  Although these strata are folded in dramatic fashion, the rocks are essentially in the same location as where they were originally deposited.  This sequence of rocks is considered autochthonous, a tough-to-spell geologic term for rocks that are still located where the formed.  In contrast, allochthonous rocks are no longer where they originally formed, rather, they’ve been displaced along faults and, in many cases, are far traveled bits of wayward crust.

Look to the periphery of this photo and you’ll notice ragged brown terrain, both to the northeast and northwest of the anticlinal ridge.  This is the ophiolite underlain by peridotite, a dense dark rock that originally formed in the mantle 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 mi.) below the ocean floor.  In some locations there are other allochthonous rocks including a complex sequence of deep-sea sedimentary rocks (known as the Hawasina sequence), exotic blocks of limestone, and mélange (which, just as the name implies is a tectonic swirly pie of many rocks) between the ophiolite and the limestones.  The contact between these geologic units is a thrust fault of the first order.

While standing on the ridge taking in the scene one word came to mind—juxtaposition.  I’ll use the word in a sentence:

The juxtaposition of rocks from the Earth’s mantle (highly allochthonous rocks) against the shallow marine rocks (autochthonous strata) is a profound geologic sight.

Geologic map and cross section of the Murri anticline and Oman ophiolite.  Ophiolite is juxtaposed against mélange and autochthonous limestones.

Geologic map and cross section of the Murri anticline and Oman ophiolite. Ophiolite is juxtaposed against mélange and autochthonous limestones.

The arched nature of the sequence makes it easy to visualize that the ophiolite was thrust long distances up and over the Cretaceous limestone.  Prior to erosion of the modern mountain range (the terrain we see today) the juxtaposed ophiolite from the Deep Earth would have overlain the autochthonous rocks.  Later deformed folded the rocks and then erosive surface processes removed the ophiolite sequence to expose the autochthonous strata below.  That is quite a story!

There are other compelling geologic stories to share about Oman.  In the coming weeks I’ll post more pieces on Oman’s geology and upload our Gigapans.  Alex and I are also working up a series of videos that illustrate both our travels through Oman and the geology of this wonderful country.  Music Professor Anne Rasmussen and I are moving forward with plans to take a field course/study abroad program to Oman in the future.  Much to do back in Williamsburg.

Last Days of the William & Mary Washington Winter Program

January 13, 2014 by

I don’t know how it was possible, but the last two days of the William & Mary Winter Washington Program were even busier than the first five.

Wednesday was our “Capitol Hill Day,” and like anyone who has a job on the Hill we did not stop all day. We started at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Room where we met Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. We talked to him about everything from foreign policy to how his Catholic faith affects his decision making. The freshman Senator was incredibly personable and even spent an extra 15 minutes answering our questions.

Right after our meeting with Senator Kaine we ran to the House side to meet my congressman, Frank Wolf. We could immediately tell that Congressman Wolf’s persona was different than Senator Kaine’s when he proceeded to lecture us on why he thinks that the Obama administration has failed to protect human rights around the world. It was interesting to see the stark differences in the two fairly moderate elected officials. Frank Wolf, who has held that seat in congress since before my birth, just recently announced his retirement which may explain why he was far more aggressive about expressing his views than the recently elected Senator.

The next session was a Capitol Hill staffer panel with William & Mary alumni Logan Ferree ’07, Sarah Elkins ’06, Rob Bradley ’10 and Kelly Hastings ’03. They proceeded to be very honest about the difficult paths they took to get their jobs on the Hill. After the panel we were given a tour of the Capitol Building where we were lucky enough to randomly meet an alumnus of the class of 1972 who gives tours of the Capitol. When he found out we were William & Mary students he challenged our foreign language skills by proceeding to speak in French, Turkish, Portuguese, Mandarin and many others. He told us he spoke 59 languages and that he was “the ultimate TWAMP.” We also got the opportunity to sit in the House Gallery which was especially exciting because they were voting on extending unemployment benefits that day.

Isabella Liou, Allie Rosenbluth, President Taylor Reveley, Diana Winter at the 7th Annual William & Mary Capitol Hill Reception

Isabella Liou, Allie Rosenbluth, President Taylor Reveley, Diana Winter at the 7th Annual William & Mary Capitol Hill Reception

Later that night we went to the 7th Annual William & Mary Alumni Capitol Hill banquet which turned out to be a pretty high profile event. Not only did President Taylor Reveley grace us with his always delightful presence, but also Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, law school alumna Representative Michelle Bachmann, Representative Steve Chabot ’75, Representative Dina Titus ’70, and the William & Mary Rector Todd Stottlemyer ’85. The event was a great way to meet all types of William & Mary alumni and catch up with old friends who recently graduated.

The next day started with a visit to the British Embassy. Originally I didn’t make the connection of what the British Embassy had to do with our class because I thought their primary role was working on British immigration and visas. At the embassy I found out this is very far from the truth. We talked to Jane Ansell and Matt Mazonkey who do policy and economic work for the embassy. I even found out that the British embassy has a group that works on climate change that especially sparked my interest since the UK is proudly one of the few developed nations to be on track to reach its 2015 emissions goals.

After going to the embassy, we had lunch with William & Mary’s Rector, Todd Stottlemyer. During lunch we were lucky enough to talk to him about issues on campus that really mattered to us such as tuition and financial aid, while he got the opportunity to explain some of the details of the William & Mary Promise the board just passed.

When lunch was over we were visited by three government contractors who filled us in on what they do. While I am not especially interested in contracting at the moment, I know it was a fantastic session for some of the seniors in my class who are looking to find work in that field. Next, we had a discussion with Thomas Whitehead ’06 who works for the USTR. He defends the United States in trade disagreements at the World Trade Organization. This was a great capstone for our class because it was a perfect illustration of how domestic and foreign policy influence each other.

I honestly cannot believe how much I have done in the last week during the William & Mary Washington Winter Seminar. It’s hard to imagine that in one week I’ve gained so much insight into the many different jobs in DC and I’ve only scratched the surface. This program has been a real wake up call for me, specifically that the plans I thought I had for the next three years may not be as concrete as I anticipated. I may actually have to let hard work and serendipity take me to where I belong, just like former ambassador Sanderson told us Monday night.

If you are considering doing the William & Mary Washington Winter Program I would strongly suggest it. Not only is it a great class, but it opens your mind to so many opportunities in DC. The William & Mary DC Office is absolutely fantastic. They are so supportive of all of their students, and I really do feel like I am part of the William & Mary DC family. I think that this program is best suited for seniors and juniors who are closer to entering the job market, but it is still a great opportunity for serious freshmen and sophomores. Honestly, I really wish I had more time at the William & Mary DC office, but because I have so many obligations on campus and in the summer I cannot extend my time with the office. If you have the opportunity to take a semester or a summer term with the DC office I would strongly recommend it. The William & Mary Washington Winter Seminar was a fantastic program, even for this DC girl.

Dispatches from Oman: Fodder for the Tectonic Cannon

January 10, 2014 by

I’ve been in Oman for over ten days and seen plenty of deformed rocks—it is what I came for.  What follows are a series of images illustrating deformed Omani rocks: there are folds, faults, fractures, and veins.  This stuff is eye candy for a structural geologist.

Big road cut near Nizwa, Oman exposed folded and tilted strata.

Big road cut near Nizwa, Oman exposed folded and tilted strata.

This first photo is a stitched panorama using our GigaPan apparatus of a big road cut on the main highway between Muscat and Nizwa.  Notice the tilted and folded strata of the Hawasina sedimentary sequence and the lovely 4WD vehicle (unfortunately not our vehicle, we’re driving a saloon car).

crumpled strata in Oman

Crumpled strata in Oman.

Here is a small outcrop of crumpled sedimentary layers near the village of Al-Taww.  It is complex in detail.

Tension gashes/veins cutting layered limestone and dolomite, Oman.

Tension gashes/veins cutting layered limestone and dolomite, Oman.

Notice the scale bar in this photo, an Omani 50 baiza piece that is about the size of a U.S. quarter.  The rock in this photo is interlayered limestone (gray) and dolomite (beige) and the original sedimentary layering is tilted (lower left to upper right).  The distinct white structures are tension gashes/veins, fractures that opened and immediately filled with the mineral calcite (white).  Just where did the calcite in the veins originate?

Slickensides on serpentinite coated fault, Oman ophiolite.

Slickensides on serpentinite-coated fault, Oman ophiolite.

This image illustrates a close-up view of slickensides on a serpentinite-coated fault in the ophiolite sequence.  The linear and stepped morphology of the slickensides are useful for determining the kinematics of faulting.

A mountain-side of folded strata, Wadi Muaiydin, Oman.

A mountain-side of folded strata, Wadi Muaiydin, Oman.

The last image is of a mountain-side north of the village of Birkat al Mouz along Wadi Muaiydin, exposing a dramatic fold sequence in Mesozoic limestones.  Nice stuff!

All this eye candy is wonderful to view, but also begs the question(s)

Why were these Omani rocks fodder for the tectonic cannon?

     and

When were these rocks crumpled, broken, and faulted?

 

Dispatches from Oman: We’re with the Band

January 8, 2014 by

After four days of field work in the Western Hajar Mountains, Alex and I returned to Muscat to get clean and then joined up with William & Mary’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble.  Professor Anne Rasmussen directs this talented group of musicians who’ve been exploring and performing the music of the Middle East since 1994.  Seven students and Anthropology professor Jonathan Glasser made the trip to Oman.

On the road with the band! W&M's Middle Eastern Music Ensemble heads to their first gig in Muscat.

On the road with the band! W&M’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble heads to their first gig in Muscat.

On a bright sunny afternoon we tagged along with Anne, Jonathan, and the crew for the first gig of their Muscat tour at the U.S. Embassy.  The Ensemble commonly numbers 20+ musicians, but for my untrained ear the smaller Ensemble, with its nine performers (1 on bass, 1 on qanun, 3 on percussion, 3 on violin, and 1 on ‘ud), brought out the sound of the individual instruments.

We also accompanied the band to the U.S. Ambassador’s residence for an evening soirée.  Geologists like a party, so it was great to ride the Ensemble’s collective coattails right into the festivities.  Ambassador Greta Holtz and her embassy staff did an exceptional job at making the Tribe feel welcome.

While the Ensemble literally played and sang for their supper, Alex and I mingled with the assembled guests.  During the course of the evening we had the pleasure of discussing our geologic work with many Omanis.  The Omanis are rightly proud of their ophiolite.

As a geologist I study rocks and landscapes.  For me trying to understand both the processes and history of our planet is a creative endeavor.  But let’s face it; making music is a creative endeavor that provides joy in real time—it’s powerful stuff.  William & Mary’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble turned out its brand of powerful stuff here in Muscat.

The Ensemble making their music at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.  (Photo courtesy of Megan Porter)

The Ensemble making their music at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Muscat, Oman. (Photo courtesy of Megan Porter)

William & Mary Winter Washington Seminar: Day 3 and 4 Overviews

January 8, 2014 by

Monday was a fantastic day for the William & Mary Washington Winter Program. Not only did I go home with ten frozen fingers and a bag full of EPA booklets, but also with a new confidence in my journey discovering my own career path.

We started our day by visiting the USAID office where we met alumni and USAID bureaucrats Sarah Glass ’01, Sarah Lane ’01, and Ana Luisa Pinto ’01 who sat down with our class to talk about their careers and the international development field in general. All three worked with private sector involvement in USAID but had different roles including economist, portfolio manager, and senior alliance advisor. I have to say, these were three vibrant ladies. You could tell that each woman had an incredible amount of passion for what they were doing for USAID which was inspiring to see.

After USAID and a long lunch, we went next door to the EPA where we met John Frece ’69 and Matt Dalbey ’87 who work in the EPA’s Smart Growth office. This office helps communities grow in ways that focus on the economic, public health, and environmental factors that are often overlooked during development. Sustainable land use has been an interest of mine since taking a seminar on the topic last school year, and this meeting was a great opportunity to see examples of the public sector’s involvement in the area. I think the Smart Growth program is something that every American city could benefit from if the program was given more resources to pursue more projects. Although this meeting was interesting, I think there was a general consensus in our group that a meeting with regulatory parts of the EPA would have been more relevant to the topic of this class.

Next, we went to the US State Department where we took a tour of the lavish diplomatic relations rooms and met with a panel of Foreign Service William & Mary alumni. During the tour we saw numerous antiques, some that were even owned by former presidents. Although the tour was interesting, I felt like I was back in Colonial Williamsburg. The alumni at the State Department panel really seemed to enjoy their jobs. They gave us advice about pursuing jobs in the Foreign Service which many of my peers found especially helpful. But, Ambassador Janet Sanderson ’77 gave us a more candid look into the pros and cons of working in the State Department at an intimate dinner she joined us for. The ambassador’s stories were remarkable and completely un-sugar-coated, which was refreshing after our previous trip to the State Department.

I believe that Monday was extremely beneficial for every student in the William & Mary Winter Washington Program because we were given career advice that could be applied to any interest. I would say that the most important lesson I learned Monday was that I will never be in complete control of my career path so I must accept that serendipity will take me to the job I am meant to be in if I continue to work hard.

Today was a much different experience. Evans started the day by priming our class with a presentation on financial disparity and the US deficit. Then the Tea Party arrived. I don’t want to get too political on this blog so I will try my best. Sitting on the Tea Party panel was alumnus Jason Torchinsky ’98, a lawyer, and his Tea Party counterparts Phil Kerpen and Ned Ryun. Kerpen is a free-market policy analyst and a frequent guest on Fox News. He was especially interesting to talk to. Although I do not agree with most of his politics, I do respect that he had passionate answers to all of our questions, but my classmates who continued to ask hard questions after witnessing his fire. It was definitely interesting to get an inside look at the Tea Party because it has become such a huge force in today’s politics. After listening to the Tea Party panel, we spoke with two more traditional republicans from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Bill Hoagland gave us an especially informative look into the history of the federal budget and the current state of the American deficit. In his presentation we saw more evidence that most federal spending is in healthcare and welfare for senior citizens, programs that are not losing funds at the expense of programs that invest in our country’s future.

Finally, a Politico defense reporter Austin Wright ’09 came to talk about his job as a journalist. Austin led a conversation about defense spending and the current problems congress has making cuts in military spending. We also discussed the Murray-Ryan deal that will probably be overturned in Congress soon. It seems to me that because of our large military-industrial complex and the large degree of localism in American politics, it is hard for congressmen to cut programs that bring jobs to their districts even if they are economically unsustainable.

I don’t think that these two days could have been more different. Both days were beneficial to my government education but I almost felt a little helpless after today’s focus on what’s so wrong with Washington, which is a stark difference from how I felt after visiting USAID, the EPA and the State Department on Monday. It is clear that this is a really bad time in Washington, but it is also clear that the situation is far from hopeless. Tomorrow we hit Capitol Hill to see where all of the mayhem takes place.

Dispatches from Oman: Wadi Jizzi – standing at the bottom of the Tethys Ocean

January 7, 2014 by

Our travels in Oman took us north from the capital region in Muscat to Sohar, a drive of some two hours along the Batinah Coastal Plain.  This coastal plain is just that, a low relief plain sloping towards the Gulf of Oman and underlain by relatively young (Tertiary to Holocene) sedimentary rocks and sediments.  The ophiolite forms a distinctive and rugged terrain that rises to the west of the flatlands.  As I noted in the last post, the Oman ophiolite is the largest and best exposed of its kind in the world.  Wadi Jizzi is the major drainage that cuts through the ophiolite terrain to the west of Sohar and it is here we piloted our modest Toyota saloon (a British word for sedan, also used by Omanis).

Shaded relief map of a part of northern Oman.  Note the different topography between the Batinah Coastal Plain and the Western ajar Mountains.

Shaded relief map of a part of northern Oman. Note the different topography between the Batinah Coastal Plain and the Western Hajar Mountains. 30-m data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

One of our stops is a world classic; the pillow lavas exposed in the cliffs along the south side of the wadi (the arabic term for a valley or riverbed) are nothing less than stupendous.  These exposures became famous when they graced the cover of Geotimes magazine back in 1975 and ever since then have been referred to as the “Geotimes” lava or “Geotimes” pillow lavas.  I prefer the local name, Wadi Jizzi.

Alex Johnson, William & Mary Geology Fellow, standing tall and proud in front of the pillow lavas exposed at Wadi Jizzi, northern Oman

Alex Johnson, William & Mary Geology Fellow, standing tall and proud in front of the pillow lavas exposed at Wadi Jizzi, northern Oman.

The external morphology of the pillows is evident, but erosion has cut cross sections through individual pillows as well.  In external form the pillows are tubes or bolsters, some upwards of 3-meters (10 feet) in length and between 0.5- and 1.2-meters (1.5-4 feet) in diameter.  The surface of the pillows is cracked with a series rectilinear cooling joints and green glassy material commonly occurs in the interstitial regions between the pillows.  The rock itself is a brownish basalt with no visible phenocrysts or vesicles.

Close up of Wadi Jizzi pillows (both external morphology and in cross section).  Note abundant fractures.  Hammer is ~42 cm (~17") in length.

Close up of Wadi Jizzi pillows (both external morphology and in cross section). Note abundant fractures. Hammer is ~42 cm (~17″) in length.

Pillows commonly form when lava is extruded under water.  As lava disgorges from its vent on the sea floor it comes in contact with the surrounding seawater that rapidly quenches the lava to a glassy solid, thereby partially clogging the conduit and forcing to lava to ooze out nearby.  This repetitive process of extrusion and rapid quenching produces the tube to pillow-like morphology.

At the eastern end of the outcrop the pillow lavas are cut by two altered basaltic dikes.  The cross cutting nature of the dikes indicates they are younger than the pillows and are likely the conduit by which younger lava was transported to the sea-floor, where it too would have erupted as pillow lavas.

The sequence of pillow lavas is interlayered with cherty sedimentary rocks containing radiolarian fossils; the fossil assemblage enabled geologists to date the volcanism and sea-floor sedimentation to part of the Cretaceous period (100 to 95 Ma).  These were lavas erupted along a mid-ocean ridge at the bottom of an ancient ocean known as the Tethys Ocean.  Tethys was a goddess from the Greek classical period, but more recently her name has been used as the moniker for the ancient ocean that once separated Eurasia from Gondwana during the Mesozoic.

Basaltic dikes cutting pillow lavas at Wadi Jizzi.  Alex Johnson for scale.

Basaltic dikes cutting pillow lavas at Wadi Jizzi. Once again Alex Johnson for scale.

Mid-ocean ridges are notoriously difficult spots to reach for field trips, primarily as a consequence of being 1) in the mid-ocean and 2) under a few kilometers of water.  But ophiolites bring the mid-ocean ridge to the continents, making it possible to reach the bottom of an ancient ocean while daytripping in a saloon to an Omani wadi.