A peek into the lives of those who learn, teach, research and work at the College.
February 17, 2014 by Chuck Bailey
In 1969 Virginia embraced the travel slogan Virginia is for Lovers and at various times during the last 45 years William & Mary geology students have emblazoned departmental t-shirts with Virginia is for Lavas and turned the iconic heart into a volcano.
In that spirit, Geology Fellow Alex Johnson and I wrote a piece on the ancient lavas that once covered a large swath of what would become Virginia. What follows is an abbreviated version. Read the full version.
Stony Man is a high peak in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains that tops out at just over 1200 m (4,000’). Drive south from Thornton Gap along the Skyline Drive and you’ll see the impressive cliffs of Stony Man’s northwestern face. These are the cliffs that give the mountain its name, as the cliffs and slopes have a vague resemblance to a reclining man’s forehead, eye, nose, and beard. Climb to the top and you’ll see peculiar bluish-green rocks exposed on the summit that are ancient lava flows, part of a geologic unit known as the Catoctin Formation. From the presidential retreat at Camp David to Jefferson’s Monticello, from Harpers Ferry to Humpback Rocks, the Catoctin Formation underlies much of the Blue Ridge. This distinctive geologic unit tells us much about the long geologic history of the Blue Ridge and central Appalachians.
The Catoctin Formation was first named by Arthur Keith in 1894 and takes its name for exposures on Catoctin Mountain, a long ridge that stretches from Maryland into northern Virginia. The word Catoctin is rooted in the old Algonquin term Kittockton. The exact meaning of the term has become a point of contention; among historians the translation “speckled mountain” is preferred, however local tradition holds that that Catoctin means “place of many deer”.
Origin of the name aside, the Catoctin Formation is a geologic unit that crops out over a large tract in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia, eastern West Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania. Its current geographic extent does not, however, represent the original extent of the Catoctin Formation. In southern Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Catoctin Formation crops out in one contiguous area, but in Virginia there is an eastern and western outcrop belt of the formation. The Catoctin Formation is exposed on both limbs of the Blue Ridge anticlinorium, a complex regional-scale fold that has been breached by erosion thereby exposing older rocks in the center and younger rocks such as the Catoctin Formation along the flanks. Originally, the eastern and western belts were contiguous, but erosion has removed the younger Catoctin Formation to expose older rocks in the central Blue Ridge.
The Catoctin Formation is composed primarily of metabasalt, commonly referred to as greenstone due to the rock’s greenish tint. When the basalt was metamorphosed, igneous minerals such as pyroxene, plagioclase, and olivine were converted to new minerals (chlorite, actinolite, and epidote), which give the rock its distinctive color. The Catoctin Formation also contains discontinuous layers of metasedimentary rock (including phyllite, quartzite, and even marble), as well as volcanic breccia and metarhyolite.
As the Catoctin lavas cooled, columnar joints developed in many flows. Columns form as the rock volumetrically contracts during cooling. As a lava flow cools, both from its top and bottom surface, these cooling cracks propagate inward, forming hexagonal columns. Columnar joints are best developed in lava flows that extrude onto a landscape. These columns are common in the Catoctin Formation’s western outcrop belt and indicate the flows were extruded on land. In contrast, at a number of outcrops in the eastern Blue Ridge, pillow lavas are preserved in the Catoctin metabasalts. Pillow lavas are bulbous to lobate masses formed as lava rapidly cools underwater, forming a glassy shell as the surrounding water quenches the lava.
How old are the ancient lavas of the Catoctin Formation? When did a vast volcanic plain cover the terrain that would become central and northern Virginia?
Metabasalt dikes commonly intrude and cut older granitic rocks in the Blue Ridge, and in rare cases these feeder dikes can be traced upward into metabasalt flows that covered the granitic rocks. Based on these cross cutting relations, the Catoctin Formation is clearly younger than the old Blue Ridge granites that crystallized between 1.2 and 1.0 billion years ago. The Catoctin metabasalts are overlain by a sequence of sedimentary rocks that contain fossils including Skolithos, a distinctive trace fossil formed by burrowing creatures. These fossils are characteristic of sediments deposited during the early Cambrian period some 520 to 540 million years ago.
Geologists have attempted to date the Catoctin lavas with varying degrees of success. In 1988, Badger and Sinha reported a late Precambrian age of 570 ± 36 Ma for the Catoctin Formation based on the Rubidium/Strontium (Rb-Sr) dating technique, however this isotopic system can be readily disturbed by later metamorphism. Zircon is a high temperature igneous mineral that is ideal for geochronological studies. Zircon crystals invariably contain a small amount of uranium, a radioactive element that decays to lead at a constant and well-known rate. By comparing the ratio of certain uranium and lead isotopes in a given crystal, it is possible to discern how long the uranium has been decaying, and thus the age of crystal and, by association, the rock in which it is situated. However, silica-poor mafic igneous rocks, such as basalt, commonly lack zircons and thus cannot typically be dated with this technique.
Yet, all is not lost as the Catoctin Formation is composed of more than just metamorphosed basalt; in northern Virginia, western Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, metarhyolite is interlayered with the metabasalt. Rhyolites are felsic volcanic rocks that typically contain zircon and can be dated with the U-Pb method. Based upon U-Pb ages from metarhyolites in the Catoctin Formation, the extrusion of this volcanic complex occurred around 570-550 million years ago (Aleinikoff et al., 1995; Southworth et al., 2009) during the Ediacaran Period at the end of the Neoproterozoic Era.
What is a sequence of volcanic rocks doing in the Blue Ridge?
The Catoctin Formation is likely a continental flood basalt associated with late stage rifting that broke apart the Rodinian supercontinent and created the Iapetus Ocean. Flood basalts are large igneous provinces where low viscosity basaltic lava floods vast areas of the Earth’s surface. Due to the lava’s low viscosity, flood basalts are generally extruded quite rapidly, geologically speaking. In the case of the Catoctin Formation, more than 30,000 cubic kilometers of lava were extruded in a few million years. The origin of flood basalts is widely debated, however the most common explanation involves a combination of decompressional melting due to both continental rifting and the rise of a hot and expansive mantle plume. The origin of mantle plumes is also poorly understood, but likely involves a buoyant melt produced near the mantle-core boundary, which proceeds to rapidly rise through the mantle, melts other rocks, and drives extrusion of volcanic rocks at the surface.
Throughout geologic time, the cycle of assembly and dispersal of so-called supercontinents has been one of the most dramatic examples of plate tectonics at work. The supercontinent Rodinia is hypothesized to have been formed in the Late Mesoproterozoic and Early Neoproterozoic. At its core was Laurentia, a large landmass composed of what is now modern day North America, Greenland, and northern Scotland. As supercontinents are wont to do, Rodinia began rifting apart some 600-550 million years ago; the tectonic plates began to once again change direction and slowly drifted away from one another, forming new oceans and closing others. One of these new oceans that was created (and later destroyed during the creation of the most recent supercontinent, Pangea) was the Iapetus. The Iapetus formed between the eastern edge of the Laurentian craton and almalgam of tectonic blocks that would eventually be formed into what is referred to as Gondwana. It was during this period of rifting that the volcanic rocks of the Catoctin Formation were extruded on Laurentia’s margin.
A key method by which geologists have discerned the cycle of supercontinent formation and dissolution has been through paleomagnetism, which is the study of the magnetic properties in certain minerals as means to reconstruct the past location of tectonic plates. Although paleomagnetism has played an integral part in developing the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift, paleomagnetism in old rocks is complex. Take for instance the plight of Rodinia, different researchers have constructed multiple iterations of the supercontinent’s configuration and location. One study, focused on the Catoctin Formation in particular, place Laurentia near the South Pole at the end of the Neoproterozoic.
How did a vast plateau of volcanic rocks that were buried beneath kilometers of shallow marine sedimentary rocks become the foliated greenstones that undergird the Blue Ridge Mountains? The answer to this question involves a complex history of deformation, metamorphism, and uplift.
Recent geochronological studies indicate that the penetrative deformation and metamorphism, the tectonic event that produced the distinctive foliation in the Catoctin Formation, occurred between 320 and 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period. Some 20 to 30 million years later Blue Ridge rocks were thrust over sedimentary rocks of the Valley & Ridge province, during the collision that produced Pangea. The mountains produced during this collision likely rivaled the size of today’s Himalayas.
In the million of years since their uplift, the Blue Ridge has slowly been beaten down with rounded ridges replacing rugged mountains. As the processes of weathering and erosion continued their interplay, different rock types eroded at different rates resulting in the modern topography of the Blue Ridge. Compared to the overlying stratified rocks and underlying granitic basement complex, the fine-grained metavolcanic rocks of the Catoctin Formation are particularly resistant to erosion.
The great American author Nathaniel Hawthorne once noted “mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.” Here in the central Appalachians much of that monument is shaped from the basaltic rocks of the Catoctin Formation, a unit birthed by fire during the breakup of ancient Laurentia and later changed to greenstone during the growth of the new Pangean supercontinent.
February 17, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
No way. I refuse to accept there are fewer than 100 days until graduation. I joined the party late and now I’m counting down the seconds to the final buzzer? Ridiculous.
Prepare yourselves, prospective members of the Tribe. You may be coming in (fashionably) late to the game, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to fall for this school any less than those who came in their freshman year. It’s amazing how quickly this place feels like home. It was definitely love at first sight for me. I visited the College as a junior in high school, and despite coming away from the information session and tour knowing no more than I had going into them (not a fault of the school, mostly just me being preoccupied with being in love with William & Mary), I knew this was the place for me. Everyone was so kind, friendly, supportive, funny, smart, quirky and interesting that I couldn’t wait to surround myself with these people. Even though I hit a few bumps in the road, I finally was able to join the Tribe for the beginning of my sophomore year, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I’ve lived abroad; I’ve learned a new language; I’ve become a professional at backwards walking; I’ve made spectacular friends; I’ve joined a ridiculous number of clubs and organizations; I’ve taken eye-opening classes; and I’ve been able to learn from the amazing people around me and begin to become the person I want to be.
William & Mary isn’t for the feint of heart. It’s a game changer. While my days are numbered here, yours are just beyond the horizon. So finish up those applications, ask one more person to read through your essay, cross the Ts, dot the Is, and send your applications this way. The deadline is coming soon, and I don’t want you to miss out on the amazing opportunity that is William & Mary!
- Kate Fitzgerald
February 17, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
Oftentimes, at the end of my tours, families ask me why I picked William & Mary. After about three years of rattling off all the things I love about our school and looking back on my four years, I came to realize that I don’t think I picked William & Mary. It picked me. Before I was born. Tradition and legacy are two of the pillars on which William & Mary was founded. 1984 marks the year my legacy began, when my mom graduated from the school for which I would be groomed. I wore the onesie with the feathered logo, I made the cover of the Alumni Magazine with a feathered tattoo on my cheek, my first grade school picture is of me in my Tribe cheerleading uniform, I paced sidelines of football games with my best friend, I stuffed my face with fresh powdered donuts at basketball games, I went to Homecoming tailgates, I took AP exams in Millington Hall, and saw my mom’s, aunt’s, and uncle’s name on a brick of the Alumni House patio.
William & Mary is a part of me and has been since long before I got that big envelope. So did I pick William & Mary? I can tell myself I did because of the lifelong friendships I’ve made and the relationships I’ve forged with my professors. I can tell myself that it was the inspiring passion of the students in their organizations like Bone Marrow Drive or Earth Week. Or maybe it was the annual gatherings like Convocation, Yule Log or Charter Day that reminded me why I love calling Williamsburg my home. Sure, I could tell myself that I picked William & Mary for all of these reasons. But it picked me for seventeen years before knowing my test scores or extracurriculars. William & Mary picked me, and I didn’t even know it.
- Kelley Quinzio
February 17, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
Why William & Mary? During my college selection process I looked all over the East Coast for the “right fit.” Big or Small? Public or Private? The possibilities were endless. Clearly, the right fit for me turned out to be the College of William & Mary. With 321 years of history and prestige, highly recognized academics, D1 sports, a “public ivy” reputation, and a strong focus on undergraduates, it was the perfect place for me. The list of the advantages was endless, and I loved William & Mary enough to apply early decision. William & Mary was also the perfect size for me. It’s small enough to have a strong sense of community and belonging, yet big enough to constantly meet new people. A liberal arts education is something to be valued! I am so grateful for the chance to expand my academic horizons beyond major requirements for a well-rounded education.
I knew that William and Mary was the right school within the first minutes of being in the admission office. Not only did the curriculum and superb education blow me away, but the diverse yet unified and passionate community of students and staff really solidified my decision. The school was everything that I was looking for. William & Mary has an outlet for everything. This compatibility is what makes this school so unique and honestly the right pick for any admitted student. It’s a place full of learning, life, and enthusiasm; it is complete with both challenges and friendly faces to help push you forward. W&M simultaneously drives you to your limits and greatest achievements, while always providing a comfortable atmosphere and a second home. Choosing William & Mary was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I haven’t looked back since.
- Mark Bland
February 17, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
Well, I took a bit of a less traditional route to get here. I have known I wanted to attend William & Mary for as far back as I can remember. My family and I visited Williamsburg often for mini weekend vacations, and I knew the first time that I set foot on campus that these brick pathways would be my home someday. The campus was strikingly beautiful, and I quickly learned that the academic reputation of William & Mary was equally superb. When I came for my first official tour in high school, I fell in love all over again after finding out how genuinely friendly and welcoming the Tribe community was, a discovery that continues to be renewed for me each day here.
I attended an out-of-state four-year college for my freshman year, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. William & Mary was still very much on my mind. I longed for the strong sense of campus community I had experienced every time I visited W&M. I made the 8-hour drive one autumn weekend for Prospective Transfer Day and renewed my excitement and desire to be at such an amazing school. I improved my grades, got involved on campus, submitted an application to transfer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Although my journey to William & Mary is a bit less typical than most, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic member of the Tribe anywhere. I love our campus, the rigor of our academics, all of our little quirks and traditions, and above all our student community. Being a transfer student has made me appreciate even more what an amazingly unique school we are and how sincerely blessed I am to be here.
- Audrey Savage
February 17, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
I admit it: I was a legacy baby. With a 1987 alumnus as my father, I practically grew up wearing the green and gold and humming Our Alma Mater. While many would think my Tribe Pride father guided my college decision, it was largely an independent discovery. As I began my college search, I was initially disinterested in attending William & Mary. I had my eyes set on a larger campus in the New England area. However, following never-ending college tours and visits I found myself dissatisfied with many of the institutions and kept searching for that “special something.” With my list exhausted, I visited William & Mary on a sunny spring day that I will never forget.
While the campus was quiet and calm at the time, I instantly fell in love. The campus left me speechless. The brick buildings and pathways offered an authentic feel, students flashed friendly smiles, and, not to forget, The Cheese Shop made one fabulous sandwich. Following my visit, I applied as an early decision candidate and anxiously waited for the decision. In early December, the Gunderson household welcomed yet another proud William & Mary student. Needless to say, it was a green and gold Christmas.
- Amanda Gunderson
February 17, 2014 by Admission Ambassador
My first visit to William & Mary was on a cold, rainy Saturday during my junior year Spring Break. The Sadler Center was packed with prospective students and our tour group dodged umbrellas and puddles as we navigated Old Campus. I already knew about the College’s history and commitment to academics, but I was taken aback by the beautiful campus, even on such a dreary day. We ducked into Blair Hall (which has since become my favorite academic building) to escape the rain, and I told my parents that they’d better buy me some rain boots, because I might never leave William & Mary.
I ended up applying Early Decision to William & Mary, throwing all the “after high school” advice my guidance counselor had given me out the window and focusing on my dream school. In fact, I didn’t go on another college tour until two years later, when my little sister began her search! Luckily, the gamble paid off. I received an acceptance email on my eighteenth birthday (best birthday present ever?), packed up my rainboots, and joined the Tribe in the fall of 2011.
Since then, I’ve only fallen deeper in love with the College. I love the beautiful campus that has become my home away from home and the community that has become my second family. And call me crazy, but I really like being located so close to Colonial Williamsburg. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea – or rather, mug of cider – but I can’t imagine going to school anywhere else!
- Elisabeth Bloxam
February 11, 2014 by Admit It!
We Admit It! As of last week we had successfully downloaded and processed all freshman Common Applications submitted for Fall 2014! Whew. 14,000 plus applications later that’s a relief!
What does that mean for applicants?
- We have downloaded every freshman application submitted through Common App and uploaded it to our system
- Every freshman applicant and their parents should have received an initial email from W&M letting them know their application has been received
- Remember to check your spam/junk folders for these emails
- This initial email also includes a W&M ID number. Please include that ID number on any communications you send to us regarding your application
- If you believe you submitted an application to W&M and haven’t received an email from us, please follow up by phone or email (email@example.com)
This does not mean that all applications are complete. We are still working to complete over 2000 applications, which is very typical. It just takes time to sort through multiple documents submitted on behalf of over 14,000 individual students. You and your parents will receive another email when we complete your application. Or, if we are missing any materials, we will email you, the applicant, to let you know what’s missing (generally an application fee or standardized test score) and how to submit it to us. Just follow up in a timely manner and we’ll be happy to review your application for regular decision.
This is a major milestone in the application cycle. And it means Committee isn’t too far away. Stay tuned for some “Overheard in Committee” blogs towards the end of the month.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission
February 7, 2014 by Ariana Guy
Unfortunately, this blog is not going to be about Charter Day. I’m not going to describe the excitement surrounding Robert Gates and Wiz Khalifa, or tell you about my own plans to celebrate the College. Instead, I’m just going to complain about how this upcoming Charter Day weekend will be my last – which makes me feel very depressed.
I remember my first year at William & Mary. I was incredibly nervous and intimidated because I thought everyone else was smarter than me. Thankfully, I found good friends – fast – and with their help, I was also able to build some confidence. The years went by quickly, and all of them were filled with both triumphs and challenges. I excelled in seemingly insurmountable classes, met incredibly diverse and interesting people, and realized that I could survive out in the world without my mother (well…barely). I also learned that I will never understand economics, prefer having my own space, and absolutely CANNOT work during evening hours – which inconveniences me to this day.
Obviously, I’ve learned and experienced a lot here, at William & Mary. But despite this truth, I feel neither old nor wise enough to leave this 321 year old campus. I’m not ready! For once, I’m envious of the freshmen who talk about future courses they’d like to take, or their plans for next semester. I don’t have any semesters left and it’s not fair!
Enough with the complaining. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I’ve been obsessed with this school ever since my junior year in high school – and my feelings of admiration have never ceased. William & Mary has given me so much more than a world-class education. I’ve garnered a second home. Not to mention, it looks almost surreal during spring and fall. I’m going to miss this place.
My apologies for turning a potentially happy and exhilarating blog into an excuse to be maudlin, but I really needed to express these emotions (*sniff sniff). What can I say? This Charter Day weekend is not all about fun – it’s also about feeling nostalgic and sorry for ourselves. It’s not even May and I’m already breaking at the seams.
I can only imagine what my Graduation Day blog will be like.
All I can say is, Happy Birthday William & Mary. Thanks for the memories, your incredible influence on my life, and preparing me for a world that will both challenge and amaze me.
January 31, 2014 by Skyler Paltell
I walked in to Wawa last week with the intention of buying a coffee, and left instead with a coffee and a quarter life crisis. For the second time that week, the cashier was decidedly unimpressed when he asked what I was majoring in and I informed him I was studying English and Studio Art.
This hasn’t just happened at Wawa—it has happened at the Trader Joe’s in New Town, at parties, with the tourists I interact with at work. It would appear that a major in the humanities is an invitation for criticism, inspiring such comments as “What are you going to do with that?” and, “Are you going to be a teacher?” Never mind that I wrote sixty pages worth of papers last semester and created a six foot tall landscape drawing—I am deemed less impressive because my talents aren’t quite as desirable in the job market.
W&M is a liberal arts college, and thank goodness for that—here, there are just as many anthropology and philosophy majors as there are pre-med students. Here, it is not frowned upon to specialize in creative fields and the soft sciences, despite society’s disdain for non-STEM fields. Within the college bubble, I feel equally qualified for employment as any computer science major.
I have no doubt that the market is harder for humanities majors—it is an unforgiving work force, one where qualitative talents are overlooked in favor of quantitative skills. Even with a prestigious, $200,000 dollar degree, I can be sure to look forward to a competitive job market and a significant chance of unemployment. Despite the fact that I have worked hard, we have all worked hard, for those of us graduating with liberal arts majors, the market will be all the more uncertain.
Despite these difficulties, however, I do not regret my choice to pursue my passion. I struggle with math and science, I positively hate numbers—I will write you a haiku in 30 seconds flat, but give me a math problem and I am rendered incoherent. There is so much pressure to major in a financially stable field, one with a guaranteed paycheck, but for those of us without those skills, that option is simply nonexistent. I could no more major in computer science than I could climb Mount Everest in a swimsuit, because my brain simply is not circuited for numbers. Tell me to draw a pear—sure, I’ll draw you a pear, and it will be a good pear—my skills lie in the creative realm, and that does not make me any less intelligent than a math major.
This is why universities like William & Mary are essential, because for those of us with skills in the humanities, liberal arts colleges provide a supportive environment to explore our passions. A W&M economics major once told me, “we need to incentive the arts”—and it’s true. In a world with no English majors, no art minors, no sociology students, there would be no beauty and no novelty. Humanities majors, despite the stigma we face, are just as instrumental to society as STEM majors—our journey is just a little bit harder.