Friday, May 27, 2016

After-action from Chickasaw National Recreation Area

And so, "how did the PaleoBlitz go?", you ask. "Well", I would say. It's a work in progress, given that we'd never done one before, but I think the results were encouraging. As I mentioned, it isn't exactly the same as a BioBlitz, given that too much public exposure is often detrimental to fossils if you want to find them where you left them, but the parts about getting other organizations interested, and providing outreach to the public, those worked out just fine.

We had a core group of about ten people. Our park contact at Chickasaw National Recreation Area, who got things going on the ground for us, was Chief of Resources Noel Osborn. From the Washington office, in his capacity as the NPS paleontology program coordinator, was Vince Santucci. To better document Chickasaw NRA paleontology and to help with the event workload, we had two Geoscientist-In-the-Parks participants, Alysia Korn (recent graduate student at the South Dakota School of Mines) and Madison Armstrong (recent undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma). From the Sam Noble Museum/University of Oklahoma, we had the expert contributions of Roger Burkhalter (collections manager, invertebrate paleontology) and Steve Westrop (curator, invertebrate paleontology). In the field and at the public event, we also had the assistance of Clayton Edgar (Goddard Youth Camp), Steve Vanlandingham (Sam Noble Museum of Natural History), Don Weeks (NPS Natural Resources Division), and Dan Winings (Chickasaw NRA), as well as representatives from the Oklahoma Geological Survey at the public event. Finally, there was me, who was responsible for some of the background research, most of the photodocumentation (I got this position through the time-honored reason that I brought the camera), and a lingulid brachiopod that was not without merit.

Vince and I got into Oklahoma City on the 17th, and then traveled to Sulphur, Oklahoma the following day, spending the morning at the Sam Noble Museum on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, where we visited Roger and Steve, taped some brief interviews, and saw some of the collections. As part of the Centennial BioBlitz program, ours was one of the events tapped to provide a short video for the JumboTron on the Mall in DC; originally, we were told to have it in by the end of the day on Friday, but the deadline was pushed up to Wednesday, which in the end was probably a good thing because we all had to take a breather after Friday's fieldwork to prepare for Saturday's public event. You can see the original video here; the GIPs did practically all of the video editing, and I can't compliment them enough on how it turned out. On Thursday, we scouted several areas of interest for visiting on Friday.

Friday was our big field day. With a crew of Alysia, Dan, Madison, Roger, the two Steves, Vince, and myself, and some water transport courtesy of Clayton Edgar, we hunted for fossils in several areas, with primarily Ordovician rocks. Not to toot my own horn, but I found the second best piece, a large lingulid brachiopod at the first locality (the best piece for my money was a reworked crinoid calyx found by Steve Vanlandingham at a later site). Following an inviolate rule, I found it looking for a solid place to get a handhold; it wasn't solid, but things turned out all right. The weather was quite pleasant for Oklahoma in late May, with relatively cool temperatures, low humidity, and enough cloud cover to fool you into skipping sunscreen. I did lose a trilobite pygidium while engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the local plant life, so it wasn't a perfect day, but it was pretty good. The next day, Saturday, was the public event, which we held at the Goddard Youth Camp on the south side of the lake. Madison and Alysia have prepared a follow-up video, which can be seen here.

Finally, the stuff that people really want: photos!

The famous lingulid.

From left to right: Alysia (with brachiopod), Vince, Madison (foreground), and Steve Vanlandingham (background).

Another group shot in this picturesque area. L-R: Roger, me, Steve Westrop, Vince, Madison, and Alysia.

Steve Vanlandingham's crinoid calyx.

A reworked cobble of fossil hash.

Traveling on the Lake of the Arbuckles.

Dan Winings (left) and Steve Vanlandingham (right) traversing an outcrop featuring a carpet of wildflowers.

Echinoderm fragments.

A newly minted Junior Paleontologist.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Out of the office...

I may not be able to write much for the next couple of weeks, because I'm going out of town for work. The back half of the trip mostly involves museum visits, but the first half is going to be a first-of-its-kind event for us, a PaleoBlitz at Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma. What exactly is a PaleoBlitz? Well, it's something like a BioBlitz, only the subjects of interest are long past expired. How is it going to work? That, my friend, we're about to find out. It's Paleozoic marine invertebrates down there, though, and some of the rocks are about the same age as our own Platteville and Decorah, so at least there should be some familiar "faces". If you're going to be in south-central Oklahoma on Saturday the 21st, or are just interested in the concept, here's the public write-up and a more technical write-up about the festivities. See you later!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Death Valley National Park geology, Part IV: Neogene and Quaternary

Very low-level photo across the salt flats of Badwater

...And finally we reach the top of the stratigraphic column at Death Valley National Park (DEVA). For convenience, here are the links to Parts I, II, and III. A lot of geologists just love the most recent 23 or so million years of Death Valley geology. For one thing, it gives people fantastic fodder for arguments about when various events happened, their extent, and even the basic mechanisms. DEVA features not only the pull-apart tectonics of the Basin and Range, but also lateral movements on strike-slip faults. As a result, there are depositional basins of a wide range of sizes. Terminology is a bit of a nightmare. The Wiki page on Death Valley geology isn't bad, but its strat column isn't a patch on the glorious Cenozoic complexity lurking in the park.