Category Archives: Geology

Geology Students Study Tectonic Rifts

note: the following is a news release from Oklahoma State University

Four Oklahoma State University geology students traveled to Malawi in Africa to study tectonic rifts last summer thanks to a 2014 grant from the National Science Foundation.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Sam Dawson, from Davidson, North Carolina; Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma; Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma, and Dr. Estella Atekwana study tectonic rifts in Malawi.

Dr. Estella Atekwana, geology department head, and Dr. Daniel Laó-Dávila, a geology professor, took four students to Karonga, Malawi, to explore the East African Rift that extends for thousands of miles along the continent’s edge bounded by the Indian Ocean.

“People don’t know what rifts are,” Atekwana said. “There used to be one big continent, called Pangea; it’s because of rifts that the continents broke apart. Malawi has a young rift system and is the go-to place to study the entire rift process.”

The grant allowed the Boone Pickens School of Geology to create an international program for its students, sending a total of 12 students in groups of four for three years. The trips allow the students to collect geological data and gain cultural experience outside of the university.

“The last thing I was expecting was a culture shock,” said Sam Dawson, a graduate student from Davidson, North Carolina. “Seeing what life was like in a developing country was eye-opening. The people are so happy. I saw some kids playing with simple toys for hours on end.”

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Landscape view of Karonga, Malawi, where the students studied tectonic rifts.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Other students included undergraduates Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma; and Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Clappe has since enrolled in the graduate program. The trip lasted from July 14 to Aug. 11, with students working five or six days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This international opportunity will help make the students more competitive for job opportunities after graduation, according to Atekwana.

“It was a win-win experience,” she said. “Students can do research from the beginning of a rift and learn a lot. They don’t just learn about the science, but what it takes to collect it, to learn new cultures, meet new people. Students need to be competitive in the global economy. This gives them the advantage because they’ve now been there and done that.”

Karonga is a small town in northern Malawi, with a population similar to Stillwater. In 2009, there was a major earthquake in the town. Atekwana said the earthquake meant the rift was still active, so they needed to find the earthquake zone and image it.

“It’s sort of like a CT scan but of the underground,” she said.

In previous years, the geology department has led trips to Zambia and is looking into more places in the future, including Uganda and Ethiopia. But Laó-Dávila says there are other places in the U.S. that can be explored as well.

“There’s an ancient rift in Oklahoma not many people know about,” he said. “It’s in the southwest part of the state by the Wichita Mountains. Other places we can explore are the Rio Grande Rift, in New Mexico, and the Mid Continent Rift System that spans across Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. It’s one of the oldest examples of a rift, at about 1.1 billion years old.”

But the trip wasn’t all work and no play. The group took trips to see different national parks in Malawi, including the Nyika National Park, a major tourist destination for the country. The group also toured the Cultural and Museum Center Karonga as well as going on safari rides.

“I woke up the next morning to see zebras out of my window,” Dawson said. “So that was pretty cool. I enjoyed getting to learn more about the geologic and cultural history at the museum as well. And there were so many beautiful sites to see.”

Some of the struggles the group had throughout the trip included living conditions and Internet connectivity. The hotel they stayed at cost $6 a night. Dawson said sometimes he didn’t have a shower, and if he did, there was only cold water available. Other problems included the electricity going on and off and waiting days to get Internet connectivity.

“That made it difficult for us to record our data or get connected to our resources on campus when we needed to.”

In the end, the experience was one that Atekwana believes changed the students’ lives. She said it showed them how people get by with a tenth of what Americans have and to learn how to get good scientific data from it.

“I recommend people not being closed minded as far as interacting with the culture goes,” Dawson said. “I did not expect to become such great friends with our driver, Kennedy. He taught us some of the language, including some pick up lines for us to use. We paid him $30 a day for a month, and he said that money would pay for his entire living expenses for six months. If I go back, I’d definitely try to find him again.”

The students reported on their trip at the American Geophysical Union’s 2015 Fall Meeting December 14-18, where 24,000 attendees met to present research and discover more about the latest happenings in their fields. For more about the Boone Pickens School of Geology, visit geology.okstate.edu.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Sam Dawson, from Davidson, North Carolina; Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma.

Adventures on Turkey Mountain

Turkey Mountain is a popular place to hike, walk, or ride a bike. Thousands of people go there every year but I wonder how many have stopped to think about the science that’s all around them.

Dr. Stanley Rice recently gave me a personal science tour of Turkey Mountain. He showed me tree fossils and explained that Turkey Mountain is the only place in Oklahoma where a certain oak tree grows. This just shows that science is everywhere. It’s also why you’ll often find me checking out rocks, I’m looking for fossils and evidence of ancient Earth.

This is important-If you find fossils on Turkey Mountain please do not remove them.

(Dr. Rice has been featured before on SIO…click here to see his impersonation of Charles Darwin.)

 

Tools for Digging up Dinos

Ever wonder what tools paleontologists use for digging up dinos? Wonder no more. Here’s the second video from my trip to the Oklahoma Panhandle. (Here’s the first.) It was part of the ExplorOlogy program sponsored by the Sam Noble Museum. We went to Kenton, OK and Black Mesa. It’s home to a ton of fossils from about 150 million years ago.

Dr. Lindsey Yann of the OSU Center for Health Sciences explains the main kinds of tools they use to dig up those fossils and why it’s important to study Oklahoma’s past.

Dr. Yann is the volunteer coordinator for the Vertebrate Paleontology lab in Tulsa. It’s a great place to volunteer if you want to see fossils up close but can’t make it to the Panhandle.

Thanks again to the scientists at the Sam Noble Museum and the OSU Center for Health Sciences for inviting me on this trip.

What’s a Graptolite?

Remember that Golden Spike? (Click here or scroll down one story.) It marks a boundary between two geologic time spans. In a nutshell, it’s where and when (geologically speaking) a  species makes its debut in the geologic record.
The Oklahoma spike is where Diplacanthograptus caudatus was found. It was a small aquatic animal called a Graptolite that floated around thanks to ocean currents.
Kyle Hartshorn with Dry Dredgers sent along some pictures of Graptolites that were found in Oklahoma. They’re tiny and look like pencil marks in the rock. Hartshorn told me, “Graptolites came in a variety of shapes: long and thin, short and wide, wishbone shaped, spiraled, and more.  There were quite a few forms at the places we went.”
Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

This pic below is of a conodont. It was an small creature that kind of looked like an eel. The conodont below is the yellow-orange speck inside the circle. That circle is about the size of a dime and was drawn around the fossil to help spot it. Conodonts are extremely hard to spot with the naked eye.

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

These images are why I can’t help but examine rocks when I’m outside. You never know what you’re going to find, fossils can be all shapes and sizes!!

A Golden Spike in Oklahoma Marks the Spot

A Golden Spike in Oklahoma marks a geologic boundary that has the attention of scientists across the world. The picture below shows what’s called the Katian Golden Spike. It’s been placed near Atoka (about 45 miles southeast southwest of McAlester).

The Katian Golden Spike near Atoka. Courtesy: Dry Dredgers

The Katian Golden Spike near Atoka. Courtesy: Dry Dredgers

So what’s up with a big gold spike being hammered into the rocks? Well, long story short- it marks the beginning of a span of geologic time. This particular spike represents the start of the Upper Ordovician Katian Stage. The Ordovician Period is a span of time that lasted from about 485-million years ago to 443-million years ago. The Katian Stage was the second to last stage of the Ordovician. It lasted about 8-million years.

The spike marks a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point or GSSP. The location for a spike is determined by the first appearance of a particular species in the geologic record. In the case of the Katian Golden Spike, it marks the first place where Diplacanthograptus caudatus was found…a small aquatic animal that just floated around.

Kyle Hartshorn is with Dry Dredgers, “the oldest continuously-operating fossil club in North America”. He was also part of a group that recently toured Oklahoma’s geology and placed the spike in Atoka. He says these kinds of fossils look like little zippers or feathers, “These floating colonial animals were widely distributed by ocean currents, making them excellent tools for stratigraphic correlation.  Other wide-ranging planktonic fossils are also found at the site, including conodonts (teeth-like structures from tiny lamprey-like primitive fish) and chitinozoans (little sac-shaped fossils of unknown origin).”

The placement of a Golden Spike is mostly ceremonial, according to Hartshorn, but it does help scientists who do research there in the future. There are Golden Spikes placed around the world but only six , including the Katian Spike in Atoka, are in the United States.

 

 

This Scientist Is OK- Dr. Stanley Rice

Dr. Stanley Rice is a botanist and professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant. He’s one of the more active scientists in Oklahoma in terms of public outreach. He works with Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and he’s well known for channeling his inner Charles Darwin (check it out at the 1:50 mark) and click here to go to his YouTube channel.

Dr. Rice loves science and has made it his life mission to share his passion. He says, “What’s most important to me is that people can understand why science is important and how that fits in with their lives and their responsibility to all of humankind and to all the world. All the little things we do matter and science helps us understand how those little things matter.”

 

 

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Lynn Soreghan

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She studies what’s called deep time climate, basically we’re talking about Earth’s climate from hundreds of millions of years ago. She does it by studying ancient dust that has now solidified and become rock.

In this video she talks about why she loves geology, what ancient dust particles tell you about climate of the past, and what she thinks about the state of science education in Oklahoma. You can really see at the 2:52 mark as she tries to find the words to describe her frustration with some of the meddling that goes on in science education in our state.

Ancient Dust and Fossilized Raindrops (sort of)

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She has one of the more unique specialties I’ve come across. She studies deep time climate by looking at ancient dust. It was formed hundreds of millions of years ago but has now become rock or stone.

Be sure to check out the 2:05 mark where you can see what are essentially fossilized raindrops!!! Okay, not really, but you can see the imprint made when it rained millions of years ago in Colorado. It’s supercool.

We talked via Skype.

How you can help find Fossils

If you’ve ever wanted to work with fossils and help paleontologists make new discoveries this is the story for you. The Vertebrate Paleontology lab at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa needs volunteers. You don’t need to have any experience, just a love for science. You’ll also get to work with Dr. Anne Weil.

Volunteers work Wednesday-Friday, 9 to 5 sifting through rock and soil looking for fossils.

Click here for a more information, as well as how to get in touch with the volunteer coordinator.

A Geologic Tour

Dr. Jim Derby is a geologist who has taught at the University of Tulsa and worked in the petroleum industry. He knows a thing or two about rocks.

He gave me a tour of the geology around his house. The cool thing is you can find similar features in the rocks at your home…fossils, traces of long dead organisms, maybe even some dino droppings.