Saturday, May 31, 2008

geology in the field

I have enjoyed reading about everyone getting excited about leaving the books and chalk boards behind and getting outside where the real geology is stored. My life is a little different. I mostly teach high school. We don't have field camps and their is absolutely no budget for fields trips (beyond to a nearby museum) anymore. However we use the Internet frequently (another great thread using the internet instead of the doing the real deal...but anyway)

So, in my case, I don't "do" geology as much as I "play" in geology, the next month schedule:
I am looking forward to seeing how the bigger water from last winter's snowpack will translate into rearranged sediment in some of the desert streams we frequent. Pictures will be coming as the play commences.

Have a great field season (summer)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Basic Soils, Starbucks and the Mancos shale.

The adobe badlands of Western Colorado are the erosional remnants of of the Mancos Shale, itself a depositional remnant of the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway. The shale here in my back yard is made of very fine, organic rich materials that were eroded off of the newly formed Rocky Mountains and Uncompaghre uplift as well as some volcanic ash from somewhere west of home. You can read some more of this in Clastic Detritus' Accretionary Wedge entry.

But we wanted to create a garden. The Mancos shale erodes into a fierce muddy basic glop that is home to just a few hardy plants. So that is where Starbucks comes in. Occasionally, there are bags of old Starbucks grounds that are free to take for the sole purpose of lowering the soil's pH closer to neutral so that perhaps the tomato plants we stuck in the ground can actually live through the summer and produce fruit...

Stay tuned and lets see what happens at harvest time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Accretionary Wedge, Spring Run Off

My favorite time of the year is spring. My wife and I go on countless "signs of spring" hikes at different elevations and have seemingly months and months of spring. (It is still winter above 10,000') Along with the various plants making their way towards the sun and blooms of different flowers showing their colors, one part of spring I look forward to every year is the spring run off. Small mountain streams slowly build throughout the day. Clear waters becoming more turbid as the discharge climbs with water that was snow just this morning.

The most significant geologic event to me is the spring run off in the Rockies. Every year this rush of water cleans out rivers, moves a boat load of sediment and provides great thrills for those of us who enjoy being particles ourselves and move down stream. Some years we get some big water, and this will be a big water year. You can stand above smaller streams and actually hear the movement of boulders along the stream bed. Rivers will overflow their banks in the "what was a flood plain before the housing development was built" and deposit smaller sized sediment that would enable great riparian health if we hadn't cut the trees down and built our houses there. The Animas Valley near Durango or the Yampa Valley near Steamboat Springs comes to mind. During the big snow years in the late 70's the whole valley would be there are really expensive houses there.

I have been studying the changes in sedimentation in the canyons on the Colorado Plateau as a result of the drought. We see larger particles sitting still for a number of years until there comes an event with enough energy to move them. These big snow years can be the energy event that an get this sediment transported a little closer to the ocean... And, its also great fun just to watch the power of big water.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Words that bug

Callan over at NOVA geoblog has asked what words bug us. His rant discusses some of the words we have heard in countless conversations and term papers.

My rant is a small one and shows that my teaching is almost all at the high school level, but can you think of another way to say "a lot"? Some well meaning teacher back in the day pointed out to my students that "alot" is not one word but two "a lot" is a perfect use of grammar even if it is horrible word choice. I cringe and then automatically deduct a few points every time I read "a lot" in a formal term paper, and I read "a lot" of "a lots"

My favorites of course are the misspelled words. Just today I read about "comments" made of ice and dust that orbit the sun.

...and texting is something else altogether.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Did you feel it?

wow I can't believe so much of May has gone by already...time moves quickly!

I have 3 children who all live in different places. Two live in pretty active seismic regions (Guatemala and San Fransisco) and the third lives in a quiescent seismic area, Washington DC. So, I was very interested to read on Callan's and Tuff's blogs about the recent Washington DC earthquake and the amount of data collected from it, principally, the "Did you feel it?" information.

My wife was talking on the phone to our son when a M5.6 earthquake hit the bay area on October 31, 2007. As they I was able to get onto the National earthquake Information Center and watch their network do its thing and then start watching the map show who felt was pretty cool to watch.

Our daughter in Guatemala felt a smaller M4.8 event just last month. Now you would expect their to be fewer Internet connected computers in Guatemala especially since I am comparing them to Silicon Valley, and yes, the amount of information on the NEIC web site is minimal. But, our daughter tells us that the cell phone network of Peace Corps volunteers was busy that night as they all did their own reporting about who felt what.

However, I am not surprised that either location experienced an earthquake with far more energy than anything they experienced as a child growing up in Colorado.

Our third child holds one of those ubiquitous government jobs in DC and when I found out that she experienced an earthquake I was quite surprised. (I really shouldn't be as I have been learning about the violent geologic history of Washington and vicinity from NOVA Geoblogs.) The small M1.8 didn't slow down congress but did give her semi-geologist father something to talk about the next time she called.

What has been fun is being able to use these events to show my geology students how dynamic the earth really is and it makes for some great assignments! Currently of course the China earthquake and the eruption of Chaiten is a much more powerful reminder of how dynamic the earth can be and somehow gives more gravity to the lessons of earthquake theory.