27 April 2016

An opportunity to help in Canoa

As I mentioned last week, I have family in one of the coastal towns in Ecuador that was hardest hit by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake the previous weekend.

Don and Wendy have asked me to share this opportunity to help: The James Dean Byrd Foundation runs a school in Canoa, La Escuela Bilingue los Algarrobos, whose campus is currently being used as a staging ground for the military’s assistance in the aftermath of the earthquake. The managers of the school have posted a note on their website asking for help (see link above, or click the photo below).


This is a local foundation in Canoa, with a proven track record of doing good work prior to the earthquake, and well positioned to help the citizens of Canoa in their time of crisis. Don and Wendy have indicated that this is the most useful organization where your dollars could be an immediate help to the people of Canoa. The foundation is a registered 501c3 non-profit organization in the U.S., so your donations are tax deductible.

If you can help, please help.

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26 April 2016

Brachiopodapalooza via GIGAmacro

Another week, another batch of new images produced on my home-based Magnify2 imaging system from GIGAmacro. This week, you can see that I’ve been on a real brachiopod tear – here are seven images of those two-shelled filter feeders from the Paleozoic…








As always, enjoy exploring them for details.

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25 April 2016

The Floating Egg, by Roger Osborne

egg A quick report today on a delightful book – The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, by Roger Osborne. It’s a collection of pieces, some only a few sentences long, others full essays, and still others short stories that fictionalize real life events. The range of styles is extensive, but what unites them all is geology in coastal Yorkshire, England. It’s a fascinating tour. The title may seem a bit odd, but by the time you get to the end of the first meaty narrative, on alum making and the shales that crop out near Whitby, you’ll understand. Faults vs. facies are discussed, plesiosaurs galore abound in the shale, you learn about James Cook’s connection to the region, and that of William Smith. You learn about the cave where William Buckland reconstructed a hyena clan’s residence, and the meteorite strike that first demonstrated that rocks can fall from the sky. Glacial lakes (which can form when a drainage is dammed by glacial ice), ammonites, and museum politics all get attention too. It’s great fun, and very interesting. I really enjoyed reading it – and you can get a used copy on Amazon for less than a dollar! If you care about the history of geology, you should read it.

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23 April 2016

Mineral surfaces under the SEM: 6 new micro-GigaPans

As mentioned yesterday, my student Robin has been having some success lately in making GigaPan-scale imagery using the new desktop scanning electron microscope that our division acquired. They aren’t as super-high resolution as most of the other GigaPan images I post here, but they are very, very small – and thus expand the scope of our imaging initiative. Enjoy exploring: find cleavage planes, microscopic plumose structures, examples showing the constancy of interfacial angles, and more!



Potassium feldspar:

Sodium-rich plagioclase feldspar:



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22 April 2016

Friday fold: Crumpled Dinwoody Formation, Sheep Mountain, Wyoming

Today for your folding pleasure, I give you two field GigaPans shot by Jeffrey Rollins, a two-time Rockies field course alumnus and Old Dominion University student working under my colleague Declan De Paor, assisted by NOVA student Bridget Gomez, during last summer’s extended GigaPan expedition at the Sheep Mountain Anticline, Wyoming.

This particular outcrop was found near the axis of the massive Laramide fold, and shows an extensively deformed section of Dinwoody Formation gypsum beds exposed along the creek bed just west of the anticlinal nose of Sheep Mountain. Because the deformation here was so well developed on the outcrop scale (as opposed to simply showing tilted beds that only show a fold at the scale of a map), they dubbed the site “fubarite” from the famous acronym. Check it out:



Besides the fold, look for varying styles of strain in the different sedimentary layers, well-developed axial planar cleavage, and … dinosaurs! (Jeff and Bridget make these GigaPans more fun by hiding the dino ‘Easter eggs’ in them for students to find.)

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A suite of plankton S.E.M. micro-GigaPans

My student Robin has been working (on and off) for more than a year to figure out the best way to make GigaPan-scale imagery using the new desktop scanning electron microscope that our academic division acquired. There are several technical challenges to be overcome, each different, and some with ‘solutions’ that cause other problems. Dealing with all that takes time and has caused a lot of frustration. (We have a similar issue with thin section scale imagery – but I’ll save that story for another time.) Anyhow: we finally have some results that are cool enough to share. Here are four images of tiny planktonic critters – some diatoms, a foram, a gastropod. They aren’t as super-high resolution as most of the other GigaPan images I post here, but they are very, very small – and thus represent new territory for our imaging initiative. Enjoy exploring.





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21 April 2016

Firsthand reports from Canoa, Ecuador after the quake

My mother-in-law, Wendy, lives in coastal Ecuador, in the town of Canoa. When Lily and I heard about the earthquake Saturday night, we knew we were unlikely to get any immediate word about her condition for several days.

Ecuador sits atop a classic subduction zone, where the Nazca Plate is being shoved eastward beneath western South America:

tectGoogle Earth screenshot, with USGS plate boundary lines, annotated by me.


The little red dot on the preceding map is Canoa, the town where they live. The moment tensor of the quake was consistent with that overall tectonic setting: it shows a thrust fault.

You can imagine how delighted and relieved we were the next morning to get second-hand confirmation from a friend in Quito that she and her boyfriend, Don, had survived unharmed.

Yesterday, we got a direct email from Wendy, recounting her experience. Wendy wrote:

Saturday night…seems like years ago…we went to Bamboo for dinner….(Bamboo is destroyed) the service was so slow, that we were just finishing our dinner when the earth exploded…I mean we were thrown about…couldn’t stand….Don kicked the table away from us cause it was smashing us….we got out and went to the beach…we got home as fast as we could….I think in shock….in fact we’re still in shock…the house was still standing…in fact it has very minor damage.  The earth continued to rock with aftershocks…the next morning we tried to check on friends…we are still trying to help friends….people are scared and on the verge of panic.

The area of Ecuador most shaken by the earthquake that wasn’t the epicentral region was Canoa:

shakeGoogle Earth screenshot, with USGS intensity contours, plus Canoa’s location


Today Wendy and Don were able to log onto Facebook somehow.

These photos were posted this morning by Don. This is their house (which Don built), which survived with only minor damage:



This was a newly-built three-story building which totally collapsed:



My Canoa geography is weak, but I think that this is a different view of the same pancaked building… Don reports it was three stories tall prior to the quake:



Don’s recounting of events (I’ve inserted a few clarifications in green):

Saturday night started off with a beautiful orange sunset, palm leaves blowing. Around 6:50pm Wendy and I were having a tasty mixed seafood spaghetti dinner at the Bambu Restaurant and Hostel. The lights started to flicker for a second, pause, and a normal 4-5 SoCal [southern California, where Don used to live] earthquake started for two seconds, by the third second there was a steep increase in the intensity. By the seventh second, with the table slamming into Wendy and I, with spaghetti and half a glass of wine already slid onto me, I tossed our table away as we held onto a pony wall below the new bamboo structure, telling Wendy not to move that we were in the best place to be. [A friend] had the Bambu restaurant build in the last year with stainless steel all thread holding it together in an amazing design… It held steady the full fifteen seconds of this earthquake…

As we were getting shaken, buildings all over the pueblo [village] were getting thrown down. Half the Bambu Hostel was down and we didn’t even know it. The new walking bridge over the river collapsed just 100 feet away and we didn’t see or hear it… Three and four story buildings were collapsing and trapping people below, one roof collapsed and killed eighteen people in a small church, the new market where we were planning on picking up butter after dinner was flattened and pushed twenty feet into the street. Luckily our waiter at the Bambu had forgot about us for twenty minutes, delaying ordering had likely saved us from becoming one of the many victims, way over 50 people [in Canoa; about 1/10th the total for the entire country] as of today. I heard that there was internet available at the new shopping center in Bahia de Caraquez, where I am now.

Power has been out for the past four days. Water which for the past six months has been coming [by truck] to Canoa on Friday night and Saturday night is now cut off. A three hundred meter landslide from the cliff above the Canoa – San Vincente Road stopped all traffic and people were being transported on the beach, which was going towards low tide. Phone service was down. On Monday, the fire departments started showing up in force from Chile and Spain and the military were setting a seven pm curfew. Looting started almost immediately on Saturday night, so most folks were going back to their homes to protect their few possessions.

It’s very, very rough there. Some more photos from Don:


A house where friends of theirs were when the quake hit:



A newly built house, totally collapsed and totally destroyed:



Interior of a friend’s house, also heavily damaged:



Mixed blessings with this house: the third and second stories stayed plumb and well connected, but the lowermost level took up the shear strain.



Don says this is the “three hundred meter land slide between Canoa and San Vincente, opened up the day after the earthquake, also folks are driving on the playa [beach] at low tide. Possible Costa Norte bus below the rubble, not confirmed.


My wife and I are very relieved that our loved ones are safe, but this ordeal isn’t over yet. The Red Cross is distributing aid to help those impacted by this large earthquake. You can donate here.

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20 April 2016

Who ate the woodpecker?

Occasionally, our big windows get in the way of birds. The latest casualty was a hairy woodpecker, Leuconotopicus villosus.


While it’s sad that our home being where it is caused the end of this bird’s life, its body was an opportunity to teach my son something about wildlife and ecology.

We have a motion-sensitive wildlife camera trained on our compost pile, and so I put the woodpecker’s body there in hopes something would snag it overnight, and we would see the scavenger on the morning’s batch of photos:


Sure enough, when we checked the memory card this morning, we found that an opossum (Didelphis virginiana) came by shortly after sundown to snack on the woodpecker.

Now you see it (dark horizontal object in the middle of the pile)…


… Now you don’t!


We also had a raccoon (Procyon lotor) visit last night, enjoying the grapefruit rinds and eggshells that were on the pile. Here’s a GIF of its activity (80 frames, so it may take a minute to load up):


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Cooling columns of the Catoctin Formation, Indian Run Overlook, Shenandoah National Park

It’s National Park Week, which means free entrance to our nation’s many wonderful national parks. My local park is Shenandoah National Park, astride the Blue Ridge one mountain range over from my house. Monday was parent/teacher conferences at my son’s school, which meant I had to look after him all day. We had a great time together up on Skyline Drive, searching for spiders, making GigaPans, and having a picnic. The weather was great. We saw a black bear and had a great time.

We stopped one place I had never been before: Indian Run Overlook, below the celebrated columns of Compton Peak, where there are some nice cooling columns exposed.


These are primary volcanic structures that formed when a basaltic lava flow oozed out onto the surface of Virginia during the Neoproterozoic breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia. This episode of tectonic rifting is preserved in lava flows like this, the feeder dikes which fed them, and associated pyroclastic deposits (tuffs and volcanic breccias). There are also some immature sedimentary deposits below and intercalated with the volcanic strata. When the lava flows cooled, they solidified. As they cooled further, the freshly-minted warm rocks contracted a bit, and cracked. The pattern of cracks was polygonal on the surface of the flow, but then the fractures propagated downward, dividing the monolithic flow into a set of more-or-less hexagonal ‘columns.’


Here is a GigaPan that my son and I made of the site. See if you can find the scale pencil:


I usually drive by this spot on field trips I lead in Shenandoah National Park, as it’s often obscured by shadows in the late afternoon – a shame, but that’s almost always how the timing works out. But on Monday I discovered that the lighting is really good in the late morning. From now on, I plan to stop every time I get the opportunity during those hours.

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15 April 2016

Friday fold: Shiny pahoehoe

James Farrell is our newest Friday fold source. Today he shares a primary (not tectonic)  fold – the fold is in the ropy texture of a pahoehoe flow:


Those colors! What a gorgeous rock. Thanks for sharing, James!

You, too, can share your folds here. Send me your images. I look forward to featuring them on the Friday fold!

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