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26 June 2012

Blown away by Bancroft: Part IV

On the last morning of our Bancroft field trip this past April, we continued our journey through the metamorphic faces diagram with a stop at an outcrop north of Bancroft on ON-28, in the amphibolite facies.

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12 June 2012

Blown away by Bancroft: Part II

On the second day of our Bancroft trip, we started out in the greenschist facies and moved on into the amphibolite facies of the metamorphic pressure-temperature diagram. And, of course, took lots of photos!

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6 June 2012

Blown away by Bancroft: Part I

Back in April, I finally had a chance to accompany the petrology classes from UB and SUNY Fredonia on UB’s annual trip to Bancroft, Ontario. I’ve been trying to go on this trip for years, and I’m glad I got to before I graduated, because, WOW. Bancroft is chock full of some pretty amazing things (especially if you’re into petrology, mineralogy, structure, glaciology, and pretty much everything else – it’s known as the ‘Mineral Capital of Canada’, for one!)

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25 May 2012

Stages of numerical modeling

I’m currently working on some modeling for my thesis. For unrelated reasons, I happened to read a description of the K├╝bler-Ross model for stages of grief, and I realized that the cycle actually describes pretty accurately what the past couple of weeks have been like for me. Not only that, but it’s gotten to the point where even if I get my model to run, I’m immediately suspicious of the results. However, I guess since the model is running, I’ve made progress. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have issues.

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4 May 2012

Bancroft (a preview)

I was hoping to publish a really great set of posts on my recent trip to Bancroft, Ontario (metamorphic petrology galore), but the blogs have been having a few issues with image uploading. So until I can both upload the photos I want and have the time to comment on them properly, this will just be a teaser post with a few photo highlights.

The point of the excursion was to examine a progression of metamorphic facies formed under medium (Barrovian) pressure/temperature conditions. So our trip took us from Greenschist to Amphibolite to Granulite facies, all the way up to the point where the rocks gave up metamorphosing and just started to melt instead (migmatites!) There were also a few detours to mines because hey, mines are fun, especially when they have sodalite. And leucite crystals as big as your face.

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2 December 2011

Teaching the teachers: Activities for a plate tectonics workshop

A few weeks ago, I helped co-teach a plate tectonics workshop with a fellow UB geo grad. The workshop was intended as sort of a continuing education credit for local middle school science teachers, and rather than talk at them the whole time, we decided to have the teachers try out some activities that they could adapt for their classes. Plate tectonics is a pretty broad topic, and we covered everything from the history and development of the idea to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Because we had so much to cover (it was a six-hour workshop), we did three activities – one about sea-floor spreading, one about viscosity (to go along with the volcanology bit where we talk about magma type controlling landform appearance) and one that tied seismology and subduction together.

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18 November 2011

Who reads this blog? Followup to a departmental talk on geoblogging

Because AGU’s Fall Meeting is coming up fast, and because we have a lunchtime seminar in my research group, I volunteered to preview my AGU talk. This is something that we often do as a trial run, although since the seminar runs for an hour and AGU talks only last 15 minutes, there’s usually a lot of condensing that goes on afterwards. This year at AGU, I was invited to give a talk in a public affairs session – not my usual venue as a volcanologist. But the session is perfect for a geoblogger:

PA33C. Earth Science Communication in a Changing Media Landscape I Wed. December 7, 1:40 PM – 3:40 PM; Room 302

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18 June 2011

Favorite geology word: Autobrecciation (Accretionary Wedge #35)

Well, ash-flow tuff got taken pretty quickly, but I’m fairly certain no one will come up with my favorite geology term (or the particular meaning I’m going to talk about). That word is autobrecciation. I’m not talking about the autobrecciation that happens when the surface of a lava flow breaks up and gets incorporated into a lava flow, but the meaning used in several volcanology papers about rockfalls and lava dome collapses: volatile-rich, pressurized lava dome rocks fragmenting explosively in response to rapid decompression, which occurs at a critical pressure difference between the overpressurized rock and the surrounding environment (i.e., the point when the pressure overcomes the tensile strength of the rock). As you can see in the video, the rocks basically disintegrate into a lot of fine material (and probably some leftover rock chunks), which is the perfect recipe for a pyroclastic flow.

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31 March 2011

Buffalo gets some (experimental) volcanic action

Volcanic eruptions are both relatively unpredictable and very dangerous, and it’s difficult to collect direct observations of volcanic phenomena. Because of this, volcanologists are always looking for safer and more practical ways of collecting data from volcanic processes. When they can’t derive it from eruptive deposits, they turn to experimentation – usually in a laboratory setting. While this is definitely a useful approach, there are problems inherent in “benchtop” experimentation. Scaling down a volcanic process and using artificial materials (or already-erupted volcanic ones) can have varying effects on the usefulness of the resulting experimental data, something that volcanologists must take into account when drawing conclusions from experiments. Accordingly, a big part of geological experimentation is finding ways to reduce the complexity of natural processes in a way that still produces useful data.

One way to mitigate this problem is to do as little down-scaling as possible. This is the goal of a new experimental facility that the University at Buffalo is developing, and it was the subject of a recent EOS article of which Dr. Greg Valentine, one of the volcanology professors here, is a co-author. The article is “Large-Scale Experiments on Volcanic Processes”, and it ties in with a recent conference our Center for Geohazards Studies coordinated last September.

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2 March 2011

Geologic models

The discussion that came up in my fluid dynamics course today was about the different kinds of models we use in geology, and how we make sure they’re useful. The main categories that we discussed were conceptual models, mathematical models, experimental models, and geologic maps. (I’ll hit the maps part of it later on; rest assured that there is a good reason for calling a map a model.) The goal of a model is to distill the basic principles of geologic phenomena into a simplified version of what you’re trying to explain. For example, no one can tell exactly where every single particle of ash in a volcanic plume will go, but with models of plume behavior, we can get an idea of how the plume as a whole will behave, and where the majority of those particles will end up.

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