Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Descending Into the Throat of a Young Iceland Cinder Cone

Screen capture the new fissure eruption taken August 3, 5:58 PM local Iceland time

With news this morning of renewed fissure eruptions in Geldingadalir Iceland, I thought it would be fun and instructive to share photos and descriptions of a unique trip I recently completed in Iceland. On the trip from July 7-17 I served as a geologic lecturer and interpreter for Smithsonian Journey's. Imagine my disappointment at missing this new activity by only a little more that two weeks. (I may go back). A live feed of the new eruption can be viewed here.

The Ericsjökull ice cap on the Ring Road to Reykjavik

After touring the island with our Smithsonian guests for nine days, I had a free day while in the capital city of Reykjavik. A chance opportunity to go on a local tour known as "Inside the Volcano" popped up for me. I jumped on it! This is an excursion a short drive out of Reykjavik where visitors descend about 150 meters through a narrow vent into an extinct cinder cone. Of course, I said yes to the opportunity.

Preparing for the short walk

After the 45-minute drive out of the city and toward an upland area, visitors are brought to a waiting room where they receive instructions and rain gear. 

Cross-section of the volcanic neck (depths in meters) with the Statue of Liberty for scale

I was impressed with the signage inside the waiting room, which graphically explained the age, composition, and eruptive history of the volcano. A great resource for folks to understand the deeper story of the "thrill descent."

The trail to Ᵽrínúkagígur, two miles one way 

The cone is called Ᵽrínúkagígur (Ᵽrínúka Crater) and it was formed about 4,500 years ago in a post-glacial eruption. Iceland classifies its younger volcanoes as glacial or post-glacial. Ᵽrínúkagígur is one of three closely-spaced scoria cones (also called cinder or tephra cones) erupted along part of Iceland's southwest rift, part of the Brennisteinsfjöll (Sulphur Mountain) rift.

The opening at the top of the cone

Finally, we arrived at the opening to the volcano. The site was discovered and initially explored only about 20 years ago. Numerous studies were made to determine the advisability and safety of developing the site for visitors. The main concern was that in most scoria cone eruptions, the removal of magma in the terminal phase of an eruption causes the crest of the newly formed cone to collapse into a crater. It was determined that this cone did not collapse due to its relatively small size. The cavity that we would descend is bell-shaped.

Looking down after entering the cable car

The descent takes about seven minutes. The cable car has rubber "runners" on its sides as it comes quite close to the walls. There is just enough room.

On the floor of the volcano looking up to the surface opening 

On the way down we viewed multiple dikes that were feeding the surface lava eruptions. In the photo above, note the linear dike trending upwards toward the opening and a subsidiary dike above the person with with the purple jacket.

Another party descending to the floor of the volcano

The feature is well-visited and is well-organized for visitors. Three separate parties of about seven people each are rotated through the inside the volcano and cable car at any one time. 

The trail marking the path on the volcano floor

A loop trail over very coarse rubble can be made. This is not for the faint of heart - the lighting is low, the trail very rough and water constantly drips down from the roof making things slippery.

Note the person in white for scale

The temperature is quite cold at about 38º F and many people found gloves useful on the trip. After 4500 years, the inside of the volcano has cooled sufficiently.

Dike swarm in the walls of the volcano 

The colors are due to the various states of oxidation adjacent to the dikes in the walls.

Lavacicles form on the walls 

This was a very unique trip. It is somewhat expensive being about $300 US per person. But it does include excellent and geologically literate guides, a bowl of hot, Icelandic meat soup in their kitchen near the volcano, hot tea and coffee, and heaps of fresh Icelandic air (and likely rain). See their website for more information here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A Review of "Unconformity" - A New Indie Film Featuring an Impressive Geology Theme

As a geologic educator who has been around since the latter quarter of the 20th Century (read 'ancient'), I occasionally receive requests to review books, articles and now, films, that contain geologic themes. On July 11 of this year, I received an email asking if I would be interested in watching a new film and writing a review on this blog. I was skeptical at first but then I watched the film's opening and was hooked. That's what I call a good opening (described below). FYI - I am receiving no compensation of any kind in making this review.

Now I do not claim to be any kind of a bonafide film critic and I have virtually no idea what to look for in reviewing a film. My wife is much more talented than I in seeing beyond the mere visuals of a film. I typically need every ounce of my energy just to keep up with the storyline and often need to ask her, 'which character is that'? (Let's not even discuss the plot or who is likely the villain in a "who dun it" film). 

Still, when Director Jonathan DiMaio allowed me to view his film, I found myself taken in by the story. I'm sure the primary reason is because of its geologic theme. Second perhaps is the side-story of public lands issues and the ways rural ranchers relate to the Bureau of Land Management. Third is because of the great acting that Alex Oliver presented, depicting a young PhD candidate struggling with issues of identity, purpose, and some of the darker aspects of academia. 

Actress Alex Oliver examines the Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia after discovering it in Nevada. Director Jonathan DiMaio used this fossil, to date only found in Australia, to depict an original scientific discovery in the plot of the film.

The trailer for the film can be viewed here and gives just a few hints of the Basin and Range scenery that I felt could have been used more prominently in the full-length feature (I'm a sucker for landscapes depicted in film). One of the scenes shows a close-up of what I believe is the Ordovician Eureka Quartzite. Another is of a beautiful, tilted stack of central Nevada limestone. I would have loved to see more of that imagery sprinkled throughout the film but it is nonetheless there in short clips. Early Paleozoic limestone anyone?

What initially drew me into the film was the opening credits where thin sections are shown rotating in cross-polarized light. Anyone who has ever taken an optical mineralogy class will view these opening scenes with remembrances of those fantastic, shifting colors. Non-geologists may be confused about what that imagery represents, but it is colorful and I found it mesmerizing. I was hooked from these scenes forward.

Which makes me wonder, will those who are not geoscientists be attracted to the film? There is a human story that is at the heart of the film that I would summarize as youth trying to find their way in a confusing world. Maybe there is some appeal to the film in that aspect. I was swept away in the film by the geologic theme, used as a backdrop to this human drama. If you do watch the film, and I recommend that you do for a mere $3 on Amazon, please let me know what you think.

As of now, the movie is available to rent in the US. You can find it on Amazon. Toward the end of the year, it will be available worldwide (except for a few autocracies) on various platforms, some of which are "free" and ad driven. 

When was the last time the Neoproterozoic was featured in an American film? Let's go to the movies!

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Private Jet Adventure Over the American Southwest

The story and video that was posted here yesterday has moved to my personal blog site, All In A Day's Karma. Google changed some functions on its platform and I am still learning to navigate the changes. Sorry for any confusion. However...

It's been awhile since I posted something here. I've been busy on lot's of trips. One was a Private Jet adventure over parts of the American Southwest. Here are a few photos from the trip.

The Sonoma California coast

Mono Lake California 

Frenchman Mountain Nevada

Where the San Juan river (bottom) meets the Colorado River (top) now under the Powell reservoir, looking west


The Salt Valley Utah


Grand Mesa Colorado


The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River Colorado


Charcoal kilns, Ted Turner's Rancho Vermejo New Mexico


Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Ted Turner's Rancho Vermejo New Mexico

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Rivers as Circulatory Systems on Earth and Other Planets

 Too cool for words to see this in public media. Read the article here.

Evidence of rivers on Mars (left) the Nile (center) and on Titan.


Sunday, February 13, 2022

A Spectacular and Unusual Trilobite Trackway in Grand Canyon

I enjoy sharing my 47 years of experience in the Grand Canyon with interested readers. Although much travel has been suspended during the Covid pandemic, I reach back into the archives of photos I have accumulated to share interesting items of Grand Canyon and World geology - enjoy!

The Grand Canyon is nearly 280 miles (450 km) long! And no less than 26 named rock units are exposed in its walls. John Wesley Powell, in seeking funding for his river trip survey in the 1860s wrote to Congress saying, "the Grand Cañon of the Colorado will give the best geological section on the continent."

Paleogeographic map of the southwest USA 505 Ma when the Bright Angel Shale was deposited. The red dot denotes the location of the fossil in this posting. Map courtesy of Ron Blakey and DeepTime Maps

In far western Grand Canyon, the Cambrian Bright Angel Shale thickens and becomes more carbonate-rich, documenting the continental transgression of the paleo-Pacific Ocean onto the edge of North America. Recently dated at about 505 Ma (Mega-annum or million of years ago) this progressive onlap of the sea occurred only 37 million years after the Great Cambrian Explosion, when more simple life forms evolved into many of the genera familiar to marine biologists today. Mollusks, corals, arthropods, and other forms made their appearance and were abundant in the area that was to become the Grand Canyon.

One form of arthropod is the trilobite and about 10 years ago, a river guide in Grand Canyon showed me this spectacular trace where a specimen crawled around in the soft, limey mud.

This is the largest slab of rock, which fell from the cliff above to expose a fossil-rich bedding plane.

Note the gentle and discreet symmetrical ripple marks on the right hand side of the slab. When the ripple marks are symmetrical in cross-section, they denotes fluctuating current directions (as opposed to asymmetrical ripple marks formed from singular current directions as in rivers). These here likely formed in oscillating currents in relatively shallow water.

Two individual specimens are represented on the slab as the trackway to the left's a bit smaller in diameter than the more obvious trackway on the right.

This ichnofossil (or trace fossil) is called Cruziana. (Yes, trace fossils have binomial nomenclature like the animals that created them). This one is really well-preserved and shows where the appendages of the animal pushed the sediment backwards, leaving an axial groove in the middle. We can also tell something about the direction of movement of the animal from this view. It appears that the animal came and "landed" in the sediment from the top right quadrant, then traveled down before turning left. It then makes the large loop around to the right on top before looping again within the larger loop. All of this can be ascertained because of the way the "exit track" on the middle far right seems to cross over and disturb the underlying track. This is amazing preservation.

Here is another Cruziana, this one from Deer Creek father upstream in the Grand Canyon. The detail of appendage push-back textures and the axial grooves are wonderfully preserved.

Many folks are more familiar with the many annelid worm burrows that are present in the Bright Angel Shale in Grand Canyon. They are also abundant here.

The fossil slabs in context to the river.

Our boar drifts by the trackway site.

In the lower left quadrant, it appears that the trilobite "took off" once again after making the two loops.

Another view with lens cap for scale.

Please do not disturb in any way fossil track sites. These are extremely precious specimens that must be preserved. And enjoy the Grand Canyon!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Geology of the Eruption in Tonga

January 15, 2022. Courtesy of the Tonga Geological Survey

It's all over the news and there is good reason. At 16:28 local time in Tonga on January 15, a powerful submarine volcanic eruption rattled the area. Satellite photos are astounding. The noise from the explosion was heard as far away as Aukland New Zealand (1300 miles away) and tsunami warnings are posted for much of the Pacific Rim. 

Check out this link from Forbes and all of the embedded links. They are pretty astounding.

If you follow Twitter here is a video of the tsunami coming ashore in Tonga. (We have a neighbor who has done anthropologic research on the island and the proper pronunciation is Tong- ah).

Thanks to the folks at the Arizona Geological Survey for this first hand description of the geology of the volcano and published first of The Conversation. The maps are very instructive.

Geology Hub is another good resource to check out. Watch the whole video as the last half of it has the geologic story of this caldera. Note that some of the photos to illustrate a tsunami are not from this event and may not be of tsunami waves at all. A tsunami wave typically moves 500 miles per hour when in the open ocean and may only be six inches high. But as the wave approaches land and the water shallows, the wave height increases.

Great videos can be watched here.

We hope all will be all right and all will be safe from this.

UPDATE ***My colleague George Marsik, forwarded this pre-eruption view of Hunga-Tonga volcano using Microsoft Flight Simulator. There are some great views of what this volcano used to look like before January 15.***

2nd UPDATE: Please see Roseanne Chambers geology blog as well for a great description of the eruption and tsunami: https://roseannechambers.com/tsunami-troubles/.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows a volcanic plume produced by Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

A Quick Trip -- To Antarctica!

Livingston Island with lenticular clouds, December 7, 2021

On Tuesday morning November 9 (not quite seven weeks ago), I received the following email: 

"Hi Wayne, One of our staff members has a family situation that came up last minute. You were the first one I thought who could replace him. The dates are November 28 – Dec 12, 2021 – our Total Solar Eclipse cruise. Please let me know. Thanks, Julia" 

I've received a number of inquiries like these through my career, working as a roving Geologist Will Travel and I can honestly say that I have NEVER been able to accommodate a request like this on such short notice. Nevertheless, I looked unceremoniously at my digital calendar and to my delight and surprise I saw something unusual before my eyes - blank space. There was absolutely nothing to preclude me from saying YES and joining this expedition as a Zodiac driver and geologic lecturer. I then recalled that this was a trip that I had requested 18 months prior, as I have become a bit of an eclipse chaser. After a quick discussion with my wife about the advisability of my going, I replied,

"The answer is yes! I can help you. Let me know the details, Wayne

The elapsed time from query to acceptance was one hour and four minutes. I was going to Antarctica for my 30th time! There was lots of paperwork to be completed and many tests needed for entry into Argentina. But I was willing and the Ice was calling once again.

Poster by Tyler Nordgren

I soon learned that other friends who work as guides or lecturers on trips like these were also headed south. Rob was going with Wilderness Travel and Tyler was on with Betchart Expeditions and The Planetary Society. Tyler created the poster above and you can view more of his space artwork here.

Avenida Presidente Roque Sáenz Peña Buenos Aires Argentina

After all of the preliminary necessities to fly 1/5th of the way around the world (and during a global pandemic), I found myself once more in the heart of one of the great cities of South America, Buenos Aires. I love this city for its elegant character and as I soon learned, its humility in the face of the pandemic. Never before had I seen it so calm, so introspective. Nearly everyone wore masks, even outdoors on the sidewalks. We stayed in a hotel for three nights that had been closed entirely for 18 months. Staff were still trickling in after the long layoff. It was refreshing to see a society that had come to terms with what was needed to move on from the microscopic enemy that has no regard for the safety or health of the human endeavor. Here, there was no hint of the "keep-your-hands-off-of-my-body" type of mentality that still permeates the United States 245 years after its rebellious Declaration of Independence. Civil-ized - that's what I thought of as I explored the Recoleta, Palermo, and Barrio Norte neighborhoods.

This meal was enjoyed at Fervor restaurant on Avenida de Libertador 

I was with six of my shipmates, who had flown in from South Africa, Italy and the United States. We were an eclectic group who soon bonded in sheer joy at being somewhere, anywhere, after the long lockup. It is summertime down south and 80 degree weather always brings a smile to my face. The exchange rate was VERY favorable to a Norte Americano and I took great pleasure in sitting at an outdoor restaurant and ordering one of the world's great steaks, grown on the Argentinian Pampas (grass-fed) and grilled to perfection over open flame. 

View of Isla Navarino from Ushuaia Argentina on November 30 2021

But enough of that. We soon flew to the world's southernmost city of Ushuaia, located on the Beagle Channel and on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego. The city was essentially devoid of the usual numbers of visitors (because of the pandemic) and as it was imperative that we arrive at the ship without infection, I found myself aboard Le Lyrial, which set sail at 9:30 PM on November 30th, bound for the South Orkney Islands.  

Sunset on the Scotia Sea, at 9:24 PM local time, December 1, 2021

I had only been to the South Orkney Islands a few times before and in the earlier days of Antarctic exploration, when the trips were more free-form and unscheduled. Today, the trips follow strict scheduling procedures due to the sheer numbers of ships stopping at the few choice places to set foot on the continent. The South Orkney Islands are considered a part of Antarctica since they lie below 60° south latitude. We made one landing here at Shingle Cove and were 'blown-out' of a Zodiac tour at another location due to strong katabatic winds.

Map of the South Orkney Islands with stops labeled

The beach at Shingle Cove looking east in South Orkney Islands, December 3, 2021

Metamorphic fabric in the Scotia Metamorphic Complex at Shingle Cove. The rock unit is described as "ocean floor-derived sequences of uncertain but perhaps Permian to early Jurassic age..." Ref.: British Antarctic Survey Geological Map of the South Orkney Islands, 2011.

Looking southwest along the shore of Shingle Cove

View to the northeast to the skerries near Powell Island, where we viewed the eclipse

The eclipse on December 4 would occur at 4:08 AM local time. But not to worry - the sunrise at this latitude was at 2:33 AM, meaning that the sun would be up for a full one and half hours before the disk of the sun would be obscured. Unfortunately (and not at all unexpectedly for this part of the world), the sky was completely overcast without a chance of the sun peaking through. Still, most people were up at this early to see and experience what would happen. And even though we did not see the moon travel in front of the suns entire disk, it did get dark for one minute. One of my fellow shipmates and naturalists, Rich Pagen, captured this time lapse (below) of the celestial event.

Sixteen second time lapse video from the back deck of Le Lyrial of the December 4 total solar eclipse

Crossing over to the Antarctic Peninsula, we had some very rough seas. But when we arrived at the Peninsula, the weather was fine.

Tabular iceberg in the Antarctic Sound, also known as Iceberg Alley

Rosamel Island is a tuya, a volcano that was erupted beneath the glacial ice when it was more extensive

Adelie penguins on a sunny day on an iceberg

Brown Bluff is another popular stop and is another tuya belonging to the James Ross Island Volcanic Group, a series of Pleistocene cones now emergent from their glacial carapace

A low-tide delta of sand that has formed from sapping - when the tide went out, water ran out from the higher beach sand and transported it to where it spilled into a delta front

Half Mood Island with Livingston Island in the background. Both belong to the South Shetland Islands group

Hikers on Half Mood Island

An iceberg with teeth!

Orne Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula - note how the wind and solar radiation has scalloped the snow and ice away from the base of the peak (center)

Copper mineralization near Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula

A tilted unconformity between Permian and Pennsylvanian basement rocks overlain with Triassic and Jurassic volcaniclastic sediments.

I am back home now but am scheduled to return to The White Continent three more times this season. Stay tuned!