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IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

I’m currently on a 12 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago as part of my 3 flight (and 29 hour) itinerary home from the 2nd Annual IGCP 653 meeting in Yichang, China. I can say, unreservedly, that this was a fantastic meeting!

Attendees included more than 60 delegates from 10 nations. The fact that most attendees were Chinese—and I am not—provided a wonderful opportunity for me to meet many new and upcoming scientists—both students and early career professionals that I have not previously had the opportunity to interact with. I was so impressed by the quality of their science and their ability to communicate at a high level on an international stage. What a talented group of young scientists! I am incredibly encouraged and inspired by them.

Of course, I was also able to reunite with (and meet new) colleagues from Europe, Africa, and North America as well. Truly this meeting met the spirit of UNESCO, our funding agency for the IGCP project, in terms of bridging international divides and fostering common interests and collaborations.

At this conference, provocative scientific ideas were espoused—generating substantial discussion, important geologic sections were visited (including the GSSPs for both the Hirnantian and Dapingian stages!), and cultural differences were both explored and celebrated. It’s exciting both how much we have learned about the Great Ordovician Biodiverisfication Event in terms of ocean chemistry, oxygenation patterns, diversity patterns of metazoans and also how much we have to learn—such as when did this event start and end, whether such things can be clearly defined, and what does that mean for the Earth system?

Speaking for myself, my favorite parts were probably the fact that we had an international assemblage of brachiopod workers to talk with (it’s great-and rare to be among people that love my favorite fossils as much as I do!) and that there were so many dynamic young female researchers in the group.

As anyone who is relatively close to me knows, I am very concerned with increasing participation in science on both a national and international level. I was so encouraged to see so many young and dynamic female scientists! Female students earned awards for both poster and oral presentations. This is pretty groundbreaking.

To place this in context, I had a conversation with a colleague, who I generally admire very much as a scientist, in which he said to me one evening {I’m paraphrasing} “You know, we always try to hire men instead of women for permanent jobs. You can’t say that in open meetings, but in secret meetings, we always say this.” I asked why this was the case and was told that it could be problematic for women to both be in charge of or be the majority of a field team to remote regions. I pushed back on this concept (I certainly was told the similar things as a grad student), and my friend said “Well, most women are not like you. They are not assertive and independent.” On one level, I was glad that my colleague appreciated that some women could be leaders, but it also made clear to me that there are many countries where women still need to fight hard to be considered scientific equals. I am not special. Female scientists need the chance to grow and shine and deserve the same support as our male colleagues.

The male student at our table noted that the female students work much harder and achieve higher levels of excellence than the male students. He sees the value in this contemporaries, and I am heartened that over time this view will win out…but I’d much rather we achieve equity in the near term and not wait 20 years and lose out on the great science these young women could have done by excluding them.

I hope that my work in the international community can help to foster a sense of empowerment for female (and other underrepresented) scientists in both the USA and other nations. At this meeting, I was assertive. I capitalized on my leadership as a co-chair of IGCP 653 role to be present, to chair sessions, to judge and present awards, to invite everyone to Athens, Ohio in 2018, and I hope that seeing one woman do that in a sea dominated by male leadership can help to inspire the fantastic and talented women that I met at this meeting to be assertive and empowered in their own scientific lives.

 

IGCP 653 Kickoff meeting recap

IGCP 653 Kickoff meeting recap
IGCP 653 Field trip group photo

Our new IGCP Project 653: Onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event formally kicked off with our opening meeting at Durham University in England at the end of September.  It was a really fantastic event, a small meeting with lots of time for lively discussion of topics such as “Just what is the GOBE?” and “When did it start?” and “How do environmental changes, such a decreased sea temperature, actually cause the process of speciation to occur?” and “Is the Dariwilian increase simply a brachiopod pattern or it is more general?”  I am excited to explore these topics and more with my colleagues as the project progresses.

My formal write-up and image gallery are over on the IGCP 653 website here.

Durham meeting in photos | IGCP 653

The opening meeting of IGCP 653: Onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event held September 25- October 1st at Durham University. Dubbed “Ordovician by the Lakes” due to the proximity of the conference room to Van Mildert College lake and the field excursion to the English Lake District, participants certainly had plenty of water to contemplate both from the meeting setting and the Ordovician seas.

 

Paleozoic geology of the Welsh Basin: IGCP 591 Conference Field Trip

Paleozoic geology of the Welsh Basin: IGCP 591 Conference Field Trip
Silurian outcrops

Thanks to a successful grant proposal to the College of Arts and Sciences Professional Development Fund (note: it’s always good to write proposals internal funding opportunities!), I was able to join the post-conference field trip to examine the Paleozoic evolution of the Welsh basin.  The outcrops in Wales are famous for both their interesting geology and historical significance.  The Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian systems were each named for Wales: Cambria was the Roman name for Wales, and the Ordovices and Silures were Welsh tribes.

During the trip, our fantastic field trip leader, Mark Williams (University of Leicester), developed the story of the Welsh basin from inception as part of the microcontinent Avalonia to the collision of Avalonia and Baltica at the end of the Ordovician and then the final collision with Laurentia during the Acadian Orogeny (learn about Welsh Geology here).

Our itinerary took us to southern Wales to sites around St. Davids, Marloes Peninsula, and Freshwater West as well as to a few locations in central Wales near New Quay.  We examined mostly Cambrian through Devonian strata, with some bonus late Pre-Cambrian volcanics.  We visited sites mapped by Murchinson, localities that contributed to the development of the classic Benthic brachiopod assemblages, well-studied exposures of the Old Red Sandstone, and newly recorded debris flows related to Ordovician glacial lowstands.  Along the way, we were presented with a broad array of depositional environments, tectonic influences, and fossils (mostly trace fossils).

Overall it was a tremendous learning experience.  I was impressed by the diversity of geology that could be observed in a small area—it’s definitely not the simple flat-lying rocks of the North American midcontinent!  Visiting classic locations located in dramatic (or romantic as our leader liked to say) coastal scenery was thrilling.  The discussions with my international colleagues (representing eight countries) in the field, in the car, and at meals were stimulating and very productive.  I was able to meet and get to know quite a few new (to me) geologists with similar interests.  Observing the same rocks and comparing interpretations is a rapid way to develop new friendships and potential collaborations.  I am extremely glad that I was able to participate in this trip.  There were not very many brachiopods, but the rest of the experience made that minor hardship very insignificant.

 

A brief travelogue with photos and comments:

Day 1: We drove from Ghent, Belgium to Piselli Hills, Wales.  This was a LONG travel day (7:00am to 6:30pm in a minibus).  But we took the ferry across the English Channel saw the fantastic White Cliffs of Dover (and also the correlative White Nose near Calais).  Yay Cretaceous chalk!  The geology was pretty boring after that (just very minor rolling hills with no outcrops) until we reached Wales.  Wales is extremely complex geologically, so topography and outcrops became much more intriguing.  We also experienced the expected misty rain of Wales upon arrival.

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Day 2: We spent the morning on Pwell Deri Bay near Dinas Mawr examining Ordovician bimodal volcanics and graptolitic shales (although no one has seen a graptolite here in decades!) with some very cool pillow basalts at the base of the sequence. We were kept company by fantastic scenery, many shore birds, and a curious seal. Over lunch break, we explored St. Davids Cathedral, the location of the longest continuous Christian worship in Britian.  The Norman cathedral was strategically located in a valley so the Vikings wouldn’t notice it and destroy it as they did the two prior cathedrals.  Interesting intersection of geology and anthropology.  We spent the afternoon at Porth Maen Melyn examining the shallow marine succession of Cambrian strata.  On our way back to the hotel, we visited a Neolithic Burial Chamber dating to around the same time (and made of the same rocks) as Stonehenge.  In fact, the rocks of Stonehenge were quarried from the Ordovician intrusive suite near our hotel, and then transported a long way over water to the Salisbury plains.

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Day 3: Today focused on the Silurian of the Marloes Peninsula.  The section is again shallow water through continental deposits that indicate the docking of Avalonia with Laurentia and associated basin inversion.  This is a fun area for historical reasons, as Murchinson also mapped this coast.  Although one formation was named “Coraliferous”, I was underwhelmed by the fossils.  Sadly, these poor rocks have been faulted and subjected to low grade metamorphism, so while there are nice layers of brachiopods, they are very difficult to access.  I felt very lucky to normally work on rocks like we have in Ohio.   The continental deposits, “Old Red Sandstone”–now the Red Cliff Formation, however, were spectacular!

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Day 4: We continued exploring the continental deposits of the Welsh basin margin at Freshwater West.  As all of our exposures are coastal and the tidal range is immense!, we couldn’t begin geology until after lunch.  So we made a historical excursion to Pembroke Castle in the morning.  The castle was impressive and geologically situated (aren’t they all) on a limestone cliff, atop a cave, in fact.  Our tour guide enthusiastically shared stories of the castle’s history and substantial importance (although perhaps overstated) in Engligh and world! history.   Fun fact: because the 800 years old castle is made of limestone, little stalactites grow from the ceiling.  After lunch, we headed back to the beach to explore more of the Old Red Sandstone and the Silurian to Devonian contact.  Again, the paleosols and continental trace fossils (both root structures and burrows) were spectacular!  The beach was also incredibly pleasant to walk along.  It was interesting for me to compare the intertidal communities of Britian vs. those I know better from the Bahamas.

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Day 5: We left the basin edge and went deep into the basin center (near New Quay) to investigate Ordovician to Silurian deep water deposits.  We were impressed by the thickness of basinal deposits (several kilometers) vs. the relative thin marginal succession of the past few days (a few 100 meters).  The basinal deposits included turbidites and debris flows in varying amounts.  In some places, dramatic channel cuts were obvious, but at other sites quiet water trace fossils (like Nereites) were dominant.  Certainly an interesting environment!

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Day 6: We began our LONG drive back to Ghent.  Most of the field party departed from Heathrow, but I traveled back to Belgium with the field trip leaders and van drivers.  We left our hotel and 8am, and we arrived in Ghent at 10:30.  It was a long day.  But the Ghent Festival was happening, so Thijs Vandenbrouke (who organized the conference and field trip), Mark Williams, and I headed back to the medieval town center for one last dinner and beers.  A great end to great trip.

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Link to full Belgium/Wales Album

Early summer = field reconnaissance

Early summer = field reconnaissance
Springtime flowers atop the 550 outcrop

The best part of Spring semester ending is the flexibility of schedule to head into the field!  Relatedly, Nilmani and I have spent several days scouting field sites for her MS thesis examining paleoecology of the Ames Limestone.  The Ames is an extremely well-known marker bed throughout the Appalachian Basin and has been the subject of many petrological, faunal, and ecological analyses over the years.  Nilmani’s project will add to this body of knowledge by examining how community structure varies at multiple spatial scales.

Armed with a productive year of preliminary analyses and background study, Nilmani is ready to tackle her main research this summer.  Step 1 is identifying outcrops.  We’ve visited over a dozed previously described locations throughout Athens, Hocking, Morgan, Noble, Muskingum Counties.  Some sites are extremely promising for her thesis work.  Others, not so much.

Overall, we’ve had a lot of fun exploring the rocks, fossils, wildflowers, wildlife, and general region of SE Ohio.  And as always, perhaps my favorite parts of “spring training” is having solo time in the car and field to really get to know my students.