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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

IGCP 591 meeting wrap up

IGCP 591: The Early and Middle Paleozoic Revolution formally ended on a high note. The Ghent meeting, expertly organized by Thijs Vandenbroucke, showcased exciting advances and new techniques as well summarized the status of more than 115 research projects as poster or oral presentations featuring 148 meeting attendees and their coauthors. The theme for this meeting was “modeling” defined broadly, and keynote speakers presented about oceanographic modeling, generating global climate models, astrochonrology, statistically analyzing models of biodiversity change, and geochemical models. This was a wonderful way to conclude the six year project—showcasing both where we have come and what we have learned over the project while simultaneously provide a clear and inspiring agenda for continuing the work of this group beyond the formal end of the project.

The conference was well organized to facilitate discussion among attendees while taking advantage of historic settings to provide a backdrop of Flemish culture. Our scientific sessions, coffee breaks (coffee is very important!), and lunches were held in a former medieval Dominican monastery.
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The opening reception was held in the Castle of Counts, which dates to 1180. We enjoyed the Ghent Jazz Festival. We had a conference dinner of traditional Belgian dishes.

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These all-conference social events are really crucial to fostering scientific discussions, brainstorming new collaborative projects, and strengthening international ties within the scientific community. At each events, I had the opportunity to meet new scientists (I require myself to have a conversation with at least one new colleague per day) and engage in high-level scientific discourse with colleagues that I may see only once a year or less. My students (ok, they are recent alumni) had the opportunities to network broadly and develop their own scientific communities.

My research group gave three presentations this year, one each by myself, Adriane Lam, and Sarah Trubovitz focusing on Middle to Late Ordovician diversity and dispersal patterns. Feedback from colleagues afterwards was very positive and provided new ideas to consider for future work.

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I will very much miss meeting with this broad Paleozoic community, but I am excited about continuing and building on many aspects of many of these collaborations in the new project which I am co-leading, IGCP 653: The Onset of the Early Ordovician Biodiversification Event. I hope to welcome many of my colleagues to Ohio in summer 2018 for a stimulating conference there.

Link to full Belgium/Wales Album

IGCP 591 Ghent meeting anticipation plus parenting

IGCP 591 Ghent meeting anticipation plus parenting

I am very excited to be able to participate in this international conference. I am looking forward to the usual conference items: invigorating new science, meeting up with friends and colleagues, intense scientific discussion and the potential for new projects and ideas to emerge. For the past five years, I have participated in summer meetings of the IGCP 591 in Cincinnati, Sweden, Estonia, Virginia (also the 10th ISOS meeting), and now Belgium. Joining this group began partly by happenstance, when I was sent a personal email about the Cincinnati meeting. It was only three hours away, so I said “Of course I should participate! I won’t be able to attend the field trips because my daughter is still a baby, but I can be away for one night right now”, but joining this group has been tremendously impactful for my career. So I’d like to write a little bit about the importance and significance of international collaboration and participation in this post.

As you may or may not know, I am very shy and slow to feel comfortable or make friends with new people. It took me the better part of a decade to build a large enough group of friends and colleagues at GSA to feel really at ease in the American paleontological community. There are many times that I still retreat instead of engaging with paleontologists that I have known for years, and I wonder later if my instinct to hide when awkward or scared comes across as coldness or rudeness on my part.

The IGCP program, however, promotes meetings that are much more personal than GSA, with the ability to interact with colleagues in an inviting setting. I found that the group in attendance at the Cincinnati meeting (only about 40 scientists) was so welcoming and really wonderful, that I really looked forward to joining the Lund meeting the next year. That trend has continued with subsequent meetings, and now I count many of my international colleagues within my close group. In fact, I am now co-leading IGCP 653, which partially follows up on IGCP 591, and includes many of the same scientists.

What is much more interesting than my personal journey, really, is the diversity of the participants of the IGCP projects. I love that these focused meetings bring together scientists that integrate a wide variety of scientific perspectives including biostratigraphy, taxonomy, sedimentology, paleoecology, stratigraphy, climate models, oceanography, and more. There is typically only one session at a time, so all attendees are able to attend talks that align not only with their specific interests, but also their tangential interests, which provides the opportunity to learn new things that I may not have learned had I focused on only on sessions aligned with specific interests. The ability to interact with and learn from people with diverse perspectives is incredibly enriching and productive. This also differs substantially from my typical GSA experience where it is more difficult to attend diverse sessions.

I am also always uplifted by the significance that primary field and specimen-based research is given at these meetings. Certainly databases and derivative or synthetic analyses are also presented and are important, but I find true joy in learning about data from a specific set of rocks and specimens. Remembering that specimens and outcrops are the core data of our field is very important.

Each IGCP or ISOS meeting I attend, I return optimistic, invigorated, and ready to tackle the Ordovician world with a broader perspective. So I am very much looking forward to these next few days in Ghent. The organizers have assembled a really wonderful schedule. I hope that the presentations given my myself and my students/alumni are well received. I am excited to learn new things and discuss shared and divergent ideas with my international colleagues.


Bonus point about being a mother of young children who travels frequently:

I recently purchased a globe (that talks and play national anthems, so fun!) for our daughter’s 5th birthday. She was excited to examine where I was going on this trip. She asked good questions like: How many people live in Belgium? Why is it so little (in comparison to neighboring France and Germany)?

It was really nice talking to my children on the phone from the plane before I took off. Until now, I have typically avoided talking with them on the phone as they haven’t figured out how to effectively talk on the phone and the reminder of my absence makes them sad afterwards. Today seemed different. Our seven-year-old son started to have a real conversation clearly on the phone, and our daughter was also doing quite well. She even asked a question about what I had done during my day. I really miss being with my family.

I look forward to taking them on future trips with me as they get older and more permissive of travel that doesn’t directly align with their personal objectives. A wonderful part of my work is being able to meet and work with people from many countries and cultures. My husband (also a globe-trotting paleontologist) and I hope to be able to share that with our children so that they grow up to be excellent global citizens.