Welcome to the blog for the Oberlin College Geomorphology Research Group. We are a diverse team of students working with Amanda Henck Schmidt on geomorphology questions. This blog is an archive of our thoughts about our research, field work travel notes, and student research projects. Amanda's home page is here.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Monica and Josh dive into Oberlin's Plum Creek!

Hello Geomorph lovers - 

Monica here!

I've had such a blast working with Josh on the Plum Creek Project. While we may not have posted about it a lot, I've been sampling 4 locations twice each month since the 1st of May this past Spring. It's been a total blast, and despite Harbin (our esteemed Gamma counter) being on the fritz, I was able to muster up enough data to present a couple ideas about what could be happening to both scientists in the field and my enthusiastic Oberlin colleagues at GSA this Fall.

For all of y'all, essentially I am focusing on completing both a spatial and temporal analysis of Plum Creek, investigating the geomorphology of the creek over the course of the year for inconsistencies, patterns, etc. I've done quite a bit of work on the basic 4-spots, twice a month analysis, so Josh has taken to helping me with that, but also thinking about analysis side projects to help flesh out/clarify my data. Before we move to check in with him - here's some fin pics he took of my overtopping my boots in the field. We've had a rainy fall, which means that sometimes you have to get that barely above freezing creek water in your boots, but it's all for the sake of research.

Josh here!

My first semester working in the geomorph lab has been a lot of fun. I've been working closely with Monica on her sediment transport work, and learning a lot about both the underlying geology and the practical aspects of working in a lab. As a physics major, I don't get to go out to do thing very often, and its cool to drive around plum creek collecting samples. I also get to fill the sample analyzer with liquid nitrogen, and dry down samples to prepare them for analysis. In addition, I spent some time trying to learn how to successfully analyze XRD data on different clays, and hopefully I can have Marcus or Ely catch me up on what they've been doing. Something I've really enjoyed has been engaging with all of the relevant literature, as a lot more of the content of the papers is relevant when actually doing research, as opposed to being in a classroom. Even with just this narrow slice of one branch of geology, there is so much out there, and so much to be gained using the techniques. Two thing I want to focus on next semester are continuing to read papers and simply absorb more knowledge and finding my own small project to take ownership of. All in all, the work has been engaging and satisfying, and I look forward to continuing with everything.

Josh's finest photograph of our high-tech sieving equipment:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mid Semester Updates!

Marcus here,

I’ve been working with Ely to investigate Dominica, an Island in the Caribbean. Over the summer I was fortunate enough to take part in the KECK research project (which you can find posts of if you search through the blog a bit) and this semester has been an extension of that. While I was here in July and August I spent a lot of time in the Geochemistry lab preparing the samples we collected for gamma-spectroscopy. It's a process i’ve talked about before, but essentially we want to create two samples from the original, one with just the coatings of the grain and another with everything else. In this lab we are just concerned with the coatings! This semester has been a little less exciting than previous ones in the lab as we’ve had to overcome a lot of technical and mechanical difficulties.

The first hurdle we had to overcome was a malfunction gamma-spectrometer. Over the summer something fell out of alignment and upon returning to Oberlin in July, we found out that we had been running samples through it but not getting any real results. We tried finding make-shift solutions for this problem several times, but ultimately it seems that the only solution was to send it back and have the manufacturer's repair it. In the meantime, Amanda suggested that we find other ways of collecting data. So we went across the street to the physics department and learned how to use the XRD, or at least tried. An XRD, or x-ray diffractometer, works by shooting x-rays at a solid substance and figuring out how much the refract before returning to another meter. This is useful for figuring out the mineralogy of things as each mineral has a unique structure which diffract rays differently. Ely and I spent several days perfecting our technique on around 20 samples, but hit a small roadblock in understanding what the values we obtained meant. There was software on the computer which identifies possible candidates, but it's hard to narrow down one from a list of hundreds.  There have been lots of conversations with our Mineralogy professor as well as Amanda in how to best choose the right mineral we’re looking at.

The slide for XRD analysis, prepared with Kaolin. We were suppose to make the surface as flat as possible, but we quickly found out that trying to do that was an extremely tedious process!
So, thats kind of where we’re at now--making do with what we’ve got. In the absence of substantial real data Ely and I have been reading a lot of papers to make sense of the diffractograms (thanks for the specificity, Zeb) to try and figure out what exactly is in our samples, but its been a struggle. Amanda suggested that we see if any of the samples we ran through the gamma-spectrometer had meaningful data, and it turns out we have 6 or 7 that did run successfully. I think our plans for the rest of the semester are to continue parsing out the XRD information, even if it's just loose connections / verifications of assumptions and try to analyze the few samples that did make it through Harbin.  I still see a lot of paper reading in our future!
XRD output of one of the samples we ran! This pattern was pretty characteristic of  most of the samples we saw and it is turning out to also be very tricky to work with!

Hi! This is Ely,

This fall has been my first semester in Amanda’s Geomorph lab, and I’ve had a blast learning the ropes from the rest of the lab group, especially from my partner, Marcus. I have joined Marcus in helping him further his Dominica KECK research project. My semester started with some general training on how to perform some of the tasks Marcus and I are responsible for.  These items include operating our gamma-spectrometer, HARBIN; leaching soil samples, and operating the X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD). For a portion of the semester, we ran samples in the XRD, and since then have been trying to decipher the data it produces, which should allow us to understand the composition of the Dominica soil samples. In addition, we leached several samples in order to prepare them for Mae Kate, a recent Obie graduate. She is currently using the samples for her research at University of Vermont. As of right now, Marcus and I are hoping to return to Dominica during winter term to collect more samples, as we believe they could provide great insight as to the before and after effects of a large tropical storm, such as Hurricane Maria, which hit Dominica head-on. I have really enjoyed my time in Amanda’s lab and being able to work alongside a mentor such as Marcus. I have truly learned a lot about the scientific methods used in a lab that is not part of an organized classroom setting, something I have never experienced before.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lab day number 4!

Today was a long day for Team Geomorph.  We started out by doing some GIS/photoshop/abstract-writing, then Kira and I moved on to weighing out our samples and adding hydrochloric acid to them.

Geologists (Kira, above, and Haley, top) hard at work

We took advantage of a delicious free lunch in the lobby after we put the samples in a sonic bath (to keep them mixed while the acid leaches off the coatings of the grains), then went back to work on the computers.  At one point, we had to turn off the heat in the sonic bath since the bottles were starting to deform and smell weird, but after that we were back to work drying out the fine-grained samples!  We centrifuged them to get out some of the water, then scoop out the mushy muddy clay and put it in dishes to go in the oven to finish drying out.

Oh me oh my… “hard rock” people were all over the place today. We received our last batch of
rock buckets/samples yesterday (and just in time). Those of us that needed to finish powdering
rock samples were able to do so. Jessie and Sarah were able to weigh out the powders to prep
them for their acid baths. I also got the rest of my thin sections (Thank you Bill!!!!!) and get to
start doing my point counts tomorrow (1000 points on 11 slides… huzzah!).

Half of my thin sections (I’m really excited about the one with the giant enclave).
Now that all the rock cutting and powdering machine work is finished we get to spend our time
glued to petrographic microscopes and thumbing through different scientific papers that relate to
our projects (happy happy joy joy).
Twinned plagioclase crystals 👿 ...check out that cleavage👿
Everyone has the option to take the day off tomorrow but a few of us are planning on going to
the lab and taking advantage of having fewer people to try and work around in our small
basement lab. There is also a change that the SEM machine will be repaired tomorrow (fingers

~Haley and Katie

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Union Day 3

With the SEM broken, the petrologists found other ways to occupy their time. Some powdered their rocks to be analyzed for chemical compositions. Some took pictures of their thin sections or did a point count to find which minerals were in their samples. Some read papers about what they're working on. At the end of the day, the rest of our samples from Dominica were delivered, so we have six more buckets (over 200 pounds!) of rocks to prepare to be analyzed over the next few days.

Team Geomorph didn't have a super exciting day either! The past two days have been spent plugging away on the computer, either completing GIS information, photoshopping the clouds out of satalliete imagery or plotting the landslides on the island. We've been eagerly waiting for our samples to arrive from Dominica, so when we got word from Holli that they were in it was a nice change of pace. There are a handful of things we want to do with the actual samples, while on Union's campus we want to begin the leaching process. In order to start that we need our samples to be dry, so at the end of the day Kira, Haley, Cole and I found some washing glasses which could withstand the awesome heat of the oven. Two samples that were fairly dry to begin with took less than an hour to achieve the nice sandy texture we were looking for, so that was a nice surprise and an even better way to end the day with. Well, kind of end the day with, there were four samples that we didn't have enough room for in the oven, so Haley and I went back at 8 to move around dishes that were done with the still damp ones.
The culmination of two days of HARD work


First Day of Lab Work at Union

The Keck students begun their first day of lab research at Union College, waking up at 9am to get a tour of the campus and lab facilities that they will be working in for the next two weeks. Students were introduced to the GIS systems, the isotope lab, water table, rock saws, the scanning electron microscope (SEM), rock crusher, Ion Chromatography Systems, lasers, and other wicked instruments.

The water team quickly began to prep all of their samples while the other groups split up. Team geomorph spent the beginning of the day working on their GIS mapping, but were cut short by a rogue professor that took over their lab.

Team Hard Rock spent their day cutting out thin sections of their samples using a rock saw:
They also studied some pre-made thin sections, and learning how to make photomicrographs.

All teams came together later in the afternoon for a safety briefing, and then at the end of the day some students went on an adventure to Walmart to stock up on supplies. It rained and hailed on their journey there:

Video Error....  Sorry Folks there was a great hail video.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

15th Day

Lab work continues at Union from morning till night for the intrepid Keck crew.

Today the dwarves of the petrology team, in the depths of their underground workshop, cut slices of rocks and powdered rocks to determine whole rock chemistry.
The water team spent the morning preparing and running samples to determine the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon in their water samples.

Syringing 6 mL of water sample to a test tube.

Geomorphologists could be found glued to computer screens in the GIS lab. Marcus perused high and low on the composite satellite image of Dominica made by Haley in search of landslides. 

After a delicious lunch of mac and cheese and pulled-pork sandwiches, courtesy of Union College summer research presenters, some students had the afternoon off. Mazi took this opportunity to get a haircut, others wandered the town in successful search of cheap hot dogs. 

Finally, Dexter and Jackie wrote a blog of their exploits. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Days 13-14: Travel and relaxation

On Saturday about half our group left Dominica for Union College. The rest of the group had some time to play tourist and relax. A few hung out at Springfield, a few went to find a cliff jumping spot, and a few went to walk on a nature trail.

Taryn, Abadie, Mazi, and I ventured off in search of Chaudiere Pool, which reviews on Trip Advisor claim is one of the best spots to visit in Dominica, with a waterfall and a 30 ft deep pool to jump of rocks into. It was described as being a distance from the road ranging from "right next to it" to "45 min hike". We found the village of Bense and parked when we were told the road was under construction and we had to walk. The walk was about 45 min and other than a minor detour down a driveway, was easy to follow and well marked once we were off the main road. Once we got to the river it took a little looking around to find the pool, which was smaller than we expected. We all enjoyed jumping in and took a total of 13 jumps from the high spot (12-15 ft above the water?) between us during the ~90 min we were there. We also saw two birds that we are pretty confident were parrots. They flew just over our heads across the river between two trees.

Abadie jumping in

Taryn's turn

Mazi takes a go

Amanda leaping in

Before we left Chaudiere Pool we tried to help Holli out by getting some of the andesite that the pool was made out of, but without a rock hammer, we were only able to collect some chips from a fire pit and they turned out not to be very useful. 

Holli took Marcus and Chloe to the Syndicate Nature Trail where they walked a short way up the Diablotin Trail to see if there was rock there. They then went to look for parrots and learn about the flora of the area. They also saw two birds that they think are parrots and definitely heard some parrot calls. Below are some pictures they took.

Sunday the group in Schenectady had a relaxing day visiting the Green Market and hanging out. The rest of us got up super early and spent all day traveling to Union. Now that the sample collection part of our trip is done, we are getting geared up for 2 weeks of lab work.