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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The blue pins are all our sample points. Lots of driving over the past 3 weeks. I am now in Chengdu. I had lunch with Renjuan (she was in Oberlin for part of the fall) and now am off to see other friends.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tying up loose ends

I am sitting in the sun in Dali, Yunnan watching people wash our really dirty car. Mainly I need them to remove the green paint from where our number had an encounter with a bus bumper in a gas station. Inside and out the cleaning will cost 30 rmb ($4.50ish). I just mailed our 15 boxes (380) kg of samples to dongguan, where they will be put on a truck, taken across the border to hong kong and then air freighted to Cleveland. Tonight I drive to kunming by myself. Yue left this morning for shanghai and Adrian and Veronica are already home.

I hope to give you all a short description of my changing hotel tastes over the years and driving in rural yunnan. Maybe from the hotel tonight.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Warming up on a cold morning

We stopped for yak butter tea (酥油茶) on our way to our first site of the day. Salty but a nice warm treat.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Packing samples

We don't have enough shipping boxes yet but decided to take advantage of getting done early last night (8:30 pm) to organize samples and prep them for shipping. We didn't want to do this when closer to the Myanmar border in case it looked like drugs or some other suspicious contraband.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Bad photo, but... The red arched things in the middle of the picture are the Burma-China border crossing. Veronica's phone thinks it is in Burma.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Greetings from the shore (Gaby's intro)


My name is Gaby, I’m one of the people participating in Prof. Amanda’s lab (I use she/her/hers or they/them/theirs). I’m a Geology and Environmental Studies double major with a soft spot for literature. At the lab I team up with Dom preparing samples from our watershed to be run in Harbin, the germanium detector (Harbin is another member of team!). This coming semester might have some exciting results, as we will be able to see the analysis of our watershed samples. We also have weekly lab group lunches with delicious homemade bread, PBJ and apples (which in Ohio are very good). The lunches are a good time to catch up to what everyone in the lab is up to research wise and also about their activities outside of class. 

            I’m spending this winter term as an intern at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Interestingly, the lab I’m working with also uses two germanium detectors. This project looks at sediment cores to learn about hurricane cycles in New England, and also test their storm surge model. They also use radionuclides to date the sediment, although the samples are handled much differently. We also have an one-hour class in the morning about the different sub fields of oceanography. It is overwhelming to consider all the factors that come to play in the ocean, and all the same more interesting.

            Woods Hole is a lovely town, the people have been warm, and the winter not so harsh in contrast with most of the country this January. I was born and raised in Venezuela, mostly in a town by the ocean, so being able to take walks on the beach every day is lovely, cold weather and all. It was also the first time that I've ever seen snow on a shore! Of course, I ended up knee deep exploring around and collecting cool rocks and sea shells. 

Although the snowstorm was intimidating, the calm after it brought a beautiful landscape. 

But going back to Oberlin, this is Carnegie, the building that hosts the geo department and our lab. As you walk up the stairs, shelves full of rock specimens appear, which is the school's geology museum (the department is cozily nestled on the third and fourth floors). 

This is a picture of some of the shelves and geo majors taking a picture for the resource conservation team's recycling campaign. I'm on the far left holding a soil sample for Harbin, and Adrian (whom you've already met) is holding a large sieve.

To the lab team in China: Stay strong! Best of luck on your travels.
To the lab team back in Oberlin: Stay warm, and enjoy working around in the lab.
To the lab team around the world: See you all soon!


A typical day in Yunnan

A typical day in the field involves more than six hours of driving from places to places trying to find the river we're sampling at. And every now and then there will be crappy road conditions like this: 
This picture was taken on our drive along the Vietnam border on a narrow mountain road that is undergoing construction at multiple segments all at the same time. (Detailed stories will follow)

Or sometimes the road is like this one:
This picture was taken after we drove up a relatively steep dirt road (not shown in this picture). We got stuck in the middle of the road the first time and had to back down to the bottom of the track and power through it again. Look at all the dirt we stirred up!!

Although we sometimes drive on new and wide highway roads, most of the time we have to deal with the sucky road conditions. Yet we always survive simply by..... SNACKING!
Local people sell fruits along major county roads and we've gotten bananas, tiny oranges  (沙糖桔), pickled green mango salad, and sugar haws. So far we've also finished a whole big jar of peanut butter and eight backs of crackers as well :) Amanda and I each had more than ten tiny oranges in three hours one day. It's also probably the only things so far that the four of us unanimously said "oh yummy!" to. 

Oh and we do actually take samples (and not just driving and snacking)
We have a ton of field gear that we bring to each sampling site including waders, sieves, cameras, field notebook and lots of ziplock bags. (Detailed story will follow) some of our sampling sites are really pretty. Like this one! We got to the Mekong just around sunset and I was stunned by the beautiful scene and pretty rocks. I took this picture before we started digging up the river sand and when we were done the sun has completely set. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Update from Oberlin

The first week back at Oberlin is always a bit of jolt back to reality. After a break of sitting on the coach and eating homemade cookies, the idea of setting an alarm to get up in the morning seems pretty daunting. Working in an unfamiliar lab where the professor is on a different continent added to my apprehension. While a bit scary at first, figuring out what you need to do on your own is always fun. For me this is most apparent when using the Harbin, a machine that detects radioactivity in soil samples. The first few times of running a sample took half an hour of me and my lab partner Isaac carefully reading and rereading the manual, searching for buttons, and figuring out what the report said. After a few more times we are both more comfortable, and faster with running the samples. I also read a few papers that explain the implications of the numbers we are recording. Being able to really delve into one topic is the great part about winter term. I don’t feel like I have to memorize anything, or rush through it, I can take my time and really learn about what I am doing. As we keep moving through our checklist, I’m excited to see what new material I will have to work through next.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Update from Adrian!

Hello from Pudong airport in Shanghai! Amanda, Veronica and I (Adrian) are waiting for our flight to Kunming. I'm searching for a toothbrush and toothpaste to buy last minute and preparing for a couple weeks of field work. In addition to collecting samples for our study of erosion, we will also be collecting bulk sediment in four grain sizes at headwater, intermediate, and outlet locations. Part of my research on the grain size dependancies of the radionuclides will involve analyzing the sediment we collect in our Germanium detector "Harbin" back at Oberlin. When we get back to the states, I will be going to UVM in Burlington to prepare the samples for analysis of Beryllium-10. It will be a big change going from the tropics to snowy Vermont!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Long sucky days

Greetings from Pu'er. We are supposed to be in Jinggu but didn't make it last night. The schedule said "today will just be a long sucky day". However, since the previous day was long, we met at 8 for breakfast. We didn't get to the first sample site until after lunch and then couldn't tell if it was upstream or downstream of a tributary. So we had to sample both places. Darn. By the time we were done with those it was 5:30 pm and an hour until sunset and 2 hours to the next sample site. We got there at 7:40 pm and found a gravel mine to get us down to the river. No over bank samples though because the entire mine was made of material pulled directly from the river. It would have been hard in daylight to find a good over bank site. Sieving in the dark didn't seem like a good idea because it would be so slow. Most of us forgot headlamps for the trip. The evening is the worst time of day for me, sickness wise. So, I sat in the car and used the headlights to give them some light. Adrian found a sandy spot. Yue used my iphone light. Veronica is organized and had a headlamp. Because when we didn't sieve last summer, we didn't end up with enough sample, we filled two gigantic bags with sample. We should have enough for the big sample we need, but may not have enough fines for the smaller grain sizes we are collecting to use depending on the results of Adrian's experiment. And no over bank sample. Below is a picture. 

After that we had a lovely dinner at a little roadside restaurant and met some professors and people from shanghai visiting a former student doing the Chinese version of teach for America in the rural place we were (basically a highway exit truck stop). Dinner was good and made me feel better. 

We still had 3 hrs to our planned destination but I started to get tired and to feel really sick. Chinese expressways have lots of really bright lots on them and I found myself squinting to see. Pretty awful. Then I got really sick and had to stop and throw up over the side of the highway rail. Yuck. But I felt better after. At least I know the baby is still doing well. 

We decided to stop in a big town on the way to our site. Yue found us a hotel and we got here at 11:15 pm or so.  After a quick shower I was in bed and trying to get rested for today. Today we resample sites from last summer and because 3 samples are for Adrian's project, we have a ton of sieving to do. 

More later. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stupid GIS mistakes

Hopefully this will be supplemented with a post from one of the students. Also, Adrian's trip to China post has gone missing.... I will try to find it. 

In any case, a quick update from me. Today we had a long day of driving. Two sample sites. We got to the first site pretty easily and were done sampling by noon. Yue and I looked at the iPad to figure out where to go to the second site. The location on the iPad didn't look quite right to me, but I quieted my concern and went with it. After lunch at a road side noodle and BBQ chicken stall, we drove through an awful construction zone (as in a road under construction while we used it). We got through that and just about to the sample site when Yue said she couldn't see the sample points on the GIS anymore. Hmm... Turns out all the driving (at least 3 hrs) was completely the wrong way to the wrong place. It took us another 2 hours to get back to the highway and another hour back to honghe. I feel so stupid because I knew that it wasn't the right spot. We couldn't go get the sample because we were 5 hrs from it, plus sample time, plus 3 hrs back to town. And it was 4 pm. 

We won't be able to get the sample now because it would put us an entire day behind schedule. We decided that cutting a day from somewhere else wasn't worth it for a 109 km2 basin with 10 years data, particularly because we weren't positive which river the station was on. 

Anyway, it was completely my fault and the tour of the road under construction and banana plantations were interesting but collecting the planned sample certainly would have been better.