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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Winter Term 2016: Marcus' Post

Hello everybody! The bulk of my first Winter Term at Oberlin was spent doing research in China with a crew of others who all seemed to be geologists at heart. This trip was eventful from the get-go, from dealing with crazy TSA lines and unfortunate weather delays, to overcoming the local cuisine, there was so much more of everything than I had anticipated.

We spent the first two days in Chengdu while waiting for my delayed luggage to arrive in China. This free time allowed us to have a little bit of the touristy experience, so Maisy and Liam took Al, Zanna and I to see pandas at the Chengdu Panda Research Base. After spending a few hours there, we all crammed into one taxi and made our way back to the university to explore for a bit. This was followed by listening to a talk about the relationship between health and air quality within China at Sichuan University. Not surprisingly, there was a correlation between increased pollution and health hazards, but what was interesting was that transportation output didn’t seem to be the biggest factor. The first day was really enjoyable as we were able to see firsthand things that were distinctive and relevant to China, like pandas and unfortunately pollution.

As for the actual field work, we sampled from a variety of sites, each unique and holding their own entry hazards. With the first couple it was mainly figuring out a way to navigate through the garbage. The first in particular wasn’t too bad as it was at the base of a construction site, while the next few really involved a lot of maneuvering around decent sized cobbles. Getting down was only half the battle as finding a good spot along the river that had sandy material to sieve, rather than mud, wasn’t easy. Although having so many people willingly to get their hands and feet wet really made the process easier.

Speaking of tasks that weren’t easy, Amanda really had the worst of it with some of the driving she had to do. Both she and the rental car deserve at least a few medals for going through what seemed like worse and worse road conditions every day. As we were heading up a mountain one night a blanket of fog completely engulfed the car, reducing visibility to maybe 5 feet at most. There were also the countless wēi qiáos (dangerous bridges) that were both crossed and thankfully just passed. Tunnels that stretched on for kilometers, without and without lights, and of course other drivers. As tense as some of that driving was, it really did provide for some of the best views you could get while traveling. There were several times where it felt incredibly surreal to be looking out and see such impressive terrain right outside the window. Coming back home to the mid-west where the land is all flat, I definitely miss having such amazing landscapes before me on long car rides.

Getting to try all sorts of different food was also a fun time. As someone who isn’t particularly skilled in using chop-sticks it was a task just getting it from the serving plate to my bowl, but by the end I had improved considerably. Although I am an adventurous eater it seems I’ve got a fairly weak stomach, and even trying to stick with the less spicy stuff, authentic Chinese food got the best of me. Nonetheless this trip was an amazing adventure to go on, missing luggage and stomach bugs and all. As Zanna mentioned, exploring China for its geologic information provides an experience that is completely unlike one you’d get as a tourist or someone on business. Getting to spend just over two weeks in great weather doing field work for the first time really made this a fantastic way to start the New Year, and im excited to see the data that will come out of it. I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of this trip, and really hope to go on more in the coming years.


Left to right: Amanda, Maisy, Liam, Marcus, Zanna, Al, Wong Yu Mei

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winter Term in China: Zanna's Take

Hey everyone! This winter term I was in China with Amanda and Marcus. I flew out to Chengdu on Jan. 4th and was there until the 20th collecting sand for 10Be testing in order to determine upstream erosion rates along the Jinsha River. Starting out there was actually 7 of us since it was Marcus and me, Al, Wong Yu Mei, and Liam and Maisy. It was really fun to be in such a big group that was so excited to be doing fieldwork. It didn’t hurt either that three people in the group were fluent in Mandarin so getting around became relatively easy.

After a day in Chengdu, we started traveling south to our sample sites. We did a whole lot of mountain driving and off-roading through rural villages in addition to lots of climbing down slopes off the sides of the roads with our shovel, sieves, and sample bags. Twice we ended up in traffic jams on the side of the mountain because they were still building the road in front of us! Most of the time we found partial roads down to the river, including our second site, trash kingdom. The site was below the highway and there was so much trash collecting in part of the river we all initially assumed it was a sandbar. So despite the fact that the air was pretty clear, it wasn’t always a great thought to think about how much polluted water we were sieving. We had two other big adventure days: once, we hit the end of the road where the bridge across the river was still being built. Amanda hired a boat and we climbed down under the bridge to take the boat to our sample site. It was cool to see the landscape from a boat in the middle of the river, rather than from the side. Bonus: our boat driver was the 10th greatest hero in Yunnan; apparently you can look him up on Baidu (China’s Google equivalent). The other day Marcus missed due to sickness. After driving up into the mountains we took a hairpin road on the edge of a cliff that had the mirage effect of looking better than it was, but was all landslide rock. As a testament to how “in the middle of nowhere” we were, halfway down we came upon a guy and his donkeys who looked shocked to see us and answered with, “You’ve made it this far” when Amanda asked if the road led to the river.

We traveled as far south as Panzhihua, where it was sunny and in the 70s every day. It was really nice to be sieving in the river then. It also seemed each of our sites was prettier than the next! Throughout the entire trip I enjoyed the food too. We did a lot of veggies and rice, but also tried fish a couple times and of course had noodles and steamed buns. The yogurt was probably my favorite snack along with their milk tea. We finished collecting our samples early and managed to do a few cultural things upon returning to Chengdu. We went to an archaeological museum, the coffee district, and the walking streets; it was such a contrast to the poorer communities and minorities we’d seen in the mountains, but good to see both sides. Overall, it was a great trip and interesting to travel in a country based on geology rather than tourism or business. Not to mention, I learned a lot about China in addition to gaining experience with fieldwork! I’m excited to see/hear how the analysis side goes when our samples eventually arrive.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter Term with the SEM!

Hi everybody! Chloe here. I’ve been spending my Winter Term at Oberlin doing various things, mainly working with the SEM down on the second floor of Carnegie! Amanda gave a brief introduction on my project during one of our lab meetings in the Rat, but here is a reminder: I’m spending the Winter Term getting to know the SEM and using it to develop a method for giving us quantitative elemental information for materials, such as finding out the bulk compositions of different samples of sediment. I am using samples sent over from the College of Wooster by Meagan Pollack, who did analyses of her own before sending them to me. 
The past two weeks have been a LOT of fun and I’ve learned tons of new things, ranging from how to work the SEM and the theory behind it, to learning how to run sediment samples through HARBIN and even filling the liquid nitrogen detectors in Amanda’s lab and in the SEM. The first week of Winter Term was spent getting to know the Scanning Electron Microscope by taking advantage of the copious information available through the “help” system installed in the Oxford INCA software. I also spent some time reading through a helpful paper that Zeb gave me, titled “Performing elemental microanalysis with high accuracy and high precision by scanning electron microscopy/silicon drift detector energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM/SDD-EDS)” by Dale E. Newbury and Nicholas W. M. Ritchie. Zeb also loaned me one of his books, “Modern Analytical Geochemistry: An Introduction to Quantitative Chemical Analysis for Earth, Environmental and Materials Scientists,” which provided further useful information concerning elemental analysis through the use of spectrometry. I spent the rest of the first week getting used to the SEM through hands-on work in order to re-familiarize myself with the machine. I had not used the machine since a couple of weeks before first semester ended when I used it for the Mineral Drawer Project in Mineralogy.
On a side note, for those of you who remember using the SEM in Mineralogy, I am using the machine in “Analyzer” mode instead of “Point & ID” mode. The “Analyzer” mode is different because it can analyze a bigger area than the “Point & ID” mode. It works in a slightly different way, but is just as fun as the “Point and ID” mode!
            The past week was spent collecting data on the SEM using the samples sent over from Wooster by Meagan. I also learned how to prepare and mount these samples, which includes learning how to use the carbon coater machine in the SEM room (which coats the top of the sample in carbon) and further preparing the samples for use in the SEM by putting them on a metal holder and attaching small amounts of copper tape to the sample and the metal holder in order for it to be conductive. I also spent the past week conducting beam stability tests with the SEM, which included taking analyses of the copper tape that is attached to my sample in the SEM and doing quantitative calculations to see how stable the beam current (of electrons that hit the sample) is over a period of time. I’ve learned that it is best to let the machine “warm up” for an hour or two before performing more in-depth analyses on my samples.
            I also spent some time over the past week learning how to make thin sections (with varying degrees of success) with Adrian. This past weekend was spent going over my data and trying to replicate the analyses that Meagan made at Wooster using the same samples. Next week I will conduct more stability tests with the SEM (except by utilizing different timing for the tests, such as leaving the machine on for longer and then doing a quantitative calculation), and work on determining a protocol to use the samples from Wooster as standards for analyzing ground up sediment. Adrian and I have also spent some time going over what we will do for our research project next semester! I’m coming into it with beginner’s knowledge, so I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on papers explaining isotopes such as 137Cs and 210Pb and their effects on soil erosion and the interpretation of particle size effects on the adsorption of certain isotopes.
            I’ll just sign off here and make another post next week. I hope everybody’s Winter Term projects are going well and everybody in China is having a great time! J


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Winter term 2016 - pandas

I sent the team to see the pandas this morning. From left to right: Marcus, Al, Zanna, Maisy. Liam is taking the photo.