GeoLog

Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Petrology & Volcanology

Imaggeo on Mondays: A slice of fossil life

Imaggeo on Mondays: A slice of fossil life

I am a petrographer at the University of Padova, Italy, studying the metamorphic rocks that form the deep Earth’s crust beneath our feet, and what happens when they get so hot to start to melt.

I’ve spent (enjoyed I should say) more than 30 years looking at rocks with an optical microscope. This simple, cheap tool, and more importantly, its skilled use, remain key ingredients for good research in petrology!

I’ve been taught by scientists, like Ron Vernon of Macquarie University in Australia, that a good micrograph is essential to document my research and strengthen my conclusions, and so I’ve always paid particular attention to the quality of photos. In the meanwhile, I have also developed a particular interest in photomicroscopy with an aesthetic purpose, realizing that the cocktail of rocks and polarized light has an extraordinary potential in the ‘sciart’ (Science-and-Art) field.

The digital revolution has marked a turning point in this activity, and 10 years ago I have started my micROCKScopica project to showcase to the public the beauty hidden in the small slices of rock that are thin sections.

When I find a photogenic rock I play with polarizers to get the desired combinations of color, and then I take a photograph. And people can enjoy the images, their colors and shapes, even without knowing the geological history behind them.

This is particularly true for this photograph: it is a thin section of a piece of dinosaur bone but I don’t know much about it (what bone, which dinosaur), only that it had been collected in Utah, in the United States. I received a small sample of the bone by Denise M. Harrison, a friend with whom I collaborated for a book on Lake Superior Agates. She is an award-winning lapidary (someone who cuts, polishes and engraves stones), and makes lovely cabochons with all sort of semiprecious, hard stones. I asked her for some leftovers to make some thin sections, because I wanted to see something new, possibly silicified (impregnated with silica during fossilization) because chalcedony – the very fine-grained variety of common quartz – may be extremely photogenic.

I had no idea of how a bone could look like under the microscope, and the first sight left me speechless! The porous structure, and the patterns of the radiating textures in the chalcedony fillings are extraordinary, and provide a wealth of possibilities for nice images.

In this shot, that I replicated in red and blue, a larger hole had been filled with a fine-grained quartz sand – the dark moon shape on top left – somehow interrupting the regular pattern of the bone tissue, that to someone may recall Australian Aboriginal artwork.

Curiously, this anatomically-related image made me quite popular among pathologists and other medical doctors, who find many analogies with their subjects of research. The ages of the specimens are some hundred million years apart, though…

By Bernardo Cesare, University of Padova, Italy

www.microckscopica.org

Editor’s note: The fossil sample featured in this photo was collected and distributed legally from Utah.

If you pre-register for the 2019 General Assembly (Vienna, 07–12 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 15 January until 15 February, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Iceland’s rootless volcanoes

Iceland’s rootless volcanoes

Picture a volcano, like the one you learned about in primary school. Can you see it? Is it a big rocky mountain, perhaps with a bubbling pool of lava at the top? Is it perched above a chasm of subterranean molten rock?

I bet you didn’t picture this:

Rootless cones in the Lanbrotshólar district, S Iceland. Created by the 940AD Eldgjá eruption, there are over 4000 rootless cones in this area. Credit: Frances Boreham

You’d be forgiven for mistaking these small volcanoes for a scene from the Lord of the Rings, or maybe a grassy version of the surface of Mars (in fact, these kind of volcanoes do occur on Mars). These, however, are in Iceland and are called rootless cones.

These mini-volcanoes are unusual because they are ‘rootless’ meaning, unlike most volcanoes, they are not fed from the underground. To make them even stranger, they erupted only once and as part of the same event.

This type of volcanism is observed in several places around the world and occurs only in a unique set of circumstances. Despite showing similarities to more traditional volcanoes (like pyroclastic cones), the cones pictured above actually erupted several tens of kilometres from a ‘true’ volcano.

Rootless cones occur when a hot lava flow produced by an eruption travels away from the volcano and meets water. This can be a lake, a river, a glacier or simply a bit of soggy ground. The only criteria are that there needs to be water, and it needs to be trapped. Lava flows are usually at temperatures of over 1000oC and so, when they come into contact with trapped water or ice, its causes a build-up of steam, which can explode violently through the lava forming a rootless cone.

An article, published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research in September by volcanologists from the University of Bristol and the University of Iceland, analysed the shape and location of some of these cones to understand more about the environment in which they formed.

These features are found in northeast Iceland in the region around lake Mývatn. The area, 50 km east of the city of Akureyri, is world famous for its beautiful scenery and unusual landscapes.

The volcano responsible for the phenomena is the Þrengslaborgir–Lúdentsborgir crater row which erupted around 2000 years ago. The eruption produced a huge lava flow that covered an area of 220 km2; over 2% of the surface of Iceland. The flow, known as the Younger Laxá Lava, permanently changed the landscape, diverting rivers and damming lakes. After its extrusion from the volcano, the stream of molten rock meandered through different environments including river gorges and wide glacial valleys.

The flow’s diverse 67km journey allowed lead author Frances Boreham and her colleagues, to learn how it interacted with its surroundings. As she explains it, “one of the things that makes the Younger Laxá Lava such a great case study is the range of environments that the lava flowed through.”

Rootless cones do not all look the same and vary greatly in size, from small ‘hornitos’ which are about the size of a small car, to large crater-shaped cones hundreds of metres in size. The scale and complexity of the deposits makes them difficult to study as Boreham explains, “One of the biggest challenges is trying to understand and unpick the different effects of lava and water supply on rootless eruptions. We see a huge variety in rootless cone shapes and sizes, but working out which aspects are controlled by the lava flow and which by the environment and available water is tricky, especially when working on a lava flow that’s approximately 2000 years old!”

From Boreham et al. 2016. “Different types of rootless cone and associated features. a) Scoriaceous rootless cone at Skutustaðir, Mývatn. Cone base is ~100 m diameter. b) Explosion pits (marked with arrows) surrounding a scoriaceous rootless cone near Mývatn. c) Spatter cone at Mý d) Hornito in Aðaldalur, NE Iceland. Map imagery on d ©2017 DigitalGlobe, Google.” Licensed under creative commons.

Despite their beauty, the rootless cones represent a more serious issue. Lava flows are often thought of as quite benign compared to other volcanic hazards like pyroclastic flows. The presence of rootless cones suggests this isn’t always the case. “As far as I know, none of these rootless cones are currently taken into account for lava flow hazard assessments, in Iceland or elsewhere in the world. While not applicable everywhere, wet environments with a history of lava flows, such as Iceland or parts of the Cascades, could be affected and these hazards should be considered in future risk assessments and plans, e.g. by identifying vulnerable property, roads and infrastructure.” said Boreham.

By Keri McNamara, freelance science writer

Keri McNamara is a freelance writer with a PhD in Volcanology from the University of Bristol. She is on twitter @KeriAMcNamara and www.kerimcnamara.com.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Sunset on the Giant’s Causeway

Imaggeo on Mondays: Sunset on the Giant’s Causeway

Pictured here is the Giant’s Causeway – a region of basalt columns, created 50-60 million years ago during the Paleogene. The typical polygonal form of the bedrocks, a product of active volcanic processes from the past, is well underlined by the sunset’s light; that’s why I took the photo in the late evening. The separate cracks are extended by weathering over time and are filled eluvium, geological debris from the erosion.

After the lava cooled, approximately 40,000 columns have since been polished by sea wave action. I decided to show the slow action of the sea with a long exposure, because it’s a continuous process, not obvious at first to an untrained person, but nevertheless very important now. I think in one photo we can find a deep history of Earth’s development, which palaeogeographers are still trying to understand.

by Osip Kokin, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licenceSubmit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: The best of imaggeo in 2018

Imaggeo on Mondays: The best of imaggeo in 2018

Imaggeo, our open access image repository, is packed with beautiful images showcasing the best of the Earth, space and planetary sciences. Throughout the year we use the photographs submitted to the repository to illustrate our social media and blog posts.

For the past few years we’ve celebrated the end of the year by rounding-up some of the best Imaggeo images. But it’s no easy task to pick which of the featured images are the best! Instead, we turned the job over to you!  We compiled a Facebook album which included all the images we’ve used  as header images across our social media channels and on Imaggeo on Mondays blog post in 2018 an asked you to vote for your favourites.

Today’s blog post rounds-up the best 12 images of Imaggeo in 2018, as chosen by you, our readers.

Of course, these are only a few of the very special images we highlighted in 2018, but take a look at our image repository, Imaggeo, for many other spectacular geo-themed pictures, including the winning images of the 2018 Photo Contest. The competition will be running again this year, so if you’ve got a flair for photography or have managed to capture a unique field work moment, consider uploading your images to Imaggeo and entering the 2019 Photo Competition.

A view of the southern edge of the Ladebakte mountain in the Sarek national park in north Sweden. At this place the rivers Rahpajaka and Sarvesjaka meet to form the biggest river of the Sarek national park, the Rahpaädno. The rivers are fed by glaciers and carry a lot of rock material which lead to a distinct sedimentation and a fascinating river delta for which the Sarek park laying west of the Kungsleden hiking trail is famous.

 

Melt ponds. Credit: Michael Tjernström (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The February 2018 header image used across our social media channels. The photos features ponds of melted snow on top of sea ice in summer. The photo was taken from the Swedish icebreaker Oden during the “Arctic Summer Cloud Ocean Study” in 2008 as part of the International Polar Year.

 

Karstification in Chabahar Beach, IRAN. Credit: Reza Derakhshani (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The June 2018 header image used for our social media channels. The photo was taken on the Northern coast of the Oman Sea, where the subduction of Oman’s oceanic plate under the continental plate of Iran is taking place.

 

River in a Charoite Schist. Credit: Bernardo Cesare (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

A polarized light photomicrograph of a thin section of a charoite-bearing schist. Charoite is a rare silicate found only at one location in Yakutia, Russia. For its beautiful and uncommon purple color it is used as a semi-precious stone in jewelry.

Under the microscope charoite-bearing rocks give an overall feeling of movement, with charoite forming fibrous mats that swirl and fold as a result of deformation during metamorphism. It may be difficult to conceive, but these microstructures tell us that solid rocks can flow!

 

Refuge in a cloudscape. Credit: Julien Seguinot (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The action of glaciers combined with the structure of the rock to form this little platform, probably once a small lake enclosed between a moraine at the mountain side and the ice in the valley.

Now it has become a green haven in the mountain landscape, a perfect place for an alp. In the Alps, stratus clouds opening up on autumn mornings often create gorgeous light display.

 

Antarctic Fur Seal and columnar basalt Credit: Etienne Pauthenet (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

This female fur seal is sitting on hexagonal columns of basalt rock, that can be found in Pointe Suzanne at the extreme East of the Kerguelen Islands, near Antarctica. This photo was the November 2018 header image for our social media channels.

 

Silent swamp predator. Credit: Nikita Churilin (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

A macro shot of a Drosera rotundifolia modified sundew leaf waiting for an insect at swamp Krugloe. This photo was the January 2018 header image and one of the finalists in the 2017 Imaggeo Photo Competition.

 

Once there was a road…the clay wall. Credit: Chiara Arrighi (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The badlands valley of Civita di Bagnoregio is a hidden natural gem in the province of Viterbo, Italy, just 100 kilometres from Rome. Pictured here is the ‘wall,’ one of the valley’s most peculiar features, where you can even find the wooden structural remains of a trail used for agricultural purposes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

New life on ancient rock. Credit: Gerrit de Rooij (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

“After two days of canooing in the rain on lake Juvuln in the westen part of the middle of Sweden, the weather finally improved in the evening, just before we reached the small, unnamed, uninhabited but blueberry-rich island on which this picture was taken. The wind was nearly gone, and the ragged clouds were the remainder of the heavier daytime cloud cover,” said Gerrit de Rooij, who took this photograph and provided some information about the picture, which features some of the oldest rocks in the world but is bursting with new life, in this blog post.

 

Cordillera de la Sal. Credit: Martin Mergili (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The photograph shows the Valle de la Luna, part of the amazing Cordillera de la Sal mountain range in northern Chile. Rising only 200 metres above the basin of the Salar de Atacama salt flat, the ridges of the Cordillera de la Sal represent a strongly folded sequence of clastic sediments and evapourites (salt can be seen in the left portion of the image), with interspersed volcanic material.

 

Robberg Peninsula – a home of seals. Credit: Elizaveta Kovaleva (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

“This picture is taken from the Robberg Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places, and definitely one of my favorite places in South Africa. The Peninsula forms the Robberg Nature Reserve and is situated close to the Plettenberg Bay on the picturesque Garden Route. “Rob” in Dutch means “seal”, so the name of the Peninsula is translated as “the seal mountain”. This name was given to the landmark by the early Dutch mariners, who observed large colonies of these noisy and restless animals on the rocky cliffs of the Peninsula,” said Elizaveta Kovaleva in this blog post.

 

The great jump of the Tequendama. Credit: Maria Cristina Arenas Bautista (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Tequendama fall is a natural waterfall of Colombia. This blog post highlights a Colombian myth about the origins of the waterfall, which is tied to a real climate event.

 

If you pre-register for the 2019 General Assembly (Vienna, 07 – 12 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 15 January up until 15 February, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.