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Paleontology

#AESRC2014 Highlights

Well, AESRC is done for another year and with it my role as co-chair of the organizing committee! Thank goodness for that! Hopefully, I can finally get some actual thesis related work done in the coming months…and maybe get back to blogging a bit as well. However, as grateful as I am that AESRC is done, I have to say that it was a fantastic conference this year with a host of terrific talks from keynotes and grad students alike.

As I mentioned in my conference opening post AESRC is the only conference in Ontario, maybe Canada for all I know, that is organized by and for graduate students. The entire organizing committee is composed of graduate students and all of the talks, with the exception of keynotes, are given by graduate students. AESRC is meant to be a place where new and experienced grads alike can talk about their work in a less nerve-racking environment. We encourage in progress research or research that does not even have results yet. The idea is that every graduate student can feel comfortable, practice presenting to an educated audience and hopefully enjoy themselves and meet their colleagues from across the province.

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This AESRC was by far the most well attended in the past 10 years, with over 100 delegates attending from 8 different universities. The conference kicked off with the Icebreaker at a campus pub, where we all got meet each other or reconnect in many cases, while watching hockey and drinking beer. A nice relaxing end to the week and prelude to the science of the weekend. On a personal note, it is always worth attending the Icebreaker at every conference I have been to. More often than not there is free food and drink, but it is a great opportunity to meet new people, spot that keynote you want to talk with and introduce yourself. I try to make of point of meeting at least one new person at every Icebreaker I go to.

Saturday started with some great talk on Environmental Geoscience (my session) and Sedimentology and Petroleum Geology. We had two keynote speakers on Saturday: Paul Mackay from the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists and Dr. Jack Cornett from uOttawa. The video of Jack’s talk is below.

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To summarize, in case you didn’t watch the entire video, Jack discusses the incredible range of radionuclides that are found naturally occurring on Earth and the vast range of geologic problems these nuclides can be applied to. He also talks about how we can use accelerator mass spectrometry to measure these radionuclides at incredibly low levels, which is how we are able to apply them to geologic questions. To illustrate this point Jack discussed the case study of chlorine-36 in the Cigar Lake uranium mine in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Saturday concluded with a fantastic dinner at the nearby National Arts Centre and another terrific keynote by Dr. Becky Rogala on the challenges of extracting bitumen from the oil sands and the importance of having an accurate understanding of the sedimentology to ensure maximum efficiency of SAGD recovery. There was also quite a bit of beer.

Sunday started nice and early with the Geophysics session as well as the Paleontology and Tectonics sessions as well. Our keynote for the geophysics session was Dr. Glenn Milne from uOttawa, who was an author on the most recent IPCC report and is an expert on sea level change.

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We also had another great keynote from uOttawa in the tectonics session in Dr. Jon O’Neil. The video of his talk on the oldest rocks on Earth (4.4 billion years old) is coming soon! That pretty much wraps up AESRC2014! It was a great weekend, there was lots of great science and I am really glad its over. I likely won’t be around for next year’s AESRC at Queens University (fingers crossed), however, I am sure it will be great.

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Yours truly giving his talk on iodine-129 fallout from Fukushima. (Photo: Viktor Terlaky)

 

 

 

Back in Colborne Quarry!

It finally happened! After 10 years of being denied access to one of the all time best fossil collecting spots in North America myself, and a few other lucky geologists were allowed into the quarry with unrestricted access for the day last Thursday! The last time I visited Colborne Quarry was before I had started my undergraduate.  Shortly after that visit all collecting access to the quarry was suspended due to an incident with the gate and the potential liability of us wandering around a giant open pit all by ourselves. Fair enough. Since then I have wanted to get back in there, but opportunities have been few and far between. If you recall, the best fossil in my personal collection came out of Colborne: Bert and Ernie!

Let’s back up a bit though. Colborne Quarry is a massive open pit limestone quarry located in Colborne, Ontario.

The town of Colborne could actually fit quite comfortably in the quarry itself. Indeed, the quarry is 2 kilometeres long by 1.5 wide and is currently ~150m deep. It opened in the early 1950’s and is expected to produce limestone aggregate for another 120 years at which point it will be around 250m deep. The quarry lies in the middle Ordovician aged Cobourg formation and extends down into the Sherman Falls  formation as well.

The reason that myself and several others from the university were interested in going was not only because of the fossils. We are all working on a project to store low and intermediate level radioactive waste in the Cobourg Formation 500km west of Colborne and this was a rare opportunity to look at the Cobourg in outcrop as opposed to core. I have seen lots of Cobourg formation in core samples, but it is a completly different story when you can see outcrop. It makes it possible to see lateral continuity of beds, hydrothermal fracture filling, vuggy porosity, faults and many other features that it is much harder to glean from the core. We were particularly interested in looking for fluid conducting features such as faults or porosity that it is easy to miss with a core section. We were also interested in looking for fossils as well.

A close up view of the whole quarry in air photo form. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Colborne is a very, very active quarry. They blast every day the weather permits, luckily not the day we were there, and when they are not blasting they are drilling blast holes all over the place. The limestone is then loaded from the crusher onto a ship that conveys the rock to Mississauga, Ontario where it gets turned into cement.

The outlet of the crusher. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Each truck load drops 100 tonnes into the crusher. They have two trucks running 10 hours/day. (Photo: Matt Herod)

The ship coming into port for loading. It runs 24/7 and makes one trip to the quarry every 20 hours. The rock HAS to be ready for loading each 20 hour cycle every day of the week. (Photo: Matt Herod)

While we were in the quarry we also took advantage and did a bit of fossil collecting. I didn’t find anything that comes up to the Bert and Ernie standard, but I did pretty well.

We did most of the collecting on piles of un-collected rock. We had to move fast since this material was headed to the crusher in a few short hours. (Photo: Matt Herod)

A giant trilobite!! A few key pieces are missing, but it shows how big they can get. (Photo: Matt Herod)

A really nice complete trilobite. Only a tiny bit of the head is missing. (Photo: Matt Herod)

The best find of my day!! A complete and very large specimen of an unusual species of trilobite. It doesn’t look compete, but the rest of it is under the rock and so it will require some careful cleaning to bring out its full glory. (Photo: Matt Herod)

So that pretty much does it for this trip. It was a great day and after all those years waiting to get back into the quarry it did not disappoint!

Cheers,

 

Geology Photo of the Week #32 – Name that squid!

This edition of the photo of the week highlights another piece from my personal collection.

Cephalopod – Matt Herod Collection (Photo: Matt Herod)

This is a cephalopod. More specifically it is a member of the Order Endocerida and the Family Endoceratidae. This creature, which hopefully you can see was pretty large (golf tee for scale) was the largest of the Ordovician cephalopods found in Ontario and this is a particularly fine/large example mainly because it tapers all the way to the apex at the end, which is a very rare find, and because of its large size (~7ocm). Cepahlopods, such as Endoceras, were the top predators of the Ordovician ocean that once covered most of southern Ontario and they grew up to several metres long. The cephalopods of the past resembled modern squids of today. Indeed, they were the progenitors of the Cretaceous ammonites and the squid and octopi of today’s oceans. If you enjoy calamari, thank a cephalopod!

(Photo: Matt Herod)

This zoomed in look at the cephalopod shows the siphuncle and the suture lines, which divide the inner chambers. The siphuncle was an inner tube that ran the length of the cephalopod and allowed it to control its buoyancy. The fact that the siphucle and sutures are clearly preserved is a great feature of this cephalopod, however, there is more….

When I was extracting this fellow from the giant boulder he was in I was unfortunate enough to break him in several pieces, which I have now super-glued together. But why, you may ask, did I not super-glue him completely together? The answer is pictured below.

(Photo: Matt Herod)

One of the points at which he broke contained this tiny little trilobite, which I am pretty sure is a Bumastus, based on the shape of its pygidium (tail). I decided not to rejoin the parts together so that we could still see this little dude that made this find a 2 for 1 deal. The obvious question is what is this little guy doing in a cephalopod? Was he eaten? Was he seeking shelter? Was he eating the already dead cephalopod? I have no idea, and it is pretty hard to prove one way or the other now. Please weigh in and let me know how you think he got in there!

Also, the other great fossil in my collection, the two trilobites that were featured in the Photo of the Week #25 and are named “Bert and Ernie”. We have a similar pair here, but they lack the awesome name. Please suggest your favourite names for this odd couple.

Cheers,

Matt

Geology Photo of the Week #26

The photo of the week is another great example of Pleistocene giantism in mammals. In the photo you see a recent (very) leg bone from a kangaroo held next to the fossilized leg bone of a Pleistocene kangaroo, known as Procoptodon. HUGE DIFFERENCE! The bone from the ancient kangaroo is at least 10-15cm longer and much, much thicker.  Procoptodon, stood around 2m tall and weighed in at a massive 230kg! Compare this to a modern kangaroo which, while similar in height, only weighs about 90kg. You can see the difference in the bones….

(Photo: Matt Herod)

I took this photo in 2009 during my trip to Australia at a friends sheep station near Port Augusta. You may have seen other photos of the week from this same place such as stromatolites, or the mystery fossil (seriously, what is it?). It was, without a doubt, the most diverse geological place I have ever been. These Pleistocene remnants were found there, along with others from giant wombats. The owners have also found ancient emu egg shell, and arrowheads from early aboriginal people. Gold exploration has taken place nearby as well as an oil well was drilled and produced a few barrels…don’t ask me how gold and oil can be found on the same property…it blows my mind.

Anyway, enjoy the pic.

Cheers,

Matt