Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Geology’ Category

A sedimentologist friend of mine just graduated, and last week she was organizing her high school’s rock collection. We got to talking about how rocks are named, and concluded that sedimentary rocks (clastic at least) have the best naming system of all the rock groups (sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic). This week in the geology 101 lab that I teach we start talking about rocks, so this seemed like an appropriate time to blog about rock names.

Let me take this moment to say that there is nothing serious about this post. I am a sedimentologist. I am extremely biased. There will undoubtedly be many flaws in my reasoning. Just don’t get your knickers in a twist if you’re a geologist and have different opinions. I’m also going to make a ton of simplifications for the non-geologists reading this.

If you’re not a geologist, which I assume most of the people reading this are, I’m gonna try to keep this simple. There are 3 main groups of rocks: sedimentary (sandstone, mudstone, etc.), igneous (volcanic rocks, granite, etc.), and metamorphic (marble, schist, slate, etc.). (I’m hoping you’ve heard of at least a couple of those rock names.) They are all united in the rock cycle. This will be relevant later.

Rock Cycle all labels

Below are a few sedimentary rock name charts. Rock names often have 2 parts: one for the grain/crystal size, and one for the composition. Sedimentary rock names are the best because they have clearly defined grain size cutoffs. The grains also don’t grow into each other like they do in metamorphic and igneous rocks, so it’s easier to determine size in most cases (this is somewhat of a simplification, but now is not the time to explain cements). When you’re looking at a rock sample, it’s pretty easy to figure out grain size with your eyes, maybe a little hand lens (magnifying glass) and one of many small charts you can take into the field. It’s even easier in a microscope, but generally that’s not necessary to determine the grain size part of the name. If the grains are bigger than 2mm, it’s a breccia or a conglomerate. If you can see sand grains with the naked eye, it’s a sandstone. If it all looks like one uniform thing, and you can’t see grains, even with a hand lens, it’s in the siltstone/mudstone range. That’s it.

sed rocks photos

sedimentary-rocks-2-clastic-size-chart

Composition for sedimentary rocks (mostly sandstones) is based on the relative amounts of quartz, feldspars, and rock fragments (lithics). A rock’s composition is plotted on a ternary (triangular) diagram, and wherever it falls determines the rock’s compositional name. The label at each corner of the ternary diagram indicates that 100% the rock is made of that grain type. The less the rock has of that grain type, the further away it plots from that corner. Most rocks fall somewhere between the 3 corners. The ternary diagram has nice, easy, straight lines dividing the different names.

FolkQFL

The only group of sedimentary rocks that I find a bit confusing are the carbonates. Those seem a bit subjective to me too, but the Dunham classification (chart below) is about as straightforward as it gets.

Dunham1962Embry1971Klovan

 

15-collection-of-15-sedementary-rocks-pm-500x500

Metamorphic and igneous rocks, on the other hand, exist on more of a spectrum of names. I’ll save igneous rocks for last, because I think they are the biggest nightmare. When I teach the Geo 101 igneous rock lab, my students always struggle. The following week, they have to ID both metamorphic and sedimentary rocks in one lab, and they always find that process significantly easier.

Metamorphic rocks are mostly problematic when you’re talking about slate, phyllite, schist, and gneiss, which are all on a spectrum. Shale (a sedimentary rock made of silt-sized grains) turns into slate when it get metamorphosed by extreme changes in temperature and pressure. Further metamorphism turns the slate into phyllite, and then schist, and finally gneiss. More metamorphism generally means more shinyness, and larger crystals. I kid you not.

metamorphic-rock-series

meta rock name chart

So those rocks I just discussed are foliated, which means the minerals align themselves perpendicular to pressure (that’s how you get the shinyness). In the chart above, there are also non-foliated metamorphic rocks. Individually, these are pretty easy to distinguish and name. So metamorphic rock names get points for that. But the foliated rocks are still on an annoying spectrum. And if you want to know more metamorphic rock names, here are a few more:

metamorphic rocks

Finally, we have igneous rocks, which are the most obnoxious to deal with of all. Igneous rocks form when magma cools and crystallizes. Technically, they are divided by crystal size. Big crystals are intrusive, which means they cooled slowly in the crust. Tiny, microscopic crystals are extrusive, which means they cooled really fast on the surface. Seems straightforward, no? But then you throw in the rocks that have both big AND tiny crystals, and sometimes this makes them “porphyritic,” but it’s kind of subjective (in my experience).

igrxchart

Then there’s composition. This is where igneous rocks get their awful spectrum just like the foliated metamorphic rocks. Composition boils down to the relative amounts of dark and light colored minerals. Compositions are curvy and highly variable.

ign_rock_chart

classification-of-igneous-rocks-2-001

 

Igneous rocks are a nightmare. I don’t understand how people can comprehend how to name them. And I haven’t even mentioned the volcanic igneous rocks, like obsidian and pumice. Admittedly, those are easier to identify, but they can still be confused with things like rhyolite.

collection-of-igneous-rocks

These are the primary tools we use to name rocks. I think the sedimentary rocks make the most sense, and perhaps that’s part of why I’m a sedimentologist. You can take a look at these charts and diagrams and draw your own conclusions about which group of rocks are easier to name. If you have any questions about rock naming and identification, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to use my teaching assistant skills to answer them.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how being in graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. It was kind of a negative post, because I was on the uphill side of a really sweet hill of said roller coaster. Yes, the semester is still winding down, but so is my to-do list. I am so much closer to only having teaching and research responsibilities in my life.

And it feels fantastic.

The Thanksgiving holiday certainly helped a ton as well. I am one seminar (which requires me to critically read a scientific paper in my field of research), 2 classes, and 1 final exam away from being alone with my research (and teaching, but that’s easy and fun).

As for my research, I’m focusing on “point counting” right now, which is difficult, but pretty straightforward. Basically, I’m looking at very thin slices of my rocks under a polarized light microscope.

microscope

I move the slide around in a grid pattern controlled by the microscope stage, and identify whatever lands under the cross hairs. I have to identify 500 “points” of the basic “framework grains” (the more common things found in sedimentary rocks like quartz, feldspar, and rock fragments), and keep track of them in a spreadsheet.

microscope

That’s it.

I mean, distinguishing between different rock types when all you have is a fragment the size of a fine grain of sand is often difficult. But after a while you get used to what certain things look like, and your options are just volcanic, metamorphic, and sedimentary (yes, you can have fragments of sedimentary rocks in a sedimentary rock, though they are generally more rare in sandstones, which is what I’m looking at). There are a few other things I have to identify, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Essentially, this is what’s ahead for me for the next two months of graduate school research.

This, and the Christmas/my birthday holiday of course! This is my giant skylight in the tunnel that is graduate school. It’s going to be a perfect time to recharge and relax and have some fun. Even if it is only 10 days. But I haven’t been home since March, and I’ve been working really hard, so I’m pretty sure I deserve this break.

The point of this post is to prove that graduate school is indeed a roller coaster of emotion. You’ll have weeks where everything piles up on top of you and you can’t even begin to think of a way to dig yourself out. Then you’ll have weeks where everything feels like it’s falling into place and you’re moving right along with the progress of your work.

Granted, things can change in an instant with a few simple words from your advisor, but this can be bad or good. Honestly, I was afraid to tell my advisor I’d be going home just for 10 days because I have very little work I can do remotely right now. After I told him, I realized it was a completely irrational fear. It’s only 10 days. It’s a freaking family holiday, and I didn’t leave town last year. I have no reason to feel guilty for doing this. He also didn’t seem to care AT ALL.

My advice to those of you starting graduate school or thinking about going back to school – it’s really hard, but it’s also very rewarding, and you will have your ups and downs. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and don’t beat yourself into the ground over nothing. And for those of you who are in the thick of it – if things are looking bleak, remember that they’ll probably change in a week or two, so try not to worry about it too hard. Just keep making progress.

You can do anything for a year, and you can do many things for two years. I can’t speak for PhD candidates, but this much I know about getting a two-year degree.

Read Full Post »

This post is for graduate students, people contemplating graduate school, and people who want to understand what their graduate school friends are going through.

phd1029

from PHD Comics

 

Graduate school is hard. This, hopefully, is not a surprise. But it’s difficult to understand how hard it really is without going through the experience.

The end of the semester is rapidly approaching, and thus I find myself on an emotional roller coaster. I have a thousand and one things to do, and they all feel like they needed to be done yesterday. I have a lot of feelings about attending graduate school, why I chose to go, why I’m still here. It’s complicated. But I’m writing this post for people who are still thinking about going back to school, so they can make informed decisions, at least about the emotional side of things.

I feel the need to explain that I am in graduate school for geology, and the logistics of how that works. First off, geology, like most sciences, is generally a paid graduate program. You are there either on a research or teaching assistantship (I’m here on a TA), and so you are getting paid to do one of these two things, and your tuition is waived. I don’t get paid much, but I essentially don’t have the stress of worrying about how I’m going to pay for this education in the present or future (although, I do have student loans from my undergraduate degree, so I am not without a significant amount of debt – I just don’t have to worry about paying it right now). This is, of course, different for non-science graduate programs. Some are paid for, some you must pay for yourselves – there are many different ways to go about graduate school. Paid or unpaid, both have their benefits and drawbacks. I, for instance, don’t have to pay for what I’m doing, and I am indeed paid to teach and do research. But this means I am both attending school and working a normal-ish job, so my workload is a bit higher than it would be if I didn’t have to teach.

As a geology graduate student TA, I have to take a minimum of 24 course credits, plus at least 6 thesis credits, during my time here. I am on the semester system, so I teach/grade for two classes each semester (right now it’s Geology 101 lab and grading for Historical Geology/Earth System History, for those who wish to know). I may only have 6 thesis credits required, but the actual time it takes one to complete a thesis is much greater than that. Theoretically, this must all be done within 2 years (and I mean full years, not 2 academic years – I get to use my summers as well).

On top of all teaching and taking classes, I must also produce a thesis project for my Masters of Science degree. Hours upon hours of research and data collection, follow by hours upon hours of writing. Right now I’m neck-deep in data collection.

My third semester is almost over.

Of course, the panic tends to set in for everyone at the end of every semester. Final exams are approaching like fire-breathing dragons (and some professors like to give exams right before Thanksgiving… I have one tomorrow, despite the fact that there are only two and a half weeks of class left before finals. Ugh.). Final projects are due (I’ve got one due next Tuesday, before Thanksgiving). Holiday/vacation planning is in full swing, if you allow yourself to take the time off. It’s a stressful time of year. And it happens twice a year for students.

For graduate students, at least in the sciences, it’s compounded by the fact that your advisor is breathing down your neck asking why you haven’t gotten things done (whether or not they are actually doing this in real life, they’re probably still doing this in your head). It is both a gift and a curse to have an advisor who cares about you finishing your degree on time. I almost wish I didn’t, because it makes me feel guilty when I don’t have time for thesis stuff any given day. As a result, my brain sometimes begins to spiral.

You have research to do! Why on earth did you decide to take that extra class, even though it’s really interesting and will likely help you get a job in the future?? Why are you doing this to yourself? What was wrong with your life before graduate school that you had to abandon it for this life of torture??!

Graduate school, at least in my case (and many others in the sciences), is a juggling act of teaching, learning, and researching. You’d think that taking our the teaching might make it less horrible, but honestly? Teaching is probably my favorite part of this whole experience. It’s also the easiest. Next semester I won’t have any more classes to take, and I do have the whole summer after that. The goal is to start writing my thesis in the middle of spring semester. At this point I honestly have no idea if I’ll make that deadline. It feels far away and scary and there are SO MANY THINGS that need to get done between now and then. Weekends are no longer real. The future is not so vast, and it’s hard to keep things in perspective in graduate school.

In the grand scheme of life, I do not regret this decision. I have met many wonderful people I otherwise never would have come in contact with, and I am happy I have them in my life because I chose to go to graduate school. I am sure my degree (once I earn it, hopefully before I snap and run away) will help me get a better job in future.

But right now I’m in a dark tunnel and I can’t see those shiny lights at the end.

This is what graduate school is like. Not all the time, but at least once a semester. It’s made even harder when you see what your friends back home are doing on facebook and twitter, having a grand ol’ time of life. Or when you see your new, non-graduate school friends go to work and come home able to relax and do whatever they want. I know what that life is like – I took two years off before going back to school. On the one hand, I’m glad I did, because it helped me figure out what I wanted to learn about in graduate school. But on the other hand, I know what I’m missing without school in my life, and that’s hard.

Graduate school is stressful. It is the most stressful thing I have ever gone through. Would I have decided to go if I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now? I don’t know. That’s a really difficult question, one I try not to think about (but inevitably do around this time of year).

I must keep reminding myself that if all goes according to plan (and I honestly don’t know if it is right now) I have less than a year left of this life. My stepmom always says you can do anything for a year. Thing is, I’ve been doing this for a year and a half already. But I’ve made it this far, it would be stupid to run away now. I am not a quitter, and I would hate myself forever if I just gave up and walked away, so no worries of that happening.

It’s really difficult to balance relaxation and fun time with the amount of work you are required to do. This is something I have struggled with my entire life though. It’s exhausting. My greatest advice to new graduate students is this: make time for fun, and for yourself. You may find yourself working 12 hour days (that’s where I am right now). But you need to find a way to cut yourself some slack when you do that, or you’ll burn out. This past summer I did an internship, and it was basically like a real job. Yes, it set me back on my research progress, and yes, it didn’t end with a job offer. But it gave me another taste of the real world post-school, and a chance to recharge for the second year of graduate school (not to mention I met one of my best friends there). I don’t know if I’d be in a better place now, mentally, if I hadn’t done that internship. Sure, I’d have more data for my research project, and I’d be further along with it all, but I’d also be taking another class right now, and that sounds awful.

microscope

Like I said, graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. You get really excited about things like staring down a microscope at sparkly minerals and rock fragments, but then you also get overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do in such a short amount of time. I am going to take things one day or one week at a time, because looking further ahead than that is terrifying. I promise it is not all gloom and doom. I have learned a great many things here and I am thrilled to know them all. I love what my project is about. I just wish I had more time.

Here’s a great list of 8 struggles only a graduate student will understand. Although it’s also a good read for non-graduate students who want to understand what their friends and family members are going through.

Read Full Post »

I went fishing for the first time today, and I’d love to write about it because it was REALLY fun – but I only managed to get one photo, and I technically was in between casts, so I wasn’t really fishing. Just sitting on a boat looking cool with a dog. Oops. So stay tuned for a post about fishing later, after I’ve had a few goes at it (and taken some more photos!).

Instead, I’m going to attempt to explain sequence stratigraphy and my graduate thesis project to non-sedimentary geologists!

brace yourselves knowledge

First, some Geology 101:

Sedimentary rocks are rocks that are made up of sediment (gravel, sand, clay, mud, etc. derived from other rocks that were weathered and eroded). Water (and other things, like wind, but mostly water) moved this sediment around via rivers and waves and tides. Eventually, this sediment settles down for the long haul and slowly gets buried by more and more sediment. This burial causes the sediment to squish together and compact. At a certain point, the sediment “lithifies” and becomes a sedimentary rock. Welcome to my favorite part of the rock cycle.

Sedimentary rocks are conglomerates (gravel-sized sediment held together by smaller sediment), sandstones (basically sand that has become a rock via the process described above), shales (really fine grained stuff, generally too small to see without some kind of magnifier), and mudstones (the finest grained sediment).

The type of sedimentary rock you’re looking at, the size of the sediment grains, and any sedimentary structures that were preserved (like ripples, crossbeds, planar beds, etc,) can tell you what kind of environment the sediment was deposited in. Composition of the sediment grains (minerals and rock fragments) can also help, but sometimes the grains are too small to determine that without a microscope. You might imagine that a sedimentary rock created by a lake (mostly very fine-grained sediments like mud and clay) would be very different from one created in a beach environment (mostly sand), which would in turn be very different from a rock from a river environment (gravel and pebbles). Of course, all of these environments can be variable, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

seds

 

Stratigraphy is the study of these sedimentary deposits/rocks, and how they are layered.

One more thing before we start putting things together into sequence stratigraphy. Over time, sea level around the world rises and falls for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s climate – either global (eustatic) or local. Sometimes it’s caused by plate tectonics – the movement and interaction between crustal plates.

Now, let’s put these concepts together:

I’ve talked about depositional environments, and I’ve talked about sea level change. At the most basic level, putting these two concepts together is sequence stratigraphy. Burial is what ties them together.

I’m going to put this into context with a coastline, because that’s what I work with, and that’s what makes the most sense to me. On a coastline you might have the river meeting the ocean, a beach, a tidal flat, and the deeper, offshore environments.

Imagine you’re on a beach, and sea level begins to rise. Pretend you can breathe under water/sediment, and you’re immortal, so you can totally watch things change on a geological time scale.

First, your beach sand would get buried by finer grained sand from the tidal flat, and as the water continued to get deeper, the beach sediment deposit and the tidal flat deposit would get buried by the deep offshore deposits (really fine muds with maybe a little really fine sand).

That, my friend, is a sequence. If you cut a slice into the sediment right where you were standing when sea level began to rise, you would see this stratigraphic sequence, and the sediment would be getting finer closer to the top. We call this a “transgressive” cycle, because the shoreline is “transgressing” across the land – it is moving landward. Also, the furthest the shoreline extends at the end of transgression creates a surface called the “maximum flooding surface” – hopefully this seems pretty obvious: as sea level rises, you are flooding the environments that were there before sea level began to rise.

Now, pretend you are still standing in the same place on that beach (now buried under quite a lot of sediment), and sea level begins to drop. You might see the return of tidal flat deposits, and eventually you’d see the beach again, and if sea level drops far enough, you might even see the river environments at the very top. This is what we call a “regressive” cycle – the shoreline is regressing away from the land and moving seaward.

If you were to step back and take a slice out of this whole sequence I have described – from the first beach deposit to the fluvial deposit, and then studied how these depositional environments changed laterally and vertically, you would be studying sequence stratigraphy.

Of course, it is a TON more complicated than this, especially since these processes are often erosive, so you don’t always get a perfect sequence that records an entire cycle of sea level rise and fall, but hopefully you get the idea. There are also these things called “significant surfaces” (the maximum flooding surface is one of them), which help us define sequences. They are usually created by some form of erosion – either transgressive or regressive, but involve some kind of shift in either the direction or speed of sea level rise or fall.

One important aspect of sequence stratigraphy is the source of sediment, and this is where the focus of my thesis project lies. You can hopefully imagine that river sediments come from somewhere upstream, while beach or tidal flat deposits might be sourced from somewhere else on the coastline, or they might get sediment from the ocean. Sediment comes from all over the place.

In my field area, the previous graduate student identified three different sources of sediment. I’m going to be looking at the composition of all the sandstones (sorry, sand can be found in many different environments, try not to thing about it too hard) in my rock formation and comparing them to see if there are significant differences between these different sources – and if the sands from the same source have similar compositions. Again, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea. Also there are GREEN minerals in my sandstones (not a common sedimentary mineral color). I get to identify them – I’m pretty stoked.

Sequence stratigraphy is like studying history, but it’s history of the earth rather than of people, and that’s what I love about it. Sequences of depositional environments is very intuitive to me. Plus, looking at things in a powerful microscope (a few different kinds actually), is really fun.

microscope

That thing up in the right corner that looks like plaid? That’s called “tartan twinning.” It’s a potassium feldspar grain. It GREW like that. Plaid is found in nature, guys. Chew on that.

If you’re curious, or you need me to explain something differently, please feel free to leave questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help you understand! This stuff comes as second nature to me (and I already find it fascinating), so it’s difficult (as any specialty can be) to break it down and keep it interesting. I hope you at least learned something about sedimentology by reading this post.

bill nye dropping science

 

Fun fact: “Sedimentology” is not recognized by computer dictionaries. My entire area of study does not exist to technological devices.

Read Full Post »

Yes, I mean actual diamonds. I cut rocks with diamonds. Be jealous.

Ok, so they’re REALLY tiny (microscopic, even), and they’re synthetic, so it sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.

Oh, who am I kidding, cutting rocks is one of the best things about being a geologist. Especially when you’re cutting sedimentary rocks with a diamond rock saw – it’s like slicing butter with a hot knife. If someone ever asks you if you want to try cutting a rock, just say yes.

Last Friday I got to cut some rocks as part of my thesis work. I’m going to attempt to explain my thesis project in non-geologist terms in a later post, but right now I just want to brag about cutting rocks and feeling a little bit like a god while doing so. This particular batch of rocks were all from a fresh rock core (someone drilled a tube into the subsurface and pulled out a cylinder of rock – essentially). The core was also thankfully already sliced in half. You might imagine that flat edges would make rock cutting much easier, and you’d be right.

photo 1

This is what the rocks looked like before I started slicing them, except for the 2 at the top. The goal is to cut a thin section “blank.” They go by many names (billet, chip…), but the piece you cut before it gets shaved down enough that light can pass through it under a microscope. They’re roughly 1″ x 1 & 7/8″ and about half an inch thick. Then we send them off to a lab where everything is standardized and we get a bunch of perfect thin sections returned like magic. And then I have to count 70,000 individual grains, among many other things. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

photo 4

The rock saw! It’s basically stationary, and you put your rock on the rack, and move the rack under the blade. That chip sitting on it is a typical thin section blank. Fun fact: it’s pretty difficult to cut yourself on this blade, even though it’s designed to cut rocks. It’s actually pretty blunt – about 1/16″ thick. I meant, don’t get your finger trapped between the rock and the blade, but you could probably hold your finger right on the blade as it spins and it wouldn’t cut you.

photo 3

Look! I’m doing science! Literally just sliding the rock into the blade, and it just cuts. You gotta go slow, so you don’t fracture the rock or damage the blade. But not THAT slow. At least, not with sedimentary rocks. We were able to cut about 15 samples in about 3 hours – and that includes refilling water buckets and labeling everything. I have to cut about 85 more though… going to be a busy few weeks.

photo

In the end, this is what we had left. I failed to take a photo of any of the actually blanks, because… I have no excuse, it just didn’t happen.

Honestly, I am just really excited to get this part done. Microscopes are fun. Probably I’ll change my mind about this after I spend many hours staring down into them, but rocks look really cool in thin section. I’ll hopefully post some photos of that when I get around to that process. My project is mostly a sedimentary petrology deal (petrology = looking at rocks under a microscope and identifying minerals and figuring out where the sediment came from), and I am just really anxious to get to the data collection part. Collecting and preparing samples is only fun for the first few days, in my opinion.

photo 5

Then there are the big cabinets in the lab that just say “ACID” on them in giant red letters…

Read Full Post »

Well, I made it to Houston, for my second adventure of the summer! While here, I’m going an internship with an energy company. It’s all rather hush-hush as to what I’m really doing, but basically I will be using my geology knowledge to figure out where some oil might be in the rock formation they’ve assigned. I promise I haven’t sold me soul yet, and yes, there is the whole environmental issue, but the point is, we still need oil. Until we can mass-produce sustainable energy, and people are willing to buy it and go cold turkey off petroleum, we still need it. But I don’t want to get into that right now, because I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on the issue.

Anyway, Houston! It’s a strange place. I was expecting desert, but instead I got tropical rain forest? Seriously, it feels EXACTLY like the tropical rain forest exhibit at my hometown’s zoo. It freaked me out when I first got here. I’ve also experienced 2 thunderstorms, and I’ve only been here for less than 48 hours. The wildlife is obviously different as well. I’ve seen a couple new birds already, and I can’t wait for my zoologist dad to visit me next month and tell me what they are.

On my first drive through the city (my friend picked me up at the airport, I didn’t feel safe bringing my ancient Jeep with me on this trip – I don’t think it would survive the climate), I saw a church sunk into the ground.

photo 1

Um… what? Why? No signs anywhere? I was immediately reminded of a Sunnydale-style apocalypse, circa Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6. A friend of mine joked it must have been satanic, and was trying to get closer to its leader. Make of it what you will, but not an hour into my stay in this city I had decided it was a strange place.

That night I had my very first crawfish, and was instructed on how to consume it.

photo 2

I made a huge mess, but I actually thought it was pretty good. I saw a few people order platters of them. I wouldn’t say no to splitting one with someone, as it turns out.

photo 3

 

So far, the food I’ve had here is pretty delicious. I wasn’t lied to about that. I’m currently in this funky little breakfast cafe that functions a bit like a cafeteria. Mostly I’m here because they advertise free wifi, and I don’t have wifi set up in my apartment yet, but the food is actually pretty delicious (despite the fact that my “fresh fruit” came in a pre-wrapped dish…).

My apartment is adorable. It comes with air conditioning (yay!), a tiny office nook, and a bedroom that’s almost as large as the living room. I even bought a little “dragon tree” from IKEA so it would look more lived-in. But it’s a cute little spot, even though I have to live very minimalist while I’m here (two and a half months isn’t long enough to be worth really settling in, especially when you don’t have a car to haul everything back in).

photo 5 photo 4

The bathtub is also enormous enough to make bubble baths a possibility. I already bought the bubbles for it. Oh, and did I mention it has 2 pools and is a gated community? I’m like a poor person living in a rich person’s body!

While I am here, I will have very little school work to do, though I will be working something like an 8-5 job. This means that I’ll have evenings and weekends to do what I want. Hopefully, this means more writing and definitely more reading is in my near future! Honestly, this is probably the part of this adventure that I am most excited about. But I’m also looking forward to seeing what my future after grad school might look like. This heat and humidity will take some getting used to though!

Read Full Post »

Next week I intend to have my life together enough to bring you my thoughts from Emerald City Comicon 2014 (and some photos!), so if you’re not interested in geology, feel free to stop reading now, I won’t be offended.

As a graduate student of geology, one is more often than not required to do some amount of field work. At the end of last summer, I was able to go out into field area and check it out. I was given a grand overview of the rocks out there, but at that point I hadn’t decided what I wanted to focus on yet. This time around, I know what to look for a little better.

IMG_6938

Unfortunately, my field area is still very much stuck in winter-mode this time of year. But I’m out here now because the vast majority of my summer will be spent on an internship with an oil company. So I thought I’d share with you what being out in my field area at the beginning of April is like.

First, I’d like to preface this by saying that the 3 days before I went out to the field were spent at Emerald City Comicon. I flew out there to visit family and see all my friends at ECCC. I was literally booked from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep all three days, and this was AFTER the hellish week that came before spring break. This insane amount of activity combined with being around 75,000 people all weekend resulted in me getting violently ill the evening I flew back home (nerds like me call this a form of con-plague). Great way to start off a week in the field, right?

My plane landed at midnight, I slept for a few hours, got up, was violently ill again, went to campus, and we started the five-hour drive to the field area. I slept the entire way. When we stopped for lunch I maybe ate 5 french fries. We made a few stops to look at rocks before we made it all the way into town, and for the most part I was able to keep my head together long enough to see what was in front of me. When we finally made it to the hotel, I basically decided to sleep for 13 hours while my advisor and my fellow grad student went to dinner. This turned out to be an excellent choice.

By the way, most often field work is not done from the comfort of a hotel room. Normally you go camping in your field area. But my rocks surround a city, and this time of year it still snows, so we opted for a hotel for the week. I would like to note that I am extremely lucky. I would also like to note that it was entirely my choice to jump right into the field after my trip to ECCC. I powered through the sick. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Truth.

The morning started out fine. It was cloudy, but not terribly awful – visibility was decent. We walked out to look at some rocks, and then we started to hike up a hill to look at more rocks, and then my 48 hours of eating next to nothing caught up to me. If you’ve never had REALLY low blood sugar, it’s like this: I felt super light-headed, standing was hard, and my vision had become a brown blur. I was rescued by a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar, and later by a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

The following day was the first day I actually felt like a normal human being again. But, of course, that was the day the weather decided to be problematic. We set out to look at what we thought were the first paleoflow indicators (structures in sedimentary rocks that tell us the direction the water flowed during deposition) in my special green sand, only to find that they were in a different sandstone altogether, deposited on top of my green sandstone.

But then it started snowing. And it didn’t really stop.

My rocks are dangerous when wet.

So what do you do when the weather goes south while trying to do field work? You have some coffee. And you wait. And then you go back to your hotel and you wait some more, and procrastinate and try to do some work.

Our final day in the field was far more successful. The sun was shining, and we were able to walk around on my rocks! They were super green, it was great. But it turns out the citizens of the city like to abuse my rocks. They are covered in graffiti, and we found the carcasses of two cars that dove off a cliff above. So if you are so inclined to use spray paint on rocks, take a moment to think about the sad future geologist who will come across your “art” and see only paint covering their rocks.

IMG_6927

We walked around the cliffs for a while, and came upon a cave, the overhang of which was COVERED in cross-bedded structures. We were in the shoreface (!)(where the coastline interacts with the beach next to an ocean or sea). So much excitement! We found paleoflow indicators in my funky green sand! But then we walked around a corner and realized that when you’re out of the shadow of a ravine, the sand wasn’t green. It was, once again, the sand on top of my green sand.

IMG_6920

That was false alarm #2. If I am really lucky, sometime in the next few months I will find paleoflow indicators in my sandstone. But I won’t lie, that was pretty disappointing.

We spent the afternoon doing what my advisor called “urban geology.” Basically, it means we drove around, climbed tall buildings, and took photos of cliff faces (so we can later follow contacts between rock units in photomosaics). I got to use a fancy camera.

So my point in telling this story is just that I love actually doing geology. Mostly I wrote this for my family and friends who might be curious about my graduate school life, so I hope this was a good taste. I head back out to the field briefly at the end of the month for a field trip with my advisor and his class. Super excited! 😀

IMG_6943

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »