Summer Plans

In just over a week I will be boarding a plane for Ireland. This will mark the start of the first of two field seasons for my graduate research involving surface exposure dating of cirque moraines. The plan for this season is to focus on western Irish mountain ranges found in the counties Kerry, Galway, and Mayo including the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the Nephin Beg range. 

Sample collection will involve chiseling off top portions of glacial erratics found along moraine crests, and hauling them back down the mountainside to the vehicle. My understanding is that it will be a bit of a workout. Here is a picture of a few of the tools I will be bringing with me.


Most of these have already experienced one field season in Antarctica, so I hope they are still up for the task.

I am sure this will provide plenty of storytelling and picture sharing opportunities, and I plan on doing just that through this blog. Hopefully the hostels will be wi-fi friendly. If not, there’s a good chance I could find myself in a coffee shop or two along the way.

Please check back, and I’ll keep the updates coming.

Not so recently an article was sent to me that discusses how in areas of Sweden the relative sea level is falling and land bridges that did not exist within the last century are starting to appear. For some this could seem as counterintuitive with what is known about rising eustatic sea level caused by climate change. But, the process behind this relative falling sea level is simply isostatic rebound from the Last Glacial Maximum.

During the LGM, the massive Eurasian Ice Sheet depressed the land, and since deglaciation it has been recovering from that depression. What is happening specifically is that the rate of Swedish rebound is higher than the rate of sea level rise.

The process of isostatic rebound is becoming a concept of large importance for me to work with in a couple of ways. One of the ways we can reconstruct the glacial history of a region is by looking into the relative sea level changes experienced there. Using those changes along with an understanding of the global sea level can suggest the presence or lack of overlying ice sheets.

In a 2007 paper, Marshall McCabe et al discuss the relative sea level changes in northeast Ireland experienced after the LGM and up to the Younger Dryas. By using stratigraphic relationships between dated beach deposits and glacial diamictites, McCabe reconstructed a relative sea level curve for the region.

From McCabe et al 2007

At a Kilkeel outcrop (point 2 in the figure), beach notches are found 30 m above current sea level and are infilled with glaciomarine muds. This suggests that at the time of formation of the notches the coastline of Ireland was isostatically depressed 30 meters. Considering that eustatic sea level was 130 m below current during the LGM means the coastline was depressed ~160 m below present. Deglaciation is suggested by a subsequent fall in relative sea level as the unburdened coastline experienced uplift.

Another aspect of isostatic uplift that I have to consider has to do with the surface exposure dating I will use, and is a topic I have discussed at length with fellow students. Glossing over a whole bunch of details, to get as accurate of a date as possible we have to consider not just how long a particular sample was exposed to cosmogenic rays, but also at what altitude the sample was at while being exposed. Objects at higher altitudes will be exposed to more cosmogenic rays than those at lower altitudes. This comes into play where a glacial erratic may be deposited on a moraine that was 160 m below its current altitude during the LGM. Depending on what altitude the erratic was at would effect the calculated age of exposure. Do we use the current altitude in our calculations or the depressed altitude? Or do we compensate for the uplift by trying to adjust the increasing exposure with uplift? If so, do we assume a linear uplift, or the rebound curve that shows high initial rates followed by lower rates of uplift? Also, how significant of a difference does it make on the final calculation?

I understand that these are a lot of questions to consider, and ones I am sure I will have to tackle in the coming months. The truth is I welcome the discussion that will come, and if anyone reading this has thoughts or suggestions please feel free to chime in on the comments section.


McCabe, a. M., Cooper, J. a. G., & Kelley, J. T. (2007). Relative sea-level changes from NE Ireland during the last glacial termination. Journal of the Geological Society, 164(5), 1059–1063.

It Begins…

Tomorrow will mark the official start of my graduate school career at Oregon State. Though I have been  present on campus throughout the summer, and been able to get my feet wet in research procedures, tomorrow when I sit down for my first lecture at 9 a.m. I will be official. 

Much like a lot of this experience so far, I am a combination of nerves and excitement. Clearly this is where I want to be and what I want to be doing, but I also recognize that this is on a higher level than what I have encountered so far. Just by simply reading over the syllabi gave me a moment of…”whoa”. I’m sure this is also how I felt with the beginning of every other level of education, and hopefully without sounding too confident, I have succeeded there as well. Though, there is an awful lot of reading ahead of me. 

All in all, I am very eager to begin. 

Here now is my obligatory mention of how I plan to post more often to this blog, especially with all the new information I will be gathering through my experiences.

This final post of my Columns “Week” comes from an outcrop on I-84 along the Columbia River in northeastern Oregon. Technically this outcrop is in Washington, but since I took this picture from the Oregon side, and I am now a resident of Oregon, I am going to claim it as ours. This stretch of interstate is full of excellent examples of columnar jointing from the basalt flows that cover most of the state, and is a beautiful drive.

Becoming a bad habit for me is that this picture was taken from a moving car, and suffers from the slightest bit of blurriness and lack of good scale.

Even with the photographic flaws, I think it is apparent that there is some interesting distortion going on in these columns. Below, I highlighted the edges of most of the columns.

What stands out most to me about this outcrop is the change in direction of the narrow columns. Admittedly there is a high amount of fracturing going on, but the most apparent columns seem to diverge and converge in places.

Another interesting aspect of this place is the presence of what could be more, larger columns above the distorted, narrow ones. Here they are highlighted in yellow.

This gives me the sense that there are two separate flows existing here. A quick amount of research leads me to believe the lower flow could be the Middle Miocene Wanapum basalt (15.0 Ma), and the upper flow could be the  slightly younger Saddle Mountains basalt (13.5 – 6.0 Ma). Of course, to get a good grasp on the difference I would need to get my nose to the outcrop and take a better look.

If these are two separate flows, here is another annotated picture showing the contact between the two in blue.

Maybe I will find time to head back and get a closer look.

The next post in my Columns “Week” series is an outcrop I saw along I-5 just north of Eugene back in March, and came away with an immediate impression. I was sick at the time, but still knew exactly what it was I was looking at as we drove past at 65 mph. Since coming back, this outcrop has become a bit more confusing to me. Not because I disagree with my initial impression, but because it has been explained to me as something else and I still agree with my first thought. Hopefully today I can get some input that will shine light on the situation to me.

Enough talk! Here is the outcrop in question:

This outcrop is located on the eastern side of I-5 with no safe place to park and walk up to, so these pictures are taken from across the interstate just off of Coburn Road near the McKenzie River.

Clearly there are some distorted basalt columns here, that is not in question. But, my initial impression was that these columns were distorted due to a lobate cooling front, and it has been explained to me (by very reputable sources) as a dike rolling into a sill. To help visualize my thought process, here is an annotated picture of the outcrop with the progressive cooling front in orange, and the direction of cooling shown with a red arrow. Also, a second picture with a passing tractor trailer to give a relative sense of scale.

Here is another angle of the outcrop where in my hypothesis the cooling front would be moving from the upper left of the picture towards the lower right.

Another interesting aspect of this outcrop is that the basalt can be seen overlying Oligocene aged marine sediments of siltstone and sandstone. Here is a picture of the contact between the two with another less than desirable “passing truck” for sense of scale.

Does anyone have a counter hypothesis? I would love to have a discussion on what I may not be seeing at this outcrop.

For good measure, here is a picture of the entire outcrop taken from a northern angle (again with cars for scale).

I have recently transplanted myself in the Pacific Northwest, specifically the city of Eugene, OR. It has only been a couple of weeks, but I am already making myself right at home with the food, people and most importantly the geology. While I still have a lot to learn in terms of the local geology, what I have seen so far has prompted me to declare my own personal “Columns Week” on this blog. I have set aside three Oregon outcrops to discuss throughout the week, starting off with one suggested to me by Lockwood DeWitt at Skinner’s Butte.

Located on the northern side of town west of the campus, and just a short bike ride from my place, this outcrop shows some of the most spectacular basalt columns I have come across. I have been to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and I think these ones belong in the same category.

The columns to the right are so well preserved!

Photo by V. Malinay

Photo by V. Malinay

If you click on the image for the larger version, you can see the arrest lines.

Special thanks to Lockwood DeWitt for bringing these to my attention, and also the guy climbing for the sense of scale.

In less than two weeks I will be moving across the United States to begin work on my PhD at Oregon State University. I have the great opportunity to work under Dr. Peter Clark studying the glacial geology of Ireland. While I have had the chance to travel to numerous localities within the United States and beyond its borders, this will be the first time I have lived anywhere but Virginia. The whole idea has a mix of emotions running through me. I am overly excited to the point of anxious about beginning my graduate career and working on research. Conducting research in geology has been my end goal since I first gained interest in the subject, and I still cannot imagine a more stimulating and exciting career to pursue. Yet, a certain amount of apprehension and nerves exist as well. Corvallis is as foreign to me as any of the other cities I have spent merely a few days in. I have lived all but one of my years in the D.C. area, and even though many of my friends have moved away, many remain. My family is here, or within a short drive, and I will miss all of it. More strangely, or at least relevant to this blog, my life as a geologist has been here. My geologic family is here, from mentors to partners and friends. We are all at a point where we are beginning the next phase in our development and either moving away from each other or exploring other aspects of life; all in very positive ways. I am very excited for and proud of each person I have been lucky enough to associate myself with at George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College, and the USGS.

Without getting too sentimental which I have been known to do, and may be too late on stopping anyways, there is one other aspect of leaving that will be hard to swallow. With the help of Alan Pitts I have made it my goal to know the geology of my home state of Virginia very well. One of my first projects as an undergrad was to discuss the Appalachian Orogenies. We cut our teeth as geologists on the rocks of the Commonwealth. My father, a native of West Virginia, has always talked about holding the hills and mountains of Appalachia near and dear, and I know the same will be true for me. I still get defensive whenever somebody tries to tell me the geology of Virginia is boring, and I hope to not lose that when I move out west. Just about every aspect of geology is well represented here, and the story goes back beyond a billion years. Maybe one of the reasons I have been drawn to glacial geology is that it is one aspect of geology that is not well represented here (apologies to the Snowball Earth people). I will always compare newer areas to what I saw in Virginia, and leaving is going to be hard, but the unknown is too exciting, and the adventure is too enticing.

I have looked at this blog as a way for me to explore multiple aspects of geology that were interesting to me, and is a good indicator of where I was as an undergraduate. Since I will be moving onto a more focused approach to geology I suppose the blog topics will follow that focus along with me.

Thank you to everyone that read this blog, and hopefully you will continue to read in the future.