Friday, December 11, 2009

Another comic!

Man, I promise, i'm just really busy. It's not like I ONLY sit around lookin' at internet comics all day or anything...just got a lot on my plate, alright? DON'T JUDGE ME!

Anyway, the comic below is from Big Fat Whale, purveyor of transgressive snark since 1324, with a royal charter from King Edward II himself! Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Climate Change Deniers are Idiots

The title pretty much sums up my definitive policy statement on climate change deniers. Emily Flake, of the completely rad LuLu Eightball comic strip, explores the intricacies of various "reasons" for actively denying reality. I snagged it, from the interwebs, and reproduce it for you below. ENJOY!

Pretty accurate, really.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Return of Sunday Sed Structures!

A substantial hiatus between "Sunday Sed Structures", perhaps, but seeing as how I'm a fan of the ol' Sed/Strat side of things, I reckon it's perfectly acceptably for me to engage in hiatuses of all sorts (as well as terrible pun-based stratigraphy humor). Below is a picture from the Holiest of Holies, The Book Cliffs!

A pretty big piece of float, perhaps, but it illustrates the elusive and complex 3-Dimensional nature of bedforms rather nicely, I think. On the right-hand face of the boulder, you can see the more traditional trough cross-stratification, oriented roughly parallel to flow. On the left-hand face, you can see the troughs themselves; this view is roughly perpendicular to flow, and preserves the scoop-like trough that is the cross-stratification's namesake. Just goes to show you that when dealing with trough cross-stratification and paleocurrent orientation, you gotta be careful, and TRY to find some nice 3-D (or, more likely, the good ol' 2-and-a-half-D) exposure.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Geophysics and Auto-Tuning

Despite the common perception that Auto-Tune is an insidious font of evil, born in blackest night by the dreaded Audiomages of Sauron the Great, it can OCCASIONALLY be used to produce some pretty nifty stuff, I GUESS. I'm sure everyone has already encountered the "Symphony of Science" and it's (pretty fun, actually) Auto-tuned Carl Sagan (and others) videos.

But do you know whence Auto-Tune actually sprang? Andy Hildebrand is the name of the inventor, and he worked for Exxon as an engineer, specializing in seimsic data processing. He's also one of the founders of Landmark Graphics, which is all geophysicsy too. Apparently, Dr. Hildebrand recognized that his digital signal processing mojo could also be employed to detect, analyze, and "correct" pitch, undoubtedly saving the careers of many-a-terrible pop singer today (thanks?). Here's the wiki page for Auto-Tune, and here's a Nova Science Now Q&A with Dr. Hildebrand himself.

And it's all thanks to geophysics!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cyclic subsidence and uplift in the Mississippi Delta

The Mississippi Delta is really one of those iconic depositional settings within sedimentary geology; when folks talk about deltas, consciously or unconsciously most people get a picture of that big, beautiful, stereotypical Bird's Foot protruding out into the Gulf of Mexico. And not without good cause, of course. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, the Mississippi Delta is just damn pretty, especially from space, as evidenced by the Earth as Art Landsat image of the Mississippi Delta, below:

And scientifically, the Mississppi Delta has experienced a fair amount of study. Coleman (1988) provided a nice summary of the evolution of the Delta, demonstrating the complexity and extreme variability of the individual delta lobes. The image below is from Coleman (1988, his Figure 2 on p. 1000), and is the iconic illustration of how quickly the individual delta lobes of the Mississippi system switched location:

Coleman (1988) pointed out that the Mississippi system switches the locus of deltaic deposition on average every 1500 years. And keep in mind that each of those lobes covers ~35,000 km2, and is somewhere around 15-25 m thick. That's a lot of sediment in a pretty short amount of time! These pulses of deltaic avulsion and deposition have always been ascribed to the usual suspects in sedimentology: sea-level change, sediment supply changes, and subsidence in the delta.

Interpreting how these forcers interacted with the Mississippi delta system makes up a fair component of the literature, and has provided some interesting insights and entertaining arguments for many years. A recent paper by Blum et al (2008) has revealed a previously unknown driver of change within the deltaic system: cyclic uplift and subsidence driven by changing sediment volumes in the lower Mississippi valley.

Blum et al (2008) point out that the subsidence recorded along the Gulf Coast is different, depending on where you measure it. The figure below is from Blum et al (20088, their Figure 1 on p. 676). Notice how the Alabama and Texas coasts are pretty different from the Valley edge subsidence patterns. Of course, this has been recognized before. Tornqvist et al (2004) interpreted this signal as a result of ongoing glacio-isostaic adjustments. Using marshland peats as baselines, and correcting for the subsidence pattern, Tornqvist et al (2004) reconstructed a sea-level curve for the Mississippi delta.

However, an unexpected result of the Tornqvist model was a phase of "unacceptably high" rate of uplift in the peat benchmarks during the mid-holocene, corresponding to a mid-Holocene sea-level high. Tornqvist et al (2004) did not think that a phase of such large-scale uplift was vary realistic, and discounted it.

However, Blum et al (2008) may have identified a viable mechanism for rapid uplift and subsequent subsidence in the Mississippi Delta. Using the same data points and subsidence curves as Tornqvist et al (2004), Blum et al (2008) preformed a series of 1-D and 3-D isostatic modelling exercises that explain the observed uplift pattern (shown below is their Figure 3, on p. 677).

They interpret a phase of melt-water discharge during the last interglacial as having driven erosion and sediment removal out of the lower Mississippi Valley, followed by a period of Delta construction and valley filling. According to their isostatic models, this 2-phase erosion and then construction in the Lower Mississippi Valley produces up to 9 m of uplift that would effect 150 km of coastline! In other words, the sea-level signal recorded in the Mississippi Delta is a relative sea-level curve (of course), but in addition to having to deconvolve eustasy and sediment compaction, we also have to care about erosion and sedimentation in the attached lower Mississippi Valley as a cause of isostatically driven surface deflection! Pretty neat (and complicated)!

Blum et al (2008) point out that this isn't a Mississippi-only thing, either; deltas are attached to rivers, and in the big ones, we need to be aware of what the record of sedimentation and erosion is. In other words, changing the sedimentary volume drives not only the source-to-sink mass balance of clastic delivery, but can also have an effect on uplift and subsidence patterns in the system.


Blum, M.D., Tompkin, J.H., Purcell, A., and Lancaster, R.R., 2008, Ups and downs of the Mississippi Delta: Geology, v. 36, p. 675-678.

Coleman, J.M., 1988, Dynamic changes and processes in the Mississippi Delta: Geological Society of American Bulletin, v. 100, p. 999-1015.

Tornqvist, T.E., Gonzalez, J.L., Newsom, L.A., Van de Borg, K., De Jong, A.F.M., and Kurnik, C.W., 2004, Deciphering Holocene sea-level history on the U.S. Gulf COast: A high-resolution recrod from the Mississippi Delta: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 116, p. 1026-1039.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Cliffs Channelform

Just a quick post of a nifty photomosaic from a roadcut, north of Price, UT. Behold (to quote The Bard: "Methinks that thou shouldst Clicketh, and lo! It doth have a greater size")!

A nice, simple, straightforward, channelform complex, with a couple-or-three accretionary macroforms forming the bulk of the channelform sandstone body. Note the differential compaction of the underlying coals in relation to the hefty sands that got emplaced over it!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Thing on the Fourble Board" - Halloween Geology!

It's Halloween again and, just like last year, I've got some geology- themed horror for you all to enjoy! As we all know, Science is the unholy pursuit of Knowledge That Man Was Never Meant To Know. And the MOST blasphemous of all sciences is geology, seeing as how we seek to understand the inner workings of untold epochs and the secret histories of Earth's unimaginably ancient past; I mean, that's a given, right? An exploration of the horrors that lurk in the dark recesses of the ancient Earth form the center piece of the radio play "The Thing on the Fourble Board", an episode of the horror show "Quiet, Please" from 1948 (downloadable from the link I just gave you).

The radio show takes place on an oil derrick (as evidenced by the the title: a "fourble" is a catwalk on a derrick that's four pipelengths high off the bushing) somewhere in Pennsylvania. After drilling deeper than anyone had ever drilled before, the rough necks come across...something from deep within the Earth.

Anyway, "The Thing on the Fourble Board" is probably one of the best, legitimately spooky pieces of horror radio out there (especially the weird vocalizations of the The Thing itself). And it takes place on an oil derrick (and, come to think of it, would be one hell of a "Safety Moment" back at Oil Company HQ). Anyway, sit back and enjoy some Halloween themed geology with "The Thing on the Fourble Board".

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hawk vs Duck

Just a quick picture, taken from the loading bay in our department, of a hawk, enjoying a leisurely meal...

...actually, it's a little ominous, I reckon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kiwi Research Information Service

Lookit here! There's a one-stop gateway to all sorts of tasty, free (i.e., SOCIALIST), open-access research documents from a whole bunch of New Zealand research institutes anduniversities. This, of course, includes a fair bit of geology relating info, too. Nifty and convienient, which is what I would expect from Middle Earth.

Above: New Zealand Petroleum Research Institute

Remember when Science was rad?

Whew! A busy start to a semester, what with seminars and teaching and paper work and writing and oh yeah GSA isn't that far off so gotta get that talk done (well, started, actually). In amongst all this bullshit that you've got to put up with in schoolin', it's sometimes hard to keep sight of the reason why you got yourself into the mess that is grad school in the first place, you know?

There's a series of Op-Eds at The New York Times website, ostensibly for incoming freshmen, about how to get the most out of your college experience. All of them are written by big-wig academic types with hugely famous reputations, and some of the advice is a mixed bag (and some is hilariously predictable, given the writer, fer' instance: Harold Bloom thinks people should read the classics. Who'd a thought!?!). Anyway, there is kind of a neat one by Nancy Hopkins, on the excitement of Your Chosen Field, which is pretty good, I think.

Now get back to work!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mud as Sand!

Mud is, as we all know, an important component in the sedimentary rock record, and in some successions, completely dominates the record. The picture below is from around Grand Junction, Colorado, USA, and shows a thick package of the Mancos Shale, deposited in the Western Interior Cretaceous Seaway. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, that’s a lot of mud!

Anyway, mudrocks (encompassing silt- and clay-sized grain populations) occur across the depositional landscape, from floodplains to abyssal plains, and are easily the third-best grain size out there (the others, sand- and gravel-sized particles, are tied for first in the “best grain-size” category). And that grain-size holy trinity (mud, sand, gravel) represents the methodological hydrodynamic triumvirate that most sed/strat types deploy (almost casually) in the field: mud is deposited in low energy conditions, sand takes some energy to shift around, and gravels need quite the push to get moving through a system.

There has been some recent, ahem, erosion, of that venerable concept of quiet-water suspension fall-out of mud, however; recent work, both field-based and experimental, are beginning to show that muds may be a little more complicated than just the “fine-grained, laminated, organic rich --- 50 meters thick” nonsense that gets slapped down in your field book.

Schieber and Southard, 2009 pulled off a rather nice, simple flume experiment using mud (in the 10 – 20 micron range) in both fresh and saltwater. They were able, through careful use of time-lapse photography, observations on ripples that became attached to the flume wall, and by quickly draining the slurry from the flume, to capture a variety of ripple formsets made entirely out of mud! The data repository for the paper has some slick movies of the mud ripples forming and migrating, as well. The picture below is their Figure 1, on pg. 484. That there’s a ripple, a-yup.

Anyway, the neat-o thing about this ripple is the kind of sediment transport these muds are experiencing. It was possible, for example, that the muddy ripples just looked like sandy ripples, but were being deposited as fine-grained, turbid slurries, which would still be a fairly low energy condition for ripple formation, right? However, Shieber and Southard 2009 have shown that, in fact, the muds rapidly flocculate into silt and sand-sized particles, which are then transported at comparable velocities to regular ol’ sand and silt grains.

Of course, the implications are pretty obvious: previously interpreted quiet-water offshore muds, for example, might not be as quiet-water as we thought. And, post-depositional burial and compaction might result in the general obliteration of these ripple cross-laminations and bedforms from the record, and the superficial appearance of horizontally laminated mudrock. That really changes your interpretation of hydrodynamics, sedimentation rate, and how the mudrocks fit into whatever lithofacies association scheme you’ve cooked up for your rocks.

Wright and Marriott, 2007, came to the same general conclusions regarding mudrock in the Lower Old Red Sandstone (South Wales, UK). These mudrocks generally lack the stereotypical “fine-scale laminations” of most mudrocks; because of this, the assumption has been that these muddy units have been altered by soil formation. However, Wright and Marriott 2007 point out that these mudrocks are often interbedded with gravel-lens that have sharp contact (above and below) with the mudrock, that there are sharp truncations that separate mudrock from other mudrock, and that there are some faint, large scale architectural components associated with these mudrocks, reminiscent of accretion packages in fluvial macroforms. The picture below sums up, diagrammatically, their own field-based evidence for these interesting mud associations; it’s Wright and Marriott’s Figure 3, on pg. 95.

Wright and Marriott (2007) point out that this is sort of a big deal. The interpretation of muddy deposits as relatively continuous, flat-lying overbank deposits with lots of pedogenesis is FUNDAMENTALLY different from the interpretation of mudrock deposited as sand-sized aggregates within a channel complex. Hydrodynamics, Time, and Sedimentation Rate…there are big differences between these two models. And, from a practical side, if I’m depositing mud-rich plugs in an active channel as macroforms, that is going to really change fluid migration paths for hydrocarbons within the ostensibly permeable and porous channel complex sandstones.

Anyway, kind of a neat thing to think about, next time your haulin’ ass over the mudrocks to get up there at the obviously more interesting sandstones. Maybe these fine-grained bedload phases are more common than we realize?


Schieber, J., and Southard, J.B., 2009, Bedload transport of mud by floccule ripples – direct observation of ripple migration processes and their implications: Geology, v. 37, p. 483-486.

Wright, J.P., and Marriott, S.B., 2007, The dangers of taking mud for granted: lessons from Lower Old Red Sandstone dryland river systems of South Wales: Sedimentary Geology, v. 195, . 91-100

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Well, sadly, I'm back from the field...however, having to deal with the dismal, post-field depression is somewhat mollified by the soothing, minty balm that is the geoblogonetosphere. ANYWAY, just thought I'd point out a recent (?) addition to that august electron-based sed/strat portion of the web that I (and a few others) reside in. Boyan Vakarelov is a lecturer in Sed/Strat at the University of Adelaide, and also runs the website SedPortal, which has some nifty stuff. Welcome to the HiveMind, Boyan!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nifty stuff from the Utah Geological Survey

Hup! Just a quick post about this thing that I recently found. The Utah Geological Survey has made up some of them there KMZ files that the Google Earth Folks are so hyped-up about, letting you drape a 3-D geological map over the terrain around St. George, Utah. Pretty spiffy, really. They also have a virtual field trip that makes use of the crazy 3-D map, which is a pretty neat thing. All in all, a pretty cool use of the ol' Google Earth.

Anyway, back to work!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Might as well post a picture, while I'm at it...

Since I'm in town, using that there internets to do my patented "Last Minute Abstract Submittal" to GSA, I thought I'd slap up a picture of some nifty soft-sed deformation. Here you go (in the words of the Prophet, "Click it, and it shall be Bigger"):

This picture is from some Cretaceous deltaic stuff exposed on the Rock Springs Arch, a little east of that shining beacon of metropolitanism, Rock Springs Wyoming. A picture of this very outcrop is in the "Roadside Geology of Wyoming", making it famous, I guess. That same book probably also tells you the name of the unit it's in, which escapes me now (I THINK it's Mesaverde Group, but I can't get any finer scale than that).

Anyway, you can see the nice folding going on in these slippery, mudrock and sandstone prodelta interbeds. If you look REALLY close, near the core of the fold, there's a little red stripe of something...that's my rockhammer for scale. The metal post on the right is a Speed Limit Sign, which is maybe 6 or so feet tall? So it's a good sizes feature. If you're every heading out on I-80, this outcrop is right on the westward-side of the interstate, a few miles before you get to Rock Springs proper. Take a look!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Field Pictures

Gotta get a post in before July vanishes! I've been out fieldin' it up in Wyoming since mid-June or so, which has resulted in a SHOCKING lack of updates; luckily for me, the geoblogosphere gets pretty quiet come the summertime, which I choose to interpret as evidence for Milankovitch cyclicity as an allogenic forcer on the internet. THERE IS NO OTHER VIABLE INTERPRETATION.

Anyway, thought I'd just post up a quick few pictures of the pretty scenery out West; maybe at the end of the field season I'll put some sed/strat specific pictures up, but these ones below are more of your "Gosh-golly-geewilikers! Purty!" type of pictures.

This first picture (below) shows the Green River Formation (Eocene); the yellowish-tan stuff at the base of the cliff is the Tipton, while the white-colored interval (shot through with some pretty rad brown sandstone) are the Wilkins Peak Member (that's my baby). The river in the background is the Green, making the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area behind a dam.

This next picture is Exhibit #34591 in the continuing series "Rocks That Have Been Shaped Into Rude And Amusing Shapes"; its a pinnacle made up of the volcaniclastic-rich deltas of the Sand Butte Bed, which marks the fillin' in of Eocene Lake Gosiute. On the topo maps of the area, this feature is referred to as "South Chimney Butte"; the Locals have another name for it.

This picture is of the Green River Formation, expressed on the EASTERN side of the Rock Springs Arch, sort of near(ish) to the town of Wamsutter. The red-n-green funtime strata are alluvial and fluvial strata of the Cathedral Bluffs Member (equivalent to the Wilkins Peak on the West flank of the Arch), while the lakey lookin' white tannish/whitish stuff in the Laney Member of the Green River Fm.

Finally, here's a picture of a Hawk that was yelling at me for a good couple of hours. I must have been taking paleocurrents in it's living room, since there was a huge nest not to far away from where this picture was taken.

All right, back to the Field!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer Reading Meme

Contagion once again sweeps the geoblogs, this time in the form of a Summer Reading Meme; the original infection spread quickly from Suvrat to Brian, and currently threatens the whole of the Developed World. NOW DO YOU SEE THE DANGER OF THE ANTI-VACCINATION CROWD!?!

Anyway, I've obviously succumbed to the hellish meme-fever myself, 'cause here's my summer readin' list:

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, by Wallace Stegner, followed closely by:

A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell, by Donald Worster; I'm still on my Powell kick from LAST summer out in the Green River, and these two books are pretty much the definitive scholarly examinations of Powell's life, career, and his subsequent impact.

Bigfoot: The Life And Times of A Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs; I wrote about this one here, and from what I've heard, it's gonna be a pretty rad book, examining the myth of Bigfoot, the people who "study" it, and the role that the Big Hairy Ape plays in gender-class-race dynamics. Neato!

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler: I've always loved the pulpy goodness of 20's, 30's and 40's magazine fiction, and this collection has 1100+ pages of Detective fiction from the pulps!

Now go wash your hands and drink some Orange Juice, lest ye be infected by the Meme!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More Damn Tafoni!

Michael has put up yet more Tafoni pictures, obviously still stinging from my earlier usurpation of the whole tafoni pictures thing. As such, I shall respond with yet more images of these artsy weathering pits in sandstones! The picture below is from the Ordovician St. Peters Sandstone, in Governor Dodge State Park, Wisconsin, where I was on a little camping jaunt earlier in the week.

Anyway, you might notice that Michael's pictures from the Santa Cruz Mtns are much better than my picture above; this is undoubtedly due to the fact that 1) His Rocks Are Better Than These Scrappy Ord. Ss from Humid Wisconsin; and 2) He Is A Better Photographer Than I Am. Both of these are rather unfair advantages, frankly, and Michael should be ashamed of himself for exploiting them so mercilessly like that.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A life-sized Whale, in the comfort of your own Home

Check this out! It's a life-sized whale, put up on your computer screen; you can click and drag all over the critter, and get a sense (sort of) of just how big it is. Those with access to really nifty huge computer screens will have the best views, of course, but still, kind of neat!

The whale is a part of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and is part of a campaign to get people thinking about Cetacean conservation. It's kind of neat use of visual media, don't you think?

Earthquakes and the Wrath of God!!!!!!!!!!

It's not just our crazy, US, Christian-flavored fundies that have wacked-out ideas! The recent seismicity in Saudia Arabia has inspired some End-O-The-World, Koranic musings from the Saudi Gazette. Go here to read about the Wrath-o-Allah! My favorite quote, of course:
Their argument about earthquakes being the result of natural geological activity holds no more ground than a claim that this published article on paper or website is a result from the functioning of a machine (printer or computer) without any effort of a human brain behind it that has made it make sense.
Just kind of nice to see other folks getting in on the geo-madness, you know?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alexander von Humboldt Celebration

Summertime's gettin' here FINALLY, and with it, the blessed relief of FIELD WORK!!!! Still a few weeks to go, of course, but we're gettin' there, slow and steady!

Anyway, to celebrate this auspicious annual event, let's remember the scientist who for all intents and purposes, is the Patron Saint of Field Work...Alexander von Humboldt! May 2009 is the 150th anniversary of this great scientists death (specifically May 6th, so we're a little late). Humboldt was a German naturalist and botanist, and was famous for his extensive field work in Latin America...and I mean EXTENSIVE. Ol' Humboldt was one of the first "modern scientists", who went about his work in Latin America with that monomaniacal methodical madness that signifies the True Field Scientist (TM).

If you've read The Voyage of The Beagle, then you'll know that Humboldt's careful methods and emphasis on field data were a major source of inspiration to Charles Darwin. And, of course, you've heard of the Humboldt Current, right? Named after him! Read some more about him here!

Anyway, when you're lucky enough to be out in the field, doing some work and engaging in the tried and true method of field science, give a tip o' the hat to Alexander von Humboldt, one of the Greats!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cryptozoology and the History of Science!!!

It's long been known that the psuedo-sciences are bad for your blood-pressure, whether it's creationists or homeopaths or AIDS/HIV deniers or Anti-Vaxxers or Embiggening Earthers. They just make me mad! But of all the pseudo-science wacknuttery out there, I actually have a great deal of sympathy for the poor, lonely, grumpy Cryptozoologist.

Of all the branches of the pseudo-scientific tumbleweed that blows around the fringe-intellectual landscape, cryptozoology is the closest thing in spirit to Real Science (TM). The cryptozoologists are a lot like us, in that they have a legitimate love of critters, the environment, and the general rad-ness of the World. Of course, where we find beauty and wonder in the scientific exploration of the world around us, the cryptozoologist eschews biology and ecology for a more populist-style of old school prophet/naturalist, wandering the wilds and shaking their fists at the rest of us. Still, given as much disdain as they often show for basic field biology and science in general, I love 'em anyway! It's hard not to be charmed by their enthusiasm (often evidenced with just a hint of vitriol on the pre-eminent cryptozoology site on the web, Loren Coleman's Cryptomundo site); you can see something of what made us all go into the sciences reflected in their wild-eyed cryptid hunts.

Of course, the REALLY interesting part of cryptozoology is that skewed nature; what makes some folks into cryptozoologists, and makes others into biologists? And what makes cryptozoology so damn interesting to the public at large? Good luck finding something on The Science Channel or Discovery dealing with the intricacies of ecology, or the comparative anatomy of coelomates! But I guarantee that there is a show on RIGHT NOW about Bigfoot or Alien Big Cats or Mkoele Mbembe somewhere on one of those "scienceish" channels. Why!?!

Well, due to my inside track to the world of The History of Science (thanks Megan!), maybe we'll have some scholarly insight into Cryptozoology world. Joshua Blu Buhs has written a book entitled Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend (click on the link for an excerpt and and interview). The synopsis of the book sounds pretty nifty:

Last August, two men in rural Georgia announced that they had killed Bigfoot.
The claim drew instant, feverish attention, leading to more than 1,000 news
stories worldwide—despite the fact that nearly everyone knew it was a hoax.
Though Bigfoot may not exist, there’s no denying Bigfoot mania.

With Bigfoot, Joshua Blu Buhs traces the wild and wooly story of America’s favorite homegrown monster. He begins with nineteenth-century accounts of wildmen roaming the forests of America, treks to the Himalayas to reckon with the Abominable Snowman, then takes us to northern California in 1958, when reports of a hairy hominid loping through remote woodlands marked Bigfoot’s emergence as a modern marvel. Buhs delves deeply into the trove of lore and misinformation that has sprung up around Bigfoot in the ensuing half century. We meet charlatans,
pseudo-scientists, and dedicated hunters of the beast—and with Buhs as our
guide, the focus is always less on evaluating their claims than on understanding
why Bigfoot has inspired all this drama and devotion in the first place. What
does our fascination with this monster say about our modern relationship to
wilderness, individuality, class, consumerism, and the media?

Writing with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement, Buhs invests the story of Bigfoot with the detail and power of a novel, offering the definitive take on this elusive beast.

I don't know if the cryptozoologists out there are going to like it, but I think it sounds pretty neat! Might make some good readin' for the field, while we're out there contemplating geology and the wonder of the real world!

Saturday, May 9, 2009


A quick post as the semester wraps up (finally!), illustrating tafoni! Huzzah! The two pictures below are from the Wilkins Peak Member of the Green River Formation, in SW Wyoming.

Tafoni are scoopish-pits in granular rocks (like sandstones...) that are (probably) caused by weathering of differentially cemented zones in the rock.

And by the way, "tafoni" is apparently the plural...the singular is "tafone". Now you know!

EDIT: Yet more Tafoni on the internets! Check out Michael's post on his blog, Through The Sandglass!

EDIT EDIT: Jumpin' Cats! Michael is the Tafoni King at his blog...AND I HAD NO IDEA! Here and Here! Read!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's the harm?

Well, Spring has certainly sprung! Leaves are greenin' up, sun (and rain) is back in the forecast, and the steady creep of "Field Season Anticipation Madness" (FSAM) is slowly overwhelming my ability to sit and work in the dept.

Anyway, if all this springy weather is making you feel TOO HAPPY, you can always go over to What's The Harm? and read some horrible stories of people dying due to stupid psuedo-science and ridiculous superstition. Nothin' like some awful stories of human ignorance and death to take the edge off that sunny afternoon, right!?!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fixin' Edumacation...

As bad as some folks think grad school is, there are WORSE ways to go about it...

Seized (violently) from here.

Maybe this whole "education" thing isn't as bad as it could be!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning"

Mark Taylor, the Chair of the Religion Dept at Columbia, has a pretty interesting Op-Ed piece in the New Yorker, entitled "End the University as We Know It". It's a pretty radical piece of writing that advocates a complete restructuring of the University System, and especially grad school. In fact, the piece starts off with:

Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in
American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates
for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is
diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in
journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a
rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

A pretty grim pronouncement...with an uncomfortable degree of truth, probably.

Anyway, Taylor suggests that higher education is in dire need of complete restructuring. To this end, he suggests that we take the following steps:

1. Completely restructure the curriculum: Taylor wants to get rid of the tiered learning structure, and replace it with a "web-like" system of learning and scholarship, with an emphasis on cross-disciplinary education, which leads to his second point...

2. Abolish permanent departments: Taylor does not like the traditional disciplines. Rather, he suggests organizing university programs around questions or research problems, drawing on a range of expertise to interrogate a variety of topics.

3. Increase inter-institutional collaborations: and Taylor doesn't want to just stop there...he wants different universities and institutes to augment their research with workers from elsewhere.

4. Kill the standard model of The Dissertation: probably the easiest sell, right? 600+ page tomes that no one will ever read, AND you have to re-format everything anyway to gets papers out of it? Yes please.

5. Expand the range of professional options for grad students: meaning that they don't JUST TA or RA for their Profs, but do other things (Taylor is a little vague, here)

6. Impose mandatory retirement, and abolish tenure, requiring professors to keep their work new and exciting.

While I agree with the frustration that Taylor feels for higher education (ESPECIALLY in regards to the Dissertation and getting rid of tenure for profs) , I'm not sure if this is the right way to go about reformatting the University. In particular, the perpetual call for "more interdisciplinary work" is always a little bothersome; what exactly is meant by "more interdisciplinary", and how are you supposed to implement it without a sound grounding in the basics of some standard discipline?

What do you guys think?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Walpurgisnacht Madness!

Did you know it's Walpurgisnacht today!?! Like Halloween, today (and tonight) is supposed to be a particularly dangerous time, in regards to ghosts and witches and general weirdness bleeding through into our "reality-based" world. I'm a sucker for tradition, so in honor of this spooky time, I though I'd share something insane with everyone:

Read THIS and then THIS.

Actually, I might ought to warn you, the first link up there has some...uncomfortable moments. Everyone always brings up the cliche of the car wreck ("can't help but look"), but those links up there? The story linked above isn't so much of a car wreck as it is...a schoolbus-full-of-Hospital-visitation-clowns-that drove-off-of-a-cliff-and-into-the-Large-Hadron-Collider sort of wreck. That sort of thing. You can't help but look!

Anyway, to sum up the insanity here, Neal Horsely is the Georgia Gubernatorial candidate and head of "The Creator Rights Party", which is everything it sounds like. Standard issue wackjob crazy Creationist, with the whole "literal bible, hyper-conservative, anti-fun" sort of stance. Nothing new there. He wants Georgia to secede from the Union so it can live in a more biblically-inspired (i.e., insane) way, ostensibly with him at the helm. He's violently anti-abortion (he's the one who set up the "Nuremburg Files", which listed abortion doctors' phone numbers and addresses), and has contacts with that whole insane group of doctor-murdering "Christians" that we used to hear so much about.

And he has admitted to having sex with a Mule, so there's that.

Frankly, for these sort of ultra-conservative radicals, it sounds like everyday is Walpurgisnacht!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cambrian Hermit Arthropods

The evolution of land animals is one of those iconic geological/paleontological images, even percolating into the popular culture as a symbol of progress. What is interesting, of course, is that popular representations of this seminal event are usually of the fish-to-lungfish-to-vague amphibian sort; what people seem to forget is that the first animals to CONQUER LAND (insert echo here) were invertebrates, bravely going were no metazoan had gone before!

In the past, the first known tracks were thought to belong to an Arthropleura like myriapod (pretty much, a centipede). These tracks are from the Joggins, in Nova Scotia, and are early Silurian in age. Horribly, these tracks seem to suggest that the myriapod that made them was enormous; the picture below, lifted from here, shows a model of one:

Now, however, the earliest terrestrial land animal tracks might belong to a Cambrian arthropod that used a discarded shell, a la Hermit Crabs, to prevent drying out on subaerial tidal sand flat. A recent paper in the April issue of Geology (here's the abstract) by Hagadorn and Seilacher (2009) shows trackways with a peculiar, segmented, shingled-to-the-left tailmarkings. The picture below is their Figure 1 (pg. 295):

The interpreted ethology (that is, behavior) of the critter is labelled in this picture below, Hagadorn and Seilacher (2009) Figure 2 (pg. 296):

These traces show a marked similarity to the traces of modern Hermit Crabs, whose borrowed shells also bump along behind them as they wander the beach. The picture below is of a modern Hermit Crab trace from the Bahamas, and was seized from the Data Repository Items for the paper:

Anyway, the interesting part of this paper is WHY the critter might have carried a shell around behind it. These tracks are found in the Cambrian Elk Mound Group of Wisconsin, and are commonly associated with microbial mats, elephant-skin textures, microbal sand-balls, and other sedimentary structures that suggest extremely shallow to subaerially exposed conditions. One of the reasons that Hermit Crabs lug their shell around is that it serves as a reverse-SCUBA suit; in other words, the Crabs can bring a damp, humid shell along with them to keep their gills in proper working order.

Hagadorn and Seilacher (2009) suggest a similar strategy for this Cambrian tracemaker. The tracks themselves show that the shell was far to small to house the entire critter. Rather, they interpret this as an early behavior that allowed these Cambrian arthropods to exploit the subaerially exposed sand-rich, microbial tidal flats along the Paleo-Wisconsin shorelines. If that's the case, then this is one of the very earliest strategies employed by terrestrial (or at least, amphibious) animals, and it's a pretty derived behavior to boot!


Hagadorn, J.W., Seilacher, A., 2009, Hermit arthropods 500 million years ago?: Geology, v. 37, p. 295-298

Sunday, April 26, 2009

For Sale: Columnar Basalt, Slightly Used, May Be Divine

Wanna see something silly? This. That is silly. Silly enough to end up on CNN, even.

Yup, some wacked-out chowderhead from Idaho has put up some columnar basalt outcrop in his backyard for sale on E-Bay. He claims to see the Hand o'God in the outcrop, which bestowed some sort of magical economic relief to his depressing life, or something. And as of this writing, he's got an offer of around $670 for it, too.

Well, not for It, actually. Just the "rights to it", whatever the hell that means. Still, how often do you get the chance to own some MAGIC basalt? Bid now, geobloggers!

Sed Sunday - Shell beds and shell lags!

Shell-rich beds are great stratigraphic markers and, despite commonly being fairly thin intervals, can provide a lot of information regarding paleoenvironment and paleohydrology. They represent a pretty subtle linkage between biology, sedimentology, and stratigraphy that serves to elucidate complexly interacting attributes of the rock record, especially in regards to sediment accumulation, substrate consistency, and water quality (to name a few!).
Anyway, I thought I'd show a few pictures of shelly intervals for this Sed Structure Sunday. The picture below is from Egypt, and is a good example of a compound bed. Several distinct horizons of different types and abundances of shelly fossils indicate that, despite the thin-bedded nature of this interval, a lot of time is wrapped up in this horizon.

These next two pictures show horizons dominated by a single type of bivalve, Carolia (not sure if that's spelled right...but it's at least a phonetic spelling of the right genus...), showing it's characteristic thin shell. These are from Egypt as well. These are pretty much in-place, as indicated by their delicately articulated shells, and tell us something about the low-energy, clear water conditions of these deposits.

This is in contrast to the picture below, which is also from Wadi al-Hitan, Egypt. It's a big, thick-shelled Pycnodonte, pretty isolated, in a single interval. Upsection, these guys become more abundant, and are eventually overtaken by (and overgrown with) smaller Gryphaea and Carolia beds.

And this last picture is from the core I was measuring last week; it shows a different kind of shelly interval than the previous pictures. Whereas those pics above show in-situ shell beds, this picture shows an erosional scour and shelly lag. These busted up bivalves were transported as bioclasts, and deposited like any other grain in a siliciclastic system.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jared Diamond in Trouble

Jared Diamond, of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" fame, is being sued by two citizens of Papua, New Guinea, for allegedly fabricating a story of violence and revenge for a New Yorker article in 2008. The article (which has been taken down, though the abstract can be read here) tells about a feud involving a stolen pig that supposedly resulted in a horrible series of revenge-killings, culminating in a body count of about 17, with numerous injured parties as well. Diamond apparently uses the story to illustrate something about revenge and violence in culture, contrasting the Papau, New Guinea incident with the story of his father-in-law's rejection of revenge in favor of using more civilized methods of discourse (i.e., the Police).

The problem is (well, aside from the disturbing subtle racism in the article) is that Diamond apparently made the whole thing up. Numerous quotes, attributed to the Papaun tribesmen in the story, are apparently amalgamated reminiscences of Diamonds, rather than actual quotes; these faux-quotes were strung together into a longer narrative, undoubtedly to give the story a little more heft (in my opinion, a very common tactic in Diamond's works). Also, apparently the story of the feud is made up whole cloth, while some of the violence described coming from events that happened years before Diamond's story.

You can read a painstakingly detailed examination of the claims here, including a discussion of the lawsuit and the dangers the men who filed it say they are facing due to Diamond's falsehoods.

All in all, it's pretty grim stuff, both legally and scholarly. I've always found Diamond's work a little troubling, anyway; his "Guns, Germs, and Steel" was an exercise in poor scholarship, both in the interpretation of other peoples work as well as failing to cite the people who actually came up with the ideas in the first place.

Look, the guy ISN'T an anthropologist; he's an anatomist. He has NO training in the social sciences, in history, or in human or cultural geography, which is exactly what he's been writing about for years. By the by, ol' Diamond REFUSES to give talks in History or Geography departments anymore. Kind of telling, don't you think? Maybe this will make people stop and evaluate some of his other works as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joe Barton - Stupid Bastard

Thank god for our elected officials! These tireless servants of the public good are working themselves to exhaustion, making sure that we AMERICANS have the proper level of accountancy in our horrible, socialist, marxist, muslim government. A good example of this sort of hardworking, decent, salt-of-the-Earth (you know...a moron) type is Rep. Joe Barton, of the Great(ly Stupid) State of Texas.

In case you haven't heard, lil' Joey Barton asked Steven Chu (PhD, Nobel Laureate, Smart Guy) to explain WHERE THE OIL COMES FROM IN ALASKA. In Six Seconds. Six Seconds to explain 100+ My of plate tectonics, subsidence, and paleoenvironments. In case you wanna see the full splendor of this asinine question, check it out here.

If you take a gander at that video above (or the transcript), you'll see the REAL POINT that Joe Barton (not PhD, not Nobel Laureate, Suspected Chronic Masturbator) wanted was Chu to admit that ONCE IT WAS WARMER IN ALASKA, which, I don't know, proves Jesus or defeats global warming or something. Anyway, if you want to see some gloriously arrogant ignorance on Barton's side, take at look at this video that his office put out (via Wonkette, of course), where he gloats about his "stumper" (which, as I type it, makes me feel very queasy and uncomfortable). Too, Barton bragged about his Victory Over Smartness on twitter, which just confirms my old theory that the guys who named "twitter" are actually cunningly making fun of most everyone on it.

Anyway, the point is, Barton is a jack ass and an idiot. If only there was some wordsmith, some comedy-smelter, who could take this cold ingot of stupidity and forge it into a sword of cleverness with which to smite Barton the Stupid!?!

Oh, that's right. David Rees is just such a man. Clicky clicky on the link, sit back, and watch the master at work.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jumpin' Cats! It's Earth Day!

I'm celebrating Earth Day by describing core down at the BEG in Austin, TX, which means I flew there, which means my Carbon Footprint is HUGE...and you know what they say about guys with Big Footprints, right? (ANSWER: They are socially and ecologically irresponsible).

ANYWAY, a brief post, just to make sure I remember how the internets work. Check out some Earth Day Jokes from David Rees!

And look! Here's a picture of some rocks, which are found on Earth! Neat!

OOHH! EDIT: Lookee here, geo-enthusiasts! The Comics Curmudgeon has a special Earth Day Edition of his always insightful, hilarious, and all around rad daily analysis of the Funny Pages. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Sed Structures - Evaporite Casts!

Lookit here! Pictures of sedimentary structures on a sure-fire Sunday, rather than later. What a novel concept.

Anyway, these pictures below show some outcrop exposure of evaporite crystal casts from the Eocene Wilkins Peak in Southwest Wyoming. This first picture below shows a little crystal fan of some sort of evaporite.

These two pictures below show a bedding plane view of evaporite crystal-casts.

That's all...go eat some salt on your hard-boiled Easter Eggs to show some evaporite solidarity!

Green Porno

Hope everyone is enjoying their pagan-fertility-holiday-whitewashed-with-a-vernier-of-christian-iconography! In honor of the day, why not enjoy some explorations of reproductive biology from Isabella Rossellini (of Blue Velvet fame, among other things...). Her Green Porno series, which apparently is being shown on the Sundance Channel, has some of the most creative uses of paper sculpture you'll ever see. There are two seasons worth up on the website, ready for viewing, each one exploring animal reproduction in some really weird ways! Good Easter Fun!

But don't watch the Fly Episode from Season gets a little morbidly psychedelic near the end...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunday Sed Structures - Fashionably Late Edition

Monday already! Hot Damn! Being punctual is for considerate, thoughtful losers anyway! Here's your (late) sed structure picture for the week!

Imbricated fusilinids! This picture is from the Guads, right off the Permian Reef Trail. The trail is pretty darn slick, allowing you to walk up through the stratigraphy of a Permian Reef buildup. The toe-of-slope deposits are commonly dominated by calciclastic debris, often in the form of thin, fossil-rich turbidites. Anyway, the picture above shows some big ol' forams that have been washed down from behind the reef, in the process getting sorted and imbricated.

See!?! Hydrodynamics ARE important in carbonates!

Bureau of Economic Geology Podcasts

You're never to busy to listen to podcasts, right!?! I just found out about the BEG's Geo-flavored podcast Time On Earth, which you can subscribe to via the iTunes or as a direct-from-tube download on that there internets. Nifty, huh? It's only once-a-month at this point, which is kind of a downer, but still! One more geoscience podcast is always a good thing!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday Sed Structures - MONDAY EDITION

Might as well TRY to keep this arbitrary schedule o' mine, I guess! Anyway, briefly, here are some pictures I snapped down in the Guads. No carbonates (yet), but here are some nice pictures of some recent gravelly/cobbley cross-bedding in a modern stream cut. Flow is to the left!

Notice the direction of cross-bedding in ABOVE the fieldbook in the second photo? Kinda goin' the wrong-direction, ain't it? I reckon I'd call that backset cross-stratification, maybe do to the impingment of upper-flow regime conditions on the flow.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

USGS Photo Library

Being out in the Southwest always makes me think about the O.G. (Original Geologists) who totally went out there Hammers-a-blazin', rockin' it Old School Style, nearly gettin' killed left and right, and all that sort of fun stuff. We can all agree that they were badass, but did you know they were also awfully photogenic? IT'S TRUE!

The USGS has a pretty slick on-line library of old photographs of ALL sorts of things, including some totally rad shots of famous geologists in the field. Now, most pictures of modern geologists look pretty silly; if you don't belive me, take a look at any Geology Dept's website. Profs, Grads,'s a well-known scientific fact that they all look pretty goofy! But man, look at ol' One-Armed Powell, there, looking rad and hanging out with a Paiute Cheif! How's that for a slick facebook picture!

Seriously, how's that for a slick picture?

Here he is again!

POWELL: "What's up, my Paiute Friend? I'm a kick-ass geologist! Wanna go cruise around the desert, get some brews, and pick up chicks?"
PAIUTE: "Awwwwww yeah!" *fist bump*
HORSE: "Neigh."

And look at this one! Powell in traditional Paiute gear! Dirty Hippie!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sed Structure Sunday #2 - Saturday Edition!

Well, I'm fleeing to the Gaudaloupe Mountains for a carbonate field trip, sponsored by Exxon, so I'm posting my sed structure pictures ONE DAY EARLY!

The picture above (to embiggin it, click the picture) is of some Eocene stromatolite-like mounds from the Washakie Basin (Green River Fm) in SW Wyoming. These little guys formed along the edge of a big, fairly saline lake, and as such mark a discrete geographic boundary in these ancient lake settings.

I realize that I don't have many carbonate pics; maybe I'll have some to share when I get back in a week!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dolphins: Nature's Fluid Hydrodynamicists

Jumpin' Cats! Have you guys seen this:

How awesome is that!?!

These dolphins blow a bubble into a turbulently roiling eddy, which causes it to become a bubble-ring (similar to a Gandalf-style smoke ring, actually) and then, being dolphins, decide to play with it in the most ridiculously cute fashion possible. Hydrodynamically, these rings are a kind of toroidal vortex, which in this case is made up of a combination of air and water moving as a kind of propagating vortex. Here are some pictures of human-made bubbles, with a discussion of the physics involved in these things.

EDIT: Turns out a geo-blogger had already talked about this: check out Riparian Rap!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Revenge of The Son of Meme!

Another hellish meme has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting geoweboblogonetosphere, bringing with it interminable link-backs and crushing despair. Oh well! This particular viral meme (classified as a Level VI List-Maker Meme on the Abradoff Scale by the CDC) is described (based on the experience of the first reported victim) as: “What are ten things that every geology major ought to know about? The only restriction is you're not allowed to list anything that has already been listed by a previous geoblogger. You don't have to list everything, just ten important things.”

Well, when in Kalaupapa, do as the lepers do, I guess! Here's my List of The Ten Things Every Major Should Know About Geology:

1. Hydraulic Geometry: this concept relates fluvial discharge to slope, channel width, channel depth, and velocity, and explicitly shows how delicate adjustments in one can result in changes in the others.

2. Paleocurrent indicators, and how to describe, interpret, and measure them (especially from trough axes)!

3. What are Froude and Reynold's Numbers, and what do they mean!?!

4. That a lithofacies is the sum of all textural, sedimentary structural, and lithological attributes that uniquely defines a given lithosome, and how THIS DIFFERS from a depositional environment model.

5. The basic sedimentary basin types (i.e., retroarc forelands, forearc, etc), and what subsidence patterns generally define them.

6. Why there are locks on the Panama Canal (the Geoid!)

7. The difference between lithostratigraphy and chronostratigraphy

8. How to draw a Wheeler Diagram

9. The timing and location of the major orogenies

10. Walther's Law

Whew! That was a hard one, since the early-birds already took all the EASY ones...I reckon that by the time this little contagion has passed on, we'll have some pretty esoteric lists of expectations for the next generation of geo-scientists, huh?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sed Structure Sunday #1 - Interference Ripples

Well, the ol' Blog turned 100 today (with this very post). To mark such an exciting, arbitrary milestone, I reckon i'll introduce a new feature for the Dynamic Earth: Sed Structure Sunday! Each sunday, I'll post a picture of some sedimentary structure, ancient or modern, cross-stratification or form-set, for the internets to enjoy.

Today's structure comes from the Wilkins Peak Member of the Eocene Green River Fm, in SW Wyoming (click on the picture and it will get larger!):

Interference Ripple Formsets! These little bastards form where there are two dominant paleoflow directions, and reflect the complexity that many flows exhibit as they move sediment around. It also serves as a good example as to why ripples are, for the most part, the most useless of the sed structures; they are commonly subject to extremely local whims of turbulent flow. Oh well!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Oil Shale Will Set Us Free! (right?)

Recently, NPR had a story about the role of oil shale in the American petro-economy complex (I made that phrase up, but I think it sounds kind of neat), likening the Pieance Basin to an "American Saudi Arabia" rich in oil shale. It was an interesting story, particularly in the context of the recent reversal of an old Bush policy that made it easier for Companies to lease and explore oil shale production schemes. Now, I work in rocks of similar age to the Pieance (specifically, the clastic phase of the Wilkins Peak Member of the Green River Fm, famous for it's own oil shale), so I was a little familar with the crazy development schemes some folks have come up for these oil shale deposits. One of the things that always strikes me is the fact that very few discussions about oil shale actually tell you what the stuff is, which is kind of important, as prospecting and (potentially) developing oil shale economically is pretty different from the more traditional hydrocarbon methods. The picture below is a bit of organic-rich oil shale in Outcrop from the Laney Member of the Green River Fm. The richest oil shales are always that blueish-purple in outcrop.

So, what exactly is "Oil Shale"? Well, to paraphrase a geologist who has worked extensively in these deposits, oil shales are neither Oil nor Shale. Actually, they are organic rich micrites, relatively common in some lacustrine deposits (such as those formed by Eocene Lake Gosiute in SW Wyoming). The organic matter is mostly derived from algae living in the lake, and total organic content can range considerably; in the Mahogany Zone, one of the major oil shale intervals of the Uinta Fm in the Pieance Basin, total organic carbon is 40%!

The picture above shows just how rich these rocks are in organics; pretty black stuff, huh? This picture is from oil shales in the Tipton Member of the Green River Fm, SW Wyoming.

This picture above is an interval of Oil Shale from the Wilkins Peak Mbr in core. Again, organic rich, huh?

YET ANOTHER picture, also from the Tipton; these rocks actually smell like petroleum, and sure enough you can set them on fire and they'll burn. Of course, they smell like a tire fire, but that's the price of Energy Independence, I guess.

And there are a LOT of these THICK intervals in the Green River Fm, too; the picture above is from the Tipton, again, showing a thick (whitish) interval of rich oil shale. Start thinking about this in 3-D, and you quickly realize that there is a considerable volume of these oil shales throughout SW Wyoming (in the Green River) and down into the Uinta Fm in the Pieance Basin, in Colorado.

Now, some folks start thinking about all that hydrocarbon, and can't help but get droolin' a little. But how would you get these at these hydrocarbons? Well, as you can see in the Green River (and the Uinta Fm), these intervals are fairly shallowly buried (if not directly exposed). You could mine them directly, and then cook the oil out in some sort of processing, I reckon. Of course, then you're left with a huge, ugly-as-hell open pit hole sitting there.

Other schemes are plentiful, of course, and include in situ heating, hyrdo-fracing, and all sorts of Strangelovian schemes that generally require a substantial input of energy, which changes the ol' equation a bit, you know? I sort of wonder what kind of efficiency you could hope to get out of subsurface extraction?

Oh, and remember how I said that these things smell terrible when burned? Well, turns out there are probably several good reasons for this; oil shales are dirty. Like, filthy. Like, Larry Flynt filthy, man. This study, done on an Estonian power plant that burns Oil Shale for energy, shows that these things have ridiculously high concentrations of heavy metals in them, much higher than even low-grade coals. Kinda grim, really.

All in all, I think I have to applaude Obama's "Hold-on-a-minute-there-pardner!" policy reversal in regards to Oil Shale development. It's fine to push technical and geological innovation, and I certainly think oil shales warrant further study. I can tell you, there are some VERY interesting stratigraphic relationships between these organic rich intervals, clastic phases, and evaporite phases in the Green River Basin (check HERE if you don't believe me!), and careful study of the stratigraphy and depositional processes associated will probably help us understand all sorts of source-rock issues (at least). BUT, I think that there are substantial economic, social, and environmental issues at stake here that really do need careful, considered, and multidisciplinary study before we dig up all of SW Wyoming in some mad bid to become "Energy Independent".