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When it comes to Lechuguilla, the question is where to start.

I discovered Lechuguilla Cave through my undergraduate Geology departments Brown Bag Seminar series, a noon-time treat every third or so Thursday, in which a member of the faculty, and invited speaker, or undergraduate pursuing research with jump up in front of a projector and talk about whatever they wished. It’s a good time for all, but all but the one I gave and the joint presentation of Lechuguilla Cave were the only ones that really stuck.

Our undergraduate department contained a rather important figure in caves and karst research. I won’t go into name dropping, but let’s just say he wrote the book on the subject. By my second semester there, he was retired, but retained an office, led caving adventures through the Helderberg strata in New York, and lectured in Intro Hydrology and Geophysics classes.

I also had two student mentours, my trainers for eventually taking over Geology Club duties and leading my own escapades into novice NYS caves. Sometime unknown during my time at the school, the three of them, plus many other prominent cavers journies on to Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico. We were not to know then where and when they were going – as their adventure was quite secret, enough to not disclose the location of ‘Lech – as the cave in generally invite-only and extremely dangerous.

They came back with extraordinary images – seemingly endless surreal pools, dogtooth aragonite, and some of the most amazing cave formations one could ever imagine. Mexico’s Giant Crystal Cave has nothing on Lechuguilla.


But what makes it so spectacular? For one, it’s the sixth longest cave in the world, as well as the deepest in the continental United States.

That’s kind of a big deal.

Lechuguilla plunges to a total of 1604 feet and is approximately 134 miles “long”, yet this is not what makes Lechuguilla such a Mecca for karst geologist – it’s the formations.


For instance: the Chandelier Ballroom

Sometimes, you can just let the picture do the talking.

Or, the Pearlsian Gulf:


Unreal, eh?

There’s not so much to say on Lechuguilla, as it is just so unknown still – even after the breakout in May 1986.



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Downtown Cordova

I’ve made a life thus far, however modest, of writing. Writing has always been a fallback, an outlet, a necessity. As a society we’re falling farther and farther away from the outdoors. From ‘get your hands dirty’ science. Modern life is the struggle for quantification. Modeling. Predicting. The soul of science is slipping away.

And this, this is why we blog. We have a a strong community in the earth science blogosphere. I don’t have to name names. There are the heavy-hitters, hundreds of page hits a days, plentiful posts. There are the casual scribes, like myself. However intermittent, we pound out a cathartic post which may take days to write, though it took only seconds – a brief glimpse of ecological niche being filled, the grittiness of late-fall grapple, or watching a single drop of water transferring from stalactite – to stalagmite.

As bloggers, we are free from academic restrictions. There’s no minimum or limit to what we can do. No one to impress, but ourselves. In the sterile world of science, a few select professionals and graduate students, grappling for that little extra hint for a thesis – may be the only ones to fully read a research article in a legitimate journal. Yet in a day, a proper blog entry, with no submission fee, no peer review, no fame & fortune – can provide more hits in a week than a journal article gets in twenty years. Is that why we blog? Maybe. In our blogs, we write what we want. We reminisce of field seasons passed, pine over unpublished data, show our real favorite pictures, the ones with golden retriever field assistants for scale, the chevron folds illuminated by the perfect springtime sunset.

Blogging allows us to shun the shackles of academic publications, environmental analysis reports. For structural geologists to take pictures of that perfect trilobite in a jointed limestone. For paleontologists to marvel at the beauty of a mammatus cloud.

Here, in our comfortable little -osphere, fragmented thoughts provide some of the greatest entries. On a day where you want to put up a new post, but the words just aren’t there – post a picture of a waterfall hardly anyone has ever seen. Show alternatives to the centimeter/imperial unit black and white scale – a pretzel (be sure to clarify if it is normal, mini, or jumbo), your dog/field assistant, significant other, iPhone, whatever. Move away from the straight-on, full light structural feature of an outcrop.

We’re not just scientists. We’re outdoorsmans. Photographers. Amateur bird watchers. In every good geologist’s soul lies a little bit of Edward Abbey’s ghost. We love science, and we hate science. Our anonymity, user-specified,  can provide us protection in times of the ongoing political assault on our fields of study. We can defend ourselves, possibly offend others, yet we’ll never be blackballed. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. It’s simple.

Our everyday lives in science are not simple. This is our outlet, our freedom of speech. This is why we blog.

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Sometimes, lengthy blog posts are unncessary. This is one of those posts – strictly visual.

On September 5th, some fellow UB grads and myself tramped through th soggy wilderness of Zoar Valley MUA. Here’s what we saw:

Zoar Valley MUA, Gowanda, NY


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If you haven’t heard, or forgotten recently, there was an earthquake last week.  I know, earthquakes happen all of the time. But this one was a little different. Folks of America’s mid-Atlantic states felt the effects of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in the middle of the day on August 23rd. The quake had an epicenter more or less in central Virginia, near the town of Mineral (how ironic). USGS has mentioned that this town is known to be somewhat tectonically active, however, not to the degree of the August 23rd rumblings.

A few days after the quake, maybe the day after, I am not sure – the Department of the Interior held a video chat with a geologist who’s name escapes me, in which anyone involved in the chat could email or type into the chat log (if you had the proper live stream account) any, and I mean ANY questions one might have about this particular earthquake.

I selected some questions from the chat to answer on this here geology blog, more so for something to do (slow first week), but also in case someone aimlessly surfing the interwebs for earthquake information might stumble across and find some myths of earthquakes either busted or confirmed, to the best of my own ability. For my readers who obviously know more about earthquakes than myself. Please feel free to correct any of my own interpretations, but keep it civil – I am a sensitive geomorphologist.

kathi: how will the water weight of irene affect east coast earthquake scenario

It will not. Originally this post was to run concurrent or before hurricane Irene, however, time did not allow for this. Water weight will not affect (by causing, preventing or varying the magnitude) earthquakes. Most earthquakes are very deep within the surface of the Earth (though, yes, this particular one was only a few miles) and the weight imposed on the surface of the earth by a storm is unlikely to have any profound influence on anything we as geologists would consider “earthquake deep.”

11:08 AM  Joakim: I noticed that there were earthquakes all across the continental u.s. last year – do you have a hypothesis why this is the case?

I am guessing Joakim felt to quake, searched Google for earthquake information – which will ultimately lead you to the USGS websites. Here you can find pretty much anything you’d ever dream to learn about earthquakes. However, most will go straight to the visual aids here, without reading a little about earthquakes. It is very true that there are earthquakes EVERYWHERE. Thousands of earthquakes happen every day, and it is likely that a quick glance at a USGS earthquake map of the United States would lead one to believe that the country is constantly being shaken by earthquakes.

11:08 AM  columbus: should we be worried about the new madrid fault or yellostone?

This one is for the commenters to discuss!

11:08 AM  DLovas: how many known fault lines exist around the manhattan area

Digging for this question was surprisingly short and sweet – this was one click away from a geology.com article. I typed “geology of new york city” into Bing search and was quickly rewarded. As a geoscience student, I know how to search for geologic questions – techniques most may not be familiar with.

As you can see from the image, adapted from Sykes, et al.; there are plenty of faults in the Tri-state region and surrounding area.  Along these faults one may notice many earthquakes, as well – but also notice that their magnitude is very, very small. Most of these earthquakes were likely not even felt, with the exceptions of those of greater than 3.5 magnitude.

The question asked about the island of Manhatten  in particular, and this is where it gets a little tricky. No, there is not really a highly developed fault line here, but in the case of earthquakes the “map-view” location of the earthquake is not necessarily where the quake will occur. Faults are rather imperfect. What seems like a purely straight line along the surface may be a sinuous, curvilinear or even diagonal plane underneath the surface. It is important when interpreting structural maps such as this to be aware of the odd natures faults may take.

11:08 AM  Caitlin: Why wasn’t the earthquake predicted? Is there monitoring for earthquakes on the East Coast?

Hello Caitlin, I would like to thank you for using proper grammar. I will answer the second question first: Yes. There is plenty of earthquake monitoring is not only common in seismically active regions, but also on the east coast and worldwide. The United States Geological Survey has a great wealth of resources invested in this department, and by visiting their site you can see just how much monitoring is going on.

Your second question is one fielded by geologists on a daily basis. While it may seem that earthquakes are common and systematic – especially in highly seismic areas, they are not predictable. We are able to determine where they are most common and can take measures to make sure these areas are less susceptible to damage.

Later in the chat (just a few minutes, actually) a user who had likely taken a geology class at some point in their career posted this:

11:21 AM  Lisa: There are no real “patterns.” The movements are more like openning a stuck pickle jar. You can twist hard, but can’t predict which split-second that stress is going to overcome the friction.

…and this is actually a really great response, and to further explain on it seems unnecessary. +1 for Lisa!


“Heathyr” had been spamming this question, roughly every 20-30 seconds throughout the live chat. The chat commentators gave in and answered this question, which was, essentially “no”.  It is somewhat difficult to ascertain what exactly Heathyr was asking, but I believe this goes back to models of continental drift in which North America and Africa were in a collisional environment before transitioning to a divergent one. I believe it is important to answer this question the way the geologist on the program did – this was an intraplate earthquake, not one present on a tectonic boundary. The “Old African Fault” she is likely referring to can be translated to the present day Atlantic Mid-Ocean Ridge. To clarify, this is not a fault, but a crustal spreading zone. Here, the North America is diverging from the Eurasian and African plates by means of sub-sea-surface volcanism. This boundary is indeed active – but not necessarily “reactivated” by continental drifting, as it never really became inactive. Seismic activity is here is more a result of magma moving just beneath volcanoes rather than fault slippage.

11:10 AM  DLovas: i felt it it was pretty minor for me the i again i was on groundfloor of a house

This user was from the tri-state area, Connecticut, I believe. Most of the chatters were, and most were concerned about the likelihood of seismic activity in that area, and less about earthquakes in general.

11:13 AM  Audian: i heard from one of my colleague that there will be another earthquake following this within the next two weeks

There will be aftershocks, yes, but not necessarily another, separate earthquake. I worry that this colleague may have been fanning the flames of fear to their fellow employees and taking the Virginia earthquake and making Japan 2011 earthquake assumptions from it. Aftershocks from this year’s Japan earthquake would be considered large here – aftershocks of the Virginia quake will (and have been) much less common and less powerful. As far as I know, we do not have any data that suggests that one earthquake will cause another, so in this case, this colleague’s comment was unwarranted.

11:20 AM  theprophetangel: JUST SAY it , we have created unexplained events It is going to get worse

Eh, no. I am not going to say that.

11:22 AM  KgSpn: Are Polar, Glacial, and Greenland ice mass melting changing weight distributions of earth’s crustal plates?  If so which crustal plates are most vulnerable to compenstate?

The short answer here is no, but this is a really great question from KgSpn. The weight distribution of the continents itself is not likely to change because of melting ice sheets. There will, however, be a rebound affect from the removal of mass above the continents. After ice sheets leave a region, the land mass they were resting upon can rebound slowly (or quickly, depending on rate of retreat, how much mass is removed and lithology beneath the sheets) but the subsequent readjustment of the earth’s crust is not likely to create massive earthquakes. the question is slightly off-topic, but had a good scientific thought process to it. I liked it – and correct grammar, as well!

11:23 AM  theprophetangel: Earthquakes is in the End Time


11:24 AM  SalMarie: Is there any publish research that you recommend for people to read to better understand seismic activity?

Published research is not the way to go here. For someone looking for explanations of seismic activity, the internets – including the knowledge beacons that are Wikipedia, geology.com, United States Geological Survey and even National Geographic or the Discovery Channel are usually excellent resources for those with novice geologic background.


I don’t think you did.

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As you may have noticed, and based on the attendance you have – this blarg has been a bit slow lately. There are reasons, yes, rather than typical grad-student slog (senioritis may no be much of a viable excuse at 24.)

My field work happens in the fall with my fellow grads here, so rather than sit around all summer, I decided to work and visit family – keeping both my sanity and bank account within reasonable standing.

If you read this blarg, or happened upon here through some mystical journey of internet erosion and deposition, I ask that you remain patient.
Classes and routine in-office days on campus begin again on Monday. I will be around a LOT then, with plentiful posting time, and also in an environment which nurtures my geo-side.

Topics to look forward to from W&Rs:
2011 Keene Valley Landslide in the Adirondacks of New York
Water Policy, Protection, Etc.
Geology of CHEESE!
Old Oil [Short Story!]

…and more!



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This month’s Accretionary Wedge comes from on-the-rocks over at geosciblog. As I am slow to post lately (it is summer, after all), I thought I would piece a small post together on the topic “Stuff left behind, with regrets”, and I must say, the topic is an intriguing, if not somewhat difficult for me to tackle.

We’ve all left many things behind. My buddy Christopher, over at Geology Melange left behind some tremendo-breccias and some borked crinoid fossils.

Ron Schott left an Estwing rock hammer along a brookside in the beautiful Adirondacks. This is one of my bigger fears as a geologist (yes, as a geomorphologist, I always bring a rock hammer with me.)

Others have mentioned photos they decided not to take and other misfortunes along the way, and though I have few regrets like this, picking one place in which I should have snapped a few extras would be impossible at this point in my life. But what do I regret leaving behind – and how could I turn it into a tasty piece on geology?

Should I be sappy?

I left my heart in Moab, Utah!



I left  a 16″ cutthroat trout sitting under a bridge in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Well, that one would have been illegal, anyway.

We as geologists tend to get a little excited in the field sometimes. One particular explosion of excitement happened to me no longer than a month ago in Dolgeville, NY. To most, Dolgeville is not a geologic mecca. This is too bad, as the amount of pristine geology in a relatively small area is certainly impressive. The location I am speaking of is a dam located on a tributary of the Mohawk River, one of the few (maybe the only) accessible dams or locations in the  area exposing the Dolgeville Fault.

Now, I have seen my fair share of faults. The beautiful grabens (I think?) outside of Arches National Park, many along roadsides throughout America’s deserts, hell – I even mapped a phantom fault in the vicinity of Fonda, NY (the fault is there, you just cannot see it in outcrop).

So what made Dolgeville so amazing?

Simply: the exposure and surrounding evidence of tectonics. I am no tectonic or structural geologist, so this is a case in which I will let the photographs do the talking:

Surface Exposure of Dolgeville Fault

What you’re seeing here is a fault. Not your typical offset/hanging wall/footwall view. No. That nice, smooth surface in the left – is the actual fault exposure, slickens and all – once the epicenter of tremendous heat, pressure, and all the sigma-1 you can shake a willow branch at. It was the first time I have ever seen anything of the sort, and even as one concerned mainly with dirt, mud, mud falling off of hills and piles of rock in rivers, this was and amazing sight.

But what is it that I left behind? Well, look towards the middle-right of the photo near where the slope starts.

You guessed it, that’s a chevron fold.

A little closer. (Not) Ron Schott's Estwing rock hammer for scale. Or is it?

It’s definitely not a mega-scale chevron, but boy is it a beauty. Overall, the size of a sample would have been kind of bulky, and at this point we had been collecting rocks and becoming less and less organized, as well as patient, with the space in our Ford trip van. Albeit, some of the members of the trip were able to collect some chevrons – not of particularly impressive stature but still, beautiful samples to have. Thus, I regret not jostling free a piece of this particular fold.

I should also mention that this is the second chevron I have passed on. The first one I did manage to collect was of some folding siltstone in southern Pennsylvania during a structural geology trip through SUNY Oneonta in which I was piggy-backing on the way to GSA Baltimore in 2010. I grabbed it, admired it in the van for the following days, but in time decided that it would be most appreciated in a glass display case at my Alma mater, SUNY Oneonta. This decision, however, I do not regret.

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