Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Virginia Geological Field Conference 2008

Yesterday, I mentioned that the main point of this weekend's field trip was to attend the Virginia Geological Field Conference in Marion, Virginia.

We arrived on Friday night at Hungry Mother State Park, and got some background information and logistical direction from the trip's leaders and the various officers of the VGFC. We also got some sobering news about how Virginia budget cuts will affect the Division of Geology and Mineral Resources... but more on that tomorrow.

On Saturday morning, we headed out to examine the geology of the Pulaski and Saltville thrust blocks, two of the slices of Paleozoic sediments that got shoved bodily northwestward during the Alleghenian phase of Appalachian mountain-building. The point of the trip was to examine the structure and stratigraphy of these two thrust sheets, in an attempt to compare and contrast them. Both are an example of "thin-skinned" tectonics, where sedimentary strata are deformed (folded/faulted), but they are disconnected from the tougher underlying "basement" rocks (the crystalline rocks of the North American continent beneath). Sliding along a big basal fault called a decollement, these sheets of sedimentary rocks created the northwestern fringe of the Appalachian mountain belt; a zone called the "fold and thrust belt." (This is in contrast to the "thick-skinned" style of deformation exemplified by the Blue Ridge province immediately to the east, in which the basement rock is itself deformed, and shoved up on top of these younger sedimentary strata.)

Here's two of the three field trip leaders: Loren Raymond (holding map) and Bill Whitlock (talking into the microphone), giving us relevant details for our first field stop:

Fred Webb (the third trip leader) used the same technique of large graphics as an aid in explaining the local geology. Here, he explores the geology of Saltville, VA, from a scenic overlook:

Here's Fred and Loren using another visual prop to illuminate the distribution of sediment types (Knox dolomite versus Moshiem limestone) on a farm in the Rich Valley:
Does anyone else out there use large visual aides like these on field trips? I think it's a pretty good idea.

There were a lot of people who attended the conference: over 120! Here's the crowd at the Saltville Overlook stop:

...and the throngs of geologists shutting down traffic on the way to another stop:

...and still more geologists all over the right-of-way at our final stop of the day:
Kudos to the trip organizers for coming up with a coherent way of running the trip with so many participants!

So why were we there? ...To look at these deformed sedimentary strata, and increase our understanding of the deformation mechanisms that accomodated strain during Appalachian mountain-building. Here's a look at the Max Meadows tectonic breccia, a zone of crumbled rock at the base of the Pulaski Fault:

Just above the breccia, the rock is still pretty deformed. Here's some intense folding and boudinage in dolostone & shale layers:

At another location, Honors student Hope W. shows a fault in the Nolichucky limestone:

In other places, folds were the main variety of strain observed in the rocks. Here, we see this in the Honaker dolomite (with elbow for scale):

Ditto for this exposure of the (Cambrian) Nolichucky limestone (enthusiastic caver for scale):

After a superb lunch put on by a church group, we strolled out in some karstic fields in the Rich Valley. Here, several field trip participants drop down into a sinkhole:

I was interested to see that there were a lot of Mississippian-aged evaporite deposits in this corner of Virginia. Saltville's salt was from the Maccrady Formation, as is this gypsum (note fingernail scratch mark):

Here's the spectacular final outcrop of the day, where we looked at deformation within the Cambrian-aged Nolichucky and Honaker Formations, as well as the Mississippian-aged Maccrady Formation they override at this location on the Saltville Thrust Fault:

Of note to you environmental types out there: Saltville was not only the "salt capital of the Conferderacy," but it was also the site of the very first Superfund site (due to dumping of mercury as a byproduct of soda ash + chlorine production).

And I'll just conclude the photo section of the post with a couple of photos of cool spiders we saw. Each of these arachnids is a good three inches in length (including legs):
I think the upper one is a 'garden spider.' The bottom one is silver! I've never seen a silver spider before...

All in all, it was a good day in the field. We returned pleasantly tired and hungry, and had dinner at the Hungry Mother State Park "The Restaurant". Over food, we discussed the pros and cons of field trips like this, and slept well that night.

I was particularly pleased to meet up with and hang out with folks like Cy Galvin (part of my pre-GSW dinner group), Jon Tso (Radford University), Pete Berquist (Thomas Nelson Community College), Amy Gilmer (Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources), and Chuck Bailey (College of William and Mary). Pete, Amy, Chuck, and I are all W&M geology department alumni. Chuck mentioned the good news that he will soon be joining the geoblogosphere too -- watch this site for an announcement of his (surely to be excellent) geology blog as soon as it goes live.

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Blogger Kim said...

I've got some giant mosaics of photomicrographs that I've laminated and used in the field, to show things that can't be seen outside.

October 14, 2008 1:38 PM  
Blogger Callan Bentley said...

I use graphics (paleogeographic map, cartoons, aerial photos) on field trips, but never HUGE ones like these. Mine are mostly 8.5"x11", printed on cardstock and laminated. How 'giant' are your giant ones, Kim?

October 14, 2008 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello guys.. we are an indonesian geologist. nice to share our knowledge about geology in your country. we hope someday we can visit and learn your outcrops.

Geology of Universitas Diponegoro

October 20, 2009 2:50 AM  

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