Sunday, November 9, 2008

VCCS Science Peer Conference

The Virginia Community College System (VCCS) organizes conferences occasionally where faculty in different disciplines can get together. This weekend was the "peer conference" for the natural and physical sciences. It was held at the lovely mountain resort called Wintergreen, in central Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here's a map of the area:

That's the Shenandoah Valley on the left (part of the Valley & Ridge province), the Blue Ridge in the middle (running from NE to SW), and the Piedmont province on the far right. Wintergreen is a bit SW of Charlottesville.

The conference was fruitful and interesting. I enjoyed getting to meet a bunch of the other VCCS geology faculty and discussing what we want to do in the future in terms of supporting one another and professional development. I gave a talk about new technologies in geology instruction, which included information about the geoblogosphere and other sundry web resources I use. My colleague Erik Burtis at NOVA-Woodbridge led us on a cool "field trip" to Glacial Lake Missoula, via Google Earth.

I spent a lot of time talking with Pete Berquist, from Thomas Nelson Community College, discussing next summer's Regional Field Geology of the Northern Rocky Mountains course. We laid out a series of goals for the students, and created a tentative itinerary. Pete and I took a great hike at the end of the first day, poking around in the rocks and watching the sun set over those gorgeous mountains. Friday evening, there was a cool astronomy session, where Ed Murphy from UVA showed us the Ring Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, and assorted other stuff in outer space. He had a great laser pointer that extended a green laser line up about 80 feet into the sky... Very useful for pointing things out. Low light levels in the forested mountains meant excellent stargazing. Saturday morning, Bill Warren of Lord Fairfax Community College gave a good talk about the global energy crisis, and potential solutions. I picked up a few good resources there that I'll use next semester in teaching Environmental Geology. And then when the conference concluded, there was a geology "hike" out to look over the landscape. By driving us to a couple of different overlooks, Doug Coleman of the Wintergreen Nature Foundation showed us spots where we were able to look east into the Piedmont, and west into the Valley & Ridge. Pretty cool, though we didn't look too closely at the actual rocks exposed there. Fortunately, I have an inclination to do that on my own... as you'll see below:

Catoctin Formation greenstone (meta-basalt), showing chlorite-rich portions (left) and epidote-rich portions (right). Quarter for scale.
WINTERGREEN_1

More Catoctin, the volcanic breccia layer. Lots o' epidote. Quarter for scale.
WINTERGREEN_3

Is this a quartz vein or a granite dike? WINTERGREEN_2
At first glance, it appears to be your standard hydrothermal quartz vein full of milky quartz, but then you'll notice that it's not just quartz. There are also two crystals of orthoclase feldspar in there. (The dark shapes are just empty holes & shadow, not mafic minerals.) I pointed this phenomenon out before, but I'll state it again: I think that hydrothermal quartz veins and granite dikes are not separate phenomena, but points along a spectrum of composition. Quarter for scale.

Looking southeast towards the Piedmont:
WINTERGREEN_4

Looking northwest towards the Valley & Ridge:
WINTERGREEN_5

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