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A team of geologists from the Museum and Imperial College are in Mexico carrying out  fieldwork at two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (Popo) and Colima. Catch up with their adventures in this series of blogposts.

 

This uncomfortably oblique photograph marks the end of this year’s fieldwork at Popo. As you can see, we have been extraordinarily successful in collecting samples:

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All in all, we have collected twelve boxes full of pumice and lava in the last two weeks, each of them weighing about 20 kg!

 

Moreover, not only have we been doing well in bagging rocks, but we also made many important field observations, such as the relation of the different volcanic units in time and space. This is essential for the proper handling and analysis of our samples.

 

As soon as our heavy load arrives at the Natural History Museum, I will crush the rocks into tiny pieces and examine them using different types of microscopes. We are confident that this will tell us intriguing stories about how Popo works. The adventure has just begun!

 

But first, we will drive this trunkful of rocks to Mexico City, where we will also say ‘muchissimas gracias’ and ‘hasta luego’ to Julie, who will fly back to London, and also to Hugo and Guillem, who will stay in Mexico City. Chiara and me will stay in Mexico for another week, which we will mostly spend in Colima. There, about 500km West of Popo, the ‘Fuego de Colima’ volcano is currently very active, with several small eruptions every day. We are excited to go there and see some nice ashclouds, and of course, we will keep you posted about our ventures in West Mexico!

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A team of geologists from the Museum and Imperial College are in Mexico carrying out  fieldwork at two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (Popo) and Colima. Catch up with their adventures in this series of blogposts.

 

After our dirty but successful pumice-rich first week at Popocatépetl, we were all happy to get that dust off our shoulders and start chasing the various lava flows that make up most of the volcano edifice. Now, if the whole volcano is built by lava flows, it should be really easy to find these rocks, shouldn’t it? The short answer is: no. The longer, picturesque answer will take you into the wild, rough and bumpy world of Popo’s lower flanks, where a good rock is as hard to find as a sleeping baby lion in the vast African savannah. Join us on the magical ROCK SAFARI!

 

Early in the morning, when Popo is still entangled by the night’s misty claws, we make our way from the hotel in Amecameca towards the south-eastern flank of Popo, the land of the sneaky rocks.

 

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Somewhere down there they are hiding: the Popocatepetl lava flows!

 

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On the lookout for rocks: moving in this terrain makes you reconsider what you may call a ‘road’.

 

What makes it so difficult to find these lava flows is the fact that most of them are buried by a thick cover of the Popo pumices (not again!) and lahar deposits. So in many cases the only thing we can find on top of these dirty deposits are loose boulders of rock, which we can’t even be sure belong to the place we find them lying. A tedious job requiring lots of caution!

 

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An easy catch: can you spot the rock?

 

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Julie finds a rock that has tried to hide away from our hammers…

 

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…we took care of it.

 

Such a seek-and-destroy campaign can easily take a couple of hours for one lava flow and is not necessarily successful. However difficult it may be, when you finally spot a nondescript, lichen-covered rock specimen, the adrenaline you feel while smashing it into pieces to see what species it is pays off generously.

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Another boulder from a Popo lava flow successfully tracked down.

 

One factor that contributes to our (otherwise rather questionable) sense of adventurism during this rock safari is the daily recurrence of a group of local forest watchdogs roaming around the terrain. The first time they came, they only surrounded our car with a grim look on their faces, checking if we were hunters (if they could only know!).

 

The second time, they had machetes (they were cleaning the roads from vegetation) and we had to give them some money so they’d let us pass. The third time, it was already getting dark, and they had shotguns to guard a road against any people with mischief in mind. We certainly didn’t at this point. The good thing is that by now they know us and they greet us cheerfully every time we pass them.

 

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Obviously, we weren’t keen on photographing the shotgun watchdogs, so instead we present evidence that some lava flows are not good at hiding away. This the Nealticán lava flow, which is the most recent of Popocatépetl’s lava flows (in geological terms, ‘recent’ means younger than 2,000 years). Because of its young age, it is not covered by a lot of deposits and is thus widely exposed. Unfortunately, this flow is the exception to the rule.

 

In this manner, we have chased down a couple of lava flows in the past few days. We are very happy with the outcome of our rock safari and can’t wait to introduce these samples to their new temporary habitat while they are shipped to the UK: cardboard boxes!

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A team of geologists from the Museum and Imperial College are in Mexico carrying out  fieldwork at two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (Popo) and Colima. Catch up with their adventures in this series of blogposts.

 

Time flies – we've already been here for a whole week! While Popo was smoking and steaming like a champion, we dived deeply into the dirty, dark side of geology during this week: We sampled ash and pumice from the four large eruptions of the last 15,000 years. For hard-rock geologists like Chiara, Julie and me, this was a challenging task. So much dust, so few proper minerals! But if you want to understand how Popo works, this is simply what you need to go through.

 

Armed with shovels of various sizes, a tape measure, our geological hammers (you never know!), and, last but not least, a hoe (romantically referred to as the ‘mano de gato’ - ‘the hand of the cat’), we went out onto Popo’s flanks to search and exploit its volcanic deposits. Hugo, the Popo expert, unerringly navigated us to the top spots, where we then got to work. The following series of pictures reveals what this actually involved:

 

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First of all, we need to get an overview about what we see. In this case, we are looking at the deposits of at least three large eruptions of the last 5,000 years. If you want to know more about such eruptions, just ask us!

 

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Next, we describe the different layers we see. This includes the size and properties of the clasts, the structures, and the thicknesses of the units.

 

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After that, we can start sampling. Sometimes it can be straightforward, sometimes you may need a helping mano de gato (‘the hand of the cat’) to clear the sampling site and guarantee a neat sample.

 

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Some or all parts of the layers might be covered with soil or debris. In this case, the shovels of various sizes come into play. This picture demonstrates that in doing so you may excavate more than rocks, such as the rubbish of what apparently was a big Mexican Fiesta (including diapers and mayonnaise).

 

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On other occasions, it might not be garbage, but a proper treasure that you dig out: A volcanic bomb! Hard-rock geologists, get your hammers and cameras ready!

 

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And this is what you get if you repeat the above steps for a whole week.

 

Now, this might have all been a bit nerdy, so I’ll finish this blog entry with an almost completely unrelated note. Of course we are not only interested in rocks, but also in Mexican culture. Naturally, when a worker in a quarry (we were there by chance, obviously) told us that there was a man in the nearby town San Nicolás de los Ranchos who would craft wonderful molcajetes (pestle and mortars), we went there immediately.

 

On the way there, Hugo explained to us that molcajetes are mortars especially designed for making salsa. Did I mention that they are made of rock? This is also why the salsa made using molcajetes tastes different than if you just use a simple blender – the sauce takes up the taste of the rock.

 

With this salsa-lesson learned, we were all quite keen to see these wonderful items. But how would we find the Molcajete Man in the village? It’s easier than you’d think: you just ask anyone on the street for molcajetes. He/she won’t be able to give you a helpful answer, but 3 minutes later the whole village will know about the lost tourists looking for molcajetes. Out of nowhere, a random girl will appear next to your car, offering to bring you to Molcajete Man. Being a lost tourist, you accept the offer and follow the girl for about 30 minutes through the village, which gives you the opportunity to take some tourist pictures:

 

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San Nicolás de los Ranchos is built on laharic deposits from Popocatépetl.

 

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Evacuation routes are signposted all around Popo.

 

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The presence of the volcano inspires local artists to draw their own conclusions on what happens in nature.

 

Finally, we reached the mansion of Molcajete Man. He looked different than I expected, but obviously he is a master of molcajeting.

 

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Molcajete Man crafting a molcajete.

 

We would have really loved to get our own molcajete by that time, but these mortars are just way too big to transport to the UK. At least they are if you are already sending a garage full of pumice there.

 

Thus our pumice week has ended, and we enter phase two: rocks! I can already promise you it will be an exciting ride, so visit us again!

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We are delighted to welcome you to our Popocatépetl blog, which for the next three weeks will be fed with facts, anecdotes, pictures and maybe even videos of our fieldwork at two of the currently most active volcanoes in the world: Popocatépetl (henceforth: Popo) and Colima (henceforth: Colima).

 

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Our very first view on Popo, at dawn in Amecameca. Not yet convinced? Scroll down and prepare to be amazed!

 

But first things first: introductions. Our team includes Chiara, volcano-addicted petrologist at the Museum, Julie, passionate geochemist and lecturer at Imperial College, and me (Martin), their new PhD student. I'll be focusing all my energy on Popo in the coming years.

 

Together, we're setting out to shed light on what makes Popo erupt, a poorly understood yet very important issue, since there are more than 30 million people living around Popo – that’s about half the population of the UK! By analysing the rocks and crystals that Popo has erupted in the last 23,000 years, Chiara, Julie and myself are trying to find out more about how Popo works, which will hopefully help in forecasting future eruptions and keeping the people living there safe.

 

But to do all this, we first need rocks – a lot of rocks! And that’s exactly why we are in Mexico right now. Together with our local colleagues, Hugo and Guillem, we will spend our days at the volcano, looking for the freshest rocks around and putting them into plastic bags. As Popo is quite active in the moment, this is a quite exciting and dangerous task!

 

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Popo is in a steamy mood these days.

 

But before we dive into excitement and danger with you, we want to give you an idea of our experiences during the last 48 hours. We started in London Heathrow (25.3m above sea level) on Sunday night, arrived in Mexico City twelve hours later, went straight up to Paso de Cortes (3,400m a.s.l) to get a close grasp of Popo, then had a decent rest in our hotel in Amecameca, just to get up again at 5.30 the next morning for a 10-hour day of die-hard pumice sampling at almost 4,000m a.s.l.

 

Now we are a bit tired – so we thought we would give you and us an easy start with some Popo pictures, taken all around the volcano. You will surely agree that Popo is in good shape, and a truly admirable volcano – ‘a proper strat’, as Julie put it musically.

 

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Popo as seen from Paso de Cortes - preparing for the big bang?

 

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Volcanic eruptions are not the only danger lurking at Popo's flanks. Luckily Julie knows no fear and chases away the feral cow.

 

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After the cow-shock we seek comfort in some good old volcano stratigraphy!

 

If you want to know what Popo does next, how we deal with the thin air and the cows, and how fashionably we collect both hard and soft rocks, we urge you to come back here. Also, don’t be afraid to leave comments, questions, and general thoughts about volcanoes.

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At Science Uncovered this Friday I will be putting on my brachiopod hat. I will be showing off a selection of brachiopods from the Museum's collection, ranging in age from 0.5 billion years old to modern specimens still alive in the oceans today.

 

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Lingulid brachiopods alive and well today.

 

Visitors will be able to see how little some animals have changed in such a huge period of time. I will also have a selection of extinct brachiopods to show the extent of diversity in the Palaeozoic era before the 'great dying' at the end of the Permian period in which around 96% of all marine species were wiped out.

 

Among the specimens I will have on display will be my favourite brachiopod Torquirhynchia inconstans. Find out why it’s my favourite! I will also bring out the largest brachiopod in our collection and demonstrate the anatomical features that make a brachiopod a brachiopod.

 

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Torquirhynchia inconstans. My favourite brachiopod, but why?

 

My activity is borne very much from the realisation that many people have no idea what a brachiopod is or quite how amazing they are, so I aim to make people more 'brachiopod aware!' I think that many people have never heard of a brachiopod because they live in environments that most people will never visit.

 

I will be manning my stand in the Extinction Zone between 17.30 and 19.00. Come and say hello and talk to me about brachiopods!

 

The cephalopods won’t be ignored though. Sevtlana Nikolaeva will be talking about her research and work with ammonites between 16.00 and 17.30, also in the Extinction Zone.

 

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Come and talk to Svetlana about ammonites this Friday.

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The week before last (30 June - 4 July 2014) I had two enthusiastic work experience students working alongside me in the collections. Below are two short passages that I asked them to write about their time in the Museum.

 

Zechariah Francis

 

On my first day I was given a tour of the Museum, including the palaeontology building. The people that work here are very friendly. On my second day I learnt about type and figured specimens and then counted how many of each were in the Davidson collection of type and figured brachiopods. This was so Zoë had an accurate idea of how many were there, and to help her put together a bid for funding for a digitisation project.

 

An excellent experience being at the Museum was having a tour of the fossil mammal collection. The bones were massive and I was left speechless when I had the privilege to see a fossilised rhino-like animal.

 

My experience at the Natural History Museum has been memorable; it is an experience I will never forget. I have met dedicated scientists who have helped me understand the world of palaeontology. They have helped build a road which I will follow.

 

Thomas Miller

 

Over the past week I have been working in the palaeontology department with the Curator of Fossil Cephalopods and Brachiopods, Zoë Hughes. During this time I have been assigned many interesting activities that have given me a very good idea of what being a curator is like. These included counting the Davidson collection of brachiopods for a project, and cataloguing a large number of Ordovician nautiloids in preparation for a potential visiting researcher. I was particularly privileged to be able to work with the Jim Craig collection of Gault ammonites; photographing them for the Museum – it was also very useful to be able to learn how to use the brand new camera and stand.

 

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One of the Photographs taken by Thomas of a Gault Clay ammonite.

 

Aside from working, I was also given a tour of the fossil mammal collection by Pip Brewer - this was very enjoyable and also let me see some different specimens to what I am used to working with.

 

Working in the museum showed me the scale of the collections and also the scale and importance of the work that goes on here. I am very grateful to Zoë and also Martin Munt for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

 

Huge thanks to both Zechariah and Thomas for all their hard work during the week! 

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As some of you might be aware myself and colleagues are organising an upcoming symposium to celebrate 150 years since the birth of one of the great palaeontologists - Sir Arthur Smith Woodward. Smith Woodward might not be as well known as others but he did a lot for palaeontology, particularly fossil fish.

 

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Sir Arthur Smith Woodward

 

Smith Woodward was born in Macclesfield on 23rd May1864. He started his long career at the NHM (then the British Museum - Natural History) when he was 18 years old in 1882 in the Geology Department. At this point the NHM had only been opened to the public for 16 months, so there was lots to do.

When he started at the Museum he quickly became involved in fossil exhibitions. Around the same time two large collections of newly acquired fossil fish specimens (containing thousands of specimens) previously belonging to two prolific collectors arrived at the Museum - Sir Philip Grey Egerton and William Willoughby Cole, (the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen). Smith Woodward realised how important these collections were and there were likely to be lots of new species and interesting specimens.

During his time Smith Woodward named over 300 different species of fossil fish and perhaps what he is best known for amongst fossil fish workers is a four part Catalogue of the Fossil Fishes in the British Museum (Natural History) published between 1989 and 1901. This was and remains a very important reference for fossil fish workers. I often refer to the Catalogue on a weekly basis for information about specimens. He also published on fishes from Wealden, Purbeck and the Chalk. Much of his work helped to form the foundations of current research on numerous fish groups.

 

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The Catalogue of Fossil Fishes, written by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward

 

Smith Woodward became Keeper of Geology in 1901 and spent his entire career here at the Museum, retiring in 1924 when he was knighted! He died in 1944. Over his lifetime he received many awards and medals including being made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1901 and the Lyell and Wollaston Medals of the Geological Society (there are actually too many to name here).

 

During the symposium we will have several talks about who he was as a person, his contribution to science and how his work has inspired generations of palaeontologists. There will also be poster contributions and a rare chance to see some of his type material described in the Catalogue and other key publications along with some of his many medals, which are kindly on loan to us from the British Museum.

 

The meeting will take place on Wednesday 21st May in The Flett Events Theatre of the Natural History Museum. Places are still available if you are interested and it is free to attend. However, you must register via the website.

Watch out for further posts about Smith Woodward and how the symposium went. We will also be working to produce a Procedings with a wide cross-section of papers next year. On the day I will be encouraging delegates to tweet and I will be doing the same from the Fossil Fish account and using the hashtag #ASW150.

 

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Our snazzy logo for the symposium

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Our last day in the field was one our Ore Curator, Helena Toman, was particulary looking forward to. We had finished visiting the fossil sites and today we would spend having a look around an active mine and collecting samples for the Museum's collections.

 

Helena tells us more about it...

 

Before we delve into the world of ores, it’s probably best to clarify what an ore actually is! An ore is any naturally-occurring mineral or assemblage of minerals from which economically important constituents, particularly metals, can be extracted. The field of economic geology focuses on ore deposit formation, ore mineral exploration and the successful extraction and processing of an ore. I like to think of economic geology as occupying one of those crucial interfaces between science and society and so one of the challenges as the Ore Collections Curator is to make the science accessible to society.

 

Over the past couple of months, you’ve taken part in our adventure to the geological treasure trove that is Morocco. After sieving for Cretaceous sharks teeth; excavating extinct volcanoes for mantle xenoliths and exploring for minerals we reach the final field stop of this incredible journey, the cobalt-nickel arsenide ore bodies of Bou-Azzer.

 

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On the road into Bou-Azzer mine.

 

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Looking over the mine.

 

Located in the central Anti-Atlas Mountain range within a very old (788 ± 9 Ma, Gahlan et al., 2006) ophiolite – a section of the ancient sea floor that has been obducted onto land - Bou-Azzer is presently the only mining district in the world to produce cobalt as a primary commodity from arsenide ores (USGS, 2011).  As cobalt is usually extracted as a by-product, mineralisation at Bou-Azzer is unusual and therefore scientifically interesting. Put bluntly, we’d be mad not to visit and collect!

 

One thing that you can safely predict is that most mining operations are located in very remote and difficult-to-access locations. Bou-Azzer is no exception. After a long, bumpy, but visually stunning car ride we were warmly welcomed by mine employees who introduced the group to the geology and mining history of the district. Then, after a much needed sugary mint tea, the moment had arrived. The moment I had been waiting for – access to the ore pile! We drove up. The midday sun beat down on the mass pile of rocks before us.

 

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Looking through the discarded material next to the mine.

 

Dull silvers highlighted the primary cobalt mineralisation of Bou-Azzer: skutterudite (CoAs); safflorite (CoAs2); loellingite (FeAs); nickeline (NiAs) and rammelsbergite (NiAs2) while pale pinks and rich purples drew attention to the secondary mineral, erythrite (Co3[AsO4]2.8H2O) (Ahmed et al., 2009). I have to admit, as ores go, they rarely get ‘prettier’.

 

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Some of the samples we collected at the mine.

 

While I could have stayed for days, our schedule was very tight and it wasn’t long before we needed to leave; it really was a case of ‘all hands on deck!’ Decision making (often against the clock) is part of a curator’s in-field skill set, so only samples that best provided an understanding of the mineralogy, mineral assemblages, mineral textures and mineralisation styles present at Bou-Azzer, made it into the suite.

 

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Primary cobalt ore.

 

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Primary cobalt ore.

 

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Secondary erythrite.

 

This suite (of 30 hand samples) was collected with two purposes in mind:

 

     1) collection enhancement of the existing Natural History Museum ore collection

     2) to serve as material for research initiatives investigating cobalt as a ‘critical element’

 

As someone whose scientific interest area is economic geology, visiting Bou-Azzer was the cherry on top of the cake – or, as we are dealing with all things Moroccan, the mint in my tea. Describe the fieldtrip in one word? Ore-some.

 

If you would like to find out more about ores, the Museum ore collection and our research, please see our ores group webpages, or you can follow up with the references below.

 

 

Thank you to Helena for telling us more about the ores and what we collected.

 

I was particularly excited about going to the mine as we were trying to find some pink minerals, and pink is my favourite colour. Some of the specimens looked wonderful sparkling in the sun and it was great that we were able to collect so many new samples for the ore collections.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Morocco, seeing something new every day and you can learn so much more in the field than reading a book or paper about the area. For me, it was great to learn from the mineralogists on the trip and find out more about what they do and also learn from more senior members of staff (I think we all enjoyed learning from each other and getting to know each other better).

 

Being able to visit sites I have heard so much about such as the Kem Kem and Goulmima was fantastic. And knowing that finding the fossils (and mineral specimens) during our trip helped to enhance the Museum collections is a great feeling. I am hoping to return to Morocco later in the year to present some results at a conference of specimens we collected during our trip.

 

References

 

Ahmad, A.H., Arai, Shoji, and Ikenne, Moha, 2009, Mineralogy and paragenesis of the Co-Ni arsenide ores of Bou Azzer, Anti-Atlas, Morocco: Economic Geology, v. 104, no. 2, March–April, p. 249–266.

USGS, 2011, Minerals Yearbook: Morocco and Western Sahara (Advanced Release), p. 30.1 – 30.9.

Gahlan, H., Arai, S., Ahmed, A.H., Ishida, Y., Abdel-Aziz, Y.M., and Rahimi, A., 2006, Origin of magnetite veins in serpentinite from the Late Proterozoic Bou-Azzer ophiolite, Anti-Atlas, Morocco: An implication for mobility of iron during serpentinization: Journal of African Earth Sciences, v. 46, p.318–330.

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Time for a guest blog from Mike Rumsey, to tell you all what the Mineralogists got up to on the days they split up from the Palaeontologists.

 

Having another geological commitment to attend I arrived in the middle of the night a couple of days after everyone else had settled into the Morrocco fieldtrip – a long taxi drive by darkness and a rough couple of hours sleep and then it was off into the field with the other mineralogists. (We split up so the palaeo people and the min people could get as much done as possible). First up was the amazing abandoned mining town of Angil, nestled in a steep valley once mined for its copper and lead content.

 

 

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Looking over a town in the valley.


Although an incredible vista, the many hundreds of steps leading up to the top of the valley was difficult in the heat and having only had a few hours sleep – it was a real fieldtrip wake-up call! We found some representative material with our local guide and then moved onto the main important task for the day – Mibladen.

 

The Mibladen area is famous for beautiful bright red crystalline specimens of vanadinite, which are probably the best in the world, and as such Mibladen is well known to most mineralogists and it was great to visit such a famous locality. Vanadinite from here has been known for a long time, but most of the material that ends up in the UK is poorly located and is often just labelled vanadinite from Mibladen, Morocco - this is not really fit for some of the scientific purposes of the museum, so we wanted to collect material directly from a number of different outcrops, mines and workings so we could record exactly where subtly different specimens of vanadinite occurred.

 

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Vanadinite


Another feature of the material that reaches the UK on the commercial market is that it has often been heavily prepared. This might involve cleaning in acids or selective trimming or removal of other less aesthetic mineral species that get in the way of the bright red vanadinite crystals. This is unfortunate as we are losing geologically relevant information when this happens, so I wanted also to obtain some ugly, fresh material that might have all sorts of natural alterations, erosion crusts and associated minerals combined that could tell us or future geologists something a little extra about this place than the readily available specimens.

 

After a few hours of driving between localities and getting some quick representative samples the day was complete before I knew it, but I had lots of samples and was happy - we met some really interesting people and saw some incredible hand-dug mines and pits in the middle of the desert where prospectors had been searching for vanadinite.

 

On the second split day from the palaeo guys, we mineralogists visited the area of M’fis and Taouz, M’fis is a famous area for barite specimens and Taouz is another area famous for its vanadinite. Both these places were really out in the middle of the desert and it was very, (very!) hot - a specific locality called the wulfenite vein at M’fis – was so open and exposed, it felt a bit like some horror film where we might have been abandoned in a desert oven.

 

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The hot desert in M'fis


Still we got to it and collected some really interesting specimens from some more off the beaten track spots in M’fis including areas that have never really been written about or documented in any systematic fashion. At the main site of M’fis we picked up some good representative barite specimens and saw some pretty scary mining operations that I’m certain you would not see in the UK.

 

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An example of scary mining operations

 

At Taouz we didn’t collect much as I had been lucky enough to visit the locality the previous year. However, we did get some nice specimens from the local miners and we got a quick tour inside the mine workings to see some of the vandinite in situ, both of which we documented to better illustrate the geological environment of the finds from my trip to Taouz the year before.

Analysis of the minerals is still ongoing, but it seems successful so far, with a few species being identified and/or documented for the first time at specific localities and in one case, possibly the first documented occurrence in Morocco… and perhaps the first even for the planet, which considering there are only 4800 known minerals is a fairly rare occurrence.

 

Huge thanks to Mike for writing this so I could share his experiences of Morocco!

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Day three was the day I was most excited about. The Palaeontologists and the Mineralogists split up and went to separate places. You can read about what they got up to in the next blog, a guest post from Mike Rumsey. The Palaeontologists were heading to an area known as Goulmima. The reason we were heading there was primarily to explore the fish and ammonite fauna to be found (there are also marine reptiles). These animals are from the Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous. This means that these fossils are approximately 90 million years old! Being the curator of the fossil cephalopods and a particular fan of ammonites I was very excited!


Before we left our hotel we visited the fossil and mineral shop they had to have a look and see what there was. There were some very impressive large items but I was most impressed by the heteromorphic ammonites and spiny trilobites.

 

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Some of the wonderful ammonites on sale at the hotel.


We left our hotel and drove south, heading towards Goulmima. On the way we stopped in a town called Rich, where we visited another fossil shop. The owner of this particular shop knows the Goulmima area which we were interested in very well, he also had a lot of fossils from the sites there.  Knowing that we wouldn’t be spending very long at the site at Goulmima, and also that the Museum is working to expand its collection of ammonites from the region I spent some time having a look for the rarer species not represented in our collections. In the end we came away with some very nice ammonites.

 

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Me searching through a pile of ammonites.


After our detour we continued on the way to Goulmima. The drive there was filled with spectacular scenery as the landscape became more filled with the typical desert scenes you would expect from Morocco.  As we got closer we were driving along a river bed with spectacular cliffs and lush vegetation. On arriving we had lunch in the shade under a date tree (more fantastic tuna sandwiches!).  During our 300km drive south it had gotten noticeably hotter, I was definitely grateful for my sun hat and factor 50 suncream!

 

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Magnificent landscapes we travelled through on our way south through Morocco. 1 of 3

 

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Landscape 2 of 3

 

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More of the wonderful geology we passed on our drive south 3 of 3.

 



Once we had eaten our lunch we went to the first of two sites in the Goulmima area known as Asfla 1 (another town nearby). The more adventurous of the group scrambled up a very steep cliff to investigate what could be found. Lower down we found evidence of shell beds containing  lots of bivalve shells. After half an hour or so there we had found a few scrappy bits of ammonite and no fish so we got back into the jeeps and headed off to the second site; Asfla 2.

 

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View of site Asfla 1.

 

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The view from site Aslfa 1. Photograph courtesy of Martha Richter.

 

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Can you see my collegues on the cliff at Asfla 1?


On reaching Asfla 2 we hopped out of the jeeps and headed up towards the site. On the way up we found pieces of plesiosaur. Martin found a lovely specimen of an ammonite genus known as Mammites at this site.

 

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Site Asfla 2.

 

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Me and Emma Bernard at Asfla 2.


Our next stop before heading towards a place called Erfoud and our hotel was a small settlement near Goulmima. We were taken here by our guides as the local people make living excavating fossils from the area. We made a couple of stops, one of which being to a man who specialised in collecting the ammonite fauna. I spent another happy few minutes having a look through a pile of ammonites. In the end I came away with a good selection of specimens, some very rare which may never have been found here before!

 

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The village we visited. Photograph courtesy of Martha Richter.


The last stop before our hotel was a brief stop in another fossil shop. As we were now in Erfoud an area with much older Palaeozoic rocks, this was starting to be seen in what the shop was selling, with goniatites and trilobites which are much older alongside the more recent Cretaceous fauna.  While we were here Mike, Emma and Helena; the mineralogists met us so we could head to our hotel and a comfortable bed after a long and busy day.

 

Keep an eye out for the vertebrate perspective on day 3 from Emma Bernard, and a guest post here from Mike Rumsey about what the mineralogists were up to.

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Over the weekend as you may have noticed if you follow my Twitter feeds (@NHM_Brachiopoda and @NHM_Cephalopoda) I have been on the Isle of Wight. We arrived on a very wet afternoon on Friday 8 November.

 

The main reason for our trip was to participate in the Dinosaur Isle Museum's "Blast from the Past" event which gathers local collectors, universities and museums together to talk to the public about palaeontology, fossil collecting and metal detecting.

 

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Me with our display of cephalopods.


Me and my collegues - Dr Martin Munt, Dr Lorna Steel, Dr Christine Stullu-Derrien, Dr Ria Mitchell and Zuzanna Wawrzyniak - had a stall showing the diversity of fossil cephalopods through time and the plant and arthropod fauna of the Rhynie Chert. Lots of people came to talk to us, asking questions about the specimens and bringing their own fossils for us to identify.

 

On Monday Christine came back to the Museum as she's very busy at the moment but the rest of us stayed on the Isle of Wight to do some fieldwork. We wrapped up warm with lots of layers and waterproofs and braved the weather on Yaverland beach near Sandown. I found some dinosaur ribs and a fish vertebra.


When we went up to Dinosaur Isle that is close by for lunch, we realised our waterproofs had failed and we were all utterly soaked so instead of going back out into the dire weather we were invited to visit the Isle of Wight off-site store to have a look at their collections.

 

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Our group on Yaverland beach getting rather wet and windswept.

 

Alex Peaker and Martin New of Dinosaur Isle showed us lots of wonderful fossil plants, dinosaurs and invertebrates while Lorna took the opportuinty to have a look at their fossil crocodiles.

 

On Tuesday the weather was much better and we took a trip to a Pleistocene mammal locality on the east of the island called Saltmead Beach, which is near Newton. Luckily the military firing test zone was not in action that day as we had to cross it in order to get to the beach. After a long walk across a water-logged field and down the beach we finally made it to the site. Lots of bone fragments were found, most likely from bison. These will be passed along to our fossil mammal curator.

 

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Left: Lorna and Zuza looking for Pleistocene bones.

Right: The beach at Saltmead near Newtown.

 

 

After lunch we visited an Eocene site known as the insect limestone. Here there were pieces of the limestone strewn on the beach which you can then break open with a hammer. If you are lucky you may find insects such as ants and beetles or even fossil plant remains. In our case, Zuzanna was the lucky one as she found a lovely beetle that our arthropod curator was very excited to recieve for the collection.

 

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Left: Ria breaking up the limestone. Centre: Looking carefully for tiny insects.

Right: The insect limestone.

 

When we got back to the house Zuzanna started the process of removing the salt from the bison bones we had found. She did this by soaking them in tap water overnight to draw the salt out. In the process, however, a small shore crab emerged from one of the bones! We put it in a tupperware tub (with no lid) with some seaweed from the bone and sea water from the sample bag. In the morning on the way back to the ferry we released him in a suitable pebbly location with seaweed.

 

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Left: The crab we rescued
Right: I'm about to release him!

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On Saturday 7 September my colleague Dr Tim Ewin and I travelled down (rather early in the morning) to Lyndhurst in Hampshire, where we were participating in the Hampshire Fossil and Mineral show. On arriving with Barry, the department’s trusty Baryonyx, we joined forces with the final member of our team, Dr Martin Munt.

 

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Tim Ewin adding the finishing touches to our stand, under the watchful gaze of Barry.

 

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The Hampshire Fossil and Mineral show poster.

 

Alongside Barry we had a selection of lovely new acquisitions, which Tim has collected from trips to Oklahoma and New York State. I was telling people about our planned trip to Morocco and what we hoped to collect while there (come back soon for blog posts on this from me and Emma Bernard).

 

The show itself had lots of stalls selling some beautiful fossils and minerals. There were also people selling books, and I bought myself a slightly battered copy of “A manual of mollusca” by Samuel Pickworth Woodward from 1880!

 

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Some of the stalls selling beautiful minerals and fossils.

 

Alongside us there were stands from other museums and local councils, including Dinosaur Isle on the Isle of Wight and Christine Taylor from Hampshire County Council who had a wonderful patchwork quilt showing the geology of Hampshire!

 

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Martin New and Alex Peaker from Dinosaur Isle showing off their fossils.

 

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Christine's stunning Hampshire geology quilt (complete with fossils in pockets!).


After speaking to lots of people about all sorts of fossils and doing some identification we packed Barry back up and drove home to London.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am lucky enough to participate in collection enhancing fieldwork. One place I have been to several times over the last year is Woodeaton Quarry near Oxford.

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A small part of the quarry

 

The quarry is disused and is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as it contains one of the best exposures of upper Bathonian (about 160-million-year-old) rocks in the UK. Because of this the site is of great palaeontological interest. The rocks represent a marine or marginal marine environment.

 

Many different fossils have been found there in the past, including shark teeth, brachiopods and dinosaurs! Over the next few years the quarry is due to be filled in, but part of the Bathonian rocks will remain exposed. Therefore it is important we take samples of the different rock layers and try to understand the geology better.

 

A team of Museum scientists and curators went to the quarry over a period of a couple of months to take lots of pictures, determine the geology and how each rock level changes, and to plan for a week long expedition to recover lots of fossils.

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Myself and Museum scientist Steve Stukins, having a closer look at the rock.

 

In June this year our team went to the quarry for a week to collect bulk samples (large bags of rock and sediment) to bring back to the Museum, sieve, wash away all the rock and have a closer look for fossils. Most of the fossils are tiny and need to be looked at under a microscope.

 

We had people from different disciplines looking for microfossils, pollen, small vertebrates and invertebrates. Unfortunately, on this occasion we did not find any large vertebrates but we certainly have lots of small and microscopic fossils!

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Myself and PhD student Simon Wills loading the van full of bulk samples

 

The infomation we find out will be given to Natural England so they can make infomation boards about the site. Several scientists connected with the Museum will publish results to help others in understanding this time period better. The fossils we find will form an important part of our palaeontology collections for scientists to use in the future and maybe if we are lucky we might even find a new species!

 

As the bulk samples are processed and we start identifying what we have recovered I will write another post to update everyone on our findings.

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We arrived on Tuesday, set up what will be our home for the week, with a stream babbling under.

 

We spent today visiting fossil shops and talking to the owners to see what was on offer and meet the collectors. We then went to the Lyme Regis Museum to talk to our colleagues there about new specimens and the local geology. Whilst there Emma had some fun dressing up as Mary Anning, the 'Princess of Palaeontology'.

 

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Emma dressed as Mary Anning with a newly acquired Ichthyosaur skull.

 

In the afternoon (after an ice cream by the sea) we set off for Seatown where we learnt about the geology and did a little fieldwork. The geology is the upper Lower Lias (about 185 Million years ago) - it is a marine setting with lots of belemnites and ammonites.

 

We found lots of bits of belemnite, but the highlight was definitely finding a phragmocone of a belemnite; the cone-shaped structure that housed the creature's internal organs. Of the ammonites, Aegeroceras was the most common find. However we did find part of an Amaltheus (My favourite Jurassic ammonite because of its rope-like keel).

 

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Seatown in the glorious sunshine.

 

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One of the many ammonites (Aegeroceras) we found

 

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Emma and Zoe in the field at Seatown.

 

Tomorrow we are heading off to a secondary school event in Dorchester to explain the wonders of cephalopod taxonomy. Now we are heading off to grab some well earned dinner! Come back to read more about our adventure!

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On the nature & causes of volcanism in the Galápagos archipelago

 

Tuesday 21st May - 4.00 pm - Mineralogy seminar room

 

Dr Sally A Gibson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK. sally@esc.cam.ac.uk

 

Diversity appears to be key to understanding natural phenomena in the Galápagos archipelago. Whilst most associate this with the unusual creatures that inhabit the islands it is also true of their volcanic nature.

Historical perspective: The volcanic nature of Galápagos was based on reports of pirates, buccaneers and naval admirals until 1835, when Charles Darwin visited the archipelago during the Beagle voyage. Although widely regarded as a zoologist, Darwin was first and foremost a geologist and especially interested in the formation of volcanic islands. Whilst in Galápagos, most of his time was spent on James Island (now known as Santiago) and here he made a crucial observation regarding the occurrence of different volcanic rock types; he realised that confinement of low-density trachytes to elevated parts and higher-density basalts to lower slopes of the same volcano meant that different types of magma could form in ‘the body of a volcanic mountain’ by sinking of crystals. In this regard he was the first scientist to link the diversity of volcanic rock types to what we now refer to as crystal settling. Darwin’s theory of crystal sinking was published in 1844 but not widely accepted at the time.

 

21st Century importance: The Galápagos archipelago is a natural laboratory for Earth Scientists and provides a unique opportunity to test models of mantle melting. It is one of the world’s most volcanically active regions with eruptions of predominantly basaltic lavas occurring every 3 to 5 years. Galápagos is located above a mantle plume and adjacent to an oceanic spreading centre. Whilst the greatest volumes of melt occur in the west of the archipelago, close to the postulated axis of the plume, volcanism is widespread. There are no age-progressive linear relationships between activity and distance from the location of the present-day hotspot and no temporal variation in magma type as there is for example at Hawaii. The large geochemical dataset for recently erupted basalts and high-resolution seismic database allow greater constraints to be imposed on the causes of volcanism than for any other archipelago. Melt generation occurs both in the region of active mantle upwelling, which has a radius of ~100 km, and also where plume mantle is being dispersed laterally towards the adjacent spreading centre. The composition of erupted basalts is closely linked to the thickness of the underlying lithosphere: numerical modelling of geochemical and geophysical datasets has revealed that this is relatively thin (45 km) beneath the NE of the archipelago and allows the generation of tholeiitic basalts. Above the current zone of active plume upwelling the lithosphere is thicker (60 km) such that the amount of melting is lower and alkali basalts are generated. Isla Santiago is located in central Galápagos above the margin of the zone of active upwelling and also on the edge of the zone of thin lithosphere. The island is unique in that it has experienced recent eruptions of basaltic melts with extremely varied major- and trace-element and also isotopic compositions. This diversity is a manifestation of both complex physical processes and compositional variations in the underlying mantle plume.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html