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Earth sciences news

7 Posts tagged with the earth_science tag
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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.

 

easy catch.jpg

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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The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival took place in Dorset on 2-4 May 2014. Our palaeontologists Lil Stevens and Zoe Hughes report back from a weekend of sun, sea, fossils and fun.

 

Saturday in the festival marquee was a busy one with lots of people queuing to sieve for sharks teeth from Abbey Wood (which they got to keep!).

 

Charlie Sieving.jpgCharlie Underwood sieving for teeth.

 

Elsewhere Museum staff were also quite busy. Mark Spencer and the Angela Marmont Centre (AMC) team were talking about seaweed using samples which they had collected from the beach that morning.

 

Mark spencer sorting seaweed.jpg Mark Spencer with some of his seaweed.

 

Emma Bernard’s shark measuring activity proved very popular - she had crowds of rapt people hanging onto her every word. People like big Megalodon teeth! Emma has also been busy tweeting for @NHM_FossilFish.

 

Emma and Ralph.jpgEmma Bernard with her popular shark activity.

 

Andrew Briscoe and Suzanne Hocking have been teaching people how to extract DNA from strawberries- incredible that this can be done in a marquee on the beach!

 

DNA extraction.jpgAndrew Briscoe and Suzanne Hocking showing us how to extract DNA.

 

In the rest of the marquee lots of other organisations had some great activities. Zoe Hughes discovered that she walks like a Velociraptor with Plymouth University and that she is as tall as an extinct fossil penguin from Antarctica with the British Antarctic survey.

 

Penguin height chart (BAS).jpgZoe has a look to see which penguin she is as tall as.

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We've packed the car and we're ready to go to this year's Fossil Festival! The Museum will be in its usual place in the main marquee on the beach near the Lyme Regis Museum - this is my first trip to Lyme so it's all new to me.

 

I'm looking forward to the tropical climate and warm, shallow sea...oh no, that was in the Jurassic period. Forecast for this weekend: cool with occasional showers and the possibility of overnight frosts. Ah well, we're in a tent!

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Museum volunteers Sam McCausland and Mike Smith pack the important stuff into the Fossilmobile.

 

This year we will be bringing anthropologist Margaret Clegg to talk about ancient humans, and palaeontologists Pip Brewer and Jerry Hooker to showcase some very ancient mammals.

 

You can sieve for sharks teeth with fish curator Emma Bernard and expert David Ward, and if you can find them you can take them home with you! They will also show you how to use shark jaws and teeth to estimate the body size of some of the largest sharks ever to have lived.

 

Zoe Hughes, our cephalopod and brachiopod curator and I will be explaining how palaeontologists reconstruct fossils to work out how the animals looked when they were alive. Test your palaeo-skills with our drawing challenge! Palaeontologists Martin Munt and Noel Morris are Lyme veterans and will be on hand to answer all your most technical paleontological questions - so you'd better think of some!

 

Those mysterious Museum mineralogists are planning a sparkling surprise so come down to the beach and see some very special pebbles...

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It was our first day at the festival proper yesterday, and the weather was great!

 

We had a day of great interactions with local primary schools. Scientists from the Museum brought along a massive cast of a baryonyx skull, and visitors were invited to take a closer look at some microscopic life through one of our amazing scanning electron microscopes (SEM).

 

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Cast of the skull of Baryonyx, a Cretaceous dinosaur with huge claws for hooking fish 


Other great exhibitors included:

 

  • The Buckland Club, who invited the public to help excavate a model plesiosaur
  • Rock Watch, running creative plasticine fossil workshops
  • The University of Plymouth, who measured visitors' strides to work out which dinosaur they are most like
  • a great collaborative artwork of the Jurassic coast, led by artist Darrell Wakelam

 

photo 2(1).JPGThe fine art of fossil excavation

 

Here's hoping for some good weather this bank holiday weekend! More news from the learning team soon.

 

Posted on behalf of Emily, Ben and Jade from the Museum's learning team.

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Today was the first day of the festival on the beach at Lyme Regis, Otherwise known as primary school day! Through the day, hundreds of school children from twenty local primary schools filltered through the tent, enjoying all of the fabulous activities and sights! A popular activity was the shark sieving, with children searching through sediment from Abbey Wood to find and identify shark teeth and shells - which they got to keep at the end!

 

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The equipment for shark sieving and the sediment

 

The British Geological Survey were showing off their 3D scanning equipment and printer. This was rather amazing! I was also very impressed with the British Antarctic Survey's specimens, particularly one ammonite  that had incredible sutures.

 

Museum staff had a very busy day with all of their activities, with Mike Rumsey and Helena Toman especially busy with their gold panning. Jerry Hooker and Noel Morris dealt with many fossil identifications.

 

I was sucessful in identifying the meteorite in a task designed by Caroline Smith and Deb Cassey - it is often difficult to identify a true meteorite! The DNA activity got many children very excited, with lots going past our fossil stand waving their tubes and enthusiastically telling us that they had DNA.

 

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A girl hunting for 'gold' at the gold panning station.

 

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'Barry' our Baryonyx skull watching over us as we work.

 

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Many of the Museum stations and associated staff inside the tent (but not all of us!)

 

Emma and I were also intervied for Palaeocast, a podcast about palaeontology. Emma talked to them about fish and I discussed ammonites.

 

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Emma and me being interviewed for Palaeocast

 

Tomorrow the tent will be open to the public so we are expecting a busy couple of days ahead. If you are nearby do pop in and say hello!

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Yesterday, we went to a secondary school in Dorchester. We set up our stand along with several others from the Museum, local fossil groups and the school's fossil club. At our stand we were giving students a brief explanation of taxonomy (how you classify all living things), specifically cephalopods.

 

We explained the difference between three major groups of cephalopod: ammonites, belemnites and nautiloids. The belemnite phragmacone we found yesterday proved to be very useful in explaining how a belemnite dealt with buoyancy control. The children enjoyed examining the recent nautilus we had with us to locate the hole for the siphuncle.

 

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Zuzanna Wawrzyniak and Emma Bernard with our taxonomy stand (Zoe Hughes as photographer)

 

After the school event we returned to Lyme Regis to help set up the tent for the main event: the Fossil Festival. Our main earth science table is set up, with specimens for the public to handle starting today. We constructed the Baryonyx skull and helped David Ward set up his shark sieving activity.

 

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Nearly finished setting up in the tent (with the Baryonyx spine and skull on the left)

 

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David Ward setting up the shark sieving (to find fossil teeth, etc).

 

Today is the primary school day and we have been told approximately 600 children willl be visiting - wish us luck and we will report back soon!