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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Smoking Smoke Rings: Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy, and More

      This week, Partial Ellipsis of the Sun presents a photo collection of spectacular geological and meteorological images. Firstly, smoke rings from Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy. These images are from Andrew Rader. Mount Etna is erupting for the second time this month. Wow, huh?


     Next, this pyroclastic flow deposit is located in "Poseidon's Gardens" on the island of Ischia, Italy. Ischia, just off the coast from Naples and Mount Vesuvius, is dominated by Mount Epomeo. This deposit shows the violent nature of pyroclastic flows and the turbulence and deformation possible within these volcanic features. These volcanic layers were deposited about 10,000 years ago. The layers were deformed as the flow slid down the side of the mountain, or possibly, as the soft sediments were covered by a more viscous lava flow during the same eruption. Oooh la la! {Photos by Drew Patrick.}

      From Poseidon's Gardens to "Poseidon's Fury" in these gargantuan crashing waves around Bell Rock lighthouse in Angus, Scotland (photographer unknown). . .Whoa.

      And, lastly, from much calmer seas, a large slab of extinct Paleozoic ammonites and belemnites from Morocco (photos by me).

Have you seen a spectacular geologic or meteorologic image this week? Please share a link!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

You've Got to Know When to Fold 'Em: Origami, Science, and Engineering

     Origami, the ancient art of Japanese paper folding, is used extensively in creating scientific and engineering products that rely on careful packing and unpacking.

      Origami is not just for a thousand paper cranes any longer. . .

        Space Station and satellite shields and solar arrays must be carefully packed for the trip to space then unpacked once in orbit.

     These giant panels start out in paper and computer models.

      Robert Lang is a leader in the field of origami applications. This excellent 5-minute video shows Lang and others from Brigham Young University, UT, and the myriad origami-inspired creations.

     In addition, origami inspired microscopic folds in medical products, on the order of nanometers.

           The movement in these origami unpackings is often quite graceful.

     One Christmas, Zoë made me a thousand origami cranes. That was a wonderful, graceful unpacking!

     Do you use origami, either for fun and/or scientific/engineering purposes? 

Time to fold,

Today, the Brown "Tourmalion" Marble in the elevator made me smile. I like both tourmaline and tourmalion, roar. . . ;-)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Conodonts or "Cono-dos:" Odd Index Fossil Elements Belonged to Extinct Eel-Like Animals

      Conodont elements are microfossils made of phosphate or apatite; they are some of the planet's most useful index fossils. {Index fossils are those found in a narrow time range and wide spatial distribution that are used in the identification of related geologic formations.}

     Conodonts (Greek kōnos, "cone", + odont, "tooth") are extinct agnathan chordates resembling eels, classified in the class Conodonta. 

      For several decades, conodonts were known only from odd, wildly and disparately shaped, tooth-like microfossil assemblages found in isolation; these microfossils are now called conodont elements.

     However,  texts published before the early 1980's refer to the teeth-like assemblages as the actual conodonts (see below).

        The conodont animal's soft parts were finally discovered in a lagerstätte (fossil bed of extraordinary preservation) in the Bear Gulch Limestone in Montana.

     The discovery led to the eventual recreation of what these agnathan chordates, who lived mostly during the Paleozoic, looked like.

       The conodont elements are widely used not only to define a time period of deposition but also as paleothermometers which record the degree to which sediments have been "cooked." This characteristic is quite useful to oil and gas paleontologists.

     The conodont elements may readily be removed from their calcium carbonate sediments by using a mild acid to dissolve the CaCO3, leaving a suite of conodont elements. My micropaleontology project at the U. of Arizona yielded a conodont suite using this method of dissolution.

        How suite it is! Though, I must say, the conodont assemblages were rather a wonderful mystery until recently. . .

          The Conodonta creatures did not have jaws but had these odd assemblages at the "mouth" ends of their bodies.

      By the way, the inspiration for this week's post was, oddly enough, limestone outcrops at the Tsingy Nature Reserve in Madagascar that we discussed last week. (All about scale, once again. . .).

Have you encountered conodont elements before? Do you have any Conodon'ts or Cono-dos? ;-)


Bonus images: Conodont elements on the head of a nail in a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image:

And, with a bit of gold:

Happy pi day!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tsingy, Tsingy, Tsingy: Extreme Karst Topography in Madagascar

      Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve in Madagascar

is an example of extreme karst topography in very homogenous limestone.

      Due to the sharp nature of the limestone ledges and pinnacles ("tsingy" means "hurts to walk on in barefeet" in Malagasy), it is also home to a wide array of species endemic only to certain parts of the reserve, including a species of lemur (seen here in this 1 minute photo montage).

     The UNESCO World Heritage Site includes these well-defined karst features, shaped by rain with a low pH value (acid rain). The video will also refresh your French.

      The tsingy features are the sedimentary equivalent of the Hawaiian lava called aa. (Though, I can't imagine feeling very "singy" walking on those carbonate ridges, if, indeed, the Malagasy word sounds as I think it does).

      Of course, much of the species diversity at the reserve is due to Madagascar's being separated from the Indian peninsula 88 million years ago (see diagram below). This fourth largest island is a "biodiversity hotspot;" over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on earth due to its geographic isolation. 

      The microclimate of the Tsingy Nature Reserve created even further specialized plants and animals.

            So, the dilemma: do Madagascans go out for Indian food or perhaps food from Mozambique?

      Surely, it's a delicate balance.

      And please, you must remember this. . .

Have any of you been to the Tsingy Reserve? Eaten food from Mozambique? (I am assuming Indian food is on the table already. . .)


It's all about perspective: