This evening was the welcome reception for the annual meeting of the Southeastern Section of the Geological Society of America (SE-GSA), which is being held this year in Asheville, North Carolina. The reception included 50 posters of undergraduate research projects.
There were several posters from Radford University, where I’m on the adjunct faculty (although I was not involved in any of these posters). James Freeman, Miles Costello, Marcus Jessee, and Elizabeth McCellan looked at sources of sediment in Mountain Lake, a natural lake in Giles County, Virginia. I took the photo above in 2007, when the lake was drying up (as it does on occasion); by 2011 it was almost completely dry, allowing easy retrieval of sediment cores. They found that, even though the Ordovician Martinsburg Formation (below) makes up much of the bedrock at the southern end of the lake, it is a relatively minor component of the lake sediment.
Instead, Silurian sandstones such as the Rose Hill Formation (the piece shown below is one of the building stones in Mountain Lake Lodge) that underlie the northern end of the lake are the more significant contributors to the sediment.
In additional work on Mountain Lake, Benjamin Perdue, Jennifer All, and Chester Watts did electrical resistivity surveys of the lake bed to try and determine how all the water gets out of the lake during its drying episodes.
Jason Yonts, Sarah Gregory, and Elizabeth McCellan looked at feldspar grains in the Mount Rogers Formation in an attempt to determine the source rock for those grains. This is pretty remarkable when you realize that the Mount Rogers Formation is (in part) a sandstone that was deposited nearly a billion years ago, and which was metamorphosed several hundred million years later, yet it’s still possible to determine in part which specific rocks were eroding to provide sediment for the sandstone.
In one of the most unique topics I’ve seen, Paul Martin, Blair Tormey, Kaitlyn Reda, and Ryan Nelson compared the abilities of ground-penetrating radar to cadaver dogs in finding human burials. Apparently trained dogs can find bodies that have been buried for many hundreds of years, and are actually better than radar at finding old bodies. The radar does better with finding more recent, casket burials.
Katie Estridge, Logan Howell, and Andy Heckert reported initial data on reports of pathologies in dinosaur bones from different time periods, such as this injured toe in the Allosaurus specimen “Big Al”:
Their initial results show large numbers of pathological bone reports from the Late Jurassic and the Late Cretaceous, which as they point out is almost certainly due to the heavy collecting and reporting that has been done on fossils from those periods. It will be interesting to see how these numbers come out as the data set is refined to account for collection biases.
Bradley Craig, James Atwood, and Colin Sumrall studied Ordovician stylophoran elements under a scanning electron microscope to try to determine the function of various features. Stylophorans are enigmatic Paleozoic echinoderms with a long appendage of unknown function; both a stalk and a feeding appendage have been suggested as possibilities. Craig et al. suggest that their data supports the feeding appendage interpretation. (The stylophoran example below is from the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.)
This session was a nice start to the conference, which continues for the next two days. I’ll be posting summaries of selected talks and posters during the course of the meeting.