Welcome To My 2021 Field Office

This is my summer receptionist… a Yellowstone 2020 wolf pup of the Junction Butte pack that roams mainly in the Lamar Valley of northern Yellowstone National Park.

My geological field work lately has taken me to several areas of western Montana, so I thought I’d do a visual collage of a few of the landscapes where I’ve been working. To start with, I’ve been spending time flying drones over Tertiary exposures in southwestern Montana, Great fun and good insight into Tertiary geology. Many of my flights are focused on Eocene strata at Pipestone Springs. Along with 3 co-authors (Don Lofgren, Stephen Hasiotis, and Bill McIntosh), we have a paper on Pipestone chronostratigraphy, trace fossils, and depositional environments that is now in review. Below are a couple of drone photos from Pipestone Springs.

Pipestone Springs Eocene strata with the basal lapilli tuff (37.5 million years in age) and the upper trace fossil bed (36 million years in age) indicated. Note the person standing on the surface of the upper trace fossil bed.
A somewhat closer drone view of the upper trace fossil bed with me as pilot standing off to the right side of the photo. My drone landing pad is my friend’s political campaign sign!

My travels through a part of northwestern Montana last week put me in a very different geologic setting from southwestern Montana. Proterozoic rocks are the mainstay in this area, and they make for some spectacular landscapes. So spectacular in fact, that I’ll just do a barrage of photos from the east side of Glacier National Park…

Chief Mountain, located a few miles north of Babb, Montana, is the iconic geologic view of major thrust fault where Proterozoic rocks (Chief Mountain rocks) are pushed over Cretaceous strata (green area of this photo).
No matter how much has changed in this past year because of the pandemic, it is just astounding to me to see a sign that says the Canadian border crossing is closed. It was a heavy mix of emotions being out in the early morning to view Chief Mountain, but then to see this sign and know that we’re still all in this even a year out. Whew…
Of course, no visit to Many Glacier is complete without marveling at Grinnell Point.
One of the positive aspects of getting up very early on a spring day is the sun rise near the Many Glacier Lodge. It didn’t last long as rain clouds pushed in but what a view for a time!
And another plus to being up early in the Many Glacier area is to watch a black bear amble down the road.
Coming back south, down the Front Range of the Rockies, we got out from under the rain clouds. Once again, geologically, the rocks that comprise Dancing Lady Mountain have been thrust over younger, Cretaceous strata (basically the area in green on the photo).

In summary, this is just a quick view of a couple western Montana areas where I’ve been recently. I have to say that I’m really looking forward to more amazing places to work this field season. I may swap out my office receptionist, though.

AWG’s Laramide Chapter Is Hosting A Workshop on Bystander Intervention Training

In an effort to combat racism and other “isms”, the Association for Women Geoscientists’ (AWG) Laramide Chapter is hosting a Bystander Intervention Workshop training! You will learn practical knowledge and strategies about what YOU CAN DO to combat unfair treatment of people of color, women, and other unfairly treated groups in professional and personal settings. The first session is this weekend, (3/27/2021) so get signed up! Please forward to people/groups you think would be interested in this topic. The sign-up link is:

Did I mention – the workshop is FREE!

Additional details – the AWG Laramide Chapter is hosting two Bystander Intervention workshops lead by Other Orb Consulting.

About this Event

These workshops are interactive events designed to engage participants in conversation about difficult topics including, but not limited to, racial-, sexual-, religion-, age-, gender-, and sexuality-based harassment, bullying, and exclusion.

The goals of the workshops are to:

• Raise awareness of barriers to helping.

• Raise awareness of helpful behaviors.

• Increase desire and motivation to help.

• Develop skills and confidence to help.

• Ensure the safety and well-being of attendees.

Workshops will be held virtually (via Zoom) and are intended for geoscience students, staff, faculty, scientists, etc. in academic, government, private, non-profit, and/or industry settings, but anyone is welcome to attend. Seating is limited and advanced registration is required.

Attendance is free and open to all, however donations are accepted and will go towards AWG Laramide Chapter Scholarships.

Linking One Woman’s Geoscience Career to Gender Equity

Coinciding with International Women’s Day and Women’s History month, I did a zoom meeting last week with students and faculty in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Seminar at the University of Northern Colorado. My zoom presentation was – “Linking One Woman’s Geoscience Career to Gender Equity Progress. Here’s the abstract of the Powerpoint slideshow that I presented (a pdf of the Powerpoint slideshow is available upon request):

My geoscience career encompasses the time period from the early 1970’s to the present and includes work in academia, government, and private sectors. As such, it becomes a good template to use in thinking about gender equity throughout that time. Data from a recent Pew Research Center Survey suggests that gender equity milestones of the last century include women’s right to vote (1920), the Equal Pay Act (1963), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (1993). In my opinion, the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act and Title IX should also be included in these milestones. My career time line falls after the first two gender equity milestones and then continues through the enactment times of the other federal legislation cited above. Consequently, it’s instructive to review the various situations that I encountered both as a university student in undergraduate to graduate programs and then in the professional world, and to compare those circumstances to the present time. Data collected and summarized most recently by various organizations indicate that although gender equity progress has been made throughout the decades, it may currently be dramatically slowed or even stalled. Additionally, of significant concern now is “America’s First Female Recession” brought on by the loss of women in the workforce due to Covid-19 and its resulting effects on gender equity.

Drone Flying, Southwest Montana Style

Jeremy Crowley describes flight planning for UAS high accuracy photogrammetric data collection using a DJI Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 Pro version 2 at the Bluebird Mill mining ruins near Rocker, southwest Montana.

Last fall I decided that using UAS would really add to my geologic field work. That was the easy part. I did make the step to buy a drone and ended up with both a DJI Air Mavic 2 and a DJI Phantom 4 Pro version 2. Although it’s great fun just to fly a drone – and the camera resolutions are of amazing quality even on the little Air Mavic 2 – there is so much more to UAS flying and collecting visual data. Probably the best place to start is to understand that in flying a drone, one can either do flying as a hobbyist or take the next step, and get certified as a FAA Remote Pilot (Part 107). I hadn’t initially thought much about getting certified as a remote Pilot in Command (PIC), because I thought I’d basically use my drones for geologic photo/video purposes. But it turns out that in my quest for drone information, I came across Jeremy Crowley from the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte, Montana, who is an extremely knowledgeable UAS person. In talking to Jeremy and reading about his drone workshops and research, I realized that I did need to learn much more about even FAA regulations regarding UAS. So I started on the path to get my FAA Remote Pilot (Part 107) certificate by taking Jeremy’s workshop. For anyone interested in UAS, it’s a very worthwhile workshop, and as summarized by Jeremy, it goes as follows:

“The FAA Part 107 Remote UAS pilot license is required for anyone flying UAS as part of work/business/commercial operations. This workshop will prepare attendees to pass the exam to obtain an FAA Remote Pilot License (Part 107). Attendees will also get hands-on training on using a UAV to conduct an automated photogrammetry survey, collect high accuracy (cm level) ground control points and check points, then post-process the control points and create a 3D model, digital surface model, and hillshade of the survey area”.

From Jeremy Crowley’s UAS 2021 Workshop description, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology

At this time in my UAS learning curve, what I can say is that by delving into material covered by the FAA Part 107 Remote UAS pilot certification process, I’ve learned so much that is really helpful for being a proficient PIC. I strongly recommend going through the certification process to anyone who is serious about flying a drone. And, oh yeah, I did pass the FAA Part 107 Remote UAS pilot certification a couple days ago! So – I’m looking forward to many days of being a remote PIC!

Jeremy Crowley, Montana Bureau Mines and Geology, starts the set-up for our Global Navigation Satellite Survey (GNSS) that we’ll use in collecting ground control and quality control points for our high accuracy photogrammetry survey.

LATE EOCENE CHRONOSTRATIGRAPHY, DEPOSITIONAL ENVIRONMENT, AND PALEOSOL-TRACE FOSSIL ASSOCIATIONS, PIPESTONE SPRINGS, SOUTHWEST MONTANA

I just received notice from the Geological Society of America (GSA) that our abstract is now accepted for the GSA 2020 annual meeting. I was very much looking forward to going to Montreal for the meeting, but like much else, it will now be virtual. Our presentation is scheduled for the session titled “D23. Recent Advances in Understanding Environmental Changes and Their Effects on Sedimentation”, which will be on Monday, 26, October 2020, beginning at 1:30 PM. And I say our abstract, because my co-authors are: Steve Hasiotis (Department of Geology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas), Don Lofgren (Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, Claremont, California,) and Bill McIntosh (New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, Socorro, New Mexico). We’re excited to get this abstract out in the public domain as it details the first single-crystal sanidine 40Ar/39Ar ages for the well-known vertebrate locality of Pipestone Springs in southwestern Montana. We also have other significant findings, such as newly-identified trace fossils and the presence of loessites in the Pipestone Springs section. Our paper on these findings is nearing completion, soon to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Anyways, here’s our Pipestone Springs abstract:

Sanidine 40Ar/39Ar ages of lapilli tuffs and the mammalian fauna of Pipestone Springs Main Pocket provide a high-resolution chronostratigraphy of late Eocene strata in the Pipestone Springs area of southwestern Montana. Two felsic lapilli tuffs, with weighted-mean 40Ar/39Ar single crystal sanidine ages of 37.50 + 0.02 Ma and 36.00 + 0.20 Ma, occur within the basal to mid-section of the 55 m of exposed Pipestone Springs strata, whereas the upper 15 m yields a diverse and abundant assemblage of mostly small-bodied middle Chadronian mammals. The older lapilli tuff is an airfall tuff whereas the younger lapilli tuff exhibits some aeolian reworking. Loessites intercalated with paleosols dominate Pipestone Springs deposits. Andic paleosols are developed on the lapilli tuffs. Buried B cambic to weakly developed argillic horizons characterize the remaining paleosols that are also classified as andic because there is a significant component of volcanic grains mixed with identifiable non-volcanic grains in their parent material. All paleosols are extensively bioturbated, containing newly identified trace fossils likely constructed by dung beetles (Coleoptera) based on comparisons to modern and ancient traces attributed to this group. Close examination shows that the tracemakers built these structures in a helical pattern from the inside and outside by adding pelletized sediment from the base upward, such that the architectural elements resemble features of Rebuffoichnus, FeoichnusEatonichnus, and Coprinisphaera. The preserved forms likely reflect a continuum of state of completion by adults and usage by larvae and pupae, and final preservation in the paleosols. The new isotopic age constraints significantly increase the age range of the Pipestone Springs strata to include early Chadronian deposits in addition to its well-known middle Chadronian vertebrate assemblage. Recognition of loessites comprising these strata is also a new interpretation, making these deposits some of the oldest known aeolian Eocene strata in the Great Plains–Rocky Mountains region.

Pipestone Springs Main Pocket vertebrate locality (middle Chadronian).

Florence Bascom – Rock Star

Thinking about Florence Bascom immediately brings to mind an image of a pioneering woman geologist making pathways into earth science way before women could even vote in the USA. She was the second woman to earn a PhD in geology in the USA in 1893 and the first female geologist hired by the U.S Geological Survey in 1896. Bascom’s expertise was in crystallography, mineralogy, and petrography where she once again led in research efforts. She published over 40 professional papers and held various professional positions including associate editor of the American Geologist, joined the Bryn Mawr College faculty, where she founded the college’s geology department, and was the first woman elected to the Council of the Geological Society of America in 1924. A good summary of Bacom’s accomplishments was written by Jill Schneiderman and appeared in GSA Today, July 1997. Just recently, a short video was produced by the Florence Bascom Geoscience Center, which is a US Geological Survey science center recently renamed in honor of Bascom. This video is embedded below:

EOCENE AND OLIGOCENE MAMMALS FROM THE GRAVELLY RANGE OF SOUTHWEST MONTANA

Our first paper on work that several of us are doing in the Gravelly Range, southwestern Montana, was just published in a special issue of Paludicola, Scientific Contributions of the Rochester Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology. This issue contains papers in honor of James Gilbert Honey, a paleontologist and stratigrapher who focused on the Cenozoic, particularly the paleontology/evolution of camels and the Paleocene’s Fort Union Formation geology and paleontology. We’re pleased to have our work included in this volume! You can find our entire paper at:

Rochester Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology – Paludicola:

Donald Lofgren, Debra Hanneman, Jackson Bibbens, Liam Gerken, Frank Hu, Anthony Runkel, Isabella Kong, Andrew Tarakji, Aspen Helgeson, Isabel Gerard, Ruoqi Li, Sihan Li, Zhihan Ji. 2020. Eocene and Oligocene mammals from the Gravelly Range of southwestern Montana. Paludicola 12: 263-297.

Our paper’s abstract is: High elevation outcrops of Tertiary strata in the Gravelly Range of southwest Montana yield late Uintan to Whitneyan vertebrates that comprise five mammalian assemblages; Rapamys Site, Black Butte Low, Teepee Mountain, Black Butte High, and Lion Mountain High. The Rapamys Site and Black Butte Low are late Uintan or early Duchesnean. Two new species are present at the Rapamys Site (the carnivore Lycophocyon tabrumi and the rodent Pareumys muffleri). Small mammalian assemblages from Teepee Mountain and Black Butte High are late Duchesnean-early Chadronian and Chadronian, respectively. The most diverse assemblage is from Lion Mountain High, which is correlative with Whitneyan faunas from Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The Whitneyan age of the Lion Mountain High assemblage is further age constrained by an underlying tuff with a weighted mean 40Ar/39Ar age of 31.7 +- 0.02 Ma and an overlying basalt flow with a K/Ar age of 30.8 +- 0.7 Ma. Paleogeographic range extensions into Montana for Lion Mountain High taxa include Diceratherium tridactylum and Oxetocyon cuspidatus. The taxonomic composition of the combined Rapamys Site/Black Butte Low mammalian assemblage is most similar to those from southern California, rather than geographically closer assemblages found in Wyoming and Utah. Comparison of undescribed middle Eocene mammalian assemblages from southwest Montana to those from southern California will further elucidate the middle Eocene Montana-California paleobiogeographic affinity.

Our geology paper on this area is soon to follow….

Devil’s Slide and A Jumping Fox

Devil’s Slide, a part of Cinnabar Mountain, is located about 3 miles north of Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary and about 7 miles northwest of Gardiner, Montana. The “slide” or red streak on Cinnabar Mountain is developed in Triassic red beds.

Whenever I drive to Yellowstone National Park’s northern gate, I pass by the Devil’s Slide. It seems that the slide is my gate keeper to the park, and it is always fun to see it in all our different seasons. And once again, during a chance conversation in the park, I was asked about the geology of Devil’s Slide. Because of that conversation, I thought that I’d spend some time blogging about the slide’s geology.

Devil’s Slide is a part of Cinnabar Mountain, which contains steeply-dipping to overturned Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata. Cinnabar Mountain is fault-bounded on its north side by the Gardiner Fault, a north to northeast dipping reverse fault zone. At Cinnabar Mountain’s north end, the Gardiner Fault juxtaposes Archean crystalline rock (now partly masked by Tertiary intrusive rocks and Quaternary glacial sediments as shown on geologic map snapshot below) on the fault’s northern, up-thrown side against Paleozoic strata on its down-thrown, southern side. The Paleozoic-Mesozoic strata in Cinnabar Mountain are contorted because of drag associated with the Gardiner Fault.

Cinnabar Mountain and Devil’s Slide area as a snapshot from the Geologic Map of the Gardiner 30’x60′ Quadrangle, South-Central Montana (Berg and others, 1999, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Open-File Report 387). Map symbols on Cinnabar Mountain are: Mm = Mississippian Madison Group, PMs = Permian-Mississippian rocks, Psh = Permian Shedhorn Sandstone, JTrs = Jurassic-Triassic rocks, Kk = Lower Cretaceous Kootenai Formation, Kmfr = Upper and Lower Cretaceous Mowry Shale through Fall River Sandstone.

According to Marius Campbell and others (1915, p. 92), “Cinnabar Mountain was named in the early days, when the bright-red streak that marks it from top to bottom was supposed to be due to the mineral cinnabar, a red ore of mercury.” (From: Guidebook of the Western United States: Part A – The Northern Pacific Route, With a Side Trip to Yellowstone Park, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 611). We now know that the bright red streak is not cinnabar (a brick-red form of mercury sulfide), but the area of red in Devil’s Slide is actually a set of Triassic age red beds that mark widespread continental deposition and limited marine incursions throughout the Rocky Mountain region. The red beds in this case get their color from the oxidation of iron-rich minerals contained within the rocks.

And now for the jumping fox and its association to my Devil’s Slide discussion – as I said previously in this blog, the conversation that I had with a fellow-park goer a few days ago brought about my blog on Devil’s Slide. My conversation about the slide happened while I was watching a fox hunt rodents in YNP’s Round Prairie, a gorgeous meadow near Pebble Creek Campground in the park’s northeastern area. The female fox hunted for hours that morning, and several photographers and myself were enthralled with her hunt. The light snowfall of the night before accentuated the bushy fall coat of the fox and gave the hunting scene great color contrast. Here are are few photos from the hunt:

Round Prairie fox with her gorgeous fall-winter coat.
Round Prairie fox on the hunt.
Round Prairie fox on her hunting jump.
Round Prairie fox finishing her hunting jump.

Fall Fieldwork in the Greater Yellowstone Area

Sheepeater Cliff area, Yellowstone National Park. This area is named in honor of the Shoshones who lived in this area, The name specifically comes from their use the big horn sheep – hence the name “sheepeater”. Note the columnar basalt in the cliff area which has an age of about 0.5 million years.

Doing geology field work in the greater Yellowstone area during the fall is always an adventure. This is the time that animals and birds are on the move, so it’s a good opportunity to have interesting chance encounters. In my quest to understand the Eocene thermal springs of the Gravelly Range in southwestern Montana, I’ve spent time in the Yellowstone area hiking around thermal areas. The Artists Paint Pots, located a few miles southwest of the Norris Geyser Basin, appear to be a likely analogy for the Gravelly Range thermal strata. Of particular interest is the red staining that occurs in many meters of Gravelly Range thermal deposit strata. The red stained rocks are ubiquitous in the Red Hill and Middle Springs areas.

Red Hill in the Gravelly Range, southwestern Montana, contains many meters of red-stained, thermally generated Eocene strata.
The Middle Springs area in the Gravelly Range also contains several meters of Eocene red-stained thermally-generated rocks. It’s extremely easy to confuse these rocks with the underlying red-colored Triassic Woodside Formation strata.
Red-stained thermal deposits at Artist Paint Pots.
Blood Geyser thermal pools at Artist Paint Pots, Yellowstone National Park.

The Artist Paint Pots, especially the Blood Geyser, are well known for red-colored rocks that are produced by iron oxides precipitating out of the thermal waters and staining the surrounding rocks.

As I said earlier in this blog, doing fall field work in the greater Yellowstone area usually means exciting chance encounters with various animals and birds. Some encounters are a bit more exhilarating than others, but I did manage to photo-document some in between finishing up field work for the season:

Young grizzly loading up with food (only caraway roots and mice!) in the Tom Miner Basin, Montana.

Bull moose eating on Cottonwood trees near Ennis, Montana.

Immature bald eagle near the Jefferson River, Montana.
Redtail Hawk on irrigation pipe, near Sheridan, Montana.
Trumpeter swan family resting at – ironically, Swan Lake Flats, Yellowstone National Park.
Great Horned owl giving me the evil eye…
Sandhill cranes in-flight near the Ruby Mountains, southwestern Montana.

Working On High Elevation Tertiary Strata, Southwestern Montana

Lion Mountain, south-central Gravelly Range in southwestern Montana, has about 300 m of Tertiary strata capped by basalt that is about 31 million years in age.

Working on Tertiary strata in the Gravelly Range, southwestern Montana, is sometime daunting to do. The Lion Mountain Tertiary section shown in the photo to the right is one of those places that makes for a grueling day or several days of field work. The Tertiary section unconformably overlies various Paleozoic units, such as Mississippian Madison Group carbonates, Pennsylvanian-Permian quartzite, and Triassic carbonates and red mudstone. And the ascent from these pre-Tertiary rocks to the top of the Tertiary section is worth it – for both vertebrate paleontology and sedimentary features. Current work status in the project that I’m working on with the Raymond M. Alf Museum, Claremont, CA, is that the section contains vertebrates ranging in age from about 40 million years to about 31 million years in age. A tuff unit near the top of the section that we collected has an Ar/Ar age of 31.4+- 0.7 million years. The capping basalt (the dark zone on the top of Lion Mountain) has a reported K-Ar age of 30.8 +- 0.7 million years. Sedimentary features include massive aeolian units and some channeling near the top of the section. A basal surge deposit occurs about 25 m below the capping basalt, signalling the initial pulse of extensive basaltic volcanism in the Lion Mountain locale. Several photos of my most recent Lion Mountain climb illustrate the section’s features and are shown below.

Channel complex near top of Lion Mountain comprised of Paleozoic rock clasts.
Basal surge deposit about 25 m from top of Lion Mountain. Embedded basalt clasts, sand waves, and plane parallel beds characterize this deposit.
Basalt bombs in channel near Lion Mountain crest have paleomag drill holes – a clear sign that someone else has made this climb!
A ladder stashed in the uppermost tree-area on the mountain which is left over from past paleontology expeditions.
The orange baked zone that underlies basalt is evident in this photo. Also note the channel lenses that outcrop randomly across the Tertiary stratal expanse.
About 5 km northwest of Lion Mountain sits the basalt plug of Black Butte. Previous reported isotopic ages range from 23-25 million years, but our preliminary data show an age of about 30 million years for this volcanic feature.
The most pleasant part of the hike in the Lion Mountain area is in the glaciated meadow that lies at the base of the mountain. We’re a little late for the wild flower bloom, but it still is a gorgeous area!