Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The dam and the Sichuan Earthquake

I get Science via Pony Express plowing through snow over the Continental Divide, I suspect, so I didn't see this news article until a couple of days ago:

A Human Trigger for the Great Quake of Sichuan?

The article is behind a paywall, so I'll try to summarize it: Last year's devastating M 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan, China may have been triggered by the Zipingpu Dam. At least, that was implied by an AGU talk (which I didn't see) by Christian Klose, and by an independent article in the Chinese journal Geology and Seismology. Klose's argument is that the weight of water changed stresses on the fault in exactly the wrong way: it increased the shear stresses (which make the fault more likely to slide), and decreased the normal stresses (which prevent slip). His evidence includes the type of fault slip (especially the initial slip) and the depth of the majority of the aftershocks. I don't have quite the right background to evaluate his evidence (especially based only on the abstract), but Science reporters Richard Kerr and Richard Stone describe the reaction at AGU like this: "Klose's listeners were intrigued but far from convinced. They wanted to hear more details about changing water levels and local, lower-level seismicity."

This isn't the typical fluid-induced earthquake, caused by an increase in pore fluid pressure. The Sichuan earthquake nucleated 20 km below the ground surface, and that's an awfully long distance from the water source near the surface. It sounds as though the size of the reservoir, the location of the reservoir compared to the fault, and the direction of fault slip may have combined in just the wrong way... if the reservoir was what made the fault slip then.

The dam would still be a trigger, rather than a cause, for the earthquake. The cause, ultimately, is the collision of India with Asia. (As Klose states in his abstract, "This region has been tectonically loaded for >10kyr.") But the dam could explain some of the surprising things about the earthquake - for instance, why a fault that was thought to slip every 2000 to 10,000 years would have gone now, with such horrible consequences.

It's intriguing and scary... and terrible. The earthquake was tragic enough. If humans were responsible for triggering it... well, I don't want to think about it.

(Except that I'm teaching a course inspired by John McPhee's book The Control of Nature in May, and I'm trying to decide which possible case studies to use this time.)

(H/T to Sciencewoman, who told me to watch for this news article... two weeks ago. I've finally seen it!)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Arm-waving in class is good

I wave my arms a lot. Maybe too much, given how often chalk flies out of my hands. Fortunately, that might be a good thing pedagogically, according to a recent column in the Journal of Geoscience Education (Kastens et al., 2008).

Because structural geology is, at its core, a spatial discipline, I'm constantly using my hands to try to help students see what I'm seeing in a rock, or on a map, or in a thin section. Sometimes that means pointing at things when I name them. (Those are "deictic gestures" to people who study them, and they're useful for helping students understand what I'm talking about, even if I'm using words that are new to them.) And sometimes I use my hands to mimic a shape: a fold, a tilted rock layer, a pair of offset sides of a fault. (Those are "iconic gestures.")

It's good to hear that the hand-waving is useful, but I worry a little about applying some of the advice for instructors. It makes sense – point at things, keep the gestures consistent with the words, use gestures to show shape or movement, act out instructions, make sure students can see the gestures. But I wonder whether some of my gestures are just too weird or confusing, especially because I have a bad habit of confusing left and right (or east and west, and it doesn't help to have lived on both coasts of North America). I also worry, sometimes, that I'm asking awkward things of students when I enlist their help in modeling some shapes. (It's hard to show multiple planes and the lines that are perpendicular to them with only two hands, and for better or worse, I am not Kali.)

The advice about instructor gestures made sense, but it was the advice about student gestures that I found most thought-provoking. The authors suggest paying attention to the gestures students make – when students make gestures that don't match their words, they're at a point where they could learn. Forcing students to gesture apparently doesn't work (which is too bad for me – I frequently ask students to show me the orientation of a layer with their hands). But setting up situations where students are more likely to gesture – making them explain a map, or show one another the reasons why they think a rock formed in a certain way, can be good. (It sounds like I need to keep doing some of the time-consuming activities in my intro class – discussions in which the students work with one another on confusing samples or diagrams.)

But I probably should avoid dropping the chalk, or falling over the garbage can – at least, unless I'm acting out the experience of an earthquake.

Reference: Kastens, K.A., Agrawal, S., and Liben, L.S., 2008, Research in Science Education: the role of gestures in geoscience teaching and learning: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 54, p. 362-368. (Although many columns in this series are available online, this one is not, at least as of January, 2009.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Citing references outside academia/government?

Here's another question on writing done by geoscientists outside academia. How do you give credit for work done by others?

In academia (and anywhere else where research is done, including government and industry), citing references is necessary both to put work in context and for ethical reasons. And in classes, it's a huge deal. But the typical citation styles used by geoscientists (whether the USGS style, AGU, or other journal styles) can be pretty distracting - you're reading a perfectly clear sentence, and then it's broken by an entire line of parenthetical references:

(Hatch, 1987; Hatch, 1988; Moench et al., 1995; Rankin, 1996)

My students frequently complain about this reference style - the names don't mean anything to them. So I wonder about other audiences, especially in industries where your audience wants to get to the point, as quickly and clearly as possible.

There are plenty of cases beyond academia (and government or industry research) in which a geologist is likely to rely on work done by someone else. New field work is expensive (and drilling holes even more so); if you can use existing maps, published geochemistry or structure or stratigraphy, I imagine that a good mining or petroleum geologist could identify likely targets. There might be useful information in USGS maps, state survey data, dissertations... all sorts of places besides proprietary data. And if demand for a commodity makes new types of plays profitable (such as is going on now with shale gas or coal-bed methane), then I imagine that all sorts of old studies could become valuable (such as dissertations on joints in the Marcellus Shale, or old proprietary data about areas that weren't economic a couple decades ago). So, if you're working in exploration, and you're writing an internal report about an area that deserves further exploration, how do you cite the old studies? (Do you write an executive summary that management can skim, and give references in documents aimed at other geologists?)

(If you haven't guessed, I'm still thinking about justifying the academic writing my class is doing. I've become more and more aware that I'm not training academics, for the most part, and my own experience just isn't adequate.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stuff I've written elsewhere

I have a guest post up at Sciencewomen (which is a great women-in-science blog, written by two very cool women, in case you're not already reading it). It's about a day in the life of a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI, in NSF-speak).

And I haven't posted here in a week.

(Meanwhile, in related news, here's an article in the science pages of the New York Times: In 'Geek Chic' and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science. I'm surprised it doesn't mention the new head of NOAA, though.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New blog carnival: Carnival of the Arid

Hey, geoblogosphere! There's a new carnival coming up: Carnival of the Arid.

From the call for posts:

Submissions should have something to do with a desert somewhere in the world. (If you’re not sure whether your work is desert-related, check out this definition at Wikipedia, and if you’re still not sure, send it in anyway.) Submissions can be scientific in nature, or history, or travelog. Images are welcome, photographic or otherwise. Discussions of culture and politics are welcome if they’re desert-related. The one restriction, other than geographical, is that — at least when I’m compiling it — paeans to destroying the desert probably won’t make it. (Developers and ORVers take note.) Paeans to preserving or protecting the desert are fine, as are alerts of current pressing issues.

Sounds like something the geoblogosphere could definitely contribute to - and broaden our audience, in the process. So those of you who have lived in or taken pictures of deserts*... well, here's carnival for you.

*Apologies to any desert-rat geobloggers to whom I didn't link!

Wildcatting for water in New Mexico

This joke runs through my head every time I drive to Albuquerque.

Q: What's the easiest thing to grow in the desert?
A: Subdivisions.

In the eight years I've lived here, I've watched the northwestern suburbs of Albuquerque expand along the southwestern side of US 550. It's still a beautiful drive... there are just a lot more houses there, beside the new Home Depot.

Albuquerque sits on the Rio Grande, which you might think would be a great source of water. But water rights along the rivers of the western US are complicated, and Albuquerque has historically used groundwater as its primary water source. This year it began using water pumped across the Continental Divide from tributaries of the Colorado River - New Mexico hadn't historically been using the water it was allocated through the Colorado River Compact. But for a growing city, it's not enough.

So now deeper groundwater - brackish water, saltier than you would want to drink - is being considered as a possible water source.

Albuquerque journalist John Fleck has a fantastic piece (ad-gated) in last weekend's Albuquerque Journal about the laws - or rather, lack of laws - governing the deep water:

All up and down the wild mesa lands and valleys to the west of the Albuquerque metro area, holes are being drilled and claims are being staked by developers who believe they can bring the brackish water to the surface, clean it up and use it to water subdivisions stretching to the horizon.

When the Legislature convenes Jan. 20, it will again be asked to deal with the problem, closing the loophole in state law that leaves the deep, brackish water unregulated, creating what the state's top water official, state Engineer John D'Antonio, has called "a free-for-all."

He also has some more details in discussions in his work blog. It's great thinking, combining an understanding of economics and human behavior with a realistic picture of groundwater:
The most obvious example comes with hydrogeologic connections between the deep brackish water and shallower aquifers, or surface water. Through fractures in the bedrock, it is possible that when you pump out the deep aquifer, water could drain down from shallower aquifers above, or even from surface water.

Hooray for understanding the potential problems associated with fluid flow through fractured media, and for communicating those issues to the rest of the world.

The entire issue - drilling for brackish groundwater - is just stunning to me. I mean, I know that there's water in rock down deeper than the stuff we think of as aquifers. (There's even water in what little pore spaces exist in metamorphic rocks.) But I'm not used to thinking of it as useful to humans. In the coal-bed methane fields south of Durango, brackish water is pumped out to release the methane, and is disposed of as waste. (Not dangerously toxic, but something that generates an outcry when there are rumors of it being pumped into rivers.) But it's water - and it may be useful too.

Albuquerque's already thinking about it. And it makes me wonder how Colorado, or Arizona, or other states in the high desert think about currently useless water - and whether a population that commonly thinks that groundwater consists of underground lakes is prepared to address the problem.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Job opportunities: AWG's Geologist in the Park program

The Association for Women Geoscientists has just announced their Geologist-in-the-Park positions for 2009. These are temporary positions, usually for the summer, for women geoscientists to work with the staff of specific national parks, sharing their expertise. In the past, the positions have been aimed at professionals or graduate students, but all the announcements this year invited advanced undergraduates to apply.

The specifc positions for 2009 are:

NPS Headquarters and Unspecified Parks of applicant’s choice
Storm Hazard Analyst

The GIP will assist with a project assessing the storm vulnerability of natural and cultural resources in coastal national park units and contribute to ongoing research or develop a unique project within the larger on-going NPS study. A thorough understanding of how past storm events have impacted coastal parks is critical to improved management of these resources, particularly within the context of rising sea level, a cycle of increasing storm frequency and continued coastal development. The participant is encouraged to submit brief outlines (less than one page) for potential projects in specific coastal parks. This project is an excellent opportunity to fund storm hazard research that would benefit both the participant and National Park Service. The work location is flexible. The participant may work either in the NPS Lakewood CO office, independently from her home, or in a park. More information about park units can be found at http://www.nps.gov/

Applicants should be advanced undergraduate or graduate students whose educational background and career objectives are in coastal environments. Applicants must have completed basic undergraduate course work toward a degree in geology, biology, environmental science, engineering or a related field. Students who are beginning graduate or undergraduate thesis projects, are especially encouraged to apply. Professional level applicants are also welcome to apply. Experience with ARCGIS 9.x is preferred.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a World Heritage Site and includes part of one of the best preserved Permian-aged reef complexes in the world. The rock has preserved an ancient sponge-algal reef and the environments associated with the reef. The park also contains Carlsbad Caverns, one of most spectacular caves in the world.

The GIP will conduct field mapping onto aerial photographs and topographic maps at a scale of 1:24,000. This includes measuring stratigraphic sections, bedding attitudes, fault orientations, and other measurements. The participant will use a GPS to identify the locations of measured sections, geologic contacts, fault locations, and other field measurements. The participant will also use GPS to georeference measured sections and field study sites from previous published studies. The work will involve hiking over rugged desert terrain in a variety of conditions that may include a wide temperature range (40-100 degrees, depending on time of year), high winds, and inclement weather. Elevations may range from 3,000 to 5,000 feet.

Applicants should be advanced undergraduate or graduate students whose educational background and career objectives are in geology. Applicants must have completed basic undergraduate course work toward a degree in geology, and must have some experience with basic geologic field mapping techniques. Applicants must be able to read topographic maps and be able to navigate unmarked terrain using a compass, maps, and aerial photographs. Students who plan to pursue geology as a career, or those with a strong interest in field geology or carbonate geology, are encouraged to apply. Professional level applicants are also welcome to apply. The applicant should be able to work well independently and be comfortable working solo in rugged, sometimes remote terrain (a field radio will be supplied and must be carried by all personnel working in the backcountry).

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado
May 26 to August 14, 2009

The Florissant Formation preserves an abundant flora and fauna of fossil plants and insects that were deposited in late Eocene (34 million-year-old) lake shales. The participant will assist with ongoing projects relating to the paleontologic resources of the monument. Primary responsibilities will be on a new excavation project to collect fossil plants and insects from the late Eocene Florissant Formation, and on the monument's ongoing project to inventory and monitor fossil sites. Other duties may include some of the following: preparation and curation of fossil specimens, inventory of collections, updating database from field observations, compilation of a manual to document fossil sites, and assisting visiting researchers. The participant may have an option to use up to 50% of the time for research if they have a research plan defined and approved beforehand, and especially if they can develop it into a graduate thesis project. Work time will be split between office, lab, and field, according to project needs.

Applicants should be advanced undergraduate or graduate students whose educational background and career objectives are in paleontology. Applicants must have completed basic undergraduate course work toward a degree in geology or biology, with an emphasis in paleontology. Students who plan to pursue paleontology as a career, or those who are beginning graduate or undergraduate thesis projects, are especially encouraged to apply. Professional level applicants are also welcome to apply. Experience with Access database is preferred. The applicant should be able to work well independently.

The deadline is usually April 1, but this year the deadline will be flexible, and the first well-qualified applicant is likely to be hired for each position. If you're interested, contact the park in question as soon as possible for more information.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Lab Lemming has a job (and good advice)!

Fingers crossed here, but it looks like the Lab Lemming has a job. And he's also got some advice worth remembering:

My best leads and tentative offers came from non-geologists with whom I had interacted professionally- representatives of instrument manufacturers, contractors, government agency personnel, and even academics.

The lesson here, far as I can tell, is to be nice, professional, and competent no matter whom you’re dealing with. ‘cause you never know which of those people will be the one who is hiring when it all comes crashing down again.

In a rough economy, it's worth remembering that.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Scholarships and research support for students, undergrad and grad

Many geoscience organizations offer various scholarships and/or research grants to undergrads and/or grad students. I'm putting together a list for my students, and in my hunting, I've found lots of stuff for grad students, as well. So I'm going to post what I've found here, in case some of my readers are worried about funding their education next year.

I'm just going to list sources that have winter or spring application deadlines. Check the web sites for each organization for full details about application deadlines, qualifications, etc.

Scholarships (undergraduate and/or graduate students)

Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship
Up to $8000 scholarship for undergraduates majoring in a discipline area related to oceanic and atmospheric science, research, technology, or education. Deadline: January 30

AEG Scholarships
Several scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. Deadlines: February 1; April 15 (two different deadlines for two different scholarships)

AIPG Scholarship
$1000 to four undergraduate geological sciences majors. Note: some sections of AIPG also offer scholarships to students within their region. The Rocky Mountain section has a fall deadline. Deadline: February 15

Society of Economic Geologists Graduate Student Fellowships
Graduate student support for students studying economic geology. Deadline: February 15

NAGT Scholarships for Summer Field Courses
$500 towards the cost of an intensive field course. (The same application is used for the AWG Crawford Field Camp Scholarships.) Deadline: Feb. 16

Society for Exploration Geophysicists Foundation Scholarships
Variable funding for undergraduates and graduate students interested in pursuing a career in applied geophysics. Deadline: March 1

AWG Chrysalis Scholarship
Degree completion funding for women graduate students whose education has been interrupted for at least one year. Up to $2000. Deadline: Usually March 1

AGI Minority Participation Program
Minority students in the geosciences. Includes mentoring. Deadline: March 1

NAGT Far Western Section Scholarships
Undergrad, grad, and summer field course. Restricted to students in Hawaii, Nevada, or California. Deadline: March 1

AWG Susan Ekdale Memorial Scholarship
$1500 to defray summer field course expenses. Restricted to women students who are either attending college in Utah, or who are Utah residents. Deadline: March 28

AWG Penelope Hanshaw Scholarship
$500 scholarship to undergraduate or graduate students. Restricted to women in Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, or West Virginia. Deadline: April 30

AWG William Rucker Greenwood Scholarship
$1000 scholarship to undergraduate or graduate students. Restricted to minority women in Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, or West Virginia. Deadline: April 30

AWG Minority Scholarship
$5000 to an undergraduate minority woman. Deadline: June 30

Organizations with scholarship deadlines in the fall:
AWG Winifred Golding - paleontology
AWG Janet Cullen Tanaka - Washington state

Research grants for students
AAPG Grants-in-Aid
Research support for graduate students (MS and PhD). Deadline: January 31

Society of Economic Geologists Student Research Grants
Research support for graduate students (MS and PhD). Could also support "exceptional BS Honors or 'BS Titulo' projects." Deadline: February 1

GSA Graduate Student Research Grants
Support of MS and PhD research. Students can now only receive one grant as a MS student, and one as a PhD student (with some exceptions - check out the website). Deadline: February 1

GSA Northeastern Section Undergraduate Research Grants
Restricted to undergraduate students in the NE section of GSA. Deadline: February 28?

Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research
Graduate student grants up to $1000. Students from any country may receive support. Deadline: March 15

Four Corners Geological Society Masters Grants
Grants for students working on MS theses related to geology of the Four Corners region. The application for this year isn't on the web site yet. If you have questions about this, you can ask me and I'll pass them on to the new officers. Deadline: April?

AWG Osage Chapter Scholarship
$500 grants to undergraduate women students at a college in the Osage Chapter area (~Kansas). Deadline: April 1

Mineralogical Society of America Grant for Student Research in Mineralogy and Petrology
Two awards of up to $5000 each. Graduate and undergraduate students can apply, and compete with one another. Deadline: June 1

Note: I found these by checking the websites of all the geoscience organizations that I could think of. There are probably many resources that I'm missing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

First day of classes resources on SERC

My classes start Monday. I'm part-time this semester - it's a decision I made last year, when I wasn't sure how to manage after-school care for a kindergartener - so I'm only teaching one course. That means I'm not nearly as frantic today as I normally would be. But if others out there are frantic and need ideas for stuff to do on the first day of class (or later), you can steal stuff from SERC.

Heather MacDonald (one of the driving forces behind the Cutting Edge teaching and mentoring workshops) just sent reminders about these sites:

The First Day of Class modules

Teaching Introductory Geology

Teaching with Google Earth

I have a confession to make: I don't do a very good job on the first day of classes. Most of the time I default to explaining the syllabus, unless I have a flash of inspiration. My best exercise is probably in Structural Geology - I hand out a bunch of deformed rocks and ask groups of students to describe them and try to figure out what happened to them. I use the exercise to give students something concrete to think about while we discuss theoretical concepts like stress, strain, and rheology during the first few weeks. (The first time I taught about structure, one of the students raised his hand in the middle of a long, math-filled lecture, and asked "What does this have to do with rocks?" I try not to forget that question.) I don't have great starting exercises for most of my other classes, though, and I especially wish I did something more effective with my intro class.

This semester, all I'm teaching is my writing class. I've got a captive audience, so I'm not going to try to be exciting and innovative. The students will probably be really freaked out about needing a senior thesis topic OMG NOW, and the best thing that I can do is try to calm them down and convince them that the point of the class is to help them figure out what they want to do.

And maybe I'll use some of my part-time schedule to steal other first-day-of-class ideas for next year.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Research Experiences for Undergraduates: 2009 opportunities

Hey, undergrads. Want to spend this summer doing research? Want to go someplace cool (like Mongolia, or Svalbard, or coastal Maine, or the mountains of Colorado)? Want to work on something that isn't available at your institution, like applied geophysics or seismology? If so, you might be interested in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

Each year, the National Science Foundation funds some number of research projects that are designed to introduce undergraduates to research. Some of them are at universities, some are run by small colleges, and some are held at research institutes (like Los Alamos National Lab or the Carnegie Institute of Washington). Students from all around the US can apply, and can spend part of a summer working on a research project. They pay a small stipend for the work - not big money, but perhaps not a bad deal in a tough economy. And they are good ways to find out if a particular type of research is for you.

Application deadlines come up at different times throughout the winter. If you're interested in seeing what's available, the NSF website has a list hidden deep in the depths of the site. (I hunted it down to show to my juniors, and thought that it deserved to be pointed out.) It looks as though some of the links are to old programs - check the sites to see if there is information for 2009 applications or not. (And if you're interested in other sciences, there's a link to the broader lists here.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Want to share proposals with my students?

In the comments on my post yesterday asking about non-academic proposals, Suvrat asked if I was going to show my students examples of successful proposals. The answer is yes... and I'm looking for help in showing students a wider variety of proposals, both from academics and non-academics.

I've written proposals and gotten them funded, from NSF, from internal pots of money, and from local foundations. But I'm just one person, writing proposals for my pet projects, and I know from reviewing for NSF and from serving on a foundation's grant-awarding committee that there are many styles of proposals that work.* I'm planning to ask other members of my department if they would be willing to share their proposals with my students as well, but there are only six of us, and we're at a teaching-intensive institution. And my students already know a lot about what we do, because they're talking to us about possible senior thesis topics.

So I'm asking around for other examples. For academics, would any of you be willing to share a successful proposal (from any organization, large or small) with my students? I'm willing to hide any part that you don't want to share, and I promise not to steal research ideas - I don't have time to steal ideas from other people, honestly - or to tell my colleagues about work you plan to do. In return, you get to sell your research to 15 juniors who may want to do graduate work someday. (And I've found that students can really be influenced by examples of research that they see. That's another reason to avoid focusing on my work - I don't want my students to feel pushed to become my clone.)

For non-academics... well, I imagine that it's trickier to share proposals or bids for contracts, especially for people doing exploration work. So don't offer anything that would be against the policies of your employer. But if anyone has examples, or ideas for how to create my own, or would be willing to replace identifying information with imaginary places, I would love to show students something non-academic and realistic.

For everyone: here's how I'm thinking of using examples. I want students to think about what proposals have in common, and what's different depending on the type of work and the audience. So I'm thinking of assigning pairs of students to look at different proposals, and asking them to figure out who is the audience, what's the proposed work, how the work is justified (or what kind of details are offered as supporting evidence), and what things are left out. (Any ideas about what else the students should look for?) Then I'm planning to spend one class discussing the similarities and differences between proposals.

The students will have the opportunity to write their own proposals to different audiences in any case - they need to get their advisor's approval for their thesis proposal, and they get a grade from me, and if they need money to complete their project, they have to write proposals for funding, as well. (The college has some money for undergraduate research, but it's awarded competitively, and the committee that reads the applications includes people from all over the college. The differences between successful departmental research proposals and successful funding proposals can be an educational experience. Also frustrating, as learning experiences frequently are.)

Thanks to anyone who is willing to help. If you want to share materials privately, my e-mail address is shearsensibility AT gmail DOT com. (Replace AT with @, DOT with . , and take out all the spaces.) Or alternatively, you can find my work e-mail by googling my real name.

*There are also many that don't work. I've learned a lot from my own rejections (and from reviewing).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Proposals (etc) outside academia?

If you're working as a geoscientist outside academia - in oil & gas, in mining, as an environmental consultant, for a government agency, for a non-profit organization, or in some other career - do you write proposals? Not NSF grant proposals, like your professors constantly did, but some kind of writing to get permission or funding to start a project?

I'm asking because I'm about to start teaching my department's writing class again, and the class is designed to develop writing skills while writing a proposal for a senior thesis. When I arrived here and took over the class, it was a general education requirement (writing within a discipline). That's changed recently, but after I tried to make it more relevant by using it to prepare students for their research, the department decided that the class was too important to drop from the major. So I'm still teaching it, but I want to make it as valuable as possible to all my students - not just those who plan to go on to graduate school.

Thus my question. I tell students that writing is a skill that they will be able to use regardless of what they do. (My usual line is "If you can write, do math, and think critically, you should be able to do a lot of different jobs, not just the ones you think you're training for.") Part of my argument is that people have to write in all sorts of different careers. Geologists have to write reports discussing what they've found - even recent grads have told me that they spend a lot of their time writing reports. But I also tell students that writing proposals (or maybe bids, in the case of consultants) might also be part of their work. But I don't have direct experience with them, so I don't know much about the details.

So, for those of you who work outside academia: do you write proposals? At what level - are proposals written by people at a certain level of the organization, but not by the underlings? For those of you who have written your own proposals (which would probably include anyone who has been to graduate school), have you been able to translate your experience to the professional world? What kind of advice would you give to undergraduates who are learning this kind of writing for the first time?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Horizontal columnar jointing, Wolf Creek Pass

Callan's post about columnar jointing and rust blisters reminded me that I've got a photo that I've been meaning to show since the 2007 GSA meeting.

Driving from Durango to Denver means crossing at least three passes. My favorite one is Wolf Creek Pass, over the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains. After several years of roadwork, there are some fresh roadcuts on the western side that show mostly a lot of young sediments, but some volcanic rocks, as well. This one caught my eye as I was driving up to the pass:

It's a dike cutting through pretty loose sediments - not surprising for the rocks in the eastern San Juans. But what caught my eye was the fracture pattern:

Those are horizontal columnar joints. As Callan showed in his photos, most columnar joints are nearly vertical. But that doesn't have anything to do with gravity - it's the result of cooling of a near-horizontal layer, like a lava flow. The joints form perpendicular to the cool surface. And in the case of this dike, the cool surface is vertical.

This is a neat roadcut for other reasons, too. There's baked sediment at the contact with the dike. And the sedimentary structures are nice, too. Even a squashed-rock person like me can make out some old channels, and the clasts in the conglomerate are volcanic rocks. I don't know if either the clasts or the dike have been dated, but I bet there's a pretty short time between deposition of the sediment and intrusion of the dike.

Happy New Year, everyone!