Friday, February 27, 2009

Panel discussion on women in science - ideas?

I've got a great new dean who's an active supporter of women in science (and a woman scientist, as well). When the call went out for ideas for Women's History Month, she suggested that the scientists do something. So... we're bringing in Dr. Marjorie Chan of the University of Utah, who has a women-in-geology talk she's given as an Association for Women Geoscientists lecturer, and besides her talk, we're going to do a panel discussion on issues facing women scientists. I'm organizing it, and I think I may be moderating it.

I've never organized any sort of panel discussion before, and I've never been in the audience for anything like this. So I'm looking for ideas.

We're a small public liberal arts college, so the audience will be a mixture of faculty members and undergraduates - no grad students, no post-docs. The panel members so far include Margie and the senior woman in the biology department - we're working on finding someone else. The other someones won't be from physics/engineering or chemistry - each department has one woman professor, but they're both assistant profs, and we don't want to put them on the spot.

So what should we talk about?

Margie knows the current statistics for women in the geosciences, and the biologist knows the history of her department, so at the very least, we can talk about the history in those two fields. Some of my other ideas are:

- Debunking persistent myths about women's abilities as scientists. (Maybe more important for students in intro classes, though.)

- Discussing Virginia Valian's ideas about the ways that tiny differences in perception can lead to big differences in women's success.

- Discussing the problem of balance.

- Doing some kind of exercise like Sciencewoman recently did, thinking about our strengths and how to promote them.

- Discussing the success of our biology program in hiring and educating women.

- Brainstorming things that we can do to help women in science (both students and faculty).

Anyone led a panel like this, or been in the audience for one? Any advice for what works and what doesn't?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I'm a day late for this month's Accretionary Wedge - somehow I got it in my head that we had until the last day of the month. I should have known that the due date was approaching when everyone else started posting!

I got into geology because I wanted to go places. I remember sitting on the grass near the end of Freshman Orientation, talking to a guy in my freshman seminar about traveling. He told me that I should major in geology and then specialize in some obscure type of rocks, so I would have to go to exotic places to study them. I took his advice: I majored in geology, and then I went to grad school on a plate boundary to study high-pressure metamorphic rocks. (He also majored in geology, but went on to get a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism.) I know the lure of geologically spectacular places.

So my suggestion for the "100 great geologic places" list might surprise you:

Your own backyard.

"You should talk," you might be thinking. "My FIELD CAMP goes to your backyard. But I live in the most geologically boring place in the world. I want an excuse to get out of here!"

But I'm serious. Every place has geology. Even if it's flat and buried beneath black soil. Even if it's under pavement. Even if it's covered by trees. Somewhere below you are rocks, and below that are more rocks, and eventually there are metamorphic rocks and mantle rock and on and on and on. Those rocks contain water, maybe near enough to the surface that it seeps into your basement, and maybe deep enough down that your community should worry about running out of it. Those rocks affect the types of soil that develop or the stability of very tall buildings. Your home's tectonic and climatic history created the landscape you look at, whether it's rolling hills or flat fields or mountains hidden in the smog.

Maybe you don't have a point of geologic interest along your local highway. But wherever you are, there's something. Maybe it's a roadcut. Maybe it's the boulders piled up in old fences, collected from glacial debris. Maybe it's the river the made your city great, or an old quarry, or gullies that form after it rains. Maybe it's the stone used in your buildings. (There's human history there, too. Where did the rocks come from? Are they quarried locally? Were they imported from halfway around the world?) Even concrete has a geologic source.

The best assignment I was ever given as a student was to figure out how geology had affected my hometown. There's a world of spectacular geology out there, but geology is also part of the mundane and ordinary space that we live in every day. So yeah, go over that rainbow and check out the erupting volcanoes and glaciers and shear zones and waterfalls and canyons. But then click your heels together and bring it all back with you.

There's no place like home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Friends of volcano monitoring on Facebook

I forgot my Facebook password the day after I signed up, so I can't join this. But the rest of you technologically hip people can!

Facebook friends of Volcano Monitoring

I think Maria is responsible for the creation of this group.

Edit: Maria says she wasn't responsible for setting it up - they just referred to her post to explain the group.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What makes a great paper?

'Tis the season for nominating papers for awards (at least if you're a member of the GSA Structure/Tectonics Division, like I am). The division's rules are that the nominees must still be alive, but there isn't any restriction on the publication year. (In fact, last year's award was given to a paper published in 1977.)

Two summers ago, when I was preparing to teach my first ever upper-level structural geology seminar, I looked through some of these papers to try to find something to discuss. And... I chose other papers instead. I got a copy of one (Treagus and Lisle, 1997) that seemed to ask fundamental questions about the discipline, but I didn't end up using it, because it seemed too theoretical for the interests of my students. I haven't even read most of them. I've got the three books on my shelf (Pollard & Fletcher, 2006; Passchier & Trouw, 1996, and Ramsay & Huber, 1983), and have meant to read them, but in the end, I've only read sections as I needed information. (I've been meaning to read Pollard & Fletcher and blog my way through it, because I found myself needing to stop and think about the material frequently. But that's pretty far down on my to-do list right now.) And I've only read three of the papers (all while I was an undergrad). (I also recognize five more as papers that I really should have read, and that I've seen cited and listed as great papers for class discussions, and yes, I do feel guilty about not having read all of them.)

So my experience with the Best Papers is pretty limited. But at least for those three, I agree with the choices:

Davis, Suppe, & Dahlen (1983) The mechanics of fold-and-thrust belts and accretionary wedges.
I think about this paper every time I shovel my driveway. It's an important paper because it solves a big problem (how do thrust faults manage to move stuff so far?), it's led to a fruitful model for understanding mountain belts all over the world, and it's got practical use (because thrust belts are so important for oil exploration). It transformed the way that we think about one major type of structure. I don't make students read it, in part because there's a lot of math (and although it's explained very clearly, a lot of my students are math-phobic, and I want them to understand the concepts even if they get lost in algebraic manipulations). But it's also a weird paper for structural geology - so much of structural geology involves using evidence from a particular place, either field evidence or GPS or modeling. Davis et al. derived a new way of thinking of a major type of structure from first principles. Very cool, and very powerful. But as a model for "this is the way a geologic paper is written," it's an anomaly, because it's making a different kind of argument from the ones we usually make.

Platt (1986) Dynamics of orogenic wedges and the uplift of high-pressure metamorphic rocks.
I read this paper repeatedly during grad school, because it essentially inspired my dissertation. Here's the gist, for people who haven't been obsessed by (and then disillusioned with) high-pressure metamorphic rocks: blueschists are way cool, because they form at unusually low temperatures for their high pressures. The only place where they form is in subduction zones, where cold rocks are shoved into the mantle at faster speeds than heat flows - they get buried too fast to heat up. They're only found in a few places around the world, in places that used to be subduction zones (or still are, in some cases). Blueschists were yet another puzzle that was solved by plate tectonics, but in this case, the solution created another problem. If blueschists form in subduction zones, where rock is sliding down into the mantle, how do they get back to the surface? To make matters worse, the mineral assemblages that record the metamorphism can be transformed if they get heated up (which is probably the reason why there aren't many good blueschists in Vermont, or in Precambrian rocks, or in my %$&@@! dissertation field area).

John Platt proposed a solution to the problem that used Davis et al.'s wedge idea: blueschists could be exhumed during subduction (which would keep them cold) if the wedge dynamics worked out correctly. The wedge needs to keep a constant shape (according to Davis et al.'s analysis), so if you add material to the bottom of it, you can force the wedge to spread horizontally, which would move rocks toward the surface. Presto! Exhumation!

In retrospect, this paper doesn't seem as powerful as it did when I first read it. For one thing, I wonder if Davis et al.'s model works for metamorphic rocks. (The derivation is based on the behavior of brittle rocks. If the rocks are ductile - whatever combination of plastic and viscous behavior you need to explain the various deformation mechanisms - does the wedge theory actually work?) For another, the only talks I've seen that have applied the model successfully in the field have been by John Platt or his students. (Of course, I may just be cranky because there weren't any well-preserved blueschists in my dissertation area, so I couldn't test the model myself.)

The third one of the papers that I've read is Paul Hoffman (1988)'s paper on the Precambrian assembly of North America. It's an interesting example, because it's an Annual Review, not a new research paper. It's the kind of thing that I'm more likely to assign in a class, however, because it pulls together ideas from a lot of different research and summarizes it in a way that's easy to digest. I haven't used it in class, because there's been enough new research on the Precambrian geology of North America that the paper is now somewhat dated.


What about the rest of you? Have you read any papers on the list below? Are there any that I really should read? And what do you think a Best Paper should do - should it change the way we think? Should it inspire new research? Should it summarize the state of research in an accessible and elegant way? Should it be a nice example of how research should be done (which was how a couple of the papers awarded in this decade have been described)?

And are there any papers that really should be on this list? (How about Tanya Atwater's original paper on the San Andreas Fault - the paper that brought plate tectonics onto land? Or for metamorphic people, Phil England & Alan Thompson's paper on metamorphic pressure-temperature-time paths? Or anything about metamorphic core complexes?) Would it be better to have recent papers, to show that the field is still dynamic (no, really, it is!), or should we recognize the classic papers that have shaped the field?

For reference, here's the list of all the papers ever given the Best Paper Award, stolen from the Structure/Tectonics Division web page:

2008: Thomas, W. (1977) Evolution of Appalachian-Ouachita salients and recesses from reentrants and promontories in the continental margin. American Journal of Science 277, 1233-1278.

2007: Pollard, D.D. & Fletcher, R.C (2006) Fundamentals of Structural Geology. New York, Cambridge University Press. 512 p.

2006: Dixon, T.H, Miller, M., Farina, F., Wang, H. & Johnson, D. (2000) Present-day motion of the Sierra Nevada block and some tectonic implications for the Basin and Range province, North America Cordillera. Tectonics 19, 1-24.

2005 (2 awards): Beaumont, C., Jamieson, R.A., Nguyen, M.H. & Lee, B. (2001) Himalayan tectonics explained by extrusion of a low-viscosity crustal channel coupled to focused surface denudation. Nature 414, 738-742.

Hodges, K.V., Hurtado J.M. & Whipple, K.X. (2001) Southward extrusion of Tibetan crust and its effect on Himalayan tectonics. Tectonics 20, 799-809.

2004: Atwater, T. & Stock, J. (1998) Pacific-North America plate tectonics of the Neogene southwestern United States - An update. International Geology Review 40, 375-402.

2003: Lavé, J. & Avouac, J.P. (2000) Active folding of fluvial terraces across the Siwaliks Hills, Himalayas of central Nepal. Journal of Geophysical Research 105(B3), 5735-5770.

2002: Catuneanu, O., Beaumont, C. & Waschbusch, P.J. (1997) Interplay of static loads and subduction dynamics in foreland basins: reciprocal stratigraphies and the "missing" peripheral bulge. Geology 25(12), 1087-1090.

2001: Dunlap, W.J., Hirth, G. & Teyssier, C. (1997) Thermomechanical evolution of a ductile duplex. Tectonics 16(6), 983-1000.

2000: Passchier, C.W. & Trouw, R.A.J. (1996) Microtectonics. 289 p. Springer.

1999: Treagus, S. & Lisle, R. (1997) Do principal surfaces of stress and strain always exist. Journal of Structural Geology 19, 997-1010.

1998: Muehlberger, W. (compiler) (1992 & 1996) Tectonic Map of North America. American Association of Petroleum Geologists (two sheets).

1997: Molnar, P., England, P. & Martinod, J. (1993) Mantle dynamics, uplift of the Tibetan Plateau, and the Indian monsoon. Reviews of Geophysics 31, 357-396.

1996: Suppe, J., Chou, G.T. & Hook. S.C. (1992) Rates of folding and faulting determined from growth strata. In: Thrust Tectonics (edited by K. McClay). Chapman & Hall. London, 105-121.(Click here for citation and response)

1995: Wojtal, S. (1989) Measuring displacement gradients and strain in faulted rock. Journal of Structural Geology 11, 669-678.[awarded in 1996]

1994: Armijo, R., Tapponnier, P. & Han, T. (1989) Late Cenozoic right-lateral strike-slip faulting in southern Tibet. Journal of Geophysical Research 94, 2787-2838.

1993: Worrall, D. & Snelson, S. (1989) Evolution of the northern Gulf of Mexico, with emphasis on Cenozoic growth faulting and the role of salt. In: The geology of North America - an overview (edited by Balley, A.W. & Palmer, P.). Geological Society of America Decade of North American Geology A, 91-138.

1992: Hoffman, P. (1988) United plates of America, the birth of a craton: early Proterozoic assembly and growth of Laurentia. Annual Reviews of Earth & Planetary Sciences 16, 543-604.

1991: Pavlis, T. (1986) The role of strain heating in the evolution of megathrusts. Journal of Geophysical Research 91, 6522-6534.

1990: Engebretson, D., Cox, A. & Gordon, R. (1985) Relative motion between oceanic and continental plates in the Pacific basin: Geological Society of America Special Paper 206.

1989: Platt, J.P. (1986) Dynamics of orogenic wedges and the uplift of high-pressure metamorphic rocks. Geological Society of America Bulletin 97, 1037-1053.

1988: Simpson, C. & Schmid, S. (1983) An evaluation of the criteria to deduce the sense of movement in sheared rocks. Geological Society of America Bulletin 94, 1281-1288.

1987: Boyer, S.E. & Elliott, D. (1982) Thrust systems. Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists 66, 1196-1230

1986: Davis, D. Suppe, J. & Dahlen, F.A. (1983) The mechanics of fold-and-thrust belts and accretionary wedges. Journal of Geophysical Research 88, 10087-10101.

1985: Ramsay, J.G. & Huber, M. (1983) The techniques of modern structural geology: Volume 1: Strain analysis. 307 p. Academic Press.

1984: Coney, P.J., Jones, D.L. & Monger, J.W.H. (1980) Cordilleran suspect terranes. Nature 288, 329-333.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wayne Ranney speaking at Four Corners Geological Society

Wayne Ranney, co-author of Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau and blogger at Earthly Musings, will be speaking at the Four Corners Geological Society meeting in Durango on Friday.

Place: Fort Lewis College College Union Building, Student Memorial Lounge
Date: Friday, February 27
Time: 5:30 pm social hour, 6:30 pm dinner, 7:30 pm talk
Cost: $20 for dinner, $5 for talk only (talk is free for students)

If you're planning to come, let me know - I'm the Durango contact (and am in charge of making sure there's the right amount of food).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Google Earth explosion!

I'm only teaching a writing class this semester, so I haven't been hunting down Google Earth files as much as I do when I'm teaching my intro class. So I hadn't realized what a fantastic collection San Diego State has put together!

- The geologic map of the Grand Canyon

- Grids showing all of the USGS's 7.5 minute, 30x60, and 1X2 degree map boundaries. (Need to find a paper map? Don't know the quad? Now you can fly to it. This is going to make scouting field camp locations so much easier...)

- World gravity and magnetic anomaly maps. (Plus plate boundaries and faults, which I had already been using.) There's geophysics/tectonics exercise just waiting to happen.

- Magnetic declination and inclination all over the world. (I need this for my sophomore mapping class.)

And my favorite: Ron Blakey's paleogeography globes...

... because the world was round 300 million years ago, too. And I, at least, have a hard time putting research from other parts of the world into a mental model.

Ron Schott wants to build a Google Earth geology layer, which would make it easier to find all this cool stuff. If you're drooling nearly as much as I am, go to his post and tell him what you're interested in.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hard work, grades, and study strategies

There was an article in the New York Times last week about students' grade expectations. (Summary: student expect high grades, especially if they feel that they worked hard. Professors disagree.) Much commentary ensued, at the NYT, in academic blogs, like Female Science Professor, and in my work e-mail.

Like most professors, I think my grades mean something. Exactly what depends on the class. Usually the grade says something about my confidence that the student will be able to use the concepts and skills from the class in future work, either in classes, research, or a job. But then there are general education classes, where the students could be anything from future geologists to future teachers to people who will need to live on this planet for the rest of their lives - I'm less confident that my grading methods match my goals for all of those students. But I keep trying.

I've never had a student formally challenge a grade in one of my classes, but every semester I've got students who do poorly on the first exam or paper, and want to do better on the next ones. And that's where it gets tough: if hard work isn't enough for a good grade, what kind of advice do you give to a student who wants to do better?

Like most professors, I suspect, I've got quite a collection of ideas about how to study effectively, and how to get better at doing things that aren't easy. Sketch and label diagrams from the textbook or lecture. Write definitions of unfamiliar words. Get together with friends and explain things to one another. Try to write questions that I might put on an exam. Etc., etc., etc. But they don't always work.

I heard an incredibly depressing geoscience education talk at last fall's GSA (McConnell, 2008). Dave McConnell had students report the strategies they used for studying in their intro class, and coded them as "rehearsal" (such as re-reading notes or the textbook), "elaboration" (such as many of my suggestions, I think - writing definitions or labeling sketches), and "organization" (such as outlining or categorizing material). And the correlation to class performance? None. (Well, except for one outlier, who did nothing and got a grade of 20 or so on the exam.) All of the students preferred to use the easier study strategies (such as reading notes or memorizing terms), and disliked the more difficult ones (such as drawing pictures or writing summaries) - the students who did well in the class didn't use the more challenging strategies any more than the struggling students did. Nothing seemed to help - some students just did well, and some students did poorly.

When I came home from the meeting, I graded my intro class's first exam, returned it, and told the students who got D's or F's to come talk to me. And then I had no idea what to tell them. I had just heard this talk that showed that effort had no effect on mastery of the course material, and there I was, trying to tell students how to study for their next test. What was I going to say? "You know, when I took tests, I just re-read my notes, took the test, and got an A. Except for math classes - I never studied for them at all. So good luck, and I have no idea what I'm talking about - and I'm not sure the geoscience education researchers know, either." No way. I teach certain material, give certain assignments, and put specific questions on tests because I think they're important, either as life skills or as knowledge about the world we live on. I want the students to do well enough to get A's or B's, not because it would make us all feel better, but because if they don't, they've missed something worth knowing.

I gave the students the same advice. And met with some of the same students after the second exam, to keep brainstorming new strategies for learning.

I hope that somebody does a study that focuses on struggling students, because I want to know what strategies help people learn better. I don't want to be a gate-keeper, separating students who would succeed no matter what they did from students who aren't going to make it. I want to help people get over barriers, or open doors, or... well, pick your metaphor. This planet is too cool and too important for geology to be restricted to those that learn it easily.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

High metal concentrations in fluid inclusions?

I've got a question for any readers with expertise in ore deposits. There's a paper in the Feb. 6 issue of Science (Wilkinson et al; discussion of paper here; warning: paywall) about anomalously high concentrations of metals found in fluid inclusions in ore minerals. I'm curious what you think, and whether the conclusions have practical implications for mineral exploration.

Here are the basics, as far as I understand them. Hot water traveling through rock is responsible for depositing many of the ore deposits that we use for metals. (There are exceptions - iron, for instance.) In previous work, the concentration of metals in the hot water has been estimated from the tiny bits of fluid trapped in quartz or other minerals in ore deposits, but not in the ore minerals themselves. (The quartz has been interpreted as having formed at the same time as the ore minerals, but the study authors argue that it's difficult to be certain.) The concentrations of the metals in those inclusions are fairly low, which means that a lot of water would need to have traveled through the rock in order to form the ore deposits.

This study measured the amount of metals in fluid inclusions in the minerals quartz and sphalerite (zinc sulfide) from two different lead-zinc deposits (one from a Mississippi-Valley-Type deposit in Arkansas, and one from a higher temperature deposit in Ireland). In both cases, the concentration of metals (especially lead) were one to two orders of magnitude higher in the sphalerite. That's a huge difference, and would mean that much smaller amounts of water (and shorter amounts of time) may be necessary to form economic mineral deposits. It also means that the processes that collect and concentrate dissolved metals may be more important in making an ore deposit than the processes that cause them to be precipitated.

But the commentary said that both experiments and theoretical models (I'm not sure which, exactly - thermodynamic models?) predicted lower concentrations than those observed, so I'm curious exactly how big of a problem these observations are for ore geochemistry. (This study dealt with lead-zinc deposits, but the commentary mentioned that other studies had found similar results for copper and gold.) This paper talked about ways that lead and zinc could be concentrated, by evaporation of brines, but I'm not sure what processes might control the concentration of copper or gold in deeper deposits. Does it change the way one might explore, or are the targets the same regardless of whether we understand the source of the fluids or not? (Would understanding this problem make it easier to guess which sites wouldn't have economic concentrations of metals?)


Wilkinson, J.J., Stoffell, B., Wilkinson, C.C., Jeffries, T.E., and Appold, M.S., 2009, Anomalously metal-rich fluids form hydrothermal ore deposits: Science, v. 323, p. 764-767.

Perspective: Bodnar, Robert J., 2009, Heavy metals or punk rocks? Science, v. 323, p. 724-725.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Surveys, succeeding in Earth Science classes, and playing outside

I'm still thinking about the ACT survey about what students should know before coming into a college Earth Science class. The survey listed all sorts of important Earth Science topics, things that I cover in my class, and I wasn't sure what to say about them. Yes, if students had mastered them before coming to college, they would probably do well in my class... because those are the same general topics that my class covers. I hope my classes are interesting enough that students won't get bored even if they've already encountered the material, but I usually assume that my students don't know anything about geology. (In Colorado, high schools can choose whether to offer Earth Science or not, and the majority of my students haven't taken it.)

So I've been thinking... what experiences would help students succeed in my class? It would be nice if students came to college with just a little bit of comfort in chemistry and physics and math, if they could balance a chemical reaction and understand a little about equilibrium, if they knew the Ideal Gas Law, if they had a gut-level understanding of density and velocity, if they were comfortable converting units and setting up simple word problems (like rate x time = distance), if they knew what a logarithm was. I would love to teach an intro class where I could build on that knowledge. But, in general, I can't, so I teach my classes so that students can learn some geology anyway (I hope).

But there is one thing I would like kids to have done before they come to my class:

Spent time outside.

I'm not talking about spending weeks hiking with a map and compass, or filling their packs with rocks. (Though if they're into that, I've got a major for them. Senior research project, too.) I'm talking about simply going outside and playing. Throwing sticks in a river. Building a sand castle, and trying to figure out how to keep it from collapsing. Running away from ocean waves. Lying on the ground and watching the clouds go by. Flying a kite in the wind. Running away from their shadows. Catching snowflakes on their tongues and mittens, and seeing if any two snowflakes really are the same. Pretending to be the bear that went over the mountain (or maybe the little hill), to see what it could see. Trying to dig a hole through the center of the earth – extra points if it's on a beach, and the hole fills with water. Going out in a rainstorm, and watching the water run off the pavement or down the road. Sledding down a hill.

These are things I can work with. If even some of the students have done each of these things, if some of them nod when I ask about them, or bring up their observations and experiences when we're out in lab talking about how a river behaves, then I've got something to build on. And if they had fun outside as a kid, they're more likely to enjoy being outside during lab, and be able to learn instead of being uncomfortable because it's too cold (or hot, or windy, or buggy). And if the outside sparked their curiosity, they're more likely to ask questions and struggle with the material, even if the language is unfamiliar, the math is hard, or the spatial thinking is weird.

I've got the address to send the survey to ACT, and I'm going to say something about this. I have no idea how a standardized test could encourage parents and schools to promote outdoor play – maybe it can't. But if we tell the test-writers that this is important, maybe the message will eventually get through.

(If it's not obvious, I've just started reading Last Child in the Woods, and it's making me worried about the future of teaching geology.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No, misrepresentations about the process of science don't help prepare Earth Science students

I filled out a survey for ACT (the group that does one of the college admissions tests, I think) yesterday, and it's been bugging me ever since. The purpose of the survey was to find out what people who teach college-level Earth Science courses think students should know before they come into the class (or at least, what kinds of things help them succeed). There was a section on experience doing science... and all the questions were about experiments. Should students know how to design an experiment? Should they know about controls? Should they do double-blind experiments, or be able to predict how a different experimental design would affect the results?

Experiments are part of science. But not of all science. Dear ACT: scientists don't necessarily wear lab coats and play with Ehrlenmeyer flasks.

(Apologies to XKCD.)

I wrote a rant on the comment page at the end of the survey, suggesting that ACT look at some great websites dealing with the process of science (UC Berkeley's Understanding Science, Visionlearning). But it still bugs me (especially because I lost the envelope to return the survey, so ACT may never see my rant). The limited view of science (and the scientific method) that's predominant in K-12 books hinders student understanding of Earth Science. (Was plate tectonics recognized by controlled experiments? If it wasn't, does that mean it's not really science?) And it plays into the popular misunderstandings of topics like global climate change. (Or evolution - Darwin's work was based on observing the natural world. It's really cool that the idea of evolution by natural selection has become a unifying theory for a science that now involves plenty of experiments and lab work.)

I would like my incoming students have an idea for how science works - but not the misconceptions implied by the survey.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Feb to-read list from Geology

Has Geology become open access? I've just set up RSS feed for it, and when I clicked links to several interesting articles, I discovered I could read them from home. (Cool.) Perhaps my school's subscription works from home now, which is great for me, but which would mean that these links are behind a paywall for the rest of the world.

I'm still going to post my to-read list, so I can kick myself if I don't find time to read these:

San Andreas Fault geometry through San Gorgonio Pass: southeast of LA, the San Andreas Fault is a real mess, with multiple strike-slip strands and thrust faults. Laura Dair and Michele Cooke have used numerical modeling to test whether different fault geometries, combined with known Pacific-North America plate motions, match the observed patterns of slip and uplift along the many faults. Doug Yule has a related commentary, which puts the study in context (and explains how cool and innovative it is). The results aren't just important for understanding faults - they're useful in trying to figure out just how big the southern San Andreas' Big One could be. (This one's going into my folder of possible articles to use for Advanced Structure.)

Mantle weakening and strain localization: Implications for the long-term strength of the continental lithosphere: The Jelly Sandwich and the Creme Brulee models of lithospheric strength are back. In the "jelly sandwich" model, a squishy lower crust is sandwiched between a strong upper crust and a strong upper mantle; in the "creme brulee" model, the upper mantle has no strength, and plates are held together by the top of the crust. Jacques Précigout and Frédéric Gueydan argue that a "jelly sandwich"-type lithosphere can start to behave like "creme brulee" in areas of active deformation, where high strain can result in reduced grain size and the possibility of faster deformation in small areas. (My kindergartener will be really upset if his jelly sandwich turns into creme brulee. Maybe he needs a hard-sided lunchbox to avoid rapid sandwich-squishing.)

Discovery of columnar jointing on Mars: The title tells the story. There are old volcanoes and lava flows on Mars, and HiRISE has found columnar joints. The pictures alone are amazing, but the authors argue that the type of columnar jointing is typical of fractures formed when lava comes into contact with water.

Porphyroblast rotation versus nonrotation: conflict resolution! Comment and reply. It turns out that the conflict is not, in fact, resolved, and the garnets are left spinning. Or not. The commenters and repliers focus on different models to make their arguments, and make some rather pointed comments. ("Fay et al. (2008) present a few numerical simulations (with unspecified code or boundary conditions) as evidence for nonrotation of porphyroblasts during non-coaxial flow.") It's a good example of how scientists write when they disagree on something (especially when their disagreement is around 20 years old, at this point).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

High points

It's morph-the-meme time! Callan started it by asking people to tell which of the US state high points they had visited. ReBecca, Geology Happens, and Silver Fox responded. Hypocentre adapted it to the UK. And then Geotripper changed it into a story about one peak experience.

I've only climbed three state high points: Mauna Kea (by car), Elbert (Colorado), and Katahdin (Maine). I've been to more 2nd highest peaks, actually - Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. (I climbed everything in Vermont higher than 4000 feet... except for Mt. Mansfield. Don't know why.) And I circumnavigated the high point of Massachusetts last year, after finding that the roads to the top were closed. My husband has done more - Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But I've been to the top of Katahdin several times, and I've got an old essay about climbing it that I can dust off and post here...

It was more than thirty years ago, my first time climbing Katahdin. 1978. The photos of me at the top show a rather dorky-looking girl, with a Dorothy Hamill haircut that needed a trim, thick glasses, wide-legged jeans, and a bright orange backpack with the shoulder straps tied together in front because they couldn't be adjusted down to my size.

Climbing the mountain wasn't my idea. It wasn't even my father's idea. A family friend had a long tradition of climbing the mountain regularly, and was planning to take his 11-year-old daughter along, and asked my father and I if we wanted to go as well. We said yes.

We climbed the mountain from the southwest side, along the Appalachian Trail. The trail started gently enough, climbing slowly through the mixed hardwood and evergreen forest typical of once-logged places in that part of the state. There is a spectacular waterfall about a mile after the trailhead. After the waterfall, fewer people followed the trail, and it continued to climb. And it climbed. And climbed. Still in the woods, still climbing. Two miles, three miles. An Appalachian Trail through-hiker wearing a frame pack passed us as if we were standing still. Finally, the trees started to get smaller, turning into the twisted little evergreens that grow near treeline all over New England. And then, at about 4000 feet, we came out into the open. I hadn't realized how high we had come with all that climbing. The view made me dizzy. And there ahead of us, the white blazes continued up, painted on rocks now. The trail followed a broad ridge -- I can tell that now looking at a topo map, but I wasn't aware of it then. All I was aware of was the immensity of space below me, and the size and exposure of the rocks I had to crawl over to get to the next white blaze. Our friends led the way up, and I, terrified, followed them. I don't know how I made it over those rocks. I think I may have stopped and cried and told my dad that I couldn't do it, but I don't remember. If I didn't say "I can't," I certainly thought it. At one point we reached a wall of granite, and the blazes on it said that the way to go was up. There was an iron handhold drilled into the rock. My dad helped lift me up, and our friend pulled me up from the top, and I was past it. From that handhold, there was no turning back. I couldn't quit -- not without having to face that handhold a second time. So I kept going.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity of scrambling (though it was no further than a mile), we reached the Tableland. Katahdin is flat on top -- at least on the southwest side. Flat, and covered with a jumble of lichen-covered rocks and little alpine flowers and signs warning that the vegetation is fragile, so stay on the marked trail. The marked trail went across the Tableland and to a second, much gentler ridge that let to Baxter Peak.

When you're on Baxter Peak, you know you're at the highest point in Maine -- 13 feet short of a mile high, with a large cairn that tries to make up the difference, as if those 13 feet are the source of all the state's insecurities. The north woods stretch around you in all directions like a dark green shag carpet. The other mountains look tiny. The lakes are the only thing that breaks up the forest -- well, the lakes and the clearcuts. And to the south, that year, we could see the scars of a forest fire that had burned a few years before. On a clear day, they say you can see the coast, but I must never have climbed Katahdin on a truly clear day. Certainly the top of Katahdin tells how great the trees-to-people ratio of northern Maine is.

It is the nearby topography that is the most spectacular, though. The climb to the peak is gentle from the west, but the eastern side of the peak is a near-vertical drop, down a cirque filled with the blue (or gray on a cloudy day) waters of Chimney Pond. From the peak, it felt like you could easily fall and land in the pond's middle. Technical climbers scale that wall. To the south of the peak, there is an arrete called the Knife Edge. And a knife-edge is what it looks like -- a ridge that is no wider than a yard in places, with 1000 foot drops on either side. A popular route to the top follows the Knife Edge. I looked at that ridge, and the people on it heading for the peak, in horror. It is still the only trail to the top of Katahdin that I have never hiked.

We descended by a different trail, the Abol Trail, which ends at another campground on the southwest side of the mountain. The Abol Trail is a much more direct route to the top than the Hunt Trail... which means it goes straight up. Or in our case, straight down. It follows an old rock slide, which means that a hiker descending the trail frequently feels like she is at the angle of repose herself, ready to tumble down the mountain in the middle of an avalanche. I did as much of my descent as possible on my rear end. After a painfully slow, too-exposed-for-my-tastes descent, we finally reached woods again. My dad couldn't believe how fast I hiked once I was on level ground again -- it was as if I wasn't at all tired.

That day on Katahdin wasn't the first time I realized I was afraid of heights, but it was the most memorable. I've been consciously fighting that fear ever since. I've been to the top of Katahdin at least four times since then, and I've climbed the steep part of other trails a few other times but abandoned the hike short of the top due to bad weather. I coaxed a college friend without a sense of balance up one trail, while hiding my own terror. I climbed a particularly steep, exposed trail called the Cathedral Trail with another geo-woman -- she was impressed by its difficulty, though she had spent time climbing mountains in Colorado.

Since my days climbing Katahdin, I have faced scarier climbs. I spent a summer in Colorado, working for the USGS and climbing 14,000 foot mountains on my weekends off -- there, I learned to scree ski and how to get down a too-steep slope without falling or losing my balance. I spent two summers mapping in a treeless mountain range in northern Alaska, trying to keep up with large men with no patience for young women who were afraid of heights. The Kigluaiks ("sawteeth" in Inupiak) were a mountain range made almost entirely of Knife Edge-like arretes. In Alaska, I not only had to walk the Knife Edges -- I had to scramble down their sides with a pack full of rocks and very little food to eat. Katahdin might seem easy to me now. But it still looms very large in my mind.

Titles and respect

A couple of days ago, I was introduced as "Dr. Hannula" to a class of kindergarteners. Doesn't that sound pompous?

Let me back up a bit. Because I'm part-time this semester, I had time to go to my son's 100 Days of Kindergarten celebration and help out in class. He's been asking why I can't come to school with him - his friends' moms, including one who is an M.D. doctor, have, so why not me? So on Tuesday, I went to kindergarten and helped kids count out 100 raisins and Cheerios for their snack.

Apparently, my son told his teacher that I should be called "Dr. Hannula." I vaguely remember a conversation at home about this, in which my husband told my son that I was a Ph.D. "doctor," and I guess it must have made an impression. At least it avoids the Miss/Ms./Mrs. weirdness - I'm married, but I kept my last name, and "Mrs." always makes me feel like I'm on the Brady Bunch or something. So when the teacher asked if I wanted to be called "Dr. Hannula," I shrugged and said "Sure!"

The experience caught me off guard, in part, because of all the discussion in the blogosphere about what to call Jill Biden, Ph.D., adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College, and wife of the vice-president of the United States. I'd been thinking more about honorifics, and especially about the sense that people who have earned respect (such as Richard Feynman) don't need titles.

My perspective is a bit warped by being a geologist. We're a notoriously casual discipline, as anyone who has noticed the dress code (or lack thereof) at our conferences could tell you. When I was an undergrad, my role models were Shelby, Mary, Dave, and Ed; in grad school, I added Elizabeth, Louie, and Gary to the list. So when I got my Ph.D. and waltzed into the classroom a week later, I introduced myself as "Kim," and that fit in perfectly with Ray, Pat, Tom, Lucy, and Grant.

But here's the thing. There's something cool and grown-up about being invited to call a respected authority figure by his first name. But what happens when the authority figure doesn't look right - when the authority figure looks more like your sister than your dad? I didn't realize this immediately, but I've seen plenty of hints that women professors have to prove themselves before they earn the respect that male professors get the moment they walk into the classroom and hand out the syllabi. I may have undermined my teaching at my first job by assuming that all I needed to do was explain complex stuff clearly and be tough but fair in my grading - by assuming that I didn't need to prove myself to my students. Just maybe, if I had gone by "Dr. H." when I was 27, I could have avoided getting creepy anonymous notecards on the first day of class.

Going by "Dr." isn't going to earn me respect, any more than wearing Aretha Franklin's inauguration hat will let me sing about it. But maybe by being "Dr." to a group of kindergarteners, I can help change their expectations. And in twelve years, they might walk into my classroom and feel all grown-up when I tell them that they can call me "Kim."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Prepping students for class discussions

Thanks to a lot of help from geobloggers and other friends, I was able to give my students some interesting examples of proposals yesterday. Tomorrow, I'm hoping for a good discussion of the various ways that proposal-writers pitch their ideas to people with money. I've told students how to write proposals before - for eight years, actually - but I'm never fully satisfied by what goes on in class. I've told them about the typical structure of an NSF grant, but none of my most recent grants (from a local non-profit and from the college's small pot of money) have followed that model, and neither have successful student grant proposals. So I'm trying to have a different discussion this time, and I need the students to read and think about the proposals if the discussion is to be useful.

I am terrible at leading discussions. If the students come into class ready to ask questions and argue, things go well; if they aren't, I don't know what to do. Sometime in the mid-90's, I got a useful suggestion from Barb Tewksbury at a GSA workshop: give the students some kind of pre-discussion exercise, something to focus their thinking. Not the discussion questions themselves, but some kind of springboard. (There's an explanation of one technique for doing this at SERC: Just in Time Teaching.) But I'm not very good at applying the advice.

This semester, I want to make better use of all the writing examples I've collected, so I'm trying to do various pre-discussion assignments. In this case, I wanted students to read both the calls for proposals and the proposals themselves, so I asked students to think about the audience, and look at what was included or left out of each proposal, and then to look at the proposal's structure. When we get to class on Wednesday, I'm going to pair students up - each proposal (or set of short proposals) was read by two students - and ask them... something. Maybe, rather than asking them the same questions I asked as preparation, I'll ask something different: who is the audience for each proposal, what does the audience care about, and how does the proposal sell its idea to the audience. There are six groups of proposals total, so there should be time for each of the teams to report back and for the class as a whole to try to make generalizations.

I didn't ask the students to write anything down before class, and that may hurt the discussion. (If the students have to turn something in, even if it's just part of a participation grade, they're more likely to take the assignment seriously.) I thought about doing all this online - I can set up discussion boards in our course management software - but I decided not to. (I like the idea of online discussions, but my students don't all have good internet connections at home. Things that work where students live in dorms with wifi don't work so well for rural commuter students who have dial-up, if anything.) So we'll see whether I made a mistake by not planning any kind of obvious accountability into the pre-class assignment.

I hope I learn something from this - my own ideas about what makes an effective proposal are as vague as definitions of obscenity: I know it when I see it. At the very least, maybe my students will learn to recognize what works before they send off a proposal that doesn't.

(Of course, the best way to teach students to write is to make them write (and give them lots of feedback), and believe me, there's plenty of that in this class. I'm just tweaking things to try to make it more effective.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Artistic* response to Redoubt and Asama alerts

* Kindergarten art, that is.

My five-year-old was looking on while I read the geology blog feed this morning, and was impressed by the images of Redoubt and Asama on Eruptions and The Volcanism Blog. So he responded with his own volcano art:

Those are two giant rivers of lava on each side of the volcano, and an extremely shallow sill feeding the eruption. And I think the magma chamber is sitting on top of a loosely packed gravel deposit. This is the first of four pictures, which illustrate show lightning strikes that penetrate into the mantle, a gigantic landslide (which somehow ends up on the opposite side of the volcano from its scarp), and a hurricane that eventually cools the lava.

This may be evidence that my child will grow up to work on a combined re-make of Dante's Peak, Volcano, and In the Path of a Killer Volcano.

(By the way... why does WGBH have a picture of Pu'u O'o on the cover of a movie about Pinatubo now? The original image was the right volcano, if I remember correctly. BTW, if anyone is looking for a good volcano movie to show in class, I recommend In the Path of a Killer Volcano, even with the wrong volcano on the cover. Real life is more dramatic than fiction in some cases.)