Friday, January 6, 2017

Ceramics!

So, a student brought in her china that she got from her grandparents. Apparently they bought this set in England in the 40s. It's beautiful, but I'd never seen that type of brown alpha-numeric marking before. It didn't strike me as something the grandparents would write on their set, it looked to me like a catalogue number from the manufacturer.



So I did a simple Google search. Sure enough, I found other people asking about the brown cataloging symbols for this manufacturer.  And the date seemed off - they didn't seem to be making this set in the 40s.

I'll update here when I find out more. I'm a member of a listserv that deals in Historical Archaeology, so it was easier to put the pictures here and let other member look at them. Plus, I thought y'all would want to see them. Not microwavable!

Coming soon: The History of Pottery!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Culture of Winter

I guess I'm in a wintry mood. Not quite got the "Holiday Spirit" yet (it's COLD, darn it), but I am focused on the snow outside my door.

I've lived in a lot of different places. But the best "Winter Culture" I've ever experienced was in Minneapolis. Zuerich, Switzerland, comes in a close second, but I still miss Minneapolis' Winter Carnival, the Skyway, the litter heaters at bus stops. All of it was created with a cultural understanding that one should be outside in the wintertime.

And that comes from the Scandinavian immigrants who populated the Great Lakes region in the early 1800s. Being so far North, the area gets a lot of sunlight, but little UV radiation (it's reflected away because of the angle the northern regions are to the Sun). So people that lived there realized over time that the healthier kids were the ones that spent a lot of time outdoors. This has to do with the relationship of skin color to the production of Vitamin D, but that's a story for another blog post. :)

The culture grew around this realization. And when many of them moved to The New World, they took this belief that children should play outside A LOT with them. Here's a great link if you want to know more:

http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199905/03_gundersond_refugees-m/?refid=0


Wyoming has a slightly different relationship with winter. It's more of a "hunker down" mentality that serves people well in the West, where resources during the winter are so scarce (particularly in the past), you might not make it to see Spring.


When people have the app for the Wyoming Department of Transportation on their phone, you know something's different. Heck, I don't think there are too many other states that even HAVE an app for their DOT. And when you have to really plan for a night stay along I-80 because there is a high probability of it being closed at any given moment, you know this is serious stuff.

I see many comments on social media, or even just on TV, that tell me that the rest of the country thinks The West is a bit ridiculous. The idea of scare resources boggles most Americans in other places.

But it's still true here. UPS actually charges a surcharge to deliver to most locations in Wyoming, because the entire state is considered "rural delivery." My town has one bakery. It cannot service the entire town, and so therefore it doesn't even try. They make only what they can sell between 6am and 2pm every day. So if the gas station runs out of (anything and everything), they have to wait for a truck to come from another state. This applies no matter what side of Wyoming your on.

All of this is worse in the winter, when these supply trucks can't get to some of the small towns (every town in Wyoming is a small town, btw) reliably. So the conservation of resources is still a survival skill here.

To be honest, it's where I'd want to be in a zombie apocalypse. Because people here still know how to make stuff, and save stuff. Watch out, America.



And if you feel like reading about how famous Wyoming is: The Five Coldest Cities in the World



Monday, December 5, 2016

Let it snow!



Winter is most definitely here. The snow is packing down, and the drifts are growing. Which is why we haven't been doing much traveling as of late. Probably won't go very far from home until March.

Which made me think, as I walked across the field to the office this morning. As I looked at the snow at my feet, and felt the snow scouring my face like sandpaper, I realized that I had never thought of snow as if it were sand.

But dry snow (a high snow to liquid ratio), for the purposes of considering it's impact on the landscape, is exactly that.

Interlude:

I thought I should include an explanation of "dry snow", as it seems a rather contradictory term. The different terms for snow, which include wet snow, granular snow, corn snow and dry snow are categorized based on the "snow to liquid equivalent".

The snow-to-liquid equivalent is a ratio indicating the amount of liquid precipitation produced as the snow melts. In order to calculate this, one uses both the Earth's surface temperature as well as the temperature of the troposphere. The troposphere is the bottom-most layer of Earth's atmosphere, which contains 75% of the atmosphere's mass, and most of its water vapor.

Dry snow occurs when both the troposphere temperature and the surface temperature fall below the freezing mark, causing the snow to have a minimal amount of liquid, and more air pockets within the lattice structure at the microscopic level.

Since dry snow is less dense than wet snow, and not as "sticky". Dry snow's lack of stickiness makes the snow unlikely to stick together, hence it's sand-like characteristics.It also makes terrible snowmen and snowballs.


Back to dry snow:

So, essentially, the snow my backyard is acting like a dune field. Though I do see sediment buildup on some of the older so, which indicates a windbreak. So if you want to know where the wind is consistently the weakest, look for the dirty snow.


The snow piles look like the beginnings of traverse dunes, indicating a constant prevailing wind direction, and very little vegetation.

See the elongated piles front left to right?
You don't need to travel far to see wonders. You can find amazing things right at home. Start by looking down at your feet. Or out your front door, apparently.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Minerals, Rocks, and the Periodic Table

Minerals make up rocks. Rocks are composed of minerals. Minerals are made from the bonding of elements. Elements consist of atoms all of the same type.

These statement tend to confuse the average beginning geology student. That's the consequence of not having enough science in public schools, which directly correlates to the amount of testing done in public schools. I might write about testing in schools at some other time, but for now, let's science. :)

The periodic table always fascinated me when I was younger (I started college as a physics major). There's so much information available in such a small graphic. For those that don't know too much about it, the periodic table is a tabular arrangement of elements, ordered by their atomic number (number of protons), electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows trends of the different elements, such as elements with similar behavior, in the same column. It also shows four rectangular blocks (colored) with some approximately similar chemical properties. In general, within one row (period) the elements are metals on the left, and non-metals on the right.

 The first 94 elements exist naturally, with Hydrogen through Iron being made in the fusion of a star's reaction while it is alive, and Cobalt through Plutonium being made during the process of a Supernova. Elements with atomic numbers from 95 to 118 have only been synthesized in laboratories or nuclear reactors.

 Under an international naming convention, the groups are numbered numerically from 1 to 18 from the leftmost column (the alkali metals) to the rightmost column (the noble gases). Previously, they were known by roman numerals. In the U.S., the roman numerals were followed by either an "A" if the group was in the s- or p-block, or a "B" if the group was in the d-block. The roman numerals used correspond to the last digit of today's naming convention.

 The table relates all sorts of other characteristics, including crystal structure, melting temperature, and how likely the element is to be found bonded with other elements. This helps scientists understand how matter relates to each other, and the nature of chemical bonding. Chemists and astrophysicists essentially have the same question: WHY do certain elements like to bond with each other over other elements?

But that's a question for a different post. Or another degree. :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Leucite Hills

Boar's Tusk (foreground) and South Table Mesa

Pilot Butte
Or more formally known as the Leucite Hills Volcanic Province, this unique geological setting encompasses a huge area in Southwest Wyoming, including Table Mountain, Pilot Butte, Cross Mesa, Matthews Hill, Boar's Tusk, and more. We'll talk about mesas and buttes another day.

Geologically, it's made of some weird stuff. And that's saying something, for a geologist. Active around 3.4-1.4 million years ago, these rocks have been classified as Diopside-Leucite-Phlogopite Lamporites. Only because, for the most part, no one really understands how they formed or where they come from.

A lamporite is an super high potassium and magnesium composed igneous rock rich in elements that shouldn't naturally like to bond together. It forms from the melting of the mantle deeper than 100 miles down.  It's close cousins to kimberlites, which are magma pipes of mantle rock that can contain diamonds. But while kimberlites are much more common and therefore better studied, lamporites only sometimes have diamonds. And therefore don't get much love from industry, because who wants to spend a bunch on money studying some old rocks that probably won't turn up a profit? Right?

Boar's Tusk is thought to be the remains of a magma chamber that includes lamporite. There are then a number of lava flows around this area that are from this ancient volcanic activity that brought up more of these unusual rocks.








Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My kid LOVES the outdoors

My daughter, at almost two years old, LOVES the outdoors. Well, actually, she's loved it since about three months old, when I would take her outside and sit in the waning days of our Wyoming summer. 

I think children are naturally attracted to the outdoors, and to nature, but unfortunately we as a society have a nasty habit of crushing their love and curiosity by the time they're teenagers.

I hope that doesn't happen to Sweetie. She seems to genuinely enjoy picking up leaves and rocks and bringing them into the house (and, no, I'm not exaggerating, even though she has geologists for parents. :D)

I think a lot about how we are encouraging her interests, and even to have interests. How does a parent do it? And for those children that have lost interest, what happened? What did we do wrong?

I honestly think part of the answer is to allow ourselves to have interests, and to share them with our children. I read her books that I like, we take her to places that we enjoy. That seems to be rubbing off on her. Heck, I even watch the TV shows I like with her (Doctor Who is her favorite).

The Natural Wildlife Federation has a great website with links and activities for getting kids more interested in the outdoors. Connect Kids and Nature

The key seems to be to start early. Which is why we'll take Sweetie out again tomorrow.

Here's a picture of Sweetie having fun that doesn't make me feel too bad about putting her picture on the Internet. If you do see us outside, say hello!


 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Continental Divide and the Making of Wyoming


 The Continental Divide, or the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, is something everyone asks me to explain. Especially in Wyoming, where you cross it twice on I-80.

In general, a continental divide is the dividing line on a continent where the water on one side of the divide drains into the ocean on that side of the continent, and the water on the other side of the line drains into the sea on the other side of the continent.

Sometimes, though, the water drains into a basin that is too low for the water to then go anywhere else. This is called an endoheic basin. Essentially, that basin is considered the "base level" of that region, and the water isn't ever going to make it to the far-away ocean. Where a continental divide meets an endorheic basin, such as Wyoming's Great Divide Basin, the continental divide splits and encircles the basin, making a bowl.




For an absolutely fascinating look at our water system, check out this article!
 River Basins of the US

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Little Bit of History Goes a Long, Long Way

So, I regularly speak with young people, ages 16-25. And what they don't know shocks me. I know, I know, we've been complaining about the next generation since Socrates had to drink hemlock for "corrupting the youth."

But that's the point. So few of those young adults that I speak to have even heard of Socrates, much less that his was executed by being forced to drink hemlock. Point of fact, the entirety of the history of Western Civilization (not that WC is more important than others, but one should be familiar with the history of the culture you live in, yes?) seems to have passed them by in schools.

I feel like Professor Diggory - "What are young people learning in schools these days?" (If you don't recognize this quote, you seriously need to read more children's fiction.)

Knowing history is important. You can't make comparisons if you don't know what's happened before. You can't decide that you want something better if you don't know how bad things can go, or how good they were. If you can't make any valid analysis, if you can't make any comparisons about what's happening now to what might happen in the future, then....Living in a vacuum of information in the present should literally TERRIFY people. Why doesn't it?

Not sure how to fix that, if I can do anything at all. But thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Identifying Igenous Rocks

So, I made a short video explaining a simple way to identify igneous rocks (explained in a previous post). You can you this method even in the field, by just picking up a rock. Of course, you need to be able to recognize if the rock is igneous, or else it might be sedimentary or metamorphic, in which case this method won't work. :) Enjoy!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Wind River Range

The Wind River Range is in the western portion of Wyoming, and is typically considered part of the Rock Mountains, though that's technically incorrect (watch this blog for more on the formation of the mountain ranges that make up the "Rock Mountains"). 

It has granitic plutons (large plugs of granitic rock welling up from the mantle), indicating an Archean subduction zone. That means the core of the Wind River Range is nearly 4 billion years old! Whoo!

The range runs roughly NW-SE for over 100 miles. The Continental Divide is parallel to the range, making this one of the most unique mountain ranges in the US.

With the exception of the Grand Teton in the Teton Range, the next 19 highest peaks in Wyoming are also in the Wind Rivers. 

Ice Ages beginning 500,000 years ago carved the granite into their present shapes (geomorphology). Lakes were formed by the glaciers and numerous cirques (circular valleys made by glacial ice), were carved out of the rocks, the most well known being the Cirque of the Towers (if you've ever seen a postcard of Wyoming with a glacier and a jagged peak, its probably of the Towers). Several of these are some of the largest glaciers in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Gannett Glacier, which flows down the north slope of Gannett Peak, is the largest single glacier in the Rocky Mountains. 

The Wind River Range is in pink (picture from Wikipedia Commons).

We'll talk about Plate Tectonics another time. :)