GeoClub holds Springtime Rock ‘n Bake Sales

The GeoClub held two Rock ‘n Bake sales this semester to raise money for camping trips, t-shirts and other goodies. TTU folks who visited the tables on South Patio or in the University Center had a choice of cookies, brownies, muffins or cupcakes. A number of interesting rock samples and sliced geodes were also available for sale.

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GeoClub Bake Sales 2014!

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Undergraduate Kristen Hall helps out in the TTU University Center, February 2014.

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TTU students sell baked goods and rock samples on South Patio. From l to r, Brandon Page, Audrey Pattat, Chris Thurman, Stacey Clark, Ashley Parkans, Andrew Eagar and Kristen Hall.

Thanks to everyone who contributed baked goods, samples and geodes!

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Students Present Research at Local Conferences

The dogwoods are blooming and 2014 commencement is only a few weeks away. Here in the Earth Science Department, springtime is an opportunity to celebrate student research.


Dogwood blossoms outside Kittrell Hall. Photo by P. Medlin.

This year, seven senior students participated in Student Research Day on April 10th, an opportunity organized by the TTU Office of Research. Congratulations to David Bailey, senior GIS major, who won Best Poster in the Earth Sciences division.


Presenters at Student Research Day. Front row (l to r): Marcus Vincent, Nathan Burmeister, David Hunter, Connor Salley. Back row (l to r): Cody Sutherland, Brandon Page, David Bailey.

In addition, eight students attended the Southeastern Geological Society of America (GSA) Meeting in Blacksburg, Virginia on April 10-11. Students participated in two days of overlapping oral and poster presentations.


Students and faculty at the 2014 SE GSA Meeting in Blacksburg, VA. Front row (l to r): Dr. Jeannette Wolak, Claire Brown, Audrey Pattat, Lori Shelton. Back row (l to r): Randal (Philip) Roberson, Bryan Blackburn, Cole Conger, Tyler Riggle.

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Students listen to Dr. Frank Ettensohn, an expert on Appalachian geology, at the 2014 SE GSA Conference.

TTU students and faculty presented their own work on Friday, April 11th:

Poster 42-10: FAUNA FROM A WAULSORTIAN-LIKE MOUND IN THE FORT PAYNE FORMATION (LOWER MISSISSIPPIAN) OF TENNESSEE, Bryan Blackburn and Randal Roberson. (Senior thesis advisor: Dr. Larry Knox)


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Undergraduates Randal Roberson (left) and Bryan Blackburn (right) present their research on Waulsortian-like mound structures in the Fort Payne Formation.

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Jeannette Wolak presents research results in a morning session on sedimentary geology.

Special thanks to the TTU URECA program (Undergraduate REsearch and Creative Activity) for supporting student research and attendance at the meeting. The 2015 Southeastern GSA Conference is scheduled to be held in Chattanooga, TN – – hope to see you there!


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TTU Student Helps Preserve Dino Tracks in Texas

According to the Glen Rose Reporter, Tennessee paleontologists are helping preserve dinosaur tracks for future generations. Last week, a group led by Cookeville-based paleontologist Jerry Jacene visited Glen Rose to continue field work at the Joanna’s Dinosaur Track Site. TTU undergraduate Tyler Riggle helped create trackway molds. Check out some of his photos below:

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A sauropod trackway in Glen Rose, Texas.

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TTU earth science undergraduate Tyler Riggle helps create molds of dinosaur trackways in Glen Rose, Texas.

To read more about the ongoing work at Joanna’s Track Site, click here.

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2014 Geobiology Field Trip Announced: Costa Rica

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Postcard from Washington State – Geobiology Field Course 2013


The 2013 Tennessee Tech geobiology class in front of Mount Rainier, Washington. [Photo courtesy S. Tompkins.]

On August 10, 2013, fifteen students and three faculty members from Tennessee Tech University departed Nashville, TN for an eight-day trip to Seattle, WA. The group was part of a Spring 2013 course offered by the Biology and Earth Science Departments titled Geobiology of Northwestern Washington (BIOL 4991). The group visited several sites known for their spectacular geologic phenomena as well as unique flora and fauna. To view the trip route in Google Earth, click here.

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Route map for the geobiology field class.

Days 1-2: Mount Rainier (Mount Freemont and Sunrise Point)

After landing in Seattle, the group drove south to Fife and spent two days exploring Mount Rainier. Biology students departed early (5am!) to hike near Mount Freemont in search of the elusive white-tailed ptarmigan. The massive stratovolcano was obscured by clouds for a short time; however, the second day offered spectacular views and hiking around Sunrise Point.


Sooty grouse spotted on a drive around Mount Rainier. [Photo by J. Jung.]


TTU geology students test the porosity of pumice by floating it in a nalgene bottle. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]


Spectacular outcrop of columnar basalt on the entrance drive to Mount Freemont. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]


Marmot along the trail around the base of Mount Rainier. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Day 3: Mount St. Helens

On Day 3, the group headed to the north side of Mount St. Helens. Evidence of the massive eruption in 1980 was profound as students hiked the route to Spirit Lake. In the distance, steam could be see coming from glacial bits in the active dome area. Ash deposits at the far end of the hike were kicked up by a herd of wild elk.


Panoramic view of pumice plains on the north side of Mount St. Helens.


TTU geology and biology students pose in front of the volcano.

Day 4: Olympic National Park (Hoh and Quinault Rainforests and Coast)

Leaving the Cascade volcanoes behind, the group spent two days exploring the Olympic peninsula. Day 4 began with hiking in the Hoh Rainforest, where the biology students identified plants and trees native to the West Coast.


TTU biology faculty members Dr. Dan Combs (far left) and Dr. Chris Brown (2nd from left) sit on a downed tree in the Quinault National Rainforest. Biology and geology students line up along the tree for a fun photo op. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]


Are those students in the rainforests? Or, velociraptors?!


Tennessee Tech students encircle a massive tree trunk. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]


Students and faculty gather inside an old tree in the Hoh Rainforest. [Photo by R. C. Brown.]

Along the coast, the group stopped for lunch at a series of overturned sedimentary beds. Students identified sandstones and mudstones, part of a series of ancient turbidite (= deepwater) deposits and waded into cold-water tidal pools to observe starfish.


Overturned sedimentary beds make a neat spot for a picnic lunch on the Olympic Coast. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]


A TTU geology-biology major shows off a starfish found in one of the many shallow tidal pools.


A sea otter emerges from the surf. [Photo by J. Jung.]


Tennessee Tech students explore the coast before a storm rolls through on the Olympic Peninsula.

Day 5: Olympic National Park (Olympic Mountains) and Ferry Crossing

The group spent a night in Port Angeles and headed onward to the hike in the Olympic Mountains on Day 5. Temperatures were low and students bundled up to enjoy snow-filled vistas of the high peaks.


View of the Olympic Mountains from the visitor center. [Photo by J. Jung.]

From the park, the group descended to Port Townsend to catch a late afternoon ferry. Although the ride was short (< 30 minutes), it proved to be one of the most exciting wildlife watching opportunities of the trip.


A minke whale breaks the surface alongside the ferry. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Days 6-7: Mount Baker and the Northern Cascades National Park

The last two days of the field course were spent in the northern Cascade mountains. At Mount Baker, students hiked over metamorphic and igneous terranes. Biology students were excited to get a glimpse of mountain goats in the distance as well as an American dipper.


Students of the geobiology course hike in front of Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]


Mountain goats cross a snowfield at the base of Mount Baker. [Photo by J. Jung.]


An American dipper splashes in a lake. [Photo by J. Jung.]


Dr. Jeannette Wolak, earth science faculty, looks over a geologic map of the North Cascades with geobiology students. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Day 8: Return Trip

After seven days of volcanoes, whales, lots of birds, and dinners at “The Poodle Dog”, TTU folks flew home to Nashville, TN. Special thanks to the Departments of Biology and Earth Science for sponsoring this memorable, informative course.

Are you interested in going on a similar trip? The TTU Biology and Earth Science Departments are teaming up again for a Costa Rica Expedition, May 2014. If interested, attend an informational meeting on Nov 21, 11-12 in Pennebaker 318 or contact Dr. Dan Combs at


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2013 Geoconclave Competition Report

The 2013 Tennessee Geoconclave Competition was held Sept 27-29 at Fall Creek Falls State Park. This year’s host was Austin Peay State University (APSU), and five undergraduate programs attended: TTU, APSU, UT (Knox), UT (Martin) and MTSU.

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In the academic portion of the event, the following Tech students participated: (1) Phillip Roberson (Fossil ID); (2) Brandon Page (Mineral and Rock ID, Geocaching); (3) Andrew Eagar (Geologic Maps, Geocaching); (4) Audrey Pattat (Structural Geology – Field Exercise); and (5) Claire Brown (Pace and Compass).


Phillip Roberson carefully identifies fossils in the morning academic competitions.


Andrew Eagar competes in the geologic maps exercise.

Several Tech students participated in the physical events of rock hammer throwing and geode rolling: Alex Burton, Lori Shelton, Joel Laine, Kolby Demers, Cole Conger, Brock Rust, Tyler Riggle and Ryan Gardner.


Claire Brown sends a rock hammer flying in one of the afternoon’s events.


Cole Conger strikes a bowling pose as he competes in the geode roll.

After several lively rounds of Rock Bowl Saturday evening, final points were tallied and the winner was announced…

IMG_6139Congratulations to Austin Peay State University on winning the 2013 Geoconclave Competition!

The TTU Earth Science Department salutes APSU’s conclave victory and looks forward to another spirited competition next fall.

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GeoClub Holds Rock ‘n Bake Sale on South Patio

The annual GeoClub Rock ‘n Bake sale was held on the South Patio, Thursday Sept. 26th. Baked goods were available for purchase, as well as mineral and rock samples. The GeoClub would like to thank all of the students and faculty for their generous donations.


Earth science students Joel Laine and Chad/Randal/Philip Roberson at the Rock ‘n Bake sale table on South Patio. (Photo by P. Medlin.)

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Bryan Blackburn and Audrey Pattat take turns cutting geodes to sell at the Rock ‘n Bake sale. (Photo by P. Medlin.)

The GeoClub also extends a big THANK YOU to earth science student Chris Thurman for a generous donation of unopened geodes! You rock, Chris!

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GeoClub Welcomes New Faculty and Staff at Annual Fall Picnic

On Thursday Sept. 12, the GeoClub officially welcomed Dr. Joseph Asante and Mrs. Peggy Medlin to the Department of Earth Sciences. Club members and officers grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the porch of Kittrell Hall. Potato salad, baked beans, pasta salad, homemade salsa, watermelons and a selection of desserts were available for students and faculty to enjoy.


Faculty and students gather for the GeoClub’s Annual Fall Picnic


Earth science students mingle on the porch of Kittrell Hall.

Many thanks to all the students who organized this event, and welcome to our new faculty and staff.

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Postcard from the Permian Basin, West Texas and New Mexico

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Tennessee Tech earth science students and faculty find shade under the Carlsbad Caverns National Park entrance sign. Photo courtesy of Geoff Gadd.

What did West Texas and New Mexico look like during the Permian, 260 million years ago? That’s the question six Tennessee Tech earth science students attempted to answer on a nine-day field trip, May 23-June 1, 2013. Over the course of the spring semester, GEOL 4810 students Kolbe Andrzejewski, John Baird, Geoff Gadd, Joe Kalbarczyk, Jordan Sachs, and Paul Woods became experts on Permian depositional environments. Then, they headed west to find out what’s in them there western hills?

After two days of crossing the U.S., the group arrived at the Carlsbad KOA in New Mexico just in time for a desert thunderstorm with hail and high winds. It turned out to be the only precipitation students saw until the drive back east. Temperatures in the desert hovered in the 90s during the days and cooled off into the 60s at night.

As the trip progressed, the group explored a series of depositional environments from the Permian, including: (1) carbonate back-reef, reef, and fore-reef deposits; (2) carbonate and clastic slope rocks; (3) clastic deepwater formations; and (4) evaporite deposits. The group also made stops at Carlsbad Caverns to view karst features and the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum to learn about oil/gas exploration in the prolific reservoir system.

Field Trip Map

The five day field trip explored the Guadalupean Reef system, from the back-reef deposits (Day 1, blue route and stops) to the reef, slope and deepwater deposits (Day 5, purple route and stops).

To view the complete route map with geologic stops in Google Maps, click here.

DAY 1: Back-reef deposits

Led by Kolbe Andrzejewski, the first day of field work focused on facies and deposits of a back-reef environment. Stops 1 and 2 were located approximately 12 miles landward (northwestward) of the Guadalupean fault scarp, the modern-day expression of the ancient reef front. The group began by describing dolomite wackestones exposed in a dry desert riverbed known as Rocky Arroyo. At a second stop closer to the shelf edge, prominent dolomite outcrops contained  abundant algal stromatolites but few other fossils.

Algal stromatolites in a dolomitic wackestone.

Algal stromatolites in a dolomitic wackestone. Photo by Dr. W.

Tidal Channel

TTU student Paul Woods stands in front of a dolomite-filled sedimentary body, interpreted to be a tidal channel located in the back-reef environment. Photo by John Baird.

After lunching in the shade of the van, the group drove south of Carlsbad to Dark Canyon, where the carbonate facies were strikingly different. Located approximately 1 mile from the reef front, the rocks of Stops 3 and 4 were well-bedded pisolitic dolomite grainstones.

Pisolites in a dolomitic grainstone. Photo by John Baird.

DAY 2: The Reef – Guadalupe Peak Trail

The group got an early start on June 27th, and Day 2 was spent hiking Guadalupe Peak Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Although collecting rocks in the park was prohibited, folks had an opportunity to see spectacular rhombohedral calcite crystals along the hike. At the summit and on the descent, Geoff Gadd led discussions about reef and slope facies of the Guadalupe trail and ancient carbonate system.

Guad Hike

Paul Woods and Kolbe Andrzejewski enjoy a spectacular view of reef and slope deposits across the canyon. Photo by Dr. W.


TTU student Paul Woods checks out the amazing calcite crystals along the hike. Photo by Dr. W.


Panorama from the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak at 8,750 ft. Photo by Kolbe Andrzejewski.


Top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,750 ft. Go Golden Eagles! Photo by a fellow hiker and courtesy of Geoff Gadd.

After a full day of hiking and investigating carbonate rocks, everyone was pretty hungry and ready to sample the local cuisine. Although skeptical at first, it was determined that the restaurant below did, indeed, have “The Best Mexican Food in Town”.


What do geologists eat after hiking a Permian reef and the tallest point in Texas? The “Best Mexican Food in Town”, of course! Photo by Geoff Gadd.

DAY 3: Walnut Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns

On Day 3, students enjoyed a brief respite from the desert sun. The first stop of the day was located at the mouth of Walnut Canyon, on the road leading to Carlsbad Caverns.  Here, poorly bedded lime grainstones cropped out, complete with calcite-filled veins and joint sets.


Is this a calcite-filled vein? Hmmm…
Photo by John Baird.

Also along the entrance highway, the group stopped for a glimpse of teepee structures in the carbonate beds and to admire abundant pisolite grainstones.


TTU student Paul Woods checks out a breccia in the center of a carbonate teepee structure.


Geoff Gadd patiently serves as a photo scale next to a teepee structure in the parking lot of Carlsbad Caverns. Photo by John Baird.

Folks enjoyed a quick lunch at Carlsbad Caverns prior to spending the afternoon underground. Jordan Sachs, an avid caver and TTU student, gave a thorough introduction on the local karst system and led group discussions, pointing out cave formations and features in the subsurface. A general consensus was reached that geologists love food, hence textural names for precipitating minerals like cave bacon and popcorn.


TTU students opt to take the natural entrance into the cave. Photo by Dr. W.


Cave formations of Carlsbad Caverns. Photo by Geoff Gadd.


Cave formations of Carlsbad Caverns. Photo by Geoff Gadd.

DAY 4: McKittrick Canyon and the Permian Reef Geology Trail

Over the course of the first three days, students had worked their way from the back-reef to the carbonate reef environments of the Permian. On Day 4, Joe Kalbarczyk led the group up the Permian Reef Geology Trail, located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. One of the most spectacular geo-trails in the world (how often can you actually hike up an ancient clinoform?!), brochures and a full guidebook are available on the geology of this route.

McKittrick Geology

At trail marker #4, Joe K. points out vertical changes in facies associated with deposition in a toe-of-slope environment. Burrowed wackestones overlie thin-bedded wackestones and alternating packages of packstone and wackestone. Photo by Dr. W.


While hiking up the ancient slope, students keep a careful eye out for fossils and skeletal material in the wackestones and packestones. Photo by Dr. W. (Note to NPS: Don’t worry – – we didn’t collect rocks in the park!)


Trilobite fossil identified by Paul Woods along the Permian Reef Geology Trail. Photo by Geoff Gadd.
Edit: Thanks to Brett Woodward for suggesting it may haven been an aberrant brachiopod!


Skeletal packstone at trail marker #6; the interpreted depositional process is a slope-derived debris flow. Photo by Dr. W.


Looking back to the south from the Permian Reef Geology Trail: point bars and a modern arroyo channel are visible along the floor of McKittrick Canyon. Photo by John Baird.


TTU earth science students hike up McKittrick Canyon on the Permian Reef Geology Trail. Across the canyon, strata interpreted to be toe-of-slope, slope and reef deposits are visible. Photo by Dr. W.

At the top of the trail, students ate lunch on the nose of the ancient reef, looking southward into the basin.


Hmm… perhaps the west Texas heat is starting to get to these Tennessee geologists…? Photo by Dr. W and courtesy of Geoff Gadd.

DAY 5: Evaporites, deepwater deposits and salt flats

The last field day was spent on the south side of the Guadalupe Fault scarp, exploring different types of basin fill that accumulated in the Permian. Led by Paul Woods, the first stop of the day was in the Castile Formation, which is characterized by couplets of gypsum and organic-rich micritic mud. These evaporites mark the transition from the Middle (Guadalupean) to Late (Ochoan) Permian; they are interpreted to record increasing salinity in the basin as it filled and became more and more dessicated. To the east, the Castile serves as an effective seal rock in the Permian petroleum system.


Castile Formation couplets are characterized by highly irregular patterns of deformation, both brittle and ductile. Photo by John Baird.

At a second stop along Highway 180, boulder conglomerates outcropped approximately 7 miles from the ancient reef front. The giant clasts (some as large as a car!) contain carbonate lithofacies, which suggest they originated higher on the slope. Thus, they are interpreted to record mass transport processes, i.e. debris flows, that flowed into the basin.


Boulder conglomerate, interpreted to be a Permian debris flow sourced from the slope. Photo by Dr. W.

The afternoon stops were spent south of the Guadalupe Fault scarp and looking back towards El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak. Deepwater clastic deposits of the Bell Canyon, Cherry Canyon and Brushy Canyon units were discussed and described by John Baird. The group identified incomplete Bouma sequences containing structureless sandstone, ripples and planar laminations.


Partial Bouma sequences of deepwater deposits in the Brushy Canyon Formation. Thick beds are mostly structureless sandstone or siltstone, capped by ripple-laminated siltstones and planar laminated mudstones. Photo by Dr. W.

Salt Flat, an area along Highway 180, served as the final field stop of the trip. Here, the  group had time to observe modern evaporites, take in the West Texas vista, and contemplate the ancient Permian Basin System.


TTU student Jordan Sachs sits on a modern evaporite deposit west of the Guadalupe Mountains. In the distance, El Capitan looms large, the geologic relict of an ancient Permian reef front. Photo by Kolbe Andrzejewski.

After five days investigating sedimentary rocks – clastics, carbonates, and evaporites – Tennessee Tech students and Dr. Wolak headed home to Cookeville. In Midland, TX, the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum offered an opportunity to review the geology through the lens of oil and gas exploration.


In addition to the spectacular geology and modern depositional environments, Tennessee Tech earth science students enjoyed a few other treats, including:

1.) Graffiti at Road Side BBQ in Memphis, TN

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Paul Woods adds a TTU Earth Sciences signature to graffiti-filled walls of the Road Side BBQ in west Memphis.

2.) Tarantula-viewing at the Carlsbad KOA entrance


On the way into the field, students spot a gigantic black mass crossing the road. Photo by Dr. W.


Desert tarantula in New Mexico. Photo by Geoff Gadd.

3.) High Desert Fashion, the Tennessee Way


Kolbe Andrzejewski models appropriate ear cover in the sun-filled desert.

4.) Jumping for joy after a week in the field doing geology. Go Golden Eagles!


Tennessee Tech students and Dr. Wolak catch some air in front of El Capitan and the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas and New Mexico. Photo by John Baird and courtesy of Geoff Gadd.

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TTU College of Arts and Sciences Awards Ceremony

On the evening of April 22, more than 200 students, parents, family, and friends assembled in the Tech Pride Room to acknowledge many of the outstanding students in the College, including five geosciences students.  Bryan Blackburn, Heather Harris, David Hunter, and Audrey Pattat were recognized for winning department scholarships.  Chelsea Ottenfeld was given the Excellence in Liberal Arts Award–the highest recognition of student achievement in the College.  Moreover, Chelsea is the first geosciences student to win this distinguished award.  Congratulations to all the department honorees!


Dr. Harrison with Heather Harris, David Hunter, and Bryan Blackburn


Chelsea Ottenfeld accepting the Award for Excellence in Liberal Arts from Dean Semmes.

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