Thursday, April 20, 2017

Scientist jobs that don’t include teaching or research . . .

At the recent 2017 Northeast/North Central joint section meeting of the Geological Society of America, I ran into a thirty-something alumnae of my undergraduate college who had finished her Ph.D. in geology in 2009. I first met this woman on a metamorphic-geology field trip several years ago while she was still a grad student. It was great to see her again and catch up. She told me she is STEM coordinator and adviser for a leadership scholars program at a major university, but was apologetic that it was not a position actually doing science. I said no apology needed! What a better adviser for students considering STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) careers than someone who has done science research and personally navigated undergraduate and graduate science education?

This interaction also reminded me of grad school classmate who, just before finishing her dissertation at what is a major research institution, felt she was sensing disapproval from faculty for expressing an interest in post-grad academic positions that focused mostly on teaching and little on research. But there is not just one valid career path for persons educated as scientists or engineers: teaching, research, advising/consulting, academic or corporate leadership, public policy are among possible pathways, depending on one’s talents, interests, and opportunities.

Teaching science includes a range of university (post-secondary) positions from those at top-tier research institutions to community and junior college. Research may be an essential part of many university departments and a requirement for tenure; directing student research is an important component. However, at institutions such as community colleges, teaching may be the major or sole job requirement with limited opportunities for one’s own or student research. However, that does not diminish the important task of educating the students on the methodology of science, its role in society, and the specifics of the science field chosen for a major or distributive course requirement.  In addition, science education begins way before college: science subject K-12 teacher certifications start at the middle school level (~age 10), if not before.

Careers that have science as a base, whether one has a bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. degree in a science field, are numerous and varied. Teaching is only one career line. Those who do research or applied science work for a variety of institutions: academia, industry, government. Some scientists or engineers in industry, as they advance their careers, may transition into a corporate leadership track (example: Rex Tillerson, engineer and former CEO of ExxonMobil). In academia and government, those who start in research and/or teaching may choose to advance to institutional administration.

Scientists have also made career transitions into public policy, working for non-profit science institutions, as staff for elected representatives, or themselves holding elected or appointed government leadership roles. In the US, Congressional Science Fellowship programs sponsored by many professional scientific societies, under the oversight of AAAS, is one avenue to participate in public policy for a year or a basis to make a permanent transition into public policy. One could also apply directly for Congressional staff jobs through the US Senate employment office or the equivalent in the House of Representatives. AAAS and some other scientific societies have fellowships in other government agencies.

Science communication is a career path where a science background is a plus. Some professional societies (American Geosciences Institute, AGI; American Geophysical Union, AGU; American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS) offer media internships or fellowships. University schools of journalism, like at Columbia and Missouri, may have concentrations in science and/or environmental writing.

It was recently pointed out in an opinion piece in the AAPG Explorer (March 2017) by AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Executive Director David Curtiss that General Colin Powell was an undergraduate geology major.

     He “completed his degree in geology from City College of New York and was immediately sworn in as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He never worked as a geologist. But, . . . his knowledge of geology and how the Earth works informed his entire career. Whether it was moving troops over rugged terrain or the delicate balancing act of the geopolitics of oil and natural gas, his understanding of the planet helped him navigate these challenges. If ever there was an endorsement for studying the geosciences – even if you want to pursue a career outside of traditional geological professions – look no further than Colin Powell.

So don’t be ashamed of whatever career path you take after getting a science degree! Your best contribution will be in a job that makes you happy.

Below is a limited list of scientists who made career choices where they eventually were not teaching science or doing research:

Rush Holt- physicist, former Congressman, CEO American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Harrison Schmidt- Geologist, Astronaut (Apollo 17), Senator (1977-1983)

Joanne Liu- President of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),

Marcia McNutt, Director, US Geological Survey (2009-2013); President, National Academy of Sciences

Melody Brown Burkins- Congressional Science Fellow (1999-2000); US delegation chair, 2016 International Geologic Congress (IGC); Director for Programs and Research of The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies (ENVS), Dartmouth College

Steven Chu- Physicist, Nobel Prize winner, US Secretary of Energy (2009-2013)

Ernest Moniz- Physicist, US Secretary of Energy (2013-2017)

Maria Honeycutt- Congressional Science Fellow (2007-2008), Coastal hazards policy analyst (NOAA)

Kevin Wheeler- USAID, science and international development consulting

David Curtiss- Congressional Science Fellow (2001-2002); Executive Director, AAPG

Wendy Hill- Neuroscientist and Provost, Lafayette College (to 2014); Head, Agnes Irwin School (private secondary school)

Friday, April 7, 2017

What do we do now? What post-election shell-shocked US liberal voters have been asking themselves since November 2016. . .

U.S. Capitol, 9 PM, January 20, 2017. Photo by MLMalinconico during evening walk, checking out any preparations for next day's Women's March (nothing set up yet, still removing Inauguration traffic barriers).

By 10 pm Eastern standard time on election night, November 8, 2016, liberal-progressive American voters were getting the uneasy feeling that the likely, but not guaranteed (71% chance according to FiveThirtyEight), election of Hillary Clinton to the US Presidency was not going to happen. The next day, pro-Clinton voters, started to go through the various stages of grief with anger and disbelief being most common, walking around like aimless zombies. With sustained Republican majorities in the House and Senate, a combination of fear and uncertainty has gripped left-to-moderate citizens concerned about what promises by conservative candidates (or, in some cases, those running as Republicans but whose commitment to even conservatism is not clear) may actually be enacted and become law. 

There are a range and number of issues that could be severely affected, changed, undone: government-mandated health care, immigration policy, women's health access, gender rights, environmental regulations, federal science funding, etc. The large number and variety or breadth of endangered policies is part of the confusion among many citizens yearning to be come more civilly active: where to start, what exactly can one do now? Even now in the Spring 2017, I hear these questions. They are voiced both by those who had worked/volunteered for campaigns of Democratic candidates and those who did not. In contemplating this, I have assembled a list of some possible ACTION CHOICES:

A) Do GENERAL advocacy for multiple liberal/progressive positions: I have come across these various initiatives for involvement that cover a range of issues.
    1) The "Indivisible Guide" (, "Practical Guide on Resisting the Trump Agenda" written by former Congressional staffers, outlines using the strategy of the successful Tea Party movement for the benefit of liberal causes. The essential point is start local and small, forming groups to influence municipal/state/federal legislators for the benefit of liberal causes. The website has a search feature to find contact information for groups in one's area. As of mid-February 2017, over 7000 local groups are being reported. One issue on the liberal agenda is gerrymandering. In many states, the state legislature determines federal Congressional district boundaries after each 10-year census (next census 2020), and gerrymandering in favor of the political party with a state-legislature majority is common. In Pennsylvania, district boundaries in 2011 were determined by the conservative Republican state legislature, and will not be redrawn until around 2021. Therefore, focusing on state elections in the next few cycles can have an eventual effect at the federal level. 
     2) To become or continue to be active in local established political parties is always an avenue: one may not have to wait until the 2018 midterm Congressional elections to volunteer for a campaign, since some gubernatorial elections will be in late 2017. One can always volunteer across state lines. A friend from the blue Democratic District of Columbia may commute up here to the flipped-red state of Pennsylvania to volunteer for the 2018 mid-term Congressional election.
     4) The Women's March on Washington, which morphed into a nationwide and international event, occurred on January 21, 2017. As follow-up, the March website ( outlines future actions, and provides activity agenda for the formation of small local groups (huddles). Like Call to Action, the Women's March tries to make advocacy easy for eager participants by outlining series of action steps and activities.
     5) The Resistance Calendar ( lists advocacy events all across the country by date with links to event/organization websites.

B) Pick ONE issue area that is important to you and focus on that. When I looked back at my own history, I realized that I had a record of active support for federal science spending through participating annually, since 2011, in Geoscience Congressional Visits Day (GeoCVD). I wrote about GeoCVD in a November 2015 blogpost, and it will be even more vital now that I continue to participate in GeoCVD, take part in other science events, and, as is the intention of any Congressional visit, nurture those established relationships during the year through written/phone communication, visits to local Congressional district offices, and/or town hall meetings to voice related science (or perhaps other) concerns. (Some friends, on the other hand, want to diversify and pick one issue very different from their work life; a few in education (school social worker and a principal) are investigating options distinctive from their daytime work with children and families.)
Here are some science-related events and resources, particularly earth and environmental science issues and legislation:     
     1) The March for Science (; @ScienceMarchDC; also on Facebook), Earth Day April 22, in Washington, DC and satellite locations around the world. This has now been endorsed by numerous professional science societies which may also have March information on their websites or Facebook pages.
     2) "Protect our Air, Water, & Public Lands - Call Your Reps & Senators!" A fantastic easy-to-follow spreadsheet updated frequently by a group of paleontologists, listing coming legislation with bill number, brief synopsis, action stage, which committee or member to contact, and separate lists of House and Senate members and their Committee memberships. (
     3) If you are a member of a professional scientific society, check out their science policy pages and resources they offer. One may also be able to sign up for policy alert services. Geoscience societies with US-focused policy programs include: American Geophysical Society (AGU;;, Geological Society of America (GSA;, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS,, American Geosciences Institute (AGI,a federation of 51 geoscience societies including AGU and GSA, 
     4) Apply for policy or media internships/fellowships. Many professional scientific societies, including AGU, GSA, AGI, AAAS listed above, sponsor such programs including Congressional Science Fellowships, media fellowships, policy internships for scientists in various stages of education and career.
     5) Attend a Congressional Visits Day! Geoscience Congressional Visits Days are traditionally in September and information can be found on the professional society policy pages above. In the spring is the large SET-CVD (Science-Engineering-Technology:; this year, it will be held April 25-26. One must pay their own travel/lodging expenses to attend.
     6) In the second part of a recent AGU blog 3-post series by earth scientist Dr. Christy Till, Arizona State University, she also contemplates what to do now, and lists her areas of focus: conversation, science mentoring, advocacy connections, community involvement, and education with helpful web links. For the last, education, she is both becoming involved in local public school outreach and, focusing on assuring the high quality of her own science research and teaching.
     7) Dr. Till, above, also mentions 500 Women Scientists (, a group similar to the Women’s March that is building a network of local groups (pods) of women scientists. Even if there is not a pod near you, you can follow and support through their website.
     8) Join an environmental organization like the Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Sierra Club, etc., that matches your interests and goals. These organizations range from the small and local to large national and international groups. Many have policy or action webpages.

C) DONATE money or join (pay membership in) an advocacy organization such as a non-profit organization, scientific society, or political party. Do NOT think that just giving money is lazy!! Even though you can easily do this sitting on your couch with your dog, credit card, and laptop while watching The Big Bang Theory, this is a VERY important contribution. Organizations' advocacy and policy activities and staff require financial operational support. Organizations may have special funds, like AGU's Capitol Cause, that directly support public policy programs. However, funding of advocacy and policy activities (including staff, interns, fellows) of an organization may come directly from membership, other income, or from associated foundations. The American Geosciences Institute did an innovative GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Spring 2017 policy interns, this campaign website seems to still be open despite the 12/31/16 deadline). What happens when organization income decreases? Programs are cut. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists recently closed their ten-year-old Washington, DC, Geoscience and Energy Policy office and laid off the 2 policy specialists (plus decreased general staff at AAPG headquarters) because of serious budget shortfalls during the recent downturn in the petroleum industry and resulting decreases in membership and conference income.

So how best to contact one's Senator or Representative? AAPG Geoscience and Energy Policy Office Director Edie Allison's concluding communication, "DIY Advocacy", outlined how to contact elected representatives, track bills, and provided general background on federal regulation ( Phone calls, email, faxes, post cards are best. Snail mail in envelopes to Congress goes through an extensive and slow physical security screening since the anthrax attack of late September 2011, so not recommended. There are all sorts of advice out there about which method is best with some that just does not seem true. Someone on Facebook posted that a friend of a friend of a friend who was a former Congressional staffer said that offices only track phone calls and discard, don’t log paper mail and email. Fake news!! Emails, faxes, postcards are all counted regarding topic and position (for/ against).

There were rumors that the office of my Republican Senator Patrick Toomey was not answering phones on January, so thousands of people sent faxes. I sent two Toomey emails, got immediate general thank you replies with a promise of a more detailed reply, and that I did, a few weeks later! Interestingly, I got more responses from Toomey than from my Democratic Senator and Representative.

Most important in whatever communication form one uses is to be succinct, brief, and to the point. Some of the action services will give one talking points for phone calls. Remember, you have only a minute or two to convey your message. Think “elevator talk”. Many others may be trying to call in. For emails, make sure the first paragraph says upfront exactly what you want. I had started one email to my Congressmen pointing out that I had visited their offices during GeoCVD which promotes the importance of federal science spending; then in the second paragraph, my topic sentence was my issue of concern and my stance (the importance of international science collaboration in the wake of the January immigration executive order). However, Senator Toomey's reply was on his support for federal science funding (good), but missed addressing my specific point. Totally my fault for not putting the "ask" right in the first sentence. 

Remember, EVERY little bit counts. This revitalized liberal effort to make one's voice heard is not a contest of who does more, or how frequently. The goal should simply be to do something. However, the most important aspect in whatever strategy one chooses, is CONTINUED SUSTAINED EFFORT or communication= "persistence". On The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC) on February 1, 2017, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) voiced his concern about "outrage fatigue", that interest would fade. Indeed, some initial criticism of the Women's March on Washington (January 20, 2017) was that, if the event was a one-and-done event, its impact and legacy could be minimal. Recognizing this is why the Women's March supports and encourages continued advocacy, as outlined above. 

 ". . .We must put to rest threats to science, while at the same time seeking friends among opinion-makers who understand the power, beauty, and usefulness of science and the need to incorporate it into public policy. . . to confidently, respectfully, and clearly explain the connection between scientific advancement and our economic progress, human well-being, and national security. . . The need for scientists and scientific institutions to effectively communicate about science and its relevance is more important than ever."  AAAS CEO (physicist and former Congressman) Rush Holt, December 20, 2016.

Keywords: science advocacy, science policy, March for Science

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Black gold, Texas tea. . .

My May 16, 2015, blogpost title included this metaphor for oil, "the black blood of the machine age" (1952 television documentary, Victory at Sea), one of the most appropriate and vivid I know. However, those of us from the US baby boomer generation may have first heard other oil nicknames in the early 1960's from the opening theme song of the TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies: "black gold, Texas tea" (*.

I googled around looking for other colorful oil monikers, more dramatic than just fossil fuel, earth oil, fossil oil. I found Devil's tar, flowing gold, Devil's tears, and liquid sunlight, very appropriate since the energy stored in petroleum originated as solar energy used by plant photosynthesis. A sorrowful reference is to the oil slowly leaking from the USS Arizona, sunk during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and entombing most of its crew: the black tears of the Arizona.

The terms black gold and flowing gold make me think of the first day of Petroleum Geology, a class of about 40 students, winter quarter, November 1978, at Michigan Tech (I, an undergraduate history major, was taking various geology and science courses so I could apply for geology grad school). The professor began class by passing around a plastic quart lab bottle of crude oil asking, "What does it smell like?" After we all had a whiff, he told us. . . "It smells like MONEY".

“The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power” is the subtitle of The Prize, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Daniel Yergin. The Prize (1991) covers the history of the petroleum industry from its beginnings to the late 1980’s (the “sequel”, The Quest (2011), continues from the First Gulf War). The title itself may come from a quote in the Prologue from Winston Churchill, regarding the pre-World War I transition of the British Navy from a coal-fueled to a faster, more efficient oil-fueled armada: “Mastery itself was the prize of the venture.” (Italics mine)

Admittedly, there are political and social concerns about fossil fuel business practices, anthropogenic global warming, pollution, energy security, and dwindling recoverable resources. However, any transition from liquid or gaseous (or solid) fossil fuel must be balanced concomitantly with finding suitable replacements for the myriad products (not just transportation and electrical generation fuel) from petroleum ( in order to maintain current quality of life.

Regrettably, there is one "Fossil Fuel" that has already ceased production that, I confess, I desperately hope reappears: 

* This is a fun rap cover of the Beverly Hillbillies theme by actor John Goodman during closing credits of an episode of Roseanne.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Chariots of Fire" to "Fire on Earth": Stream-of-consciousness from the Olympics to fossil charcoal/fire studies through poet William Blake

Until the gymnastics and swimming got underway, I hadn’t been watching much of this year’s summer Olympics. However, on the day after the opening ceremonies, I started my quadrennial games viewing odyssey with Chariots of Fire, the 1981 movie highlighting the athletic and faith journeys of two British runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, to the 1924 Olympics. The movie story line begins and ends with the 1978 memorial service for Abrahams. The sequence at the end ( includes the hymn, “And did those feet in ancient time”, the unofficial hymn of England. (Some feel it should be the national anthem although there are dissenters: The hymn has been included in other movies, such as Calendar Girls (sung in Women’s Institute meetings) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (sung during first wedding).

The lyrics for the hymn are from a poem by William Blake, written ~1804 (music* by Sir Hubert Parry). The movie title, Chariots of Fire, is from a phrase in the poem (at the end of the third poem stanza; in middle of second hymn verse), alluding to the Old Testament Bible description of the prophet Elijah being taken to heaven in a fiery chariot pulled by flaming horses. Other events and locations in the four-stanza poem, however, are not the standard Bible references of Reformation-to-early 20th-century Protestant hymns.  The first line queries if Jesus walked in England, possibly during his pre-ministry years, while the last lines of the second stanza ask “And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic mills”.

There are different interpretations of what Blake meant by “dark Satanic mills". Was he referring to the Albion Flour Mills, “first major factory in London” built in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, destroyed by fire in 1791, but not torn down for almost 20 years? The factory mill, when operational, threatened to ruin the livelihood of small local millers. Or was he referring metaphorically to establishment churches or major universities? Whatever Blake’s intention, images of soot-belching factories of the Industrial Revolution initially pop into one’s head.

One instance using the Industrial Revolution metaphor is found in Fire on Earth: An Introduction by Andrew Scott, David Bowman, William Bond, Stephen Pyne, and Martine Alexander (Wiley Blackwell, 2014; The author of Chapter 12 writes, discussing the ‘Pyric Transition’ when civilization transitioned from biomass to fossil fuel usage:
     “For fire history, ‘industrialization’ is shorthand for that shift in fuel from surface biomass to fossil biomass, with all that means for how humanity applies and withholds fire on the land. Usefully, the general culture agrees, since popular imagination has long identified the Industrial Revolution with William Blake’s ‘dark satanic’ mills’ belching soot from combusted coals” (p. 231).

The book covers the history of “fire on earth” and the scientific methods of studying it. The authors include a geologist (Scott whose work, plus those of his colleagues and students, I have written about previously,,, a botanist, ecologist, historian, and forester. All the authors’ research has involved aspects of fire science, how fire has affected landscape, ecosystems, and civilization, and the geologic and anthropological records preserving that information. I have not read the book from front to back, but have read or skimmed through sections that have particular interest to me.

Sixteen chapters are divided into four major parts: I) Fire in the Earth System; II) Biology of Fire; III) Anthropogenic Fire; IV) The Science and Art of Wildland Fire Behavior Management. The book’s Preface explains that each author spoke “in his own disciplinary tongue”, so the style of descriptive language may vary among chapters written by scientists versus historians. Following an introduction to what is fire and methods of studying fire (ancient and modern events), the historical flow of the book is from deep geologic time when plants (the fuel) first appeared on land (late Silurian/early Devonian, ~400 million years ago) to the present day. Some of the sections on fire in the geological record seem too short for my interest in that aspect, but the authors point out that the 390-page text is meant as an introduction to a topic that spans several disciplines. The references for each part, however, are comprehensive, and a companion website includes the figures and tables from the book, teaching material, and links to relevant websites, videos, podcasts.

This book is an excellent example of the value of interdisciplinary research in earth processes. As Scott writes in the online book description, fire is "an integral part of the study of geology, biology, human history, physics, and global chemistry".  In fact, this approach is very "Big History". Big History “examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities.”

I found particularly interesting, possibly from being an undergraduate history major before switching fields to earth science for grad school, the historical development of human interaction with fire, based on both historic documents and anthropological and geologic research into the last couple million years since the appearance of earliest human species. Man (using “man” and “his” as inclusive genderless terms) began his fire management relationship as a fire sustainer before he learned how to start or make a fire. The Chapter 11 author points out that man is the only creature that can control fire, and used it for cooking, warmth, land clearing, warfare. Eventually sustainable fresh wood/plant fuels for combustion could not keep up with demand, and, in the Pyric Transition during Industrialization, fossil plant-derived fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas) became the primarily combustion sources (p. 231, 232).
Prometheus bringing fire to mankind (D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, 1962)
 Fire is a natural process; we utilize it as a resource and tool, but also attempt to manage it as a natural disaster. Man has different relationships with various earth materials and processes, including what we call disasters because of their human disruption. For example, volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones/hurricanes/tornados: we cannot control those, but try to lessen damage and injury through building codes or just getting out of the way. At the other end of the spectrum, various rock and fuel resources we exploit for civilization's benefit, and currently or retroactively try to ameliorate pollution and damage from extractive processes. Between these endpoints, fire, like surface water, we use and try to beneficially manage, but we cannot totally control.

The management of wildfires includes modern study of both physics and chemistry of burning plus methods to extinguish fires. The results of this research also benefit those trying to interpret the scale and intensity of fire events recorded in the rock record. Andrew Scott, his students and colleagues, particularly Claire Belcher and her own students, have made an important leap in interdisciplinary research in using modern fire science experimental techniques to interpret the fire record in the deep geologic past (hundreds of millions of years). Fusinite (the fossil charcoal 'maceral' in coal) and related combustion particulates in coals and sedimentary rocks are indicators of ancient wildfire. But, a better understanding of temperature and type of deep-time fire events and what the source material was (for example, plant or exposed/eroded coal deposit) has come from experiments testing the types of combustion products produced by various materials (; Fire Phenomena and the Earth System: An Interdisciplinary Guide to Fire Science).

This interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of geologic and prehistoric fire events, combining modern fire science, and geologic and anthropological charcoal/fire studies, is innovative. Fire on Earth, brings together related topics and useful avenues of research that could be easily missed otherwise if their results were published in specialty topic journals (not just physical versus social science journals but among narrowly specialized science/technology publications). Fire on Earth, similarly to how David Christian has described Big History in general, “help(s)” the reader “across the divide between the two cultures—from the sciences to the humanities” in the discussion of a millions-year-old natural process that has shaped civilization.

*I was recently surprised to find, regrettably at a funeral, that there is another hymn to the same tune but with different words: “O day of peace that dimly shines”. It was the closing anthem for the deceased, an English immigrant to the US, because the tune identifies so strongly with England.

**More on Big History: (Gates’ funded high school Big History project)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Particulate organic matter as paleocurrent indicators: dispersed fossil wood in Pennsylvania Bluestone

The tag line for this blog describes that posts are about geologic carbon, excluding carbonate and aqueous dissolved organic matter, focusing on sedimentary and metamorphic organic matter (OM=organic matter) and products from fossil fuel resources. I come at this topic from the organic petrology or microscopy methods I use to investigate geologic problems of level of diagenesis/ very-low-grade metamorphism or what assemblages of particulate organic matter can convey about depositional environment or climate. Many applications of or advancements in organic petrology are related to fossil fuel exploration or utilization, but there are other non-fossil-fuel applications of sedimentary OM data in the geologic sciences. However, in my experience and opinion, those are not commonly used, either because organic petrology is not part of the usual geology curriculum, therefore, not well known, or because light microscopy is not "high tech".

One occurrence of sedimentary OM greets me frequently while I am walking the dog. I live in an old neighborhood of lawns, large trees, and pachysandra (my personal trace plant for old neighborhoods); most of the homes were built around 1900. Although numerous sidewalks are now cement, many remain the original large slabs of Pennsylvania Bluestone, some with fossil wood fragments exposed on cut or slabbed surfaces. Pennsylvania Bluestone is a Middle to Upper Devonian feldspathic sandstone of the Catskill delta or Catskill/Pocono clastic wedge, outcropping now in southern New York, northeastern Pennsylvania, and northern New Jersey. It is the "molasse" of the Acadian orogeny, whose thermal and deformational peak in the northern Appalachians to the east (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut) occurred in the Lower Devonian.

Bluestone in disrepair but shows typical sidewalk slab size and thickness. Twenty-pound (9 kg) puppy for scale.

Bluestone derives its name "from a deep-blue-colored sandstone first found in Ulster County, NY" ( In Pennsylvania, the focus of the bluestone industry is in Susquehanna County bordering New York state. Other colors include tans, various grays, and lilac/purple. The Endless Mountain Stone Company website (in 2002, Endless Mountain was the "largest  'bluestone' producer in Northeastern Pennsylvania, FCOFG field guide, p. 85*) also describes the quarrying, cutting or slabbing operations that produce stone for sidewalks, paving, building and facing stone. The environment of deposition of quarried stone includes offshore bars, beaches, and tidal interchannels.
Ripple marks (interference ripples?) on bluestone sidewalk slabs.

Ripple marks, in different location than above, on wet sidewalk in street lights at night.
Although the Pennsylvania Bluestone Association states that the stone is "clear of most organic residues", megascopic particulate fossil wood is occasionally visible. A stratigraphic section of one quarry in the 2002 Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists guidebook (Figure 79, p. 86) to the bluestone region, marks locations of "carbonized plant fossils" and "plant-bearing ss".
Patio bluestone showing range of color, some ripple marks, and, in slab in foreground, dispersed fossil wood fragments.
Old bluestone sidewalk slab; fossil wood weathered out leaving casts.

Fossil wood in both rippled and non-rippled bed surfaces in recently-quarried bluestone (in re-laid sidewalk using old original slabs and smaller new slabs to replace broken material). Fragments on non-rippled surface (lower left) show a general consistent orientation.
In the photo above, fossil wood, on the non-rippled bedding surface, is generally aligned due to the ancient water flow direction that deposited the layer and acts as a paleocurrent indicator. Such indicators include any elongated particles including graptolites and other fossils, and sedimentary structures such as ripples, crossbedding, and flute casts. However, alignment of linear objects, such as the wood fragments, can only narrow paleocurrent flow direction to two directions 180 degrees apart. Asymmetrical ripples and flute casts are examples of structures that can define a single direction. Below is an example of paleocurrent direction analysis, showing bidirectional results, from measuring orientation of wood fragments in a Devonian shale of the Appalachian/Catskill basin (in Potter and others, 1979, Devonian Paleocurrents in the Appalachian Basin).

Three more examples of oriented fossil wood in Pennsylvania Bluestone. Blue color in bottom two photos due primarily due to time of day, just prior to sunset.
(from Potter and others, 1979, Devonian Paleocurrents in the Appalachian Basin)

Above is the cumulative paleocurrent direction analysis of Appalachian Devonian sediments, including those of the Catskill/Pocono wedge, showing general western flow and deposition due to unroofing/erosion of the lower Devonian Acadian orogenic thermal/deformational axis to the east. Fossil wood fragments (=particulate land plant organic matter), such as that seen in the bluestone, were an important contributor to this data set.

BTW, at the time this post was written, the blog background was an extreme close-up of wood fragments in bluestone (below).

*Catskill delta field guides:
    Facies and Sedimentary Environments of the Catskill System Tract in Central Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Association of Petroleum Geologists, 2009
    From Tunkhannock to Starrucca: Bluestone, Glacial Lakes, and Great Bridges in the “Endless Mountains” of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists, 2009.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Graptolite reflectance and correlation with other diagenetic and very-low-grade metamorphic indicators

My first independent organic petrology research project, in the late 1980's-early 1990's, was a graptolite reflectance study of the low- to very-low-grade metamorphic region of the northern US Appalachians in northern Maine. The goals were to 1) test the applicability of the technique, used in other anchizone regions, to these prehnite-pumpellyite grade rocks, and 2) outline in more detail the regional patterns or trends in metamorphism.

Graptolites are extinct colonial marine invertebrates of the Phylum Hemichordata with a geologic age range from Cambrian to Carboniferous. They derive their name from the pencil-mark appearance of preserved periderm on shales (Graptolithus= rock writing). Since the mid-1970's, the reflectance of graptolites, in a similar fashion to vitrinite reflectance, has been used to access the diagenetic level or organic maturity of rocks that, either due to a marine environment of deposition (EOD) or age older than the advent of land plants (pre-Silurian), lack vitrinite derived from woody plant matter. Graptolite reflectance has been applied to both petroleum source rock evaluation and analysis of patterns of anchizone metamorphism, the anchizone being the level of metamorphism between sedimentary rocks and greenschist facies where some diagenetic indicators may no longer be applicable and where big micas and flashy garnets, staurolite etc have not yet appeared. (In one talk in ~1992, I did compare the anchizone to the Neutral Zone of Star Trek, which separates Romulan space from Federation space; the anchizone is the area where neither those looking for liquid hydrocarbons nor those studying traditional metamorphic petrology care to go.)

However, the correlation of graptolite reflectance values to vitrinite reflectance has been problematic since vitrinite and graptolites are hardly ever found in the same rock, due again to age of rock or EOD. Correlation has been made through intermediaries: thermal maturity indicators found in or that can be applied to both vitrinite-bearing and graptolite-bearing rocks. Also, microscopically, some authors reported "maximum reflectance" in which, under polarized light (polarizer in light path), the microscopic stage is rotated to the orientation of the maximum reflectance of the highly anisotropic graptolite periderm and then reflectance is recorded. The mean of many maximum reflectance measurements on a rock sample can, therefore, be higher, with higher standard deviation, than "random reflectance", measured in non-polarized light. Correlation of graptolite reflectance with other indicators, such as conodont alteration indices (CAI), and with mineral-based metamorphic zone boundaries was also not clear, partly due to differing interpretations of the latter. But, fortunately, in 2007, the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) published a classification for very-low to low grade metamorphic rocks (Árkai and others, 2007), which includes vitrinite reflectance, and standardizes boundaries for mineralogically-based diagenetic to low-grade metamorphic zones.

So a few years ago, partly for a couple papers still (even now) in draft form and partly in response to a petroleum industry colleague asking how well constrained the vitrinite/graptolite correlations are, I made a big spread sheet with the IUGS 2007 very-low-metamorphic indicators chart and correlation interpretations from numerous collected graptolite reflectance papers (references following). From that, I made the table BELOW showing THREE correlative relationships of graptolite reflectance: two from studies reporting random reflectance, but that use different intermediaries to relate graptolite to vitrinite reflectance and are from different geological provinces, and a third correlation of graptolite mean maximum reflectance.

TABLE (click on it to enlarge): Correlation of metamorphic facies, Kübler indices, vitrinite reflectance, and coal grade from the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of Metamorphic Rocks (Árkai et al., 2007); metapelitic zones to vitrinite reflectance and Kübler index (Abad, 2007); CAI (conodont alteration index) to vitrinite reflectance (Repetski et al., 2008); mean random graptolite reflectance, non-polarized light (to vitrinite reflectance through chitinozoan reflectance: Bertrand, 1990); mean random graptolite reflectance, non-polarized light (to vitrinite reflectance through RockEval pyrolysis Tmax: Petersen et al., 2013);  mean maximum graptolite reflectance to CAI or metamorphic facies (compilation of results from Oliver, 1988; Goodarzi, 1990; Goodarzi et al., 1992; Wang et al., 1993; Malinconico, 1992, unpublished data).

A very comprehensive correlation chart (their Figure 26) and discussion of numerous visual organic maturity Indicators by Hartkopf-Fröder and others was published in 2015. They included coal rank, reflectance of vitrinite, graptolites and other zooclasts, coloration of conodonts, spores/pollen and other microfossils, and hydrocarbon generation zones, but did not include mineral metamorphic facies. Three graptolite reflectance scales are in their chart: Petersen and others (2013) and two by Bertrand and colleagues. Their bibliography includes graptolite reflectance citations (such as several by Bertrand) that are not listed below.

These tables do not solve the graptolite/vitrinite reflectance correlation problem. They do, however, show state of the current publicly available knowledge.

and references for other diagenetic to very-low-metamorphic indicators
used in making the correlation table (in bold)

Abad, I., 2007, Physical meaning and applications of the illite Kübler index: measuring reaction progress in low-grade metamorphism, in Nieto, F., and Jiménez-Millán, J., eds., Diagenesis and Low-Temperature Metamorphism. Theory, Methods and Regional Aspects: Seminarios de la Sociedad Española de Mineralogia, v. 3, p. 53-64.
Árkai, P., Sassi, F., Desmons, J., 2007, Very low- to low-grade metamorphic rocks (Chapter 2.5), in Fettes, D., and Desmons, J., eds., Metamorphic Rocks: A Classification and Glossary of Terms (Recommendations of the International Union of Geological Sciences Subcommission on the Systematics of Metamorphic Rocks): Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, p. 36-42.
Bertrand, R., 1990, Correlations among the reflectances of vitrinite, chitinozoans, graptolites, and scolecodonts: Organic Geochemistry, v. 15, no. 6, p. 565-574.
Bertrand, R., and Heroux, Y., 1987, Chitinozoan, graptolite and scolecodont reflectance as an alternative to vitrinite and pyrobitumen reflectance in Ordovician and Silurian strata, Anticosti Island, Quebec, Canada, American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 71, p. 951-957.
Bustin, R., M., Link, D., and Goodarzi, F., 1989, Optical properties and chemistry of graptolite periderm following laboratory simulated maturation: Organic Geochemistry, v. 14, p. 355-364.
Cardott, B. J., and Kidwai, M. A., 1991, Graptolite reflectance as a potential thermal-maturation indicator, in K. S. Johnson, ed., Late Cambrian-Ordovician geology of the southern Midcontinent, 1989 symposium: Oklahoma Geological Survey Circular 92, p. 203-209.
Clausen, C.-D. and Teichmüller, M., 1982, Die Bedeutung der Graptolithenfragmente im Paläozoikum von Soest-Erwitte für Stratigraphie und Inkohlung: Fortschritte in der Geologie von Rheinland und Westfalen, v. 30, p. 145-167.
Cole, G. A., 1994, Graptolite-chitinozoan reflectance and its relationship to other geochemical maturity indicators in the Silurian Qusaiba shale, Saudi Arabia: Energy & Fuels., v. 8, p. 1443-1459.
Goodarzi, F., 1984, Organic petrology of graptolite fragments from Turkey: Marine and Petroleum Geology, v. 1, p. 202-210.
Goodarzi, F., 1984, Organic petrology of graptolite fragments from Turkey: Marine and Petroleum Geology, v. 1, p. 202-210
Goodarzi, F., 1985, Dispersion of optical properties of graptolite epiderms in increase maturity in early Paleozoic organic sediment: Fuel, v. 64, p. 1735-1740.
Goodarzi, F., 1990, Graptolite reflectance and thermal maturity of Lower Paleozoic rocks, in V. F. Nuccio and C. E. Barker, eds., Applications of thermal maturity studies to energy exploration: SEPM, Rocky Mountain Section, p. 19-22.
Goodarzi, F., Gentzis, T., Harrison, C., and Thorsteinsson, R., 1992, The significance of graptolite reflectance in regional thermal maturity studies, Queen Elizabeth islands, Arctic Canada: Organic Geochemistry, v. 18, no. 3., p. 347-357.
Goodarzi, F., and Norford, B. S., 1985, Graptolites as indicators of the temperature histories of rocks: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 11, p. 127-141.
Hartkopf-Fröder, C., Königshof, P., Littke, R., Schwarzbauer, J., 2015, Optical thermal maturity parameters and organic geochemical alteration at low grade diagenesis to anchimetamorphism: A Review: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 150-151, p. 74-119.
Hower, J. C., and Malinconico, M. L., 2000, Organic metamorphism in Middle Ordovician carbonates, Lebanon Valley nappe, Pennsylvania:  International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 42, p. 221-230.
Kurylowicz, L. E., Ozimic, S., McKirdy, D. M., Kantsler, A. J. and Cook, A. C., 1976, Reservoir and source rock potential of the Larapinta Group, Amadeus Basin, Central Australia: Australian Petroleum Exploration Association Journal, v. 16, p. 44-65.
Malinconico, M. L., 1992, Graptolite reflectance in the prehnite- pumpellyite zone, northern Maine, U.S.A.: Organic Geochemistry, v. 18, p. 263-271.
Malinconico, M. L., 1993, Reflectance cross-plot analysis of graptolites from the anchi-metamorphic region of northern Maine, USA: Organic Geochemistry, v. 20, p. 197-207.
Oliver, G. J. H., 1988, Arenig to Wenlock regional metamorphism in the paratectonic Caledonides of the British Isles- a review, in Harris, A. L. I., and Fettes, D. J., eds., The Caledonian-Appalachian Orogen: Geological Society (London) Special Publication 38, p. 347-363.
Petersen, H. I., Schovsbo, N. H., Nielsen, A. T., 2013, Reflectance measurements of zooclasts and solid bitumen in Lower Paleozoic shales, southern Scandinavia: Correlation to vitrinite reflectance: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 114 , p. 1-18.
Rantitsch, G., 1995, Coalification and graphitization of graptolites in the anchizone and lower epizone: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 27, p. 1-22.
Repetski, J. E., Ryder, R. T., Weary, D. J., Harris, A. G, and Trippi, M. H., 2008, Thermal maturity patterns (CAI and %Ro) in Upper Ordovician and Lower-Middle Devonian rocks of  the Appalachian basin: A major revision of USGS Map I-917-E using new subsurface collections: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3006, one CD-ROM.
Riediger, C., Goodarzi, F., and MacQueen, R. W., 1989, Graptolites as indicators of regional maturity in lower Paleozoic sediments, Selwyn Basin, Yukon and Northwest Territories, Canada: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 26, p. 2003-2015.
Ruble, T. E., Knowles, W. R., Selleck, B. W., Wylie, A. S., 2013, Assessment of thermal maturation in outcrop samples of the Utica Shale, northern Appalachian basin, New York: American Association of Petroleum Geologists 2013 Annual Convention and Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90163 (; accessed August 2013). 
Taylor, G. H., Teichmüller, M., Davis, A., Diessel, C. F. K., Littke, R., Robert, P., 1998, Organic petrology: Gebrüder Borntraeger, Berlin, 704 pages.
Teichmüller, M., 1978, Nachweis von Graptolithen-Periderm in geschieferten Gesteinen mit Hilfe kohlenpetrologischer Methoden: Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Mh. 7, 430-447.
Wang, X. F., Hoffknecht, A., Xiao, J. X., Chen S. Q., Li Z. H., Brocke, R. B., and Erdtmann, B-D., 1993, Graptolite, chitinozoan, and scolecodont reflectances and their use as indicators of thermal maturity: Acta Geologica Sinica, v. 6, no. 1, p. 93-105.
Yang, C., and Hesse, R., 1993, Diagenesis and anchimetamorphism in an overthrust belt, external domain of the Taconian Orogen, southern Canadian Appalachians—II. Paleogeothermal gradients derived from maturation of different types of organic matter: Organic Geochemistry, v. 20, p. 381-403.