Thursday, December 30, 2010

Earthquake in Central Indiana

The reports that at 7:55 this morning local time, a rare earthquake struck Central Indiana. From the story by Nick Werner:
What makes today’s earthquake so rare is that it was centered in Greentown, about 13 miles southeast of Kokomo.

“They are so infrequent in central Indiana,” Steinmetz said.

The Indiana Geological Survey had no records of an earthquake this size in Central Indiana ever. He said he needed more time to research when — if ever — central Indiana had been the center of even a more minor earthquake.

Central Indiana is home to a faultline, the Fortville Fault, which runs through Madison and Hancock counties. But Steinmetz said it was too premature as of 9 a.m. to determine whether the quake originated on the Fortville Fault.
The quake was a relatively mild 3.8 magnitude, and thankfully there hasn't been any reported damage. Indiana is home to a few faults, and when I spoke to Walter Gray of the Indiana Geological Survey this fall, he told me that the next couple years of his outreach efforts would be largely dedicated to earthquake awareness. Though Indiana is not located at the seam between two tectonic plates, as is earthquake-prone California, the potential for damaging earthquakes is considerable. I'll be writing more about Indiana earthquakes in the future, as it's one of the reasons I decided to start this blog.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Short-Eared Owls in Indiana

The Indiana Audobon Society has a wonderful photo pool on Flickr, which I heartily recommend following. Photographer Steve Gifford has been sharing striking photographs of Short-eared Owls, taken near Somerville, IN. Seeing an owl is such a rare treat. You can't help but stare at those eyes.

Short-eared Owl by Steve Gifford
Photograph by Steve Gifford, via Flickr.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Bryozoan in Lake Monroe

Today on the Scientific American Guest Blog, Jennifer Frazer writes about bryozoans. I was pretty thrilled to see that a video she linked to as a visual aid was shot right here in Monroe County, Indiana. It's short, but nicely illustrates this obscure organism. Frazer gives a fantastic introduction to the bryozoan clan, writing:
Bryozoans are like the whales of the coral world -- they are not coral, but have evolved into the same filter-feeding polyp-like niche. They're really old -- like 500,000,000 years old. And some bizarre details of their biology have helped them elude the best efforts of biologists to try and pin them down in the Earth family tree.
Head over to SciAm for the rest. Frazer writes The Artful Amoeba and tweets, too.

Here's a fossilized bryozoan I photographed at Falls of the Ohio State Park in September.

Fossil Bryozoan

You should also head over to Mike Popp's great blog Louisville Fossils and Beyond for his own post on bryozoan fossils, posted today. If you aren't following his blog, get with it! It's a daily must-see.

The Guest Blog is also a consistently great read. That tireless promoter of online science communication, Bora Zivkovic, has really raised its importance since taking the lofty title of Chief Editor and Community Manager for SciAm, bringing in a diverse group of bloggers to contribute on all kinds of scientific topics. Speaking of which, you might be something from yours truly popping up there pretty soon...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Isotelus, the Ohio State Fossil

I've picked up one or two fossils on the side of the road, but can you imagine finding an enrolled trilobite, clean as if it had been carefully prepped?

My main reason for posting this video is to point out what a shame it is that Indiana doesn't have its own state fossil. The Indiana Geological Survey's Jeff Kirby wrote in 1998,
About 10 years ago several interested organizations and individuals were involved in an effort to have the crinoid Cyathocrinites multibrachiatus officially designated by the state legislature as Indiana's state fossil. The effort was unsuccessful, however, and Indiana does not have an official state fossil.
To see Cyathocrinites, take a look at the nice photos at Fossil Museum. I wonder what's behind this? Is it that Cyathocrinites just isn't dramatic enough? If Indiana boasted Mesozoic strata would we have a state fossil? If it's a big, charismatic vertebrate legislators want, we certainly have plenty of Ice Age mammals that would fit the bill.

Or maybe the problem is that there's just not enough of a public will for the state to recognize a fossil. At any rate, I'm looking into this subject. There isn't much information about the effort on-line, so I'll be doing the old-fashioned kind of research. Hopefully I'll turn up some good information. If anyone reading this has anything to share on the subject of the nonexistent Indiana state fossil, please feel free to email me at chasmosaurs(at)gmail(dot)com or leave a comment to this post.

Hey all. After reading the comment left by Double Beam, I wrote to the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers to ask about the locality of the fossil. Unfortunately, they were not able to provide an exact spot, as Mike wrote in a subsequent comment, the southeastern part of Indiana is the best place to find Ordovician fossils. Jack Kallmeyer from the Dry Dredgers wrote that "Isotelus and Flexicalymene trilobites are widespread throughout the Cincinnatian and can literally be found at almost any exposure. The best places to look would include sites exposing the Waynesville Formation or the Corryville." Thanks for the quick answer, Jack!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Indiana Geology at the Children's Museum

I recently visited the Children's Museum of Indianapolis for a series about the Dinosphere at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. While the Dinosphere is certainly worthy of all of the attention it gets, local natural history also gets some space. Here's a cool thumbnail version of Indiana's bedrock geology. It was overshadowed by the climbing wall next to it, so if you happen to visit with your kids, take a second to show them what's happening under their feet.

Indiana Geology

They also have this gorgeous slab of Borden limestone on display, featuring some nice crinoids from Crawfordsville.

Borden Group Crinoids

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fossil Day: Climate, Crinoids, and Carnivores

Last Thursday was the first annual National Fossil Day in the U.S., an event organized by the National Park Service with a slew of partner organizations nationwide. The theme for this first Fossil Day was "Paleontology: preserving the past for our future." I's tough to imagine a more fitting topic for a presentation on this occasion than IU paleontologist P. David Polly's "Climate, Crinoids, and Carnivores," held at the Monroe County History Center.

Fossil Day
Dr. Polly begins his talk with a primer on paleontology.

After providing a solid foundation on what paleontology is all about, Dr. Polly zoomed in on Indiana geology, particularly the area around Bloomington. He began by talking about the Edwardsville Formation of Brown County and eastern Monroe County, which tells the story of the Borden River delta. During the Late Mississippian, as the Earth's geological processes were beginning to conspire to form the iconic supercontinent Pangaea, Indiana was situated much closer to the equator. The river delta of the Borden River was formed by sediment from the young mountain range to the southeast, eventually to become the Appalachians. This sediment, mud and sand, would form rock that could be readily eroded to create the signature ridges and valleys of Brown County. The inspiring scenery that brought artists flocking to the Nashville area in the last century has its roots in the days when the Smokies and their kin were rugged upstarts.

A formation like the Edwardsville is a basic unit of geological categorization, and this particular one is part of the appropriately named Borden Group. It's particularly famous for its crinoids, with major sites located on the shores of Lake Monroe and a particularly productive quarry near Crawfordsville which has yielded sixty-three species in forty-two genera. This was a robust, thriving ecosystem, a true crinoid heaven.

Dr. Polly then covered the Salem limestone that is pretty familiar to me, as it produced the chalky hunks that I occasionally dig up in my yard. It underlies most of Bloomington, and is evidence of a time when changing sea levels submerged the area, resulting in the famous limestone that built the economic backbone of the Stone Belt. To the west of Bloomington, the Mississippian shifts into the Pennsylvanian, the time of the great coal forests. The sandstones and shales and coal deposits tell the tale of swampy forests of Lycopsids, and this is when the "climate" part of the talk really kicked in.

The coal forests sucked in the CO2 of Earth's atmosphere in an unprecedented amount. When those plants died and piled up into great masses of peat, that CO2 was trapped - or sequestered - with the lasting effect of an atmosphere with a higher proportion of oxygen than before. This era, revealed to us by southern Indiana's bedrock, was a true natural revolution, one of the major turning points of Earth's history.

It was here that Dr. Polly's talk hit home. He managed to take the contentious issue of climate change and illustrate it through the story of earth's deep history (As Scott Sampson likes to say, the "Epic of Evolution"). It's quite simple, really: In the deep past, massive amounts of CO2 were gobbled up by plants and microorganisms and trapped underground. Humans discovered these deposits and during the industrial revolution began rereleasing it into the atmosphere, and we're beginning to feel the effects of that.

Fossil Day
A dire wolf skull cast and fossil from the Harrodsburg Crevice, mammoth and mastodon molars, and more. Part of the Indiana Geological Survey collection.

The presentation was a joint effort of the IU School of Geological Sciences and the Indiana Geological Survey, which contributed a nice display booth, ably manned by Educational Outreach Coordinator Walter Gray. The table attracted plenty of attention from the audience, asking questions about the casts and fossils on display. I scored some nice informational cards discussing calcite, geodes, and typical Indiana fossils that now hang in my cubicle at work.

Fossil Day

All in all, a fine way to celebrate my first Fossil Day. Though I would have loved to have seen a higher attendance, the audience that did come out was duly impressed by the materials provided by the IGS and Dr. Polly's presentation. I'm sure that it has the potential to connect with a lot of people. One of the big reasons that I began Under Indiana is to help spread the word. Next time, I'll be talking about the efforts of the Monroe County Historical Society to include more science in their work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Fossil Day

Crinoids at the Indiana State Museum. Photo by Alan Meiss, via flickr.

Today is National Fossil Day in the US, an event organized by the National Park Service "to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational values." A just cause, I'm sure we can all agree. National Fossil Day is part of the larger effort of Earth Science Week, the American Geological Institute's public outreach event held during the second week of October each year.

Being that it's held on a Wednesday, and the closest fossil to me is the Anatotitan figurine decorating my cubicle, I'm not out ripping it up in celebration. I hope that our public schools are taking the opportunity to give their students an appreciation of deep time. In Bloomington, which is my particular corner of the Hoosier state, Wonderlab is hosting a National Fossil Day event this Saturday, October 16 called "Exploring Fossils." From the museum's site:
Celebrate National Fossil Day on Saturday October 16 by attending "Exploring Fossils." The science museum will offer Exploring Fossils, a workshop that combines science and art. Visitors may stop by anytime from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm to polish the plain surface of a 350 million year old stone and reveal the beautiful fossilized remains of a colonial coral. Participants may keep the stone and also receive an information sheet with science background on the stone and its origins.
If you're in the area, and you have kids, take them out. When I went to the Fossil Fest at Falls of the Ohio last month, it was heartening to see families with children wandering out on the Devonian limestone, asking volunteer naturalists about the odd organic forms preserved in the rock. There are plenty of holidays dedicated to pleasant fictions. National Fossil Day is all about the awesomeness of natural history and how all of us are part of the continuum that Darwin famously called "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful." An appreciation of our true place in nature, stepping past pat answers and comforting fantasies, is something we owe ourselves and our children.

UPDATE: Tonight at 7pm, I'm heading to the Monroe County Historical Center, which is hosting a talk about Indiana natural history called "Climate, Crinoids, and Carnivores." I'll be posting about this and the "Trilobites to Terabites" exhibit that opened today at the MCHC. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get Out of Town!

Prophetstown State Park
Prophetstown State Park. From my Flickr photostream.

Exploring the natural treasures of Indiana means more than just hitting the state parks. Though they're less tourist-oriented, state forests often host fine hiking trails. And though they may be smaller than some folks' yards, nature preserves protect stunning bits of what Indiana was before our predecessors began settling, farming, and paving the land.

My go-to source for information on Indiana's natural areas is Eric Thiel's Get Out of Town!, which collects all of Indiana's natural areas, providing first-hand reports of many of them. A clickable Indiana map makes it easy to narrow down your choices by county, and he also offers information broken down by property type (state forest, reservoir, nature preserve, etc.) and what sort of activities the intrepid adventurer is looking to engage in.

His profiles of natural areas are really valuable, and don't mince words. If a place is boring, tailored more for RV traffic than rugged adventure-seekers, he lets you know. Flora and fauna, quirks of local history, parking difficulties - Eric provides pertinent information about all the places he's visited. For many of those he hasn't, other folks have sent in their own reports.

Just as Eric is devoted to sharing those thankfully uncivilized parts of Indiana's landscape, his website is modeled after what the internet was like in the 90's. Devoid of animation, ads, and other flashy hoo-ha of the current web, it's a neat digital reflection of the experience of stepping onto a hiking trail and losing the trappings of modern life for a little while.

Hop on over to Get Out of Town, find some obscure scrap of scruffy Indiana nature to visit, and give Eric a big high-five for doing his thing. And if you head out to one of these spots, send a report to him about what you've seen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Setting Up Shop

Three Lakes Trail
Morgan Monroe State Forest. By yours truly.

Welcome. Under Indiana is very much a work in progress. I've learned a lot over the last year or so of blogging at my dinosaur blog Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. I'd like this site to be a valuable resource for curious Hoosiers of all ages and levels of science knowledge. When I was growing up in Northwest Indiana (a.k.a. "The Region" or "Chicagoland"), I visited natural areas in the state because they were all I had: I couldn't see the Smokies or the Rockies every year, so I went to the dunes. No ocean? Lake Michigan served the purpose. No breathtaking red rock canyonlands? Head down to Turkey Run one weekend.

After I'd grown up a bit, I learned to appreciate my home state on its own terms. I think it's a common experience for lovers of natural history: a deepening appreciation of the world that goes beyond the biggest, the splashiest, the most touristy. From the fossiliferous limestone of the south to the glaciated landscapes of the north, from the humblest crinoid fragment to Arcdotus simus, Hoosiers have plenty of natural history to be proud of, to share with the rest of the world, and to inspire new generations.

I'm in the process of figuring out a posting schedule and topics, as well as compiling and organizing the definitive list of links to help you learn about and explore Indiana's natural areas and its past. Thanks for stopping by, and if you're interested in pitching in, let me know.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Falls of the Ohio Fossil Fest

This weekend, I attended the Fossil Fest at Indiana's Falls of the Ohio state park. It's located in Clarksville, right across the river from Louisville, and has hosted the festival for sixteen years. This was my first. I was quite impressed with the dedication to natural history here; along with the Indiana State Museum, it's one of the only places in Indiana dedicated to interpreting the state's deep past. Volunteers were there in abundance to explain the ecology, the history of exploration of the site, and especially the fossils.

The Outer Bank

This photo shows the park's claim to fame. At this site, the Ohio River has exposed a nice stretch of Devonian limestone dating to about 380 million years ago (with limited exposures of the older Silurian and younger Mississippian). It was a good year to pick as my first visit, I was told: the river is low right now, meaning that the Indiana shore, on the interior of the dam you see in the background of the photo, is easily reachable on foot.

The shore is divided into an inner bank, the Indiana shore proper, and the outer bank, which sits just under the dam. The outer bank is home to the best fossils, and that was the destination of the hike I joined early in the morning. About two dozen folks joined in, all from varying backgrounds and levels of knowledge. The hike was led by volunteers with the park's Naturalist at Heart program who were generous with their knowledge and their time. I also hung out with a party from Kent State University's geology department. It was great to hang back and listen to them discuss what we were seeing, and fun to offer a couple tentative interpretations of some of the features. I was thrilled that I wasn't laughed off the bedrock!

Outer Bed Hike

The hike had a wet start, as we had to ford a small part of the river and make our way across the dam.

Fossil Coral

Once we reached the outer bank, the group separated out as individual fossils demanded our attention or the viewfinders of our cameras. There were so much fossil coral that it was very easy to imagine the floor of the shallow tropical sea where they originally grew, so many ages ago.

Fossil Coral

I just noticed the spider in the photo above, a reminder that fossils aren't just baubles for human enjoyment, but are still part of their living surroundings.

Horn Coral Fossil

The most common fossils in this spot are the horn corals, so named because early American settlers mistook them for fossilized bison horns.

Horn Coral Fossil

Petoskey Stone

Here's a Petoskey stone in its natural, unpolished state.

Fossil Coral

Fossil Bryozoan

Keen eyes could also spot the occasional bryozoan peering out from the limestone.

Stay tuned for more photos from the Fossil Fest and discussion of the event and the natural history of the area all this week.