Saturday, April 13, 2013

AW #56: Photos From a Geologist's Perspective

This is a tough one, but important.
What makes a landscape beautiful, or a rock beautiful or a fossil beautiful, is more than just its superficial attractiveness. These things also have geological information. In documenting them, the geologist's task is like that of the portrait photographer: to show the beauty in the true.
Why tough? I got my first SLR camera in the early 1980's, after I'd already started on my geology degree. So, basically, I've been taking photos from a geological perspective from the outset of really trying to do serious photography (as opposed to random snapshots of friends). Thus it's difficult to contrast what's different in my perspective; it's the only one I know.

What I can say is this: I definitely think about the esthetic aspect when I'm framing a shot. I'm not really sure exactly what it is I think about, but I often try several different frames and zooms to get a shot that I like. The advent of DSLR's has made that much easier: with film, each shot was a bit less than a dollar taking into account film and developing costs, so a roll of 36 slides was not a cheap proposition. These days, I can fire merrily away, then pick the one or few shots I like. But I definitely want the photos to look appealing.

I tend to focus mostly on outdoor photos, at the scale of a cobble or boulder, to outcrop, to landscape scale. My photos of hand samples tend to be uninteresting, to me, at least.

But it's the comment "These things also have geological information," that resonates with me. There are two broad "topics" that I tend to focus on: things I know and understand, and want to share, and things I don't know or understand, and want to look at more carefully, or perhaps ask others what they think. Time is a huge limit on field trips, but not such a limit in looking carefully at photographs. As an example of the former, here's a recent one from "Islands of Seals:"
Now the fun thing about that one was that it was in that post I came up with a plausible explanation for a photo I'd taken moments earlier of a feature I thought, at the time, I understood, Elephant Rock:
I, like Silver Fox, am definitely thinking about what features are visible in the viewfinder before I press the shutter button. And one nice thing about digital photo technology is that it's easy to mark up and highlight the features I was looking at when I shot the image, as In the Neighborhood of the Splort:
And of course "The Splort" itself is likely my favorite photo I've taken on my new camera. I certainly did not understand WTF I was looking at with this one at the time, mostly because I was focused mainly on what had gone where, rather than looking at and thinking carefully about the faults that accommodated those motions. What I "saw" was a plug intruding down into the surrounding rock, and that just didn't make sense. So, get a picture of it.
A couple of other nice options with digital photography are the options to easily create panoramas, such the not-quite normal normal faults...
(this version has also been annotated) ...and animated gifs: Heeere's Water!
Snow Melt
My feeling about gifs is that they offer an ability to photographically illustrate another dimension beyond the two of traditional photography. Rotating the view can offer a visceral sense of the depth in a view, or as here, the third dimension illustrated is change through time.

So in the end, I think what influences my perspective as a photographer of geology is an imperative to communicate the nature of the planet we live on. The esthetic, emotional aspects are important to me, too, but I guess even if a shot is gorgeous, if it's not telling a story, or part of a story, it's not one I'll be likely to take.

Geo 365: April 13, Day 103: PNW Palms in the Breakers

Out toward the open end of Devil's Churn, so-called "sea palms" have evolved to thrive in one of  the most violent environments on earth: the breaker zone of the PNW's rocky coasts. Below the sea palms, against the right edge of the photo, a knobby cluster of mussels blends in well against the basaltic breccia bedrock.  Toward the bottom, barnacles and encrusting algae are other organisms that can cope with this rugged, battered habitat. As hostile as it looks from our perspective, there are many factors that make this an appealing spot for critters that can handle it: highly oxygenated water, high nutrient levels from upwelling, and a relative paucity of predators. Starfish are the main carnivorous predator, sea urchins the main browser. This zone is a bit too high- too often above the tide level- for either to be able to get to the area.

Photo unmodified. September 21, 2010. FlashEarth Location.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Geo 365: April 12, Day 102: Dana Peers Over the Edge

Looking west, out toward the ocean, from the end of Devil's Churn. It looks as if Dana is trying to get a decent shot of the sea cave that's directly below where I'm standing- I need to ask her if she got one. She also provides the best sense of scale of any of these photos. You can see that the rugged basalt offers decent footing, and there's a good, wide platform to walk the length of the chasm. One *can* walk out to the north end as well, and I have done so as a stupid undergrad, but I wouldn't recommend it. That side is steeper, less rocky, and more vegetation-covered. And as you can also see in this photo, a mistake could end in disaster. The water is unusually calm at this moment; it's more often violently swelling, shallowing and turbulent. It's also very cold. Due to upwelling during the summer months, it's actually colder then than during the winter season.

The long and short of it is that I really enjoy Devil's Churn; the geology is complex enough to be interesting, simple enough to figure out pretty easily, safe enough to be enjoyable, and dangerous enough to give the visitor that extra bit of thrill. I suppose you could call this Goldilocks geology: It's *just* right.

Photo unmodified. September 21, 2010. FlashEarth Location.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Geo 365: April 11, Day 101: Churning Away

Looking toward the end of Devil's Churn, you can't really see the sea cave eroded out of the mountainside due to the way the shadow is falling. The photo I posted January 3rd shows the fault that created the weaker zone along which this feature was carved, and was pointed more or less toward where I'm standing for this shot. The current configuration funnels the waves' energy tighter as they pass through the churn. We were here at low tide, but at high tide, with rough seas, this can be a spectacular (and very frightening- at those times, I just stay on the stairway) spot. The sea cave gets almost explosive as the waves crash into it, and the grinding of the cobbles and gravel on its floor sounds like a subway, or some angry beast growling, down in the bowels of the earth.

Photo unmodified. September 21, 2010. FlashEarth Location.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Geo 365: April 10, Day 100: Basalt Breccia, Dike, and Turmoil

Looking across Devil's Churn to the opposite side, the exposure is pretty representative of this area: basalt breccia cut by numerous dikes. I'm guessing here, but the dike above is probably 12-16 inches across. The footing is pretty good in this area, with the sharply fragmented basalt, but green spots, where the spray supports algae, can get slick. And you do NOT want to fall in. On the plus side, I've never heard of such an instance.

Brightness slightly decreased, contrast substantially increased. September 21, 2010. FlashEarth Location.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Geo 365: April 9, Day 99: Cape Perpetua Visitor's Center

As we crossed the head which has the Devil's churn on its northern side, I shot this looking back to the southwest toward the visitor's center. It's a nice little facility, with all kinds of artifacts, including rocks from the nearby area. They also have some binoculars and telescopes to watch the ocean- the views from there are great, and at the right time of year- now to early May is peak spring season- you can see the whales migrating. There is a pedestrian tunnel under Route 101 near that building, connecting to a fine network of trails along this stretch of coast.

You can see the basalt bedrock at the top of the beach, and here, as at many, many locations along our coast, the elevated terrace/dune deposits atop the bedrock. In this case, the fact that the sediment is consistently sand-sized, and that cross bedding can be seen in some exposed surfaces, suggests that these deposits are stabilized dunes.

Photo unmodified. September 21, 2010. FlashEarth Location.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Geo 365: April 8, Day 98: Mini Churn

At Cape Perpetua, the coastal morphology is dominated by the erosion-resistant Yachats (pronounced "yah-hots") Basalt, leading to precipitous cliffs. A series of faults striking roughly perpendicular to the coastline has created fissures or crevasses back into these cliffs. It turns out I've only posted one photo from this area so far in this series, and that was from Devils Churn, on January 3. Above you can see an analgous, but much, much smaller version of the same basic landform.

Photo unmodified. September 21, 2010. FlashEarth Location. (It may be one of the other fissures in this general area.)

I dumped a full cup of coffee on my table, the floor, and my pants leg yesterday, and apparently the power supply cord for my new laptop was also a victim. I'm back on my old laptop, and even this short post, which would normally have taken me five to ten minutes, has already eaten up better than half an hour. It's extremely frustrating and irritating. With internet interactions, there is almost as much time spent in lock-up as functioning. A number of common letters, such as s, e,d, r, and l, are spotty about actually printing, so I'm constantly backing up to put them back in. I'm not even going to attempt to assemble the Sunday Funnies on this machine. I'll keep plugging on this series, but I expect it will tend toward shorter posts. Apologies in advance.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Geo 365: April 7, Day 97: Islands of Seals (With Apologies to the Go-Go's)

A final view to the south at Seal Rock State Park. The head on the middle horizon is Cape Perpetua, and while I've posted a few photos from there in this series- I'll have to review to see which ones- I'm thinking I'll post some more in the coming week. The rock there is Yachats Basalt, which is from a different source and age than both the CRB here, and the Siletz River Volcanics that form the basement of the Coast Range.

I have realized, as I get older, that some of my most creative moments come when I'm not really awake- either dozing off, struggling to stay awake when I've over-extended myself, and most especially first thing in the morning, when I'm struggling to reassemble my shattered consciousness after a good night's sleep.

Yesterday as I woke up, I was pondering the possibility of a sheath of steam around the margins of the intrusion keeping the upper portion of Elephant Rock better insulated, thus creating the down-to-up cooling gradient. I said "creative," not necessarily "sensible." Though nothing about that feature is sensible, that guess just seems like a stretch to me.

But this morning, the phrase "ball-and-pillow," which I tossed out yesterday to somewhat acerbically compare this to a secondary sedimentary structure, was zinging around my head, smashing the carefully arranged glassware in my mind. Wait... what if it wasn't tabular? (I realized I've never defined that term- it means relatively large in two dimensions, and small in the other. So sheet or tablet-like.) In other words, neither a dike nor a sill. What if, like true ball-and-pillow structures, its overall shape was more like a horizontally-oriented cylinder?
Okay, it's crude and schematic, but in terms of plausibility, I'm happier with this than anything else I've come up with. I'm certainly not going to argue this is "correct," but it makes sense. And that's something of a relief.

This is one of the unexpected pleasures of this series: it forces me to look anew at things I've seen countless times before, and think about trying to make sense of things I've never really considered. The columns at Elephant Rock, for example, are a feature I've pointed out to others many times, but until two days ago, had never really thought about in terms of their perplexing orientation. And this was in fact the very first "geologic spot" in Oregon I visited, about a month into Spring Term of 1980.

Another one of my non-standard geologic principles is that of Geologic Time: "It took millions to billions of years to create some outcrops. Don't expect to be able to figure them out in a few minutes." Indeed, sometimes it can take decades to even recognize there's a problem that needs solved.

Photo unmodified. March 8, 2012. FlashEarth Location.

Oh, and in case you didn't get the obtuse joke in the title, here's the relevant video, and the cue, "misheard lyrics."