Exploring the beach: A gateway to science

Tyler profile picBy Tyler Barnes, MLML Geological Oceanography Lab

To say that I was not intrigued by science as a teenager would be an enormous understatement. I despised science. I often attribute uninspired teaching and an inadequate education system for this reaction, but in reality I was just a moody teenager preoccupied by other interests (for the record, I have enormous respect for the teachers and administrators that have influenced my education). My disregard for science at the time is somewhat surprising. My earliest memories included being unwillingly dragged away from the beach after hours of exploration, or learning to cast a fishing rod just right so as not to snag a tree branch. These experiences morphed into forecasting swells with my dad before surfing and competing in local junior lifeguard competitions. So why was I so uninterested in science?

Clearly, I have had a slight change of heart since then, largely due to my search for a major as an undergrad. In high school, science felt like an exercise in memorizing facts to pass a test. In college, I started making connections. I learned about how the tectonic history of continental margins influences ocean swells (and thus, my preferred surf breaks). I discovered the connection between watershed practices and water quality. Science became a system-based approach to explain natural phenomena that I cared about deeply, rather than a memorization drill.

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Tyler setting up the terrestrial laser scanner to map the beach and dunes near MLML.

Fast-forward a few years and I find myself part of the geological oceanography lab at MLML. So what do I do here? Basically, the same thing I did as a toddler—I explore the beach. To get technical, I assess small-scale beach variability using ground-based LiDAR. In 2009 the US Geological Survey completed a California-wide coastal change project, finding the highest long-term erosion rates in Monterey Bay, about -0.6 m/y over about 120 y (Hapke et al., 2009). This conclusion presents numerous local challenges as beaches and adjacent dunes function as the sole barriers between land and sea. In response to this finding, a terrestrial laser scanner, commonly known as ground-based LiDAR, is employed to create high-resolution 3-D maps. Change in terms of beach volume, mean seal-level contour, foredune position, etc. is assessed by surveying the same beach over time. My thesis research, as well as other research within our lab, strives to understand coastal change in Monterey Bay. This work is supported by various organizations through grants and scholarships, including the California State University Council on Ocean Affairs, Science, and Technology and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

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Moss Landing beach and dunes before (top) and after (bottom) a series of storms this winter.

I still have days when I despise science. I am a grad student after all. But those days are dwarfed by awe I experience when talking about the processes behind mountain building or the feeling of uncovering trends in my data for the first time. I do not think I will ever get tired of exploring the beach.

 

References

Hapke, C.J., Reid, D., Richmond, B, 2009. Rates and Trends of Coastal Change in California and the Regional Behavior of the Beach and Cliff System. Journal of Coastal Research, Vol. 25, No. 3 pp. 603-615.

Good Vibrations: Constructing a Vibracore for Extreme Sediment Coring

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

A lot of people make bucket lists, such as the "before I turn 30" list or the classic "before I kick the bucket" list.  My personal bucket list, what I call the "self-sufficiency" list, comprises of learning various essential skills in order to be more reliant on myself in everyday life.  Last semester, those of us taking MS 202 Marine Instrumentation (deemed the "Fab Four" because there are four of us taking the class) with Dr. Kenneth Coale learned such essential skills for our futures in marine science that will allow us to think critically if we need to construct something or if faced with a mechanical problem.

Kristin Walowich practices oxyacetylene welding. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
Kristin Walowich practices oxyacetylene welding. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Kenneth's classic Coale-ism, "if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing," is the theme of this class.  That means the Fab Four do a lot of planning, trying out the product, and making small tweaks for the best outcome possible, which teaches us to think critically about our designs.

Microspears made by the fabrication class for Dr. Scott Hamilton of the Ichthyology Lab. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
Microspears made by the fabrication class for Dr. Scott Hamilton of the Ichthyology Lab. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Our latest fabrication project comes from Dr. Ivano Aiello and the Geological Oceanography lab.

The problem: Ivano and his team need a contraption that will allow them to core up to 15 feet deep into sediment.  They would like to better understand sedimentation that has occurred over time in locations such as Elkhorn Slough and Pescadero Point.

The solution: a Vibracore. This machine will create vibrations to decrease friction between sediments and the core and will force the core into the ground.  It is designed for the purpose of obtaining deep cores, so it is a perfect tool for Ivano's current project.

The parts: 1) a Vibracore head with a modification to attach to the core, and 2) a tripod to hold the core in place as coring occurs and to remove the core once coring ceases.

Our major contribution to the project was the 3 meter tall tripod using scraps from previous projects and local scrap yards.  The tripod consisted of three 2-inch pipe legs, one of which had spokes welded onto it for climbing, and a top plate that would hold come-alongs to retrieve the core from the ground.

Stephen Loiacono uses a portable grinder to shape the top plate of the tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
Stephen Loiacono uses a portable grinder to shape the top plate of the tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
Paul Clerkin uses a MIG welder to attach pieces to the top of our tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake
Paul Clerkin uses a MIG welder to attach pieces to the top of our tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Once the parts were completed, we took to the field for a trial!

Our first attempt at putting together the tripod after we fabricated each piece. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
Dr. Kenneth Coale feeling triumphant after our first attempt at putting together the tripod once we fabricated each piece. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

We trekked out to Psecadero Point to obtain two cores for Christina Volpi, a graduate student in the Physical Oceanography lab, who needed to collect samples for her thesis work.  As the Vibracore head hummed, the core was shot into the ground and the sediment was contained.

A student and Dr. Ivano Aiello use the vibracore head to force the core into the ground. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
A student and Dr. Ivano Aiello use the Vibracore head to force the core into the ground. Photo by: Catherine Drake.
Christina Volpi and Mark Helfenberger use come alongs to pull the core from the muddy ground at Pescadero Point. Photo by: Vera Lawson.
Christina Volpi and Mark Helfenberger use come- alongs to pull the core from the muddy ground at Pescadero Point. Photo by: Vera Lawson.

The cores were retrieved and were taken back to the lab for sectioning.  Soon, they will be analyzed and the data will be incorporated into Christina's Volpi's thesis.

One of the cores from Pescadero Point after it has been sliced and sectioned for analysis. Photo by: Christina Volpi.
One of the cores from Pescadero Point after it has been sliced and sectioned for analysis. Photo by: Christina Volpi.

With the opportunity to take MS 202 Marine Instrumentation, combined with the ingenuity of Dr. Kenneth Coale, the Fab Four obtained skills necessary for being self sufficient in a marine setting (not to mention a resounding checkmark for my bucket list).  We sharpened knives, ground rust off of tools, assembled microspears, used both a lathe and a mill, welded metal objects together, and built a Vibracore for extreme coring capabilities.  It was a productive semester, and there was certainly a rewarding feeling in getting to watch the fruits of our labor work successfully when in the field.

Kenji: Cruising with an ROV

By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

First year students at Moss Landing Marine Labs are encouraged to seize every opportunity to get involved in research.  That is just what Kenji Soto is doing (December 7th-23rd) as a volunteer on the Research Vessel Atlantis.  He is helping Sam Hulme (MLML) and Geoff Wheat (MBARI adjunct researcher) with a project titled: Collaborative Research: Discovery, sampling, and quantification of flows from cool yet massive ridge-flank hydrothermal springs on Dorado Outcrop, eastern Pacific Ocean.  And the really cool part? Kenji is blogging as he goes!  Follow (HERE!) his progress, his discoveries, his photos and videos, and the delicious food he is enjoying while a member of the research team on RV Atlantis.

Kenji reports: " The [project] purpose is to map the Dorado Outcrop at the 1 meter scale using an AUV, look for warm (5-30 degrees C) hydrothermal springs, test the flow rate at the springs, analyze water extracted from the sediment for microbial communities, and analyze the pore water coming directly from the springs for chemical anomalies...Another part of the project is to visit the CORK (Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit), which are pressure data loggers that have been placed in silos under the seafloor.  These data loggers store information about seismic activity.  I believe that the hope is that these CORKs will be a "first-line-of-defense" warning system for earthquakes.  One of the main reasons for the trip is that the PI's believe that the hydrothermal vent springs here could have a significant effect on the ocean's heat budget.  Even though they are a low temperature spring, they believe that the springs are like a "fire-hose" and could flow at a rate on the order of 1000s of liters/second."

Atlantis' track www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=8231
Atlantis' track www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=8231

His favorite parts of the cruise so far? "My favorite part is learning to build all of the sampling gear, standing watch in the ROV van because I get to see what goes into piloting an ROV and seeing the ocean at 3000 meters...I also enjoy seeing the full process of how the samples we are taking are processed.  I've gotten to [do] some of it, up to the chemical analysis stuff...[I'm] not doing the collecting, which is done by the ROV.  But I get to do the middle part of the mud and pore water collecting process. "

Extra cool stuff? "There are 2 teachers on-board who are doing a blog too.  Since their main duties are updating the blog, they are doing a great job...people should definitely check it out: http://www.darkenergybiosphere.org/dorado/"

Kenji Soto
Kenji Soto

Things to remember for your next cruise? "You should never bring homework on a cruise.  You want as much free time as possible so you can complete your ship duties as well as having some time carved out for just relaxing and having fun."

Happy travels, Kenji!  We hope to hear more from you when you get back!

Pinnacles National Monument

By Gabriela Navas, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

Who would have thought an extinct volcano can be so very multifaceted and interesting? Not me.

Our Geological Oceanography Class at MLML went to the Pinnacles National Monument the other day, driving up this windy road off of Soledad, California, we see this:

Our professor Ivano Aiello asks the question I very much dread, especially when I have absolutely NO CLUE what the answer could be:

” How do you think these peaks formed that you see in the distance?”

Well, let’s get a bit closer… shall we?

What you see here is actually part of the tube that used to lead into the Magma chamber. The volcano is extinct…no more Magma here, but how did it form?

The usual suspects – a fault line, some major earthquake action, you know the Spiel, Bam volcano. Now, the amazing part is that half of the volcano is actually in Southern California as part of the Neenach Volcanics complex, the other up here in Central California. Due to the position of Pinnacles on a fault line it has been transported all the way up north over the period of 30 million years.

Pinnacles features great hiking opportunities, and if you bring a Geologist friend, an amazingly educational hike at that.

Here you see the original side of the volcano. Smoother than the first formations I showed you:

Here’s Ivano explaining one rock formation type at Pinnacles: The Volcanic Breccia, composed of lava flow cementing multiple types of intrusive rocks that originated from the volcano when it was still active.

Make sure to bring plenty of water on your hike. The heat can be quite overwhelming. We found huge relief from the heat in caves that were definitely not caves as you may have experienced before. These caves were formed by piled-up boulders that went through some major events from earthquakes to subsequent lava flowing over them, cooling, and some more earthquakes, and an occasional landslide as well, oh sure, floods, too.

Bring your flashlight!

This was a treat!

Learning About the Central Coast Through Geological Oceanography

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

Other than a few awesome, albeit too short, trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I hadn’t spent much time in the Central Coast.  So when I moved up here for graduate school at MLML, I didn’t know much about the area; that is, until my MS 141 class.  Geological Oceanography—taught by Dr. Ivano Aiello—involves learning about the formation of minerals and rocks, as well as geological mechanisms such as plate tectonics.  We’ve taken field trips almost every week to various locations along the Central Coast and inland as well.  One of my favorite field trips was our overnight trip to Point Reyes, where we stayed in an old lifeboat station while we observed different types of rock formations.

The lifeboat station was built in 1927 at Chimeny Rock in Point Reyes.

We examined multiple sedimentary rocks both along our journey to the station and also once we had arrived.  One of the depositions we inspected was an outcrop of radiolarian cherts.  These deposits sit underneath about half of the Marin Headlands, are resistant to weathering, and can be up to 200 million years old.  They are comprised of radiolarians, which are protozoans that form siliceous (made of silica) skeletons.  As these organisms decompose, a radiolarian ooze is formed in the deep ocean; over time, deposition occurs along the seafloor, forming the well-bedded radiolarian cherts.

Radiolarian cherts are formed from years of deposition of radiolarian siliceous skeletons on the seafloor.

Igneous rocks were also on our list of stops, as we went to a formation of pillow basalts.  They are formed underwater as lava comes in contact with seawater and cools rapidly.  Basalts are generally aphanitic rocks, meaning that they cool down too quickly for any minerals to form as the magma cools.  As they are created, pillow basalts form ellipsoidal shapes and depict the direction of the lava flow.

Behind the class are pillow basalts, which are igneous rocks formed underwater as lava comes in contact with seawater and rapidly cools down.

It was so surreal to touch igneous and sedimentary structures that formed hundreds of millions of years ago.  Examining these rocks helped me better understand the geological mechanisms involved in their formation.  Not only did these sedimentary depositions and igneous rocks help me become more acquainted with the Central Coast, but they also demonstrated the fact that oceans are integral components to the geologic history of our planet.

Licking rocks?

Arch at Panther Beach made of sandstone.

During the MS 141 Geologic Oceanography field trip on monday October the 10th, I learned something new about a place I have been visiting for years.  Panther Beach is about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz and a diverse, dynamic beach to visit.  With a huge sandstone arch and places to boulder and rock climb it has much to offer and changes with the seasons as the sand is removed during winter and deposited back during summer.  Little did I know, but a rock outcrop I had walked by for years was composed of mud and many, many diatoms, tiny algae phytoplankton which are made of silica and leave behind their skeleton when they pass away.  If you were to lick a fresh portion of this rock it seems like the rock is sticky, this is because of the many tubes of the diatom skeletons creating suction on your tongue!!!  The study of rocks definitely rocks!

Mudstone made of diatoms and of course mud.

300 million year old rock made of organism skeletons!

Radiolarian chert in San Francisco overview

The MS 141 Geological Oceanography class traveled to the Marin headlands to visit many rocky outcrops.  The folded rock near rodeo beach San Francisco was most impressive.  This rock was around 300 million years old.  Composed of layer upon layer of radiolarian skeletons, tiny creatures with mineral bodies that get left behind, the outcrop has layers that span millions of years that have since been down-lifted, compressed and uplifted.  This is some rock that rocks!

Professor Ivano Aiello speaking about the radiolarian chert and how the outcrop was formed around 300 million years ago.

Drop-In to MLML Open House: Get Your Hands Dirty

Head to the Geological Oceanography Lab to get dirty with science!

The Geological Oceanography lab rocks, literally.  The rhodolith pictured here is made from calcium carbonate much similar to the bone in our bodies.  This alga makes beautiful sand beaches we all enjoy.  To learn more about beach formation and the different organisms and rocks that make up the sand beneath your toes, stop by the Geology lab at Moss Landing’s Open House.

http://openhouse.mlml.calstate.edu

Drop-In to MLML Open House: Like Sand Through Your Fingers

photo: E. Loury

Open House is a great chance to take a hands-on approach to science. Geological Oceanography Lab student Briar Kitaguchi shows visitors how wind can sort sand grains by size by moving them different distances.  Ocean waves and currents can do the same thing, allowing geologists to interpret the history of sediment movement by looking at the size of the grains.

photo: E. Loury

MLML Open House is Saturday, April 30 & Sunday, May 1.

The Great Glauchonite Hunt

Jeremiah Brower
Jeremiah Brower

by Jeremiah Brower, Geological Oceanography Lab

Over the last couple of years I’ve learned that certain grants have been difficult to get because some people don’t consider Marine Geologists (or Geologic Oceanographers…the terms are interchangeable, one just seems to roll off the tongue better) as “actual” geologists because they don’t consider us to be “field scientists.” While there is a certain amount of truth in that, due to advances in software technology (much of our work involves computers and mapping programs), we still need to go outside to collect the data in the first place!  Even the oceanographers who focus on the creation of habitat maps need to spend years surveying in the field before they can sit down in front of a computer and decide how best to play with the numbers.

Up close with glauchonite - that's fish poop you're looking at!
A microscope view of glauchonite - that's fish poop you're looking at!

Case in point – early one Saturday I was out on the beach, hunting not for shells like so many tourists, but little green rocks.   Another student from Moss Landing needed to find iron-rich rocks to see how iron affects the growth rates of various species of kelp.  I offered to help him out and so I grabbed my rock hammer, hand lense, field notebook and we meet up at a beach just south of Santa Cruz. It was early in the day but we still needed to weave our way through a plethora of tourists to find a good exposed cliff-face. We were on a hunt for Glauchonite, a green, rounded rock that is formed in shallow marine sediments by the compaction of iron ore and…..well…….fish poop! (Or ‘fecal pellets’ as they are very scientifically called.) Small samples of Glauchonite can be found all over the Purisima formation I wrote about earlier, and they are rich in iron, so would provide a good test for the kelp experiment.

Traveling down the beach and climbing up cliffs, I guided my kelp-loving friend through thousands of years of history until we found a promising exposure of rock. Hacking away at it may have drawn some questionable looks from the beach-patrol, but humans are agents of erosion anyway, so we were just doing our part!  We found some good samples of the green rock and took a moment to enjoy the day before heading out. I think it was a smart move to pick a profession that would let me spend most of my life on a beach, and Saturday’s “rock hunt” was a perfect example of why I love the science. Marine Geology IS Geology……now if we could just get that grant we could buy a new cappuccino machine!

Sand man signing out.