Join #sciwrite and get that manuscript done.

Anne Jefferson over at Highly Allochthonous has organized a writing challenge. The idea is just to state your goals for manuscript writing either on your own blog or in the comments on the above link. Every Sunday you post a new update sharing what you’ve accomplished in the past week to move your manuscript/project forward.

Anne’s idea:

Here’s the plan. Use the comments below to tell me what you want to accomplish in the next 5 weeks. Each Sunday evening, I’ll stick up a post summarizing what I’ve accomplished during the past week, and what I need to get done in the next week order to reach my goal. You can do the same in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, please!) During the week, we can use whatever means we please, such as reviving Brian Roman’s old #sciwrite tag on Twitter, to keep in touch, provide encoruagement, and brag about our progress. By December 4th, we will have reached our goals and we can go out for a virtual or real celebratory drink. Maybe I’ll even come up with some sort of prize or badge to reward participation.

My goal is to have my manuscript from my undergrad research at UC Santa Cruz ready to submit by the AGU Fall Meeting (Dec. 4th). I’ll be presenting a poster on the research there so I really need to get everything done before then.

This week I performed and reviewed grain analysis on thin sections to expand/solidify our data.

So head over to Highly Allochthonous and join the #SciWrite team!


An Effective LaTeX Template

EDIT: There was an error with the lineno package call in this template, it has been fixed.

I wrote a guest post for HackCollege about why students (or anyone, profs, ect.) should switch to using LaTeX to write documents. I’d like to include in this post my go-to template for almost every document I write (including my undergrad thesis). It’s adapted from a template my undergrad thesis adviser, Christie Rowe, used, with a couple extra bells and whistles. It’s primarily set up for writing science papers, but will work great for any research paper. It’s set up to use bibtex citations. Click this link to download the template.

Install it wherever your LaTeX software requires. For TeXworks, install it to the specified user directory when you first opened TeXworks.

Now that I’m thinking about LaTeX, the hardest, most frustrating part for me was getting tables to work nicely. It’s a pain in the ass, especially if you’re trying it for the first time. Coming soon in a future article: LaTeX tables primer.

If you get stuck and aren’t sure what code you need, I highly recommend the LaTeX wikibook. Especially the chapter on bibilography management.

Teaching geoscience to religious students

The blog En Tequila es Verdad posted an interesting article about teaching geoscience religious students. Ron Schott noted that taking a slow approach, introducing the scientific method, evidence, and how science is made, encourages them to critically think about the evidence and engage in the class. It’s a great article, go check it out.

This article reminded me of a time in the 4th grade. Our class was learning about dinosaurs. I was talking with a friend about how dinosaurs were millions of years old. He replied with “but the Earth is only 6,000 years old.” I can’t remember exactly what my response was, but I do remember giving him a quizzical look. Being in elementary school, we weren’t given a proof of how we know the age of the Earth. I accepted it on faith that the teacher was telling the truth, and probably on the fact that dinosaurs and rocks are really old and really COOL (thanks, Dad and ,uhh, probably Bill Nye, too). Hmm, now that I think about it, I wonder how much this plays into my rejecting religion from an early age? Eh, that thread is a quite off topic for this blog. How then can we give young kids the lines of evidence when teaching geoscience, or science for that matter?

What evidence can we present to show how we know rocks are really old? Show pictures of zircons? Well, then you’re talking about radioactive decay and isotopes, way too advanced for elementary school. Maybe show a sedimentary rock and talk about how it formed into it’s present form? Any elementary teachers out there with experiences/insight they’d like to share?

The Iron Ore of Bell Island, Conception Bay, Newfoundland

Figure 1: Fossil Hunting on Bell Island, Conception Bay, Newfoundland.
The most memorable stop (for me) on a recent McGill grad student trip that took us around the whole of Newfoundland was Bell Island, in Conception Bay. The discovery of iron ore in the late 1800s led to the an industry boom on the island that lasted until 1966 (Bell Island Mining History). We were fortunate enough to tour the Number 2 Mine (now a museum) and learn about the island’s history and geology. The thing that stuck with me the most was that the story of Bell Island’s mining history was one of pride and more or less, a happy story. This seemed unusual as most stories about mines in the news seem to usually involve accidents, death, or oppression of the mine workers. Our tour guide’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather all worked in the mine. Her tour was filled with pride and a conveyed the bravery of the miners.
Figure 2: Photo courtesy of
The iron ore is found in a gently dipping Ordovician (Bhattacharrya and Kakimoto, 1982) sedimentary bed in the Wabana Fm. This bed was mined out floor to ceiling leaving 40% in the form of large support columns. This ore was mined across the island, following the bed down-dip until the miners hit the cliffs on the north side of the island. Then the miners did something remarkable. They mined vertically down, and then out and, following the bed beneath the bay for miles. Now that the mine was submarine, the ratio of ore mined to support columns was changed to 40% mined, 60% support.
Figure 3: Iron ore daylighting in the cliffs on the coast. Debris on the right of the photo is shales that were used to close up the mine shafts after the mine was decommissioned. 
Figure 4: Iron ore bed daylighting.
Being geologists, we were all asking questions about the nature of the ore. Hand lens examination showed that the ore was made of iron-oxide ooids. This presented an interesting conundrum of imagining the paleoenvironment with conditions allowing the precipitation of iron around siliciclastic sand grains.
Figure 5: “Oolitic Hematite” ore from the Number 2 Mine. Card has chemical analysis.  Iron 51.26% , Silica 11.46%, Phosphorus  0.88%, Sulphur 0.04%, Lime 3.13%, Alumma 4.93%, Manganese Oxide 0.17%, Magnesia 0.61%, Titanic Acid 0.37%, Carbon Dioxide 2.13%, Combinded water 2.52
We were all curious about how iron ore of this nature could form (especially on this scale). The papers we had on hand offered little explanation for the formation conditions. To add to the riddle I found a piece of ore down by the cliffs containing a shell fossil (Figure 6). Could this creature have been precipitating CaCO3 in an environment that was actively precipitating hematite? 
Figure 6: Oolitic Hematite with fossilized shell
There is little consensus about the formation of ironstone ooids. Explanations include crystalization-precipitation, a process not unlike modern day calcitic oods, and subaqueous diagenisis of Al-Si hydroxygel precipitates from detrital clay-Fe hydoxide colloid coagulates (Bhattacharrya and Kakimoto, 1982).
Bhattacharyya and Kakimoto [1982] conducted an SEM study of the fabric of ironstone ooids and concluded that the ooids formed from a dissolution and re-precipitation connected with mechanical accretion of suspended particles around a nucleus grain. Replacement of CaCO3 has also been proposed. Nothing I found was very conclusive.
Figure 6: Inside the mine.

The mine closed in 1966 when it could not economically compete with other iron mines whose ore was easier to process. The population of the island quickly shrunk from ~12,000 to less than 4,000 (Bell Island Mining History). The residents that remain on the island are some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. For instance, we were camping on someone’s property and they drove up late at night. We thought they were going to kick us off. Instead they warned us to move one of our tents off of an ATV track, and then offered us wood. Bell Island has an amazing history, geology, and people. Our tour guide said that a little piece of Bell Island stays with everyone. She’s right. I can’t wait for the next time I can visit Bell Island.

Figure 7: Looking out over Conception Bay from our camp site.

“Bell Island Mining History.” Virtual Museum of Canada. Virtual Museum, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2011. <;.

Bhattacharyya, Deba P., and Paula K. Kakimoto. “Origin of Ferriferous Ooids: an SEM study of ironstone ooids and bauxite pisoids.” Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. 52.3 (1982): 0849-0857. Print.

McGill Redpath Museum

Figure 1: Dinosaur

My parents recently flew out to Montreal from California for their anniversary and to visit me. I was tasked with filling their days here with adventure and well, things to do. One afternoon they came and visited me on campus. My adviser and office mates had suggested I take them to McGill’s Redpath Museum. I was quite surprised by the quality and scope of the exhibits there.

Figure 2: The old interior

The Redpath Museum was completed in 1882, making it the oldest museum building in Montreal. The museum originally housed the collection the Canadian natural scientist Sir William Dawson. The original intention was for the collections to be used by professors and students at McGill University. The museum’s mission has since been broadened and is now a natural history museum open to the public.

The mineral collection housed at the museum is fantastic. It consists of over 20,000 specimens. The collection has been built up over the years with samples from around the globe. In addition to this display there is a collection of minerals and rocks of Quebec.There is also a wide collection of mammals and reptile skeletons and stuffed specimens. The centerpiece is the dinosaur skeleton. You won’t be able to miss it as it dominates the museum.

Natural history not your thing? Redpath Museum has an extensive Egypt exhibit including three human mummies. The Egyptian exhibit definitely gets a lot of attention. There is a sarcophagus, and also a display detailing nondestructive and unobtrusive techniques of studying mummies.

Next time you’re visiting Montreal, or the McGill area stop by the Redpath Museum. It’s free (donations are welcomed) and has a world class display of natural history. Students, did I mention it was a great place to take your parents?