News from the Indiana Geological and Water Survey
May 2022

Field notes

They don’t wear frock coats and carry magnifying glasses, but geologists often play the part of investigators. “You’re a detective, and you’re trying to figure out—it’s not really a crime scene, but you’re trying to figure out what happened historically,” says Todd Thompson, state geologist and director of the Indiana Geological and Water Survey.

At a 188-acre, mostly wooded site between Clinton and West Terre Haute, three IGWS geologists have been working for about a year to understand the glacial history of Atherton Island—land that is now a peninsula or upland, but used to be surrounded by glacial meltwater. It is currently bordered on the west by the Wabash River and on the north and east by an unusual north-flowing stream, Big Raccoon Creek.

Why the creek reversed itself to flow north is an interesting question in itself, and several Indiana geologists have constructed theories to explain it—among them, IGWS alumnus William “Bill” Wayne in the 1960s.

But that’s not the question that IGWS geologists Henry Loope and Jose Luis Antinao and volunteer affiliate Peter Jacobs are currently studying. They’re investigating what the land and soils would have looked like around the time that the most recent glacier was pushing into and retreating from this area. The Lake Michigan Lobe of the Wisconsin glacier occupied the western edge of what is today Atherton Island about 24,000 years ago, which makes it all the more interesting of a place to study.

Clues normally lie underground, but, thanks to outcrops along the creek and in the adjacent gullies, several layers of silt, clay, and loess (windblown silt and clay), are naturally exposed here. “It’s a very unique place. You don’t find that many places where you have these types of sediments, that material was not eroded,” Loope said about the loess between the glacially deposited layers.

IGWS geologists have been collecting organic material for radiocarbon dating to try to determine how old the layers of sediment are. Wood fragments they’ve found “are very likely fragments of spruce trees that were overrun by the glacier,” Loope said.

“That’s one. The other thing is, there are gastropods (snails) that were living on the forest floor when it was a spruce forest. They’re also preserved, and so you can actually radiocarbon-date a gastropod shell.” Loope has worked with a colleague from Illinois who can identify gastropod species from their fossils, “and then you can understand that this was maybe a little more wet or a little more dry … but you can even go further by analyzing the isotopes in those shells and get a sense of, what was the temperature and precipitation like?

“… We know it’s going to be colder, because there’s a glacier sitting right there, but there are some species that are super unique that are really cold-tolerant … and when they find those, you know it was really cold,” Loope said. Today, those gastropod species live near Hudson Bay between Canada and Greenland.

Unlike some other projects the IGWS takes on, there isn’t a specific resource here to be mapped and studied, like water or energy. Atherton Island is under the protection of the Ouabache Land Conservancy, which plans to open the Atherton Island Natural Area to the public sometime this year. What this project is about is understanding the state’s physical history, which helps geologists refine their mapping.

It’s also just cool to imagine what you could have seen there during the last Ice Age. “It was right here, or just over this hill, and if you stopped here, you could have looked at the glacier,” Loope said.

Join us for Geology Weekend

Looking at photos of the first floor of the IGWS building from two years ago and now, you’d never know they were taken at the same place. Gone are the ’60s industrial green walls and fluorescent lighting over rows of dusty filing cabinets. In their place is a bright, airy, flexible classroom/museum space where curious students of all ages can discover geologic treasures that were, for so long, largely inaccessible to the public.

On Friday, June 3, from 1 to 5 p.m., the IGWS will open five floors of its building to show off the $10 million renovation completed last summer. In addition to the Learning Lab on the first floor (see the “before” and “after” of that space above), the administration suite on the first floor and the labs on the third and fourth floors also underwent major overhauls, and the building received new windows, bathrooms, HVAC systems, and lighting.

From 4 to 6 p.m. the same day, teachers are especially invited to check out the Learning Lab after school. Six years in the making, the Learning Lab was able to be built in conjunction with the other renovation plans. New cabinets and shelves contain thousands of fossil, rock, and mineral specimens; building stones like limestone, marble, and granite; and cave stalactites and stalagmites collected before such activity became illegal.

“We’ve never had an area for teaching, and we’ve never had a space for the Education Collection to be viewed publicly,” said Polly Sturgeon, IGWS education and outreach coordinator.

The collection was pulled together over the past several years from disparate outbuildings, closets, offices, labs, and the basement. A partial mammoth or mastodon tusk, left on a bookshelf when a geologist retired, now occupies a place of prominence in the Learning Lab. Everything has been organized and cataloged, making it more useful, and Sturgeon believes, more valuable now that items are displayed in a proper way. “Now that we know what we have, we can finally use them. … Once you give it value, people will treat it inherently better,” she said.

June is Limestone Month in Monroe County, so Geology Weekend activities will continue on Saturday, June 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The IGWS will host a free Limestone Month Festival in the new, grassy Northwest Quad behind the building. This all-ages event will include activities like limestone carving, a photo booth, fossil and rock inspecting, and lessons and games provided by area museums. Food trucks and vendors will also be present.

See the flyer below for more information on Geology Weekend events or visit our website here.

Look for more Limestone Month activities to be announced on Visit Bloomington’s website.

New equipment deployed

IGWS researchers have a new suite of tools to help them explore drill holes from multiple study angles.

Four Mount Sopris downhole probe sondes arrived in April. Deployed deep underground, the instruments measure and chart gamma rays (natural radiation), resistivity, temperature and conductivity of fluid in the hole, and spontaneous potential (which can yield data on water salinity and clay content). A Nano Gamma sonde also was purchased to use in smaller-diameter holes made with a Geoprobe or PowerProbe.

Research geologist Don Tripp and Collections Technician Garrett Marietta deployed the sondes in the Bedford quad in mid-April. (See photo below.) The IGWS had an older gamma sonde, but not the other tools. Being able to use the full suite aids geologists when they’re describing the cores they collected, as different types of consolidated and unconsolidated material contain varying levels of radiation.

For researchers studying water, the sondes can log data about the saline content of aquifers and the infill in wells. Another probe which the IGWS would like to get measures neutron density—the porosity of the rock.

“The Nano Gamma I’m particularly excited for,” Marietta said, “because you can run it down cased Geoprobe holes through the steel casing, which will be very nice because we tend to Geoprobe in unconsolidated material, and once you pull out of it, you have a likelihood of it caving in. Now, we can pull a gamma from it before it caves.”

Biomass research expands overseas

Could grass clippings be turned into fuel?

That’s a question being explored at the Centre for Biomass Energy Research and Education (CBERE), a research center at the University of Silesia in Poland which has ties to Indiana University through IGWS research scientists Maria Mastalerz and Agnieszka Drobniak.

The center secured a project contract in Poland last month to research converting grass into renewable pellet fuel. The City of Jaworzno will be collaborating with scientists from CBERE to find a possible use for the excess of mowed grass that literally floods the city in summer. “Pawel Silbert, the mayor of the city, makes no secret that the success of this project would be a real breakthrough in waste management,” the CBERE reported on its Facebook page.

Mastalerz and Drobniak are two of the six members of the CBERE team. The other four are scientists based at the University of Silesia in Katowice, where the center is headquartered.

In recent months, members of the team have published research into the quality of pellet fuels available on the market and the type of emissions they generate during their combustion and gasification. The researchers have analyzed hundreds of types of charcoal and wood pellet fuels collected from nine different countries. Microscopic study revealed the presence of several types of contaminants including plastic, tire rubber, paint, glues, and resins, which may have been inadvertently or purposely added. “Because the properties of raw fuels affect the characteristics of emissions, and therefore human health and our environment, the assessment of solid biomass fuels should be of critical importance,” CBERE’s website reads.

Staff notes

• Research geologist Sarah Burgess’s last day at the IGWS was April 22. She’s accepted a job with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and will be based in the Pacific Northwest.

• IGWS Collections Technician Garrett Marietta started a new job at IGWS, as the Quaternary Stratigraphy and Geochronology Lab Technician, on May 2. Marietta graduated from IU in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in earth science and a concentration in economic geology, and is now working on a master’s degree in geology, focusing on the geochronology and geomorphology of the late Wisconsin Glacial landscape of northern Indiana. In his new role, he’ll primarily be working in the stratigraphy and geochronology labs doing quaternary core description, OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dating, and PSA (particle size analysis).

• The IGWS is looking to hire a full stack web developer. The application deadline is May 13. See the job posting here.

Outreach efforts

• Director Todd Thompson, Education and Outreach Coordinator Polly Sturgeon, and research geologists Isaac Allred and Sarah Burgess attended the Geological Society of America combined north-central and southeast section meeting in Cincinnati April 7. Thompson gave a presentation on his recent paper with Erin Argyilan (IU Northwest), “Shifting morphology and hazard mapping of the Mount Baldy Dune, Indiana Dunes National Park.” It can be read here.

• News from the IGWS made the front pages of three Indiana newspapers in April and another in May. A feature about 100-year-old volunteer affiliate Henry Gray was the centerpiece of the April 1 Herald-Times (Bloomington), and a story about IGWS geologists discovering a new fault line appeared on the front pages of the April 9 Rochester Sentinel and April 12 Tribune (Jackson County), and the front page of the Herald-Times on May 2. Both stories also were distributed to IU staff via the IU Bloomington Today newsletter and were made available to Indiana media outlets for free through the HSPAInfoNet wire service.

Matt Johnson, assistant director for information services, gave a presentation with Katie Chapman from Research Technologies at the Indiana University Statewide IT conference in Bloomington on April 12. The topic was “GIS at IU: Mapping Indiana from above and below.”

• Thompson and IGWS research geologist Victoria Leffel attended the May 5 Participating Agency Meeting for the Mid-States Corridor to discuss the draft environmental impact statement of the highway project. The proposed route would link I-69 at the southern edge of Greene County with State Road 62 at the northern edge of Spencer County.

• Friends of Lake Monroe and the League of Women Voters will host three community forums in May and June to present the newly published Lake Monroe Watershed Management Plan and explain how residents and visitors can help protect and enhance water quality in the lake and its tributaries. Maggie Sullivan, Lake Monroe Watershed coordinator, is a volunteer affiliate with the IGWS. View forum dates (in Bloomington, Nashville, and virtually) and register at this link.

A feature story about 68-year IGWS employee and volunteer Henry Gray, written by IGWS Editor Sara Clifford, was the front-page centerpiece of the April 1 Herald-Times.

Contact us

The Indiana Geological and Water Survey, a longstanding institute of Indiana University, conducts research; surveys the state; collects and preserves geologic specimens and data; and disseminates information to contribute to the mitigation of geologic hazards and the wise stewardship of the energy, mineral, and water resources of Indiana.

• To join the E-Geo News mailing list, please click here.

• To ask a question of IGWS staff or suggest an E-Geo News topic, email scliffo@iu.edu.