News from the Indiana Geological and Water Survey
November 2022

Core to map: The describing stage

Editor’s note: In the September E-Geo News, we described the process of core being pulled out of the ground near Tell City to collect data for the STATEMAP program. Over the next few months, IGWS staff will explain the various steps required to turn that data into a functional geologic map.

It’s sunny outside, and he’s indoors, but geologist Don Tripp is zipping into a rain jacket with an apron over the top. He plucks a cylinder of rock from a box and lines it up on the steel table, double-checks his earplugs, and pushes “on.” Within seconds, a diamond blade has split the cylinder into two long halves. After a rinse from the saw’s water spray, Tripp can see details on the smooth, newly cut surface. “Look at the cross-bedding on this one!” he calls to two colleagues in the hallway.

In late summer, Tripp, Valerie Beckham-Feller and Isaac Allred were working with drilling company Strata Group to collect core from near Tell City. Their ultimate task is to create a bedrock map of the Jasper quad, which includes this area. Now, those 19 or so boxes of bedrock samples are stacked in the hallways of the Geologic Materials Testing facility (GMT) queued for cutting.

Some already-cut boxes have been lined up under the fluorescent lights of the describing table. There, Tripp, Beckham-Feller and Allred are making meticulous observations, foot by foot, about what they’re seeing on the cut surfaces: color, texture, pits, bedding, seams, etc. They’ll all compare notes every few boxes to see where they agree and where they don’t. At places of uncertainty—and there are several from this particular hole—they will wait for chemical analysis data before deciding how to officially describe that length of core.

Other contributing data will come from the team visiting outcrops—places where rock layers are visible above ground—later this month, and possibly from other sources, like legacy maps done by other researchers decades ago, other state agencies, or paper well log records stored in the IGWS basement.

These core samples from the Tell City area are perplexing because they were gathered from a region where little historical data existed. It’s exciting to be a pioneer, but can be tedious and a little frustrating, too, Tripp admits. He can only spend a couple hours at a time at GMT poring over a puzzling core before he needs to walk back to his office in the main building and ponder something else.

The Jasper team anticipates being in the field-surveying and core-describing stage for at least the next month; actual map-making likely won’t be able to start until spring. “Right now, we’re doing the overall general survey work (finding outcrops in the field) … the major ones, looking at specific contacts … and then after we do our first round, we’ll reassess, refocus,” Beckham-Feller said.

Meanwhile, two other IGWS STATEMAP teams are shuffling their core boxes from trucks, to shelves, to the cutting table, to the describing table, and back to shelves again, all the while creating a trail of raw data that will need to be processed and archived for future geologists to consult generations from now.

Geologists lay out core to study in GMT, on the campus of Indiana University. | Sara Clifford, IGWS

That's pretty neat!

An Indianapolis man reached out to IGWS in late September with two photos of a fossil and two questions: “1. Any idea how old this could be?” and “2. Is it worth anything?” The fossil came from Pike County and has “been in the family for ages,” he wrote.

While the IGWS does not do value assessments, Education and Outreach Coordinator Polly Sturgeon could tell him what it is: “The fossil in your photograph is a Pecopteris, which is a genus of ferns that existed in Indiana during the Pennsylvanian Period (or approximately 300 million years ago),” she wrote. “Unlike another similar-looking plant fossil from that time, Pecopteris is distinguished by a mid-vein that extends up the tip of the leaflets. Pike County has Pennsylvanian-age bedrock exposed at the surface, so they are a common fossil found in that area.”

The second photo he sent (not shown here) was of the two halves of rock neatly fitting together, like an egg split lengthwise. “Your fossil is preserved within a nodule (likely made of the mineral siderite, but hard to tell by photo alone) with a mold-cast impression inside,” Sturgeon said. “… It’s a very well-preserved specimen and a neat piece of geologic history.”

Back to beginnings

“Welcome home,” Bill Elliott told us as we stood outside the Rapp-Owen Granary building on the campus of Historic New Harmony.

More than 160 years ago, this three-story, stone-and-wood barn was the center of the universe for geologic study—not only for Indiana, but also for the nation. Until the Smithsonian Institution was built in Washington, D.C., in 1856, the tiny, riverside hamlet of New Harmony would be home to one of the most preeminent collections of geologic specimens—and to scientists learning and spreading knowledge about geology—in the United States.

On Oct. 21, about 15 members of the Indiana Geological and Water Survey staff took a daylong fieldtrip to the state historic site. The 20,000-acre area along the Wabash River is now managed jointly by the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. IGWS staff—many of us non-geologists working in the information services division or new to employment with the IGWS—listened and learned in the same building where Indiana’s first state geologist, David Dale Owen, constructed a laboratory, assembled teams of experts, and disseminated geologic knowledge to everyday folk in hopes that they might more fully understand the effects of their actions upon the land’s resources, and act accordingly.

For this trip, Elliott, chair of USI’s geology, physics, and environmental science department, was our professor, along with Peggy Fisherkeller of the Indiana State Museum. Claire Eagle, interim assistant director of Historic New Harmony, walked us through the finer points of living in the community.


IGWS staff pose outside the Working Men's Institute on the grounds of Historic New Harmony during an IGWS fieldtrip on Oct. 21. | IGWS photo

Shop our online store

With the onset of open-access publications, the IGWS online store has shifted to gifts and apparel related to collections and outreach programs. Do you have a geology-loving person on your holiday season gift list? You might find something here.

The store has mineral samples and polished stone jewelry for the rockhounds, fossil-themed coffee mugs and puzzles for paleontology fans, and T-shirts showing the ages of Indiana’s bedrock. The most popular items are the stickers—they’re durable, can withstand the dishwasher or daily use on a laptop, and many were created by local artists. Traditional items like posters, reference books, and geology tools like hand lens and rock hammers are also available.


"Indiana Rock Layers" sticker, $4 on the IGWS online store.

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Staff notes

Cameron Strause has joined the IGWS as a collections assistant. He is a 2022 graduate of Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and minors in geography and history. He worked in the Indiana University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as a senior. Since starting work on Oct. 17, he has been helping Archivist and Collections Manager Jenna Lanman and a contractor move 1,000 pallets of core into temporary storage north of Bloomington. He’ll also be involved in sorting and shifting thousands of records from various storage areas into the under-construction Records Center in the IGWS, and in other projects to make IGWS collections more publicly accessible. His office is in GMT, one block north of the IGWS building.

• The IGWS is seeking to hire a geological research specialist (IU job ID: 302727) and a hydrogeologist (IU job ID: 303212). View job descriptions and apply at https://igws.indiana.edu/jobs.

Outreach efforts

• About 100 visitors came by the IGWS on Saturday, Oct. 27, for the IGWS Learning Lab Spooktacular, where children and adults could handle skulls, teeth, and other bones, and get up-close with of some of Indiana’s oddest fossils and minerals. See photos in this gallery.

• Research scientist Tracy Branam was invited to speak at the Heartwood Reunion on Oct. 7 in the Hoosier National Forest in Crawford County. Heartwood supports the protection of forests in the eastern United States. Branam spoke about his springs research and how springs may be impacted by human activity.

• IGWS Director Todd Thompson will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of Professional Geologists of Indiana on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at the Northside Events and Social Club in Indianapolis.

• Thompson led a fieldtrip for an IUPUI sedimentology and stratigraphy class on Oct. 29. The class examined various aspects of Middle Mississippian carbonate sedimentation in quarries and outcrops around Bloomington.

• Research scientist Maria Mastalerz attended the annual meeting of the Eastern Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in Champaign, Illinois, and presented a talk on “Characterization of Pennsylvanian paleosols in Indiana with a special reference to rare earth elements (REE) and lithium.” A paper on this topic was published earlier this year in the Indiana Journal of Earth Sciences (IJES), Vol. 4.

• Mastalerz also participated in an Illinois Basin CORE-CM workshop, delivering a presentation on “Critical minerals in Illinois Basin Pennsylvanian black shales.” An IJES paper on that topic can be read here.

• Research scientist Ginger Davis, along with colleagues from the IU Center for Rural Engagement, presented at the Alliance of Rural Water conference on Oct. 27. Their topic was “IN Uplands Drinking Water: Formative research with water professionals to support reliable, safe, and affordable water.”

• Davis was the keynote speaker at the Lake Monroe Watershed Summit on Oct. 22. Sen. Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) also addressed the group and mentioned the creation of the IGWS Center for Water, a result of SB 278, which Yoder coauthored. "This really takes advantage of the wealth of knowledge that we have in the Indiana Geological and Water Survey at Indiana University, and until now, we really haven't taken advantage of the research or the people there to help us out," she told the group via video.

An IGWS Learning Lab Spooktacular visitor shows off a homemade solar system hat. | Kristen Wilkins, IGWS

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.

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