Stop 2 – Rutgers, NJ

So we hit Stop 2 of my Geological Society of American (GSA) Distinguished Lecturer Tour. Having sampled the Mid-West, I tried out the East Coast…

I awoke in New Brunswick to glorious blue skies and admittedly still sub-barmy temperatures; still, it was better than yesterday, when it was overcast, dark and, for much of the day, hammering it down with snow. New town, new trails, so I decided to head out for run along the Raritan River, the large waterway bounding the city’s northern flank. The run was a truly yin-and-yang experience. The first half was awful, with the riverside track, which seemed to double as a public toilet and shooting range, being pinned between the incredibly busy Highway 18 and the sluggish, rather soupy looking river. Google Maps truly has a lot to answer for in terms of putting alluring green lines on maps. Having crossed the river across a bridge that patently was not suitable for pedestrian traffic, the second half was lovely, passing through Johnson Park, so-named after the Johnson family, who founded the pharmaceutical firm “Johnson & Johnson”. That’s a lot of Johnsons for one sentence. Passing by the western side of the High Point Solutions Stadium, home of Rutger’s American football team, the trail here formed part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3000(!) mile long linked set of trails running from Florida to Maine. Yesterday, however, the trail was perhaps better-described as a ‘whiteway’, being covered in snow and ice. I made it back to the hotel, the rather grand-looking Heldrich, a nervous wreck

I hate hotel dining, so, post-run, I headed to a hip little café for breakfast. Called, Hidden Grounds, this basement joint was rather hard-to-find, being set down from the street. Hidden Grounds. Get it? In short, it is my conclusion that, if possible, everyone should have a jalapeño grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast, with a side-order of crisps (chips, to our American listeners…). I felt dirty, but I happy in the knowledge that I was slowly driving Andy Emery (@andydoggerbank) to obesity. I tackled some emails, Tweeted, wrote a blog post on New Brunswick/New Jersey/Rutgers, and completed some corrections to a paper I’m writing with Dr Ian A. Kane (@sedlogic).

Losing track of time and having then spent a not inconsiderable amount of time on the phone rebooking my flight down to Oklahoma, I headed back to the hotel, where I failed to get into my room, twice, felt sad, and from where I was eventually picked-up my host and all-round structural geology God, Roy Schlische. I have known Roy, and his co-conspirator, Martha Withjack, for quite a long time, having grown-up reading their papers and then via a couple of short research visits to Rutgers. Together they lead the Structural Geology and Tectonics Group, a merry band of BSc, MSc and PhD researchers undertaking subsurface-based analysis of sedimentary basins. However, they are particularly well known for their expertise in the scaled physical modelling of rift tectonics and the development of normal fault system. In fact, a few years ago, they were nice enough to co-supervise one of my previous PhD students, Paul Whipp, who used their lab to conduct physical modelling of normal fault growth and relay zone development. Two of the nicest and brightest people in geoscience, one day I’ll grow up to be like them.

Physical model of a segmented normal fault system. Field of view is c. 10 cm across. Lovely, isn’t it? See Whipp et al. (in press) for details.

Upon arrival at Rutgers, I was taken to an auditorium that had the benefit of being rather swanky-looking, but which was, in short, not completely finished. Seriously. There were people wearing hardhats hammering stuff to the walls, and wires hanging-out of the front panelling of the auditorium. With a promise that everything would be finished within the next 30 minutes, we headed for caffeine. Recaffeinated, I gave my pre-lunch talk to a fair size audience comprising a full cross-section of the school. My talk was once again on the application of 3D seismic reflection data to sedimentary basin analysis and it seemed to go well (see footnote below), with undergraduate student Sean being a great sport and coming up to the front of the auditorium to try his hand at the ‘Pick This‘ challenge. The talk was followed by pizza (I know, again, right?), with the afternoon passing by in a series of chats with students and faculty. A particular highlight was speaking to Ken Miller, he of the ‘Miller’ sea-level curve. We chatted about sequence stratigraphy, differential compaction, and, of course, sea-level change, largely framed around their past and present NSF- and IODP-supported work on the New Jersey margin. It was heart-stopping stuff. I also got some ‘facetime’ with Greg Mountain, a marine geologist/geophysicist who worked and continuous to work closely with Ken on their relatively recent New Jersey margin research. We had an interesting discussion about P-cable seismic data, and some of the challenges faced by researchers using academically acquired seismic data. All-in-all, it was super-nice to meet famous people who, when you meet them, are not complete arses, and who are prepared to make time in their busy schedules to chat to you. This is one of, if not the best thing about this tour.

The day concluded with a curry with Roy, Martha and members of the Structural Geology and Tectonics Group. South Indian vegetarian curry, @andydoggerbank; yum, yum…

Footnote: During my talk, I show an seismic tomography image from the iMUSH project, illustrating how these data provide a rather low-resolution, but still super-useful, regional view of the likely distribution of melt and crystallised igneous rock (slide 14). I then go on to show how 3D seismic reflection data, which itself it not flawless in terms of spatial resolution and positioning of geology, can compliment these data. A geophysicist took exception to this approach, suggesting I was too critical and dismissive of the value of the tomographic data, setting up a geophysical straw man to beat with my reflection seismology stick. This was never my intention; I only use this example to indicate how we can and should combine datasets and techniques to better understand subsurface geology. For example, in the domain of ‘igneous geology’ seismic reflection data can provide a physical structural framework for complimentary geochemical and petrological studies. Piece out.


Author: Christopher Aiden-Lee Jackson

I am Professor of Basin Analysis @imperialcollege. I ❤️ 🏃🏿, 🚴🏿 and @basinsIC (⛏). I obsess about the tectono-stratigraphic development of sedimentary basins. Why? Because I'm hopeless at everything else.

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