Stop 2 – University of Oregon

The delayed jet-lag hit hard on my first full day in Eugene, OR, so I rose early and went for a run along the banks of  the mighty Willamette River. It was early, gloomy and overcast, with the south bank being very industrial and slightly Gothem-esque. However, the north bank, which took in the goose-infested Alton Baker Park, was wooded and far more picturesque. The run was an excellent way to continue my recovery from a pre-trip chest infection.

Refreshed, I headed back to my hotel for a hearty and healthy breakfast (the hotel only served farm-to-market produce grown/reared in the local area) and then into UoO with Becky, who had planned a breathless schedule before my 1600 talk. My first date was with Gene Humphreys, a geophysicist with research interests in the broad area of geodynamics and tectonics. Having discussed political high-jinks in our respective home nations, we moved on to talk about Gene’s past and ongoing super-cool research related to plate-scale deformation and magmatism in Oregon and the surrounding states.


Next up was Marli Miller, a member of faculty who is perhaps best described as a structural geologist. Marli has, however, many, many of other talents, being a professional photographer and an author, having relatively recently completed roadside geology books for both Oregon and Washington. I strongly encourage you to visit Marli’s webpage, which features an incredibly extensive library of free-to-download geological photos, ranging from fossils to minerals, and from structural geology to sedimentary rocks. It turned out that, unbeknownst to me, and much to Marl’s surprise, the second slide in my talk featured an image from her website! Thank God I’d included a reference…

Marli then dropped me off with Greg Retallack. Greg specialises in sedimentology and paleobotony, with particular interest and expertise in the recognition and utility of paleosols. We had much fun discussing controversies related to the depositional environment of the Ediacaran fauna, with Greg being a staunch advocate of a model envisaging these famous soft-bodied fauna were in fact lichens rather than critters and that, rather than dwelling in the deep-sea, were in fact deposited and preserved in terrestrial conditions. This is the sort of stuff that gets textbooks rewritten.

Deep-sea depositional environment for the Ediacaran fauna; basically, Greg thinks this is bullshit

Just before lunch I met Josh Roering, a geomorphologists who was very helpful in terms of organising my trip to UoO. Josh and I talked about some of our recent work related to the mapping and utility of ancient landscapes imaged in seismic reflection volumes, as well as some of the controversies related to the extraction of tectonic (or other) signals from river long profiles. We also discussed some of Josh’s work on the controls on erosion and sedimentation rates.

A a lovely thai lunch with Becky, and a quick trip to the UoO shop to buy some swag, and it was time to head back to the department for a couple of short meetings before my talk. I first met with Ben Heath, a PhD student working on magma storage beneath Santorini. It turns out that some of the volcanic and related deformation features observed in and around Santorini may share genetic parallels with features we at IC have studied in seismic reflection data. A rather animated hour flew by, before Ben delivered me to Alan Rempel, an incredibly numerate and thus scary geoscientist, with an interest in applying math (largely his words, not mine) to a range of geological problems.

It was then time for my talk, which was to be on normal fault growth. A large audience and an incredibly protracted and enthusiastic Q&A, which Becky did well to draw to a close, made for a very fun hour. Drinks (mainly IPAs, of course, it’s the Pacific North-West), dinner and great company followed at a dark, woody bar called McMenamins, before I headed home to pack and to prepare for my epic journey to Virginian Tech, Blacksberg, VA.

I’d just like to finish by saying a huge ‘thanks’ to all the folk at University of Oregon who made my visit so awesome. I had a ball. An extra-special thanks goes to Becky, who accepted my invitation to visit, and who organised accommodation, my schedule and some associated logistics. I look forward to catching-up with you all again in the near-future!

Eugene, OR. Nice town. I’ll take it.

This post has no photos, as my phone and laptop have decided they don’t wanna play nice no more. And besides, I wasn’t going to post today anyway, so y’all lucky there’s anything. I’ll be fully back on the GSA blogging horse tomorrow though…

After a night of white wine and company of various colours, today saw a criminally early start in El Paso, Texas for my journey to the Eugene, Oregon. The pre-0500 alarm was lightened by a lift to the airport by Nila, Kate’s indefatigable project administrator and all-round fixer. A smooth ride through El Paso’s pocket-sized airport and a decent layover in DIA (well, as decent as a layover could ever be in DIA’s, seemingly never-ending concourses of beige and shit food) allowed me to catch-up on emails and work, as did the 2.5 hour trans-Rockies flight to Eugene, Oregon. Actually, having chosen a window seat, I was rather hoping to get no work done whatsoever, instead spending my time indulging in some geology-from-the-air. However, heavy cloud cover meant I only got fleeting glimpses of the Rockies, the flat, dusty wilds of Idaho and eastern Oregon. I was however rewarded during the descent into the Willamette Valley. This valley, which houses the major population centres of Oregon such as Eugene, Salem and, of course, Portlandia, is a sea of green and spectacularly located, being pinned between the mighty Cascades to the east and the no-less impressive coastal range to the west. It’s really hard not to like the geographical setting of Eugene.

I was picked-up at Eugene airport by Charlie, the husband of my host Becky Dorsey. On the short drive into town we covered a lot of ground, including the circumstances leading to the occurrence of casinos on Native American land, and the ‘legalisation’ of pot in Oregon. I didn’t know pot was legal in Oregon. In addition to killer scenery, ace booze and lovely food, it seems Oregon has a lot going for it.

After a somewhat chaotic check-in to my swanky hotel, The Excelsior, I headed into downtown Eugene to get my bearings, stretch my legs, and to find an iced coffee. I succeeded, and instantly fell in love with the relaxed and clean air of Eugene. Intending to return to my hotel for a quick catnap before dinner, I stumbled on 16 Tons, a ‘bottle and tap shop’ (i.e. bar-come-off licence) located just up the street from my hotel. Promising 700 bottled and draft beers, it would have been rude and thus incredibly un-British of me not to pop in and sample some of the selection. I sampled hard, mainly the heavy, heavy IPAs, swaying back to the Excelsior to meet Becky and Charlie for dinner, before heading to bed for, I think, a well-deserved early night.

Stop 1 – University of Texas at El Paso

The c. 20 hour journey from London to El Paso via Atlanta was never going to be fun, with copious amounts of IPAs making the 9.5 hour transatlantic portion of the flight a little more than bearable. However, navigating Atlanta airport, which should quite frankly come with a health warning, was less-than-enjoyable, what with its non-existent queuing system, its two immigration desks (for two, simultaneously landing 737s), and its laughably shit terminal transfer train. Having ran through the airport I *just* about made my connection for the 2.5 hour flight down to the Mexican border and the city of El Paso, which was to be the first stop of Leg 2 of my tour.

I was kindly picked up at the airport by my friend Kate Giles, the Lloyd A. Nelson Professor in Geology at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). A short drive across the Franklin Mountains, a relatively recent (<10 Ma) normal fault-driven uplift associated with the Cenozoic Rio Grande rift, a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc, two sleeping tablets, and it was time for bed.

9 hours of sleep later and with not a hint of jet-lag, I woke and went for a short run to clear the mind and wake the legs. Kate and I then headed into UTEP, where I spent the morning chatting to some of the faculty, including Gail Arnold, Marianne Karplus and Libby Anthony. Gail gave me a tour around the Butanese-inspired campus (I shit you not), whilst Marianne and I headed to the coffee shop for me to buy an iced mocha. It was nice to be outside walking in the 30 degree heat, having spent yesterday cramped-up on fiercely air-conditioned planes.

The Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso, backed by a bewilderingly blue sky.

The day was not to be all campus tours and iced coffees, however, as I had been asked to give not one but TWO talks! The first was on intrasalt structure and composition, which I gave to a relatively small group comprising halophiles working with Kate, plus some other folks, students and faculty, who were presumably lured in by the offer of free pizza. The talk was followed by a Q&A and more pizza, before I chatted to a group of MSc students about salt tectonics and the American love of firearms. I then had the luxury of a one hour break before I headed down to one of the main lecture theatres to give my second, GSA-supported talk, which this time was on seismic imaging of igneous geology. The talk went well and was followed by an incredibly lengthy and engaged Q&A, with questions flying in from faculty and students. They eventually showed mercy and let me head back to Kate’s, where she and I and a group of students and faculty had dinner and lots and lots of white wine. It was the perfect end to a stellar start to Leg 2. Next stop? University of Oregon, Eugene, OR. After a solid day of travelling…

Some exquisite igneous intrusions imaged in 3D seismic reflection data from the Canterbury Basin, offshore South Island New Zealand (courtesy of Dr Craig Magee)

Just to recap for those at the back…

I’m on a National Express coach from Bristol to Heathrow Airport. I’ve not been on a National Express coach for >15 years. It’s actually fairly civilised. Maybe because its Easter Sunday and this coach is largely empty.

Anyway, given that you it’s been a few months since Leg 1, and since some folk might be coming to this new, I thought I’d provide a very brief recap of the lecture tour story so far. The embedded links will spin you out to earlier blog posts. Do give them a try.

The official title of the award underpinning the tour is the “Thompson Distinguished Lecturer Award”. The award is made by the Geological Society of America (GSA) and is named in recognition of James Burleigh Thompson, Jr, a metamorphic petrologists and geochemist of considerable stature. He even has a mineral named after him.

How I feel.

Finding out about this award in early-2016 made me (and especially my Mum) very happy. So it should; these things don’t happen often, or at least not to me. The tour logistical planning in the latter half of 2016 was pretty intense, with GSA pretty much leaving me to my own devices in terms of contacting potential host institutions and arranging the overall itinerary. This was fun, but challenging, and after several months of transatlantic emailing I finally managed to put together a schedule that the travel agent deemed vaguely achievable. I then took on the task of preparing four talks to offer to these institutions; variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Leg 2. Spicy, yes?

Leg 1, which took place in early-February 2017, covered c. 18,000 miles and took in Ohio State University, Rutgers, University of Oklahoma, University of Hawaii, and Colorado School of Mines. I had too much fun and learnt a lot. The first stop on Leg 2 is El Paso, Texas down near the Mexico border. That’s long, long way away from just west of London. Blog soon y’all!


GSA James B. Thompson Distinguished Lecture Tour Redux

Wow. Doesn’t time fly? It seems only days ago I returned from Leg 1 of my GSA James B. Thompson Distinguished Lecture Tour and yet, here I am, about to head off on Leg 2! Leg 1 was a whirlwind of super-awesome stuff; five institutions, thousands of kilometres of air travel, and several thousand calories, not to mention some spectacular (and massively unspectacular) runs. I met some lovely people, and saw and did some awesome things. I ate tacos on a Hawaiian beach, just before watching humpbacks from the edge of an extinct volcano. I took some photos. I rode a moped.

Leg 1 therefore set a very, very high bar, thus I have high expectations of Leg 2, which seems me taking in six institutions: (i) UT El Paso; (ii) University of Oregon; (iii) Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (to give it its full name…); (iv) University of Connecticut; (v) Columbia and (vi) University of Arkansas. The schedule looks, quite frankly, ‘challenging’, involving one more institution than Leg 1, and involving some rather ‘zig-zaggy’ flights back-and-forth across the continent. I think I’m good for it and, amazingly, I have factored in some time for some fun and frolics with some of the Geo-Twitterati. But more, much, much more on that later.

Behind the scenes, in preparation for Leg 2, there has been lots of logistical hop-jumping involving lots of people; pick-ups and drop-offs at airports, accommodation, abstract tweaking and sending, etc. Thank God my four talks are already done and in the bag; I don’t think my nerves could handle it if they weren’t. As a reminder, I’ll be talking about normal faults, salt tectonics, application of 3D seismic reflection data to basin analysis, and seismic reflection imaging of igneous geology. But, as I found out during Leg 1, this tour isn’t simply about talking to people about science I find interesting; it’s also about meeting bright, passionate people and discussing their work. It’s about running. It’s about trying to keep on top of a blog that, at times, you resent. It’s largely about eating. Bring. It. On.

The End…

Saturday. The last morning of the 1st leg of my GSA lecture tour, and man, I felt as rough as a roofer’s glove. The IPA, the whisky and the late night contrived to make me feel a little ‘fragile’; there was to be no running up South Table Mountain this morning. However, there was no rest for the wicked, as I’d made plans to meet GSA Executive Director, Vicki McConnell, for breakfast. We headed onto Washington Avenue, the main street through Golden, and settled into Windy Saddle, where strong coffee, water and a breakfast burrito helped settle my wayward stomach. Vicki was very engaging and easy to talk too, and we discussed lots and lots and lots of things, including the professional and social role of professional societies such as GSA, equality and diversity in the geosciences, and the future of the GSA Distinguished Lecturer program. We had a blast; it’s nice to meet people behind an email address.

Vicki headed back north to Boulder, the headquarters of GSA, and feeling a little more stable I went back to my B&B to pack. Before the shuttle arrived, I nipped to a local pharmacy to buy sleeping tablets; I struggle to sleep on planes, and with a 5 year old’s birthday party to attend straight after arriving back in London, I was keen to get at least some rest on the flight back. In my experience, sleeping tablets, washed down with red wine, make an excellent sedative.

So, here I am on the flight back to London. I have thoroughly enjoyed the 1st leg of my tour; I’d go as far as to say it is the best professional experience of my life. I have met old friends and made some new friends, I have learned a lot of new science, and I have been to some truly stunning places. I’ll be eternally grateful for all of this, and I again thank the GSA for making this happen.

For both you and I, the best news might well be that I can now take a break from blogging until the 2nd leg of my tour in mid-April. DING-DING, bring on Round 2…