Department of Geography-Geology at Illinois State University
Department of Geography-Geology at Illinois State University
Jump over the site's masthead's navigation bar.
Jump over the site's left-side navigation bar.

Geography - Geology News


by Jonathan B. Thayn

Figure 1

Arriving at Quarry Bay, Stockton Island, on day 3, the students had no idea what awaited them in the trees. The west cluster of sample locations is inside the forest to the students’ left.

Day 1: Monday, August 11, 2014

As the sun crept over the distant horizon, our team of nine intrepid explorers (Greg Farias, Jacob Huey, Matt Klotzbach, Victor Martin, Justin Ranney, Chad Serafin, Emily Schultz, Courtney Tyler, and Professor Jon Thayn) met at Felmley Hall of Science on the campus of Illinois State University. These adventurous students and their leader have packed their equipment, their knowledge and training, and their enthusiasm for a field expedition to the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in the southwestern corner of Lake Superior. Our purpose is to measure tree canopy defoliation caused by an invasive caterpillar, the European gypsy moth. The moth arrived in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1868; and then several escaped from a naturalist who was trying to breed a hearty silk-producing moth for the United States. It has taken a while, but they have made it to Wisconsin and northern Illinois. The National Science Foundation has funded this expedition, and my research, so that we can try to predict where the moths will go next. Hopefully, we can use that information to stop them or at least slow them down.

The expedition began poorly: the refrigerator at Greunke’s First Street Inn (Bayfield), voted second best breakfast in Wisconsin, had malfunctioned and their stock of delicious fruit pies had spoiled. Fortunately, our crew’s spirits revived when we stopped for gas and parked next to a clearly and boldly labelled “UFO Research Vehicle,” complete with flashing lights and a plethora of antennas. Alan W. Smith, the UFOlogist, gave us his card “in case we saw something out there.” We fervently hoped we would.

Today was Courtney’s birthday.


Day 2: Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Our team arrived at Living Adventures (46°50’57.75” N, 90°47’21.91” W), our outfitters, at 8:30 a.m. Ben and Randy, our guides, introduced us to our equipment: 3 tandem and 3 single sea kayaks, 9 wet suits, 27 dry bags, 9 paddles, 5 tents, and a mountain of food and cooking equipment. We trained and practiced paddling. We also practiced escaping from a capsized boat, which is harder that you might expect since you are upside-down, underwater, and tied into the boat. After lunch, we loaded our kayaks and started paddling toward the Fedora (46°51’36.20” N, 90°46’43.41” W), a shipwreck in shallow water very near the coastline. It can be seen in Google Earth. We then crossed the Western Channel toward Basswood Island, passed behind Honeymooner’s Rock (46°52’21.24” N, 90°43’36.22” W), and stopped at a beach on the southern end of Hermit Island (46°52’46.32” N, 90°41’19.58” W) to stretch our legs and eat a little. We continued southward around Hermit Island and made the passage to our campsite on Presque Isle Bay on Stockton Island (46°55’14.11” N, 90°33’19.87” W). We left the mainland at 1:30 p.m., paddled about 13 miles, and arrived at our base camp at 7:30 p.m. My arms did not hurt, but my legs were stiff and sore until I had walked around a bit. More than one of the students has suggested that I warn future adventurers about the hardship of paddling 13 miles in one go. One even suggested we start an exercise group in advance.

Our base camp is located midway along the tombolo that connects Stockton Island to Presque Isle. This sandy bridge is covered in beautiful wetlands and evergreen forests. Immediately in front of our campsite is a white sandy beach where we stage our kayaks. Throughout the expedition there was a nearly constant slight breeze that blew in from Lake Superior, which was relaxing and helped to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The main course for dinner is fresh white fish. A little rain fell, sprinkles really; but the clouds were thick enough to cover the stars.

Figure 2

The group paddled between Presque Isle Bay and Quarry Bay. Stockton Island, in distance, is relatively flat and covered with dense maple, aspen, and oak forest.


Day 3: Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After oatmeal with dried cranberries for breakfast, we paddled three miles to the beach at Quarry Bay (46°55’16.30” N, 90°36’25.43” W). From there we hiked about three-quarters of a mile to the eight sample sites in the western cluster (46°54’48.54” N, 90°36’59.80” W). Three of the cluster sites that we will sample were established by the National Parks Service and they are monitored annually by NPS personnel. This year, we will collect the data for them. At the first site, we trained the students to collect the necessary data: tree selection using an angle gage, tree diameter at breast height, tree species, visual estimates of defoliation and dead branches, and four measurements with a concave spherical densitometer (which estimates tree canopy density). We then broke into two groups to tackle the remaining sites. This cluster is located in a sheltered bog, so the mosquitos were ferocious, voracious, and plentiful. From this time on, most of the crew chose to wear their wetsuits as a mosquito deterrent. The students got faster with practice, and we sampled the Quarry Bay cluster (46°55’21.98” N, 90°36’30.83” W) in about half the time it took us to sample the western cluster.

When we got back to the beach at Quarry Bay, Ben and Randy had erected a small picnic table with a red and white checkered table cloth. The table was covered with sliced fresh fruit, crackers, trail mix, peanut butter, several jams, chocolate, and other research essentials. We saw many frogs and toads, three bald eagles including a juvenile that was still spotted, four Merganser diving ducks, many red squirrels, and some bear scat.

During the paddle back to base camp, the wind was strong and blowing against us. We were tossed in the waves quite a bit and more than once the waves crashed over the kayaks and soaked our elbows. After dinner some of us hiked around the tombolo to Julian Bay to watch the moon rise over the lake. The sand was soft and fine. We recognized Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Perseus, Pegasus, Andromeda, Draco, and the Big and Little dippers. It was very pretty and relaxing and I think most of us fell asleep for a while.

The sand in Julian Bay is so weathered and fine that the quartz crystals rub together and make a trilling sound when you step on it. They call it the “singing sand.”

Figure 3

Stowing paddling gear and retrieving hiking and sampling gear at Quarry Bay on day 3, the Redbird investigators were ready for action.


Day 4: Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chad, Justin, Greg, and Matt paddled back to Quarry Bay to sample the nine locations of the eastern cluster (46°55’19.63” N, 90°35’23.19” W). Courtney, Emily, Victor, Jacob, and I hiked to Trout Point (46°58’00.15” N, 90°31’55.99” W) to establish six new sample locations. The area around Trout Point was severely defoliated in 2006-2008 during the last population eruption of the gypsy moths. We hope that collecting data here will help us learn about canopy recovery. The trail to Trout Point and back is about 12.5 miles and it is poorly maintained. Most of the park rangers admit that they have not hiked it in several years. There were many times when the trail completely disappeared and we were forced to fan out until one of us stumbled onto it again. There were many fallen trees that blocked the route. We found a yellow-striped snake, lots of berry-filled bear scat (some still moist) and a toad. Also, there were many mosquitos.

Near Trout Point, most of the large, mature aspens and birches were dead. These are the species that the moths’ caterpillars prefer. The young trees were healthy. Also, there were no mature oaks, although there were many saplings. Back at camp, it was Mexican for dinner.


Redbirds assembled back at base camp after collecting data on another part of Stockton Island. From left to right, top row: Justin Ranney and Emily Schultz. Bottom row: Matthew Klotzbach, Greg Farias, Courtney Tyler, Jacob Huey, and Victor Martin. Not pictured: Chad Serafin and Dr. Thayn.

Redbirds assembled back at base camp after collecting data on another part of Stockton Island. From left to right, top row: Justin Ranney and Emily Schultz. Bottom row: Matthew Klotzbach, Greg Farias, Courtney Tyler, Jacob Huey, and Victor Martin. Not pictured: Chad Serafin and Dr. Thayn.

Day 5: Friday, August 15, 2014

Breakfast was granola with yogurt and blueberries that Randy had picked on the island over the last few days. I have never eaten so well on a camping trip in my life.

We could have set up another cluster of sample sites today, but everyone is pretty worn out and we have done more than I expected already. We decided to relax. Chad, Greg, Matt, and I, with our guide Randy, paddled to Julian Bay. Everyone else hiked and met us there. We ate from the red and white checkered table, swam, and hiked along the beach while Ben taught us about the geology and ecology of the wetlands on the tombolo. It was a relaxing day, but I bet everyone could have slept all day.

My legs are sore from the hike to Trout Point, and my shoulders are starting to ache. My feet are covered in cuts and scrapes. It will be nice to shower. This is a beautiful place, the students have been great and we have gotten a lot done. Today we saw geese, more Merganser ducks, another garter snake, a blue heron, and a mouse in the outhouse that stayed to watch. This has been a completely wonderful trip.



Day 6: Saturday, August 16, 2014

The wind was at our backs so the return paddle to the mainland lasted only 3.5 hours. We were back and unpacked in time for lunch. The drive home was long. We bought an auxiliary cable to connect our phones and music players to the van’s stereo. We listened to some Radiolab podcasts and then everyone has a chance to share their favorite songs. There was a lot of singing. When we got back to campus, it was dark and drizzling. Greg had four parking tickets.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Jonathan B. Thayn is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Illinois State with interests in remote sensing and biogeography. He has incorporated the work of several undergraduate students in his research. In 2014 the College of Arts and Sciences cited him for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement Pre-Tenure.


WWS Geologic Images

Photo 1: Barrel on right sank into the mud while barrel on left did not, over the same time period.

By Bill Shilts

Patterned Ground is the term for the distinctive ornamentations of seasonally thawed  soils in areas of permafrost. In the permafrost areas of Canada, west of Hudson Bay,  one to two meter-diameter, circular patterns, or mudboils, form on glacial sediments that contain significant amounts of clay, silt, and sand. As part of a research program to develop methods of doing mineral exploration in remote areas of arctic Canada, a program of mapping and laboratory study began in this region to define physical and chemical properties of the various sediment types that form mudboils and associated patterned ground. Patterned ground occurs on virtually all glacial and postglacial soils in the eastern District of Keewatin (now the southwestern region of Nunavut Territory, Canada). The purpose of these studies was to ascertain relationships between surface patterns and properties of underlying soil (unconsolidated sediment). The conclusions from the study led to the development of a detailed mapping strategy that helped authorities produce the first detailed maps of the surficial materials in the low arctic environment of southwestern Nunavut. The detailed maps served as the basis for a 1:1,000,000-scale map of the main surficial deposits of the western Canadian Shield.

Atterberg Limits are derived from standard engineering laboratory tests that measure a sediment’s propensity to behave as a solid, plastic substance, or a liquid at varying moisture contents. The Plastic Limit is the moisture content, in weight %, at which an uncemented sediment (“soil” in engineering terms) passes from a solid (non-deformable) to a plastic (deformable) state. The Liquid Limit is the moisture content, in weight % water, at which a plastic sediment passes from a plastic to liquid state, that is, the sediment loses its strength and behaves like a liquid. The Plasticity Index is the range of moisture contents, in weight % water, over which a sediment will behave as a plastic substance and represents the difference between the solid and liquid states, between the plastic and liquid limits.

It is apparent that liquid limits for Keewatin “muddy soils” are very low with respect to other arctic or subarctic “muds” and that plasticity indices are low (<4%) or unmeasurable. This means that at very low moisture contents, Keewatin “muds” pass from a solid state possessing concrete-like strength to a liquid state with virtually no strength, either directly, or after passing through a very minor plastic phase. Thus, a very slight increase in moisture content or an increase in pore-water pressure may cause a seemingly solid soil to liquefy or founder, or, conversely, very slight decrease of these stresses may cause an apparently liquid, soft mud to become solid.

An example of the tendency of glacial muds to liquefy easily in this region is this image, photo 1, of two 10-imperial-gallon barrels, one on a stable, lichen-covered mud (glacial till) surface and the other on an active, lichen-free mud surface by Dr. Tony Davidson of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1968. Over seven years, the nearly empty barrel on the bare part of the mudboil sank, despite its light, less-than-ten-pound weight. This is an example of the effect of low liquid limits on till and fine-grained marine sediments that underlie much of the area. The propensity for sediment in the active (seasonally thawed)  layer in this area of deep permafrost to liquefy, even when lightly loaded, has important ramifications for construction, terrain disturbance, human activity in general, or loading by the hooves of the large, migrating caribou herds that are common in this area.

Another, even more graphic and unsettling example of the peculiar properties of soils with low liquid limits and limited plasticity, occurred in 1973, when Aaron Villakazie, a student assistant, was using a pointed steel bar to map the configuration of the permafrost surface beneath subaqueous patterned ground features near the shoreline of an island in Kaminak Lake (a very large lake, perhaps a third of the size of Lake Ontario). His foot became trapped in the mud as he attempted to pull the bar out of the bottom. As he struggled to free himself, his left foot sank farther and farther until he was waist-deep in water that had been a few inches deep at the start of the incident. Several people, flown to the small island in our helicopter, worked more than two hours, without success, to free him. The cause of his predicament was that, as his foot sank in the saturated mud, his weight, transferred to the mud at the sole of his leather boot, increased the pore water pressure in the mud, causing it to pass above its liquid limit (12.4% water by weight), liquefying it. As his foot descended, the mud above his foot, because of the limited plasticity index of the till in this area (<1%) passed back below the plastic limit and set to concrete-like hardness, preventing him from moving his foot. Fortunately, we had our helicopter with us, and I was able to fly out several assistants from my base camp to the island to help dig him out.  Even though we attempted to excavate the material around his leg, it was not possible to keep the excavated mud from flowing back into the depression and setting up solidly again. Despite the efforts of seven men, Aaron sank almost to the frost table and was extricated only after the rigid sediment around his leg was excavated hydraulically using a portable, high-discharge water pump that we flew to the island from my base camp.

WWS Geologic Images

Photo 2: Research assistant Aaron contemplated removal of probe from lake bottom.

WWS Geologic Images

Photo 3: The author, Bill Shilts, had no success trying to pull Aaron from the mud.

Photo 2 is of the site where Aaron became entrapped; it was taken approximately two hours before the final photo in series. The metal probe is protruding from the bare mud (till) patch in which his foot became entrapped. Photo 3 shows me halfheartedly trying to pull Aaron out because I was exhausted from an hour and a half of snorkeling to map the extent of permafrost in offshore sediments.

Shilts 4

Photo 4: Digging was not helping either.

Photo 4 shows Aaron submerged deeply after he had sunk into the liquefying mud after a two-hour struggle to extricate him. Just after this picture was taken, we flew in the high-discharge firefighting pump to hydraulically blast the mud away from his leg, freeing him. This is an example of the types of challenges that faced me and my colleagues when we worked in this relatively little known area in the early 1970s. I certainly don’t face management problems so unforeseen as this in my present position.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill (William Weimer) Shilts is the Founding Executive Director of the Prairie Research Institute, housed on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He included this research tale in his February 2014 presentation in the departmental speaker series.

GeoNews Archive

Geography & Geology from CASNews

O’Reilly, Perry join Million Dollar Club
image of Catherine O'Reilly and Bill Perry

Catherine O’Reilly and Bill Perry

The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs announced two new faculty members have joined Illinois State University’s Million Dollar Club.

Associate Professor of Biology Bill Perry and Associate Professor of Geography-Geology Catherine O’Reilly are now part of the club that honors faculty and staff who have secured at least $1 million in grants for research and other projects.

O’Reilly is currently an associate professor and hydrogeology graduate program coordinator for the Department of Geography-Geology. She remains actively involved with GLEON (Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network) and GLTC (Global Lake Temperature Collaboration), and has been a recipient of several National Science Foundation awards. O’Reilly was a member of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and wrote the section on the climate impacts on freshwater in the 2007 IPCC Report. The IPCC, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize based on the work. She has received over $1 million from Danida (Danish International Development Agency) and also more than $1 million from NASA for research that focuses on climate change.

Perry is an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and committee chair for the Development of the Center for Environmental Analysis. Throughout his time at Illinois State, he has received awards including the College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Initiative Award, University Teaching Initiative Award, University Research Award, and Outstanding College Teacher. Over the past 15 years, Perry’s work has been published in journals such as the Journal of Great Lakes Research and Environment Earth Sciences. Today, he is working on two major projects focusing on ecology and biogeochemistry of agricultural streams and invasive species ecology. Perry’s work has garnered funding and support from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and The Nature Conservancy.

During the past decade, Illinois State University has received nearly $223.25 million in external grant funding. First given in the early 1990s, the Million Dollar Club honor was reinstituted in 2009.

The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs offers a number of services to help faculty and staff members identify and secure external grant funding. That funding, which supports a wide array of research, teaching, and service initiatives, is the result of university-wide efforts by faculty and staff to secure external funding.

To set up an interview, contact Media Relations at (309) 438-5631, or email

David Barsamian to Address ‘Ecocide: The War on Nature’
image of David Barsamian

David Barsamian

Seven departments and schools in the College of Arts and Sciences–the departments of English, History, Geography-Geology, Philosophy, and Sociology & Anthropology, along with the schools of Biological Sciences and Communication and the College of Arts and sciences, will be cosponsors for a talk by author and activist David Barsamian on Thursday evening. His lecture, titled “Ecocide: War on Nature,” will explore the impact of humans on the environment. The event is part of the Illinois State University Fall Speaker Series and is free and open to the public. It will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 29 in the Prairie Room in the Bone Student Center.

Barsamian is the award-winning founder and director of Alternative Radio, the independent weekly audio series based in Boulder, Colorado. Light refreshments and dessert will be served.

CASNews Archive

Calendar of Events

Mon, November 30, 2015 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Felmley Hall of Science Annex (FSA), 133 - Free and open to the public
Douglas Clay Ridgley Invited Lecture
Thu, March 17, 2016 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Bone Student Center (BON), Old Main - Free and open to the public

View all Geography and Geology Events.

List of Events feed Geography and Geology Events Feed


Email Geo

Department of Geography - Geology
Normal, Il 61790-4400
Phone: (309) 438-7649

Site design by Institutional Web Support Services, © 2010. Designer: Jacob DeGeal, Amanda Smith, and Victor Stuber. Information Architecture: Julie Prianos, Alex Skorpinski, and Jonathan Davis. Programming: Binoy Edathiparambil, Manikanta Panati, and Prashant Jain