Department of Geography-Geology at Illinois State University
Department of Geography-Geology at Illinois State University
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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.

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Geography & Geology from CASNews

Shields Wins Rives Award
Bill Shields

William “Bill” Shields

William “Bill” Shields of the Department of Geography-Geology is the recipient of the Stan and Sandy Rives Excellence in Undergraduate Education Award. He will be honored at the Founders Day Convocation on Feb. 19. The award is given to a member of the Illinois State University community to recognize outstanding teaching or significant contributions to the undergraduate experience, with special attention given to the first-year experience.

Shields has taught GEO 102, Principles of Geology, to as many as 800 first-year students every semester since 2004. For several years, Shields also partnered with University College to support Success 101, a course designed for at-risk students in their first semester at Illinois State.

It is his experience outside the classroom where Shield’s innovation shines. Along with review sessions and study guides, he also created a presence in the virtual space, Second Life. There he conducted review sessions and had real-time discussions with his students at times that suited them, including evenings and weekends. He is the faculty advisor for two registered student organizations and serves as the faculty mentor for three floors in three different residence halls.

Stan Rives earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Illinois State. He was a member of the Illinois State faculty, and served as an administrator from 1958 until 1980. The Stan and Sandy Rives Excellence in Undergraduate Education Award was established in honor of his longtime commitment to an undergraduate program of the highest quality and for his contributions to Illinois State as dean of Undergraduate Instruction.

Outstanding College Researchers Announced
photo of Jed Day, T.Y. Wang, Cynthia Huff

Jed Day, T.Y. Wang, Cynthia Huff

The College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce its 2014-2015 Outstanding College Researchers: Dr. James E. “Jed” Day, Department of Geography-Geology; Dr. Cynthia Huff, Department of English; and Dr. T.Y. Wang, Department of Politics and Government. “On behalf of the College of Arts and Sciences, I am delighted to extend congratulations to these professors,” said Dean Simpson. “They make valuable contributions to the body of knowledge in their respective fields and to Illinois State University.” One recipient is selected from each of the College’s three divisions—the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences/mathematics.

Professor Day is a geologist with expertise in Devonian stratigraphy and paleontology. He and his colleagues have developed the sea level curves for the Devonian and examined how the climate changed during the Devonian, as well as linkages between climate and sea level changes and mass extinctions during the Devonian. Through his work Dr. Day has become one of the foremost experts on the Devonian stratigraphy of the central (Illinois and Iowa) and western (western Canada) North American Basins. He has written five guidebooks detailing the Iowa and Illinois Basins, which have complemented numerous field trips for various organizations. His publications include an edited book, a book chapter, journal articles, and guidebooks. He has served as associate technical editor of Palaio and the Journal of Paleontology.

Professor Cynthia Huff has established a long and distinguished record of excellence in research since joining the faculty at ISU in 1989. She has established an international reputation in the fields of autobiography studies and women’s life writing. Dr. Huff currently has a number of scholarly works in progress. Her book manuscript, Family Fictions, expands on her foundational archival research and analysis of nineteenth-century women’s manuscript diaries and letters to draw broader attention to familial productions of prominent nineteenth-century British families. She was the recipient of a competitive Faculty Research Award in 2010 and was a Fulbright fellow at the prestigious Institute for Historical Research at the University of London from 1981 to 1982.

Professor T.Y. Wang is an exceptional scholar with national and international repute who has made significant contributions to the field of comparative politics, particularly to the study of political stability and democratization in non-Western societies, and empirical research methodology. Dr. Wang is the author of seven authored/edited volumes and more than 35 articles and book chapters. Two of his books, Quantitative Analysis in Political Science and Regression Analysis of Categorical and Limited Dependent Variables (both in Chinese) are widely circulated in China and Taiwan. He is currently one of the co-editors of the Journal of Asian and African Studies and has served as peer reviewer for various academic presses.

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Fri, April 3, 2015 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Felmley Hall of Science Annex (FSA), 133 - Free and open to the public
Domesticating Palestine: Biblical Geography and the American Woman's Home
Fri, April 10, 2015 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Felmley Hall of Science Annex (FSA), 133 - Free and open to the public
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Fri, April 17, 2015 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Felmley Hall of Science Annex (FSA), 133 - Free and open to the public
Oil's Unconventional Future
Mon, April 27, 2015 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM Bone Student Center (BON), Old Main - Free and open to the public

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