Posted by Libby Koolik
To kick off our first real day in Port Elizabeth, Sam took us on a really amazing geological adventure! As soon as I read about it in the overflowing booklet of Terrascope events for this trip, my inner Course 12 squee’d with joy. It was so super awesome to get a glimpse of some ground-breaking (literally?) research going on in the geological and geochronological realm of South Africa.
We loaded into the buses bright and early in the morning with the preface that we were going to be faced with a serious South African puzzle. The geologists of NMMU – and the other universities here – have been working super hard to figure out how long ago the sea level dropped to its current state, and we had the opportunity to try our best to figure it out!
The first stop was to a little side-of-the-road spot where we were able to examine this awesome ridge and see if we could figure out what information it gave us. At this point, no one had explicitly told us that we were examining sea level changes, so we had to piece together the clues available to figure out that there were relics of the ocean. We were encouraged to climb through plants and scale the sides of this ridge to view it.
The sides of the ridge were completely covered in fossilized oyster shell-looking things! There were thousands of these bumpy, rocky, awesome fossil-things covering the entire side of the ridge. We were all encouraged to take a little piece home, and I know I can’t wait to put mine up on my shelf!
Sam – in particular – was really encouraged to take some of these home because the scientists of South Africa believe that Sam’s lab has technology and expertise that might be able to actually solve this important geochronological issue! Apparently, Sam has machines in his lab that practically aren’t available for South African scientists, so they need Sam to take them back to America so they can progress forward in their research. So cool to think that a major scientific discovery pivotal in the progress of South African geology is going to be taken back to the familiar Green Building and solved back at MIT!
Our next stop was to this unbelievable rocky cliff that we were encouraged to climb around on and look for particular rocks. No one had to tell me twice! I jumped on the opportunity to climb all around and examine a ton of different rocks. Alongside a bunch of my Terrascopers, I climbed all around the mountainside, looking for rocks that had these small “wormlike” (in the words of the wonderfully knowledgable Jessica Fujimori) cracks. These cracks were evidence that smaller rocks had been forcefully scraped against the larger rocks in a water-based erosion process. This was yet another clue about the water levels and the changing sea levels. Awesome how much rocks can tell us!!! (Ok, I’ll make my inner Course 12 calm down just a little).
With the promise of seeing wild elephants, I made my way back down the cliffside and got back on the bus. I can’t wait to see what kind of conclusions the future of this research project holds!!