The Roar of the Bay

The Roar of the Bay
The Roar of the Bay

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fossil Track Expidition in Southern NB [Part 1]

A while back I had posted [here] that I had partaken in a field trip in Southern New Brunswick. Me and my buddy Craig had planned to go on a trip to Parrsboro (Friday, September 9th 2011). That morning I had received an email from my friend Matt about going on a field trip in the Cape Enrage area to investigate the cliffs over there. If we decided to go, I would have the chance to meet Dr. Randall Miller, the current curator of the New Brunswick Museum. We agreed to modify our plans and contacted Matt. After picking up Matt and some morning grub, we proceeded South towards Fundy.

Our destination was a beach in the Cape Enrage area. To get there we had to drive down a short dirt road off the main road, not too far from the Cape Enrage Interpretation Center. I'm not gonna give the exact location as the site itself has yet to be checked thoroughly, and the old man that lives close by on this dirt road isn't too fond of strangers from what I'm told. Driving up to the beach we saw Dr. Miller's car already parked. We stepped out of the car, got some basic gear with us and proceeded down the beach to meet up with him.

Craig inspecting the cliff up close

This location has some of the most beautiful sandstone formations I've yet seen so far in this area. The sandstone color and grain doesn't match the type you'd see at Cape Enrage. These cliffs are Carboniferous in age. There's a fault not far West of our location. Rather than the typical grayish, granular, and coarse sandstone of Cape Enrage (Boss Point Group), you get these red, fine to very fine sandstone. Walking South-East along the beach the sandstone eventually changes to the familiar, quartz-like sandstone. The cliffs from what I can understand, are part of the Mabou Group: the Maringouin formation (reddish sandstone, similar to Johnson's Mills in Dorchester Cape), and Shepody formation (the greyish, coarser grain). If you'd continue further East, the sandstone would get coarser and take a greyer tint, and some pink, with quartzite). You'd run into the Enrage formation, and then Carboniferous Boss Point Group formations, at the tip of Cape Enrage.

This information can also not be that accurate. The geological survey of the province, especially in these parts, wasn't probably done to the expected degree. It could be that the formations don't necessarily reside in those exact demarcations as we speak. The age of some of the rocks could possibly vary from previous assessments, but I'm no professional geologist so I couldn't tell ya!

Matt (left) and Dr. Miller (right) observing sandstone featuring ripple marks

The purpose of this trip is to see if we could locate ichnofossils, fossil trackways left by animals a long time ago. In Nova Scotia, trackways are found in many areas. In New Brunswick, its a different story. At best, the province has recorded less then a dozen trackways in a period of 150 years. If there were more, they just weren't reported, or identified as trackways to the untrained eye. The chance to find trackways to add to the short list would be a great addition, and knowing that I would have contributed in their find would be icing on the cake.

It didn't take long before we came upon our first set of tracks. The sandstone slab had broken apart from a bigger layer at a height of at least 15 meters, slid down the cliff and rested belly up, exposing multiple trackways and other features.

Two sets of tracks, split at the bottom (coin, also for proportion)

The sandstone slab, if I remember, measured about 4 meters (12 feet) in width, and approximately 5 feet in length. The slab also has a convex shape (bulging outward). The right side, viewing if if you're pointing North, shows several trackways, running somewhat perpendicular from each other, crossing path at the South end. Other tracks show up as less detailed the further you look left (westward). Reaching the top of the bulge, tool marks appear, running across the slab at a vertical angle. The tool marks were probably made by material, such as tree branches, dragging at the bottom of the channel. The surface that shows the tracks are also peppered with tiny water droplet features.

The figure above shows animals walking along a body of water, leaving tracks in the sand or mud. The plane then dips down to reveal the direction of the current, dragging material which scrapped the bottom along the way. The picture that I can conjure is an animal or several animals (manus/pes of different scale, direction) is of activity. Probably the best place to find animal activity is near a body of water, like the one we found. This was pretty cool indeed to catch animal movement in a setting, enjoying a stroll by the water.

Example of a tetrapod and its movement

These weren't the only trackways we were destined to find that day. The next find came up not too far from that first sandstone slab. on the cliff face were sets of very well elevated tetrapod tracks. From what Matt told me, they were part of a big set that basically crumbled away. The surface also shows weathering patterns caused possibly by water action (ie. rain).

Later that day we came up to some broken pieces of sandstone that had rolled down the cliff. The others noticed a piece of sandstone a few couple feet in diameter at an angle, displaying some linear feature. Upon closer inspection, this zigzag of a line was what seemed to be a tail drag!

Matt inspecting the newly found trackway

This trackway measuring almost 4 feet across, snaked the surface of the sandstone block. The tracks themselves weren't obvious from the get go, but the tail drag was a clear indication that this was made by a small animal a few inches long. The track displays the animal changing direction at one point. The chance to have found such a trackway was extremely exciting.

We cleaned the rubble around it and inspected other sandstone fragments in the close vicinity for other tracks. After a few minutes we made a mental note of where this track was located and proceeded further East in search of more.

Strata coming together

Water channel

At this point in our walk we noticed the sedimentary rock change color. Cape Enrage is located a few kilometers East, and this type of sandstone is what you'd find over there. We had walked into a different formation. We decided to turn around and head back.

Walking back we looked around for sandstone bearing similar surface features as the last trackway we had found that afternoon. We had found tracks of various sizes easily detectable to the eye from a distance. While we did find some nice trackways, we were also keeping an eye out for trackways that we would usually have passed over if not for inspecting up close the sandstone littering the beach.

This is the result of paying attention to minor details. Dr. Miller and Matt had come across a block where the surface showed small, very faint lines running parallel to each other. Hermit crabs, to my knowledge, don't leave trackways of this type. At this stage nobody in our group could positively identify these diminutive tracks. They agreed that the best thing they could do, given the size of the block, is to try to extract it from the beach.

Extracting trackways or fossils, important such as these ones, are legal only if you have a permit to do so by the Province of New Brunswick. Luck today, we had Dr. Miller who is the sole authority in the province when it comes to these issuing these permits. Legalities aside, we endeavored to skim off the excess matrix from the sandstone block to make it easier to carry.

Inspecting the favorable spots to chisel

Chiseling away the excess 'fat'

On our walk back we stopped at the last trackway we came across to take detailed pictures. Given the size of the chunk of sandstone the trackway was laying on, extraction would at this point seem quasi-impossible.

Geologists are part human, part spider monkey

After taking notes of the finds today, came the dilemma of what to do with these. We all talked about how these tracks would be nice additions to the scientific community. The more we discussed it, the more we came to the realization that we had to try to extract these bigger trackways off the beach for research and record. Dr. Miller wouldn't be available as he had to leave for Norway on conferences. I suggested to Matt that we could come in two days and try to extract at least one set of trackway, and create a plaster cast of the other. We all agreed that this was very important and that me and Matt would come back on Sunday for a little bit of field work. With the papers to make our job easier, we agreed to come back and try to remove these suckers, in the name of science of course. =)

That's it for Part 1 of this excursion. That day was the preliminary expedition to search and find worthy specimens and we were in great luck. Now the tough job was to try and extract if possible, or at least cast them if extraction deemed to troublesome. I mentioned to Matt that this was an amazing opportunity to be able to partake in professional field work. The other thing is that I would also be schooled on the basics of field work and sedimentology, both subjects I wanted to learn more. We agreed on time and location for Sunday and make the necessary preparations.

The rest in Part 2!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Amethyst Cove (Blomidon, Nova Scotia)

This past Summer I talked to people about collecting local minerals to add to my collection, and several people mentionned Amethyst Cove.

Amethyst Cove is a section of Blomidon Provincial Park, near Canning, Nova Scotia. This location is quite difficult to get at as the options to get there are slim. You can access Amethyst Cove either by boat (preferably from Parrsboro at high tide), by walking around Cape Split or from White Water (which could take half a day or more, making it quite fucking impossible), or by repelling down a cliff 300 to 400 feet high, by shaky ropes.

I talked to Matt about going to Amethyst Cove someday and didn't think that I would have made it this year. Matt offered to take me there. He was very familiar with the area as he has gone there several time. We picked September 24th to go down.

I left Moncton at around 6:30AM and made my way to Halifax to pick up Matt and his buddy Chris. From there we proceeded to drive North towards Wolfville on the 101.

(1) Blue Beach (Avonport/Hansport)
(2) Amethyst Cove (Blomidon Provincial Park, Canning)

First stop on our journey was Blue Beach, located between Hansport and Avonport (indicated by '1' on the map above). Blue Beach is one of the top locations that I wanted to visit in Nova Scotia. Blue Beach's rich fossil deposits is one of the best areas to visit. Later in the afternoon we would then drive up to Blomidon Provincial Park (indicated by '2' on the map above).

Blue Beach is beautiful. The trip itself to reach this location is worth it in itself. The beach, Horton Bluff, is easily accessible. Before you head down the beach, its a good idea to visit the Blue Beach Museum. We didn't have time as we wanted to maximize on our stay and head out for Amethyst Cove. That will be a plan for next Summer.

The cliffs are incredible to look at. The fossil record indicates that Horton Bluff is around the Carboniferous Period. Walking around the beach you come up to pieces of sandstone containing fish scales, plants, animal burrows, tracks, bore holes made my worms, teeth, and bones. Pretty anything you look at contains something. The evidence that this area was teeming with life is undeniable.

Tide going down

Tree stumps (round cavities in sandstone)

Bones in sandstone slab

Matt (center, tiny speck in the background)

Watching falling debris hit the water

Parrsboro in the background, across the bay

After about an hour inspecting Horton Bluff, we got in the car and headed towards Amethyst Cove.

One thing I didn't really factor in is, it was raining. We got all our gear together and started up the trail. We had to follow a trail that went uphill for a few hundred meters. As my legs were burning by the time we made it up the hill in the forest, we reached the cables.

Oh dear...

My heart sank when I saw the setup. I developed a fear of heights on the spot. The ground was wet and slippery, the cables were wet, and I dreaded the climb down. My friends reassured me that the climb down would be worthwhile so that gave me a bit of courage to make it down.

I am not ashamed to say that I was scared, and I was scared like nothing else I ever did in my life. I know that hundreds of people made their way up and down these cables, but my brain didn't want to register that fact. It took me a while to finally make it down the beach. I'd leave the worrying of getting back up after when it would be time to go back up.

This is an amazing place. There are minerals everywhere you look at. I've been wanting to come here to check for agate and natrolite, among other things. The basalt cliffs are extremely high. You can spot the different veins of minerals along the rock face. We found all sorts of minerals, including some that Matt couldn't identify at that time. The beach was littered with all sorts of worn minerals.

I didn't bring a whole lot with me as I had realized when I was walking down the beach that I would be carrying all that extra weight with me up that cliff. We went up the cables and my body was aching like there was no tomorrow. All those years behind a desk didn't the situation. Matt and Chris were very kind to help me and my gear up. I apologized for the predicament that I had put them to but they reassured me that it was alright.

By the time we made it up the ropes, the Sun had set and it was almost pitch dark. Even though we could make out the trail due to the Moon, they had taken out their flashlights. After a few minutes we made it to the car, where I kissed it for reassurance that I was still alive. We put our gear in the car and drove in the fog to Wolfwille so we could grab a bite to eat at a place called Joe's. We ate, watching university football on the tele. If I recall, Acadia University (located in this town) was beating St Francis Xavier University to a pulp.

By the time I dropped my buddies in Halifax, it was 11:30PM. The fog was very thick, and the road tricky to drive. On our way to Halifax from Wolfville we saw an accident, a reminder to be extremely careful in this type of weather. Departing from Halifax, the drive wasn't as bad as I thought it could be. The nervousness of driving in the fog kept me very alert. The fog had lifted at a few places along the way but held for most of my trip, even as I reached Moncton by 2 o'clock in the morning.

This was a fun and rewarding trip. I always wanted to visit the area and can't believe we did it during this type of weather. Next trip to Amethyst Cove could very well be in the safety of a boat, instead of hanging like a limp noodle on dangling ropes down a cliff, but that will be for another day.

In the meantime, cheers!

P.S. Matt, I don't hate you after this. I need better gloves and no more gut! =P

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cap Maringouin (Dorchester Cape, New Brunswick)

There is a location South of Dorchester Cape that I hadn't got the chance to check. Everytime I drove by that road in the Johnson Mills area I would notice outcrops and sandstone cliffs through gaps in the brush. My friend Matt had found some tracks and had mentionned the location in a paper he co-authored. I read and did some research on the area. The cliffs that I wanted to go check are part of the Mabou Group and the Cumberland Group, a transition between Upper and Lower Carboniferous formations, which some stretch beyond Shepody Bay all the way to Hopewell Cape (ei. Hopewell Cape Formation).

The section that I would be looking at would be Grande Anse formation (Cga), from the Cumberland Group (Upper Carboniferous). South of the formation you can also find the Shepody-Beckwith Fault, seperating the Grande Anse formation and the Ward Point Member of the Boss Point formation (Cbpwp), both of the same group.

South towards Johnson's Mills

Typical sandstone and mudstone found in these cliffs

You can access the beach by going down by the small bridge in the sharp turn. I parked my car at a rarely used dirt road and proceeded carefully down the path.

I only had a couple hours before the tide would have made my trek down the beach difficult, so I proceeded to walk South as far as possible before checking the clock and turn back. The cliffs that I saw looked similar to what you would usually find at Joggins, Nova Scotia. The sandstone and mudstone stratum was angled and tilted at certain angles, and contained many features, such as river channels. I didn't see any trace fossils on this walk, but I intend to come back and take my time to check the sandstone. The trace fossil record in New Brunswick is scarce (at least when it comes to being reported), and any new finds would be a great contribution.

What looks like a water channel (such as a river)

Strata, somewhat similar to what you'd see at Joggins, Nova Scotia

Potential is there to make some finds, but you have to really get in and look. Some of the trace fossils can be extremely tiny, so this could take some time before some are found. Hope to be able to return soon.

Till then, cheers!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gone Rock Fishin'!

A few weeks ago I had mentionned to my friend Matt that I would have loved to find the elusive fossil fish in the Albert Mines area. I had gone a few times to check the area but still couldn't really find anything of interest except a few pieces of Albertite (which I'll describe later). The potential was there, but I just couldn't find the right spots. Matt knew the area well and offered to take me there to look for fish fossils and collect samples of Albertite. So we left on a Saturday morning to go hunting for rock fishies!

There are two reasons why I want to dig around in some of the oldest mountains in North America. The Albert Mines area is composed of many formations made up of dark shale. This shale was the indication that an ancient body of water was here, and the presence of fish fossil does indicate it.

The fish species mostly encountered when you split shale in the area is Rhadinichthys Alberti, an animal that used to swim in fresh water about 340 million years ago during the Carboniferous period (Mississipian, Lower). Also in the shale are plant fragments, another clue that could indicate they swam in a shallow body of water.

Rhadinichthys Alberti (Jackson, 1851)

The other reason is for the "Albertite", a solid substance (bitumen), asphalt. This hydrocarbon can be found in solid state amongst the shale. This substance had become sought after in the early 1850s and was subject in legal battles. Abraham Gesner, the father of kerosene, was fighting the Albert Mining Company over mining rights.

Bitumen (Burger, 2008)

The albertite had been used by the turn of the twentieth century to light street lamps, amongst other things, in cities such as Boston, Massachussetts. The mine that had been opened to extract this black 'mineral' closed down merely 30 years after it had opened.

First stop on the Old Albert Mines road is at the mine dumps. The whole area was essentially used to dump the mine tailings, but have become overgrown with time. The spot we went to was used frequently by ATVs. On the other side of the hill it dips all the way down to a brook. We were able to pick up quite a few samples of Albertite directly from the surface. You have to be careful as you could easily lose your footing due to the loose tailing.

Backtracking a little bit and we end up at site #2. Parked the car on the side of the dirt road, opened the trunk, and took the gear we needed to go rock fishing. We proceeded down the trails leading in the fields. This area hasn't been touched by past mining operations, meaning that the shale outcrops should be undisturbed.

Sign reading 'CDN OXY, 8I-9, ALBERT MINES' (and some bullet holes)

We've chosen an area where a few test digs had been done in the past. Matt recognized the spot where he and others with him had been successful in finding fossil fish. We started to dig and hit our first shale outcrop in only a few minutes. The trick is to be able to find the 'kill bed', where fish would had died (preferably in groups). Matt had mentioned that fish here would be found at about a few inches of each other. Digging for less than hour we didn't find much. Amongst the shale there was the rare plant fragment and a few fish scales.

We decided to try another pit close to a row of trees further down the path. This would have proved difficult with all the roots, as the shale outcrop was not that easy to get to. After successfuly reaching the layer of shale, we found a few scales and a fish fossil the shape of a pepperoni, that had been squished (in a vertical position).

Matt wanted to go back to that first pit we were at as he had a gut feeling that we would find something. He pointed to a spot I was siting at and he said that there's a good chance the kill bed could be located under my arse. We took our shovels and went at work, digging about a foot until we found what we were looking for. The shale had a different color to it, and the scales were very visible.

Suffice to say we had found one of the kill beds as we were able to extract at least a dozen fish. The fish that we found were around three inches or so, but some of the scales were quite large, clues that bigger fish are around but nowhere to be found.

Fossil fish, scales, and coprolite (fossilized dung)

The pic above shows the fossil bearing shale samples I collected. Most of the fish I had found were incomplete, but the one that I did find and that was mostly complete had an interesting form. When I split the piece of shale, it opened up like a book and in it was a fish that was resting on its belly, curved on itself. You could see the spine, scales, tail and its armoured-looking head. The opposite piece of shale had some of the scales and was a perfect mold of the other piece. The two pieces together look like a heart.

Now that I'm more familiar with the area, I intend to come back sometime next Summer. There are more fish and I intend to find myself a complete, and bigger specimen. Till next time.