Monday, 25 February 2013

Day 8-9: Soaring Home and the End of the Adventure

Wow. The past two days have felt like one extremely long day. It began with waking up at the Christchurch campground. All of us were exhausted from getting there so late, so the morning began slowly, wetly and coldly. Eventually we were ready to go and in the cars, and we drove off to the airport, waving goodbye to the last of the Top Ten Holiday Parks.

View from plane of 1 hour flight from Christchurch to Auckland; spectacular, and our shortest flight! 
View of the south coast of the North island.
Students in Auckland airport, minutes before the REAL flying began...
From our flight to Auckland and onward, everything has been a blur of timezone changes, airplane food and checking bags.The first flight from Auckland to Melbourne was only three hours, so that one was not so bad, but the next flight to Dubai was fourteen hours long. After a particularly uneventful flight, students got to relax in the Dubai airport for four hours, then hopped onto the next fourteen hour plane ride.

After watching the same safety video for Emirates for the sixth (and last!) time, we were off. Time seemed to fly as we all drifted in and out of sleep, but eventually the snow covered ground of Toronto could be seen. We all had the biggest smiles on our exhausted faces; for despite the mountain climbing, wave riding and rock identification we had done, we had officially survived our dreaded 35+ hours of flying. Now that was something we were ALL proud of. 

Overall, this trip has been spectacular both geologically and in terms of experiences. We certainly became a close group, and would all like to extend a warm round of thanks to Russ Pysklywec  and Grant Henderson for making the trip possible by coming with us. Also a huge thanks to Charly Bank who helped in the planning of this trip from day one, and to the folks at ICM who made this trip possible with funding. You have all contributed to one unforgettable experience that has made each of us students more keen to explore and learn about the world we live in. For that, there are truly no words enough to say thank you. 

I leave you with this: 

“Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”
-Will Durant

The geology of New Zealand is remarkable, and yet it is still changing even today. By seeing the present features the past has created, we as geologists can make prediction as to why the earth changes the way it does. By doing so we can make humans safer in their living arrangements, and also can appreciate the raw beauty and power of an ever changing planet. Thank you for the last time readers, and never forget that life is an adventure.

**P.S. We have not uploaded nearly as many photos as we would like to, so keep looking at the blog as we consolidate pictures. We want to show you as many as possible. Thanks!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Day 7: Journey to Centre (ish) of the Earth

Today was our last real day of exploration in New Zealand. It was really bittersweet, knowing that at this time the next morning we'd be on our way to the airport. The day began with waking up at Pohara Beach on Golden Bay. Several students slept on the beach, and woke up to the crashing sound and sight of green waves creeping alarmingly close to where they slept.

The rest of the camp woke sleepily and slowly. As the night before had been an extremely late one, many students found it hard to emerge from their tents in the morning. Soon, the thought of cereal and toast lured us out of bed, and we were quickly packed up and ready to go to the Nelson Region to walk amongst the remains of a ghost mine.

The drive took longer than expected because we had been misled to the entrance to the trail by good old Google Maps. We eventually found it, at the end of a long, winding, and isolated dirt road. We were greeted by the sight of the Roding River, marking the first of many crossings of it on the footpath. Traversing a rickety and somewhat dangerous-looking bridge, we began our hike through a unique section of New Zealand geology: a section of oceanic crust that had obducted onto the continent over 250 million years ago.

As we hiked through the exotic forest path, we were greeted at first by Permian mudstones and sandstones (more on those later). Our destination was the terrain above the now-abandoned United Mine, which ran only temporarily at the end of the 1800s in an economically futile attempt to mine copper.

We crossed the river a few more times, getting our feet (and sometimes more) just *slightly* damp - okay, maybe soaked. Many a time, supposedly "waterproof" boots failed to live up to their claims.

We passed on old smelting furnace, where copper ore was melted down, piles of slag still covering the nearby area.

After our last river crossing, the trees began to thin and eventually disappeared altogether. We were now standing on exposed land, with just a few short shrubs (and a lot of GIANT bees) surrounding us. This was our goal: the Dun Mountain-Maitai Terrain, a region of ultramafic lower lithospheric crust that somehow had managed to avoid being swallowed into the Earth. The missing trees were indicative of the huge quantities of phytotoxic heavy metals in the rocks and soil here.

At the stop, the assigned fourth-year students gave their talk on the area - the rare mantle-derived rocks and their serpentinized end-products - and then sent us off to collect some hand samples.

We analysed the orangish-brown rocks for their texture, colour, mineralogy, grain size, lithology, and structure, and broke some open to reveal beautiful olivine, pyroxene, and chromite crystals.

This was the base of the large section of now-upturned lithosphere preserved here. As we walked back, we were essentially hiking from the top of the mantle up through the Earth's crust. We passed intermediate igneous rocks, one showing a clear basaltic dike running through.

Next we walked along (or up?) through limestones, then sandstones and siltstones. The texture and colour of the changing rock was visibly apparent at the many outcrops by the river, as we traveled forward through time in more ways than one.

Outcrop next to river, with sunglasses for scale
One of the best moments of the afternoon was when several students (and Russ!) jumped into the river to go for an impromptu swim; the swimming quickly evolved into jumping off rocks into deep parts of the river, after which we decided to get back to the geology and head back along the trail.

The last geological section were the Permian mudstones mentioned earlier; we were told about the abundance of fossils found in these rocks (at least, compared to the rest of New Zealand) and how these contained ammonites correlating the beds with accurately-dated European ones.

Eventually we made our way out of the woods and finally began driving to Christchurch, where we would be taking our flight out the next day. The cars separated and drove down the magnificent Eastern coast of the South island, taking in views of penguin-covered rocks and even a pod of whales making their way down the Pacific ocean.

Heading out of the woods 
Pine tree forests on slope of  the mountain
The drive was truly breathtaking; whether it was a field of sheep grazing at the base of a mountain.....

.....or vineyards that stretched in perfect rows as far as the eye could see...

 ....the scenery made us want to stay forever. While the drive was long, it was worth it to see the beauty of New Zealand one last time.

We all arrived at the Christchurch campsite at varying late times, and fell asleep almost instantly. Tomorrow, we're leaving. Our flight is going to be incredibly long: from Christchurch to Auckland, then Auckland to Melbourne, Melbourne to Dubai and finally Dubai to Toronto. Wish us luck! Thanks for reading.  :)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Day 6: Surf, Sand, and Cenozoic Sediments

Today we awoke in a misty haze and stumbled to the kitchen to make breakfast early in the morning. We left soon after, around 9:30, to make our way to Pohara Beach in Golden Bay.

The drive was extremely long, but worth it. The winding roads up and down mountains were slightly nauseating but the view was spectacular. Going over the Takaka hills was fascinating as well, as lumpy features carved out of marble (metamorphosed limestone) and even some blue schist marked an ancient continental shelf, circa the Devonian period of the Paleozoic era (~390 million years old!).

Once reaching the beach, we set up our tents quickly and immediately hit the sand. The afternoon was spent walking down the beach to beautiful limestone cliffs teeming with shallow ocean fossils from the Cenozoic Era. Many of us also found a cave-like outcrop structure with more fossils and great climbing walls.
Limestone "caves"! Huge!!

The differential bedding of the limestone on one of the large blocks was interesting because it was indicative of varying depositional environments through time.

On the beach itself, it was particularly interesting to see the comparison between recently washed up shells and their fossilized counterparts in the rocks.

Extinct and extant bivalves; New Zealand dollar for scale
Probably an echinoid of some sort. (similar to a sea urchin)
Acroporan corals.
The late afternoon and evening was spent taking a break, with students building a sand castle and (attempting) to protect it by fighting off the rising tide;  but to no avail - the castle was destroyed. 
The castle!
But then the tide came in...
Another castle; whoever built this one was smarter than us, building it so far up the beach! :)
Afterwords we played some ultimate frisbee on the beach:
Avery getting some air!
and then had a magnificent vegetarian dinner, enjoyed the local bar, and eventually ended up all sitting on the beach, watching the waves.

Tomorrow, we head to CHRISTCHURCH!!!! Flight home is in two days. Time certainly flies when you're having fun. We will post pictures soon. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Day 5: A Tale of Two Rivers

With a chilly, dew-hung start we woke this morning to see the familiar silhouette of the coastal mountains. We took a few minutes to shower, eat breakfast and pack our bags, opting to leave the tents up and get to doing geology right away. Our adventure began with a short drive to the base of the trail up to Franz Josef Glacier. Once there, we hiked for twenty minutes through the native coastal rainforest of the South Island. We got our first glimpse of what was to come in a large, metamorphic erratic overgrown with trees and moss.

Once we got out of the forest, we found ourselves standing on a vast glacial river plain. We were astonished at the wide span of the riverbed, although the current river only ran in a small carved channel with steep banks.

Between the two mountain walls, the river bed was a combination of extremely fine sediment, gray river water, and red-lichen-covered schists. 

As we walked toward the ice, we passed great metamorphic clasts of shiny-biotite- and green-chlorite-containing schist. Some of these were more angular in appearance than rounded, indicating they were probably scraped off by the glacier the last time it was at this level.

We also came across some very interesting fluvially-carved features, such as this tube-like scarp.

Note also the extreme dipping angle of the metamorphic rocks! This region has experienced massive tectonic forces

In the center of the valley was Franz Josef Glacier itself, a massive sheet of ice that last filled the valley 20, 000 years ago. We discussed the physics of the glacier: the fact that the ice is currently advancing by 1 m per year, even though the glacier's terminus is retreating; the way that Mie scattering causes the deep blue colouration of the ice; the way it moves due to a fluidized later at the base from hydrostatic pressure; and many other aspects. We also talked about how large-scale climate cycles (the Milankovitch cycles) are influenced by orbital motion of the Earth and have an impact on glacial maxima.

Though we were unable to get extremely close to the glacier, we were still able to easily see the impact it had on the geomorphology of the landscape.

The second stop of the day was the actual plate boundary between the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates. We hiked along yet another riverbed, but this time we were not in a tourist area (which was a nice change): Gaunt Creek.

Once we arrived at the fault, we discussed its formation and had several (educational) arguments about different possibilities for rocks and minerals. The green rock visible in the pictures below was supposed to mark a band of cataclastics, rocks that had been ground up by the strike-slip action of the fault and spit out as tiny, fine kaolin. Adjacent to those was a band of mylonite, rock that has been jumbled together and deformed, also under the immense pressure of the fault.

After hiking back for two hours to return to our cars, we drive another three hours to get to Westport, our next camp site. The beautiful drive consisted of the mountains on the right and the Tasman sea on the left. On the way we stopped for the best fish and chips of the trip so far, and eventually found ourselves at our campsite. 

Other highlights of the day included a possible Kiwi bird sighting this evening on the road, and visiting the limestone Pancake Rocks by moonlight!

These rocks consist of alternating layers of mud-poor and mud-rich limestone (known as "stylobedding"); the muddier layers erode away more easily, leaving the distinct "pancake" texture of the rocks.

Tomorrow we'll be doing more driving to get to Golden Bay. Hopefully it will be as warm as it was today (23 degrees)!  Thanks for reading! :)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Day 4: Driving, Arthur's Pass and More Driving

We woke up this morning in the pitch dark of 5 AM, Auckland summer.

Making eggs REALLY fast and throwing our stuff in the vans before the sun even rose, we arrived at Auckland International Airport just an hour and a half later. Checking our bags was a breeze compared to the Dubai check in; we literally went from rental car drop-off to boarding in an hour, a record time for our "extremely efficient" group (according to Henderson).

The plane ride itself offered spectacular views of the Southern Alps before landing in Christchurch. The mountains rose from the ground unexpectedly, some rising high enough to still contain snow, despite it being the summer. As we landed our anticipation to drive through them and witness the great mountain-building forces of New Zealand reached a peak (haha). We were not disappointed!

The drive to the west coast was spectacular. As a chillier breeze of cooler South Island air blew through the window, we set off between the majestic lower mountains of greywacke, eroding so significantly at their tops that they almost looked as though they were covered in snow.

Limestone monoliths jutted out from the grass as though pushing away from the surrounding landscape. They were beautiful and fascinating both visually and geologically.

We continued driving until we arrived at a wide rocky river plain in Arthur's Pass National Park which flowed towards the Pacific Ocean. When several students arrived at the plain, we decided to explore: we got out to examine the river bed, and some of us even waded into the river! It was SO cold that it felt as though our skin was burning from the chill, and so we spent most of our time walking on the dry rocks and discussing the differences between a glacial plain and a river plain.

Taking notes on the clast composition of the plain

When we finally found it in ourselves to (painfully) wade back across and get back in the cars, we continued driving and discussed the amazing geologic formations around us. We drove until we saw the Tasman Sea, crossing over the plate boundary between the Pacific plate and Indo-Australian plate which was marked by rivers emptying into the two different bodies of water. We arrived at the campsite, thoroughly sick of cars, but excited to be within sight of our next goal: Franz Josef Glacier!

Fourth year students discussing their material for the next day
Updating the blog (!) and peering at the glacier through a telescope

We hope it gets a little warmer; it will be cold enough with all that ice!