Twenty fifteen, you were swell

It’s that time of year again (the end of the year) where we all wonder where the time has gone and admire all our glorious accomplishments (or not). A year ago I was living in a strange land (Chicago suburbs), working in a mythical place (asphalt plant), and running like a champ (… at sea-level). Now, I’m a one-semester-complished PhD student at CU-Boulder prepping for classes and TAing and planning my next six months of research, writing and conferences. Twenty fifteen, you were swell–so here it is, my year in review.

January Twenty Fifteen

Month of the most boring Super Bowl of all the Super Bowls… but that Puppy Bowl was serious business.

And yes, I’m still a bitter Packers fan.

February Twenty Fifteen

Month of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball making us all damn proud and Mike buying me a heart-shaped deep dish pizza (because he knows the real way to a midwestern girl’s heart).

wIMULzC - Imgur.gif

Taking down Kentucky was one of the best games I have ever seen, and being in Madison for the craziness that followed made that game even more special. Yeah, my guys lost the championship game to one of my most hated teams (Duke, I hate you), but we were one proud Wisconsin fan-base after that hell-of-a-run.

And heart-shaped deep dish pizza? I bet your boyfriend doesn’t buy you heart-shaped deep dish pizza.

March Twenty Fifteen

Month of deciding to frolic off to the mountains for graduate school at CU-Boulder.

maxresdefault

Source: CU-Boulder

It took one day on campus for me to decide that I absolutely had to come here to get my PhD. Okay, so probably more like 30 min talking with my advisor… but who can pass up that view!?! (Sorry, Wyoming and CSU).

April Twenty Fifteen

Month of “OMG I FINALLY GOT THE SEE THE HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS IN REAL LIFE!”

IMG_0545

It was almost a spur of the moment decision for Mike and I to join this trek in Nepal, but we are both so glad that we did. I mean, look at those giant icy beauties!

May Twenty Fifteen

Month of peace out suckinois.

illinois-worst-state-ever-t-shirts

I love Chicago and really liked my jobs (minus the working in the steel mills and an asphalt plant), but the suburbs… not the most exciting scenery for a newly graduated outdoorsy 20-year old. It may not really be the “worst state ever,” but I wouldn’t wish the drive south through the state on anyone (except maybe my worst enemy).

June Twenty Fifteen

Month of “I can’t believe I actually live here! It’s like a painting! Seriously… like a real life painting” … oh and moving in with Mike… and living through him buying a couch (#adultmoves)… and learning to run again (at altitude).

ikea-brooklyn-warehouse-aisles

(1) Boulder is absolutely beautiful. I still can’t get enough of the amazing views I get to look at every day.

(2) Mike doesn’t like making decisions. And when he has to make a big decision… things get hilarious. Hours of research, mostly him not being able to decide what he wanted and where he wanted it from, and four trips to IKEA later, he finally managed to buy his couch (because he couldn’t fit himself on the normal-size people couch I already owned).

(3) Running at altitude is hard.

July Twenty Fifteen

Month of making friends with the ICP-MS.

While not the exact machine I made nice with over the summer, the photo above is pretty similar looking to the behemoth I spent most of July learning how not to break.

August Twenty Fifteen

Month of hiking and making friends with real [geology] people.

11227409_10204624537924681_7968453440204368304_o

Hiking in Colorado is like a fairly tale–for my eyeballs not my lungs. And there’s nothing like bagging some 14ers with some awesome geology ladies (Left-Ice, Middle (me)-Marine, Right-Beavers).

September Twenty Fifteen

Month of learning how to (and how not to) TA… or just starting to.

phd120810s

Source: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham. http://www.phdcomics.com

I swear I’m not a nazi-TA. Hopefully.

October Twenty Fifteen

Month of “what am I doing again?”

yika5xdet

Embarrassing myself (slightly) at my first committee meeting, losing my mind (slightly) finishing my NSF GRFP proposal, writing my very first mid-term exam ever… grad school is fun! (It is guys, don’t worry).

November Twenty Fifteen

Month of Harry Potter world and butter beer and family and food and turning 1/4 of a century old.

16fd93517c1952be_harry-potter-butterbeer-xxxlarge

Because the most important moment of this whole month couldn’t be anything school related after my glorious day (really a few hours) spent at Harry Potter world drinking my grand ole one butter beer (it was glorious). A girl can only hope she’s as cool as Hermione.

Seeing the DiGiovacchino family was obviously more exciting than butter beer. I think they still like me. But I’m never participating in a vodka tasting again.

Getting older is weird.

December Twenty Fifteen

Month of “how do my students still not know what a sedimentary rock is?” and eating my weight in lefse. Oh and selfies with Amber.

12354084_162345157455111_311516472_n

The dog is Amber. She sort of loves me.

Final exam grades were depressing. Lefse made it better.

Amber is the cutest dog who has ever lived (all six pounds of her). And now that she’s toothless, she rocks the Marnie look from time to time.

 

Fare-thee-well twenty fifteen.

“The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone”

As a geologist, I often take for granted the years of practice I’ve had comprehending geologic processes and time. Earth is not the same as it was 4.54 billion years ago (birth of Earth), 65 million years ago (Dino extinction) or even 21,000 years ago (the Last Glacial Maximum), and it’s not easy for humans to grasp changes that occur on timescales much, much longer than our lifespans. Things have changed: oceans once existed where there is now land; strange animals, like t-rex, [giant] megafauna beaver, and my personal favorite, the terrifyingly large megalodon, once prowled the planet; and Antarctica once played home to tropical plants and animals. And things will continue to change.

My mind was blown when my Geology 101 “rocks for jocks” professor stretched a piece of string across the 200-seat lecture hall with ticks for important events in Earth’s history illustrating that earthly human habitation barely stretched one cm at the end of the string. While not exactly the same, the clock below may serve to similarly blow all your minds (or not, if you live and breathe this stuff everyday). But if you react anything like me, this kind of analogy is a strong eye-opener for how little our species has experienced on earth.

But geologists don’t shrink away from that realization–we thrive in it. Geology is a science because, well, humans simply don’t understand very much about Earth’s history. We know a hell of a lot more than we did 100 years ago… For example, scientists once believed a great flood was responsible for the appearance of marine fossils and rocks on the summits of the world’s highest mountains, but we now know that these rocks and fossils were deposited in ancient oceans and then uplifted through plate tectonics… But there is always another piece to the puzzle to sink our crazy geologist teeth into, and we can’t wait to see what we find next.

I think we all have an innate curiosity about the world around us (geologist or no), and John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World is a perfect example of geologic curiosity spilling over into the non-geology world. Annals of the Former World is a non-fiction masterpiece about the geologic history of North America. When I first picked up this book, per the requirements of an undergraduate course, I was admittedly a bit grumbly. But McPhee’s writing was incredible and, while not a geologist, his ability to write about geology in an extremely approachable way astonished me. I was already a geology major, but McPhee’s writing would have sent me running to geology faster than a One Direction fan running to a meet-and-greet.

mount_everest_as_seen_from_drukair2_plw_edit

“When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, 
they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived 
in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly 
as much as twenty thousand feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains 
had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the 
movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict 
all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The 
summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” 
--John McPhee, Annals of the Former World

The passage above is one of my favorite’s from McPhee. After spending a paragraph explaining, in great detail, how the summit of Mt. Everest evolved through time, he very bluntly [and humorously] sums it up: “The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” McPhee does this throughout Annals of the Former World, and I love him for it. Geology is serious business, but we do like to have some fun.

Fun with Forams

hqdefaultOHHHHHHHHHHHHH….Who lives in a carbonate shell under the sea? Forams. Forams do.

I work with forams (but really the forams are working for me) so that I can reconstruct some pretty crazy cool paleoceanography. They’re not as sexy as t-rex (big head, little arms) or as terrifying as the giant North and South American terror birds (google it, they were terrifying), but they play a major role in some of the coolest geology every done and obviously, in the science being done by my advisor and me now. Forams are pretty awesome, and so of course I had to share.


The live ones

Forams are little critters (protists if you want to get specific about it) that live (and have lived) all over the world’s oceans. Forams are generally quite small, but some can get as large as tens of centimeters in length, and can live anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years. There are around 4,000 living species of forams in the oceans today, but only 40 of those species get to spend their gloriously short lives floating around in the water (this is what we call planktic foraminifera). The rest of these guys spend their lives living in or on ocean sediments, rocks or even plants at the bottom of the ocean (this is what we call benthic foraminifera). Many species are pretty picky about their habitats (the shoe has to fit, right?), but they can be found pretty much anywhere.

What does something that small eat, you may ask? Well, some forams eat algae that  grow inside their shells (symbiosis!) and others eat organic molecules or even brine shrimp. Forams “catch” their food with their whisker looking pseudopodia, which they also use to float around in the water. And since I know you’re dying to watch a foram feed on a brine shrimp… I found a fancy video by a famous foram scientist, H. Spero, for you to do just that (really, it’s awesome though…so watch it).

Very little is understood about live foraminfera. Even species that are relatively well studied show such a variety of characteristics that makes it difficult for scientists to determine a pattern in characteristics. In [FUN] fact, scientist have never been able to successfully reproduce a foram in the lab. We can catch them. And feed them. And keep them alive. But we can’t make them reproduce. This is a huge barrier for understanding the mechanisms behind shell creation, and there’s obviously still a lot to learn.

The dead ones

Live forams are cool and all, but I care more about the dead ones. To get really specific, I care about the once floating dead ones that lived between 29,000 and 14,000 years ago whose shells have been preserved in marine sediments in the equatorial Pacific. These lucky bastards, lived through some very important climate variability in the recent geologic past and their glorious carbonate shells recorded it all!  I suppose I owe these little buggers a great big thank you, because without them there would be no PhD for me.

Besides being useful for the geochemical climate information recorded in the shells of long dead bugs, forams are also extremely useful for determining relative ages of marine sediments. Different species are found at different times, and as I mentioned before, they are found in marine sediments from around the world making forams a fantastic universal tool for relative dating. This is why oil companies love forams…and love people who love forams. Oil formed at specific times in Earth’s history. So when someone who loves forams can tell oil companies when their sediments contain forams from the oil window age–money gets made.

Dead forams (well, really their shells) have also been used to reconstruct past geography and ecology. Specific species are found in specific geographic and ecological “niches,” and therefore can be used in the geologic record as a proxy (i.e. recorder) for those conditions. Scientists can then pick forams from ancient marine sediments, and tell a story about how a single location has evolved through time with respect to sea level, temperature or even acidity.


So yeah, forams are cool(er than t-rex and terror birds…and PhD students stuck in a basement office)
starsand2

forams even make star sand!


 

Image sources

Photo 1: http://collections.nmnh.si.edu/media/?i=10419480

Photo 2: http://www.geo.uni-bremen.de/forschung/bilder/106-2big.jpg

Photo 3: http://www.sjvgeology.org/geology/fossils/forams.jpg

Photo 4: https://carriekravetz.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/starsand2.jpg?w=460&h=333

 

 

 

Finding the pickle and other glorious Christmas things

Every family has their holiday traditions, and for my family, it’s traditions associated with the 25th of December and jolly-ole Saint Nick. I love Christmas-time with my crazy, wonderful family, and I love our Christmas traditions even more. So in the spirit of the holiday season, I present a compilation of some of my favorite Christmas things.

Finding the pickle

For those of you not in on this odd (and awesome) German-sourced tradition: a pickle ornament is hidden in the Christmas tree with good luck or a reward for the person who finds it first. This is a new one for me. Mike is German, so when I walked into one of Epcot’s German shops over Thanksgiving break and saw the giant tree of pickles I knew I had to bring one home. The pickle now proudly hanging amongst my glittery and shiny balls, and it’s glorious.


 

Lefse

I’m Norwegian. And for Christmas (and Thanksgiving… and really anytime of the year), Norwegians make lefse. If you’re not fortunate enough to have put this glorious tradition on your taste buds, you my friend, have been really sucking at the Holidays. Lefse is made out of potatoess and it is often described as a flatbread; however it’s really more like a tortilla. Making lefse is serious business in my family, and if you don’t have the right gear (i.e. lefse stick, lefse grill, ricer…) the making won’t go well for you. Smother it with butter… or sugar… or fill it with all the meat and gravy you can get your hands on. It will change your life.


 

“Give up your dough for Christmas yo!”

We all have favorite Christmas jingles. But among the Rongstads, this is not one of them. This masterpiece by Run DMC found its way onto one of our epic Christmas CDs, and every single time we put on our Christmas morning tunes it finds its way to the playlist. We grumble. We complain. We laugh. But not a single one of us gets off our lazy butts to change the song. (I think it’s growing on us).


 

Frosty Friends

il_570xn-595304046_70rs

Frosty Friend 1990 ornamen; source: http://www.etsy.com

Hallmark’s Frosty Friends ornaments have been hanging on my Christmas tree as long as I can remember. My mom has been collecting them since before I was born, and since moving out on my own (with my own big girl fake tree), I have started my own collection too. Some of my favorite holiday memories come from post-Thanksgiving decoration days finding the perfect place on the tree for my favorite Frosty Friends ornaments.


 

Pizzelles

I’m Norwegian… but I’m also Italian. And Italians make the best desserts. Pizzelles are one such scrumptious treat, and my 100% Norwegian father was trained to make these (on a special Pizzelle grill) by members of my mom’s Italian family. He makes them every single Christmas, and they go so fast you better not blink around them.


 Fuzzy socks

Remember when you were little and you absolutely HATED when someone gifted you socks. Well, now we’re all grown up and socks are better than gold. I love all socks, but the colorful, fuzzy Christmas socks that my wonderful mother manages to find year after year are by far my favorites things ever. (And yes, I wear them all year long). (And no, I am not ashamed to admit that).


 

Yelling over Christmas lights

When I was little, it was my dad. He would spend hours (and I mean hours) un-tangling the hundreds of feet of lights we shoved into boxes in our post-Christmas slump the year before. Yells. Half of the lights wouldn’t work, and then he’d spend more time trying to find the one bulb out of thousands that was causing the problem. Yells. He would then have to go outside (in Minnesota winter) and attempt to hang everything before dark. More yells. Now, it’s Mike. He was tasked with hanging one string of lights (yes, one string), and the task was so frustrating for him that he lasted a grand total of five minutes before throwing the lights into our flower pots and storming back inside. Yells.


 

Yelling over everything else

IMG_3947

Like who gets to ride the toboggan first or who gets the leftovers of broccolli cheese casserole or just yelling because we’ve been sitting in the same room for far too long. Yelling is a part of Christmas, and we do it because we love each other too much (I think).

 

Happy Holidays!