After a tearful goodbye to Meghan who was off to attend another UW-Eau Claire adventure in Puerto Rico and a quick bite to eat at Macy's European CoffeeHouse & Bakery a local establishment in Flagstaff, the team regrouped to take a look at Meteor Crater.
To start off our tour we took a quick hike around the crater where we learned that there has been some significant controversy regarding the origin of the crater. Although this crater is not the oldest recorded impact site it is the best preserved site in the world.
The crater was formed approximately 50,000 years ago when a meteorite, 150 feet wide, slammed into Earth traveling 26,000 mph. Scientists first suggested that Meteor Crater was the result of volcanism.
In the early 20th century Daniel Barringer, a mining entrepreneur looking to strike it rich by mining out the meteoric iron deposits proposed that the crater formed due to an impact of a large meteorite. It was not until the 1960's that Barringer's impact theory was finally received as doctrine due to the work of geologist Eugene Shoemaker.
Creationists use the thrust fault on the crater's south rim to argue that geologists aging of stratigraphic layers is incorrect. The thrust fault was formed when the crater collided with Earth and flipped the rock layers upside down to put the oldest layer, the Coconino Sandstone formation on top.
We also learned a fun fact that in 1964 a plane flying low over the crater was unable to get out of the crater and subsequently crashed, parts of the airplane still remain in the crater today and can be seen in the photo above.
After our hike we toured the visitors center and reconvened in the parking lot to eat lunch and learn from Phil Larson about the San Francisco Volcano fields. After Phil's talk Joe presented his research project on solar plants and informed us on why solar energy is a good option for the desert southwest.
Next stop the Sonoran Desert
We arrived at 7:00 pm just in time to see the sunset.
The team also learned about biological soil crusts from Dave. Biological soil crusts are found in dry deserts and are important for the desert ecosystems because they take nitrogen out of the air and bring it into the soil where it is processed by other vegetation. They also retain water which is very important in areas with infrequent precipitation. Biological soil crusts help in soil stabilization and are very resistant to the desert heat. These crusts though are very fragile to human impacts. They are damaged by vehicles and footsteps very easily, so take care where you walk because these crusts are very much alive.
Next up Phil's dissertation research regarding the Salt River Terrace layers. According to Phil's research the oldest layer called the Stewart Mountain Terrace is on top due to what is called lake overflow. This overflow would have occurred during the Pliocene. The Stewart Mountain Terrace rocks are related to the other floodplain layers in origin. They clearly belong to the Salt River sediment load but are significantly different in lithology. This research does not prove that lake overflow was the process that created this unusual layering but it is compatible with the lake overflow theory. We also learned that this area is continuously changing due to fluvial processes because pediments are not relic landforms.
Quick stop now off to Jackson's parents house for dinner and the last presentation of the trip.
After a nice dinner and a relaxing sit under a perfect little lighted tree it was Jackson's turn to present. Jackson presented information about alternative energy sources using bio-fuels converted from micro-algae. The argument presented was that fossil fuels greatly contribute to greenhouse gasses and this is a huge factor in global climate change. The use of soybean, corn and wheat to make fuel is also not the most efficient method due to the fact that these modes take up lots of land and drive food prices up because we also eat these plants. Algae only needs sunlight and water to grow and does not take up a huge amount of space. The biggest pitfall is that right now the process to convert micro-algae to bio-fuel using Photo Bio Reactors is quite costly. Convincing people that the benefits outweigh the costs is the on-going problem.
Aah, off to the airport to return home, what fun!!