Notes from the Field

Celebrating Mosasaurs at the Rutgers Geology Museum


The unveiling of the restored painting in the background.
From Left to Right: Artist Jeanne Filler Scott, Former Geology Museum Director Bill Selden, Graduate Student Amelia Zietlow from the American Museum of Natural History, and Current Geology Museum Director Lauren Adamo

April 17, 2023

By Carol Peters, EOAS Communications

At the 150th anniversary of the Rutgers Geology Museum, Mosasaurs, giant lizards who lived at the time of the dinosaurs, were explored and celebrated.

Mosasaurs were enormous lizards and apex predators who ruled the Earth’s waters at the time of the dinosaurs, at the very end of the cretaceous period ~95-66 million years ago. The same asteroid that blasted the dinosaurs into extinction also ended the reign of Mosasaurs. However, they live on in the fossils they left, and their remains are providing scientists with a key means of understanding evolutionary processes. 

What stories do Mosasaur fossils tell? What were these giant, terrifying, sea-faring creatures like? At a celebration held in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Rutgers Geology Museum, Amelia Zietlow, a Ph.D. candidate at Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, described her research exploring Mosasaurs in her lecture, “When Serpents Encircled the Earth.”

In addition to Zietlow’s presentation, the event also celebrated Mosasaurs by hosting the unveiling of a Mosasaur painting housed at the museum. Originally painted by Rutgers alumna Jeanne Filler Scott, ’77, Scott recently restored it and was present for its unveiling.  

The restored Mosasaur painting.

Zietlow, who studies mosasaur growth and evolution, described mosasaurs as, “the world’s lizards.” She said, “Their fossils have been found on every continent, including Antarctica, in both salt and freshwater environments. They were crossing the Atlantic Ocean just like today’s aquatic predatory animals such as great white sharks. They were apex predators, top of the food chain in whatever environments they found themselves in. Their teeth and/or stomach contents show they were eating anything and everything that came near them. We also know they were not kind animals. In every other animal that lived at the time we find Mosasaur bite marks, including on the fossils of other Mosasaurs.”

While there is a great deal of variety among species of Mosasaurs, Zietlow said, scientists know they all descended from a species of land-living lizard with legs that evolved adaptations to enable it to live in the water. Once adapted to the water, Mosasaurs never left it (females even gave live birth in the water).

Zietlow said a major outstanding question for Mosasaur researchers is, “How many times did the lizard ancestor evolve into Mosasaurs?”

“There are three primary branches/groups/kinds of Mosasaurs,” she said, “and the question is: Did these three groups evolve from a single ancestor that evolved fins and then diversified into different mosasaurs or were there a bunch of leggy things that all separately or independently evolved flippers and tail flukes and massive size and everything else — which wouldn’t be entirely out of character as a thing for lizards to do.”

The question Mosasaurs help scientists think about in a broader context, Zietlow said, is how animals evolved to be aquatic. Mosasaurs evolved from living on the land to living in the water, but she said they weren’t the only creatures to evolve this way. Whales, crocodiles, sloths, and seals also did. She said if scientists can understand this evolutionary process in Mosasaurs, they can compare it to how this transition happened more broadly with other kinds of animals to better understand evolution.

Questions about this transition that scientists are currently asking, she said, are, did the transition from land to water happen the same way every time?” Did creatures go through the same sequence of changes in the same order or were there differences?

Zietlow said there are three main reasons she chose to study Mosasaurs: there were a lot of them; they have close living relatives; and they were “charismatic.”

“I’ve studied at least 70 Tylosaurus, which is a type of Mosasaur,” Zietlow said. “That’s 70 individuals that belonged to a single species, and there are at least another 100 Tylosaurus I have not seen. By contrast, there are only 20 T Rex known on the entire planet. When we have evolutionary questions, we need to have a significant sample size, which most dinosaurs don’t have, but Mosasaurs do.”

That they have close living relatives also makes understanding them easier, she said.  “Something like T Rex we have no living analog to that – there is nothing alive today that comes anywhere close to what that animal was doing, whereas a Mosasaur was a big lizard anatomically not that far removed from its living relatives – monitor lizards. In terms of making comparisons and understanding these big picture evolutionary questions, this makes it so much easier.”

Explaining why their nature, which she describes as “charismatic” interests her, Zietlow said, “What this means is they are very cool, very interesting to work on, and very good for getting people into science and excited about biology and paleontology and evolution. Because how can you look at that Mosasaur face and not fall in love with it, and want to know everything about it, and most of importantly, how it came to be?”

Watch the full event:


From Jersey to Alaska: A Student's Epic Trek Inspires a Calling in Glacier Science

Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

Journey Berry hopes to make the field more diverse 

Journey Berry

Journey Berry grew up immersed in the performing arts, playing bass and mulling a career as a jazz musician.

She never dreamed she would find her calling amid the glaciers and icy fjords of Alaska.

But through a combination of intellectual curiosity and what at times seemed like pure serendipity, this Rutgers University–New Brunswick student discovered she had a passion for glaciology, the study of ice in the environment. It all began when she was 15, with a one-off, local kayaking venture with her mom in which they happened to meet a noted scientist. That encounter led to Berry taking a big leap the following year, going off on an expedition with women and girls to Bear Glacier Lagoon in Alaska. Now a senior, she’s doing research on the impact of climate change on that region while completing a double major in geology and geography in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Journey BerryAt every turn, Berry said she encountered people who provided the inspiration, and helped her figure out what to do next.

“I had never even been kayaking before,” she said of that fateful first trip. “But beginning right then and there, I met people who quite literally changed my life.”

She intends to do the same for others. Berry is keenly aware that she, as a Black woman, is a rarity in geosciences. She wants to help bring change.

“The lack of Black and Latino students in geology and geography affects how people from the outside world see these fields,” she says. “I am hoping as I progress in my career, I can be that person that a high school or college student of color can look up to and realize that they too have a chance in this field.”

Faculty members say Berry is poised to change the field.

“Her energy and her potential to reach the next generation of scientists is inspiring to me,” says Lauren Neitzke Adamo, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and director of the Rutgers Geology Museum where Berry is a student employee and conducts public tours. “She is excelling in all these things, and already translating her experiences and knowledge to reach younger people.”

Berry grew up in the Bergen County community of Teaneck, raised by parents who are musicians and artists. She plays guitar and bass, taking inspiration from Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Esperanza Spalding. She was 15 when she and her mom decided to try kayaking the Hackensack River. They struck up a conversation with veteran science educator Michael J. Passow, who invited Berry to attend public science workshops at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY, a 20-minute drive from her home.

She soon began attending the Saturday sessions in oceanography, geology, paleontology, enjoying the friendly mix of students and teachers.

“I was pretty much hooked,” Berry says said. “There were a lot of geology teachers, and I was able to talk with them about their work on a casual level.”

She also learned about a non-profit group, Inspiring Girls Expeditions, that leads epic summer trips for high school girls that combine science, art, and backcountry travel.

So, at the age of 16, Berry became the youngest girl to participate in the organization’s Girls in Icy Fjords program, flying out to Anchorage for a sea kayaking expedition around the Kenai Fjords National Park in south central Alaska. Accompanied by four adult instructors, Berry and eight other girls spent two momentous weeks in the frozen landscape, kayaking Bear Glacier Lagoon, watching icebergs break off from the glacier, and learning how to observe, study, and create art from the environment around them.

Team of students walking through high grass near mountains “It was a shock—there I was on the other side of the continent,” Berry said. “Everything I had seen in textbooks and maps are suddenly right before my eyes.

“It was a life changing moment. Definitely.”

Indeed, after returning home, she landed an internship at the observatory’s polar geophysics group and then headed off to Rutgers, where in addition to her double major she has a minor in marine science. She is also doing research with her mentor from Inspiring Girls, Erin Pettit, a glaciologist at Oregon State University who is studying the retreat of Bear Glacier due to climate change.

One of the hallmarks of her Rutgers geoscience experience is the presence of women mentors, including Adamo, geography professor Åsa Rennermalm, and graduate student Julie Vastano, studying paleontology in Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

“There are definitely strong women in the departments here that I look up to and have been privileged to work with,” Berry said.

She is currently deciding on a plan for graduate studies. Her focus is on glaciology, but she says the entire array of earth sciences is compelling to her.

“I think it’s the idea that there is always something new to discover,” she says. “There is so much about our planet that we have not discovered yet, whether it is below the ocean, high up in the mountains or among barren landscapes.”

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2022, Berry came full circle. She served as one of the adult instructors and guides for Girls in Icy Fjords, leading a group of girls through the two-week adventure in Alaska similar to what she experienced in 2017.

“I was so happy to do that,” she said. “To see a group of girls experience that joy and that shock—it’s just beyond words.”

Students and team kayaking

Vadim Levin Installed Seismograph That Registered a 7.6 Earthquake.

Map and seismographVadim Levin, along with colleague Professor Sara Mana, installed a continuously recording three-component broadband digital seismograph. Mere months later, this seismic station ended up recording the ground shaking from a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in southwestern Mexico.


Lessons From the Cores!

Oregon CoringProfessor Jim Wright and members of his research group went to a core repository in Oregon to split, scan, and describe the cores that they collected along the Patagonian margin, offshore Argentina. This project is a continuation of their successful expedition to the southern Argentine margin in 2019. Rutgers personnel who joined Professor Wright include graduate students, Ronan Keating, Maya Stefanelli, and Aldiyar Mukhatzhanov as well as a post-doctorate researcher, José Isola. In this project, they worked alongside other colleagues from Texas A&M and international scientists from Argentina. The photo on the left shows a correlation by laying out the cores from one of their transects (left) as well as Holocene deposits to glacial transition that are heavily burrowed (right)! The red layers at the top section of the core indicate oxidized sediments.

Oregon Coring Personnel

Science on the Seas brings Lessons to K-12 Classrooms

 Rutgers climate scientists bring school teachers aboard research vessel

Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

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When the research vessel Atlantis steamed out of Woods Hole, Mass. on June 2, scientists from Rutgers University and the University of Washington were on board for a 14-day deep-sea coring expedition aimed at resolving key climate science questions.

Lauren Neitzke Adamo, director of the Rutgers Geology Museum, was also aboard to make the mission come alive as a real-time learning experience for K-12 schools in three states and create an enduring lesson in science for students nationwide.

Adamo, a professor of earth and planetary sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, was joined by her own crew that included four public school teachers. They spent the voyage livestreaming and blogging to students in classrooms, public libraries, and the geology museum.

For Adamo, the voyage was a major step forward for public science education. She discusses the experience below.

ALe Lauren Stacey SQQ: This research project had a public education component built in from the start. How did that come about?

A: The principal investigators—which included Chief Scientist Liz Sykes, a professor of oceanography of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences—had the idea of bringing classroom teachers along to connect with the public and explain the purpose of the research. So it was included as part of the grant. After the National Science Foundation approved the funding, we conducted a nationwide search for our On-board Educators, and eventually recruited four teachers from New York, New Jersey, and Texas.

Q: You are often busy with your own research, and this summer you also have a project to map volcanoes in Costa Rica by drone. What prompted you to take on the role as Chief Outreach Officer for this project?

A: One of the things I love most about being in science is communicating the exciting discoveries to the public, especially to K-12 classrooms. That has become a big part of my job as director of the Geology Museum, and I have extensive experience bringing current science to classrooms and aligning it with the national science teaching standards.

In 2018, I participated in a PolarTREC Expedition in the Swiss Alps, where I was the science communicator on the team. It was my responsibility to engage with the public through blogs, videos, and live-stream events in the field, as well assist with the field work- all of which providedTubesofMud excellent preparation for this project!

Q: Getting this voyage together was really involved, with teachers having to prepare their substitutes to take over while they were away, as well as figure out how to communicate the science to the public while at sea. How did things work out aboard the ship?

A: During the week, we conducted up to four livestreams a day, engaging with classrooms in New Jersey, New York, and Texas, as well as families from all over the country. We spoke to classes and schools that had anywhere from 15 to several hundred students tuning in to hear us talk from the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. The kids were so excited to be able to talk to scientists actively conducting research and each groups had dozens of amazing questions. We were able to engage directly with over 1,000 students during our time at sea! It was an amazing experience not only for the people watching, but also for the educators and scientists leading the sessions.

Q: How does the education work continue now that the voyage is over?

Mrs Ortiz class A: We are asking the teachers to create two products. Those will likely be in the form of curriculum that uses the science in their classrooms. The teachers will be working with me over the next six months to develop that content, and we will be posting it on our website so it is available for all teachers to access.

Q: What was the scientific goal of the mission?

A: There is something in climate science called the Holocene Conundrum. It refers to how there are records that show that temperatures in the North Atlantic actually cooled a bit during this time, the last 10,000 years. But that does not match the global trends. So the target of this cruise was to collect sediment off the coast of Nova Scotia and New Jersey to see whether we get the same warming trend that we see globally or the cooling trend that we see in those records.

Q: What did you feel was accomplished through the public education component?

A: I think the main reason we do this is for the students who are all excited to become scientists and then they get a little older and say, “I can’t do it,” and drop out. In our livestreams, they see their own teachers doing science, and they get to see and talk with scientists doing real research. It’s all about fixing the leaking pipeline.

In addition, when you bring climate science to the classroom, not only are you trying to address the science standards, you are also trying to teach the material in a meaningful way and show them that the science is active and alive. Not everyone is going to become a scientist. But if students are learning it in an active and engaged manner, they are going to retain it better and become informed citizens.

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Exploring a Unique Landscape of the Past, Present, and Future in Costa Rica

An Undergraduate's Experience in the Field

Written by Jason Kawalec, Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2023, Planetary Science Major

Date- July 12, 2022

Location- San Pedro, Costa Rica

Jason Michael Monte La CruzToday marks my twelfth day living in Costa Rica! I’ve had a wonderful time, full of memorable experiences and new opportunities. The food is delicious, the people are friendly, and the views are spectacular. This is the first time in my life I can see a volcano from my apartment window! 

I’m here in Costa Rica as part of a grant funded by the Rutgers Global Program titled “Dangerous While Asleep.” This grant is a collaboration between Rutgers EPS Professors, Dr. Lauren Neitzke Adamo and Dr. Vadim Levin, and University of Costa Rica (UCR) Professor and Rutgers EPS Alumnus, Dr. Paulo Ruiz, to conduct an in-depth examination of the Barva volcano.

Barva is a complex stratovolcano (a volcano built up by alternating layers of lava and ash), located ~25 miles North of the city of San Jose.San Pedro Sunset Barva last erupted in the 1700s and has remained dormant since then. Barva has not been extensively studied due to its long inactivity. The close proximity of a major city (i.e. population of ~340,000 people), means there is a high risk to people and property if the volcano becomes active again. Much can be learned about its eruption history and future volcanic risk by studying the current geomorphology. This project will examine several sites of interest around Barva by drone. The images collected will be developed into high-resolution 3D models and digital elevation maps. I will work with this data and interpret these models over the next academic year for my Honors Capstone for the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program (SASHP) and for my departmental Honors in Geology. 

The first few days here were especially unique for me. I was living alone in a country 4,000 miles away from my home and my last experience with Spanish was during my first semester at Rutgers. These few days gave me time to explore the city on my own, attempt (and struggle) to relearn some Spanish, and get settled into my new home, a hotel by UCR in San Pedro called the Gran Casa Universitaria. One day I went to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) with Dr. Ruiz and his family. It was incredible to get a sense of just how much culture and history there is behind this land of jungles and volcanoes. 

Setting Up DroneSoon, my friend and fellow Rutgers EPS major, Michael Pinnella, arrived to assist with the field work. I was very happy to see a familiar face. We started moving quickly on our project with Dr. Ruiz, spending time preparing our drones and field equipment, completing a test flight, and outlining our flight routes around several volcanic deposits. Amidst all this, I turned 21 and had my first birthday outside of the U.S.! We celebrated that evening with an Imperial and some Chifrijo – a popular Costa Rican beer and a local delicacy.

My favorite day was our first day in the field at Monte de la Cruz (translates to Mountain of the Cross), a national park located 12 miles North of San Jose. Dr. Ruiz identified two parasitic cones (a smaller cone on the flank of a larger volcano) of the Barva volcano that can be seen in the park. Using our drone, we set out to image and analyze this unexamined part of Barva. We were met with strong winds in the morning that prohibited us from flying at high altitudes. Fortunately, we found success in the afternoon when the winds died down and our drone captured some wonderful aerial photographs of the two cones. We have already started to create the higher resolution 3D models of Barva that will be the most detailed maps of these sites to date. I’m looking forward to returning to Barva and exploring more of Costa Rica once the rest of the team arrives!

Donation from Sparks Family Supports Undergraduate Research

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Written by John Chadwick, SAS Senior Writer

Bill Sparks was a kid growing up in New Jersey when he came across a magazine photo that showed two geologists doing fieldwork on a mountain in Turkey.

“I thought that looked like a lot of fun,” says Sparks, RC’65. “I could see myself doing something like that.”

And he did.

Sparks majored in geology at Rutgers and went on to a decades-long career at Exxon, beginning as a petroleum geologist working on oil rigs and moving into executive roles that had him traveling to sites around the world. Retired since 1998, he and his wife Grace live in Texas within the Sam Houston National Forest region where they are tree farmers and fossil collectors.

“We are geologists right up till today,” Sparks said.

They are also steadfast Scarlet loyalists, with a special focus on Rutgers students studying geology. The Sparks are longtime supporters of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, where the couple has established three scholarship funds that benefit undergraduate and graduate students.

“I have had a great life doing what I loved,” Sparks said. “My goal has been to help young people experience the same life that I had.”

This year four undergraduates pursued in-depth research projects with assistance from the Sparks Undergraduate Research Fund. The students are Emma Hinds, Anirudh Patel, Michael Pinnella, and Lakshman Prabhakar. Their research—which they presented during a recent poster session at the Wright-Reiman Laboratories—covers the full range of the field, from mapping dormant volcanoes to studying meteorites for clues to the earth’s composition.

ID22 EPS 06046 1“The Sparks fund allows students to participate in research that they normally would not have the means to partake in,” says Lauren Neitzke Adamo, professor of earth and planetary sciences and director of the Rutgers Geology Museum. “Over the years these funds have allowed students to travel to other universities to conduct laboratory investigations, obtain data analysis that is often cost prohibitive, and travel to an array of locations to get their first taste of field work.”

Indeed, Pinnella will travel this summer to Costa Rica where he will use drones to create a 3D model and elevation map of the dormant Barva Volcano.

“Because the volcanos in this region are rugged and heavily vegetated, there really hasn’t been an assessment of the non-active volcanoes,” says Pinnella a geological sciences major.

Prabhakar’s research, meanwhile, will take him to sites around New Jersey and Connecticut to investigate the impact of cataclysmicID22 EPS 06057 1 volcanic eruptions that occurred some 200 million years ago when the supercontinent Pangea was breaking apart.

“This was not an isolated incident,” says Prabhakar, a junior majoring in chemical engineering and geological sciences. “This has happened before on fairly long time scales, and it is associated with extinction, cataclysmic effects to the atmosphere, to life, and, obviously, to rocks.”

ID22 EPS 06075 1Patel, who will begin doctoral studies in astrophysics at Columbia University next fall, said the Sparks grant not only helps defray costs but also serves notice that undergraduate research matters.

“It validates that the work you are doing is meaningful, and that people are looking out and rooting for you,” says Patel, a physics and philosophy double major whose research involves study of meteorites. “It motivates, inspires, and pushes you, and as result you realize you are doing real work and real science, and that it is making an impact.”

Hinds agreed.

ID22 EPS 06092 1“I have always had an innate passion for environmental sciences and for geology as well,” says Hinds, a senior geological sciences major whose project involves studying how monsoon rainfall affects isotopic signatures in coral reefs off the coast of Bangladesh. “Receiving this support means quite a lot.”

Sparks, in an interview from his home, recalled growing up in Colonia, N.J. as an outdoorsy type who liked history and archeology read National Geographic, and was fascinated by rocks in his yard filled with fossils.

At Rutgers, he was particularly drawn to paleontology, which is the study of the history of life on Earth as based on fossils.

“It’s really about dates and working out what was going on hundreds of millions of years ago,” he said. “It was like being an investigator. It was intellectually stimulating, and involved a lot of outdoors time, so it all worked together.”

After getting his master’s degree in geology, Sparks joined Exxon as a junior geologist, working on oil rigs in South Texas and then becoming a production geologist where he evaluated oil and gas reserves. He later moved into senior leadership, including in international exploration and production. He served as president of Exxon’s production company in Indonesia and oversaw technical evaluation and contract negotiations across sites in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Although he missed being out in the field, he relished the opportunity to see the world and meet people from different cultures.

“I got to see the world, and that was a lot of fun,” he said. “It did take me away from the geology, but I enjoyed negotiating and dealing with people who were quite different, and understanding their points of view.”

“Overall, I feel amazingly lucky to have found a profession that fit my passion.”

*This article was first published on the Alumni section of the News & Events page on the Rutgers University, School of Arts and Sciences website.

Congratulations to all the 2022 Undergraduate EPS Award Winners

Undergraduate Majors Selected for Field Camp Scholarships and Research Award

Written by Lauren Neitzke Adamo

Undergraduate Majors, Casey Collins, Emma Hinds, Chase Danyi, Ryan McCracken, and Journey BerryUndergraduate Majors, Casey Collins, Emma Hinds, Chase Danyi, Ryan McCracken, and Journey Berry were all awarded scholarships from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Steven K. Fox Fund to attend geology field camp during the 2022/2023 academic year.  These students will be attending a wide range of field camps at unique geologic sites across the country.  They will all participate in 4-8 weeks experiences giving them hands-on experience in how to navigate and map the field.  Congratulations to all the 2022 recipients. Jonathan Miller

Congratulations to Jonathan Miller, the 2022 recipient of the William & Grace Sparks Field Camp Award.  This $1,500 scholarship is given to a major in Earth and Planetary Sciences to help offset the cost of attending an external field camp.  Jonathan will be using the funds to attend field camp in Scotland this June and July through the University of St. Andrews. 

Michael PinnellaMichael Pinnella was named the awardee of the 2022 Larry & Norma Gordon Scholarship for Undergraduate Field Study in Geological Sciences. This award includes a $1,500 scholarship to help offset the cost of attending a summer field camp.  Michael will be traveling to Wyoming from mid-May until early July with Iowa State to Carl F. Vondra Geology Field Station.  Located in the Big Horn Mountains and Basin, this permanent field station will provide an intensive geologic mapping experience for Micheal.  Best of luck and have a great time!

Lakshman Prabhakar, a junior major in Earth and Planetary Sciences, was awarded the George O. Scott Scholarship for Undergraduate Field Study in Geological Sciences.  This is the highest award the departmentLakshman Prabhakar grants to majors to help attend an external field camp.  Lakshman was selected for this award based on his high overall academic achievement, excellent course work within the major, and faculty recommendations.  This award comes with a $1,500 scholarship, which Lakshman will be using to attend field camp during the winter of 2022/2023.  Congratulations Lakshman and keep up the good work!

IMG 8849Jason Kawalec, a junior in the Planetary Sciences Major Track, has been selected as the winner of the 2022 Vinton Gwinn Award for Excellence in Research.  This award is given to an undergraduate major in their 3rd or 4th year of their studies who has participated and excelled in independent research.  In addition to the academic excellence he has exhibited in all of his course work, Jason has worked on 3 different independent study projects over the last 2 years.  He has previously conducted research on creating 3D models of geologic outcrops and samples under the supervision of Dr. Lauren Neitzke Adamo, and on analyzing albedo trends in Martian surface features in satellite data with Dr. Luju Ohja.  Jason will be traveling to Costa Rica this summer to conduct drone surveys on several dormant volcanoes to create high-resolution 3D lava flow and potential risk maps.  Great job Jason and good luck inDiana D'Albero and Jessie Friedman Costa Rica!

Seniors, Diana D’Albero and Jessie Friedman, were both awarded the George H. Cook Awards for Department Service.  This award is given to advanced students who have gone above and beyond in their service to the department.  Diana and Jessie were both instrumental in keeping the undergraduate geology club going over the last year or so, an especially impressive feat during the times of Covid.  They are commended for their dedication to always promoting geology at Rutgers and for helping out whenever needed.  The department will miss them next year after they graduate, but we wish them all the best in their next adventure.

Coastal Plain Glauconites and Offshore Wind Farms

Why Do Wind Farms Care About Sticky South Jersey Mud?

Written by Ken Miller

kenpic1Driving through fertile farmlands of South Jersey adjacent to the nutrient poor soils of the Pine Barrens reminds geologists of the importance of the underlying geology.  Glauconite is a green potassium iron phyllosilicate mineral familiar to most New Jersey geologists because it provides fertile farmlands in the “marls” of the coastal plain.  The Cretaceous-Paleogene outcrop (i.e., the geologic boundary marking the end of the Mesozoic and the large extinction event that killed the dinosaurs) paralleling the NJ Turnpike is rich in glauconite, whereas the beachy sands of the Kirkwood-Cohansey Formations found in the Pine Barrens are rich in quartz.  Since the time of Lyell, geologists recognized that these New Jersey glauconite layers were deposited during intervals of sea-level rise in continental shelf environments.  These glauconite deposits are not only found onshore in New Jersey, but are also buried offshore beneath the modern continental shelf.

Not only are glauconite deposits important in soil and sea-level studies, but they have also become an importantkenpic2 obstacle in engineering.  Engineers installing offshore wind farms within these deep continental shelf geologic layers are finding that the unusual properties of this mineral pose unique geotechnical challenges. Specifically, glauconite grains tend to easily shatter into gummy, thick, sticky muds when disturbed by drilling or installing foundations due to its crushability.  To address these challenges, a team of Rutgers scientists led by Rutgers Professor Ken Miller together with University of Massachusetts Professors Zack Westgate (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Ryan Beemer (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), as well as Haley & Aldrich Geotechnical Consulting, were contracted by a Joint Industry Partnership led by the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute through support from with two major offshore energy developers to locate sites to study the geotechnical properties of glauconite. 

After an extensive hunt, the Search Farm in Upper Freehold Township was identified as an ideal location for tests.  The site, owned by William (Bill) Search, is adjacent to the “Contact Creek” and Crosswicks Creek outcrops first recognized by Dick Olsson in 1960, as kenpic3containing the contact between the Cretaceous (K) and Paleogene (Pg) and a major mass extinction, the K/Pg boundary.  Drilling on the Search Farm in 2009 to study the K/Pg boundary showed that this site has a ~50 ft thick layer of glauconite sands comprising the Paleocene Hornerstown Formation overlying the Maastrichtian Navesink “greensands”. Both deposited on the middle continental shelf during a rise in sea level that inundated this area, and a world-class K/Pg boundary. Mr. Search agreed to lend his farm to the cause of science again in 2022.  

From February to April, engineering studies were conducted on the greensands to evaluate their geotechnical properties.  Work is still ongoing, but the knowledge obtained from these studies will inform future efforts to establish offshore wind farms. When asked about the significance of this project, Dr. Westgate stated “This project represents the first major joint industry field scale research effort in the US related to pile foundations for offshore wind.  The amount of instrumentation deployed and data being collected for various aspects of pile foundation installation and performance will provide a solid basis for assessing the impact of glauconitic sands on East Coast developments.”

Houston, We’re Going Back to the Moon!

372 kg of Moon Rock and "Soil"

Written by Alissa Madera, Graduate Student in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

CoreExtrusion TeamIn 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts collected and sealed “soil” samples from the lunar surface that remained unopened until March 2022. Rutgers’ own Dr. Juliane Gross, currently Deputy Apollo Sample Curator for NASA Johnson’s Space Center, experienced firsthand the opening of these samples after 50 years of being sealed. Why wait so long? Samples are now being opened in preparation for the return to the Moon and collection of new lunar samples in the late 2020s!

When NASA sent astronauts to the Moon, they collected and stored samples of rock and “soil” to be returned to Earth for scientific studies. These critical samples helped scientists understand the formation of the Earth-Moon system, as well as identify the Moon’s composition, age, and how the Moon evolved geologically through time. Knowing scientific instruments would make significant progress with time, NASA saved these some of these samples to be opened and studied later in more precise detail with more advanced equipment.

On March 21st, Dr Juliane Gross of Rutgers University, also currently Deputy Apollo Sample Curator for  NASAPristine Apollo17 Johnson’s Space Center (JSC) Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division in Houston, Texas, and her team opened a sealed core sample from the Apollo 17 mission. The opening of the core is a part of NASA’s Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) Program driven to understand how well these samples were collected and sealed 50 years ago as NASA prepares to return astronauts to the lunar surface with the Artemis program in the late 2020s.

When collected, the core sample was sealed under vacuum to prevent loss of any precious lunar gasses. A core piercer and gas extraction tool from the European Space Agency (ESA) was developed to extract these gasses prior to opening the core sample so that scientists can better understand the compositions of volatiles that may be trapped in lunar soil. These volatiles can be found as ice at the cold, lunar polar regions and serve as an important resource for astronauts.

Gross GasExtractionOnce the gasses were extracted, Dr. Gross and her team began the process of core extrusion. Careful measurements were taken using X-ray CT scan that provided 3D images of the core sample to be used as a “roadmap” for the curators during the extrusion of the core. This process was successfully completed by March 22, 2022 with Dr. Gross and her team being the first people since 1972 to see this sample of lunar soil. The curators will now take the next few months to carefully separate the core into samples that will be sent globally to researchers for scientific studies.

This novel perspective of the Moon provided by the newly opened Apollo 17 core sample will help scientists answer many questions about our closest planetary neighbor. It is an exciting time in planetary science, and we congratulate Dr. Juliane Gross and her team as they make history 50 years later!



Plain, Charlie (2022, March 6). NASA Studies ‘New’ 50-Year-Old Lunar Sample to Prep for Return to the Moon. Retrieved March 27 from

Williams, Catherine Ragin (2022, March 25). Fifty Years Later, Curators Unveil One of the Last Sealed Apollo Samples. Retrieved March 27 from

NASA Science Live: We Just Opened a 50-year-old Moon Sample. Retrieved March 27 from