Feb. 19, 2013
Geology professor’s long-term research project published
By Philip Gruenwald, media relations assistant
A recently published paper by Dr. John Pope, assistant professor of geology at Northwest Missouri State University, contains seven years of research and could be a valuable asset for the agricultural and mining industries in Iowa.
Pope’s paper, “Description of Pennsylvanian Units, Revision of Stratigraphic Nomenclature, and Reclassification of the Morrowan, Atokan, Desmoinesian, Missourian, and Virgilian stages in Iowa,” was published by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It is about biostratigraphy, a fusion of geology and paleontology used to correlate rock units from one state to another. Pope’s research shows how our understanding of Iowa geology has changed from 1965 to 1984 and the present, with nine new rock units named in Iowa.
Pope’s research is a culmination of his undergraduate research projects over the last 10 years, his geological map of Iowa, a program on radiolarian paleoecology presented at the “Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences” in Moscow in 2011, and a radiolarian paper published in “Micropaleontology” in 2012.
The Iowa geologic map is especially beneficial for cartographers, agricultural workers or miners searching for underground mineral resources such as coal and limestone.
“If someone is looking for economic resources in the rock, they’re better prepared to know where to look for them with this type of research,” Pope said. “So the Iowa Department of Transportation will use it a lot, along with people in the mining and quarry industries.”
The United States Geological Survey has called for geologic mapping and biostratigraphy research in every state in America. Pope’s research supplements recently completed work by geologists in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma.
Pope surveyed exposed rock outcroppings in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. He documented rock stratification and collected rock and fossil samples, often with a crew of 30-40 scientists and with geographic information systems (GIS) professionals. Using the scanning electron microscope (SEM) in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Pope examined the rock samples and identified invertebrate fossils called conodonts and radiolarians. Based on the identification of these fossils, Pope determined where the coal and limestone-bearing Pennsylvanian subsystem rocks could be found in Iowa.
The CIE, located on the north edge of the University campus, is a mixed-use incubator with emphasis on technology-based, start-up companies. The academic wing contains more than 16,000 square feet of highly specialized teaching and research labs and offices.
Most of the fossils Pope analyzed are less than 1 millimeter across.
“Without the CIE, we wouldn’t have any other options for analyzing the rock and fossils,” Pope said. “The only option before was to look at these fossils under a regular light microscope, but you couldn’t tell what any of the external features of the tiny fossils look like.”
Pope likes to incorporate his geology students in his research, because it gives them the chance to learn practical skills and create a published abstract. The student research part is partially funded by undergraduate research grants through Northwest’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“If it wasn’t for the funding that Dean Charles McAdams provides, this would be a lot more difficult to do,” Pope said. “Undergraduate research funding was one of the reasons I came to Northwest as an undergraduate, because that was an opportunity I didn’t have in other schools. I am glad Dean McAdams continues to fund the program.”
The paper “Middle Pennsylvanian (Desmoinesian) Radiolaria from the Midcontinent of North America” describes nine new fossilized species Pope named with his co-authors. He named one species, Entactinia dianae, after his wife. Still, Pope acknowledges his work is unfinished.
“I always look at publications as project reports,” Pope said. “It’s not the end of the research. It just means that somebody else can continue it later on.”
Future researchers could come from Northwest’s Department of Natural Sciences. Pope is proud of the attention the department gives to undergraduate research. Other universities’ graduate programs tend to overshadow their undergraduate program, Pope said. A hands-on undergraduate education can lead to a successful career in the growing geology field.
“Now that people my age and a little older are retiring over the next 10-20 years, we can’t produce geologists fast enough to fill the openings that are coming up,” Pope said. “So it’s one of the few disciplines where the job market is actually opening up, with many good-paying jobs.”
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