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April 24, 2015
A new feature that is tens of millions years old now greets students, faculty and visitors entering the Garrett-Strong Science Building at Northwest Missouri State University while symbolizing the integration of science and art with geology and geography on the campus.
Northwest’s Loess Hills Student Chapter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) on Friday, April 17, formally dedicated the grouping of five limestone fence posts in a flower bed in front of Garrett-Strong. The posts are arranged to represent a compass, which is an important tool for geologic mapping.
“We wanted to set something up that would look aesthetically pleasing and be kind of unusual,” said Dr. John Pope, an associate professor of geology at Northwest and the AAPG student chapter’s advisor.
Pope explained the organization had sought to secure a set of limestone fence posts for the campus for several years. Through a University connection, the AAPG chapter finally made their vision a reality this year and organized fundraisers to pay for the fence posts. The sculpture at Northwest is believed to be the only one of its kind in the Midwest.
“It was awesome to see everybody get involved and rally around this because this is something that is really important and this is something that is going to be around the building for as long as this school is here,” Mary Carol Rose, the outgoing AAPG president and a senior geology major from Omaha, Neb., said.
Each post, while mounted and set on a concrete footing, stands about 5 feet tall and weighs 400 to 600 pounds.
A closer study of the fence posts, however, reveals a deeper story that dates back at least 70 million years to the Cretaceous Period. Fossils are captured up and down each post, showing evidence of mytiloid and inoceramid clams and cephalopod shells that once inhabited a seaway covering parts of Kansas during the Cretaceous Period.
The rock formations, commonly known as Fencepost limestone, are quarried from a layer known as Greenhorn Limestone that measures about 1 foot thick and lies just a few feet below the surface.
During the mid-1800s, farmers began settling and raising crops across the ranges of Kansas. But with few trees available to cut fence posts, farmers began quarrying the limestone to cut instead. Eventually, 30,000 to 50,000 miles of limestone fencing stood across the region, Pope said.
Pope estimates the fence posts installed at Northwest, which came from north central Kansas, are more than a century old, while notches from the wire fencing that once wrapped around them are sawed into their sides.
Northwest’s Loess Hills Student Chapter was founded by Pope and is one of about 50 to 70 AAPG student chapters throughout the world. With the support of fundraisers, scholarships and grants, the chapter works to foster scientific research, advance geology, promote technology and inspire high professional conduct.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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