Published DateBy Ed Parsons
The Northeast Section of the Geological Society of America hosted the society's annual meeting at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods March 18-20.
Sponsors for the event included the Mount Washington Observatory, the Omni Mount Washington Resort, Dartmouth College, the Geological Society of New Hampshire, University of New Hampshire and more.
According to Brian Fowler of Madison, a retired geological engineer who was chairman of the organizing committee for this 2013 meeting at Bretton Woods, a total of 1,139 geologists signed up and came, and the meeting was a great success.
"This was the largest attendance for a Northeast section meeting in 48 years," said Fowler. "It was a unique chance for geologists in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec that both teach and work in the field to get together."
Comradeship in an amiable setting and the cross pollination of scientific ideas work very well together. Afterward there were many requests to have the meeting at Bretton Woods again.
The grand hotel hosted this large group in good style. From the start, hotel officials were very welcoming, offering a great off-season deal, and opening many areas of the hotel for them to use including the newer Presidential Wing, where there are six ample auditoriums and a wide foyer for coffee and conversation between presentations.
The hotel also responded quickly to unplanned events. Attendees were free to choose where to eat, from various on-site facilities including the main dining room, to traveling nearby. On Tuesday the 19th, with a blizzard and gusty winds outside, the management decided to put on a special luncheon for the large group in the Great Hall.
"There was a big roaring fire in the fireplace, a near white-out outside, and the Great Hall was packed," said Fowler. "It was a great New England experience."
With much networking to accomplish, the schedule was formidable, and started on the weekend before the official meeting. On both Saturday and Sunday, there were guided excursions to the summit of Mount Washington in the Observatory snow tractor. A couple examples of other weekend field trips were "Landslides in the White Mountains" and "Glacial Geology/Archeology." A few technical workshops were also scheduled on the weekend, but on Monday the tight schedule for the next two and a half days began.
There were two ways for a researcher to make a presentation. Those who didn't like to speak to a crowd could have a half day "poster session" in a room lined with exhibit boards, where they could tack up posters of their work and talk to those interested. These presentations were scheduled on the program.
There were also popular half-day oral technical sessions. To give geologists a taste of each other's research that would promote networking, individual oral presentations were only about 20 minutes long. These were grouped by subject into half day technical sessions in eight different auditoriums. Twelve or 13 presentations — every one using Power Point to illustrate — could fit into a half-day session.
On Tuesday morning, after an interesting drive up Crawford Notch in the blizzard, this writer attended a packed oral technical session entitled "History of Geology in the Northeast: A Symposium to Mark the 125th Anniversary of the Geological Society of America." Brian Fowler had recommended it, as well as the ensuing afternoon session in the same room entitled "Glacial History of the New England — Canadian Border Region."
Because of its special status, the morning session was an interesting mix of both technical presentations and historical ones. One non-technical talk entitled "Art and Geology in Nineteenth Century New England" was given by a uniquely qualified art professor at Wellsley College named Rececca Bedell. She has a degree in geology as well. Briefly, art and science were wedded in the 19th century and grew apart in the 20th. Early White Mountain painters of the 19th century like Thomas Cole were versed in the geology of the day and its terms, unlike most landscape artists today.
Peter Crane of the Mount Washington Observatory talked about the New Hampshire geologists Hitchcock and Huntington, who perceived of the idea and participated in the first over-wintering of a scientific crew on Mount Washington in 1870-71. Up to then the meteorological extremes on the summit were suspected, but rarely experienced.
The afternoon technical session was an eye opener on the extent that the advance and retreat of the last ice age is studied today. All 11 presentations took different approaches to this, and as is expected at such a gathering, sometimes one presentation would include findings that would effect the conclusions of another. Although an untrained observer of a session wouldn't notice this, talking to a speaker could.
For example, Brian Fowler, who has been studying the surface geology the White Mountains since he was young, gave a presentation that included the Littleton/Bethlehem Moraine, a long moraine that snakes west to east north of the mountains, and was formed when the glacier moved south again after the main event, during a cold period called the Older Dryas. He and his geologist friend Woody Thompson have been searching it out for years.
Briefly, they tracked it north around Berlin to Shelburne, N.H., where it ended at a terminal moraine they called the Androscoggin Moraine.
The scientist who gave a presentation just before him was studying the same area. He had obtained a "cosmogenic date" of the Androscoggin Moraine, and found that the section around Berlin to Shelburne was too young to be part of the Littleton/Bethlehem Moraine, and was instead formed after the Older Dryas. So, the Littleton/Bethlehem Moraine probably petered out somewhere north of the Crescent Range. But further research might challenge this yet again.
Such interplay is a part of science. It is hard to note all the practical applications that such science can eventually have, but Fowler offered one. "Today a lot of deposits that were formed in relation to the glacier carry groundwater. Exact tracking of the glacier helps find water."
There were seven other oral technical sessions going on in both the morning and afternoon, on such topics as climate change, groundwater, natural gas and fracturing, salt marsh ecogeomorphology, the use of Google Earth in research and more.
"In all there were 618 individual presentations," said Fowler, including both oral and poster sessions. "This was an all-time Northeast section record."
On a different note, in the Grand Ballroom were two aisles of exhibitors and vendors with a wide variety of related interests, from selling old geology books to the International Appalachian Trail. John Mudge of Durand Press was there. Amongst his publications for sale were Brian Fowler's map, "Surficial Geology of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range," and the new book "Geology of New Hampshire's White Mountains" written by seven New England authors including Brian Fowler, Woody Thompson, Thom Davis, archeologist Richard Boisvert and more.
After Tuesday's sessions, this writer walked out of the buzzing hotel into the blowing snow, walked a couple hundred yards out to the guest parking lot, and drove back through Crawford Notch in the continuing storm, an exciting way to end an interesting day.
Ed Parsons is hiking columnist for The Conway Daily Sun.