Tuesday, November 11, 2014

URSP Student Jonathan Culpepper Conducts Sediment Core and Age-Dating Analysis of the Historical Green Run Inlet of Assateague Island

I have always had fond memories of the beach. The breezes, the sunshine and the sand between my toes have always been a part of my life. I was largely raised in the Sunshine State-- Florida. As a child my parents would take my siblings and I on excursions to beaches all over the state, sometimes for just a day, other times for weeks. Being on the coast reminds me of those places and how amazing they are, and sets the stage for new experiences, new memorable times. And so, I love the beach. What better way to intermingle both my love of these locations and my educational/professional goals then to study barrier islands, aka-- big beaches.

To properly understand the geomorphology of any barrier island complex, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, and by bottom I mean up to 10 meters below that sand that lies beneath my feet. But getting at sand that deep isn’t easy and maintaining the important aggradational structures can be even harder. We use a Vibracore.

A vibracore works essentially like pulling your straw out of your soda with your finger on top-- the soda in the straw stays in the straw as no air can rush in to fill the space. We use a really big, metal pipe (straw) with a vibrating head to sink it deep into the core of the barrier island. Then we yank it out, cut it open and eagerly examine the record of barrier island development presented to us.

The relative frequency of sand grain sizes found in the core are just as important to this record as are the structures. So, after field work actually taking the cores from the island is completed, I take pictures and describe the structures I see in them, as well as sieving through countless samples to separate and differentiate between the grain sizes taken at strategic points to garner a more complete history of the island.

I plan to work in the petroleum industry upon graduation from George Mason and as the largest, terrestrial, oil reserves have been found and tapped, the industry has shifted a major focus to prospecting efforts in the marine realm. Large slides of sediment from the land into the ocean can trap a large amount of biological material in a literal heat engine, compressing, cooking and producing the oil that world runs on. Barrier islands do not hold oil reserves as they do not remain stationary over long periods of time (geologic time), however the study of these are similar in many ways to the study of seafloor oil reservoirs. And lets be honest, I get to work on the beach, and an office like that is hard to beat.