Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ah the Darwin Awards

The briliance of the Darwin Awards it that they are funny and usually appropriate. I find dark humor very funny and this site appeals to me. So, to take advantage of this I wanted to make another fun page on my website using this but I don't always like actually doing the legwork.This is where my students come in. I figured I would make a school extra credit assignment using the site. These are the objectives:

“The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those
who accidentally remove themselves from it...”

Your assignment is to scour the website -
and find any such awards that relate to geology. I am not sure if any exist but I am
sure they do. You are to then do the following:
1. Provide a link to the specific award
2. Write up a short description of why you think this belongs in a Geological Darwin
Award category
3. Then let me know if you mind if I cite you as a source for finding this on a future
page on my website (If I think it is a good example).
4. Have fun
I have a bunch of them turned in and most, if not all, of them work well. So hopefully I should be able to post these as I go through them.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

When did Politicians become Scientists?

"But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes."

Sarah Palin


Why do people who probably had one science class in high school think they are suddenly experts on a subject that I study daily and still don't know everything about? And as my office mates have stated, people need to get it through their thick heads that there is a difference between climate and weather. First off we change weather patterns all the time (smog anyone) and second we are constantly influencing climate if only from our pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere but with a whole host of other influences. I hate, hate, HATE, it when people think they know what they are talking about. It is just as bad as when celebrities talk about politics. SHUT UP, you don't know what you are talking about. Leave it to those who do.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reason to be a Paleontologist

So I was reading this article for class and it actually gave me a reason to be a paleontologist that you can tell the outside world. Usually I get the question, "So how is this going to help humanity?" and my response is usually one of "I don't care about humanity". But this is useful:

"If indeed a crisis in biodiversity is occurring, what can paleontologists contribute to the understanding? The simple answer is, a huge amount. We are the only scientists who have ever seen biodiversity crises to their end, know consistent characteristics of species at risk, and have some idea of what happens in the aftermath. We are also the only ones who have seen crises of differing severity and can conduct comparative studies of death and recovery."

"We can expand our role beyond informing other scientists and the public about life in the past. We can help inform scientists and the public about life in the future."

Sepkoski, J.J., Jr., 1997, Biodiversity: past, present, and future: Jour. Paleontology, 71(4):533-539.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

National Parks Visit - Bryce Canyon

It has taken a while but I finally am updating my pictures for the National Parks I visited this summer. The pictures are filtered down to some of my favorites or the ones that show the best geology.

First up
Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the panaramics I tried to do. It looks much better blown up.
All the other pictures were taken along a hike through the bottom of the canyon with my lovely wife (seen above). The pictures are listed backwards for the most part and I am too lazy to fix them. Sorry)

As we were climbing out.

Towards the bottom, near the creek.

Looking across the landscape.

Looking up at the Hoodoos

As we enter.

Before the descent

Looking ahead at what we are about to tackle.

You can check out the rest of my Utah National Parks at my website - Here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"How the Earth was Made"

Ok, I am telling everyone that they need to watch the season 2 premier of How the Earth was Made on the History Channel tomorrow at 9pm EST. The episode supposedly will feature my old advisor, Dr. Richard Young, on the making of the Grand Canyon. You can check out the press release on my undergrad college, SUNY Geneseo's, webpage.


Been off in Mexico the last week and I have TONS of stuff I want to post, so hopefully I can start to get caught up this weekend.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Geo-Paleo blogs from across the Globe

Stumbled upon a new blog that I highly recommend. It seems fairly new but it is a really cool concept. It is not directly Geo or Paleo but related but is an Evolution advocate blog. Really funny, highly recommend.

The Axis of Evo

Also this has been added to the blogroll on the left.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Geo Story Time

I just remembered a geology related story/memory that I figured I would tell:

About 7 years ago I was on a trip with my Sequence Stratigraphy class down to the joint regional GSA session in Kentucky. When the class got down there we saw a huge sign that said "BEER". It was a calling. So later that evening we had our professor drop us off at the store while he went away and did something else. So we shopped around, picked up lots of goodies for the coming days, and when we were all done we went out and sat on the curb waiting for our professor to get back and pick us up.

This is when another person pulled up to the store, looked at all the young 20something's sitting on the curb, with piles of beer, and said "Let me guess, geologists, right?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fun with Paleontologists

Considering a situation that a friend of mine found themselves in, it reminds me of a story from GSA. The players in this are - Myself (an awestruck paleontologist, excited to meet someone famous), an initially awe inspiring Famous Vertebrate Paleontologist (FVP), and My Advisor, a famous Ichnologist:

My Advisor was talking to said FVP and introduced me. Now since my advisor is a famous Ichnologist, so mentioned FVP would obviously assume I knew nothing about verts, so that is understandable.

My Advisor: "FVP I would like you to meet my new student"

FVP: talking to me "You wouldn't know anything about me"

Myself: "Oh actually I do, I sent you an email because I really wanted to work on my PhD with you" seeing blank stare I continued "about 2 years ago. My masters is in vertebrate paleontology, but I eventually ended up in Utah"

FVP: "Oh well, I hope your having fun there"

And off he went to talk to a fellow grad student. I felt like no more than dandruff on his sleeve and he couldn't wait to leave that conversation. I found out later from my advisor that he is frequently referred to as Arrogant with a capital "A", so I don't feel as bad, but really. This is actually the impression I get from a good chunk of vertebrate paleontologists (~65%), the I'm better than you and I know everything attitude, and that was one of the reasons I decided to leave the field (at least temporarily) in the first place.

Accretionary Wedge Deadline TOMORROW!!!!

Anyone interested in joining the Accretionary Wedge this month, the extended deadline is tomorrow. You can find the original post Here at Magma Cum Laude.

What kind of Earth Science outreach have you participated in? Have you hosted a geology day at your department, given a field trip, gone to your child's/niece's/nephew's/cousin's school to do a demonstration, or sponsored an event for Earth Science Week? (This year's Earth Science Week is about Understanding Climate, so if you're a climate scientist, please chime in!) What was your favorite experience (or what funny stories came out of one that didn't go as planned)?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Do's and Don'ts of a Professional Meeting

So when I go wandering around a professional meeting, like GSA, I see a LOT of things that I would never have done, and I also see things that I would like to never do. Unfortunately I can be a bit hyper-critical, but it is just the way my mind thinks. So here is a list of Do's and Don'ts (mostly don'ts) at a professional meeting. Now since taking pictures of talks or posters and making fun of them online is frowned upon, so there are no pictures associated with these, but trust me they happen (and most happened this meeting).

1. Never ever ever EVER put up the title in separate sheets of paper taped together. I mean really, are we in kindergarten?

2. And while we are on that topic, this is the modern day, don't put up separate sheets of paper with colored construction paper behind each part. Print out a full poster like everyone else. It's not difficult technology, learn it.

3. Too much text. I saw some posters that had to shrink down the font to fit in all their text. Nobody is going to read that, nobody. Cut it down and make it larger.

4. Title size. The way I walked through the poster session is I looked at the titles and any that seemed interesting I stopped at. You should make the font size of the title LARGE and the length of the title SHORT. That way people can get the gist of it as they walk by.

5. Vivid colors. Make your poster stand out. Use large pictures. Make people want to look at it. Your in a session with 100's of other posters. Make yours different.

6. This one is just my feelings. Try to use more technology. I saw one with a projector, this is new and different. Try something that is interesting to get people's interest. Add some showmanship.

1. Make yourself presentable. Make it look like you want to be in the front of the room. Exude confidence. I understand this isn't easy for everyone but practice will always help.

2. Use PowerPoint to work with you. If you want to highlight something, use PowerPoint to emphasize it. Shakily pointing the laser pointer at the screen does nothing to help your talk. Especially if you are nervous and you can't hold the pointer steady.

3. Busy slides - there are 3 versions this:
A. Too many graphs. I saw one slide with >20 graphs on one slide. What are you kidding me? Be realistic on what people will be able to understand
B. Too many pictures. 6 pictures on one slide is just as bad as too many graphs. Break them into different slides so people can actually see what you are looking at.
C. Too much text. People are NOT going to read a busy slide. They just aren't. Don't kid yourself that this info is important, it doesn't matter. Give the main points and extrapolate in your talk.

4. Learn to title a talk. If your going to give the title of your talk as a question, MAKE SURE YOU ANSWER THE FREAKING QUESTION in the talk. Also try to make it interesting, if no one understands what you are presenting on, your likely not going to get many people listening.

5. Sound interested. You obviously think you information is interesting enough to talk about, so sound like it. Monotonous talks are just boring.

6. Don't overuse PowerPoint. Yes PowerPoint has a lot of neat features. Don't use ALL of them in your talk. The best animation you can use is just "Appear". Unless you have a reason for using a different animation don't use it. Less is more.

7. Use decent picture. I saw many talks where the person said "now you can't see such and such but it is right here" or "this sign says such and such". Take another freaking picture. You will know almost instantly if your picture is good or not, blurry or not, what you want it to be of or not. I mean really. This should be common sense.

8. Don't apologize. If you accidentally flip forward just go back. Apologizing just takes the listener out of the talk.

9. Reference Slide. I didn't actually see this one at GSA but I'm sure it was there. No one is going to sit there and go through your references. Especially if you one stay on the slide for 5 seconds. Get rid of it. Don't use it. I mean really, this should also be common sense. If you have to reference something, reference it on the actual slide where the info takes place, put it on the bottom, in a smaller font, and out of the way.

10. Don't read off your talk (updated 10-27). Two points here, don't reitterate the title of your talk, more than likely this was already announced by the person introducing you. Also don't read off the slide. The people in the audience can read (probably) so you should just highlight some points on the slide and go into depth in your talk. We are not in 2nd grade and don't need a read-a-long lesson.

That is all I can think of right now. If anyone has any other ideas, let me know and I can add them in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Drill Rig visit

So I am currently enrolled in this class called PICP 1 (Petroleum Industry Career Path, and yes I had to look that up), offered here at the University of Utah. The class is pretty straight forward. In class 1 we learn about well logging and how to read all the scribbly lines that come back from placing large complicated devices down a little tiny hole. Well the best part of the class by far (and one of the better field trips I have been on) we went down to central Utah to look at an actual drill rig in action. Unfortunately I forgot my camera (damn it) but I did have my phone. And to my surprise the picture came out really well. So here they are:

Driving up we saw a lot of oil wells currently in production. One finishing up their drill and this one in full fledged drilling mode.

They use drilling mud which is a mixture of water and a whole lot of crap. What they do is they pump it down the drill pipeline and it shoots out through holes in the drill bit. This helps keep the bit cool and provides a way to remove all the rocks and flour produced by the rotating bit. Well if you look at the pond above you can see the surface is covered with oil and muck. What is really cool is they had not even gotten to the oil producing layers yet! This is all just stuff in the other rocks layer not worth producing.

This is an actual drill bit that they would use. I'm not sure what the black spots are though. I think they are a variety of compressed carbon but I could be wrong.

Now starting with this picture and going through the next several you will see them actually adding in a new piece of drilling pipe. One of the pictures I think I messed up the order but you get the general gist of it. They disconnect the old connection. The water rushes out that is in the pipe. They move the top piece over to a new piece of pipe. Attach it. Lift the whole thing up and add it back in to the old piece. It was awesome that we got to see this in person.

And our last stop ofter this we got to see the material they were drilling through and I thought this picture showed two very nice faults (and actually they may have been drilling on this very fault). The faults intersect towards the top of the picture.

Friday, October 23, 2009

GSA Days 1.5-4

Alright I posted on most of day one previously so I might as well finish that up as well as complete my analysis of the rest of GSA.

End of Day 1 - Sunday
I mentioned previously the talks on Sunday so I will jump ahead to the poster session.

There were approximately 300-400 posters on any given day of the talk. I don't know about any one else, but this is a LOT of posters to walk through. Unlike some people I don't typically pull out poster titles or abstracts prior to the meeting and go and check them out. I prefer to wander around the posters and stop and look at the ones that interest/intrigue me. There were 4 people from my department presenting posters Sunday so I stopped and talked with most of them. I was also greatly intrigued by one poster where the person put a nail into a board, but in such a way that it was impossible to take out, or figure out how it went in. So he wanted his students to come up with hypotheses on how the nail got into the board. This was to show that not everything that is impossible was created by God (or something like that). It actually had me thinking about it the next day, so I say that was a good poster. Unfortunately I didn't really see any "next-gen" posters liked I hoped to (i.e. a little more tech, a little less tape and glue).

After the poster session I went to the welcoming reception. It was rather enjoyable. I didn't look at any of the exhibitors, I just focused on finding old friends or colleagues. I actually ran into a couple of old professors from Texas Tech (my Master's school) and talked with them for a while as well as the people they were chatting with. Overall good. I got a few free beers so I think it went well. Afterwards I ended up going downtown to the Rock Bottom Brewery where I had 2 more beers. Count that 5 beers total for the night. This is important to my productivity the next day.

Day 2 - Monday
So I woke up and I felt like I had died, and after only 5 beers. I felt worse than I had in a very long time (I assume now it was something to do with the Rock Bottom beers because my stomach was off for a few days afterwards). Well I promised to be at the University of Utah booth and help set up so I got my butt up and went down to the convention hall at around 8. Well after about 1/2 an hour I realized this wasn't happening so I went back to bed. I slept until about noon when I felt much better than before and wanted to head to the lunch lecture on carbon sequestration. Hopefully this one would be much better than the last.

Can CO2 Sequestration Help Solve the Global Warming Problem?
The one really big problem I had with this talk was that the answer to the question in the title was not what the talk was about at all. Not one iota. The answer was a forgone assumption that yes it can help, and here is how we do it. Other than that pissing me off it was a rather informative talk, but one I would have preferred if they titled it the correct way, instead of misleading us.

The rest of Monday was spent wandering around the exhibit hall. I also spent some time at the U of U's school booth. And got to meet some people through my advisor that I really wanted to meet. I was given some papers of Roy Plotnick's to read as an intro to my PhD research and I thought his ideas were fantastic and unconventional and I really wanted to meet him. So it was great that I actually got to. We talked for a good 1/2 an hour, and now hopefully I have a future contact I can use.

Well this interaction also left me late to something I also really wanted to go to. The movie A Flock of Dodos was being shown from 4-6 with questions being answered by the creator of the movie as well. This movie was fantastic. I recommend it to every geologist out there as a must see. I will have future comments coming on this as soon as I can buy it and watch the entire thing. There are some very good points that I would like to pull out from there.

After this I went back to my hotel, grabbed some dinner then went out to socialize with the geobloggers. That has been recounted many times over the geobloggosphere but you can check out a photo of everyone at Callan's NOVA Geoblog.

Day 3 - Tuesday
I felt better, so I was determined to actually go to some talks since my Monday was essentially a waste. In the morning I went to a bunch of paleontology talks, but nothing that really stood out in my mind unfortunately. A lot of talks seemed to be heavily math based and although I can understand math quite well, it doesn't lead to an interesting talk to sit through.

Well around 11 I found my advisor and we talked for a bit, then I had to rush off to the ad hoc eGSA committee meeting (Of which it took me forever to find and resulted in me being 20 minutes late). Tuff Cookie from Magma Cum Laude was also involved with this. That went rather well and I will probably be talking about that later as well.

Went back to GSA and sat through more talks, as well as one by my friend in an Andes uplift section. Now I don't know much about structural geology but I thought her talk went rather well and if I understood it then it was presented clearly and concisely, as well.

Afterwards I found myself with a bunch of sedimentologists from Scotland and we ended up going to dinner at a restaurant called Farm (I think) that actually had really good food. I was quite impressed. I also had a glass of wine (my only foray into the "From Volcanoes to Vineyards" topic of GSA this year). Then went out to some random bar next door with dead body mannequins hanging from the ceiling but they were playing like polka music or some other random variety of music that really had nothing to do with the theme of the bar. Weird.

Day 4 - Wednesday
Last day so I had to pack up all my stuff. This resulted in me being late and missing a lot of the talks I wanted to attend to first thing in the morning. But I must say that the luggage service that GSA offered was fantastic. I came in, dropped off my bag, then when I had to leave, came over and picked it up. No problems whatsoever, and easy as cake. Nice job.

Went to some more paleo talks in the morning and then in the afternoon, after wandering around and getting the complete feel of any remaining exhibitors that I may have missed, I went to a session on Promoting literacy about the earth sciences. And did I feel out of place. Well they didn't have an opening talk, just 15 minutes of opening remarks. Which, I got there early for because by this point I was exhausted from a long week. Then someone in the room had us all introduce ourselves. Well I don't know about anyone else, but I really have no desire to have everyone in these talks know who I am, and man was I tired. I was not too happy about this one. That and I had to leave right after the first talk anyway.

So after this I headed back home to walk through my door roughly at about midnight Wednesday night. Overall a great meeting, saw old friends and made a lot of new ones. I will probably have one more post that is generally about the meeting but more specifically on do's and don'ts in a professional meeting.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Geo-Paleo Blogs from around the World Update

I updated the list of Geo-Paleo blogs on the left margin to include people from the GSA Geoblog get together in Portland. I also shrunk it down by removing what their most recent post was and how long ago it was. I figure it probably doesn't matter that much and saves on some space.

And this is why I can't leave for 2 weeks

After a lengthy fall break where I went home to NY and then off to GSA in Portland. This is what I come back to in my office. Yea and I thought undergrads were immature.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Portland Geoblogger Fest - 2009

So the geoblogger get together was awesome. It was great to put faces with the blogs and also to be introduced into a whole new set of blogs. So here is a compilation list of all the blogs that were represented. I will add to them if I missed any (and let me know if I did I didn't get to fully talk with everyone). The names are omitted so the people can remain safely anonymous.

Active Margin
All My Faults are Stress Related
Clastic Detritus
Dino Jim's Musings (me)
Geologic Frothings
Geology at
Highly Allochthonous
Looking for Detachment
Lounge of the Lab Lemming
Magma Cum Laude
NOVA Geoblog
Oblate Spheroid
Pooh's Thoughts (updated 10/22)
Research at a Snail's Pace
Riparian Rap (updated 10/22)
Ron Schott's Geology Home Companion Blog
Stories in Stone

So I got 18 (as of 10/22) that i can remember. Please let me know of anyone I missed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

GSA Portland - Day 1

So a summation of my first day at GSA. Hear are some of the highlights of my day:

From the Geoscience Education Talks:

She is a professor at a college who is trying to use alternative forms of teaching geology. Mainly she used a textbook, Language of the Earth, that tried to teach geology through telling stories. This is very similar to my thing of Geology through Literature. I had a pleasant conversation with her afterwards as well.

This talk was directly before mine and had me really (and I mean REALLY) nervous before I went because the titles are very similar. But as I read her abstract I got the feeling she was going in a different direction than mine. And as I watched the talk it reemphasised the point that our talks were very complimentary of each other. I don't know if she stayed to watch mine but if she did hopefully she got the same impression as well.
Next came my talk. Yea! Then after that:

This was a very interesting concept. It is a place where people around the world can submit test questions and they get reviewed and reviewed and edited until they spit out the best multiple choice test questions they can get. The neat thing about this is that they emphasise questions that are not easy to figure out if you don't know the information.

After that I left because I needed to wind down from my talk, but eventually I went to the lunch lecture.
Toward a Shared Energy Future: Carbon Sequestration and the Global Corporation

This talk I did not enjoy. I assumed it would be about carbon sequestration. And it was. A little. The feeling I got leaving was I knew nothing new at all and I felt like I just sat through a half-hour advertisement for their company ADM.

After that it was off to some paleo and some Geoscience digital innovation talks.

Rather amusing but I think he downplayed the financial aspect of some of the technological needs in his talk.
UPDATE: OK, I talked with Kyle and he was correct in stating that the finances are not as bad as I envisioned them. You just have to spend more money for the cooler stuff but the cheaper stuff will still work with just a little extra effort.

I rather enjoyed this talk. I joined Twitter then never really used it because I could not foresee an actual use for it. But he put across some pretty compelling uses in our day and age for geoscience advancements.

And the last talk of note:

This is the new Vert Paleo professor at my school and I enjoyed it. Randy always come across as a pretty laid back, easy going guy. And his talk showed that, which I think made it rather enjoyable.

So that is it from day 1. I then proceeded to the posters but I will go over that in a separate post.

Geoblogger's Social Gathering

Well the nerdery will fly tonight. Geobloggers unite!!!. See the invitation post here at the NOVA Geoblog.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

GSA Portland - Part 1

Ok, so after a stressful morning I can finally sit down and relax. I gave my presentation to a relatively packed room (keep in mind "packed" never means full at conventions because no one ever wants to sit next to someone they don't know). And I thought it went pretty well. You can check out the abstract here. Anyone who was there please let me know what you thought (good bad or indifferent). This was my first presentation at a professional meeting and I personally thought it went well, but you never know. The only real problem that I encountered was that the video clips didn't have any sound. And since I did not prepare a talk during this time I felt that that might have been awkward silence. But whatever. I'm done and can enjoy some fabulous talks by other people.

Currently I am separating my time between paleontology, geoscience education, and new frontiers on the geoscience blogosphere (AKA Web 2.0). So far so good, but I haven't spent much time in the Paleo realm, which I am headed off to now.

I do not plan on reporting a play by play of the day's events but hopefully I could give some insight on some of the talks as I go. More on that later.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Genesis - In the words of a scientist

Awesome. This is basically Genesis (the book not the band) explained scientifically. It is rather amusing and definitely worth your time to watch.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Build a Dinosaur

So I ran across this article (Canadian scientist aims to turn chickens into dinosaurs) describing how one scientist wants to build a dinosaur from a chicken embryo. Although I am fully in support of this (I think it is really cool) he makes a comment:

"If I can demonstrate clearly that the potential for dinosaur anatomical development exists in birds, then it again proves that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs."
Now typically, most (and by most I mean at least 95%) of scientists do not debate this. It is a pretty well established fact (fact meaning that it is still a theory but a pretty damn well good one, like gravity) that birds came from dinosaurs. So who is he trying to prove this to? Anyone who does not believe in evolution won't believe the study anyway? I don't know, just my 2 cents.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I am a Paleontologist

And since I actual am one I figured I would post this video. (It helps I love They Might be Giants).

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Accretionary Wedge Call for Posts

The next Accretionary Wedge call for submissions is up over at cryology and co. Here is the blurb:

What remains to be discovered for future earth scientists what we (still) don't know about earth? What are the geological riddles that still lack answer - all questions are allowed - it could be a local anomaly, or a global phenomena, or something strange...(Naturally you can also include a possible answer to your problem)

So what don't we know?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Accepted!!! GSA Here I come

Well I got accepted to GSA this year. Woot Woot. I actually wasn't expecting to get in, so I guess now I need to come up with a presentation. So as promised here is my abstract. The talk is on Sunday morning at 9:20 (I'm like one of the first talks).

From Dinosaurs to Volcanoes: Helping Students Learn from Hollywood's Mistakes

Entertainment is often, if not always to some extent, a significant element of effective education. In courses designed for non-major undergraduate students a significant challenge of teaching is how to get as much important information absorbed by the students in the most effective way. Usually this is accomplished via textbooks and lectures, but there are numerous other, more innovative ideas, that can work just as effectively. One approach is to take the bad geological movies that Hollywood seems so intent on creating and using them as teaching tools to show students what is and what is not possible in the real world of geology.

Since the beginning of the movie age, geology and paleontology have provided popular subject matter for the film industry. As early as 1905, Prehistoric Peeps offered an entertaining depiction of a scientist who dreamed of being chased by dinosaurs. For over a century now, movie directors have produced a plethora of movies in which humans are chased by bizarre prehistoric creatures and many other ways that Mother Nature and the Earth could possibly fight back against its human oppressors, all in an attempt to entertain the scientifically naive public. Although entertainment is the main goal, science education could also be a goal when the films are seen in the proper perspective with a pertinent scientific background. Unfortunately, movie makers will usually forgo any real knowledge of science to produce a “blockbuster”, but even the worst pseudo-scientific movies could be used as a teaching tool by the thoughtful and clever instructor. For example, despite their outlandish plot lines, Dante’s Peak could be used to teach students the actual sequence of a Plinian eruption, and The Day After Tomorrow could be used to teach students about dangerous effects of global warming on the Gulf Stream. The only thing that is needed while viewing the movie is for an experienced science teacher to direct the students’ minds to the appropriate concepts in order to demonstrate what is plausible fact or ridiculous fiction. By setting up a series of incisive research questions highlighting the scientifically accurate parts of the movie, it is possible to use even the least scientifically accurate geological movie as an engaging and effective teaching tool, instead of just a mindless and grossly misleading waste of two hours.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Accretionary Wedge #19 - Out of the Box Teaching Ideas

Teaching is a tricky thing. You want the students to learn, but you want them to learn in such a way that they can remember the information and reiterate it if necessary. The problem with many classes now-a-days is that teaching to most teachers involves standing in front of a lecture hall, reading off notes, based on a textbook, that the students have neither any desire to read and if they do happen to read, obtain little useful knowledge out of it. Granted this may be a bleak view of education but this is sometimes how it seems.
So this months Accretionary Wedge is based on this:

"What out of the box ideas do you use to teach people about geology or geological concepts?" No need to limit yourself on ideas you have actively used. If you have used it and you think it is good, great. Is it an idea you have worked up on and gotten ready but haven't had the chance to use it yet, also great (this is pretty much my scenario). What if it is just a theory that you think would be something different and cool, even better. Anything works, as long as it is "Outside the Box" (i.e. not your typical lecture and textbook approach).

And boy did we get a wide variety of ideas. Actually the ideas were spread out enough that made me think that different people use the different senses to try and teach. Anything from touch to taste was sampled and tried, and here are the results of our experiments (some experiments fall into multiple categories so I am only going to list it under the one that seems the most appropriate or fun).

Out of the five senses this is the easiest for people to take advantage of in teaching. We live in a visual world and geology is in part a visual science. With that in mind, several of my own teaching ideas have taken advantage of this including using geological movies as a teaching tool, (You can check out Part 1 of Dante's Peak) or using classic works of literature to introduce different geological concepts (like creating topo maps in Thoreau's Walden).

Kim over at All My Faults are Stress Related has gone in a different direction. Instead of blocking her student's use of the internet, she encourages it. She uses the internet and Google Earth to teach about volcanoes across the globe. She directs the students to pick one of several volcanoes and using Google Earth, they have to determine if there are recent eruptions and evidence of lava, ash fall, or mudflows. After that they can use the Global Volcanism Program to get other information available on the volcanoes including recent eruptions and the type of lava erupted.

Using hearing as a teaching tool is not a novel idea. Typically this is the principle learning technique used in lectures but there are novel ways that this can be used. Dr. Tony Ekdale had come up with a unique way to use sonification in paleontology. "In paleontology, it is possible to render various aspects of fossil shapes, such as cephalopod suture patterns or brachiopod commissure lines, as a series of musical tones that can be recognized easily by the human ear... Evocative sounds can generate vivid images in our mind's eye. For several centuries, natural sounds have been incorporated into art." He used the natural variances in suture patterns and other paleontological patterns to create differing audible patterns. Definitely a unique take on paleontology.

Out of most of the sciences out there, geology is one of the few where touch is the principle method of learning. You need to touch and look at the rocks, minerals, maps and so on to really get a grasp at what you are dealing with. With that in mind Lockwood over at Outside the Interzone has come up with several different methods where students can use their hands to create different Earth systems. Some of his highlighted activities includes creating a 13 meter (that's right, 13 meter!) 1:1,000,000 scale cross section of the earth to demonstrate convection. Another is using iron filings and a magnet to show "how magnetic inclination can be used to determine paleolatitude." He also links to the massive manual From Mountains to Monsoons that he helped work on with step by step instructions on how to complete these and several other activities.

Food seems to be a big motivation factor in alternative teaching. Christie over at Christie at the cape currently uses cake (that's right, mmmmm cake) to teach about deformation. "As it turns out, cake deforms elastically at low stress and non-recoverably (let's call it viscous) at higher stress. The students cut as many sample cores from the cake as they can. This leads to a bit of waste, invariably eaten, thereby increasing the general level of (blood sugar) excitement in the room. Load is applied by placing other food items (of labeled mass, e.g. small cans and jars) on top of the cake cores. The students measure the surface area of contact and calculate applied stress."

A bit fattening maybe, but an awesome use of baked goods. Another healthier example is brought to us by Ian over at Hypo-theses who wants to use "a banana as an analogue for rock deformation in general, and fault propagation folding in particular. Grasp an end in each hand leaving at least the central third free. Slowly move your hands towards each other. Initially the banana will deform ductilely, and actually thicken. After the initial thickening, the banana will start to fold." He accompanies these instructions with step by step pictures of a slowly deforming banana as well as a real life comparison to his mutated fruit. And when your done, you can counter act that sheet of cake you ate previously.

Smell is one weird teaching technique that is a bit hard to quantify so I determined that Callan's method from the NOVA Geoblog about using sweat stains as an analogy for ore bodies is the best "smell learning technique". It shows how "certain types of ore bodies are thought to be 'sweated out' from magma chambers as they intrude to shallow enough levels in the crust... These hydrothermal disseminated deposits end up in the pore spaces of surrounding rocks, or filling in cracks. This is kind of like how your body sweats out a solution of dissolved salts in water." Ewww, but definitely a fitting analogy, if not a smelly one. He also goes on to describe how peanut butter between bread can be used to show how igneous sills work and how a Mack truck can be used to show how exotic terrains can be accumulated by a drifting continent.
So although there is a preponderance of typical teaching methods in the geological education community, there definitely is no shortage of people with fantastic and a little wacky out of the box teaching ideas. And who knows, perhaps someday some of these examples will become the norm in teaching.
Make sure you check out next month's Accretionary Wedge being hosted by Dave over at cryology and co.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Too Busy

Sorry for the delay in posting this month's Accretionary wedge. I have been super busy with the start of school and I hope to have it up sometime this weekend. It is currently about 2/3rds done.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Teaching Geology Through Literature - Dorian Gray

Next up in the Geology Through Literature section is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. You can check out a downloadable packet at the site with directions, answers, and lessons learned. See just the directions and questions below.

Using The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

While seeming to offer no geological significance, several works can still be used to describe the beauty available in the natural world. One of those works is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde where in one portion of the book the title character becomes obsessed with gems and minerals. This leads to a rather lengthy discussion and listing of several varieties of gems, minerals, precious metals, and a host of other things (some of which I still am not sure what are).

Project Description

Read Chapter 11 (around the middle of the chapter, begins “On one occasion he took up the study of jewels” of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. There are approximately 35 different varieties of gems, minerals, and precious metals mentioned in the text. The minerals mentioned in the text are listed out on the provided sheet.

(A website that might be of some use is:, but I recommend using Google and Yahoo! as a back-up as well, since that website does not always give the correct answers)

1. Several of the gems and minerals have multiple colors listed in the text. Write down the colors mentioned on the chart under the Color Variations column.

2. Several of the gems and minerals also list special properties in the text. Write down the special properties on the chart under the Special Properties column.

3. Gem names are often specific colored varieties of certain minerals (i.e. purple quartz is called amethyst). List what the mineral name is for the open boxes on the chart under the Alias column. (The red boxes I am unable to determine so I will not expect anyone else to determine them either. See Bonus Question 1.)

4. There are 4 different varieties of Quartz (or chalcedony, which is a variety of quartz) mentioned. What are those gems mentioned?





5. According to Mohs Hardness Scale, which of the minerals/gems mentioned are on the scale? (Fill in the blanks below, multiple blanks means multiple answers)
1 – Talc
2 – ___________
3 – Calcite
4 – Fluorite
5 – Apatite
6 – ____________; ____________
7 – ____________; ____________; ____________; ____________;
8 – ____________;
9 – ____________; ____________;
10 – ____________;

6. Looking at all the duplicates in the Alias column (i.e. garnet, quartz, etc.) what is the principle difference, other than color, between the different varieties of the same mineral?

7. What is the difference between Balas Rubies and regular Rubies?

8. Amethyst is mentioned that it “drove away the fumes of wine”. What did the ancient Greeks do with amethyst that helped corroborate this claim?

9. Which of the three gems mentioned are not inorganically formed but biologically produced?



Bonus (i.e harder than normal)
1. Fill in the dark red boxes for Aliases of the 3 unknown gems (aspilate, hydropicus, and meloceus) And if you do know what these are let me know as well.

2. What is the difference between Turquoise and Turquoise de la vieille roche?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Due TODAY!!! Accretionary Wedge

As I get ready to go off to my first day of school in 4 years with my backpack and my new school clothes I am reminded that today is the due date for the new Accretionary Wedge. Our back-to-school theme is Out of the box teaching ideas. So head on over to the original post and post a link to your entry. Any late submissions will be added as I have time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Accretionary Wedge - Teaching Ideas

I just read an article by my advisor, Dr. Tony Ekdale, that fits perfectly into the new - Accretionary Wedge: Out of the Box Teaching Ideas - that I figured I would go ahead and mention it here.

The article is called Paleontological Sonification: Letting music bring fossils to your ears (clicking on the link will bring you to the full article). The article goes into depth on how to bring things like cephalopod suture patterns, trace fossil locomotion trails, and pelecypods hinge dentition patterns into an audible realm and allow the students to decipher subtle differences between different classes and species of an organism (or traces). The article is very in depth on how to do this as well as giving three real life lab examples and some of the students reactions to it.

Very interesting and a perfect example of what I wish to compile with this new Accretionary Wedge.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reminder: ***Accretionary Wedge Deadline in 1 Week***

As I was reminded by Lockwood the deadline for the next Accretionary Wedge: Out of the Box Teaching Ideas is fast approaching (1 week from today, Friday Aug 21st). Please leave comments with a link to your submission on the original post Here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Abstract submitted for GSA

Well I just submitted my abstract for the annual GSA meeting in Portland, hopefully it will be accepted. Since I am not currently working on any research and I am just starting back at school in a month I figured I would try and present on what I had been working on in the last few years. If it gets accepted I will post the abstract otherwise here is just the title:

From Dinosaurs to Volcanoes: Helping Students Learn from Hollywood's Mistakes

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Teaching Revolution

Ok, I don't know if it is actually a "revolution" but it is revolutionary in thought. I just read this article, When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom, that discusses how in the modern "technology age" students find PowerPoint lectures as their most boring (most boring?) form of education.

Now this follows perfectly on the heals of my last post, a call for "Out of the Box" (or Outside the box) teaching ideas. The article goes on to explain how PowerPoint is perfect for outside the classroom. Have students research the topic before coming to class and then use the classroom as a forum for debate and discussion. While this may not work on larger class sizes, I can see this as a great alternative to the status quo variety of teaching. Shake things up. The only problem is that students usually don't like to do "homework" and this method basically gives them more. But I am all for alternative forms of thinking. Use the classroom to get the students inspired about a topic, not as a place to pound nonsensical information into their head. College should be a place where students learn how to think, not a place where they are inundated with useless information. Information can be obtained in numerous locations now-a-days, and usually at a faster pace than the professor can deliver it. So use technology, but not to make the life of the professor easier, to make the student a better learner.

As Einstein said "Never memorize something that you can look up."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Accretionary Wedge - Time to think OUT of the Box

This is the next call for submissions for August's edition of the Accretionary Wedge. You can find July's edition, Geologic Inspiration at Volcanista's Magmalicious Blog.

Having been particularly interested in geological education for sometime, I have wrestled with the best ways to teach students. Now we all have to admit that not everything in geology will appeal to everyone (some more than others) and not everything has the glitz and glamour of volcanoes and earthquakes. So how do we as geological professionals get out that information. There is the standard textbook and lecture approach, but that often fails to get the ADD generations attention. In this ever evolving world of technology and instant communication, what is there that is useful that we could use to teach the next generation. I for one have thought about using bad geology movies or references in fiction literature as possible teaching tools. I figure if the information is coming from an unusual source, they might be apt to remember it better.

So your mission is this: "What out of the box ideas do you use to teach people about geology or geological concepts?" No need to limit yourself on ideas you have actively used. If you have used it and you think it is good, great. Is it an idea you have worked up on and gotten ready but haven't had the chance to use it yet, also great (this is pretty much my scenario). What if it is just a theory that you think would be something different and cool, even better. Anything works, as long as it is "Outside the Box" (i.e. not your typical lecture and textbook approach).

The deadline is Friday, August 21st since this is the last Friday before classes start (for me at least). And this way I can compile responses over the weekend. Early submissions are recommended but not necessary since I probably won't get to combining them until after the deadline. Late submissions will be added as I get time. Leave your link in the comments section below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Accretionary Wedge is Up

Head on over to Volcanista's Magmalicious (I hate spelling that) Blog to check out the new Accretionary Wedge entitled Your Geological Inspiration. And of course check out future months up and coming over at the Accretionary Wedge page including my own hosting next month.

(I also added the Magmalicious Blog to my Geo-Paleo blogs from around the world to the left.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Geo-Paleo Blogs from Around the World

Just found this rather interesting blog entitled "Lounge of the Lab Lemming". It seems to be just a general geological blog with some rather interesting posts here and there. It has been added to the sidebar.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Origin of Species Drinking Game

I was just pointed to Capacious Handbag by Thomas Holtz via the VP Mailing List, where they invented a Darwin Day Drinking Game. In it:

"Each player has to read out a whole sentence from the book without stopping for breath. If they can't do it, they take a swig and try the next sentence instead."

I hope this shows people that this book is just mind numbingly boring and "only worth reading if you have to" as my Evolutionary Biology teacher put it. Some of my friends seem to think this book is awesome, I beg to differ. I reviewed this book in a previous post after I had read it during my quest to read the 100 Greatest Books of all Time.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Accretionary Wedge #18 - My Geological Inspiration

The current Accretionary wedge being hosted over at Volcanista's Magmalicious Blog and the topic is:

So July’s topic is about your inspiration to enter geoscience. Was it a fantastic mentor? Watching your geologist parents growing up? A great teacher, or an exciting intro field trip? How did it happen? Deadline of July 10, and leave your permalink in comments when your post is up!

My Story

Growing up I had been very interested in dinosaurs. And for as long as I can remember I had wanted to dig them up (although Jurassic Park scared the crap out of me). So I told people that I wanted to be an Archaeologist (since that is all I knew at the time). Until one day when I was probably around 10 I was at a family party when someone asked me what I wanted to be. I told him an Archaeologist. He asked what specifically did I want to dig up, so I told him dinosaurs. Well he corrected me and told me that they were not archaeologists but paleontologists. And from that point on I was set in the right direction.

I started my studies into paleontology with my 8th grade Earth Science class when my professor told me that the best way to become a paleontologist was to either study biology or geology (but being that he was a geologist he kind of pushed me in that direction). So I started to direct my undergraduate school options towards schools with either a paleontology department or a geology department. To help me along I took two summers of the Paleontology Field Experience with the Museum of the Rockies in Montana.

After this I went off to college with paleontology always in mind. I started immediately into the undergrad geology department at SUNY Geneseo, and I worked at it. At first the information came fairly easy to me and the information was pretty straight forward but nothing too complicated, and nothing seemed to fit together. Just a bunch of disjointed information. Then I hit Mineralogy like a lead wall. My worst grade in school to date. Well I studied and I studied hard for it (just ask my wife). And I got through it. Then things started to make sense. And the more classes I took the more they fit together, like giant puzzle pieces. And by the time I was a senior I understood it. I could see the whole picture and it fascinated me. I love puzzles and this one I just finally put together. Well, I then proceeded to study Vertebrate Paleontology in grad school at Texas Tech and that is when I had my first immersive experience as a Geology TA. I started to understand things better because I had to teach them to people who had no clue what I was talking about. From that point on I wanted to teach people geology and have them understand what became so fascinating to me. I have since moved on and am starting my doctorate in regular paleontology (not vertebrate) in the Fall at the University of Utah and have built up a website ( to help people learn about the basics of geology and I provide some out of the box teaching tools and information to help others learn geology.

So that is my story. Not all that interesting but I always find it fascinating that I started out loving dinosaurs to being more interested in teaching people about geology and finding out what other information there is to be had (but don't get me wrong, I still love dinosaurs).

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Geo-Paleo Blogs around the World

Next up on my Geo-Paleo Blogs from around the world tour is Photo Synthesis. The current blog is showing some pictures of minerals that are absolutely amazing. You have to check it out. Thanks to Kim at All my Faults... for posting about this site. Even though the remaining pictures on the site are not strictly geologically based, they are mostly all science based and some really awesome photos to boot. A link has been added to the Geo-Paleo list to the left.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Accretionary Wedge

So the new Accretionary Wedge is done, Let's do a Time Warp, and posted over that Outside the Interzone. The way Lockwood set it up is fantastic, wish I could have come up with it myself.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Geological Movie Review of Dante's Peak - Overview

Since I have completed the Geological Movie Review of Dante's Peak I am creating this post for links to all the necessary parts of it, all in one easy to find location.

Also you can find all this information in one easy location at my website:

Geological Movie Review of Dante's Peak - Questions

Dante's Peak Overview

Here are some questions I designed to be asked in a class while reviewing Dante's Peak. You can also find a PDF of this information at my website (linked through the overview page).

Dante’s Peak (1997)
Geological review questions based on the movie

This is a list of geological questions based on the movie Dante’s Peak. Some of the questions can be answered while watching the movie, while others will need extra research on the internet. Some will be both. This is to help broaden your understanding of the geological world and how Hollywood can distort basic scientific principles to make a hit movie.

1. Assuming that the latest the main story of the movie takes place is 1997, what is the most likely eruption that the opening sequence depicts? (Some help – The country they are in is Columbia and the events take place 4 years before the main movie)

2. Is there any other eruption that could be depicted during the opening sequence?

3. Why is it raining mud in the opening sequence?

4. What is the thing that kills Harry’s girlfriend from the volcano in the opening sequence called?

5. What are some signs of a possible volcanic eruption that Harry uses to convince the town of Dante’s Peak to evacuate the first time?

6. How did Pierce know when the last eruption of Dante’s Peak was when he picked up a rock? Did the rock imbue its wisdom on him or is this knowledge he would have gained elsewhere?

7. What type of volcano is Dante’s Peak considered? (Active, extinct, or dormant)

8. There are several possibilities for an eruption and evacuation of a nearby town. What are all the possibilities and what are the two worst case scenarios and why?

9. Why does Harry stamp on the ground near the seismograph?

10. There are two main types of earthquakes associated with volcanoes, what are they? Which earthquake is first and which one is the result of the first one? Why?

11. Why do they call the F.A.A.?

12. Dante’s Peak produces what type of eruption? (Fissure, Hawaiian, Strombolian, Vulcanian, or Plinian)

13. Oh yea, why do you think that?

14. On the second day of the eruption it looked like muddy water flowed down Dante’s Peak, what is the scientific term for these “flows?” And is this the correct time period for them to occur in the eruption cycle? Why or Why not?

Geological Movie Review of Dante's Peak - Part 8

- Some questions asked (and hopefully answered) above -
  • Which volcano and eruption is depicted in the first sequence of the movie?.
  • Are mud rain and lava bombs typical of large scale eruptions and what are they anyway?
  • Do eruptions happen in hot springs before surrounding areas and what is the result of an eruption in a spring?
  • Are acidic lakes common in volcanically active areas and how acidic is normal?
  • Do trees get killed off near an active volcano in real life?
  • What is ELF and what does it stand for?
  • What are microquakes and are 25-75 really a common occurrence?
  • What is the size of the eruption that is associated with a particular earthquake?
  • How acidic is it possible for a lake to get and is this strong enough to melt a metal boat?
  • What is a lahar?

- Overview (or important thoughts to take home) -

  • This is one of the most scientifically accurate geology movies out there
  • The most likely eruption at the beginning of the movie is the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz placing the remaining events of the movie in 1989
  • This conflicts with his mentioning of Mount Pinatubo which erupted in 1991
  • The Cascadian Range has lots of volcanoes that can produce this type of eruption
  • Signs of an impending eruption: Increased amount of gas released, increased earthquakes especially harmonic tremors, lava dome growth and increase is acidity of local water sources (lakes, hot springs, etc.)
  • Predicting actual eruptions is hard
  • The Dante's Peak eruption would not have produced that kind of lava flow
  • An aluminum boat would melt in an acidic volcanic lake but so would the fish and the entire motor rather quickly
  • My personal opinion places the lahar on the first day of eruption since most of the ice and snow should already have melted
  • The pyroclastic cloud occurred almost exactly as it would in real life, showing that it is the most dangerous part of a volcanic eruption
  • ELF is a fabrication of the movie because any real-life ELF transmitters have at least a 10km long antenna

- Non-Geological Notes -

  • In all that ash why are none of the people wearing anything over their mouths? You would think that would be the first thing you did.
  • So why doesn't Grandma wait until she is 3 feet from shore to jump into the lake when it truly was not necessary. Oh wait, she did.
  • Driving on a fresh lava flow? Other than fun, the truck would probably blow up before you even got 1/2 way across.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Geological Movie Review of Dante's Peak - Part 7

Dante's Peak - Overview

- Rescue -
1:30:48 - ELF: Again this stands for Extremely Low Frequency and is commonly used by the US navy to communicate with submarines. Typically, to generate a signal using ELF the government needs an antenna at least 14 km long. Since there is usually not a 14 km long antenna on a submarine, they could not produce the signals. So submarines were designed to only receive signals via ELF, then they would rise to the surface to receive more complicated messages using another form of communication (INCHEM). This does not seem practical for the movie's plotline, although the reason it was used was because it could transmit through large amounts of water (and possibly land). As recently as 1993 the Navy was still discussing using a 10km long antenna to generate ELF signals in Alaska. Even then, 10 km is far longer than the equipment they were using, generating what we like to call a "plot hole". This "plot hole" is essentially busted unless change what is used to one of the other billion gadgets that can do the exact same thing they want to do in the movie without using ELF (GlobalPolicy).

- Scientific Input -
1:42:56 - The scientific advisors for the movie are John P. Lockwood, David H. Harlow, and Norman MacLeod. I feel they did a good a job conveying the scientific accuracy of the movie and still maintaining an exciting movie feel. Dr. Lockwood started his own volcanic hazard consulting firm, Geohazards Consultants International, Inc. (ZoomInfo). The only information I can find on Dr. Harlow is that he is the photographer of the first day of the Mount Pinatubo eruption (pictured in the - Vertical Eruptive Cloud - section). And Dr. MacLeod is actually a paleontologist who studies the causes of extinctions and evolutionary patterns (MegaFoundation). So overall, from what I can find on at least two of the advisors it shows that they are pretty good volcanologists to have as consultants.

- Dante's Peak (The actual volcano) -
0:06:47; 0:25:30 - What was visualized for the actual view of Dante's Peak (the volcano) varied throughout the movie. The initial view that they first used was a model that they built and superimposed behind the town, via the miracle of movie magic. This is what was used for most of the movie, except during up close-up views. For the close-ups, when they were flying over the volcano, and along the crater edge they used video of Mount St. Helens. The way they filmed the volcano, both with the model and with Mount Saint Helens, was done so well that usually one could not tell if the volcano was real or not.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Geological Movie Review of Dante's Peak - Part 6

Dante's Peak - Overview

- The Next Day -

- Lahars -
1:18:48 - So now we get the lahars. First off, what is a lahar? It is a rapidly moving mixture of rock, debris and water originating on a volcano (pictured on left). They form from large amounts of rainfall, the rapid melting of snow and ice off the volcano, or displacement of crater lakes (USGS). So far so good, this seems to be exactly what is happening in the movie. The volcano warms up the snow and ice built up on the volcano and sends it down into the town as a lahar. Lahars can develop anytime after an eruption, but usually due to rainfall from the eruption itself the lahar usually occurs soon after. The rainfall then mixes with the ash in the air and on the ground and forms this debris flow with the density of concrete.
My only problem is that shouldn't the source of the lahar, the ice and snow, have melted the previous day with the scorching hot lava flows and all the heat being released from the volcano then? Like I said, most lahars are produced by rainfall, like the Mount Pinatubo eruption, but many are produced by melting, which includes Mount St. Helens. Unfortunately, we can not compare this one to the Mount St. Helens eruption, since that was a one time, blow your top, eruption, not an extended eruption like this one (SDSU). Also, since this crater does not have a lake that is not a possible source, although it does mix with a dammed lake further down the mountain which increases its outflow (size). So unless the lava flows were isolated to just the region that Harry was in before and not along the entire top of the mountain, and assuming that when it erupted the eruptive material only came out one side vent of the volcano, instead of the top, then this scenario is possible. Even still, most of the snow and ice should have melted the previous day with the eruption and the gas and ash released. So, I give this as another problem with the movie.

- Pyroclastic Cloud -
1:27:30 - So finally we have the last major eruption of the mountain. This produces the pyroclastic debris flow, which is usually the most destructive part of a volcanic eruption. The cloud consists of high density, hot and dry rock fragments and volcanic gases, which can move at over 200 kph and range up to 700oC. The cloud is usually so hot that it can burn anything in it's path instantly (USGS).
Pyroclastic clouds form from the eruption cloud that is spewed into the air. The eruption cloud then forms into a mushroom shape, which eventually collapses. This collapsed structure is what forms the leading edge of the pyroclastic debris flow. The debris flow consists of two parts, the basal part, which contains the rock debris, and the upper part, which contains the gas and ash. The formation of the debris flow can occur within seconds of the eruption and completely decimate everything in its path (USGS). So in Dante's Peak the formation of the pyroclastic flow occurs pretty much exactly as it is seen in real life.
The speed that these can move varies widely with each volcano and even within each debris flow but typically the speed ranges between 80 and 200 kph, which corresponds to about 50 to 125 mph. So a truck driving away from these can escape a slow moving pyroclastic flow, but can a truck with no tires escape? Well essentially, they are already halfway across town when the pyroclastic flow started and they could likely move at least 20/30 mph, so I see no reason that this is not plausible at all. Their main goal was to try and get to the mine, which they reach, just when the pyroclastic flow arrived. This is seemingly impossible but when it is laid out I think they could have done it.