How the Niagara Escarpment Shapes Wisconsin

For February 20, 2019   
Hi WN@TL Fans,
A few years ago my family and I rode the ferry from Gill’s Rock to Washington Island in Door County.  It was a chilly windy day in early April. I remember big waves, rocky shoals, and a small boat. Once underway, I quickly made a mental map of all the life-preserver lockers. I didn’t have to stretch too far to grasp the unhappy (albeit inaccurate) shipwreck origins of the “Porte des Morts” or “Death’s Door” moniker. The rocks that I was giving a good chance of shortening our lives were part of the Niagara Escarpment.  A bitter end indeed it would have been had we died on the ledges of a geologic formation that starts in New York.

The Escarpment slices into the thumb of Wisconsin and slashes down to Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties, forming there the eastern boundary of the headwaters basin of the Rock River, my natal river.  I never knew.
We often note that a tradition is “not written in stone” to convey the changeable nature of a cultural custom.  But in the case of the lay of the land and of the flow of the waters of Wisconsin, much actually is written in stone.  Lucky for us, geologists can read the writing and tell the tales recorded in the rocks beneath our feet and below the waves.  
This week (February 20) Don Mikulic, retired from the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, will help us explore the over-arching impacts of the Niagara Escarpment that starts near its namesake falls and curves over through Ontario and Lake Huron and skirts along the southern U.P. and then through the Door Peninsula and into eastern Wisconsin.   
Here’s how he describes his talk, entitled “Wisconsin’s Niagara Escarpment: The Continuing Impact of 430 Million-Year-Old Silurian Rocks on the State’s Development, Economy, and Scientific Heritage”:
“Geology has a strong influence where and how our society develops.  Few people, however, are aware of the importance of this connection. In eastern Wisconsin, the Niagara Escarpment provides a noteworthy example of this cause and effect. From defining the shape of the Great Lakes to making a home for the Green Bay Packers, the escarpment has been instrumental in the direction of eastern Wisconsin’s historical and economic development and more recently its geotourism. 
“The Silurian rocks of this region of which the escarpment is a part, continue to play a role in this development in addition to having been the basis of important scientific discoveries. First in the 19th Century documentation of ancient reefs by former state geologists and a UW President, on to more recent studies on the geologic record of glacially driven extinction events, these Silurian rocks have had an important role in studying the geologic past.”
About the Speaker
Donald Mikulic is specialist on the geology and paleontology of Silurian rocks especially in the Milwaukee-Chicago area and on Wisconsin mining history. He has conducted research projects in North America and Europe and has worked as a curator at the Greene Museum at UW-Milwaukee, as a consultant for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and for the Wisconsin Department of Justice.  He is a steering committee member of the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network. 
Mikulic grew up in Muskego, earned his bachelor’s in geology at UW-Milwaukee and his PhD in geology at Oregon State University.  He retired as senior paleontologist from the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.  He is affiliated with the Weis Earth Science Museum, at the Fox Valley Campus of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Next week (February 27Luxme Hariharan will share insights & sagas from her far-reaching work to end preventable blindness in children around the world.  
I hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Extension Division