Nora Nieminski, January Grants-in-Aid Spotlight

Nora Nieminski
Nora Nieminski
Nora Nieminski, a third year Ph.D. student at Stanford University, received the 2013 Mruk Family Named Grant, restricted as the Chairman’s Choice for Excellence through the Grants-in-Aid program. This generous grant recognizes her research in Namibia, the focus of two-thirds of her thesis. This work entails small-scale process sedimentology and detrital geochronology of deep-water sediments in the Upper Proterozoic Zerrissene Turbidite System, in the Damara Orogen, Namibia. Her main objectives are to investigate the context of the basin that incorporated the Zerrissene turbidites at the time of the break-up of Rodinia and to study the spatial variability and overall morphology of this turbidite system and its lithofacies.

Nora’s research questions are addressed with a combination of detrital zircon provenance analysis and geochemical, petrologic, and field studies. She will also be investigating the association of these sediments to at least one of the major “Snowball Earth” glaciations. Bed-scale process sedimentology and systematic measurement of sandstone bed thicknesses in repeated (folded) strata across her field area are used to quantify and characterize lateral extent of the system. Nora’s work aims to contribute an understanding of architectures recorded in these deep-water deposits, which provide telling information about turbidity current processes and the distribution of energy resources.

Fieldwork in Namibia is not for the faint of heart, to say the least. By undertaking this project, Nora has opened up a poorly studied, remote area that is new to her research group. She still remains the only Stanford student to be working in the area and says that although many would never brave to venture to her remote field area (in the second least densely populated nation in the world), the Namib Desert is where she feels most alive. Nora sees this project as a unique opportunity to investigate a Precambrian deep-water depositional system that showcases the intricacies of proximal to distal facies relationships in an unconfined deep-water setting. And in her eyes, this opportunity lies in one of the most scenic, adventurous, magical places she has ever been fortunate enough to experience.

Nora travels with one field assistant to do fieldwork in the Damara Orogen, a day’s drive northwest of Windhoek, the capitol of Namibia. After driving through a camp of the “Save the Rhino Trust” in the Damara Mountains, she briefly catches up with her dear friend, a rhino tracker in the region, and the two geologists then venture across what must be some of the worst tracks in the world. They drive through sand, over jagged rocks, and amongst stray wildlife such as zebra or gemsbok and little vegetation apart from one of the longest living plants in the world (living 1000 years or more), the Welwitschia mirabilis. Nora and her field assistant end up nearly six hours by car from the nearest small village (and thus from any food, water, and supplies). They usually re-stock on food and water every 2 weeks or so.

Nora enjoys the fieldwork immensely: long days measuring stratigraphic sections, correlating these sections across folds, collecting samples, and ending each day with a hearty dinner cooked in a traditional poitjie pot over the fire. Each night consists of going over the day’s notes, planning the next day, and sitting in silence that is hard to find in many other parts of the world. The stars, too, are nearly unbeatable - not contaminated with any nearby artificial light. Roars of hyenas and other African wildlife can be heard throughout the night and no other people are usually encountered for weeks at a time.

Nora considers herself very lucky to work on such an interesting, likely impactful project, in such a wonderful place. She looks forward to work to come, as her research progresses. Nora sincerely thanks Denise and Kurt Cox in addition to all members of Mruk Family for their generous funding and inspiration to continue her work. She shall incorporate the high standards of excellence and passion for which the grant was endowed.