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Field Geolouv Education:

Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches

Edited by Steven J. Whitmeyer, David W. Mogk, and Eric J. Pyle

Field Geology Education:

Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches

edited by
Steven J. Whitmeyer
Department of Geology and Environmental Science
James Madison University
800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903
Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807
David W. Mogk
Department of Earth Sciences
200 Traphagen Hall
Montana State University
Bozeman, Montana 59717
Eric J. Pyle
Department of Geology and Environmental Science
James Madison University
800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903
Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807

Special Paper 461

3300 Penrose Place, P.O. Box 9140

Boulder, Colorado 80301-9140, USA


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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Field geology education : historical perspectives and modern approaches / edited by Steven J. Whitmeyer,
David W. Mogk, Eric J. Pyle.
p. cm. (Special paper ; 461)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-8137-2461-4 (pbk.)
1. GeologyFieldworkStudy and teaching (Higher) I. Whitmeyer, Steven J. II. Mogk, David W.
III. Pyle, Eric J.
QE45.F525 2009
Cover: A student gazes east, looking for the next place to collect data from the north slope of Ben Levy,
a mountain in the Connemara region, County Galway, Ireland. The village of Clonbur is visible in the
background. Photo taken by Eric J. Pyle, James Madison University, in June 2009.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


An introduction to historical perspectives on and modern approaches to field geology education . . .vii
Steven J. Whitmeyer, David W. Mogk, and Eric J. Pyle
Historical to Modern Perspectives of Geoscience Field Education
1. Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana: G429 and other field courses,
a balance of traditions and innovations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
B.J. Douglas, L.J. Suttner, and E. Ripley
2. The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA): Maintaining a leadership role
in field-course education for 79 years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Virginia B. Sisson, Marv Kauffman, Yvette Bordeaux, Robert C. Thomas, and Robert Giegengack
3. Field camp: Using traditional methods to train the next generation of petroleum geologists . . . 25
James O. Puckette and Neil H. Suneson
4. Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico, 1984 to today: What a long,
strange trip it continues to be . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
John W. Geissman and Grant Meyer
5. Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals
for the future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Declan G. De Paor and Steven J. Whitmeyer
6. Integration of field experiences in a project-based geoscience curriculum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Paul R. Kelso and Lewis M. Brown
7. Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential
immersion learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Robert C. Thomas and Sheila Roberts
8. International geosciences field research with undergraduate students: Three models
for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula,
Costa Rica . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Jeffrey S. Marshall, Thomas W. Gardner, Marino Protti, and Jonathan A. Nourse
9. International field trips in undergraduate geology curriculum: Philosophy and perspectives . . . 99
Nelson R. Ham and Timothy P. Flood



Modern Field Equipment and Use of New Technologies in the Field
10. Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from western Ireland . . . . . . 105
Steven Whitmeyer, Martin Feely, Declan De Paor, Ronan Hennessy, Shelley Whitmeyer,
Jeremy Nicoletti, Bethany Santangelo, Jillian Daniels, and Michael Rivera
11. Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research: An adventure-based approach to
teaching new geospatial technologies in an REU Site Program. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
Mark T. Swanson and Matthew Bampton
12. Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of
advanced project options . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
Robert L. Bauer, Donald I. Siegel, Eric A. Sandvol, and Laura K. Lautz
13. Integrating ground-penetrating radar and traditional stratigraphic study in
an undergraduate field methods course . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
R.K. Vance, C.H. Trupe, and F.J. Rich
Original Research in Field Education
14. Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciencesThe Keck experience . . . . . . 163
Andrew de Wet, Cathy Manduca, Reinhard A. Wobus, and Lori Bettison-Varga
15. Field glaciology and earth systems science: The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP),
19462008 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Cathy Connor
16. Long-term field-based studies in geoscience teaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
Noel Potter Jr., Jeffrey W. Niemitz, and Peter B. Sak
17. Integrating student-led research in fluvial geomorphology into traditional field courses:
A case study from James Madison Universitys field course in Ireland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
C.L. May, L.S. Eaton, and S.J. Whitmeyer
18. A comparative study of field inquiry in an undergraduate petrology course . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
David Gonzales and Steven Semken
Field Experiences for Teachers
19. Evolution of geology field education for K12 teachers from field education for geology
majors at Georgia Southern University: Historical perspectives and modern approaches . . . . . 223
Gale A. Bishop, R. Kelly Vance, Fredrick J. Rich, Brian K. Meyer, E.J. Davis, R.H. Hayes,
and N.B. Marsh
20. Water education (WET) for Alabamas black belt: A hands-on field experience for
middle school students and teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
Ming-Kuo Lee, Lorraine Wolf, Kelli Hardesty, Lee Beasley, Jena Smith, Lara Adams,
Kay Stone, and Dennis Block
21. The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program School of Rock: Lessons learned
from an ocean-going research expedition for earth and ocean science educators . . . . . . . . . . . 261
Kristen St. John, R. Mark Leckie, Scott Slough, Leslie Peart, Matthew Niemitz, and Ann Klaus

22. Geological field experiences in Mexico: An effective and efficient model for enabling middle
and high school science teachers to connect with their burgeoning Hispanic populations . . . . 275
K. Kitts, Eugene Perry Jr., Rosa Maria Leal-Bautista, and Guadalupe Velazquez-Oliman
Field Education Pedagogy and Assessment
23. The undergraduate geoscience fieldwork experience: Influencing factors and implications
for learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291
Alison Stokes and Alan P. Boyle
24. External drivers for changing fieldwork practices and provision in the UK and Ireland . . . . . . 313
Alan P. Boyle, Paul Ryan, and Alison Stokes
25. Effectiveness in problem solving during geologic field examinations: Insights from
analysis of GPS tracks at variable time scales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
Eric M. Riggs, Russell Balliet, and Christopher C. Lieder
26. The evaluation of field course experiences: A framework for development, improvement,
and reporting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 341
Eric J. Pyle

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

An introduction to historical perspectives on and

modern approaches to field geology education
Steven J. Whitmeyer
Department of Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University, 800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903,
Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807, USA
David W. Mogk
Department of Earth Sciences, 200 Traphagen Hall, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59717, USA
Eric J. Pyle
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, 800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903,
Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807, USA
15% of geoscience departments listed in the current Directory
of Geoscience Departments (Keane and Martinez, 2008) offer
a summer field camp, whereas 35% of geoscience departments
offered a field course in 1995. In contrast, a 2008 survey of
active field courses showed a steady increase in the number
of students attending summer field camps (Fig. 1; AGI, 2009).
Given the decrease in schools offering such courses, one can
only conclude that field course enrollment must be increasing.
This is supported by the American Geological Institute (AGI)
data, though enrollment trends are not quite as striking as one
would suspect after field camps are filtered to include only
those that ran summer courses for at least five of the past ten
years (Fig. 2). Nevertheless, if field course enrollments have
been stable to modestly rising over the past ten years, one
must question the outlook of some academic administrators
and others within the geoscience community who proclaim the
decreasing relevance of field education as an important element of the undergraduate curriculum.
Recent trends within geoscience disciplines that may have
bearing on this perception include:
(1) the decline of the petroleum and mining industries
in the 1980s and 1990s, although this has reversed somewhat
since the start of the twenty-first century;
(2) a significant decrease in professional jobs that incorporate substantial time mapping geology in the field;
(3) the continuing transition in academics from observation-driven research to equipment-intensive experimental,
modeling, and theoretical research; and

Field education has historically occupied a central role in

undergraduate geoscience curricula, often starting with classspecific weekend field trips and progressing to a capstone summer field course or camp at the conclusion of undergraduate coursework. Over the past century, countless geoscience
students have honed their field credentials through immersion
in the techniques of geologic field mapping as part of a sixto eight-week summer field course. Traditionally, field camp
has been required for graduation by many college geoscience
departments, and nearly 100 field camps are currently offered
by accredited American universities and colleges (King, 2009).
However, many geoscience programs in the past few decades
have moved away from traditional geologic fieldwork (e.g.,
bedrock mapping and stratigraphic analysis) and toward
applied geology (geophysical remote sensing, laboratorybased geochemical analyses, and environmental assessment, to
highlight a few examples). As a result, many geoscience programs have questioned the importance of field instruction in
the undergraduate curriculum (Drummond, 2001; AGI, 2006).
This volume resulted from a cascade of meetings, field forums,
and conference sessions that focused on the supposed decline
of the importance of field geology, and the apparent erosion of
field experience in recently graduated geoscience students, as
perceived by many professionals.
The data supporting an apparent shift in curricular
emphasis away from fieldwork are convincing. The number
of geoscience departments offering summer field courses has
declined by 60% since 1995 (AGI, 2009). As a result, only

Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., 2009, An introduction to historical perspectives on and modern approaches to field geology education, in Whitmeyer, S.J.,
Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. viiix,
doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(00). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Whitmeyer et al.

Figure 1. Total U.S. field camp attendance during the period from 1998
to 2008, as compiled in a survey by Penny Morton, University of MinnesotaDuluth (AGI Geoscience Workforce Program; AGI, 2009).

Figure 2. Graph of data from 19992008 showing the total number of

students enrolled in summer field camp each year (in blue), the average number of students per camp each year (red), and the number of
camps included in the survey (green), which changes each year. Note
that though the total number of students shows a strong upward trend
through time, this is partly due to the increasing sample size of camps
that participated in the survey. However, the average number of students per camp does show a general upward trend over the past few
years. Raw data compiled were in a survey by Penny Morton, University of MinnesotaDuluth in fall 2008.

(4) a decline in the number of geoscience majors nationwide (AGI, 2009).

There can be no doubt that geology as a discipline has
widened its focus dramatically to include a range of subdisciplines. These include geophysics, surficial geology, oceanography, climatology, and geohydrology, as well as emerging disciplines such as geomicrobiology, and applied geoscience such

as engineering geology and environmental geology. In the face

of these trends, it is not surprising that many established field
courses have felt the need to substantially modify traditional
curricula away from the previously ubiquitous bedrock geology mapping projects. New field courses have been initiated
that focus on subdisciplines within the geosciences. Examples
include camps oriented toward geophysics (SAGE, the Summer
of Applied Geophysical Experience), oceanography (Urbino
Summer School for Paleoceanography), and coastal geomorphology (University of South Florida summer field school), to
cite but a few. Field-based research programs (e.g., National
Science FoundationResearch Experiences for Undergraduates
sites) have been used as a proxy for a traditional field camp in
some programs. In other settings, field-based research is being
reintegrated into the core geoscience curriculum, or used as a
follow-up to more traditional field instruction.
The audience for field-based immersion experiences has
also expanded to include geoscience teachers seeking professional development to better serve precollege students in their
charge. Another important driver for curricular changes in field
courses has been the advent of new technologies, such as global
positioning system (GPS) and geographic information systems
(GIS), that have revolutionized modern methods of fieldwork
and mapping. Industry professionals have embraced these new
technologies, and many field programs have recognized and
included digital mapping and fieldwork components within
their camp curricula.
Though many geoscientists have been vocal in questioning the relevance of field courses and whether field camps can
or should survive (Drummond, 2001; AGI, 2006), academic
and industry professionals frequently maintain that field competence is an essential skill that should be a prominent component of an undergraduate curriculum. A common thread in
conversations with industry professionals, whether in mining
and petroleum exploration, hydrologic and environmental consulting, or hazard assessment, is the need for students entering the workforce to be comfortable with equating remote,
indirect, or restricted data sets with the appropriate real-world
outcrop geology and/or environment. The old adage that the
person that sees the most rocks wins can be translated to the
importance of seeing as much geology in person on the outcrop, especially when asked to extrapolate large-scale geology
from limited data.
This volume developed out of topical sessions at the 2007
national Geological Society of American (GSA) and American
Geophysical Union (AGU) conferences (GSA session T139:
The Future of Geoscience Field Courses, and AGU session
ED11: Information Technology in Field Science Education),
which focused on historical and modern approaches to fieldbased education. The papers herein highlight the historical
perspectives and continued importance of field education in
the geosciences, propose future directions of geoscience field
education, and document the value of this education. We have
organized the volume into five sections, as follows.

I. Historical to Modern Perspectives of Geoscience Field
This group of papers begins with overviews of wellestablished field camps and how they have evolved through
the years (Douglas et al., Sisson et al., Puckette and Suneson,
Geissman and Meyer). The latter papers in the section broadly
address changes to traditional field course curricula in light of
modern developments in our discipline (De Paor and Whitmeyer, Kelso and Brown, Thomas and Roberts, Marshall et al.,
Ham and Flood).
II. Modern Field Equipment and Use of New Technologies
in the Field
This section includes papers that highlight new equipment
and technologies that have revolutionized data collection and
mapping in the field (Whitmeyer et al., Swanson and Bampton,
Bauer et al.) and suggest ways in which these technologies have
supplemented as well as supplanted traditional field geology
skills (Vance et al.).
III. Original Research in Field Education
A welcome recent trend in field education is the inclusion of
projects where students collect and interpret data as part of a longterm original research project. These papers illustrate approaches
to immersing students in active field research (deWet et al., Connor, Potter et al., May et al.) and suggest an alternative approach
that more fully empowers students to use the information learned
in a field course experience (Gonzales and Semken).
IV. Field Experiences for Teachers
Several field courses have been designed to target audiences
beyond the undergraduate geoscience population. This section
highlights a broad range of field experiences for precollege teachers though college instructors (Bishop et al., Lee et al., St. John et
al., Kitts et al.), which strongly support the transformation of field
course experiences into pedagogical content knowledge experiences that can be adapted in original ways to different audiences.
V. Field Education Pedagogy and Assessment
A common thread throughout all of the papers in this volume is a need for in-depth assessment of field-based learning and
educational approaches. This final section includes papers that
document and/or present assessment and evaluation vehicles for
field-based education (Stokes and Boyle, Boyle et al., Riggs et al.,
Pyle), underscoring the value of such information, not just internally to students, but also externally to policy-makers and financial
decision-makers at institutions that offer field course experiences.


With this volume, we hope to foster discussion among geoscientists on the continuing relevance of field-based education while
highlighting new initiatives that address the needs of the modern,
diverse geoscience community. The papers that follow document
the past importance of field courses in providing a solid foundation
of experience and knowledge to up-and-coming geoscientists, and
they also stress the fact that field education has expanded beyond
traditional mapping to include modern subdisciplines, methods,
and techniques. Finally, we hope this volume will serve as a strong
voice to emphasize the need for qualitative and, particularly, quantitative evaluation and assessment of field-based learning and education. We as a discipline need compelling and abundant data on
the importance of field education to our profession if we have any
hope of convincing skeptical administrators and other members of
the academic and professional geoscience community.
The editors of this volume would like to thank the following reviewers who helped improve the quality of this volume:
Alan Boyle, Brendan Bream, Phil Brown, Ilya Buynevich,
Chris Condit, Cathy Connor, Peter Crowley, Steve Custer, Don
Duggan-Haas, L. Scott Eaton, Joseph Elkins, John Field, Bob
Giegengack, Allen Glazner, David Gonzales, Frank Granshaw,
Laura Guertin, Ed Hanson, John Haynes, Debra Hemler, Darrell Henry, Steve Hovan, Jackie Huntoon, Tom Kalakay, Kim
Kastens, Cindy Kearns, Kathleen Kitts, Mark Leckie, Stephen
Leslie, Adam Lewis, William Locke III, Michael May, Beth
McMillan, Nathan Niemi, Mark Noll, Heather Petcovic, Mike
Piburn, Noel Potter, Federica Raia, Tom Repine, David Rodgers, Jim Schmitt, Joshua Schwartz, Steve Semken, Colin Shaw,
Jeff Snyder, Allison Stokes, Neil Suneson, Mark Swanson, Mike
Taber, Rob Thomas, Kelly Vance, Fred Webb, and Lorraine Wolf.
Cathy Manduca (Science Education Resource Center at Carleton
College) provided technical support in the form of a project Web
site and listserv that greatly facilitated communications between
and among the editors, authors, and reviewers.
American Geological Institute (AGI), 2006, Status Report on Geoscience Summer Field Camps:
_final.pdf (accessed 17 July 2009).
American Geological Institute (AGI), 2009, Status of the Geoscience
-StatusReportSummary.pdf (accessed 17 July 2009).
Drummond, C.N., 2001, Can field camps survive?: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 49, p. 336.
Keane, C.M., and Martinez, C.M., eds., 2008, Directory of Geoscience Departments (46th ed.): Alexandria, Virginia, American Geological Institute
(AGI), 415 p.
King, H.M., 2009, Geology field campsComprehensive listing: http://geology
.com/field-camp.shtml (accessed 17 July 2009).

Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana:

G429 and other field courses, a balance of traditions and innovations
B.J. Douglas
L.J. Suttner
E. Ripley
Department of Geological Sciences, Indiana University, 1001 East 10th Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47405-1405, USA

The uniqueness of the Indiana University geologic field programs is a consequence
of the remarkable diversity in the geologic setting of the Judson Mead Geologic Field
Station, and programmatic decisions that emphasize a fully integrated curriculum and
individual student work. A simple summary of the attributes developed by the courses
includes the following key components: sense of scale, self-confidence, independence,
integration, and problem solving. These core principles have resulted in a program that
prepares students for any of the challenges that they might encounter as professionals.
Over time, courses offered through the field station have evolved to reflect the needs of
the students and available technologies. The present array includes courses that address
environmental geology, applied economic geology, and introductory environmental science; additional courses include those designed for both high school students and teachers and others that provide professional development enhancement.
tained. This mixture of the old with the new reflects the general
debate taking place within the geosciences community in general
as to the necessary and appropriate types of courses and field
experiences for the present generation of students (Day-Lewis,
2003; Drummond, 2001).

The success of the Indiana University geologic field programs, offered at the Judson Mead Geologic Field Station, stems
from the physical setting and a number of critical early decisions about the teaching philosophy used in the courses. Over
the years, the collective efforts by the directors and faculty members who have been involved in these field courses over the years
have built upon these two underpinnings. The combination of a
physical setting that offers a range in teaching sites and programmatic decisions that emphasize a fully integrated curriculum and
individual student work has resulted in a program that prepares
students for any of the challenges that they might encounter as
professionals. Over time, courses offered through the field station have evolved to reflect the needs of the students and have
been updated to include new technologies, while methods and
exercises that have been proven to be successful have been main-

The Judson Mead Geologic Field Station of Indiana University was established at its present location in the Tobacco Root
Mountains, Montana, in 1949. During the ensuing 60 yr, well
over 3500 undergraduate and graduate geology students have
received their geologic field training through this field station,
making it the largest program of its kind in the country. The list of
field station alumni includes persons of distinction in the oil and
gas industry, in mineral exploration, in academia, and in government agencies at all levels.

Douglas, B.J., Suttner, L.J., and Ripley, E., 2009, Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana: G429 and other field courses, a balance of traditions and innovations, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 114, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(01). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological
Society of America. All rights reserved.

Douglas et al.

The site for the field station was selected by Charles Deiss,
a faculty member recruited by Indiana University specifically to
develop a field program. This effort was carried out with the support of Herman B. Wells, the president of Indiana University at
this time, whose vision and energies proved to be instrumental
for the development of Indiana University in general and its geologic field programs in particular.
The geologic diversity available within a 100 km radius of
the field station is of primary importance to the success of the
program. Three other components are critical for the success
of our programs: first and foremost, the faculty members who
commit to teach for the entire duration of the courses; second, a

fully integrated curriculum that builds on previous study in both

the field and the classroom; and third, a philosophy that all work
done by students is done individually, but with constant supervision and feedback from faculty members. We will address each
of these components in turn.
Teaching Location
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the field programs
offered through the Judson Mead Geologic Field Station of Indiana University is the location (Fig. 1). The field station is located
within the Tobacco Root Mountains in a relatively remote valley.

North Bou





Three Forks

Boulder Batholith






ee F







Willow Creek fault zone






















Twin Bridges





Virginia City





Badger Pass fault zone









Tertiary deposits





50 km






30 miles

Thrust fault, teeth are on upthrown side

Normal fault, ball on the downthrown side

Cretaceous intrusives
Archean, Paleozoic and
Mesozoic rocks

Thrust fault, teeth are on upthrown side;

faulting involves crystalline basement rock
Left-lateral strike-slip fault

Figure 1. Geologic map showing the location of the Judson Mead Geologic Field Station (JMGFS). Inset photograph
is the view of the main lodge, which has served as the heart of the Indiana University field programs since the inception of the field station. The location of the map is shown in the inset of the state of Montana (top right).

Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana

The physical setting in the South Boulder River Valley is aesthetically pleasing and ensures that the students are isolated from
modern distractions; the setting effectively ensures that the students become immersed in their courses. Even more important,
well-exposed, complex geology is present in areas that are readily accessible (Fig. 2). For example, the field site setting offers:
(1) a virtually complete stratigraphic column, ranging in
age from the Archean to the Quaternary, with key Paleozoic and
Mesozoic stratigraphic intervals well exposed and accessible for
field observations;
(2) regional- and basin-scale variations in stratigraphy,
reflecting both varied depositional settings and varied tectonic
(3) convergence of three main structural styles of western North America: Sevier-style fold and thrust, Laramide-style
thick-skinned tectonics, and Basin and Rangestyle extensional
(4) mapping areas characterized by excellent exposure and
advantageous topographic relief and resulting field areas that
have remarkable three-dimensional (3-D) exposure and expression of stratigraphy, as well as dramatic structural style and relief;
(5) regional and contact metamorphism including results of
Archean, Proterozoic, and Cretaceous events;
(6) extrusive and intrusive igneous rocks including flows,
volcaniclastics, dikes, sills, and plutons of various sizes;
(7) Pleistocence glacial geomorphology; and
(8) both pristine sites and sites that have been environmentally degraded.
In subsequent discussions of the material being taught in our
programs, we will provide examples of how the particular physical setting of a selected geologic site is critical for the instructional success of the subject matter or techniques being presented
to the students.

Figure 2. Low-level aerial photograph of a portion of the Tobacco Root

Mountains showing the Pole Canyon anticline as viewed looking toward the north. The Judson Mead Geologic Field Station is located
just to the south of a major break in topography created by the change
in the units making up the bedrock and the location of the Carmichael
fault. View is to the NNW and the width of the field of view is approximately 1.6 km (1 mile).

Faculty Involvement
Until about 10 yr ago, all faculty members involved in the
courses offered through the field station committed to teach for
the entire course. With recent expansion of the breadth of subject matter being offered, we have modified this policy slightly;
in a few cases, we have brought in faculty members for part of
a course, but they still interact with all of the students and are
expected to participate in all activities for the time they are present. These short-term faculty members typically are present for ~2
wk, and they bring critical specialties to supplement the skills of
the full-time faculty members. Faculty involvement for an entire
course ensures that the faculty know exactly what has been taught
and where and how it has been presented, so they can reinforce
the concepts and tie new projects and learning to what has been
covered previously. The students know that the faculty members,
in addition to hiking up and down every ridge, have been involved
in every phase of the course with them. This understanding creates
a sense of shared responsibility and commitment to the learning
process that is clear to all those involved. In addition to senior
faculty members, a staff of associate instructors, often former students selected to return to serve in these positions, provides additional contact for the students with a perspective closer to their
own. A student to staff ratio of 6:1 is maintained for all courses.
At any given time, the students are all working on the same
project; each small field group of students is led by a faculty member and an associate instructor. As the course progresses, the students are assigned to different faculty members so that by the end
of the course, all of the students have been exposed to all of the
faculty as well as the associate instructors and to the other students. This gives the students opportunities to interact with faculty
members with diverse backgrounds, training, and research interests. For a particular project, a single faculty member, typically
with expertise in the topic, serves as the lead instructor. This lead
instructor ensures coherency of the materials and large group presentations, while all of the individual faculty members are responsible for leading small field groups where hourly teaching and
interaction is taking place. This practice ensures that students are
exposed to a variety of teaching styles and expertise so they can
learn in ways that complement their own abilities and interests.
Faculty members from more than 25 academic institutions
and government agencies have been involved in teaching at the
field station. In some cases, these faculty members have been
permanent members of the field station faculty. In other cases,
faculty members have come both to observe and to provide additional expertise. By having these external faculty members participate in the courses, the program has been able to effectively
implement a continuous review of the materials and teaching procedures being employed in our courses.
Curriculum and Teaching Philosophy
Currently, six formal courses, as well as graduate seminars,
professional-development courses, and programs for high school

Douglas et al.

students, are taught at the field station (Table 1). Some of these
courses are taught on an annual basis, and others are taught when
student enrollment is sufficient to meet minimum enrollment criteria. The G103/S103/G111 and G104/S104/G112 introductory
course sequence has been offered for more than 25 yr, and it has
been highly successful in recruitment of geology majors. The
flagship course, G429, has been offered every year since Indiana
University first offered field courses in 1947.
In general, all of the courses offered (Table 1) are organized
around a common format that is designed to require students to
address field problems of a steadily increasing level of complexity as the courses progress. Initial work is kept simple and general to ensure that all of the students start with a basic level of
geologic knowledge and field techniques. In a typical summer,
20 or 30 universities and colleges from across the country have
students attending these courses. In order to accommodate such a
diverse student population, we have developed a curriculum that
rapidly builds a base level of both information and field experience. In the case of G429, this portion of the teaching is conducted while traveling from the Black Hills to the field station.
The 6 d caravan route has been designed to utilize key localities
in the Archean-cored ranges and intervening basins of Wyoming
and particularly well-exposed examples of stratigraphic sections
or structural styles. The caravan trip also provides a regional
foundation for later work at the field station. A second caravan
trip to northwest Montana is added toward the end of the course
to broaden this regional perspective.
Like most courses at the field station, G429 is organized
around a weekly schedule. This weekly schedule builds toward
an all-day independent exercise on the last day of the work week.
The students are required to work alone and independently for
the entire field-based evaluation exercise, putting into practice
the skills and knowledge that they learned during the week.
This experience builds over the summer, so that by the end of
the course, the students are working at a high skill level with a
broad information base that is the accumulation of all previous

Introductory courses

experiences. This succession of instructional weeks culminates

in the Final Study Area project, seven field days and one office
day dedicated to a single project. Faculty members are present
throughout the Final Study Area and offer guidance and a general
framework for the students to work within. The faculty members
and associate instructors are available for regular consultation,
but they play less of a direct instructional role. The motivation,
time management, and integration of field and evening work is
entirely student driven; they are encouraged to use the faculty as
a resource, but they are responsible for their efforts for the entire
The following is a description of a typical G429 week, the
daily procedures, and student-faculty and student-student interactions during this week. In successive weeks, the level of geologic problem solving escalates in both stratigraphic and structural complexity, as does the number of parameters that must be
considered in any decision-making step. While the actual number
of decisions and problem-solving tasks being considered at any
one point in time is quite large, these may be generalized into two
main types: (1) those requiring acquisition of specific data related
to characterization of the geologic material or phenomenon being
studied (e.g., the composition, texture, and architecture of rock
units), and (2) those data requiring spatial and geometric information (e.g., the 3-D distribution of a geologic formation within
a certain region). The first one or two days of the week primarily
address the procedures and decision making required to collect
the primary outcrop-level geologic data. The physical traverse is
simple and dictated by the distribution of G429 type localities
that best demonstrate the key characteristics of each map unit
or formation so that spatial and geometrical issues do not come
into play. This sequencing of instruction permits the students
to concentrate primarily on one central problem. As they move
from locality to locality, the traverse pace and amount of outcrop observation time are dictated by the pace of the small group
rather than by individuals. This ensures that the students learn
how to efficiently budget their time in the field. Typically, an

G103/S103 Earth Science: Materials and Processes (G111 Physical Geology) (3 cr)
G104/S104 Evolution of the Earth (G112 Historical Geology) (3 cr)
G321 Field Geology for Business Students (3 cr)

Advanced courses

G329 Introductory Field Experience in Environmental Science (5 cr)

G426 Basin Analysis (3 cr)
G429 Field Geology in the Rocky Mountains (6 cr)
G429e Field Geology in the Rocky Mountains with Environmental Applications (6 cr)

Graduate courses and research seminars

G690 Topical Research (36 cr)

Professional courses

US Forest Service: Influence of Geological Settings on Forest Management

High school cou r ses

Introdu ction to Geology

Local outreach

Topical sessions for local interest groups (e.g., Boy Scouts, high school science clubs,
summer courses)

Note: crcredit hours.

Emphasis on independent data gathering and traverse route

selection with minimal instructor input within an
unbounded region
Final Study Areas (London Hills; North Boulder;
Pole Canyon; Sacrys Ranch)

Problem definition and plan for data gathering and

traverse route optimization; integrated synthesis of
the geologic history of the region

Time spent on student-driven tasks with limited instructor

Carmichael Watershed; Willow Creek Watershed

Problem definition and data gathering using

instrumentation with computational and analytical

Emphasis on independent data gathering and traverse route

selection with minimal instructor input while in a welldefined region
Carmichael and N. Doherty Map Areas

Problem definition and plan for data gathering and

traverse route optimization; integration of field data
with analytical chemistry and petrographic images

Emphasis on independent data gathering and traverse route

selection with judicial instructor input
S. and N. Boulder Sections; Sandy Hollow;
Highway 2 Map Area

Data gathering at the outcrop scale; selection of

traverse routes; Mesozoic stratigraphic section;
siliciclastic depositional environments with tectonic

Emphasis on data gathering; traverse routes dictated by

instructors and terrain
S. Boulder Section; Mt. Doherty Map Area

Data gathering at the outcrop scale; selection of

traverse routes; Paleozoic stratigraphic section;
carbonate depositional environments

Black Hills, South Dakota, to Judson Mead Field
Station via Wyoming


General field techniques and navigation; regional
geology including stratigraphy and structural styles


anomaly will be encountered during the later part of these days

that challenges the students to individually construct hypotheses
and work through solutions, which are then tested by further field
data collection. Evenings are used to tabulate and summarize
field data more completely than is possible in the field.
As the week progresses, students participate in a mapping
exercise at a different locality that includes new spatial and geometric components. This additional location is selected to reinforce data, approaches, and skills developed earlier in the week.
This approach works equally well for such subject areas as surface and groundwater hydrology or seismic-hazard assessment.
The daily schedule is similar to that employed in the first two
days, i.e., guided traverses and group discussions at various times
during the day focusing on material to consider when making
structural and stratigraphic interpretations and deciding what traverse to follow. Discussions often focus on the structural or stratigraphic observations that might be optimized by the selection of
a particular traverse route (e.g., working perpendicular to strike
versus following a single unit along strike). The final day of the
week is an independent exercise, conducted in an area not previously visited by the student. The areas used for these independent
exercises are selected from within the same general setting the
students have been working in, so that the challenges faced during the exercise are commensurate with their recent experiences
and abilities.
Each week is designed to address a selected focus from the
range of subdisciplines within the geological sciences. A listing of the main concepts and goals for each week is given in
Table 2. Careful consideration has been given to the selection
of the physical setting for each part of the weeks activities so
as to provide optimal learning experiences. For example, the
lower Paleozoic stratigraphic section studied in the first week is
exposed in a uniformly dipping limb of a major anticline with
over 80% exposure. The combination of a uniform dip of around
40 and a stratigraphic section composed of primarily interbedded limestone- and shale-dominated packages creates linear
ridges and valleys, and the traverse route readily conveys the
concepts of stratigraphic succession. During the middle of the
week, as the students are working on a mapping exercise, the
selected map area is characterized by extreme topographic relief,
which reflects the variable susceptibility to erosion existing in
this portion of the stratigraphic column. The students are aided
in their first geologic mapping by the terrain itself, which closely
correlates not only with the stratigraphy, but with the structural
geometries as well (Fig. 3); decision making by the students is
therefore relatively straightforward and provides positive reinforcement of good field techniques. G429 students are always
given an introduction to an exercise the evening before the field
work is undertaken. The materials used in the exercise are distributed at these meetings, and the students are given time to become
familiar with the tools they will be using (e.g., finding traverse
routes on both the topographic map and stereophotos for the
following day). Field logistics are given at the start of any field
day, along with specific information about the daily schedule and

Designed to provide mental and physical acclimation and
remedial instruction

Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana

Douglas et al.

Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana

Figure 3. (A) Topographic map of the Mt. Doherty teaching exercise area (45 53.903N, 111 53.403W). (B) Stereographic photo
pair for the Mt. Doherty area. The extreme topographic relief readily visible in the photos expresses both the interbedded carbonateshale stratigraphy of the lower Paleozoic and the overturned plunging folds that have been developed. The identification numbers on
the air photos indicate the north direction and the eastwest dimension is approximately 5.6 km (3.5 miles).

Douglas et al.

logistical concerns such as dangerous terrain to be avoided. Additional personal considerations such as traverse pacing (when the
big hills will be encountered), rest-break options, and the expectations for individual versus group activities are also given to the
students, as appropriate.
During subsequent weeks, there is an increase in the level
of sophistication in the nature of the problems and approaches
introduced to and implemented by the students. At the same
time, the amount of closely supervised teaching is reduced, and
time intervals between group and individual check points are
longer. Intervals of 1 to 3 h of independent work by the students
are concluded with a group rendezvous. This provides a safety
check and permits a group discussion of the problems and discoveries made by the students. During this same time interval,
the faculty will visit with each of the students individually to
provide opportunity for one-on-one instruction. This allows for
greater independence and also permits individualized teaching
for those students needing more instruction, thus ensuring that
the range of abilities and prior experience is not a determining
factor for a students long-term learning.
The final portion of the course consists of student selfdirected work. During the Final Study Area project, the students
are expected to put into practice what they have learned to date.
The Final Study Areas have been selected to provide a range of
challenges for the students so that they can gain confidence and
a sense of being in control of their path throughout the project,
in both a physical and literal sense.
Decades of accumulated geological and logistical experience influence the teaching and learning process that is at the
heart of the field instruction at the Judson Mead Geologic Field
Station of Indiana University. The decision to use the same
areas year after year is based on the fact that the concepts being
presented to the students are difficult to master; by having the
students work in a physical setting that is advantageous for the
learning process, chaotic and frustrating experiences that could
impede the advancement of the student are avoided. Arriving at
a new locality for the first time with students can be a wonderful exercise in exploration and discovery, or it can be one of
frustration and chaos, should the access or the quality of the
exposures prove to be less than anticipated. Several recent studies of introductory-level students involved in field-based learning have demonstrated that learning is more effective when the
students are comfortable in their learning environment (Elkins
and Elkins, 2007; Orion, 1993; Orion and Hofstein, 1994).
Repeated use of a particular area also makes it possible
to evaluate the students work with a minimal amount of corrections for those uncontrollable parameters involved in field
teaching, such as inclement weather, flat tires, locked gates,
etc. This is not intended to imply that the curriculum is fixed
and unchanging, but to reinforce the notion that a substantial
amount of thought and planning is part of every field experience the students encounter. The curriculum itself is constantly
being revised and updated to include new information, techniques, and teaching and/or research methods. The issues of

course improvement and new course offerings are addressed in

a later section.
Academic Instructional Materials
An extensive collection of academic materials relevant to
the teaching and research mission of the field station has been
developed over the years. These materials are listed in Table 3.
An integral part of the field experience involves the use of topographic maps and aerial photographs. The latter are typically
stereographic pairs that allow for an exceptional perspective


I. Instructional and Evaluation (Independent) Materials
A. More than 250 individual teaching or evaluation modules for use in
courses offered through the Judson Mean Geologic Field Station
(JMGFS). These materials would include all written materials
for students and instructors as well as logistical notes, hourly
schedules, and supporting materials and equipment (see lists below
for relevant details).
B. Complete set of matched (scale and level of coverage) topographic
maps and stereophotographic pairs for region.
C. Regional stratigraphic studies and facies distributions for key
stratigraphic units (e.g., Jurassic Ellis formation).
D. Regional geological maps and other significant geologic and
geophysical case studies (e.g., gravity surveys).
E. An instrumented watershed for hydrogeologic studies including over
10 yr of weather, surface-water, and groundwater data.
II. The Willow Creek Demonstration Watershed
A. South Willow Creek gauging station.
B. North Willow Creek gauging station.
C. Jackson Ranch groundwater wells (alluvial channel; 2 well nest
[4.6 m (15 ft) and 22.9 m (75 ft)].
D. Fink House groundwater well (pediment surface; 1 well [18.3 m
(60 ft)].
E. Windy Ridge weather station.
F. Harrison Lake weather station.
G. NRCS SNOTEL site (Albro Lake).
H. U.S. Geological Survey stream gauging station (Willow Creek,
(Items AF are installations of the JMGFS; items G and H are
installations of federal governmental agencies who are part of the
watershed cooperative agreement.)
III. Student Equipment
All of the students are provided with individual equipment to complete
the tasks associated with the academic exercises. Typically there is
sufficient equipment such that all students can make individual use of a
particular piece of equipment.
IV. Supporting Logistics
A. Working agreement with the Indiana University Center
for Geospatial Data Analysis for maps, images, and
geographic information systems (GIS) coverage for areas used by
the field station.
B. Access to over 50 private land holdings, ensuring access to key
geologic mapping areas.
C. Equipment and instrument maintenance and repair by Indiana
University Department of Geological Sciences staff.

Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana

on the terrain and outcrop distribution. The Indiana University
field programs took advantage of these innovations during the
late 1950s and 1960s with the evolution of the G429 stereoboard
(Fig. 4). The distinctive clank of stereoboards being opened or
set down on an outcrop is a sound that is familiar to many of
the geologists working across the world today who have been
through G429. Many of the organizational and instructional formats presently in use were established under the directorship of
Judson Mead. This includes the overall organization of courses,
weekly format, and use of newly available resources. The use of
CB radios during caravan travel greatly increased the ability to
communicate to everyone geologic as well as safety information
while traveling. Another example of an innovation used in G429,
G429e, and G329, developed by the in-house faculty exclusively

Figure 4. (A) Students using stereoboards in the field. The design allows students to be able to plot station and contact information on both
a topographic map and aerial photograph in the field, even while on
steep slopes or under windy conditions. Use of plastic bags as a cover permits the stereoboards to be used in the rain. (B) Close-up view
of a stereoboard designed by Judson Mead for use with topographic
maps and stereophotographic pairs while mapping in the field. The
components are nonmagnetic, so the stereoboard will not affect measurements made with a Brunton compass. The dimensions of a closed
stereoboard are 37 cm 23.5 cm 3 cm (14.5 in. 9.25 in. 1.25 in.).

for our programs, is the concept and design of a stratigraphic

notebook for recording a wide variety of stratigraphic information in a single compact format (Fig. 5). These pages allow for
rapid stratigraphic section description and results that are organized and complete for even a student just learning to make these
types of observations. These types of pages have been expanded
upon over time to include sheets for soil profiles, relative age
assignment, biologic indexing, and weather observations, reflecting the changing needs of students in new courses, such as G329
(a course addressing environmental science with more diverse
data collection needs).
Over the last 15 yr, several new courses have been added to
the field station curriculum. These include environmental courses
for both students and professionals, applied courses targeted for
business majors, and courses for high school students and teachers. Ongoing efforts are aimed at developing cooperative, multidisciplinary courses combining surface geologic mapping and
techniques developed for subsurface, geophysical, and remotesensing applications (e.g., satellite images, seismic, gravity, magnetic, borehole). Efforts to expand our curriculum resulted in the
integration of new projects and data sets, such as the addition
of thin-section petrography and whole-rock and isotope chemical analyses, which augment and complement field mapping and
more traditional data sources.
A decision to incorporate a new technique or technology within one of our courses is based on an evaluation of the
extent to which the new adaptation will increase students selfconfidence and ability to work independently. At the same time,
there remains the question of whether this same innovation will
make the student dependent on technology and whether such
dependency will limit dynamic flexibility. As mentioned earlier,
our programs have evolved from the use in the 1940s of plane
tables to construct topographic maps as a critical part of the
learning process to the use of high-quality topographic maps,
aerial photographs, and satellite images. There is a balance as to
when incorporation of a new technology becomes a crutch that
may facilitate data collection in the short run, but limit the ability
to perform in less than ideal conditions where such technology
is not available or has failed. Everyone has had the experience of
having the batteries run out while using some device. Teaching
students to be able to carry on despite such logistical setbacks is
one of the critical aspects of our teaching philosophy. Without a
fundamental understanding of the basis for the data generated by
a new technology, such as GPS locations coupled with a digital
map, the student cannot be in control of the quality of the information being collected nor understand the inherent limitations. A
second, related problem stems from the time required to master
the new technology. Given the high cost and limited amount of
field instructional time, having a student learn a new software
package translates to time not spent being active in the field.
We decided not to include GPS and GIS mapping within G429;


Douglas et al.

Figure 5. Examples of pages from a students stratigraphic notebook. The creation of a standardized page format, along with an extensive key and
legend, allows students without any formal training in stratigraphic section measurement to effectively observe and record appropriate information with little prior training. The information shown was recorded by a student while traversing a portion of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic sections
for the first time. The page size is 15.3 23 cm (6 9 in.) and is bound in a stiff covered binder that can be opened to change the relative position
of these pages as well as summary pages and legend pages.

initial work has been completed with the goal of incorporating

this technology into G329. The reason for this is that for G329,
the technology is critical to reach the appropriate level of scientific sophistication, whereas in G429, it is not critical.
A concerted effort to expand the curriculum was undertaken in 1996 (Douglas et al., 1996, 1997, 2002). The goal was
to incorporate environmental geology within the context of the
G429 program, creating G429e (Table 4), and to create a new
course in environmental science, G329. The latter was a major
expansion of subject areas and approaches, but one that was
readily accomplished given the setting of the field station. The
range of ecological systems within a short distance of the field
station, as well as wide variation in the conditions of these systems, from pristine wilderness to physically altered and chemically contaminated landscapes, provided an ideal range of field
sites for teaching environmental concepts. G329 is a requirement
of a new B.S. degree program offered by Indiana University
in environmental science; like all courses offered by the Jud-

son Mead Geologic Field Station, G329 is open to all students,

regardless of the school they are attending. The creation of this
new environmental field curriculum was linked to the development of an instrumented watershed (Fig. 6) formally referred to
as the Willow Creek Demonstration Watershed (WCDW). The
WCDW was created as a demonstration of the benefits of cooperation among governmental agencies, universities, and individual citizens in understanding and managing natural resources.
The instrumented watershed is the centerpiece of a cooperative
venture for long-term research and outreach among the Judson
Mead Geologic Field Station of Indiana University, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural
Resources Conservation Service, and the Madison Conservation
District (the local water board for ranchers in the region). Nine
permanently instrumented sites (two meteorological stations,
three stream-gauging stations, three groundwater-monitoring
wells [one site being a nested pair composed of both a deep well
and a shallow well] and one Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL)

Surface-water chemistry signatures; spring chemistry signatures; watershed

boundaries; groundwater recharge and discharge zones; groundwater
residence time; stratigraphic and structural controls on surface and
groundwater pathways
pH, SpC, T probes; Brunton compass; topographic map; stereophoto
Final Study Area

Water budget for the reservoir; relationship between surface waters in wetland
and lake and groundwater; vertical and horizontal groundwater gradients
pH, SpC, T probes; Brunton compass; autolevel (with tripod and stadia
rod); electric tape for water-depth determination; miniature
piezometer tubes; seepage meters; evaporation trays; soil augers;
topographic map
Willow Creek Reservoir

Groundwater chemical signatures; evaluation of seasonal groundwater level

records; slug test evaluation for K; pump test evaluation for K; vertical and
horizontal gradients; groundwater surface contouring and flow-direction
determination; aquifer and aquiclude determination
pH, SpC, T probes; Brunton compass; autolevel (with tripod and stadia
rod); drillers log; electric tape for water-depth determination; Bailer
pump; fixed instrumentation associated with installed monitoring
wells; topographic map

Stream slopes; stream discharges; vertical velocity profiles; lateral velocity

profiles; stream channel profile evaluation; evaluation of stream-gauging
station calibration and seasonal discharge records; stream load and bed form
evaluation; Mannings n analysis
pH, SpC, T probes; Brunton campass; autolevel (with tripod and stadia
rod); March McBirney flow meter; fixed instrumentation associated
with installed monitoring wells; topographic map
Surface water, Willow
Creek Demonstration
Watershed (WCDW)

Carmichael Watershed


A n a ly s e s
pH, Specific Conductance (SpC), temperature (T) probes; Brunton
Surface-water chemistry signatures; spring chemistry signatures; watershed
compass; topographic map; stereophoto pairs
boundaries; groundwater recharge and discharge zones; groundwater
residence time; two-component mixing model calculations for stream-stream
and stream-groundwater exchanges

Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana


site form the primary data collection points for the watershed
(Table 3; Fig. 6). Data sets derived from the portable equipment,
collected by the students during the course (Fig. 7), are building
a database for future students to use in their interpretations. An
ever-expanding library of data (e.g., local meteorological measurements, vegetation surveys, aquatic indices, stream indexing,
soil and water chemistry) along with surficial and bedrock geological mapping has been compiled. Both G429e and G329 make
extensive use of the WCDW instrumented sites and data sets; a
number of undergraduate research projects and graduate M.S.
theses have been completed that provide additional information
that has been incorporated into the teaching exercises (Elliott,
1998a, 1998b; Elliott et al., 1998, 2003; Krothe, 1999; Letsinger,
2001; Letsinger and Olyphant, 2001; Osterloo, 2002). A complete list of the permanent instrumentation and a general overview of the materials and data generated within the WCDW may
be found at
Other teaching exercises initially developed for use in the
environmental courses were deemed of such high value for all
students that they were incorporated into the general curriculum.
Examples of these sorts of projects are related to mining and
mine waste and neotectonics and earthquake-hazard assessment.
In both examples, projects developed in these teaching exercises
include a range of activities and skill development (Table 5) that
are new and outside the scope of traditional field geology education. We have been fortunate to be able to establish a good working relationship with Montana Resources, Inc., the private company presently operating the Continental Pit in Butte. Montana
Resources has provided G429 and G429e students with access
to their mine and milling operations, and it has provided staff to
work with the students. An abandoned gold mine, the Bullion
Mine, located near Basin, Montana, which was operational from
the early 1900s to the 1950s, serves as the teaching site for the
counterpart to the modern ongoing mining operation. At the Bullion Mine, aspects of mine reclamation and the treatment of acid
mine drainage are explored.
G329 represents an entirely new direction in curriculum
development. This course fully integrates all of the scientific
disciplines that are part of environmental science (e.g., atmospheric science, biology, chemistry, geology, and physics, as well
as instrumentation and technology). The field sites and teaching
exercises are designed to provide physical and intellectual overlap, so that the students can begin to appreciate the multidisciplinary nature of many scientific investigations (Douglas et al.,
2002). The same stepwise development of skill sets and complexity of intellectual activity used in the traditional field station
courses is employed in these new courses. G329 makes extensive use of equipment (Fig. 8) and requires the use of computers for handling the large and complex data sets obtained during
the course. The WCDW instrumentation and data sets are used
extensively by this course. Special opportunities, such as sampling the hydrothermal systems in Yellowstone National Park,
provide unique experiences for these G329 students. Data collected by G329 students documented a shift in one hydrothermal





Potosi Pk




S. Willow

South Fork
Willow Creek



Willow Creek

SG North Fork

N. Willow




5 km

Meteorological station


5 miles

Groundwater-monitoring site


Stream-gauging station





Dry Hollow

GW Pediment


Harrison Lake SG
Weather Station MM




Figure 6. Map of the Willow Creek Demonstration Watershed, associated with Judson Mead Geologic Field Station (JMGFS), showing the location of the permanent instrumentation
sites. Insets provide a sense of the site settings and instruments deployed within the watershed. One meteorological station is located in an alpine zone, while the other is located in an
agricultural field. A pump test of the deep well of the nested well pair at the Jackson Ranch set is being carried out by students in G329. Water levels in both wells are being monitored
by electric tapes. USGSU.S. Geological Survey.






S. Boulder


Indiana University geologic field programs based in Montana


Figure 7. (A) View of the South Willow Creek gauging station looking downstream. The catwalk allows the gauging station to be used during high
flow intervals and also provides safe access to the far side of the stream for local fisherman, a small thing that helps maintain goodwill between the
field station and the local land owners. (B) Students from G429e using a Marsh-McBirney flow meter to measure the discharge of South Willow
Creek just downstream from the South Willow Creek gauging station. The students can compare their calculated discharge with that from the rating
curve for the gauging station. The boulders on the shore behind the students may be seen looking beneath the catwalk in Figure 7A.



Changes and Additions

Igneous mapping

Whole-rock geochemical analyses; stable isotope values; petrographic images of thin sections

Metamorphic mapping

Whole-rock geochemical analyses; pressure (P), temperature (T), and time determinations using mineral phases

Mine reclamation

Team-based fieldwork and data collection providing students with experience in igneous mapping and surface
and groundwater hydrologic investigations; aqueous chemical analyses (pH, Specific Conductance [SpC],
temperature); two-component mixing model calculations

Seismic risk assessment

Scale drawing of fault scarps; use of paleocurrent indicators to determine timing of fault movement;
use of gravity models to determine basin subsidence and displacement rates; evaluation of seismicity plots

Figure 8. (A) A calibration and cross correlation exercise using the portable micrometeorological towers by G329 students. These portable towers
are designed for easy deployment in a variety of sites, allowing for the generation of site-specific meteorological data to be used in concert with
other data sets, such as site slope and orientation, soil type, vegetative cover, and land use. (B) An example of the type of data generated by fixed
and deployed portable equipment. Left two panels show annual trends in solar radiation and temperature (top) and wind speed and vapor pressure for alpine and high-plains settings (lower) within the Willow Creek Demonstration Watershed (WCDW) for 2000 from the two permanent
weather stations. Right two panels show the topographic control on the diurnal cycle of net allowave radiation (solid lines) and ground heat flux
(dashed lines) at four locations in Carmichael Valley, 2122 June 2001. The role of south- versus north-facing controls on the surface radiation
budget and ground heat flux is clearly evident.


Douglas et al.

system; the National Park Service used similar observations to

close a popular boardwalk within the park.
Future plans include the development of a geophysical
option, G429g, and a 2 wk course designed to serve as an extension of G429, G429e, or G429g. This course will use GPS, GIS,
and remote-sensing technologies to investigate areas previously
studied. The addition and use of new technologies common in
the professional workplace can be useful after the students have
established a sufficient level of professional knowledge and experience to be able to evaluate critically the benefits and limitations
of the technology being used.
As the number of courses and the breadth of the subject matter being offered have expanded, the field station also has become
a site for research on the best practices of teaching and learning
in the field. This development has resulted in collaboration with
a number of researchers investigating the concepts of novelty
space and field decision making and problem solving (see Riggs
et al., this volume). As we move into the next phase of geoscience
education in the field, we are looking to continue to improve what
and how we teach.
The instructional practices that have been developed over
the 60 yr that field education has been conducted through courses
taught at the Judson Mead Geologic Field Station have resulted
in a highly effective method of field instruction. Recent and
ongoing research into student learning is defining the essential
elements behind many of the practices and procedures employed
in the field courses taught at the field station. At the same time,
the incorporation of new materials and technologies is providing
a necessary level of modernization that is critical to enable the
students who matriculate from these courses to be successful in
research and professional employment.
Curriculum development for G429e and G329 was supported by
grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) along with
support from Indiana University (Curriculum Development for
Interdisciplinary Field Courses in Environmental Geosciences,
to Douglas, Olyphant, Suttner, and Boone, NSF grant DUE9651204, and Field and Laboratory Equipment for Student
Training in Environmental Geosciences, to Douglas, Olyphant,
Brophy, and Suttner, NSF grant DUE-9751645 [including 50%
match from Indiana University Research and University Graduate School]). This manuscript benefited from reviews by Neil
Suneson, Adam Maltese, and two anonymous reviewers.

Day-Lewis, F.D., 2003, Editors Message: The role of field camp in an evolving
geoscience curriculum in the United States: Hydrogeology Journal, v. 11,
p. 203204.
Douglas, B.J., Olyphant, G.A., Suttner, L.J., Boone, W., and Carlson, C., 1996,
Integrating skills and techniques of environmental geoscience into an
existing field geology program: Geological Society of America Abstracts
with Programs, v. 28, no. 7, p. A-267.
Douglas, B.J., Olyphant, G.A., Elliott, W., Letsinger, S.L., and Suttner, L.J.,
1997, Importance of bedrock geology to the geoecology of a northern
Rocky Mountain watershed: Geological Society of America Abstracts
with Programs, v. 29, no. 6, p. A-22.
Douglas, B.J., Brabson, B., Brophy, J., Cotton, C., Dahlstrom, D., Elswick, E.,
Gibson, D., Letsinger, S., Oliphant, A., Olyphant, G., Person, M., and
Suttner, L., 2002, Using data today: Data in a field classroom, in Using
Data in Undergraduate Science Classrooms, Final Report on an Interdisciplinary Workshop at Carleton College, April 2002: Northfield, Minnesota,
Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, 16 p.
Drummond, C.N., 2001, Can field camps survive?: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 49, no. 4, p. 336.
Elkins, J.T., and Elkins, N.M.L., 2007, Teaching geology in the field: Significant geosciences concept gains in entirely field-based introductory geology courses: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 55, no. 2, p. 126132.
Elliott, W.S., Jr., 1998a, Tectono-Stratigraphic Control of Quaternary and Tertiary Sediments and Structures along the Northeast Flank of the Tobacco
Root Mountains, Madison County, Montana [M.S. thesis]: Bloomington,
Indiana, Indiana University, 121 p.
Elliott, W.S., Jr., 1998b, Geologic Map of the Harrison 7.5 Quadrangle, Madison County, Montana (Part 1): Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology
Open-File Report MBMG 375, scale 1:24,000, 2 sheets.
Elliott, W.S., Jr., Suttner, L.J., and Douglas, B.J., 1998, Structural control of
Tertiary and Quaternary sediment dispersal along the northeast flank of
the Tobacco Root Mountains, Madison County, Montana: Geological
Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 30, no. 7, p. A-192.
Elliott, W.S., Jr., Douglas, B.J., and Suttner, L.J., 2003, Structural control on
Quaternary and Tertiary sedimentation in the Harrison Basin, Madison
County, Montana: The Mountain Geologist, v. 40, no. 1, p. 118.
Krothe, J., 1999, Groundwater Flow through Metamorphic Bedrock [B.S. thesis]: Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University, 18 p.
Letsinger, S.L., 2001, Simulating the Evolution of Seasonal Snowcover and
Snowmelt Runoff Using a Distributed Energy Balance Model: Application to an Alpine Watershed in the Tobacco Root Mountains, Montana
[Ph.D. diss.]: Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University, 216 p.
Letsinger, S.L., and Olyphant, G.A., 2001, Assessing the heterogeneity of
snow-water equivalent during the snowmelt season: Spatial variability
and its controlling factors in an alpine setting: Eos (Transactions, American Geophysical Union), v. 82, no. 47, Fall Meeting supplement, abstract
Orion, N., 1993, A model for the development and implementation of field trips
as an integral part of the science curriculum: School Science and Mathematics, v. 93, p. 325331.
Orion, N., and Hofstein, A., 1994, Factors that influence learning during a scientific field trip in a natural environment: Journal of Research in Science
Teaching, v. 31, p. 10971119, doi: 10.1002/tea.3660311005.
Osterloo, M., 2002, The Growing Season Water Balance for a Watershed
Located in Southwestern Montana [B.S. thesis]: Bloomington, Indiana,
Indiana University, 23 p.,


Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA):

Maintaining a leadership role in field-course education for 79 years
Virginia B. Sisson
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204, USA
Marv Kauffman
Department of Earth and Environment, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17604-3003, USA
Yvette Bordeaux
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6316, USA
Robert C. Thomas
Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Montana Western, Dillon, Montana 59725, USA
Robert Giegengack
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6316, USA

The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) is a nonprofit research and
teaching organization chartered in the state of Montana in 1936. YBRA maintains a field
station south of Red Lodge, Montana, at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains at the NW
corner of the Bighorn Basin. The YBRA Field Station has been host to a wide variety of
primarily geological field courses and research exercises, including a YBRA-sponsored
Summer Course in Geologic Field Methods, offered initially by Princeton University and
subsequently by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Houston. Enrollments in that course vary from year to year, an experience shared by other field-course
programs. The YBRA field station does not depend exclusively on field-course enrollment; by diversifying its client base, YBRA has been able to operate effectively through
high-amplitude variations in enrollment in traditional courses in field geology.

young geologists have passed on their way to productive professional careers in resource exploration, research, and teaching.

The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association, universally

abbreviated to YBRA, represents two distinct entities: (1) a selfsupporting, nonprofit educational organization with its own field
station in Red Lodge, Montana, that has been host to a succession
of field courses and research scientists, and (2) a precedent-setting
undergraduate field course of the same name, through which ~2000

The colorful history of YBRA was described by William
Bonini et al. (1986) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of
the establishment of YBRA. We summarize that description here:

Sisson, V.B., Kauffman, M., Bordeaux, Y., Thomas, R.C., and Giegengack, R., 2009, The Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA): Maintaining a
leadership role in field-course education for 79 years, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives
and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 1523, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(02). For permission to copy, contact editing@ 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Sisson et al.
Prof. Taylor Thom and Richard Field of Princetons
Geology Department initiated the Red Lodge Project
in 1930 for the furthering of fundamental geological
science and the training of students under exceptionally
favorable conditions. There were 19 active participants
in the Red Lodge Project that first year.
Red Lodge, Montana, at the NW corner of the Bighorn
Basin at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains, was chosen
because of its superb immediate geologic setting and its
proximity to a variety of geologic terrains. At that time,
although the region was already established as a source
of hydrocarbon fuels and had already yielded important
vertebrate fossils, it had not been mapped in detail.
Dr. J.C. Fred Siegfriedt, a Red Lodge doctor who was
mayor of Red Lodge in 1930, was also an active amateur
paleontologist. Siegfriedt owned land near Piney Dell,
about 8 km southwest of Red Lodge, which he rented as
a field station to Taylor Thom in 1931. That year, 35 participants, and the following year, 42 participants, together
with family members, occupied the one old house, small
cabins, and tents at Piney Dell (see Fig. 1).
In 1931 and for the next 30 years, Roy Wadsworth, a
giant of a coal minercarpenter, served as caretaker and
repairman, and his wife Florence served as the cook.

To Billings, 100 km

Red Lodge

Camp Senia

Elk Basin

10 km
to Yellowstone National Park
NE Entrance, 90 km

Figure 1. Regional map of the Red Lodge corner of the Beartooth

Mountains and adjacent Bighorn Basin, showing locations of features
mentioned in the text and the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) Field Station. The blue line represents the leading edge
of Beartooth Thrust; at most localities, near-vertical Mississippian
Madison limestone overrides Paleocene Fort Union Formation. The
thrust is offset by many faults; major faults are represented by the red
lines. (Base map is from GoogleEarth.)

Participation by many geologists and students from 17

colleges and universities during the first three years of the
Red Lodge Project forced a search for new quarters. A
dude ranch, Camp Senia, 20 km up the West Fork Valley,
provided space for field seasons in the years 19331935
(see Fig. 1).
In searching for a permanent location closer to Red Lodge,
Thom learned through the Northern Pacific Railway Company of a canceled grazing lease available on the slopes
of Mount Maurice. The total price for the ~120 acres was
$420. The newly formed Princeton Geological Association
(PGA) raised enough money to purchase the site (although
there is some question whether the funds were ever paid),
and, in 1935, construction on the new camp was begun
on the northeast slope of Mount Maurice overlooking Red
Lodge, 6 km north and 400 m lower in altitude. By the
summer of 1936, Roy Wadsworth and his helpers had finished the lodge, a shower house, and 14 other cabins. A
domestic-water reservoir was built in the bed of Howell
Gulch, named for Benjamin F. Howell of Princeton, who
had assisted Thom in choosing this site. The total cost of
the first stage of construction of the Red Lodge camp was
just over $14,000, including lumber, labor, furnishings,
and materials. To celebrate the opening, the 75 camp residents hosted 175 Red Lodge guests to a pig roast on 17
July 1936.
On 14 July 1936, the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research
Association (YBRA) was incorporated as a not-for-profit
organization in the state of Montana. Although it has never
exercised the option to do so, YBRA is authorized by the
state of Montana to grant degrees. On 21 November 1936,
PGA granted YBRA a five-year lease on the camp.
During the early years of YBRA, financial support came
from Princeton University, the Carter Oil Company, the
Northern Pacific Railway, other universities, and many
private individuals. In June 1941, PGA offered YBRA
an option to buy the camp for $4000. That option was
accepted, and, on 24 April 1942, the camp property was
transferred to YBRA. PGA passed a resolution to reduce
the selling price to $1.00 because of efforts already made,
and expenses already incurred, by participants and supporters of the program during prior years.
The original mission of the YBRA field course was to introduce geology majors as early as possible in their undergraduate
careers to the various methods of geologic mapping in the field.
This included use of topographic maps, interpretation of air photos, and, early in the history of the course, the construction of
field maps via plane table and alidade.
During the first 50 years of the Red Lodge project and the
YBRA field course, there were at least three dozen doctoral theses produced by students who operated out of the YBRA camp.
These students were granted degrees from Cincinnati, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Minnesota, Princeton, Wisconsin, and Yale
Universities, among other institutions. Undergraduate students

Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association: Maintaining a leadership role in field-course education

participated as field assistants in most of those projects. Since
the mid-1950s, undergraduate field courses have been conducted
at YBRA by many schools. These programs have included the
Princeton-YBRA field course, which became the Penn/YBRA
field course in 1992 and the University of Houston/YBRA field
course in 2008; Southern Illinois University geology and botany
courses; the Penn State University geology program; the Harvard/
Yale geology program; and University of Pennsylvania graduate
courses in geology and ecology, among others.
Since the late 1970s, several universities have conducted
alumni colleges for their graduates and friends at YBRA. These
week-long programs have introduced many nongeologists to
the geology and natural history of the northern Rocky Mountains. Begun by Princeton, alumni colleges have now been run
by Amherst, Franklin and Marshall, Southern Illinois, and Johns
Hopkins Universities. In addition to their academic and social
value, these programs have made outstanding contributions to
maintaining the financial integrity of YBRA.
Although research has taken a secondary place to education during the last few decades, numerous faculty and graduatestudent research programs continue to use the YBRA facilities
for parts of every field season. Summer institutes for teachers
have been held at YBRA, conducted during the 1970s and 1980s
primarily by Erling Dorf of Princeton, and by Will Parsons of
Wayne State University. Other uses of the camp have included
a writing conference by the American Geological Institute, and
field conferences and symposium meetings of International Geological Congresses, the Billings and Montana Geological Societies, the Tobacco Root Geological Society, and the Arctic and
Sub-Alpine International Mycological Society. Paleontological
expeditions have been conducted at dinosaur sites in the Bighorn
Basin by the University of Cincinnati Museum Center and by the
New Jersey State Museum. A Womens Health Conference has
been held as a one-day session in each of the last six years.
The field course sponsored by YBRA has been in continuous operation since 1930. Taylor Thom directed the course from
1930 to 1954. Bill Bonini, professor of geosciences at Princeton,
operated a course in engineering geology at YBRA in 1955, the
same year that John Maxwell (Princeton) and R.M. (Pete) Foose
(Franklin and Marshall) offered a summer course in geology at
YBRA. In 1956, the two were consolidated as a single course,
directed by Bill Bonini, from 1956 until the course was transferred to the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. Robert Giegengack and Yvette Bordeaux at the University of Pennsylvania
directed the course through the summer of 2007. In 2008, the
course was transferred to the University of Houston, where it is
now directed by Virginia Sisson.
The primary mapping exercises that were developed in the
1930s have been refined as more field information has accumulated, and they have been modified with changes in access to private and public land. Additional exercises have been added, in


some cases replacing established exercises, as new priorities have

been articulated by the international geologic community, and as
realities of access and field logistics have impacted administration of the course.
In most years, the YBRA Summer Course in Geologic Field
Methods has consisted of two five-week courses, each taught by
three teams of two faculty members each. Each team teaches
the course for a two-week period; thus, the teams overlap for a
few days during each transition to ensure continuity. The faculty
have been drawn from many different universities, and have been
effective in introducing undergraduates, primarily from eastern colleges, to a wide range of geologic perspectives, teaching
philosophies, and opinions on graduate study in geology. Each
team of two faculty members is selected for its expertise in one
of the three principal components of the course: (1) the sedimentary stratigraphy and structure of Elk Basin, a doubly plunging
anticline in Cretaceous rocks in the NW corner of the Bighorn
Basin; (2) the stratigraphy and structure of the Beartooth overthrust, emplaced over Bighorn Basin sediments in the Laramide
event; and (3) the mineralogy, petrology, stratigraphy, structure,
and recent seismicity of Yellowstone National Park and selected
crystalline terrains in SW Montana. For the final portion of the
course, students are housed in dormitories at the University of
Montana Western in Dillon.
The Field Exercises
1. For many years, YBRA students have been introduced to
the intellectual and physical challenges of rigorous fieldwork by
studying the Cretaceous section of sedimentary rocks exposed in
Elk Basin, in the NW corner of the Bighorn Basin (see Fig. 1), a
doubly plunging anticline expressed at the surface in Cretaceous
rocks. The surface and subsurface geology of Elk Basin is well
constrained: since 1911, Elk Basin has been a major producer of
oil from a faulted anticlinal trap, one of many around the margins of the Bighorn Basin. Elk Basin is a good starter exercise
for beginning geologists: visibility is effectively 100%, allowing
close faculty supervision of teams of students scattered across the
structure, 10 km N-S 5 E-W; the structure is classic and spectacular; and the students senses are bombarded with the sights,
sounds, and characteristic odors of the industry that has been
so important in generating demand for professional geologists.
In recent years, the students have been introduced to Elk Basin
and assigned to make a geologic map on a base topographic map
without reference to air photos; since visibility is so good, we
have used this exercise to help students develop the capacity to
establish a position in the field with reference only to topography
represented by contours on a base map.
2. YBRA is built directly on a major tear fault (the Mount
Maurice tear fault) that represents a substantial offset of the
overthrust front of the Beartooth Mountains (see Fig. 1). From
the porch of the YBRA dining hall (Fanshawe Lodge), students
can see dramatic outcrops of near-vertical Ordovician Bighorn dolomite and Mississippian Madison limestone abutting


Sisson et al.

near-horizontal Paleocene Fort Union sandstone, and even casual

observation leads them to the conclusion that the overthrust margin is more or less continuous along the front of the Beartooth
Mountains. By the time that the Mountain Front segment of the
field course begins, students have become familiar with the Madison Palisades as a dominant feature in the local landscape. We
introduce the students to the different styles of Laramide deformation by visiting different exposures of the Beartooth overthrust
along the western margin of the Bighorn Basin, and we then
assign them the task of mapping a section of the 16 km stretch
of the mountain front north and south of the YBRA camp. The
students enter their field data on aerial photograph overlays and
locate themselves in the field by reference to a topographic base
map and the aerial photos. Since handheld global positioning
system (GPS) units became available at reasonable cost, we have
issued a GPS unit to each field team for the mapping exercise
along the front. (These units are withheld from mapping teams
for the Elk Basin segment in order to help the students learn to
locate themselves in the field by reference to topographic features more or less well represented on a topographic base map;
in recent years, however, so many students arrive in camp with
personal GPS units that this effort has been effectively defeated.)
The mapping exercise along the Beartooth Front is followed
by a trip through Yellowstone National Park, during which students review the Tertiary and Quaternary volcanic stratigraphy
of the park, the geophysics of geothermal features in the park,
the geologic record of recent seismicity in and near the park, and
the changing resource-management challenges addressed by the
evolution of National Park Service policies.
Together, Elk Basin and the Beartooth Front offer our
students a comprehensive exposure to a range of stratigraphic
and structural styles that probably cannot be matched in such a
restricted area in many parts of the United States; however, one
deficit is that we do not have access to a large exposure of crystalline rocks in close proximity to YBRA in which we could
develop a mapping exercise. The crest of the Beartooth Plateau
offers many opportunities to reconstruct Precambrian geologic
history, but the altitude and latitude of those exposures are so
high that we cannot be guaranteed access to those rocks through
a brief summer season in the northern Rocky Mountains. Even
the one-day exercises that we undertake on the Beartooth Plateau are frequently defeated by summer snowstorms that briefly
close the highway over the plateau. Thus, we have sought
opportunities to enable our students to work in crystalline terrains at lower altitudes.
3. For many years, our students have traveled through Yellowstone National Park to the University of Montana Western in
Dillon, where they stayed in college dormitories while they pursued a mapping exercise in high-grade Precambrian metamorphic
rocks affected by large-scale refolded folds and thrusts, several
generations of igneous rocks, and an overlying multigeneration
sequence of Quaternary deposits. In this exercise, each team of
students has been responsible for constructing a lithologic column during this mapping project. The rock units that make up

that column include banded iron formation, amphibolites, calcsilicates, marble, quartzite, schists, gneisses, diabase, pegmatite,
serpentinite, and basalts. We have added exercises that include
mapping and interpretation of a thin-skinned overthrust belt near
Block Mountain, and a complex of Tertiary normal faults near
Timber Hill (see following). In some years, we have included an
exercise in assessment of hydrologic hazards.
In addition to these three major mapping exercises, students
at YBRA are assigned one-day exercises in section measurement,
economic geology and mineralogy (via a visit to the Stillwater
Complex), Cenozoic paleontology, glacial stratigraphy and geomorphology, high-mountain ecology, etc.
The Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (formerly the Geosciences Department) at the University of Houston
has offered a department-sponsored field course to its students
for over 40 years. That course has been taught as a capstone
course that most students have taken after all their required and
elective courses have been fulfilled. Thus, the field course has
served mostly senior geology majors who have received their
undergraduate degrees after completion of that course.
During most of those 40 years, the field course has been
based at Western New Mexico State University in Silver City,
New Mexico, in the midst of a primarily Paleozoic terrain, with
side field trips through New Mexico, Arizona, and the Guadalupe
Mountains of Texas. In some years, students in the course have
also studied igneous rocks, glacial deposits, and Precambrian
basement at Durango, Colorado.
The faculty for the course has been drawn exclusively from
University of Houston staff, including Max Carmen, Carl Norman, Hank Chafetz, Bill Dupre, Peter Copeland, Mike Murphy,
Tom Lapen, and Janok Bhattacharya. Graduate students have
also been engaged as teaching assistants. Typically, two faculty members have taught the entire five- to six-week course.
This class has only included students enrolled at University of
Houston; the entire group has driven to the field sites in rented
vehicles driven in caravan from the University of Houston campus. Prior to field camp, all students in the field course have
been required to take a semester-long on-campus field-methods
course in preparation for the summer program. In recent years,
the field-geology course has been used to fulfill electives for
undergraduate majors in geophysics.
The field camp moved to north-central New Mexico near
Abiquiu in 2005. This move shifted the emphasis of the course
to Rio Grande Rift geology and the geology of the Henry Mountains in south-central Utah.
In December 2007, the University of Houston Department of Geosciences decided to assume responsibility for

Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association: Maintaining a leadership role in field-course education

administering and directing the principal undergraduate fieldinstruction program of YBRA. The first year of the University
of HoustonYBRA program, summer 2008, was a transitional
year engaging staff members from the University of Houston
without significant changes in the program that has been taught
at YBRA for many years. University of HoustonYBRA offered
a single five-week session to 40 students from early June to the
first week in July. Three University of Houston instructors cotaught the course with long-time YBRA faculty. Several other
University of Houston faculty joined the group for short periods
of time to learn the local geology as well as to consider changes
to the program.
Many of the successful features of the YBRA course have
been retained under University of Houston supervision. The
course is taught by faculty from both University of Houston and
other institutions. It is offered as either a three-credit or a sixcredit course, depending on the needs of individual students.
The course will continue to serve a wide variety of students from
many institutions.
In addition, starting in summer 2009, the University of Houston offered a course in field geophysical methods. This 10-day
course included introduction to magnetic, ground-penetrating
radar, well-logging, and seismic techniques.
Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania
The years since the YBRA field course was introduced in
1930 have seen many different teaching philosophies rise and
fall as American society has grappled with reported crises in
K12 education, in response to accounts of far superior outcomes in educational systems in western Europe and Asia, and
with disquieting reports of effective exclusion of some cohorts
of Americans from the benefits of responsible education. These
reports, of course, long predate the organization of YBRA, and
they have inspired the development of elaborate college curricula in teacher education. No modern university, whether it is
a land-grant institution, a liberal-arts college, or a full-featured
research university, can afford to be without an academic unit
that undertakes to educate young people for a career in the
noblest profession: teaching.
Teaching as a profession is old, and the basic approaches to
effective teaching have been debated since before the dawn of
written human history. We are all familiar with the debate that
swirls around the value of expository versus participatory education. As science teachers, we know that our lectures must be
intermixed with both laboratory exercises and field trips, or the
examples we offer of the rock relationships we study will lack the
immediacy that cements them in a students memory. However,
we also know that the educational model whereby students learn
exclusively by doing supposes that the discoveries of many prior
generations of human investigators can be repeated by each generation, who will learn thereby the complexity of the discipline


they address and the elegance of the solutions that prior generations have developed.
On the other hand, we also know that life is short, that most
of us will not have more than a few good ideas in our productive
lifetimes, and that repeating the mistakes of prior generations,
however graphic that experience may prove to be, is not an efficient way to learn about Earth, or anything else. The instructional
model whereby a mature investigator, who has spent a piece of
her/his life studying a specific process, region, or material, distills the essence of that experience into 40 one-hour lectures over
the course of 14 weeks before an audience that may range from
a handful to many hundreds of younger aspirants to the same
understanding, has been shown to be both effective and efficient.
Its practice long predates the establishment of formal schooling
in classical human societies, and, no doubt, is a model employed
by other animals to instruct their young in the business of life.
In our earth science curricula, we concern ourselves more
with experiential education than do many of our colleagues in
other disciplines: our programs typically include exposure to
geologic materials through laboratory study, collection of statistically rigorous data via empiric analysis, and collection of
field data through vigorous transects of complex terrain. While
we seek strategies to achieve our teaching objectives in ways
that capture the interest and excitement of our students, we do
not indulge that need for excitement at the expense of the rigor
of the substance we present. In the earth sciences, in addition,
we respond to a predisposition that brings many of our geology
majors into our classrooms: the attraction of physical work outdoors, the appeal of wild and scenic places, and the satisfaction
of solving complex four-dimensional problems that may not have
been solved before. Each new piece of terrain is a story waiting
to be deciphered, and it offers rewards not likely to be realized by
those who undertake to solve an artificial problem manufactured
by someone else (e.g., a crossword puzzle).
So, our task of earth science education, and particularly our
task of offering that instruction in the field, presents challenges
different from those addressed by our colleagues in some other
disciplines. We embrace the rare opportunity to develop a curricular approach that offers the most efficient way for young
people, already strongly predisposed to learning what we have to
offer, to learn both the principles and the practical skills that will
enable them to spend productive careers reconstructing Earth history from the empiric data in which that history is written: the
language of the rocks.
In our experience, the most effective teachers at YBRA have
been active professional geologists, across a range of ages, who
use fieldwork as a means to collect data not available by other
strategies, who revel in the task of solving vast four-dimensional
puzzles with fragmentary evidence, who strive to share the
excitement they feel with others, and have developed, or came
fully equipped with, a natural predisposition to be effective storytellers. Given that particular combination of background and proclivity, it matters little how each teacher goes about communicating his/her conviction to the next generation. We seek excellent


Sisson et al.

field geologists who are also committed teachers, and we have

found that the rest takes care of itself.
Neither Princeton nor the University of Pennsylvania has
imposed on its faculty any requirement to develop mechanisms
to evaluate the efficacy of the teaching strategies that we employ,
nor do those universities (and others like them) require of newly
engaged members of those faculties either training in teaching
techniques or expressed interest in effective teaching. The Graduate School of Education (GSE) of the University of Pennsylvania is a distinguished institution that produces large numbers
of teachers and administrators who enter public school systems
across the United States, but GSE exercises little, if any, influence
on teaching practices in the other 11 schools of the university. The
central administration of the University of Pennsylvania periodically suffers paroxysms of introspection and turns its attention
(briefly) inward to examine the effectiveness of its teaching mission; when it does so, it rediscovers that the geology program
sends its students to the Rocky Mountains every summer to learn
to reconstruct Earth history by studying the record preserved in
crustal rocks, and it points to that program as a fine example of
educational innovation!
The YBRA faculty is composed of a large number of teachers from many institutions, and we encourage each participant to
bring to bear on the educational mission whatever principles she/
he has found most effective at the institution where he/she serves
on the earth science faculty. Thus, we engage faculty from many
different teaching cultures in our course, and we welcome the
variety that such experience brings to our program.
University of Montana Western
The long-term association between YBRA and the earth science teaching program at the University of Montana Western has
enabled us to benefit from the experience of faculty who enjoy
daily exposure to the terrains on which we deploy our students.
This association has enabled us to benefit from evolving field
exercises used by that department to engage undergraduate geology students in meaningful applications of what they learn, both
in the field and in the classroom.
The established instructional goals of the YBRA fieldgeology program, like those of most field geology programs,
have been centered on identifying rock types and learning the
skill of mapping. In the last decade or so, changes have been
implemented by the YBRA instructors to apply data gathered in
the field to solving geologic problems beyond the construction of
geologic maps and accompanying cross sections. A good example of this is the Timber Hill project, located in the Sweetwater
Range near Dillon, Montana (Thomas and Roberts, this volume).
This project was added to the YBRA curriculum in recent years
as a result of the loss of access to a mapping project on Archean
metamorphic rocks located on private land.
The Timber Hill terrain consists of Archean metamorphic
rocks overlain by Paleogene and Neogene terrestrial rocks of
the Renova and Sixmile Creek Formations. The Neogene Six-

mile Creek Formation preserves a spectacular record of fluvial

and debris-flow deposits, derived, in part, from the Yellowstone
hot spot, including fluvially deposited tephras up to 15 m thick
(Sears and Thomas, 2007). The paleodrainage was also filled
with a distinctive basalt flow (the Timber Hill Basalt) that likely
originated from the Heise volcanic field in Idaho and entered
the drainage around 6.0 Ma. Since the basalt is more resistant
to erosion than the rest of the Sixmile Creek Formation, it forms
mesas and serves as a textbook example of inverted topography.
The main attraction is a Neogene (ca. 5.0 Ma) listric normal
fault, called the Sweetwater fault, that cuts these rocks with
~225 m of offset. The Timber Hill Basalt provides a very distinctive datum by which students can determine the faults offset
and geometry (Fig. 2). The Sweetwater fault is part of an active
system of northwest-trending normal faults that lie within the
Intermountain seismic belt (Stickney, 2007). Since the fault is
potentially active, the project provides an excellent opportunity
for students to use their field data to predict the areas that are
prone to geohazards such as surface rupture, liquefaction, and
slope instability, and then to use those predictions to make landmanagement decisions.
The project requires the students to map all rock units within
an area of ~3 km2 and to draw two cross sections. The students
are asked to identify and describe the various types of Archean
metamorphic lithologies, but the emphasis is on the Paleogene,
Neogene, and Quaternary units, with special emphasis on mapping the Sweetwater fault and surficial deposits and features
like landslides, rock falls, sediments moved by soil creep, and
alluvium. In addition, the students note the areas that are prone
to surface rupture and liquefaction during an earthquake. The
reason for gathering these data is to make decisions about the

Figure 2. Trace of the Sweetwater fault at Timber Hill. TbTertiary

basalt; TsmTertiary Sixmile Creek Formation; PCuPrecambrian
undifferentiated; Uupthrown block; Ddownthrown block. Dashed
line indicates approximate location of fault, dotted line indicates covered fault.

Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association: Maintaining a leadership role in field-course education

placement of 20 homes, with water wells and septic tanks, within
a proposed hypothetical subdivision on the property. In addition,
the students gather structural data on the joints and foliation in
the Archean metamorphic rocks for the purpose of predicting the
regional groundwater-flow patterns and, hence, the best locations
to place the water wells.
Because of time constraints, the YBRA students have not
yet been asked to construct a geohazards report like the University of Montana Western students have done (Thomas and Roberts, this volume). In lieu of such a report, the YBRA students
turn in a subdivision map showing the placement of the houses,
water wells, and septic tanks for each building lot. On the back
of this map, they write a brief justification of each placement.
Even without the report, this is a big step forward in metacognitive learning for the YBRA field camp students. They must think
about what data they need to gather while they are mapping in
order to safely place a home on a piece of land that has many
geohazards. They then need to justify their land-management
decisions by explaining their reasoning. This project serves as
an important step forward for YBRA into a more project-based
approach to field instruction in geology.
University of Houston
The University of Houston is an urban university, and,
among major research universities in the United States, it is
the second most ethnically diverse. Sixty-five percent of the
~27,000 undergraduate students at University of Houston are
nonwhite. Most of the students are Texas residents, but students
also come from across the United States and from more than
137 countries. Eighty percent of the students come from within
30 km of Houston. The ethnic diversity and urban background
of the University of Houston student community will change
the context of the University of HoustonYBRA program in
future years. For many of the University of Houston students,
a course in the Rocky Mountains will represent their first experience away from the Houston metropolitan area. In addition,
many of the geoscience students are older, nontraditional students, and some are coming back for a second B.S. degree.
Those students either work full time or are engaged already
in petroleum careers and need a formal education in geology.
Thus, the demands of their professional lives complicate their
efforts to schedule attendance at a field camp far from Houston. However, they all are required to take a field course as a
capstone for their undergraduate major. For the University of
Houston students, the opportunity to mix with students from
different universities is exciting as well as challenging.
The University of Houston faculty who teach at YBRA are
collaborating with the YBRA faculty previously engaged by
Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. The University
of Houston faculty have embraced the traditions and teaching
philosophy of the established YBRA field curriculum, but they
also impart a University of Houston signature to the field camp.
For example, the University of Houston faculty have added


exercises in sequence stratigraphy and delta architecture, and

the field program is coordinated with the University of Houston geology curriculum. The field course is not a stand-alone
course. Over the next few seasons, University of Houston faculty will assess the extent to which University of Houston students acquire essential technical skills through the field exercises in sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks already
established at YBRA. For beginning majors in geology, the
course will also test whether the intellectually challenging and
physically demanding lifestyle of the field geologist is consistent with their personal career aspirations.
As mentioned previously, in 2009 University of Houston
offered a new field course in applied geophysics at YBRA, which
provided practical exposure to many techniques of field geophysics. These include positional line surveying using GPS technologies, multicomponent seismic refraction, high-resolution seismic
reflection, ground-penetrating radar (GPR), and gravity surveys,
as well as well-log measurements (using gamma-ray, sonic, resistivity, and temperature tools) in a shallow nearby well. All participants in the course make all types of measurement. This course
will probably become the capstone course for all University of
Houston geophysics majors, and will provide other students
a chance to apply their geophysical understanding to practical
exploration problems.
The YBRA field course has persisted for 79 years, through
many changes in undergraduate earth science curricula, through
advances in the tools available to pursue field work effectively,
through changes in the employment prospects for graduates of
geology programs, through a general decline in the perception
of the value of a field-mapping experience, and through growing
development of the landscape across which our students work.
While ownership of mineral rights in Elk Basin has passed
from company to company within the petroleum industry, our students have always been welcome to work across that structure, as
have students from many other field courses. However, the pace
of development along the Beartooth Front and in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in recent years has compromised our access
to some of the sites at which crucial relationships among certain
rock units are best exposed. As administrators of the field course,
we have spent a lot of time and energy educating our students
about appropriate field etiquette, and explaining to landowners
what our students are doing and why that work is important.
Given that the economy of the region has been closely attuned to
the extractive industry, most of our neighbors have been receptive to the suggestion that their indulgence will help educate the
next generation of resource-exploration geologists. Even in cases
where a tract of land is owned by a large corporation, local caretakers have been amenable to student use of the land when formal
corporate permission has been difficult to acquire. There have
been occasional incidents of student carelessness or disregard of
ranchland manners, but, with few exceptions, we have been able


Sisson et al.

to mend the fences, and we continue to find welcome on most of

the land on which we hope to work.
While both the National Parks and the National Forests have
been set aside for public use, we encounter a spectrum of regulations that undertake to control access to the sites we study on
public land. Thus, as an educational institution, we are granted
no-cost access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks,
but we must apply for a use permit (and pay an administrative fee)
to deploy our students across land in the Shoshone and Custer
National Forests. As the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grapples
with strategies to avoid budget shortfalls, and to present evenhanded policies to its many constituencies, administrators of the
individual forests periodically introduce policies to extract user
fees from organizations that use the forests for profit (e.g., hunting and fishing outfitters, ecotourism companies), a policy consistent with the grazing fees and mining royalties that the USFS
has collected routinely for generations. We have thus far been
successful in persuading the USFS administrators that YBRA is a
not-for-profit enterprise, despite the fact that faculty in the course
receive teaching stipends, but we still pay modest administrative
fees to the USFS to process our annual permits.
A principal cost of the program, and a continuing logistic
problem, has been the need to maintain a fleet of vehicles in
which students can travel to our various field sites safely and efficiently, if not necessarily comfortably. While the course has been
administered by Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania,
course vehicles have been owned by the sponsoring university,
and they have been garaged and maintained in Red Lodge. From
time to time, we have compared the ongoing costs of insuring,
maintaining, and operating a fleet of aging university-owned
vehicles to the cost of renting vehicles locally for the 10 wk field
course. Efforts to use rental vehicles, which would always be
relatively new, and maintained and insured by the rental agency,
have been defeated by the unwillingness of those agencies to rent
cars to young drivers, especially, by some agencies, to young
male drivers. With the transfer of the field course to the University of Houston, that problem has become more manageable: the
University of Houston has arranged with a Houston agency to
rent vehicles that will be driven by drivers under 25 as long as
those drivers are legal employees of the University of Houston.
In 2008, we decided to sell the six vans previously owned by the
University of Pennsylvania and donate the proceeds to YBRA.
In the last few years, some of the interpretive challenges we
have built into our mapping exercises have been compromised
by universal access to Google Earth and similar programs that
enable students to download high-resolution imagery from orbiting satellites (e.g., see Fig. 1), and by the use of cell-phone photography to share field decisions among widely separated mapping groups.
We have not yet introduced laptop-based mapping technology to our field exercises, for two reasons:
(1) We still share the conviction that students must learn to
locate themselves in the field by reference to topographic features, and

(2) we recognize that the present cost of acquiring, maintaining, and replacing individual laptop units and differential GPS
technology is so high that it will price our program well above
our competition.
We realize that several other undergraduate courses in field
geology routinely train their students in modern electronic survey techniques; we may introduce aspects of that technology as
costs decline.
In the past 25 years, we have seen a steady growth in the
number of female students who enroll in the YBRA field course;
since the 1990s, the female:male ratio has often exceeded 1:1.
This trend has not only changed the physical layout of the camp,
but it has impacted the social environment of the program in a
strongly positive way. In years in which the student body has been
overwhelmingly male, our students have sought leisure-time recreation in the friendly bar culture in Red Lodge. With the recent
change in gender ratio, our young males have learned that plenty
of social stimulation is available right in camp, and they are better behaved as a consequence. The addition of a strong cohort
of competent, highly motivated young women has improved the
learning environment of the program and, perhaps only incidentally, reduced the incidence of cases of substance abuse.
YBRA is operated by a 12-member, self-perpetuating Board
of Trustees, known as the YBRA Council. The field station is
run by a seasonal staff of three to five kitchen and maintenance
employees. YBRA is supported by user charges, membership
fees, publication sales, and individual and corporate contributions to its operating budget and endowment.
The field station in 2008 consists of 32 buildings (see
Fig. 3). The station can accommodate 90 people in dormitories and smaller cabins scattered across a wooded mountainside
overlooking the town of Red Lodge, Montana. Five of the larger
cabins include indoor plumbing; two strategically placed washhouses serve the dormitories and smaller cabins. The modern
kitchen in Fanshawe Lodge can serve as many as 125 people.
Classes and other meetings are held in two study halls and a
library, which is well stocked with publications on the geology and natural history of the northern Rocky Mountains. Since
1936, YBRA has taken its drinking water from the headwaters
of Howell Gulch, a first-order stream on the property; that water
is now filtered and chlorinated to meet health requirements of
the state of Montana.
In an annual three-month season, YBRA is host to three to
five field courses, a number of large field parties, traveling earth
science field excursions, individual investigators, alumni/ae seminars and reunions, visiting alumni/ae of programs at YBRA, local
topical seminars, and the occasional wedding or family reunion.
Ashes of at least one former YBRA faculty member are sparsely
distributed across the site.
Although YBRA was acquired and constructed to accommodate courses in geologic field methods, it now serves such a

Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association: Maintaining a leadership role in field-course education


Figure 3. Map of the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) Field Station.

diversified clientele that it can meet its operating expenses with

revenue from other users. Thus, YBRA can remain financially
secure through high-amplitude variations in enrollment in fieldgeology courses.

cal and intellectual challenges of the rigorous study of geology in

the field. With its modern, if rustic, facilities, and its loyal base of
supportive alumni/ae and corporate associates, YBRA is poised
to maintain that leadership role through the education of future
generations of field scientists.

YBRA is the oldest university-sponsored field-geology
facility in continuous operation in the United States today. This
facility, in an annual three-month season (JuneAugust), accommodates undergraduate and graduate field courses in geology,
ecology and botany; visits by geologic field trips passing through
the Bighorn Basin; individual scientists and research teams conducting field research in proximity to YBRA; university alumni/ae
colleges and reunions; various topical conferences; and visiting
YBRA alumni/ae. This diversity of users enables YBRA to meet
the costs of annual operation and maintenance without relying
exclusively on patronage by undergraduate field courses.
In its 79-year history, YBRA and the programs it hosts have
made a major contribution to the study of geology in the United
States, and have introduced ~2000 young geologists to the physi-

Bonini, W.E., Fox, S.K., and Judson, S., 1986, The Red Lodge Project and the
YBRA: The early years, 19321942: Billings, Montana Geological Society, YBRA Field Conference, p. 19.
Sears, J.W., and Thomas, R.C., 2007, Extraordinary middle Miocene crustal
disturbance in southwest Montana: Birth record of the Yellowstone hot
spot?: Northwest Geology, v. 36, p. 133142.
Stickney, M., 2007, Historic earthquakes and seismicity in southwestern Montana: Northwest Geology, v. 36, p. 167186.
Thomas, R.C., and Roberts, S., 2009, this volume, Experience one: Teaching
geoscience curriculum in the field, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and
Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and
Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461,
doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(07).


Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Field camp: Using traditional methods to train the next generation of

petroleum geologists
James O. Puckette
Boone Pickens School of Geology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078-3031, USA
Neil H. Suneson
Oklahoma Geological Survey and ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics, Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy,
University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma 73019-0628, USA

The summer field camp experience provides many students with their best opportunity to learn the scientific process by making observations and collecting, recording,
evaluating, and interpreting geologic data. Field school projects enhance student professional development by requiring cooperation and interpersonal interaction, report
writing to communicate interpretations, and the development of project management skills to achieve a common goal. The field school setting provides students with
the opportunity to observe geologic features and their spatial distribution, size, and
shape that will impact the students future careers as geoscientists. The Les Huston
Geology Field Camp (a.k.a. Oklahoma Geology Camp) near Caon City, Colorado,
focuses on time-tested traditional methods of geological mapping and fieldwork to
accomplish these goals. The curriculum consists of an introduction to field techniques
(pacing, orienteering, measuring strike and dip, and using a Jacobs staff), sketching
outcrops, section measuring (one illustrating facies changes), three mapping exercises
(of increasing complexity), and a field geophysics project. Accurate rock and contact descriptions are emphasized, and attitudes and contacts are mapped in the field.
Mapping is done on topographic maps at 1:12,000 and 1:6000 scales; air photos are
provided. Global positioning system (GPS)assisted mapping is allowed, but we insist
that locations be recorded in the field and confirmed using visual observations. The
course includes field trips to the Cripple Creek and Leadville mining districts, Florissant/Guffey volcano area, Pikes Peak batholith, and the Denver Basin. Each field trip
is designed to emphasize aspects of geology that are not stressed in the field exercises.
Students are strongly encouraged to accurately describe geologic features
and gather evidence to support their interpretations of the geologic history. Concise reports are a part of each major exercise. Students are grouped into teams to
(1) introduce the team concept and develop interpersonal skills that are fundamental
components of many professions, (2) ensure safety, and (3) mix students with varying
academic backgrounds and physical strengths. This approach has advantages and
disadvantages. Students with academic strengths in specific areas assist those with
less experience, thereby becoming engaged in the teaching process. However, some
Puckette, J.O., and Suneson, N.H., 2009, Field camp: Using traditional methods to train the next generation of petroleum geologists, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk,
D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 2534,
doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(03). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Puckette and Suneson

students contribute less to final map projects than others, and assigning grades to
individual team members can be difficult.
The greatest challenges we face involve group dynamics and student personalities. We continue to believe that traditional field methods, aided by (but not relying upon) new technologies, are the key to constructing and/or interpreting geologic
maps. The requirement that students document field evidence using careful observations teaches skills that will be beneficial throughout their professional careers.



The Oklahoma Geology Camp (OGC) is located about 8 mi

(13 km) east-northeast of Caon City, Colorado, along the Front
Range of the Rocky Mountains (Figs. 1 and 2). The Proterozoiccored Rampart Range is north of camp, and the mostly Proterozoic
(locally Cambrian) Wet Mountains are to the southwest (Scott et
al., 1978). Caon City is on the northwest side of a large reentrant of Cretaceous strata known as the Caon City Embayment,
and the structural complexities associated with the embayment
and a well-exposed and lithologically varied Phanerozoic section,
which has many unconformities ranging in age from the Early
Ordovician to the Late Cretaceous, make this area an ideal field
laboratory. The present semiarid climate allows classical geologic
structures such as faults, folds, and unconformities and depositional features to be easily observed in an environment devoid of
(most) insect pests and free of covering vegetation (except cholla).
As a result, a number of universities (including Kansas, Georgia,
South Carolina, Louisiana State, and probably others) have their
summer field camps and/or have field exercises near here.
The Phanerozoic stratigraphy of the Caon City Embayment is well known (Fig. 3), and several of the formations occur
throughout the Rocky Mountains as well as in the Oklahoma
Panhandle. In addition, many of the Paleozoic units the students
study at camp temporally correlate with units in the Arbuckle
Mountains that most of the Oklahoma State University (OSU)
and University of Oklahoma (OU) students have seen on numerous class field trips. The ability to physically observe and relate
Oklahoma units and/or units the students have read about in the
literature (e.g., dinosaur bones in the Morrison Formation) gives
the students a certain degree of familiarity with the stratigraphy. Students who have had summer or part-time jobs in the
petroleum industry may recognize some of the units as reservoir
or source strata; thus, they will see strata in the field that they
may have only heard or read about or seen on electric logs. This
aspect of the stratigraphy takes the students fieldwork out of the
theoretical and into the practical or relevant.
The structural geology of the Caon City Embayment is
dominated by a number of large, open, south-southeastplunging
anticlines and synclines on the south end of the Rampart Range
and a steeply to moderately tilted section along the northeast
side of the Wet Mountains. Steeply dipping faults and map-scale
(1:6000 and 1:12,000) folds are common and well exposed. Most
of the field exercises are within the more easily mapped Phanerozoic section in the embayment, but one exercise is in structurally
complex (isoclinally folded) Late Proterozoic strata.

The OGC was established in 1949 when landowner Les

Huston leased a 22-acre site along Eightmile Creek to OU, following a search by both universities (OSU was then known as
Oklahoma A&M) for a permanent field camp site outside of
Oklahoma. The evolution of this early tent camp, mostly for
veterans attending college on the GI bill, into the current modern facility is outlined in Table 1.
The OGC is located along Beaver Creek Road where Eightmile Creek has eroded through a high hogback of the Dakota
Group (Fig. 2). Prior to and throughout the beginning of the 2008
camp, new facilities were being built; therefore, the following
description is of the camp as of mid-June 2008.
The largest (and oldest) building is the mess hall/study hall,
which is connected to a serving area and kitchen. A small cinderblock office is next to the study hall, and a larger two-room study
hall is a short distance away. A few desktop computers and printers are available for student use in the study halls; the internet is
not available. (Most students bring their own laptops to camp and
use them for writing reports as well as reading their e-mail via
wireless access at internet cafes in Caon City.)
The seven new cabins are located immediately north of
the study halls. One of the cabins is reserved for the cooks and
guests. (Meals are provided on work days; a cook and cooks
helper who work at OSU sororities/fraternities during the school
year are contracted to work at field camp.) In 2008, old cabins
were used by choice to house some students, teaching assistants
(TAs), and faculty. The capacity of the wastewater disposal systems of the new separate womens/staff and mens shower/toilet
facilities limits enrollment to 60 students.
All fieldwork travel is done using university vans. Most are
rented from the OSU motor pool; two others are from the OSU
and OU schools of geology. While most students drive their own
cars to field camp, insurance and university restrictions disallow
them from driving their cars to the field areas or on field trips
without completing special waivers.
Summer field schools offer many students their first
opportunity to act as geoscientists and apply the principles

Field camp: Using traditional methods to train future petroleum geologists





0 1 2 3 4 5

Figure 1. Generalized geologic map

of the Caon City Embayment area,
showing the location of Oklahoma
State Universitys Les Huston Geology Field Camp (or Oklahoma
Geology Camp, OGC). Symbols:
CiCambrian intrusive; pCIdaho
Springs Group and Boulder Creek
Granodiorite; OmPlManitou Dolomite, Harding Sandstone, Fremont
Dolomite, Williams Canyon Limestone, Lykins Formation; JrKd
Ralston Creek Formation, Morrison
Formation, Dakota Group; KgKp
Graneros Shale, Greenhorn Limestone, Carlile Shale, Niobrara Formation, Pierre Shale; TKrVermejo
Formation and younger strata. Abbreviations: GPGem Park intrusive
center; MMMcClure Mountain
intrusive center; CCCaon City
(modified from Scott et al., 1978).

10 Miles
10 Kilometers


Figure 2. View looking north-northeast across part of the Caon City Embayment. Caon City is visible among the trees in the upper right, and the
south-plunging Rampart Range forms the skyline in the background. The
Oklahoma Geology Camp is located in a gap in the nearer tree-covered
hogback in the upper right. The southeast-dipping Dakota Group forms a
prominent hogback and overlies the slope-forming Morrison Formation
and underlies a thick section of Cretaceous shales and limestones. This
area (Grape Creek) is the students first major mapping project.

of scientific inquiry to interpreting the origin and relational

context of strata. Field schools, or field camps as they are
commonly known, provide a unique setting whereby students
can make their own observations and measurements, propose
explanations, and test these hypotheses by examining the evidence in the rock record. Todays students are immersed in
digital images of geologic features, but many students seldom
have the opportunity to visit and examine the very features that
intrigue them and fuel their personal interest in geology. The
philosophy behind the curriculum of the OGC is to develop
in the students an appreciation for the scientific method and
what it means to be a scientist. To do this, we have three goals:
(1) to teach students the fundamentals of classical field geology; (2) to show the students how to make and record observations, propose explanations, and interpret the origin of geologic
features based on their evidence; and (3) to encourage students
to work with their peers in teams to solve problems, complete
projects, and communicate their findings in concise written
reports. As part of this tripartite process, students are asked
to integrate the conceptual material learned from prerequisite
coursework and as a result, field camp becomes the capstone
course for the undergraduate curriculum.


Puckette and Suneson





Terrace Gravels



Niobrara Formation

Smoky Hill Marl Member

Fort Hays Limestone Member

Carlile Shale

Codell Sandstone Member

Blue Hill Shale Member

Greenhorn Limestone
Graneros Shale
Dakota Group







Pierre Shale

Muddy Sandstone
Glen Cairn Shale
Plainview Sandstone

Morrison Formation
Ralston Creek Formation

Lykins Formation

Fountain Formation

Williams Canyon Limestone

Fremont Dolomite
Harding Sandstone
Manitou Dolomite

Boulder Creek Granodiorite

Idaho Springs Group

Figure 3. Stratigraphy of the Caon City Embayment area.

About half the students who enroll in the OGC course are
from Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater (Fig. 4). A
significant number of students are from the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman. Universities that have regularly sent students to the OGC in the recent past include Texas Tech, Texas
Christian, Midwestern State, ArkansasLittle Rock, and Arkansas Tech. Because most students come from southern mid-continent schools, and the overwhelming majority from OSU and OU,
most will graduate and get jobs in the petroleum industry. This is
particularly true during boom times. Not surprisingly, much of



1949 OGC established by University of

Adleta (1985)
Oklahoma (OU) and Oklahoma A&M
(now OSU) by a 50 yr lease with
landowner Les Huston
First director: Keith Hussey (OU)
Facilities: 18 20 (5.5 m 6.1 m)
kitchen tent, 16 20 (4.9 m 6.1 m)
classroom tent, and 16 16 (4.9 m
4.9 m) squad tents for living quarters
Three 4 wk courses are taught: Cost: $85
Ahern (1983)
1951 Five faculty members from OU, two from
Huffman (1990)
Oklahoma A&M
1952 First permanent buildings completed
1953 First women students: Kansas University
(2), Southern Methodist University (1),
and OU (8)
1957 Combined kitchenmess hall and study hall
Camp contains 23 individual cabins for
living quarters
1967 Concrete-block drafting room and faculty
office completed
1985 OU gives up lease on camp; OSU enters
into a lease agreement with Ms. Tiny
Striegel (daughter of Les Huston)
1986 OU stops using camp
1990 Tiny Striegel donates camp property to
OSU; camp is officially named Les
Huston Geology Field Camp
1991 Low enrollment forces cancellation of field
1999 Following several years of low enrollment,
increasing OSU and out-of-state
enrollment helps restore fiscal
2006 OU rejoins OSU at OGC
Suneson (2006)
Summer flood destroys portion of camp
Anonymous (2007)
2007 Study hall converted to temporary femalestudent dormitory until new construction
is complete
2008 Seven new four-room cabins (housing
eight individuals) and modern shower
and toilet facilities are completed;
reconstruction is funded completely by
individual and corporate donors
Six original cabins remain for faculty housing
One 5 wk course is taught: Cost $2475
Enrollment capped at 60 students

the coursework at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at

OSU and OU emphasizes sedimentary rocks and geophysics, and
the curriculum at field camp reflects that emphasis.
The OGC curriculum is built around two seemingly contradictory observations. We recognize that (1) most of our students
will never map surface geology throughout their entire professional careers, yet we believe that (2) a course in field geology is
important even for students who want a career in the petroleum
industry. The importance of a course in field geology has not
changed since 1985 when American Association of Petroleum

Field camp: Using traditional methods to train future petroleum geologists

Field Camp Attendance


Number of students




Out of state



















Figure 4. Graph showing recent student attendance at the Oklahoma

Geology Camp. OSUOklahoma State University; OUUniversity
of Oklahoma.

Geologists (AAPG) President William Fisher, concerned over the

uncertainties in the industry, appointed a committee to determine
what the future petroleum geologist should know. The future
will require the same background as today: the fundamentals of
geology, including field geology, as well as the physical sciences
and mathematics will still be required (Berg, 1986, p. 1167). The
importance of field geology and especially summer field camp
is echoed in the AAPG Division of Professional Affairs book,
Guiding Your Career as a Professional Geologist: Summer field
camp is particularly important because students are forced to use
their powers of observation and deduction to complete practical
projects and compile reports in a limited time frame, in addition
to being exposed to real geology (Gray, 2006, p. 5). The OGC
course emphasizes finding, observing, recording, and interpreting real geologic features and accurately presenting those data
and interpretations on maps, cross sections, measured sections,
and in reports. An equally important concept involves keeping
the data separate from the interpretations.
Heaths (2003) observations regarding the importance of
field geology and mapping skills to the North American petroleum industry are particularly relevant to our philosophy and
goals. He surveyed 62 American and Canadian oil companies
and found it intriguing (that) the low rankings and scores
given for field and mapping skills (suggested they) are of only
marginal importance to most companies (p. 1399). However,
these same companies preferred their new hires to have between
55 and 60 days of field experience. Heath (2003, p. 1408) suggested that field and mapping training not only developed skills
in collecting, evaluating, and interpreting geologic data, but also
enhanced several other skills (including) oral communication,
report writing, teamwork, planning, and project management.
Geophysics ranked high as a needed skill, whereas simple geographic information systems (GIS) ranked 14 out of 15 as a
needed computer skill.


In his Advice for Students column, 20032004 AAPG

President Steve Sonnenberg listed his top ten suggestions for
students, which elaborated on Heaths (2003) study. Sonnenberg
(2003) advised students to learn teamwork skills, build your net,
and learn leadership skills.
For these reasons, the OGC curriculum emphasizes traditional field methods. Accurate observations at the hand-lens,
outcrop, and field-area scale are critical for the maps and reports
that the students complete (Fig. 5). The faculty stress the difference between observations and interpretations. We believe that
asking students to support their interpretations using carefully
documented field evidence teaches a skill that will benefit them
throughout their professional careers. Most of the fieldwork is
done by small (three to four students) groups (Fig. 6); this ensures
safety, mixes students with varying academic backgrounds and
physical strengths, and introduces the students to the team concept, which is fundamental in most of the petroleum industry.
Team leaders are assigned, and they have to manage the teams
time and efforts in order to complete the field projects. Like making good field observations, we believe that working with others
is a skill that will serve our students well in the future.
To demonstrate that a traditional field method such as measuring and describing a stratigraphic section is an applicable and
necessary skill for the professional geoscientist, we ask students
to describe sections of sediment and rock cores in the field camp

Figure 5. Students sketching outcrop along Phantom Canyon Road.

Students first sketch this outcrop free-hand, and then they are given a
photomosaic as a base. Well-foliated Proterozoic metamorphic rocks
on the right are faulted against Ordovician Manitou Dolomite and
Harding Sandstone on the left, and both are unconformably overlain
by Pleistocene gravel. This exercise emphasizes the need for careful
field observations at two scales (hand lens, outcrop) and requires the
students to keep their observations (gravel overlies bedrock) and interpretations (the contact is an unconformity) separate. The exercise
also shows the students that prior preparation and having the proper
equipment (in this case, having a pre-prepared photomosaic) make
the job easier and more accurate.


Puckette and Suneson

tify faults, joints, unconformities, and a variety of depositional,
diagenetic, and weathering features. Computers are provided for
plotting GPS waypoints and report preparation, but students draft
their measured sections and geologic maps and cross sections by
hand (based on the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] geological
quadrangle [GQ] model), rather than using a graphics program.
Most of our students will never use these specific technologies
after they leave field camp if, in fact, they are still available in
5 yr, and we would rather the students focus their time and energy
(and frustrations) on field problems and not software problems.

Figure 6. Geology student team in Grape Creek mapping area. All of

the major field projects and some of the short projects are completed
by the students working in teams. In addition to safety, this introduces
the students to the team concept and requires one of the students to
accept a leadership role. We believe this experience will serve the students well in their professional careers.

teaching collection. At this point, students are reminded of the

importance of cuttings and core data to the field of petroleum
geology and other subdisciplines. Students are asked to document the internal features of cores and outcrops and interpret
not only a single subunit within the section, but to extend their
interpretations to adjacent beds, allowing for the reconstruction
of depositional sequences. An additional field geology skill that
is critical in petroleum geology is knowledge of ones location;
although the methods may differ, the importance of knowing
where one is in the field when constructing a geologic map is
similar to knowing where formation tops are located when drawing a subsurface structure-contour map.
The OGC does not rely on the latest mapping software or
field-ready laptops. While global positioning system (GPS) and
georeferenced digital ortho quarter quads (DOQQs) are provided
for student use, the emphasis in our curriculum is on accurate
note taking, sketching, observing ones position relative to landforms, and triangulation to topographic features with Brunton
compasses to establish location. GPS units are provided, but
their role is relegated to one of assistance in locating positions
and not reliance. Our emphasis on field sketches is designed to
encourage students to develop their skills at visualization to the
point where students begin to see features as they are and not
as they are perceived. We realize that the majority of our field
students will not be engaged in fieldwork as professionals, but
most will be charged with describing 3-D subsurface features in
a 2-D format. A field experience that provides the opportunity to
map faulted and folded strata creates an opportunity for students
to determine the difference between apparent and true dip (and
thickness); recognize repeated and faulted-out sections; and iden-

Most of the students who attend the OGC have relatively

limited experience with field methods and mapping through the
courses they take as undergraduates. Student experience varies,
from the OU students, who have taken a required, full-semester,
junior-level course titled Introductory Field Geology, to some
students whose departments do not own Brunton compasses. The
faculty attempt to address these imbalances and level the playing field the first few days of field camp.
Most of the faculty meet with the students from OSU and
OU once or twice during the spring semester prior to field camp.
We introduce ourselves and review the curriculum and necessary
equipment. Many of the students have heard rumors (both true
and false) about field camp from their older colleagues, and these
meetings are an attempt to allay any concerns the students might
have. In addition to the meetings, the faculty stay in touch with
the students via e-mail.
The emphasis of our curriculum on sedimentary rocks and
processes does not mean that we exclude igneous and metamorphic rocks. The exercise in the Late Proterozoic folded metamorphic terrane is likely the last time that many of our students will
actively examine metamorphic and igneous rocks. When asked,
we willingly share information concerning the curriculum with
faculty and students of institutions that are considering sending
students to the camp. We wish to ensure potential out-of-state
attendees that our curriculum aligns with the expectations of their
home institutions.
The field camp curriculum changes from year to year based
partly on faculty availability and partly on student comments.
Unlike some field camps, the mapping projects are not based on
faculty research interests (except for the geophysics); most of the
field areas have remained the same for decades and are ideally
suited for undergraduate students. The curriculum can be divided
into five broad categories: introduction to field techniques, short
projects, major projects, field geophysics, and field trips. The following description is that of the 2008 field camp; future camps
are not likely to be greatly different.
About two days at the beginning of camp are spent reviewing and/or learning fundamental field techniques, including

Field camp: Using traditional methods to train future petroleum geologists

determining ones pace, using a Brunton compass to take strikes
and dips and determine bearings and azimuths, using a Jacobs
staff to measure sections, completing an orienteering exercise,
and properly locating and recording some simple geologic features on a topographic map. The students are required to turn in a
number of small, individual exercises based on these techniques.
They draft a closed polygon set up in camp using their pace and
bearings; they determine the thickness of a pseudo-measured
section that goes up a slope and in which the dip changes; they
measure and correctly plot the strikes and dips on the flat surfaces
of some boulders near camp; and they construct a simple geologic map. For some students who have learned these techniques
in previous courses, the exercises are a review. Our experience
is that, in general, the review is needed and that the exercises
bring all students up to the same level of familiarity with the field
Three short projects expose the students to some aspects of
field geology not covered or emphasized elsewhere in the course.
The first might properly be considered a fundamental field techniquesketching an outcrop. After the students learn the stratigraphy of the area, they are taken to a moderately complicated
road cut (several units, major unconformity, open folds, faults)
and are asked to sketch it, to scale, on graph paper (Fig. 5). After
an hour or two, the sketches are collected, and the faculty review
the road cut with the students. Next, photomosaics of the outcrop
are distributed, and the students are asked to resketch it. The primary purpose of this exercise is to sharpen the students observation and recording skills and to emphasize the importance of
drawings and not just words in their field notebooks. A secondary
purpose is to show the students that, with forethought, a better
base such as a photomosaic can be designed that will allow
them to record their data more accurately. A second short project
includes measuring and drafting three sections of the same formation (Ralston Creek Formation) that shows significant facies
changes, from dominantly gypsum with subordinate siltstone to
conglomerate and sandstone. (A fourth section is part of a larger
measured section described under major projects.) This project,
done in teams, is completed in one day, and time management
is critical. In addition, the students are asked to try to correlate
the sections based on lithologic markers. (There are none.) The
professional skills that the students develop are the recognition
of rapid lateral facies changes and definitive marker beds, both
of which are important in the petroleum industry. The third short
project involves individually mapping isoclinally folded Late
Proterozoic interbedded schists and quartzites that are intruded
by pegmatite dikes and a granodiorite pluton. One goal of this
exercise is for students to identify some very subtle sedimentary structures in the quartzites that indicate facing direction and
therefore establish the axes and types of folds. This exercise continues to sharpen students observational abilities. A second goal
is to give the students a brief exposure to mapping metamorphic
and plutonic rocks.
There are four major team projects that have been part of the
OGC for years and parts of other university field camps, as well.


The first takes two days and involves measuring and describing the entire stratigraphic section from the Fountain Formation
(Pennsylvanian) through the Smoky Hill Marl (Late Cretaceous).
Following the fieldwork, the section is drafted using a provided
template and following some strict guidelines. The first major
mapping project (Grape Creek) takes place in the same area as
the measured section; thus, the students are relatively familiar
with the geology. The area consists of monoclinally tilted and
locally faulted strata and is the most simple of the three project areas to map (Fig. 2). The second major mapping project
is known as the Mixing Bowl. It is more complex than Grape
Creek, and the students have to recognize and map several major
faults and unconformities. The final mapping project is on Twin
Mountain, about 6 mi (9.5 km) northwest of Caon City. The
geology is complex, and the terrain is rugged. The final product
for all the mapping projects consists of a neatly drafted and colored geologic map with cross section(s), explanation, correlation
of units, and description of units; the students are supplied with
templates (with decreasing amount of provided information) that
generally follow the format used for USGS geologic maps.
The major field projects have three principal goals. (1) They
test and continue to develop the students observational skills,
from accurately describing the strata to correctly determining
thicknesses and locating themselves, and they develop interpretative abilities. The faculty emphasize that these skills are similar
to describing and interpreting core and cuttings in dipping strata
or in subhorizontal strata in a deviated well. (2) They require
carefully completed written products (maps, measured sections,
reports) done in a timely manner. (3) Perhaps most important, the
major projects require working in the field and in the office as
part of a team, and this requires good leadership, good planning,
good time management, and good cooperation amongst the team
members. Goals 2 and 3 are skills most geologists will recognize
as key to their professional development and success.
A hands-on experience with geophysical equipment as part
of a real research project is a key component of the OGC. The
goal of this exercise is to demonstrate that geophysics is a useful
and understandable tool for geological studies, and many of our
students who choose to pursue careers in the petroleum industry will work with geophysicists. In recent years, the emphasis
has been on gravity and magnetic measurements, which have
significantly complemented ongoing research on the structure
and tectonics of the area. The students have responded very well
to the fact that what they are doing has a significant scientific
impact. This approach means that the exercise is not structured
as one that would be repeated the same way each year, but this is
offset by the message sent that the work they are doing is of professional quality, will be used in the M.S. thesis of the graduate
assistant who is helping run the exercise, and will be presented at
a Geological Society of America meeting.
We have been able to gain access to three Worden gravimeters and one LaCoste-Romberg gravimeter each year, and
together with three proton precession magnetometers and geodetic-grade GPS units, the value of this equipment is ~$200,000.


Puckette and Suneson

The University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico Tech, and Missouri State University have each loaned us equipment to make
this possible. The students are divided into two groups that spend
three days on their geophysical project. We have enough equipment to form six teams within each group. Each team spends one
day in the field making gravity measurements, another day making magnetic measurements, and a third day making traditional
corrections to the raw data to produce useful anomaly values,
and writing a report. The students also take a GPS reading with
a handheld unit at each gravity and magnetic station and take
notes about the rocks that crop out nearby (if present). The report
must include a discussion of their survey results and a subjective interpretation of the anomalies that they observed. In order
to make their interpretations, they must think through the density and magnetic susceptibility values appropriate for the rather
exotic rock types that are present. Thus, they must think through
the various permutations of positive and negative anomaly parings between gravity and magnetic observations to arrive at an
interpretation. Only a handful of our students have taken a geophysics course, so this exercise is an eye-opening experience in
which they learn that these measurements are straightforward to
make, reduce to anomaly values, and subjectively interpret. In
fact, each team must write its own spreadsheet program using
reduction formulas that are provided.
An additional lesson that is stressed is that high-precision
elevations ( a few centimeters) can only be obtained with geodetic-grade instruments and postprocessing. This is demonstrated
easily to doubting students as they reoccupy the base station and
some of their gravity and magnetic stations in order to keep track
of drift and earth tides. They are usually surprised when the GPS
readings show a variation in elevation that is as much as 10 m,
which is considerably more than the manufacturers claim. On
the other hand, they learn that their gravity readings are very consistent and that Earths magnetic field is quite dynamic due to the
diurnal variation. They also learn that the diurnal variations are
noise that must be removed via the drift correction. We usually
have some equipment problems that have never been permanent,
so they also learn that most problems are due to factors such as
dead batteries and loose connections. Thus, we are ultimately
able to demonstrate that geophysics is not beyond their grasp and
that the field procedures involve many of the same principles as
geological observations.
Field trips are an important part of the OGC and (sometimes) provide a welcome respite from the grind of mapping
and measuring (Fig. 7). Some trips are to parts of Colorado that
many of our students have never visited, and all (except the first)
focus on aspects of geology that are not covered in the rest of the
course. A final written exam tests the students understanding of
the geology of the field-trip areas. Although most of our students
will enter the petroleum industry, some will go into minerals
exploration, environmental geology, or other fields, and the field
trips broaden all the students exposure to a wide variety of subdisciplines. Depending on student interest, optional trips on the
weekend to collect minerals are run by individual faculty mem-

Figure 7. Students looking for Eocene leaf and insect fossils at privately
owned Florissant Fossil Quarry outside of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. The field trips not only are a welcome break from the normal routine of field camp, but they expose the students to geology they do
not see at their home universities or during the course of project mapping.

Figure 8. Introductory field trip including Marsh-Felch dinosaur-bone

quarry, Morrison Formation (Jurassic). The thick channel sandstone
forming the upper part of the cliff is the same as that shown in the
1888 photograph by I.C. Russell (Henry et al., 2004, figure 54), and
the large talus cone in the lower left consists of dump material from
the quarry. In addition to some rest and relaxation, field trips are used
to take students to famous historical sites and to outcrops that exhibit
classic geological structures, such as the gently dipping bedsets at the
top of the cliff (point-bar deposits).

bers. A key trip is held on the first day of camp, and it provides
the students with an overview of the stratigraphy and structure
of the Caon City area (Figs. 1, 3, and 8). (Many of the stops on
this first field trip, as well as some later trips, are described in an
excellent guidebook by Henry et al., 2004.) In 2008, two field

Field camp: Using traditional methods to train future petroleum geologists

trips went to current and historic mining districts. Geologists
employed by the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company took the camp on a tour of the Victor Mine and discussed
with the students the geology of the Oligocene magmatism and
mineralization and modern gold-mining techniques. After the
mine tour, the students visited the historic Molly Kathleen Mine,
which, despite the appearance of a tourist trap, is highly educational and worth the tour fee. The second mine trip was to the
Leadville district. Here, the students visited the National Mining
Hall of Fame and Museum, collected minerals on the old mine
dumps, visited and discussed a stream with acid mine drainage
(pH ~ 12), and had snowball fights.
Another one-day field trip in 2008 was to the 1.1-Ga-old
Pikes Peak batholith and to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. This trip exposed the students to some of the intrusive
rocks that make up the basement of the Colorado Front Range
and the geology of some of the Tertiary volcanic fields, including
a lahar deposit similar to the one that formed Lake Florissant and
the widespread late Eocene Wall Mountain Tuff. An experimental
field trip went to the Denver Basin, where the students examined
the synorogenic sediments eroded off the Laramide uplifts and an
exposure of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary layer.
For many of the field trips, we rely on local experts to either
lead the field trip (e.g., Denver Basin), give us presentations
(e.g., Florissant), or provide references to the literature and/or
unpublished guidebooks (e.g., Pikes Peak). In the past, the OGC
has taken trips to the Spanish Peaks, Calumet Iron Mine, Great
Sand Dunes National Park, Garden of the Gods, and the Denver
Museum of Nature and Science.
Individual student mastery of learning objectives that
address fundamental technical skills such as mapping and
measuring sections is assessed using a grading rubric. Student
development in observational skills and realistic field sketches
is assessed for all projects by collecting and reviewing individual student field notebooks. Appropriate descriptions and/or
sketches of specific features such as weathering profiles, faults,
folds, contact geometry, and internal features are used as criteria for evaluating student mastery. Individual assessment culminates with a final consisting of an individual mapping exercise
and a written exam on the field trips.
Assessing student mastery of the ability to work in teams
is problematic. After each team exercise, students are asked to
confidentially report how effectively team members worked
together and their perception of the distribution of workload. Student comments after projects completed toward the beginning of
camp are overwhelmingly more generous than comments made
later in the course. When negative student comments concerning
a students contribution to the fieldwork and/or in-camp project
report preparation corroborate observations made by faculty, the
problem is discussed with the student. The success of building
team skills is often reinforced by anecdotal comments by former


camp attendees who remark how valuable the team concept was
in teaching them to work with others in the professional setting.
At the end of field camp, the students complete evaluations
of the course, faculty, and TAs as required by OSU and OU. In
addition, the faculty ask students to rank and comment on the
field trips. These evaluations are seriously considered when
changes are made to the curriculum. An example of a recent
change (and one made at the recommendation of the students)
was the addition of a final individual mapping exam. Although
the core field projects at camp have remained the same for many
years, the faculty are constantly striving to improve the course.
Despite these efforts, challenges remain, and the faculty are open
to suggestions from colleagues, other field-camp faculty, and students. Some of our more salient issues and challenges include:
1. Separating students from the same schools and selecting
team leaders. We strongly favor the team concept and assigning
team leaders; we also believe in separating students from the same
schools as much as possible. However, the physical abilities, academic backgrounds (including field experience), and work ethic
of the team members can vary greatly, and how to account for
this when grading the teams final product is difficult. We ask
individual team members to give us a written evaluation of the
teams effectiveness; this is an opportunity for the students to
let us know who may not have contributed as much as the others.
2. Differing work ethic between students who take the course
for a letter grade and those who receive a pass/fail grade. Most
of the students take the course for a letter grade; some, however,
take the course pass/fail. This can lead to significantly different
work efforts among different team members, particularly toward
the end of camp. We have tried to lessen this problem by not putting letter-grade and pass/fail students on the same teams for the
final mapping project.
3. Differing biological clocks. Some students like going to
bed early; others are night owls. The cabins at camp are relatively close to each other; none are sound-proofed; and so noise
can be a problem, despite 10:00 p.m. weekday and 12:00 a.m.
weekend noise curfews. Next year, we plan to ask students
about their social habits (much like the freshmen-dormitory
questionnaires many universities distribute) in an effort to house
students with similar living styles together.
4. Student attitude toward a required field course. The 2008
camp presented the faculty with some unique issues. Many of
the students planned to work for the petroleum industry following camp, either permanently, as full-time summer interns, and/
or part-time as graduate students in the fall. Most starting annual
salaries exceeded $50,000 and, in some cases, exceeded $80,000.
Some of these students carried an air of superiority into camp,
some believed fieldwork was a waste of their time, and others
simply had too much money to spend on diversions. As faculty,
we continue to struggle with wanting to treat our students as
adults, while realizing that they are, in fact, young adults.


Puckette and Suneson


We are especially grateful to several faculty who have been part
of the Oklahoma Geology Camp over the past several years
and have given us many ideas for improving the curriculum,
particularly Tom Stanley (University of Oklahoma [OU] and
Oklahoma Geological Survey), Randy Keller (OU), George
Bolling (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs), Charles
Ferguson (Arizona Geological Survey), and Aaron Johnson
(currently Northwest Missouri State University). We also thank
the many teaching assistants who have so often enlightened us
about the issues facing todays students. Many of the field projects would not be possible without the permission of several
local landowners; Dee Chess, Kit Kederich, and Dave Rooks
have kindly allowed us to map and measure on their property. Carly Henry has, year after year, graciously shown us the
exceptional trace fossils in the Harding Sandstone on her ranch.
We are also grateful to the many geologists who have led our
field trips, particularly those from the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company and the Denver Museum of Nature
and Science, as well as those organizations that have graciously
given us discounts to visit their sites, including Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Pikes Peak Americas Mountain,
the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Mollie
Kathleen Gold Mine.
Dave Mogk, Peter Crowley, and an anonymous reviewer
made many helpful comments that improved this manuscript. We
would also like to thank the organizers of this volume on field
camps, Steve Whitmeyer and Dave Mogk, for inviting us to think
and write about our camp, our curriculum, and our students.
Last, but very certainly not least, this manuscript would
not have been possible without the enthusiasm and vast knowledge of the history of the Oklahoma Geology Camp provided
by Tiny Striegel. Her concern for and interest in the students,

staff, and faculty underscore her devotion to the Les Huston

Geology Field Camp. For these reasons and so many more, this
paper is dedicated to her.
Adleta, S., 1985, New field camp strategy mapped out: The Oklahoma Daily,
5 July 1985, p. 11.
Ahern, C., 1983, Field camp seen with a journalists eye: Earth Scientist (University of Oklahoma), Fall issue, p. 28.
Anonymous, 2007, Geology enthusiasts revitalize field camp: State Magazine
(Oklahoma State University), v. 3, no. 1, p. 7487.
Berg, R.R., 1986, The future petroleum geologist: American Association of
Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 70, p. 11661168.
Gray, P.G., 2006, Educational foundation for a geological career, in Rose, P.R.,
and Sonnenberg, S.A., eds., Guiding Your Career as a Professional Geologist: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Division of Professional Affairs, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, p. 57; available at
career_guide.pdf (accessed 23 July 2009).
Heath, C.P.M., 2003, Geological, geophysical, and other technical and soft
skills needed by geoscientists in the North American petroleum industry:
American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 87, p. 1395
Henry, T.W., Evanoff, E., Grenard, D.A., Meyer, H.W., and Vardiman, D.M.,
2004, Geologic Guidebook to the Gold Belt Byway, Colorado: Gold Belt
Tour Scenic and Historic Byway Association, 112 p.
Huffman, G.G., 1990, History of the School of Geology and Geophysics, The
University of Oklahoma: Norman, Oklahoma, Alumni Advisory Council of the School of Geology and Geophysics, University of Oklahoma,
312 p.
Scott, G.R., Taylor, R.B., Epis, R.C., and Wobus, R.A., 1978, Geologic Map of
the Pueblo 1 2 Quadrangle, South-Central Colorado: U.S. Geological
Survey Miscellaneous Investigations Series Map I-1022, scale 1:250,000,
2 sheets.
Sonnenberg, S.A., 2003, Advice for Students Applies to All of Us: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Explorer, v. 24, no. 12, p. 3,
6: (accessed 28
July 2009).
Suneson, N.H., 2006, 2006 SGS summer field camp, Caon City, Colorado:
Earth Scientist (University of Oklahoma), 2006 issue, p. 6870.


Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico,

1984 to today: What a long, strange trip it continues to be
John W. Geissman
Grant Meyer
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Northrop Hall MSC03 2040,
1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131-0001, USA

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) at the University of
New Mexico offers two field geology courses (EPS 319L, Introductory Field Geology, and EPS420L, Advanced Field Geology). Prior to summer 1986, these courses
were taught during the academic year, on the weekends. Over a two year time span,
despite some faculty consternation, the department converted both classes into fullblown summer field geology courses. These continue to be offered as two separate,
independent classes for several reasons. Introductory Field Geology is required of all
EPS geoscience majors and has attracted numerous students from institutions outside
New Mexico. All mapping is done using a paper topographic map and/or an air photograph base, with, eventually, the aid of a handheld global positioning system (GPS)
device. Given that topographic map skills remain essential for effective computer- and
GPS-based mapping, we emphasize these traditional techniques within the limited
time span (three weeks) of the course. Despite the fact that all students are expected
(required) to have passed the standard array of core undergraduate courses in the
geosciences, the backgrounds of the students, including level of previous field experience, vary considerably. Consequently, the approach taken in EPS 319L is one in
which strong emphasis is placed on providing rapid feedback and focusing maximum
instructor attention on the students who need it the most. As one means of providing
rapid feedback to all of our students, we utilize a postage stamp map exercise as an
essential component of each mapping project. After at least one day of introduction
to the project, the entire class focuses on a morning of mapping in a small, yet very
revealing project area. The maps are turned in after a group discussion of the postage
stamp area, and detailed feedback, using several rubrics, is provided to all students
by the end of the day (but these maps are not graded). In field geology courses, where
the goal is to maximize student field learning within a limited time frame, the postage
stamp exercises have proven to be an effective way to provide timely instructor input
and reinforcement of burgeoning student skills. Student evaluations of the course
support the use of the postage stamp exercises for each map project; these exercises
improve the instructors ability to assess final map products in an even more rigorous
and consistent fashion.
Geissman, J.W., and Meyer, G., 2009, Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico, 1984 to today: What a long, strange trip it continues to be,
in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America
Special Paper 461, p. 3544, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(04). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All
rights reserved.



Geissman and Meyer


Both the role and importance of a field geology course, or
courses, in the academic program of geoscience departments
across the United States are exceptionally varied and have
remained so for decades. For some departments (e.g., Indiana
University, Louisiana State University, University of Michigan,
University of Missouri), the operation and maintenance of a
permanent field camp or station, tucked away in some prime
location in the Rocky Mountains, is a source of great pride,
achievement, and fond memories, certainly for alumni of the
field camp! For other departments, roughing it on one camping and mapping adventure after another, often with several students who have never put up a tent before, provides great stimulation and satisfaction. This version of a field geology course,
which ours certainly resembles, may simply reflect a very barebones budget! For other departments, the approach is simple
all of their majors are told to simply take field geology courses
administered by other institutions. Regardless of the approach,
most, if not all, of the instructors involved in such courses have
a strong conviction that field-based learning is a critical part
of geoscience education. We share the opinion of Drummond
(2001) concerning the need for field camps to survive and of
Kastens et al. (2009) that field-based learning helps students
develop a feel for Earth processes, a sense of scale, an ability to integrate fragmentary information, to reason spatially, to
visualize changes through time, and to analyze the quality and
certainty of observational data.
The field geology program at the University of New Mexico underwent a major transition in the mid-1980s. For several
decades and largely for convenience, the Department of Geology (since the mid-1990s, Department of Earth and Planetary
Sciences), had taught field geology on the weekends during the
academic year. Nonetheless, the department, with considerable
reluctance on the part of some of the faculty, agreed to move the
field geology classes to full-fledged summer courses at a time
when downturns in the hydrocarbon and minerals exploration
industries as well as the economy of the State of New Mexico
gave this educational initiative a limited chance of success. The
way in which this initiative came about is narrated in a brief
story in the Appendix, but it is important to emphasize that the
motivators responsible for this change had strong pedagogical
reasons for endorsing an extended, back-to-back, three week,
in-residence field course as opposed to weekend-day outings. Briefly, the motivators, both of whom had considerable
experience teaching summer field geology courses, argued that
the experiences students gained while immersed, day in and
day out, in field geologic investigation while interacting with
a broad range of colleagues, were simply too valuable, and far
more beneficial in terms of learning goals and outcomes, than
single-day efforts when students were more concerned about,
for example, an exam back on campus the following day.

The transition came with lots of major bumps, but that is

not the principal subject of this contribution. The critical part
of this history is the way in which these hurdles and/or decisions related to the transition were dealt with. Notably, during the phased process of initiating 319L and 420L as summer
field courses, the first author and Professor Stephen G. Wells
were confronted with the question of combining the courses
into a single, eight-credit course with a duration of about seven
weeks, or keeping them separate. At that time, the University
of New Mexico (UNM) did not charge out of state tuition for
classes of four credit hours or less. We concluded that this policy would facilitate attracting numerous non-UNM students to
both courses, and indeed it has, over many years. For example,
in summer 2008, EPS 319L had a total of 32 students enrolled,
18 of whom were from outside UNM. The issue of instructor
support was, initially, quickly dealt with. There would be no
additional compensation for teaching the classes, but a reduced
teaching load during the academic year may be considered
in the future. At present, each faculty instructor does receive
extra compensation and the principal faculty instructor for each
course receives a modest teaching load reduction. In addition,
all of the graduate student teaching assistants receive compensation at a level that is consistent with their duties in each class,
and that is comparable to the support that they would receive
during the academic year for a nearly equal commitment.
Earth and Planetary Sciences 319L (still four credits) is
presently required of all EPS geoscience bachelor of science
(BS) majors. The follow-up course (EPS 420L, Advanced Field
Geology, also four credits) is not required of EPS students for
any undergraduate degree. EPS 319L begins on the day after
UNMs spring commencement, with a 3-h-long organizational
meeting, and we hit the field the following day for the first of
several field mapping projects. The total duration of the course
is 3 wk. The number of students in 319L typically is between
16 and 32. The norm is often the exception in that the students
have a diversity of backgrounds and academic training. Ideally,
EPS 319L is taken after the junior year, so that students will
have taken, minimally, mineralogy, petrology, sedimentology/
stratigraphy, and structural geology. In addition, many students
will also have taken Earth History. Regardless of course background, our expectation is that all students have obtained a basic
understanding of how rocks can be identified and described
in the field and are able to understand why field predictions,
based on previously made observations, are so critical to field
geologic investigations. These expectations are fully consistent
with department-established learning outcomes for UNM EPS
BS majors. Our approach in teaching this course adheres to four
important guidelines. The first is that we respect the diversity of

Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico, 1984 to today

knowledge, skills, interests, and abilities that the students bring
to the class. The second is that we start slowly; this is described
in greater detail in our discussion of the first project, and in the
mechanics of the to-be-described postage stamp map exercises.
The third is that quick, informative, and constructive instructor
feedback is of critical importance. The fourth is our goal of giving the students, over the short period of time allowed for the
course, a maximized opportunity to inspect, describe, map, and
interpret clearly displayed field relations involving as diverse
an array of geologic materials and features as possible. With
few exceptions, all of the instructors in the course constantly
roam around each mapping area, interacting with pairs of students. Other than during group-based introductions to each of
the mapping projects and related exercises, students spend all
of their time working with at least one partner on specific exercises. For the first two projects, the students are permitted to
choose their own partners; for the final mapping project, the
instructors choose their mapping partners. Finally, time simply
does not allow for group field trips to other areas that are not
directly pertinent to each of the exercises in the course.
Mapping Projects
In contrast to some field geology courses, EPS 319L has
involved the same field mapping areas since 1992 (Fig. 1). At the
start of each EPS 319L class, the students are informed that their
mapping projects have been visited by several previous 319L
classes. We explain that the geology of each of these areas is sufficiently well exposed to allow students, over the time allocated
for each project, to observe and record all essential and critical
field relations and interpret those relations in the context of the
geologic history of the area. Furthermore, each of these areas has
been chosen because the field relations illustrate several different and important geologic processes. Although we have visited
these areas many times, every year students discover a new exposure or make a new observation (e.g., the discovery of Codellaster keepersae, a new genus and species of the asteroid family
Goniasteridae by Ms. Kendra Keepers, a 319L student in 2001;
Blake and Kues, 2002), and this reinforces our point to them that
a complete understanding of any part of our planet may be out
of our reach! Next, we briefly describe the geology of the three
field areas. Despite the fact that each field area has its distinct
characteristics and each field project has its distinct set of goals,
the general processes that are exhibited by each area, and more
specific field relations, all intertwine to provide students with
an ability to decipher and describe in writing, the post-Triassic
geologic history of the Southern Rocky Mountains. While in the
field on the last day of the class, instructors talk with the students
about current observations that can be directly related to those
made on the first day of the class. Furthermore, the projects have
been carefully selected to facilitate the sequential acquisition of
knowledge about this geologic history and the development of
specific skills in identifying, recording, and interpreting field
geologic relations.


Huerfano Park
P rk



w Mexico

A buq

ca Canyon
100 km


Figure 1. Locations of EPS 319L mapping projects superimposed on

shaded-relief digital elevation model of north-central New Mexico and
south-central Colorado. The digital shaded relief map is from the U.S.
Geological Survey database.

The first project (White Mesa) is completed over 3 days and

is located in the San Ysidro area northwest of Albuquerque, which
features outstanding exposures of mildly folded and faulted Upper
Triassic to mid-Cretaceous strata at the southern end of the Sierra
Nacimiento. The stratigraphic section records the regional transition from a shallow, nonmarine depositional environment characterized by the Triassic Chinle Group through the Upper Jurassic
Morrison Formation, to the inception of the Cretaceous Interior
Seaway, along with the nearshore mid-Cretaceous Dakota Formation and laterally equivalent, time-transgressive deposits (Owen,
1982; Lucas et al., 1985; Condon and Peterson, 1986; Anderson
and Lucas, 1996). The area lies along the western margin of the
Albuquerque Basin part of the Rio Grande rift (Ingersoll, 2001;
Connell, 2004), and several rift-related structures are superimposed on earlier features related to crustal shortening. The introduction to this project (day one) is approached very slowly. The
complete group makes a total of only six stops during the entire
day. Each stop focuses on a critical map unit and/or field relationship in the mapping area, and each spot is not left until all questions have been answered, and all comments have been made.
Students map an area less than 1 km2, with excellent exposures of
both bedrock geology and surficial deposits.


Geissman and Meyer

The second project (Baca CanyonSpears Ranch) is located

southwest of Riley, New Mexico, along the western margin of
the Rio Grande rift, on the eastern flank of the Bear Mountains.
The field project duration is also 3 days, and it is the first camping-based endeavor in the course. The stratigraphic section in
the area includes mid-Cretaceous Interior Seaway deposits of
the Crevasse Canyon Formation. These rocks are disconformably overlain by the Eocene Baca Formation, a classic hematitic sandstone-siltstone-mudstone sequence of continental
affinity deposited during the waning stages of Laramide crustal
shortening in the region. Disconformably overlying the Baca
sequence, there is the Eocene Spears Formation, an intermediate-composition, volcaniclastic sequence representing the distal products of the initial phase of post-Laramide intermediatecomposition magmatism in the Mogollon-Datil volcanic field.
Spears Formation strata are overlain by outflow facies of several regionally extensive, large-volume ash-flow tuffs, including the Hells Mesa, La Jencia, and Vicks Peak ignimbrites.
The post-Spears sequence of volcanic deposits also includes
intermediate-composition lavas and domes of the La Jara Peak
andesite (Osburn and Chapin, 1983; Cather and Chapin, 1989).
The western part of the mapping area exposes a west-dipping
normal fault zone that has accommodated at least 400 m of
down-to-the-west throw; this fault zone and several comparable
structures can be traced northward and define the westernmost
margin of the Rio Grande rift (Lewis and Baldridge, 1994). The
east-central part of the mapping area includes a narrow topographic high (Nemos Ridge) that is actually the geomorphic
expression of an eroded graben, where more resistant Spears
Formation strata have been down-dropped against less resistant
Baca strata. Students are expected to provide a map of an area
that is ~2 km2. They quickly realize, based on their accumulated
skills, that although about half of the area is covered by Quaternary deposits, the bedrock is readily inferred.
The third project area for the course, in Huerfano Park of
south-central Colorado, provides the students with the opportunity for related investigations that run over the last half of the
course period. The main mapping investigation (Point of Rocks,
Fig. 2), which includes six full field mapping days, involves
marine strata of the mid-Cretaceous Interior Seaway sequence
(e.g., Dakota Sandstone, Graneros Shale, Greenhorn Limestone, into the Niobrara Group) (Kauffman, 1977; Laferriere
et al., 1987; Obradovich, 1993; Sageman, 1996). These strata
have been intensely folded and faulted (with east-northeast vergence during latest Cretaceous to early Tertiary crustal shortening associated with the Laramide orogeny) and are exceptionally well exposed along the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo
Range, just north of Redwing, Colorado (Burbank and Goddard, 1937; Lindsey et al., 1983; Lindsey, 1998; Wawrzyniec
et al., 2002). Prior to this mapping project, students are introduced to a very similar stratigraphic section to that exposed in
the mapping area but in a nearly undeformed and nearly continuously exposed state. As a full group, the students inspect
this section near Highway 69, at the southeast tip of the Wet

Mountains, ~50 km east of the mapping area, where the rocks

dip uniformly to the southeast. They then spend the next day
recording a detailed stratigraphic log of the entire sequence,
using a Jacobs staff for thickness measurements. The third
project focuses on Quaternary landscape evolution in the Huerfano River valley, and it involves inspecting and mapping last
glacial features near the headwaters of the Huerfano River as
well as older well-preserved terraces and associated deposits
that extend into the main Point of Rocks mapping area (Fig. 2).
In fact, the terrace gravel deposits have acted as a resistant cap
(e.g., Mackin, 1937) over relatively erodible parts of the Cretaceous section, such that the best bedrock exposures are found
around the escarpments bordering the terrace treads. A Middle
Pleistocene stream capture enhanced the preservation of the
older terrace sequence. The terrace gravels also contain late
Paleozoic and Proterozoic rock types not exposed in the Point
of Rocks area that were eroded from the Sangre de Cristo range
to the west, closer toward the core of the Laramide uplift. Thus,
mapping and description of surficial geologic and geomorphic
features in the Point of Rocks area helps students to understand
a landscape evolution story, from the scale of the mapping area
to that of the southern Colorado region (Dethier et al., 2003),
as well as one that integrates well with the longer-term geologic history unraveled through bedrock geologic mapping. In
the bedrock geologic mapping project, each student and her/
his mapping partner are assigned to a northern or southern map
area, each of which is ~2 km2 in area. Each mapping group
is required to meet up with a designated group from the other
map area, to make certain that the geology of all their maps is
consistent across the north-south boundary, and to make further
observations to resolve any problems cooperatively. Several
locations in each map area expose critical field relations at a
scale that requires students to make numerous plan view and
cross-section sketches in order to adequately understand and
record these relations.
In total, the four mapping projects represent our best efforts
to provide students in EPS 319L with the broadest experience
possible over a very short period of time, but also with serious
attention to detail, as emphasized in the following section. This
is enabled by a region in which several tectonic provinces occur
in close proximity (Woodward, 1984) and where several geomorphic processes have been active. For each of the three main projects, the standard requirements include the original (field) map,
a final map, cross section, legend for both the map and cross section, succinct map unit descriptions, and a project write up/summary of the geologic history. For the first project, students are
based in Albuquerque and complete most of the project requirements during a long single day in Albuquerque. For the second
project, at Baca Canyon, we camp out for three nights. Students
cook for themselves, in small groups, and at least one large tent
is set up with large tables to encourage student efforts in the evening. In addition, we use a high-efficiency generator with lowwattage lighting for work in the tent and surrounding areas. For
the Huerfano projects, the students stay on private land and again

Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico, 1984 to today



433 m


4 km


B anca Peak
Figure 2. Digital elevation model (DEM) shaded-relief map of the Huerfano River area, Colorado, showing (A) the Point of Rocks mapping area,
where folded and faulted Mesozoic rocks are exposed around the eastern and southern margins of Early to Middle Pleistocene fluvial terraces
preserved by stream capture; and (B) last-glacial lateral moraines in the upper Huerfano River valley, part of the Quaternary and surficial geologic
mapping focus in this project.


Geissman and Meyer

cook in small groups. We use a large, uninhabited dwelling as

a base for students to work in. All requirements are completed
while at the field camping site, and thus students must work in
the evenings, upon return from the field.
Considerable literature bearing on student assessment
strongly supports the utility of immediate instructor assessment
and feedback to students (e.g., Libarkin and Kurdziel, 2001;
Englebrecht et al., 2005). For a fast-moving course with progressive development of understanding and skills such as EPS
319L, feedback must be provided in both a timely and sufficiently detailed fashion. Some forms of immediate feedback
in field-oriented courses have been previously described (e.g.,
Field, 2003). After several years of teaching EPS 319L, we realized that we needed to develop some form of a quick, effective,
group-oriented approach to providing student feedback. In each
mapping exercise, even after spending nearly a full day introducing students to the specific map areas, and talking about specific strategies for approaching each mapping area, it was clear
that it would be useful to bring the entire class back again, after
a day or so, to make certain that the entire class was beginning
to develop an understanding of the mapping area, observational
skills were improving, and there was an opportunity for full
group discussion. Over a decade ago, we initiated one specific
approach that attempts to address these concerns. For each of
the three multiday mapping projects, we involve the students
in a focused, very fine-scale mapping effort. We refer to this as
the postage stamp map exercise, which takes place in a key
and illuminating part of each mapping area. The topography of
each of these areas has been surveyed using a mapping-grade
GPS unit and maps have been prepared as a base for these exercises with a scale of 1:16001:2500 and contour intervals of
8 or 10 ft (2.44 m or 3.05 m) (for comparability with the U.S.
Geological Survey topographic maps that form the base for the
complete map area) (Fig. 3).
The postage stamp exercise takes place after at least a full
day of introduction to the entire mapping project, including at
least some time for students to begin to conduct mapping on
their own. Each student concentrates her or his observations and
mapping, for a morning, in the small area. All of the instructors
roam around with the students, ensuring considerable interaction. At the end of the morning effort, all of the students are
brought together to discuss their observations over lunch, and
one of the instructors, based on student input, makes a whiteboard sketch of the geology of the postage stamp map (Fig. 4).
The discussion is typically very lively, and it is organized to
foster as much student input and interaction with the instructors
as possible, based in large part on the sketch map of the postage
stamp map area (Johnson and Reynolds, 2005). We have found
that these group discussions serve several valuable purposes.
First, by bringing the class together and having the class discuss
their observations together, the confidence of most students

grows considerably. Second, students have the opportunity to

plan the next phase of independent mapping with their partner.
Third, it ultimately provides the instructors a better foundation
for further interaction with the students and a very objective
opportunity for grading their final field maps, as each postage
stamp area lies within the map, and we expect to have at least
the highlights of the postage stamp area accurately recorded on
their final map. The postage stamp maps are turned in after the
lunch break, and, although these maps are not part of a students final grade, detailed feedback is provided to all students
by the end of the day (Fig. 5). The senior instructor is responsible for providing this feedback. Although no rigidly defined
scoring rubric (e.g., C.A. Kearns and L.E. Kearns, 2009, personal commun.) is actually used in the inspection of the postage stamp map, rigorous inspection of the maps includes the
following features: adequate coverage of the area in terms of
showing salient map relations over as much of the area as possible, accuracy of contacts and traces of structures, reasonable
number of accurate orientation measurements (strikes and dips
of bedding, fault planes, etc.), and neatness.
In field geology courses, where time is typically at a premium, and the goal is to maximize student field experience, we
view this effort as another useful example of an excellent means
to provide beneficial and timely instructor input. The feedback
we have received in student evaluations of the course indicates
strong support of the use of the postage stamp exercises. Our
feedback prior to summer 2008 was not ideal in that UNM formerly required a course evaluation system that was very inflexible and did not allow for specific questions to be posed for specific courses. We simply asked students to provide comments
on the postage stamp exercises in the space for written comments. Starting in 2008, UNM switched to the IDEA system,
which allows for course-specific questions to be posed to the
students. All student responses ranked the postage stamp exercises as excellent. Furthermore, in the context of our assessment
of student outcomes for the course, which is the capstone experience in our BS Earth and Planetary Sciences curriculum, the
postage stamp exercises play a major role. Because we review
the geology of each of the postage stamp map areas as an entire
group, and sketch a complete map of the postage stamp area for
all students to see and fully understand (Fig. 4), we fully expect
that this part of their final map should reflect the outcome of this
exercise and be as accurate as possible. Our approach to grading final project maps includes defining several localities where
key field relations are particularly well exposed and the mapping of them should present relatively few difficulties for all
students. We also factor in the accuracy of locations of specific
field relations on student maps but do not approach this with
the level of specificity proposed in other approaches (e.g., C.A.
Kearns and L.E. Kearns, 2009, personal commun.). In terms
of the importance of the postage stamp map exercise, with few
exceptions, a comparison of student postage stamp and full field
project maps from the first project to the last exercise shows that
mapping skills improve.

Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico, 1984 to today


Figure 3. Example of topographic base

for the postage stamp map for the Point
of Rock mapping project, Huerfano Park,
Colorado. Contour interval is 3.048 m
(10 ft).

Financial Support
Here, we provide a brief discussion of the current means
by which support is provided to our Introductory Field Geology course, as well as other summer field courses offered by
the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, given that we
attempt to provide the highest quality level of instruction to our
students with limited financial means. The summer field geology courses are supported by the Summer Instructional Program at the University of New Mexico, through the Provosts
Office, not the College of Arts and Sciences. Each year the
department submits a request for the support of our summer

courses and waits to hear if our request has been granted. For
example, in summer 2008, the department received a total of
$25,500 to support both EPS 319L and EPS 420L; all of these
funds went to pay for instructors (1.5 faculty in EPS 319L and
two graduate teaching assistants; 1.5 faculty in EPS 420L and
two graduate teaching assistants). EPS 319L had a total of 32
students in the course in summer 2008; EPS 420L had a total
of 15 students. The tuition charged by the institution (about
$800/course) is not returned directly to the college or to the
department. This level of support is insufficient to pay for all
instructional costs and the operational expenses of each field
course, which are in large part absorbed by students through


Geissman and Meyer

field; understanding how surface field relations can be extrapolated to at least modest depth, in the context of drawing an interpretive cross section; and formulating logical predictions based
on observations made. All of these are consistent with departmental learning outcomes established for our Earth and Planetary
Sciences BS program. The use of the postage stamp exercises
for each of our mapping projects provides a focused, deliberate
opportunity for students to hone their observational skills in wellexposed, well-chosen areas where the geology screams that there
is much to see, record, interpret, and learn! Our students are not
used to gather any form of data/observations for our own personal goals; we do not thrust our students into a new area where
we are unfamiliar with the geology, and have no well-founded
basis for knowing how our students will benefit from inspecting and attempting to map such areas. Field geology instruction
will continue to take many forms and evolve, but it must remain
a critical, feedback-based component of geoscience education.
Figure 4. Senior author discussing an interpretive
and approximate (i.e., not to scale) sketch geologic
map of the postage stamp mapping area, Point of
Rocks mapping project, Huerfano Park, Colorado.

fees for each course. For EPS 319L, the current student fees
are $375.00.
As two long-standing instructors for the Department of
Earth and Planetary Sciences Introductory Field Geology course,
we annually look forward to the day in mid-May when we meet
with a new group of EPS 319L students, many of whom come
from different institutions and have never been to New Mexico,
or even west of the Mississippi River, and many of whom have
never slept outside. Our approach to teaching Introductory Field
Geology is based on experiences over several decades, beginning
with our own personal experiences as students in undergraduate
field geology courses (University of Michigan and University of
Idaho) to our interaction with numerous colleagues, notably our
graduate student teaching assistants and those involved in field
geology instruction at other institutions. Our approach to instruction of Introductory Field Geology at the University of New
Mexico is firmly rooted in the importance of building the field
observational and documentation skills of each and every one of
our students (e.g., Kali and Orion, 1996; Kastens and Ishikawa,
2006; Liben et al., 2008; Kastens et al., 2009). In terms of learning goals, we expect that all students completing EPS 319L have
obtained and have repetitively utilized basic field skills, including locating themselves on a topographic map, without and with
the aid of a handheld GPS; identifying geologic materials in the

Several University of New Mexico (UNM) graduate student

teaching assistants, over many years, have made outstanding
commitments to molding and improving EPS 319L, these include
Steve Hayden, Steve Harlan, Bruce Harrison, Tim Wawrzyniec,
Harry Rowe, Mary Simmons, Joel Pederson, Carol Dehler, Mike
Petronis, Scott Muggleton, Jenn Pierce, Lyman Persico, and Travis Naibert. The tremendous assistance from the current (Cindy
Jaramillo, Mabel Chavez, Mary Bennett, and Paula Pascetti) and
former staff of the main office of the Department of Earth and
Planetary Sciences at UNM is greatly appreciated. We appreciate
permission from a 2008 EPS 319L student to use the students
Point of Rocks postage stamp map in this paper and also the permission of a 2008 EPS 319L student to use the students photo
of the first author and the evolving group postage stamp map for
Point of Rocks mapping project. We thank the staff and owners
of Wolf Springs Ranch for continued access to the Point of Rocks
mapping project area and the Spears family for access to the Baca
Canyon area. Finally, we thank Stephen G. Wells for initiating
the much-needed change in UNM field geology instruction.
In August 1984, Professor Stephen G. Wells (past Geological
Society of America president) walked into my office (Geissman). I
was then a newly arrived, untenured member of the faculty and was
engaged in unpacking into a new office setting. Steve, who had been
on sabbatical the previous year and had not been involved in my hiring,
introduced himself and quickly cut to the chase. He talked about his
previous experiences teaching field geology courses at the University
of New Mexico (UNM) and at Indiana Universitys field station. He
reminded me that the department field courses were taught on the
weekends, during the academic year. Geology 319L was taught in the
spring semester, for four credits, and Geology 420L, also four credits,
was taught in the fall semester. I remembered this but was reluctant
to dwell on the matter during my interview. To an untenured assistant
professor with four summers of field course experience while at the

Introductory field geology at the University of New Mexico, 1984 to today


Figure 5. Example of instructor comments on one postage stamp map prepared by a summer 2008 student, Point
of Rocks mapping project, Huerfano
Park, Colorado.

Colorado School of Mines, a summer as a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of Toronto, and several summers as a graduate
student teaching assistant at Michigans field geology station, the concept of teaching capstone field geology courses on the weekends during the academic year seemed a bit odd, if not just wrong. I expressed
this feeling and emphasized that the current approach was especially
odd for a location like Albuquerque, where nearby geology abounds
(Fig. 1) and the weather is excellent. The end result of our first encounter was an agreement to cooperate to move UNMs field courses to the
summer and mold them into full-fledged field-camplike field geology
courses. As a postscript, one of our very loyal (and generous) alumni
recently talked with me about his experience in the late 1970s taking
Geology 420 on the weekends while trying to compete on the UNM
rugby club team. When I explained how the department was now

teaching our field geology courses, he remarked, That is a far better

way of teaching field geology, isnt it!

Anderson, O.J., and Lucas, S.G., 1996, Stratigraphy and depositional environments
of Middle and Upper Jurassic rocks, southeastern San Juan Basin, New
Mexico, in Goff, F., Kues, B.S., Rogers, M.A., McFadden, L.D., and Gardner, J.N., eds., 47th Field Conference Guidebook, Jemez Mountains Region:
Socorro, New Mexico, New Mexico Geological Society, p. 205211.
Blake, D.B., and Kues, B.S., 2002, Homeomorphy in the Asteroidea (Echinodermata); a new Late Cretaceous genus and species from Colorado:
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Geissman and Meyer

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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses:

Past experiences and proposals for the future
Declan G. De Paor*
Department of Physics, Old Dominion University, Room 306, 4600 Elkhorn Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA
Steven J. Whitmeyer
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, Memorial Hall 7105B, 395 S. High Street,
MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807, USA

Like many similar courses across the United States, traditional geology field
camps run by Boston University (BU) and James Madison University (JMU) faced
a crisis at the turn of the twenty-first century. Student enrollment was declining, and
many geoscience professionals questioned the continued relevance of field camps to
modern undergraduate geoscience programs. A reassessment of field course content,
along with changes to management styles and attitudes, was required for survival.
In our case, the combination of relocation, managerial improvements, curriculum
innovations, and elimination of redundant exercises resulted in a vibrant course with
a strong student demand. We believe that our reforms may serve as a guide to success
for other courses that are facing similar difficulties. The current JMU field course in
western Ireland is the product of reforms and modernizations to the previous BU and
JMU traditional field camps. To create time for new course content, we had to consider whether long-established exercises were still essential. Caution is needed in both
adding and deleting course content, as the curriculum may suffer from inclusion of
new technologies that turn out to be short-lived and from discontinuation of exercises
that develop students core field expertise. Nevertheless, we have implemented major
changes in the ways students are taught to work in the field, and we question the continued relevance of some existing procedures. Our criteria include level of pedagogical engagement and transferability of skills to nongeoscience professions.

ers such as William Smith (1815) in England and Wales, Richard

Griffith (1838) in Ireland, Archibald Geikie (1876) in Scotland,
George Cuvier and Alexandre Brogniart in France, Bernhard
Studer and Arnold Escher von der Linth in Switzerland, and Florence Bascom in the United States (see, for example, Winchester,
2001). Following the hit-or-miss approaches of the California
Gold Rush (18481855), and of wildcat oil drilling after its initial
invention in Titusville, Pennsylvania, by Edwin Drake in 1855,
the need for professional field geologists grew steadily and state

Geological mapping dates back to the Turin Papyrus of 1150

B.C.E. (Harrell and Brown, 1992), but field surveying and publication of printed geological maps did not begin in earnest until
the nineteenth century with the contributions of pioneering work*

De Paor, D.G., and Whitmeyer, S.J., 2009, Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future, in Whitmeyer,
S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461,
p. 4556, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(05). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



De Paor and Whitmeyer

geological surveys sprouted (Socolow, 1988). However, residential field geology courses did not enter college curricula until
the early twentieth century (AGI, 1985). Given the absence of
halls of residence in proximity to the best geological exposures,
these courses soon became known as field camps. Founded in
1911, the University of Missouris Branson Field Laboratory is
reputed to be the oldest continuously running geology field camp
in the United States (Anonymous, 2007a). Boston Universitys
camp in Maine followed a generation later (1949), and James
Madison University initiated their original Appalachian-based
field camp around 1978, joining the growing movement. In the
1960s and 1970s, as a testament to the pedagogical success of the
camp classroom model, field camp was required for graduation
by many college geoscience departments (Lonergan and Andresen, 1988). Despite closures in recent years, there are still over
70 field camps offered by accredited American universities and
colleges (Anonymous, 2007b).
Field Camps in CrisisThe BU Perspective
Less than a decade ago, Boston Universitys (BU) Field
Camp was in trouble and, like many others, it faced the real
prospect of closure. The course had been held in northern Maine
for over 50 years, during which generations of BU professors
and graduate student instructors had dedicated six weeks of the
summer session to training students in classical field methods.
As with most field camps, students reported learning more effectively at the outcrop than they had done in the laboratory, and
camaraderie around the campfire created a level of personal contact among faculty and students that was the envy of nonfield sciences. With the coming of the plate-tectonic revolution in the late
1960s, Appalachian tectonics was a vibrant academic research
field, and the Maine field camp was appropriately located.
However, while tectonic interpretations of the Appalachians
had changed radically since the heyday of the plate-tectonic
revolution, the field skills being taught to the Maine field camp
students had barely evolved. An alumnus from the class of 1949
would have been familiar with almost all of the equipment and
methods in use in 1998: finding ones location by pace and compass; identifying minerals by hand lens, scratch plate, and acid
bottle; classifying subtly different fine-grained gray rocks into
laboriously named stratigraphic formations and members; measuring dip and strike or plunge and trend using the compass-clinometer; stereographic projection of structural data onto tracing
paper overlays; and finally inking-in and compilation of a fair
copy map using colored pencils.
Students of BUs last Maine camp in 1998 did not seem
to mind that most of the skills they were learning were verging on obsolescence in the professional workplacehow would
they have known? Their professors did not work for, or interact
with, the exploration companies, environmental management
consultants, geotechnical contractors, or geological surveys that
employed most students. Longitudinal assessment studies were
not carried out, so professors did not know how their course con-

tent matched the needs of employers or how it prepared students

for any profession. The university was training students in skills
that were useful only to the 1% who might become academics,
not the skills required in the future extramural workplace, and
even then, the academic content was dated. Some would justify
this, citing the timeless benefits of academically oriented education, but the pure pedagogical value of many classical exercises
was debatable. Although we may think of geological mapping
mainly as an academic exercise, it is worth noting that many of
the pioneers of mapping were applied scientists and engineers.
The goal for William Smith was to find coalthe fuel of the
Industrial Revolutionand bring it to market via canals (Winchester, 2001). Richard Griffiths (1838) map was funded by the
Irish Railway Commission. The Swiss were motivated by their
countrys extreme engineering needs, and the U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS) was initially tasked with classifying mineral-rich
versus agricultural public lands (Thompson, 1988).
Students at the Maine camp did complain, however, about
some faculty attitudes that were perceived as indifferent to
females and about boot-camp conditions that even macho males
found unpleasant (e.g., the spring and early summer black fly
season). Furthermore, trends nationwide were drifting away
from compulsory geology field courses as geology departments,
including BUs, morphed into geological science, geology
and geography, earth science, earth and planetary science,
earth and space science, earth and environmental science,
etc. With the relaxation of many colleges residential field camp
requirements, competition from deep-sea drilling cruises, laboratory-based independent study projects, and externally funded
research experiences for undergraduates (REUs) was high. These
examples reflected a growing nationwide sentiment that questioned the continued importance of field camps in undergraduate
geoscience curricula around the turn of the millennium. Clearly,
if field courses were to survive and remain a vital component
of an undergraduate education, major changes were needed. Our
experience, detailed herein, suggests that these reforms need to
encompass changes in management styles and attitude, as well as
modernization of the traditional field course curriculum.
An exciting location is a strong draw for prospective field
camp students and probably is necessary for long-term field
camp survival. For BU, the transformation began in 1999 with
the relocation of their field camp to the Connemara region of
western Irelanda geological, if not climatological, paradise.
Comfortable, full-board accommodations were leased from
Petersburg Outdoor Education Centre, a well-managed residential facility that normally offered year-round outdoor courses for
at-risk children from inner city schools. The summer income
from our six week field camp enabled the center to modernize its

Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future
facilities significantly, so the relationship was (and continues to
be) symbiotic. In 2006, career moves involving field camp faculty led to a transfer of administration from Boston University to
James Madison University (JMU), where a summer field geology
course had not been offered since 2003. Thanks to faculty continuity, the new philosophy and curriculum of the Ireland field
course continues to develop at JMU.
Despite the extra expenses involved with an overseas location, relocating the camp to western Ireland had several benefits.
We were able to market potential financial savings to parents
who could use one course to fulfill their childrens desire for a
study-abroad experience in addition to learning modern geoscience field methods. The location was remote and decidedly foreign, but nevertheless very friendly toward the United Statesa
significant factor in the era of parental security concerns following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was located on the edge of the
Connemara Gaeltacht, one of the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland where the local accent is so strong that it can be difficult to
understand the people even when they speak English. In addition
to U.S. faculty and teaching assistants, Irish faculty were hired
from the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the nearby
campus of the National University of Ireland, Galway. Students
appreciated the Irish faculty for their detailed knowledge of the
local region (and liked their accents).
Faculty Quality and Undergraduate Research
We believe that an important factor in the success of the new
approach was faculty quality. All facultyboth U.S. and Irish
were active scholars with funded research programs and strong
publication records, and many were keenly interested in pedagogical research (Johnston et al., 2005). The revitalized course
attracted a diverse faculty (including several female instructors
and one African American instructor) and an equally diverse student population from universities from across the United States.
Students recognized the research opportunities available in conjunction with the course. Some field course alumni and alumnae
were recruited by faculty for other National Science Foundation
(NSF)funded research opportunities in the United States, Ireland, and other locations (e.g., Antarctica), and many students
went on to graduate programs in the geosciences in first-rank
research universities.
One key to our long-term success was the support of our
departmental chairs and higher-level administrators, who recognized the importance of field camp service when evaluating
untenured faculty. Our experience suggests that such support
and recognition are more easily obtained if the field camp produces sustained scholarship and publication-worthy research
for the faculty. A modern field course cannot flourish if administrators see it as a job for adjuncts or nonresearch faculty. Both
authors were fortunate to have department chairs that not only
supported faculty participation in the Ireland field camp, but
actively taught at the camp.


Student Agility and Fitness

The student applicant pool for our camp was highly varied in
physical preparedness for fieldwork. Students qualified automatically if they were in good standing in the host department (BU
Earth Science Department, or JMU Department of Geology and
Environmental Science). Applicants from other colleges, who
frequently made up half to two thirds of the class, were accepted
on the basis of grades and their applications statement of interest, without face-to-face interview. Hiking skills were often minimal, and some students field background consisted of only a few
day trips as part of their coursework.
Given the diverse enrollment, we attempted to make field
conditions friendlier to less rugged or outdoors-inclined students.
Ironically, the female faculty members were relatively disinclined to slow the pace or accommodate student requests. These
professional women were self-selected successful products of
traditional educational systems that had alienated the vast majority of their gender; they expected students to cope with their ablutions in hedges and ditches, and to keep up with the most alpine
of trip leaders. The authors somewhat more accommodating
managerial approach was influenced by previous anecdotal experiences such as (1) an embarrassing rebellion by irate students on
a 13 hour day-trip in a windswept, barren, restroom-free landscape lead by a clueless male professor; and (2) the experience of
discovering that a student with prosthetic legs was enrolled in a
structural geology course after said student commented on soreness at the end of a field trip and took his legs off. The student in
question performed as well as his classmates and subsequently
went on to serve as a field assistant to another professor on an
international expedition. These experiences engendered respect
for both the needs and abilities of nontraditional students.
On the other hand, some students had great difficulty completing assignments due to mobility and agility limitations (especially obesity), even though none of the exercises required technical climbing or particularly dangerous maneuvers. Accepting
physically limited students into field programs is more or less
mandated by nondiscrimination policies at most universities, so
formulating successful approaches for dealing with these issues
cannot be avoided (e.g., Butler, 2007). Allowing such students to
complete alternative, less physically demanding, assignments was
only a partial solution, as this created peer resentment. As obesity
becomes more prevalent in the student population, this issue is
likely to crop up more frequently in the future. Our current policy
is to allow students with mobility issues extra time to complete
assignments but to require that they get there in the end. Alternate exercises are restricted to those with predeclared disabilities
or current injuries. This policy, though not foolproof, has been
endorsed by many students. As an example of this approach, on a
moderately difficult hike, one of the instructors would get to the
top of the hill first, establishing his credentials among the most fit,
while the other brought up the rear. Several students (mostly overweight) expressed deep appreciation for the fact that faculty were
still waiting for them when they eventually got to the mountaintop.


De Paor and Whitmeyer

Their previous common field experience had been that of meeting

their professor and the majority of their classmates on their way
back from the outcrop to the bus, and thus missing out on any
lecturing or instruction imparted at the outcrop.

Freeman (1999) can compete only if the subject matter of the

field exercise is restricted to classical hard-rock mapping.

R and R

Working collaboratively over several years, American and

Irish faculty overhauled the Ireland field course curriculum. The
move from Maine meant that mapping exercises had to be redesigned from scratch, and we took the opportunity to rethink our
teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach. We deemphasized professorial lecturing at the outcrop in favor of a student
research approach (asking students to frame the key questions;
see May et al., this volume), and we introduced small group
(three to four students) mapping exercises in advance of the main
independent mapping exercise. Students reported increased confidence following group exercises, and they wasted less time in
the first days of their independent mapping.
Recognizing the importance of the balance between an
understanding of fundamental principals and knowledge of practical, transferable skills, we identified four areas of emphasis (see
following) that could be developed in the Connemara region of
western Ireland. Although Caledonian tectonics or Quaternary
glacial geomorphology may not be accessible at other field
camps, we believe that all camps can benefit by a reassessment
of the ways in which their local geologic features can address the
universal strengths of field-based pedagogy: cross-disciplinary
knowledge integration, open-ended problem solving, etc.

A common issue with residential field courses is the provision of appropriate social activities, to ensure that R-and-R does
not translate into rowdy and rambunctious rather than rest and
relaxation. Our policies follow university guidelines banning
binge drinking, and we have had only a few isolated incidents.
The 6 km roundtrip walk to the local village presumably dampens (literally) the enthusiasm of potential revelers, but perhaps
the more important factor is the availability of alternative leisuretime activities. Approved student drivers are permitted to take
classmates to events such as horse-racing meets and nearby concerts in Galway City by visiting celebrities such as Bob Dylan
and U2. Many students seem happier when they have opportunities to rejoin (nongeology) civilization on occasional evenings
and at weekends. Those that prefer outdoor activities, such as leisure hiking/hill-walking, kayaking, or campfires under star-filled
skies also have those options.
One unanticipated problem was the desire on the part of
some helicopter parents to take the opportunity to visit their
offspring in the field. We allow visits only grudgingly and outside
of class hours. We also receive visits from field camp alumnae
and alumni who return to the region for vacation with their fiances, spouses, and children. Undoubtedly, field camp in the west
of Ireland is a positive memory and character-forming experience
for many.
When the international cell phone and iPod generation came
to camp, our first reaction was to shun the intrusive gadgetry,
following the lead of others that advocate a formal approach to
the use of travel time (Elkins and Elkins, 2006). However, we
soon recognized the benefits of accommodation and assimilation.
Of course, we would prefer if students spent bus time between
outcrops pondering regional tectonics, but, in truth, students in
previous years mainly slept. If they opted to listen to music or call
their parents at enormous expense on their cell phones in order to
say Hi, Im on the bus, then they might work more attentively
at field stops. On the way home from the last outcrop, students
would appoint a DJ to hook their music players up to the bus
speakers and face their peers evaluation of their music taste.
Of course, iPods and smart cell phones like the iPhone can
also be used as mobile reference sources. Early on, we experimented with use of photo and video iPods as teaching devices by
uploading sample images of rocks, minerals, and structures for
use by students as a digital reference library on location. However, before this effort reached maturity, technological advances
overtook it. The latest devices such as the iPod Touch and iPhone
include a fully zoomable web browser, giving students access to
vast resources of reference information without need for custom
software. Traditional, pocket-sized paper field manuals such as


Regional Tectonics as a Big Picture Unifying Theme

Connemara is a classic area of Caledonian tectonics. It lies
along strike from the Appalachian orogen of Maritime Canada
and New England in a pre-Atlantic reconstruction (Fig. 1A).
Given the Appalachian historical base of both BUs and JMUs
original field courses, and the blossoming career opportunities for
hard-rock geologists in industry and academia (U.S. Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics:
htm), it made sense to maintain a strong component of regional
stratigraphy, tectonics, and paleogeography. However, we eliminated the stand and deliver approach to teaching regional geology at the outcrop, whereby the learned professor tells the story
as it is, complete with much tectonic arm-waving. Information
is no longer passed on only to those students lucky enough to be
within hearing range of the field-trip leader. Instead, we employ
scaffolded discovery-learning techniques by posing challenging questions to students, encouraging hypothesizing and constructive discourse, and surreptitiously guiding students to make
observations that will provide critical hypothesis-discriminating
evidence (McConnell et al., 2005).
As an example, students are asked to explain the easterly
dip of the Connemara peneplain, as seen in the local landscape
(Fig. 1B). Initial efforts usually invoke local tilting, regional
folding, or isostasy. With continued discussion and prompting,
students learn to position local outcrop evidence within the

Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future


regional tectonic context and arrive at a more complete explanation of the uplift and exposure of Caledonian rocks in western Ireland resulting from regional extension associated with
the opening of the Atlantic Ocean (Coxon, 2005a). Students
also must relate their local mapping areas and outcrop-scale
details, such as kinematic indicators, to regional tectonic problems, such as the position of Connemara in relation to other
Dalradian terranes of Ireland and Scotland, mechanisms of
terrane transport, and possible docking events. The key is that
students must learn to view their individual projects in a larger
framework that has relevance to the outside world. Like most
field camps, our projects incorporate igneous, sedimentary, and
metamorphic rock identifications, but these are now undertaken
with tectonic synthesis in mind. We do not teach students to
distinguish granodiorite from adamellite or paragneiss from
orthogneiss for its own sake.
Glacial Geomorphology
The second area of emphasis focuses on the glacial geomorphology of western Ireland (e.g., Coxon, 2001, 2005b).
Again, students are taught to map locally while thinking globally. Students usually notice without prompting that the western seaboards vegetation, including palm trees and Versaillesstyle formal gardens, differs from that of Maritime Canada or
Moscow at the same 55N latitude. Historic records of local
climate document the rarity of freezing weather (data from the
Irish National Meteorological Service:, with snow
flurries no more than once or twice a year at sea level, yet the
landscape is dramatically glaciated (Fig. 2). Students arrive at
the field camp with a range of experience in glaciated terrains,
from little to no previous exposure (Virginia) to fairly extensive
knowledge of gradual terminal moraine retreat in New England,
or direct experience with present-day glaciers in Alaska. In each

Figure 1. (A) Reconstruction of the Appalachian-Caledonian orogen

prior to opening of the Atlantic Ocean (sketch by Martin Feely, National
University of IrelandGalway). 53.614878 N, 9.509725 E. (B) Photo
looking north of the easterly dipping Carboniferous peneplain in the
South Mayo region of western Ireland. The black line at the top of the
peneplain is ~1 mile long.

Figure 2. Photo of the glaciated landscape of western Ireland: the lake

occupies the location of an ancient valley glacier, and the close end of
the lake is dammed by an end moraine. (Photo by Adam Lewis.)


De Paor and Whitmeyer

case, fieldwork that documents kame fields and other indicators

of rapid down-wasting in Connemara is unfamiliar, despite coverage of the subject in common texts (e.g., Tarbuck and Lutgens,
2002). Our lesson plans highlight the differences in the history of
climate change from Virginia to New England to western Ireland
as a consequence of the off-and-on switching of the Gulf Stream
and the process of North Atlantic Deep Water formation (Bond
and Lotti, 1995; Coxon, 2001; Bowen et al., 2002).
Students were brought to Iceland one year on an experimental basis for a four day expedition prior to commencing their
western Ireland mapping. Witnessing first-hand the products of
active, present-day glaciation and viewing the ubiquitous evidence for rapid climate change proved to be of great pedagogical
value. Students completed a 1 day mapping exercise at the face
of Vatnajkull Glacier, where recessional and lateral moraines,
eskers, kame fields, kame deltas, and ground till were visible in
100% exposures. Irish landforms of Quaternary age have a subdued topographic expression and are generally covered in vegetation, yet students recognized equivalent features with ease. Students recognition of volcanic structures also benefited from the
Icelandic experience. However, financial and logistical burdens
prevented us from making this a permanent part of the course,
and the unique combination of fire and ice that characterizes the
Icelandic landscape is not a perfect analogy for the Tertiary volcanic rocks and later Quaternary glacial carving of western Ireland. Although it is not quite as immersive an experience, todays
students can fly over the Icelandic terrain using Google Earth
or NASA World Wind, and thus gain some appreciation of neotectonics and neoglaciation.
Environmental Geology and Hydrogeology
Western Ireland has a history of mineral exploration and
mining dating back to prehistoric times (Cole, 1998). The practice of agriculture stretches over 5000 years (Cooney, 2000;
Anonymous, 2007c), and the pressure of population, both native
and visitor, has impacted water quality and created waste disposal
issues on a number of occasions, including the crowded times
before the Great Famine and the present era of tourism. Given
the high number of employment opportunities in environmental
sciences, we emphasize field-based exercises with themes spanning resource exploitation and conservation. Subtopics included
in this part of the course are: bulk country-rock geochemistry,
exploitation of mineral resources, impact of mining and rock
composition on mine-water geochemistry, surface-water capacity and sediment-transport rates, and impact of geotourism in the
Burren, a region of karstic topography in County Clare.
Students go underground in caves and Victorian mines that
have been reopened as tourist attractions (Glengowla mine; Ailwee and Doolin caves), and they make observations and measurements on surface and subsurface water flow. The Burren
area, in particular, is a fascinating karstic region that was previously glaciated. Students compare and contrast sediment-transport processes via surface glaciers with underground rivers and

other karstic features to determine the relative importance of each

of these agents in landscape modification. In Connemara, intense
rain events drench bogs and alter river morphologies in a matter
of hours; therefore, we have expanded exercises in geohydrology
and riverine processes (see May et al., this volume).
Despite the competing dangers from hill-walking, bog-hopping, and quarry visits, our water-chemistry exercise brought
us the closest to a serious injury in the five years in which it
has been run. A student slipped in thigh-high water, became
immersed for no more than a few seconds, and developed hypothermia within minutes. The first-response treatmentsharing
a sleeping bag with fellow studentswas great for team morale
but the experience reminded instructors and management of the
fine line between exciting learning experiences and potentially
harmful consequences.
Digital Mapping and Visualization
On 1 May 2000, President Clinton turned off Selective
Availability (i.e., civilian scrambling) of the Global Positioning
System, and the accuracy of cheap, handheld global positioning
system (GPS) devices such as those made by Magellan and
Garmin increased enormously overnight, just in time for our
digital mapping curriculum. At about the same time, National
University of IrelandGalway opened a state-of-the-art geographical information system (GIS) computer laboratory. GIS
had already been in widespread use by the USGS and in industries such as environmental engineering (Longley et al., 2001),
but rather trivial limitationsfor example in plotting dips and
strikes (Mies, 1996)slowed its adoption by field geologists.
Initially, we did not have the resources to invest in the newest technology. The sum of $4000 per person required to equip
students with backpack-mounted GPS devices, such as those
manufactured by Trimble, and ruggedized tablet personal
computers (PCs) was beyond our budget in 2001. This was not
entirely a bad thing, as adopters of first-generation technology now find themselves encumbered with bulky equipment
and heavy car-battery banks just as light, cheap, second- and
third-generation technologies have become readily available.
In 20012002, we concentrated on palmtop devicesinitially
personal digital assistant (PDA) devices such as Palm Pilots
and handheld computers such as Hewlett-Packard iPAQs
with somewhat cumbersome GPS attachments and waterproof
cases. In successive years, we advanced to handheld Trimbles
(GeoXM model) running the Windows Mobile operating system and ArcPad digital mapping software (see Whitmeyer
et al., this volume). In the laboratory, we used ArcGIS and
National Geographic Topo software and developed custom
programs using Flash Actionscript to allow students to create
visualizations of their own field data (Fig. 3).
Although many others have adopted mobile GIS solutions (e.g., Knoop and van der Pluijm, 2004; Neumann and
Kutis, 2006), our approach was, to our knowledge, unique
in one respect: whereas most digital mapping courses aim to

Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future

Figure 3. High-end graphic workstations at Galway University help

students see their own recent fieldwork in a regional context.

produce publication-quality cartography, we encouraged students to scan their rough field slips and penciled cross-sectional
sketches into digital files for use with three-dimensional (3-D)
modeling programs such as Bryce, Carrara, and our own
block-diagram generator in order see their geological interpre-


tations draped over local digital terrain models or projected

onto the sides of a solid block diagrams. Students responded
enthusiastically to the experience of flying by a digital terrain
that highlights the locations that they had visited on foot the
previous week and seeing their own sketch maps draped onto
the digital elevation model (DEM). Our digital mapping efforts
have progressed to the stage where we now use these exercises
as part of an ongoing research project (Whitmeyer et al., 2008a,
2008b, this volume), and one of our image-draping exercises
sowed the seeds for a subsequent publication by camp instructors and colleagues (McCaffrey et al., 2008).
Traditionally, after several days of field trips led by professors, students embark on their own map-making. While we
retain five day individual mapping projects as the capstone
exercise of our course, digital mapping technology has allowed
us to incorporate collective mapping projects. Students gather
digital field data and upload it to a base workstation each evening. They then create a collective map from that database using
ArcGIS (Whitmeyer et al., this volume). The key innovation is
that data are accumulated over several years and map interpretations are driven by group consensus, not individual interpretation. The feeling that their work is incorporated in ongoing
geologic research and will survive beyond the grading exercise
helps promote student engagement.
Today, we are in the midst of a new phase in the digital mapping revolution as GES (Google Earth Science) is added to GPS
and GIS. This is dramatically illustrated by the geo-mashup of
Figure 4 (see, in which the original

Figure 4. William Smiths (1815)

map of England and Wales,
Richard Griffiths (1838) map of
Ireland, and Archibald Geikies
(1876) map of Scotland draped
onto the Google Earth terrain
(from Simpson and De Paor,
2009). Geologic maps are courtesy British Geological Survey,
Geological Survey of Ireland,
and the Natural Environmental
Research Council, UK.


De Paor and Whitmeyer

maps of Smith, Griffith, and Geikie are seen draped over the 3-D
Google Earth digital terrain model (De Paor and Sharma, 2007;
Simpson and De Paor, 2009; Whitmeyer et al., 2007). Hard-copy
maps may be scanned and the resultant digital images draped
over the virtual globes digital terrain (Fig. 5A). Digital maps
superposed on the terrain may be rendered semitransparent for
comparative purposes (Fig. 5B; see also Simpson and De Paor,
2009). The potential for removing the time-consuming step of
hand-drawing a field map, while retaining the full fidelity of
digital data with true outcrop evidence, suggests that digital field
mapping is the method of the future for geologic map preparation. In addition, computer-based visualization of 3-D surfaces
containing geologic map information introduces new prospects
for constraining interpretations based on incomplete field data.
In our field course, we advocate an iterative approach to geologic field mapping, whereby field interpretations on sketch maps
are draped over the virtual 3-D terrain and continually evaluated
throughout the mapping process.
Obsolescence in the Traditional Curriculum
As outlined herein, our students have to learn many new
ways to collect, analyze, and present field information. They
need to learn how to use GPS for location; ArcPad, and ArcGIS
for data collection, analysis, and visualization; KML for interactive Google Earth maps; etc. Where traditionally they collected four-dimensional data regarding the geological evolution
of a region and reduced that to the two dimensions of a paper
or Mylar map, today they must create a link between the four
dimensions of field evidence (latitude, longitude, altitude, time)
and the four dimensions of the virtual globe (pan, tilt, zoom,
play). However, the price to be paid for early adoption of technology is the certainty that much of it will be redundant in a matter of years, if not months. Palm Pilots are pass, and with the
advent of virtual globe technologies such as Google Earth and
NASA World Wind, the use of modeling programs such as Bryce
and Carrara for DEM draping is now obsolete. Most recently, we
have replaced our custom Flash Actionscript block diagrams with
emergent block models created in Google SketchUp (De Paor
et al., 2008). We need to avoid the pitfalls of teaching short-lived
technological skills by emphasizing the importance of appreciating what current technology can do and being willing to experiment with it, rather than teaching rote-learning steps involved in
a particular method (Fuller et al., 2002; Niemi et al., 2002; Brodaric, 2004).
For financial and logistical reasons, it is not possible to
lengthen the duration of most field courses, and new efficiencies in teaching and learning techniques can only save a limited
amount of time. In order to make room for the new curriculum
components, we need to remove obsolete material from the traditional syllabus. At the same time, we want to retain classical
methods that have professional or pedagogical value. Inevitably, some readers will disagree with the cuts we propose, but
like those faced with the task of balancing a budget, we encour-

age critics to present alternative solutions provided they stay

within budget.
We would argue that students do not need to know how
to locate themselves on a map by taking bearings. It is a nice
skill to have in case ones GPS batteries fail, but if such logic
were our way of selecting course content, there would be no
end of useful fall-back skills in the curriculum, from the abacus
to smoke signals.
More controversially, given software such as Allmendingers StereoNet (2007), we question whether students need to
know how to manually plot a great circle on a stereographic net.
Rules about turning tracing paper in the opposite direction to
the required strike are not of deep significance. It grieves us to
say this because we love teaching this subject, and we witness
instances of sudden insight in a significant minority of students.
However, it is much more important for students to be able to
interpret stereographic data in terms of tectonic models such as
progressive pure or simple shear deformation than to be able to
follow the geological equivalent of knitting instructions. Like
many other traditional methods, the tedium of plotting data on
stereonets these days is most efficiently accomplished by using
a computer.
Finally, construction of strike lines is a quintessential example of an exercise that professors love to give to their students
but that is never used in professional practice. Even when those
same professors are drawing maps, they almost never employ
strike lines, as can be verified by examining published structural
maps. The best way for students to learn about contour maps is
to manipulate them on a virtual globe such as Google Earth or
NASA World Wind. Students can use solid models (as created
with programs like Google Sketchup) to slice through the
topography and see the cut effects of structures.
During the early years of the Ireland field camp, we did not
have research funding to support objective evaluation of learning
outcomes by an external assessor, nor would it have been easy
to compare in detail the outcomes from such different courses as
BUs and JMUs North Americanbased camps versus the western Ireland camp. However, student evaluations and students
subsequent, postcamp communication with the instructors suggest that our innovations were highly successful on the whole
(see Pyle, this volume). Students felt empowered by their geomorphological group mapping project, attesting to the value of
peer learning. They also reported great pride and joy in seeing
their maps printed using GIS workstations (Fig. 6) and approved
of the incorporation of new digital technologies and researchbased teaching methods in their evaluations (see Whitmeyer et
al., this volume).
Student evaluations are valuable course assessment tools,
but field camp faculty need to be prepared for critical evaluations that at times can be quite off topic. After six weeks in the
field, some students suffer serious homesickness, others develop

Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future

Figure 5. (A) Classical mapping of the Connemara region (Leake et al., 1981) viewed as a three-dimensional (3-D) Collada model in Google Earth (De Paor and Sharma, 2007). (B) Student mapping of the Knock
Kilbride area, draped over the Google Earth virtual globe (see Whitmeyer et al., this volume). Note semitransparency and time slider. Downloads for Google Earth images and models are available from the Web



De Paor and Whitmeyer

Figure 6. Students proudly display maps

generated from their own field data and
printed with geographic information
system (GIS) workstations at Galway

personality clashes and petty jealousies, both with their professors and among their peers, and many let the stresses of independent mapping dominate their evaluation. In the end, a few
cheery students spreading positive vibes through the group can
be as important as project design in affecting learning outcomes.
Similarly, a few malcontents can have a disproportionately negative effect on learning. In the case of western Ireland, the vagaries
of the climate (ranging from only six wet days in one year to only
six dry days in another) can be critical to a successful course. In
this respect, when student evaluations are considered, an understanding department chair is essential.
Not all new course elements that we introduced when we
first moved to western Ireland stood the test of time. Irish faculty
initially set unreasonably high standards based on their expectation of capstone course content in the British and Irish system,
where undergraduates study geology in greater depth (especially
in the field) and have few, if any, distribution courses. After consultation, they then erred in the other direction by devising projects that lacked sufficient challenge. It took a few iterations to
reach a working curriculum, and indeed the process of reassessment and revision continues. Finally, the postcamp success of our
Ireland field camp students suggests that dropping exercises that
we identified as obsolete or redundant did not have a significant
negative effect on the students final ability to map and do geology in the field.
In a sense, todays students know everything. Equipped
with their field computers and iPhones, they are walking digital
encyclopedias. They do not need to memorize all the knowledge
that previous generations had to store in their heads. As a corollary, professors should stop acting as incomplete, error-prone
walking encyclopedias to their students. In contrast, professors

need to train students not to ask for information that their cell
phone already contains. Instead, professors need to help students
to evaluate, analyze, and pose the right questions. In short, we as
educators should be teaching our students to think on their feet,
as opposed to teaching the rote memorization of a field mapping
methodology or detailed information about the Jack and Jill Formation or the Humpty Dumpty fault (names from C. Simpson,
1985, personal commun.).
We all want future generations to benefit from the field experience, but if field courses are to survive (Drummond, 2001), let
alone prosper, we have to convince deans and provosts that these
courses are of value beyond the training in geologic mapping
that a handful of students will benefit from in graduate studies or
industry careers. Despite the increasing popularity of hands-on
projects, university science courses are still dominated by lectures that students listen to passively and by laboratory courses
that have little relationship to how science is practiced by professionals in academia or industry. Working scientists are not presented with apparatus and a set of instructions to follow in order to
discover something that is already known to their supervisor. The
greatest transferable skill that students learn in the field is how to
handle open-ended problems where they must pose the right questions before trying to answer them. Perhaps because they developed this vital skill, students consistently report, both verbally and
in course evaluations, that they learned more in a few hours at the
outcrop than in weeks of lectures or laboratory assignments.
At the Ireland field camp, students grasp and integrate several different fields, e.g., geology, geomorphology, and environmental geology. We are certainly not the first in any individual
aspect of this endeavor (e.g., Brown, 1998; Manone et al., 2003),
but we have assembled a unique blend of tradition and innovation, hard- and soft-rock, analog and digital, that others may
find interesting for comparison. As pointed out by Day-Lewis in
2003, some more traditional geology programs required their stu-

Innovation and obsolescence in geoscience field courses: Past experiences and proposals for the future
dents to attend pure, hard-rock mapping field courses. Six years
later, we have virtually no students complaining that our multidimensional curriculum will not fulfill their departmental requirements. It may be that field camps that adapt to changing student
needs have survived better than geology departments that stood
by time-honored standards. We should all recognize that within
our small discipline of geology, we have already achieved a level
of interdisciplinary study that deans and provosts wish other sciences would adopt.
The BU field camp in western Ireland was inaugurated by Carol
Simpson in 1996. De Paor served as director of field studies for
BU from 2000 to 2005, and Whitmeyer served as director of the
JMU field program from 2006 to the present. Faculty include or
have included: Martin Feely, Ronan Hennessy, Tiernan Henry,
Stephen Kelly, Kate Moore, and Mike Williams of National University of IrelandGalway; Dave Marchant, Carol Simpson, and
Sherilyn Williams-Stroud of BU; Scott Eaton, Mike Harris, Liz
Johnson, Steve Leslie, Eric Pyle, and Shelley Whitmeyer of JMU;
and Adam Lewis of North Dakota State University. We appreciate the years of logistical support from Trish Walsh, director of
Petersburg Outdoor Education Center. Many thanks, as well, are
due to many years of Ireland Field Course students who have
contributed to our mapping projects and taught us so much.
This manuscript was improved by reviews from Dave
Mogk, Dave Rodgers, and an anonymous reviewer. This work
was partially funded by National Science Foundation grants
EAR-IF 0711092, NSF EAR 0711077, and NSF CCLI 0837040.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations
expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not
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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Integration of field experiences in a project-based

geoscience curriculum
Paul R. Kelso*
Lewis M. Brown
Department of Geology and Physics, Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan 49783, USA

The undergraduate geoscience curriculum at Lake Superior State University is
field based and project centered. This format provides an active learning environment to enhance student development of a meaningful geoscience knowledge base
and of complex reasoning skills in authentic contexts. Field experiences, including
data acquisition, are integrated into both lower- and upper-division coursework. Students simulate the activities of practicing geoscientists by conducting all aspects of
field projects, including planning, collecting data, analyzing and interpreting data,
incorporating background and supplemental data, and completing oral and written
reports of results. The projects stimulate interest, provide motivation for learning
new concepts, and are structured to develop teamwork and communication skills.

present fundamental geoscience concepts in the context of

sequentially ordered problems, many of them field based, that
reflect increasing structural complexity and geophysical sophistication (Kelso and Brown, 2008; Brown et al., 2007), different
depositional regimes (Brown et al., 2007, 2008), important igneous and metamorphic petrogenetic models (Gonzales and Semken, 2006), and instructive hydrological and geoenvironmental
situations (Smith, 1995; Trop et al., 2000).
Our revisions were motivated by a number of concerns
we have with geology programs based on traditional curricular
designs and pedagogy. A central desire was to create a curriculum
that would improve student mastery of the core geologic concepts that we identified in a national survey of geoscience faculty
administered by the American Geological Institute (Kelso et al.,
2001). Along with core concept acquisition, we recognized the
need to substantially increase our programmatic emphasis on student written and oral communication skills (Brown et al., 1993),
computer and quantitative skills, and problem solving and critical
thinking skills. A major goal in our curriculum development was
to enhance students ability to solve real-world geologic problems

The geology faculty at Lake Superior State University
(LSSU), a state-funded university in Michigans eastern Upper
Peninsula, have designed and implemented a new undergraduate
geology curriculum (Kelso et al., 2001; Kelso and Brown, 2004).
Our curricular goals model those of other educators in promoting
development of students intellectual and creative thinking skills
by engaging them in team-oriented, field-based problems. Field
activities are integrated with classroom activities to enhance
development of students abilities to solve multidisciplinary, realworld geoscience problems (e.g., Smith, 1995; Ireton et al., 1996;
National Research Council, 1996a; National Science Foundation
Advisory Board, 1996; Trop et al., 2000; Noll, 2003; Gonzales
and Semken, 2006; Knapp et al., 2006).
The LSSU curriculum is based on constructivist teaching/
learning theories that emphasize active learning. Our courses

Kelso, P.R., and Brown, L.M., 2009, Integration of field experiences in a project-based geoscience curriculum, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds.,
Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 5764, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(06).
For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Kelso and Brown

by integrating concepts from multiple subdisciplines. We accomplished this by creating a set of courses integrating subdiscipline
concepts to replace our existing discrete subdiscipline-centered
courses. For example, we developed a carbonate systems class
that integrates core concepts from carbonate sequence stratigraphy, carbonate depositional and diagenetic environments, and
invertebrate paleontology to partially replace existing discrete
courses in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate petrology, and
stratigraphy (Brown et al., 2007.). We further created a course
in clastic systems to address clastic depositional systems, clastic sedimentary petrology, and clastic sequence stratigraphy. The
projects in both classes incorporate data from the field and from
collected samples. The curricular changes we made in order to
incorporate a field component into our sophomore-level structural geology course and the seven integrated upper-division
courses are shown in Table 1.
Field experiences by their very nature are ideal vehicles by
which to deliver an active learning program. Field-based learning helps students construct a better knowledge framework
(e.g., Loucks-Horsley et al., 1990; National Research Council,
1996b; Kirschner, 1997; Mintzes et al., 2005; Elkins and Elkins,
2007) by promoting students ability to visualize spatial relationships of rocks in three dimensions early in their academic
preparation (Kali and Orion, 1996; National Research Council,
2006; Kastens and Ishikawa, 2006; Reynolds et al., 2006). Spatial visualization provides a context for theoretical concepts and
direct observation of concrete examples of specific features and
their in situ relationships; it is a traditional area of weakness and
inhibits conceptual understandings throughout the undergraduate experience (Manduca and Mogk, 2006). Pedagogical focus
on field experiences provides an active learning environment
that enhances motivation, learning and retention, and problem
solving, (McKenzie et al., 1986; National Science Foundation
Advisory Board, 1996; Committee on Undergraduate Science Education, 1997) and further develops skills for critical
analysis, inquiry, and communication (Gonzales and Semken,
2006). Active, cooperative learning strategies, for example,
establishing teams of students working together to solve fieldbased problems, increase conceptual understanding and student
achievement and help students overcome misconceptions (e.g.,
Basili and Sanford, 1991; Johnson et al., 1991; Cuseo, 1992;
Cooper, 1995; Esiobu and Soyibo, 1995).
We implemented this field-based approach throughout our
curriculum (see Table 1) to enhance the learning process and to
better prepare geoscientists for graduate programs and careers.
Integrating fieldwork into discipline-oriented coursework provides a focus for subdiscipline content application (e.g., Kern and
Carpenter, 1986; Gonzales and Semken, 2006) and provides student motivation for learning content (Edelson et al., 2006). These
field projects require students to solve problems, think critically,
and be involved in all aspects of a geological study from project
design to data collection, to interpretation, to formal written and
oral project presentations. Where a field component is embedded
in a course, we increased scheduled laboratory hours from a more

traditional 2 or 3 h/wk to 6 h/wk. Although scheduled as two 3

h blocks, the allotted time can be used for day-long field trips.
Thus, students have the opportunity for more in-depth experiences with less interruption and fewer distractions than might
be available in a shorter time period. We typically decreased the
lecture time by 1 h/wk, so there was no net effect on students
credit load or associated tuition costs. This restructuring resulted
in an increase in the amount of time that students work with a
particular concept, student-faculty contact time, and opportunity
for in-depth discussion of concepts. Thus, we find that students
are better able to transfer conceptual information from text and
lecture to field applications and are better able to interpret fieldbased observations.
Lake Superior State Universitys field-oriented curricular
revision (Table 1) requires that students now complete approximately double the amount of fieldwork compared to our old curriculum. As part of our new curriculum, students spend ~13 wk
working on projects in the field. These field experiences include
two 3 wk summer field courses and numerous half-day to weeklong field excursions associated with individual academic-year
courses (Table 1).
Our field-based courses begin at the sophomore level with
structural geology. This course meets for three lecture and six
laboratory hours per week over 14 wk. The course incorporates
a field component during which basic field geology skills are
taught within the context of structural projects. The structural
geology course is followed by a 3 wk sophomore-level summer
field course that is the capstone of the geology minor and our
students lower-division preparation. The goals of the sophomore
field experience include student development of field and observational skills, for example, observing and working with rock
relationships in space and time, and collecting samples and data
that are used in upper-division class projects (Table 1). Thus, early
in their undergraduate education, students gain first-hand experience that allows for more sophisticated upper-division fieldwork
and enhances upper-division understandings of basic concepts
and detailed regional geology. Additionally, the sophomore field
experience promotes critical student-student interaction that
serves as the basis for upper-division team projects. Further, the
extended time for personal interaction in a traveling field-based
course encourages meaningful student-instructor communication
on professional as well as personal levels and serves to overcome
student-instructor barriers that inhibit upper-division learning.
The sophomore field course involves travel to a geologic setting that differs from the local area. It addresses field techniques,
including cross-section and map preparation, measuring stratigraphic sections, and gathering basic geologic data such as mineral and rock identification in contrasting geological provinces.
Students apply basic stratigraphic, sedimentologic, and structural
principles to interpret their cross sections and maps and develop
basic interpretations of depositional environments. Integration

New geology curriculum
Original geology curriculum
Course title
Fieldwork (field days)
Course title
Fieldwork (field days)
Field objectives
Some years (1)
Project based
Structural Geology
Day Trips
Structural measurements
Geology and
and Tectonics
Quaternary and Precambrian (5)
Introduction to geologic
field-mapping techniques
Introduction to Field
Trip to Wisconsin and Black Hills, South Dakota Basic field mapping
Igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic
Basic stratigraphic and
systems (19)
structural analysis
Mine field trip (1)
Geochemical Systems Project based
Igneous and
Weekend and day trips
Mapping and interpretation
Metamorphic Laboratory
Igneous/metamorphic systems
of igneous, metamorphic,
Economic mineralization (10)
and mineralized systems
Introduction to Lecture
Bedrock geology (1)
Geophysical Systems Project based
Weekend and day trips
Using geophysical
Problem sets
Geophysical mapping
field equipment
Near-surface applications (10)
Conducting geophysical
Geotectonics Lecture
Tectonic Systems
Project based
Spring break trip
Terrane analysis
Appalachian Mountains transect (9)
Integration of petrography,
structure, and tectonics
Clastic Systems
Project based
Presemester trip and day trips
Advanced stratigraphy
Precambrian, Paleozoic, and Quaternary (11)
Depositional environment
Project based
Weekend and day trips
Environmental assessment
Surficial processes
Mapping and interpretation
Environmental studies (8)
of surficial materials
Fossil collection (2)
Carbonate Systems
Project based
Data and samples collected during Introduction Observing and collecting
Paleontology Laboratory
to Field Geology course
samples, fossils, and data
from carbonate rocks
Geology Seminar:
Project based
Data and samples collected during Introduction Observing outcrops and
to Field Geology course
collecting samples and
Field Geology Mapping
Igneous, sedimentary,
Advanced Field
Advanced mapping Trip to SW United States
Advanced field mapping
and metamorphic
Igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic
Detailed geologic
systems (40)
systems (19)
*N.A.not applicable.



Kelso and Brown

of these field components into upper-division courses such as

clastic systems, carbonate systems, and a geologic seminar on
sequence stratigraphy (Table 1) is accomplished by requiring students to collect data, including rock suites, that are incorporated
into upper-division course projects.
Further, the techniques and skills that students develop in the
sophomore experience are reinforced in upper-division courses
in which students concentrate on solving sets of specific, realworld geologic problems that are drawn from a variety of geologic settings. Our upper-division fall offeringsgeophysical
systems, clastic systems, geochemical systems, and geoenvironmental systemsare field intensive and require half-day to
week-long field excursions to promote in-depth understanding of
geologic problems. In these courses, we integrate the key core
concepts of a number of geoscience subdisciplines, such as geophysics, physical stratigraphy, petroleum geology, paleontology,
geochemistry, economic geology, surficial processes, and surface
and subsurface contamination. Similarly, one of our seasonally
challenged winter/spring offerings, tectonic systems, incorporates a 1 wk field trip to study the tectonics of the southeastern Appalachians during our spring break. Our upper-division
coursework also includes a second 3 wk summer field course that
emphasizes mapping skills in structurally complex terrains with a
wider range of sedimentologic and petrologic problems.
The following discussion illustrates our field-intensive curriculum by describing in some detail the format of two of our
upper-division, academic-year courses, clastic systems and geophysical systems.
Clastic Systems
Our new curriculum is structured so that key geologic concepts are integrated sequentially throughout the curriculum. Key
concepts introduced at the sophomore level, for example, are
revisited in the upper-division courses at progressive levels of
sophistication. For example, the Clastic Systems course builds

sequentially upon a number of concepts and field-data collections

from the sophomore-level Introduction to Field Geology course.
These include basic field methods, rock classification, interpretation of sedimentary features, and production and interpretation of
maps and cross sections (Table 1).
The sophomore field course requires students to collect
clastic rock suites and observe sedimentary features from formations of different ages in the Black Hills of South Dakota
and Wyoming, including the Deadwood Formation, Minnelusa
Formation, and four exposed members of the Sundance Formation. Fieldwork during the Clastic Systems course includes a 1
wk presemester field trip to Mississippian and Pennsylvanian
clastic outcrops in the southern part of the Illinois Basin and six
to eight one-half to full-day local field experiences during structured class times. Emphasis is placed on reinforcing good field
technique, introducing more sophisticated classification systems,
observing, describing, and interpreting the origin of primary sedimentary structures, and interpreting depositional environments.
The rock suites from the Black Hills, along with material
collected on the clastics field trips, form the basis of Clastic Systems course projects involving interpretation of processes that
form clastic rocks, sedimentological principles, and depositional
environments. For example, whereas students in the sophomore
field course apply a simplified version of Pettijohns (1975)
clastic classification in assigning rock names and in utilizing
individual and group observations and measurements to create
field-based cross sections and geologic maps, the clastics classroom work requires microscopic examination to more accurately
identify minerals and determine mineral percentages and grain
size and textural relationships. Students in the clastics class focus
on developing detailed rock descriptions and graphic sedimentary logs (Nichols, 1999). They gather data for class projects that
address transport, deposition, and deformation of detrital units
including observation and measurement of primary clastic sedimentary structures to interpret fluid flow, current direction, and
soft sediment deformation (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Teams of students studying

sedimentary processes in Quaternary
deposits during a laboratory session for
the Clastic Systems class.

Integration of field experiences in a project-based geoscience curriculum

Other Clastics Systems course projects require a comparison of sedimentary features that students initially observed in the
Pennsylvanian Minnelusa Formation in the Black Hills to exposures of Precambrian primary features (ripple marks, mud cracks,
etc.) and soft sediment deformation features in our local area and
to features of Pennsylvanian rocks they observe in the southern
part of the Illinois Basin during the required presemester weeklong field trip. Other local day-trip projects allow students to
compare local exposures of Precambrian glacial deposits, ripple
marks, mud cracks, and soft sediment deformation features to
local Quaternary glacial and fluvial deposits and modern depositional environments. Thus, students study first hand the relationships between sedimentation processes and products over both
geologic time and geographic distance.
In the Clastic Systems class, students revise the cross sections and geologic maps that they constructed during the sophomore field geology course and construct new maps, such as facies
maps, to meet specific project objectives. Collected data, along
with Clastic Systems course readings and lecture material, allow
students to interpret depositional environments for all of the rock
units they have observed, both in the sophomore field class and
during the clastics field excursions. Students produce sophisticated geological interpretations such as application of sequencestratigraphic principles and facies-model interpretations, including consideration of depositional environmental parameters such
as climatic changes that vary through time. Other projects in the
clastics systems course encourage students to develop an understanding of repetitive sedimentation patterns by examining evidence for multiple glaciation events from the local Proterozoic
Canadian Shield and Pleistocene glacial deposits and by comparing/contrasting depositional paradigms associated with Pennsylvanian deposits in the Illinois Basin.
Students in our upper-division Sequence Stratigraphy
Seminar again use rock descriptions of the Minnelusa Formation and field maps and cross sections they generated in the
sophomore field course in the Black Hills. Their field observations, in conjunction with subsurface maps that students generated based on borehole data that they retrieved from the Wyoming Geological Survey Web site, form the bases for a class
project to generate a hydrocarbon play in the subsurface of the
Powder River Basin. For this exercise, the students generate a
base map, plot the boreholes, create cross sections and facies,
paleogeographic and structure contour maps, interpret depositional environments, and summarize their results in a formally
written exploration report.
These activities enhance student facility with concepts and
principles related to depositional processes. Their ability to interpret and reconstruct geological events is far advanced compared
to students that completed our previous more traditional lecture/
laboratory course. We base this conclusion on personal observations, student comments on class evaluations, students comments upon engaging in graduate-level work, and comments
from employers. For example, we find that student in-class questions are more sophisticated, their understanding of advanced


concepts is greater, and their ability to complete complex projects is improved over student overall performance in our previous
traditional courses.
Geophysical Systems
Our Geophysical Systems course (Kelso and Brown, 2008)
is another example of the way in which integration of fieldwork
into an academic-year offering is developed in our curriculum.
All Geophysical System course projects are field-based, requiring students to spend 13 d collecting field geologic and geophysical data and information on potential cultural anomaly
sources. Thus, students improve their observational skills and
recognize data limitations and potential sources of error through
the collection of their own data in the field.
This course, like many of our upper-division courses, is
designed to model industry practices and promote student concept acquisition and problem-solving skills. We teach key geophysical concepts, theories, and techniques in the context of real
geophysical projects. Solving the problems associated with each
field project requires students to learn relevant geoscience concepts and then apply them immediately to a particular study. The
projects include geologic mapping in poorly exposed regions,
water table and buried bedrock topographic studies (Fig. 2A),
and identification of buried objects in such places as military sites
and old cemeteries. For these and other projects, students generate and interpret a variety of geophysical maps, cross sections,
and surface and subsurface maps (Fig. 2B).
The general format of the Geophysical Systems course is
exemplified by the progression of activities incorporated into
the Camp Lucas project, summarized in Figure 3. The goal of
this project is to identify buried objects remaining at the abandon Camp Lucas military facility, which is now part of the Lake
Superior State University campus. The project site is the proposed location for a future campus building. Thus, the project
results, identifying remaining military materials, address a real
geoscience issue that is of interest to the campus community,
the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality.
A variety of other geophysical field problems are addressed
throughout the course, and critical background information
for each project is gathered by student research and provided
by instructor supplements. Projects progress from generally
straightforward geophysical studies to more complex problems
involving more sophisticated applications that require teams of
students to integrate multiple types of field, geologic, and geophysical information (May and Gibbons, 2004).
Following introduction of a project by the instructor, student teams each develop a written proposal for work to be
completed. All project proposals must include justification for
each geophysical instrument chosen; anticipated anomaly characteristics for each instrument, including a forward model of
anticipated anomaly magnitude and width; survey design for
each instrument including station and line location and spacing


Kelso and Brown

Figure 2. (A) A student team collecting 24-channel seismic refraction data as part of a geophysical study to determine the water table and bedrock
depth and slope on a fall afternoon. (B) A student teams final interpretation of the bedrock geology of a glacially covered region based on results
from multiple geophysical data sets (magnetic data is included on this map).

Geophysical Systems: Camp Lucas Project Flowchart


Project Objective
Locate buried objects at an
abandoned military site on
the Lake Superior State
University campus

Forward model of
anticipated anomalies

Magnetic and
background information

Field geophysics
survey designs

Project proposal:
written and oral

Magnetic and
electromagnetic theory
field survey

field survey

Set up field
survey lines

Process magnetic and

electromagnetic data

Initial plotting and interpretation

of magnetic and
electromagnetic field data

Final model and interpretation

of magnetic and
electromagnetic field data
based on theory and observation

Written report
of processes and

Oral presentation
of processes and

Class debates best

survey design
Initial modeling of magnetic
and electromagnetic field data

Figure 3. Flowchart for the design of one project undertaken in the Geophysical Systems course.
The flowchart outlines the Camp Lucas geophysical project to locate buried objects remaining at
the abandoned military facility, which is now part of the Lake Superior State University Campus.

Student-driven independent, follow-up research:

Students conduct field resistivity and ground-penetrating
radar (GPR) surveys over modeled anomalies, interpret
data, and present the results at a national meeting

Integration of field experiences in a project-based geoscience curriculum

based in part on modeling; anticipated time and financial costs;
and logistical considerations. Students present their project proposals orally, and they debate the merits of each. The class then
decides the field survey characteristics they will use (Fig. 3).
Through the series of projects, student teams collect data with a
gravimeter, magnetometer (total field and vertical component),
electromagnetic systems (horizontal loop and very long frequency receiver), seismic system (12 or 24 channel), groundpenetrating radar, resistivity/induced polarization system (28
electrode), and self potential system, so all students learn to
operate all instruments and interpret the data from each. The
size of the project area and the target influence the method of
data collection. Due to time constraints, it is often necessary for
each team to gather data with all the chosen instruments from
a portion of a project area and then share data so that a project
can be completed efficiently.
Students, individually and in teams, process, plot, model,
and interpret all field data sets collected. Students computer
and quantitative skills are developed through data analysis that
requires the use of a variety of software, from Excel and Surfer
for data processing and presentation, to sophisticated forward
and inverse geophysical modeling software packages (Fig. 2B).
Students progress is assessed at intermediate stages during the
project when students submit plots of data and engage in discussions of associated data processing and/or interpretations.
Because students have multiple data sets available, they must
develop a final interpretation that is consistent with all the data
available (Fig. 2B). The multiple field data sets and the existing
background information often provide critical constraints on the
nonuniqueness of geophysical data and require students to evaluate alternative hypotheses. The final project evaluation includes
both a written and an oral component and encourages constructive peer evaluation within a team and between teams.
Through a field-based, project-centered approach to teaching geoscience at Lake Superior State University, students ability to apply geoscience concepts to solving multidisciplinary
problems has significantly improved, along with their self-confidence and their retention of material. We base this conclusion
on a qualitative assessment of students class responses and project work, student evaluations, their success at graduate school,
and the comments of employers. The results of program assessment involving implementation of concept maps, clinical student
interviews, multidisciplinary problem-solving activities, and the
geoscience concept inventory (Libarkin and Anderson, 2005) all
record student growth (Englebrecht et al., 2005; Brown et al.,
2008). We find that field studies and project-based activities
build team work and communication skills and require students
to solve open-ended problems by collecting the data necessary to
critically evaluate multiple hypotheses and integrate and evaluate information from a number of subdisciplines. Through these
activities, students simulate the practices of geoscience profes-


sionals and thus gain a strong background for geoscience careers

in industry, academics, or public service.
Curricular revision requires motivation, support, and the time
necessary to devote to the requisite planning and implementation
phases. Field-based learning can be implemented on a courseby-course basis or, as in our case, can prompt an entire programmatic revision. Our frustration with traditional course structures
and lecture-based learning prompted us to experiment with alternatives. At first, we developed new laboratory exercises, but we
quickly realized that there is no substitute for field-based experiential learning. We began by integrating course-required spring
break and weekend trips into select courses. The results were
immediately obvious. Student interest was greatly enhanced, and
their active participation in on-site exercises resulted in muchimproved learning as shown by test results, problem-solving,
and overall quality of written work. Our results motivated us to
revise our entire curriculum. Our ability to plan and implement
a substantially revised curriculum based on a fundamental pedagogical change was enhanced by the philosophical compatibility
of the geology instructors and their commitment to allocate the
necessary time to curriculum development often at the expense
of other professional commitments, such as individual research
and personal time. Additionally, the revisions would not have
been possible without the support of university administration,
including their commitment to support a revision in course and
faculty schedules to accommodate the increased laboratory time.
Clearly, faculty commitment and administrative support are prerequisites to the success of any substantial curriculum revision.
Faculty commitment to field-based learning is time consuming. Class preparation includes time to visit field sites such as
classic outcrops, quarries, aggregate pits, construction sites, and
local geoenvironmental concerns. Field sites may vary from year
to year depending upon access and opportunity, and this requires
an ongoing time commitment to course preparation. Additionally, faculty must address logistical issues, such as site access,
transportation, and availability and maintenance of necessary
field equipment. Planning must also include consideration of
variable weather, safety concerns, and scheduling of field activities to avoid student and faculty time conflicts. We advocate,
however, that if a field-intensive curriculum can be successfully
implemented at Lake Superior State University, with its weatherconstrained field season, field-intensive courses can be successful
implemented at many other institutions. The unique educational
opportunities that field-based activities provide and the enhanced
student motivation are worth the extra effort required.
There are significant challenges on the horizon. The cost and
liability related to the travel, fieldwork, and equipment associated with field projects are rapidly becoming of major concern.
We have instituted a course fee for all academic-year offerings
to help offset field-excursion costs. To minimize travel expenses,
we have variously used university cars, minivans, fifteen-passenger vans and fifteen-passenger buses, along with car rentals and
air travel where appropriate, but these costs continue to increase.
Also, safety concerns related to vehicular road travel are ongoing.


Kelso and Brown

Strategies must be developed and continuously revised in order

to overcome these challenges so that students can continue to
benefit from geoscience field experiences.
This curriculum revision was supported in part by National
Science Foundation grant DUE-9952319 to Brown and Kelso.
We thank Joel Mintzes for his assistance with course and curriculum assessment and Barb Tewksbury for her assistance with
course and curriculum design.
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D.C., National Academy Press, 313 p.
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expectations for undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: Arlington, Virginia, National Science Foundation Publication 96-139, 76 p.
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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum

in the field using experiential immersion learning
Robert C. Thomas
Sheila Roberts
Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Montana Western, Dillon, Montana 59725, USA

At the University of Montana Western (UMW), geoscience classes are taught
primarily through immersion in field research projects. This paper briefly describes:
(1) why and how we achieved a schedule that supports immersion learning, (2) examples
of two geoscience classes taught in the field, (3) assessment, and (4) the challenges of this
model of teaching and learning. The University of Montana Western is the first public
four-year campus to adopt immersion learning based on one-class-at-a-time scheduling. We call it Experience One because classes emphasize experiential learning and
students take only one class for 18 instructional days. The system was adopted campus
wide in the fall of 2005 after a successful pilot program funded by the U.S. Department
of Education. The geoscience curriculum has been altered to reduce lecture and focus
on field projects that provide direct experience with the salient concepts in the discipline. Students use primary literature more than textbooks, and assessment emphasizes
the quality of their projects and presentations. Many projects are collaborative with
land-management agencies and private entities and require students to use their field
data to make management decisions. Assessment shows that the immersion-learning
model improves educational quality. For example, the 2008 National Survey of Student
Engagement (NSSE) showed that UMW has high mean scores compared to other campuses participating in the survey. Of the many challenges, none is more important than
the need for faculty to change the ways in which they interact with students.

accomplished primarily through lecture-based field trips, shortduration field exercises, and spring- or fall-break trips.
In order to engage students in authentic experiential research
projects in the field, more time is needed, and conflicts with other
courses must be eliminated. A scheduling system that provides
this kind of immersion opportunity was successfully developed
and implemented in the late 1960s by Colorado College (i.e.,
their block plan) and is still in use on that campus today. This
system immerses students in one class at a time for 18 instructional days, followed by a four day break. It provides scheduling flexibility and an opportunity to concentrate on the subject

Seeds of Change
Authentic field experiences are at the heart of the study of
Earth. However, it is difficult to incorporate extended fieldwork
into geology classes in the traditional semester system due to
time constraints and conflicts with other classes. This has long
been recognized and resulted in the inclusion of a required summer immersion field camp in most undergraduate geology programs. During the regular school year, field geology is typically

Thomas, R.C., and Roberts, S., 2009, Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning, in Whitmeyer, S.J.,
Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461,
p. 6576, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(07). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Thomas and Roberts

at hand without distractions from other classes. Their schedule is

ideal for field-based experiential learning.
Unfortunately, this scheduling approach is rare in North
American higher education outside of between-semester interim
sessions and summer sessions. Other than Colorado College,
only a handful of campuses have adopted this system or a modified version of it, and all of them are private. So, why is this the
case? The answer is undoubtedly complex; certainly, the inertia
inherent in long-established educational methods and the fact
that the burden is on faculty to fundamentally change how they
interact with students are major factors. The longer time blocks
cannot be effectively filled with traditional lecture presentations.
Faculty must engage students in experiential applications or the
larger time blocks can become an impediment to learning.
A Need for Change at the University of Montana Western
The University of Montana Western (UMW) was founded
in 1893 as the state normal school. By the early 1990s, most
campuses in Montana were training K12 teachers, and UMW
faculty began searching for ways to distinguish the campus as
unique and necessary in the Montana University system. Because
of limited campus resources and external pressures from the
state Board of Regents (BOR) to limit duplicative programs, the
options for change at UMW were greatly limited.
To solve the problem, the UMW faculty developed interdisciplinary, liberal arts degrees that maximized limited faculty
resources. In the sciences, we organized an interdisciplinary
Department of Environmental Sciences and focused on fieldbased projects (Thomas et al., 1996). Anecdotal evidence suggested that students showed improved cognition and metacognition, and we concluded that they appeared to be learning
scientific concepts and skills more deeply in these courses.
The very low number of students missing the field classes indicated that they were more engaged than they were in the lecture
courses, which sometimes saw a 40% absentee rate after the
second week of the semester.
The success of the program did not go unnoticed, however,
and within a few years, undergraduate programs in environmental sciences appeared at several other campuses in the Montana
University system. Our realization that programs could be duplicated and our growing frustration with the standard scheduling
combined to create a watershed moment in the history of UMW.
A small number of faculty from several departments realized that
it was time to act on an earlier desire to do something fundamentally unique in higher education.
The pedagogical impetus for choosing Experience One
began with a faculty conclusion that student cognition and metacognition improved when they were immersed in their subject
and had time to apply their learning to discipline-related problem
solving. A wealth of published educational research and assessment has documented that experiential learning, inquiry-based
learning, and immersion learning all improve the depth of concept
understanding, so we were confident that this was the right thing

to do (e.g., Dewey, 1991; Kolb, 1984; Rogers and Freiberg, 1994;

Johnson et al., 1998; Kolb and Kolb, 2005; Beard and Wilson,
2006). The next step in this process involved a recognition that the
academic schedule itself was the primary impediment to engaging students in authentic practice in the discipline, our working
definition of experiential learning (Thomas and Roberts, 2003).
For geologists, teaching experientially requires time to
transport students to field locations and engage them in extended
project work, and we were still delivering most classes via the
traditional 50-minute lectures and two-hour laboratory sessions.
Environmental sciences faculty needed a practical solution that
would facilitate our growing dependency on field-based courses
to deliver experiential learning. We made several experimental
attempts to free our department of this restriction (see Challenges section).
The campus discussion turned to adapting the scheduling system pioneered by Colorado College. Colorado College
adopted this system primarily to eliminate the problem of students prioritizing classes (Loevy, 1999; Taylor, 1999). For UMW,
it was a comprehensive solution that benefited experiential learning and, it was hoped, might prove attractive enough to improve
campus enrollment. So, during the winter of 1997, we traveled to
Colorado College with the UMW dean of faculty to investigate
the feasibility of adopting block scheduling. The report that circulated soon after the visit sparked in-house debate on the merits
of making UMW the first public university in the United States
to fully adopt block scheduling.
Faculty support for the transition to block scheduling was
strong from the start, but there were many skeptics as well. To
facilitate a change of this magnitude, a grant was obtained from
the U.S. Department of Educations Fund for the Improvement
of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) to run a three-year pilot
program (Roberts et al., 2001). The pilot program consisted of
75 first-year students who volunteered to take their general education requirements one class at a time. In total, 16 professors
from all general education disciplines volunteered to teach the
classes, and the grant paid for temporary replacements so they
could devote an entire semester to the pilot program. By every
measure, the pilot program was very successful (Mock, 2005).
After 3 years of operating the program with freshmen only,
rigorous assessment of the results, vigorous campus discussion,
contentious and exhaustive approval processes at meetings of the
Board of Regents, and a unanimous vote in favor of adopting the
system by the UMW Faculty Senate, the transition was approved.
In 2005, the University of Montana Western became the first public, four-year campus in the United States to adopt one-class-at-atime immersion scheduling for the majority of classes.
Experience One works across the curriculum. At UMW, students take the vast majority of their courses one at a time (i.e.,
a block) over 18 instructional days, four credits per class. Most
classes attain their required hours by meeting five days per week

Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning


for an average of three hours per day, but there is flexibility in the
way class time is distributed. At the end of each class, there is a
four-day break for students before the next class begins. Students
typically take four classes per semester for a total of 16 credits.
They register for all classes at the beginning of the semester, but
they can drop or add classes up to the second day of each block
without penalty.
Block classes are typically not scheduled after 3:15 p.m. to
allow students to participate in athletics and work afternoon and
evening jobs. However, flexibility in the distribution of time during each block, particularly for upper-division courses, provides
educational opportunities during class time that is not typically
available in the semester system. For example, in project-based
courses, students may be immersed in data gathering all day long
for a week or more, possibly preceded by a few days of preparatory lectures and reading and usually followed by less-structured
time to analyze data and process information. Some classes
involve extensive national and international travel that can consume several weeks of time for total immersion.
Although the majority of classes are blocked in this way,
some are scheduled for the entire semester (stringer classes), and
some are scheduled for short periods of time during the semester.
These allow flexibility, particularly for classes that require skill
development over more than 18 instructional days (e.g., some art,
music, and language classes). Many of the continuing education
courses are taught as stringer classes, since the students who take
these classes are commonly off-campus (e.g., online students) and
taking classes while working full time. Students in block classes
can add various one- or two-credit classes to a semester.
Professors at UMW meet their 24-credit annual teaching
obligation by teaching three of the four blocks per semester, and
the fourth block is utilized for research, grant writing, professional travel, and course development. Breaks between classes
provide time for grading and class preparation, although it is not
uncommon for faculty to work through the weekend of a break in
order to submit grades before the next class begins. The schedule
is intense but satisfying.

rocks, minerals, and resources class is primarily laboratory based,

with several field trips (sometimes multiple days).
The geoscience program at UMW was designed to provide
specific content emphases within interdisciplinary baccalaureate degrees in Environmental Science and Environmental Interpretation. Although the geology class descriptions look familiar
on paper (UMW Course Catalog, 2009), the majority of them
are structured very differently from comparable geology classes
taught elsewhere. Lectures tend to be short and are used to
introduce foundational aspects of the discipline and the field
projects, and to expand on issues that arise during the applied
experiences. Students often use the research literature more
than textbooks. The emphasis is on field projects that provide
students with direct experience with the most salient concepts
and tools of the discipline.
Students are typically assessed using authentic assessment
practices (Ames and Archer, 1988), including the quality of their
project participation, reports, and presentations. Beyond the entry
level, the importance of exams and quizzes is much reduced, or
these assessment vehicles may not be used at all. Many projects
require students to use their data to make land-management decisions, sometimes in collaboration with land-management agencies or private consulting firms. The professor/supervisor job is
different with groups of undergraduate students on a tight timetable than it is with individual graduate students working on a
project over several years. Nonetheless, undergraduate students
can accomplish a tremendous amount of meaningful research
with careful supervision (Roberts et al., 2007; Thomas and Roberts, 2007).
In order to provide examples of the ways that traditional
geology courses have been altered at UMW to take advantage
of the Experience One system, we describe two classes in our
curriculum that are taught primarily in the field through research
and management projects: (1) structural geology and (2) surficial


The Dillon area is ideal for teaching structural geology in

the field. In fact, many universities from around the globe use
the area each summer to teach field geology because of great
access to a variety of rock types and structural environments. To
take advantage of this natural laboratory, the structural geology
class at UMW does two projects over the course of 18 days that
are centered on two different structural settings: (1) a convergent
tectonic environment (see Block Mountain), and (2) a divergent
tectonic environment (see Timber Hill). The class concludes with
a field final that is intended to challenge the students to work
independently, test their skills, and most importantly, prove to
themselves that they can synthesize and interpret the data they
have collected without the need for help (see Dalys spur).
The class does not include a traditional lecture, but a
small dry-erase board is used in the field to provide sketches,
terminology, and other pertinent information. The class has no

The geosciences are well suited for Experience One. The

entry-level classes at UMW are typically capped at 2025 students, and the rest of the geoscience classes typically range from
10 to 20 students. The small classes and large blocks of time allow
for field- and project-based work that is difficult to achieve in
most geology classes on the semester and trimester (quarter) systems. Although not every class is taught completely in the field,
they all have a large field component. The geoscience classes that
do not have major field research experiences are the entry-level
courses and a few upper-level courses (e.g., rocks, minerals and
resources, and geology seminar). However, all classes have field
experiences, including weekly trips in the entry-level courses to
expose students to in-class concepts and projects that require students to work independently in the field (Thomas, 2001). The

Structural Geology


Thomas and Roberts

traditional laboratory, yet the students have office days to construct structural cross sections, process field data, conduct analyses, and write reports. The class does not have a textbook, but
several copies of a structural geology text (Davis and Reynolds,
1996) are made available in the laboratory for students to look
up information as needed, and they use pertinent published literature and web resources. In addition, students have the option
to purchase a copy of the Geological Society of London handbook series on mapping geological structures (McClay, 1995),
which many students choose to do even though the book is relatively expensive.
Block Mountain
Block Mountain is an extraordinary fold-and-thrust belt
structure and a keystone mapping project for the many field
camps in the Dillon area. The project lies within an area designated by the Bureau of Land Management as a Research Natural
Area, and the structure consists of a north-plunging fold pair with
a major folded thrust fault (and many minor thrust faults) within
the stratigraphic sequence (Sears et al., 1989). Most field camps
use the project to learn the skill of mapping and cross-section
construction, but they rarely apply the data to solving geologic
problems. At UMW, the structural geology students not only
learn field skills (Fig. 1), but they also learn about the physical
and chemical processes that form the structures by conducting
descriptive, kinematic, and dynamic analyses on the data they
have collected. Most importantly, they apply their understanding
to solving geologic problems, such as interpreting the stresses that
produced the deformation or determining the logical sequence of
folding and thrust faulting.
Students also apply their structural data to making landmanagement decisions and writing reports that assess economic
resources. In the final report, they are required to include an
analysis of the potential geologic resources within the map area,
including a thorough explanation of why particular resources
might occur within the map area and the probability that they
occur at economic levels. In addition, they research the federal
and state regulations required to develop these resources and
make decisions about which resources to develop based on all
of these factors. Their findings are compiled into reports that are
modeled after the Environmental Assessment (EA) reports constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The project
takes a minimum of six field days and three on-campus office
days to complete. The students get a day off after the exercise and
before they start the Timber Hill project.
Timber Hill
The Timber Hill area exposes mostly Paleogene and Neogene terrestrial sedimentary rocks that are cut by an active (but
historically dormant) normal fault called the Sweetwater fault
(Sears et al., 1995). The fault has ~700 ft (210 m) of offset and
is part of the northwest-trending normal fault system in southwest Montana that lies within the Intermountain Seismic Belt
(Stickney, 2007). The area contains a remarkable record of drain-

Figure 1. Students in structural geology learning field skills at Block


age systems that came off of the track of the Yellowstone hotspot (Sears and Thomas, 2007) and is an ideal environment for
students to learn about extensional structures and paleogeomorphology. A 6.0 Ma basalt flow, which can be traced for many
kilometers toward its source on the Snake River Plain, holds up
the topography in the area and provides a textbook example of
inverted topography.
The project requires the students to map a 1 mi2 (2.59 km2)
area, and heavy emphasis is placed on mapping surficial deposits and landforms like landslides, rock falls, valley-fill alluvium,
and alluvial fans. Students also identify areas of potential liquefaction and surface rupture related to the Sweetwater fault.
The students not only map the area, but they also draw several
cross sections and work out the geohistory of the area. They
also take structural data, particularly from the joints and foliation in the underlying Archean metamorphic rocks in order to
determine potential groundwater resources and flow paths. The
land-management component requires the students to use these
data to identify seismic and other geohazards associated with a
proposed (fictitious) subdivision on the property. The students
are asked to consider these natural hazards in placing a house,

Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning
water well, and septic tank on 20 lots located throughout the
map area. They investigate and describe techniques used to stabilize landslides, rock falls, and other slope instabilities (e.g.,
areas of soil creep) that occur in the map area, and they are
asked to determine the appropriate state and federal regulations
for developing the property.
The results are written up in a report format that is typical of
those produced in the geotechnical consulting industry, examples
of which are provided to the students for appropriate language and
layout. This project takes a minimum of four field days and two
on-campus office days to complete. The students get a day off at
the end of the project to rest up for the final exam at Dalys spur.
Dalys Spur
This exercise serves as the final exam in structural geology.
The one-day project involves mapping a <1.0 mi2 (2.59 km2)
area composed of a sequence of Upper Paleozoic and Mesozoic
sedimentary rocks that are folded and exposed as a west-dipping
homocline in the map area. The exposure of the folded section
is due to active extensional faulting, but no normal fault occurs
within the map area. The fold limb is unconformably overlain
by Neogene gravels and basalt, which forms inverted topography
due to the resistance of the basalt cap and regional erosion by the
Beaverhead River. Several landslides, rock falls, and alluvial fans
also occur within the map area.
The students map the area independently in about three
hours, gathering structural data along with their mapping. They
are told at the drop-off point that this is their opportunity to
prove to themselves that they can gather structural data on their
own and use it to solve geologic problems. Safety is not a major
concern at this location, even though the students map alone,
because the map area lacks trees and is small enough for the
instructor to see the students at all times. When all students have
completed their mapping, they are brought to a local restaurant to
finish their projects and be rewarded with pizza for their efforts.
They are evaluated on the quality of their geologic maps (inked
and colored), cross sections, geological histories, and analyses of
the potential economic resources and geohazards on the property.


Week 1
Students learn general introductory geomorphological principles using the textbook, student-lead discussions, lectures, and
short laboratory exercises. The basic scientific goals of the field
project are presented to students, who then participate in defining
the actual scientific investigation, with hypotheses, methods, data
collection and fieldwork plans, expectations for analyses, and
presentation of the results. They also consider the professional
audience for whom the results are intended, including reviewing examples of similar work. The class then investigates more
specific geomorphic principles and applications that relate to the
field project and reviews published methods for studying these
landscapes in the field. Toward the end of the week, they began
to research relevant recent primary literature. With professorial
input, students then choose their individual and group segments
and produce their fieldwork plans, which may be approved or
returned for modifications.
Week 2
Students work in the field, six to eight hours most days,
supervised by the professor, often in cooperation with outside professionals (Fig. 2). Sometimes laboratory analyses are
included, and groups usually begin to create their data tables and
Week 3
Students compile and analyze their data and create reports.
They meet with the professor in the classroom or computer laboratory at the usual time to discuss progress and problems, but
otherwise students work wherever and whenever they want. Students sometimes return to the field briefly to acquire more data
or correct obvious errors. Literature searches continue, and the
professor may provide short lectures and/or suggest readings.

Surficial Processes
We use this class to integrate students understanding of the
complex processes that interact to form the dynamic surface of
Earth. The textbook emphasizes applied process geomorphology
and provides a review of essential concepts of historical geomorphology. In the course of the class, students read and discuss most
of the textbook and are tested only if participation appears to be
lagging. The textbook is used to introduce the most important
general concepts of the field and the project and as a disciplinerelated conversation backdrop during the class. The class field
project usually has a major component that engages the whole
group and supportive subunits accomplished by smaller groups.
So far, each class has had a new field research project, but they all
have a similar general dynamic:

Figure 2. Student in the surficial processes class learning surveying with

a professional engineer from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.


Thomas and Roberts

On Thursday or Friday, there is a preliminary run through the

oral presentations with all students presenting and critiquing. At
this point, they organize and compile the separate sections into
a single report, discuss overall conclusions, forge connections
between different segments of the project, and assign completion activities. Additional textbook readings and related activities
during class time break up and enhance the third-week project
activities. The third week is always exciting for everybody; the
professor becomes a cheerleader, critic, and editor.
Week 4
The final oral presentation (with interested outside personnel present) occurs on Monday or Tuesday, and the final written
report is due on Wednesday. If the work warrants it, it is later presented at the spring campus Research Symposium and/or there
may be a collaborative presentation at a professional meeting.
Making an original contribution is always the goal, and the work
is often publishable. In the last week, students also read papers
and discuss the human impact on the global landscape.
Taylor Creek Project (Fall 2006)
Nine students worked with a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) archaeologist and a surveying engineer on a geomorphic analysis of a segment of a local creek valley. Amateurs
had previously collected assorted archaeological artifacts at the
surface, without any attention to their stratigraphic or geographic
context. The archaeologist had requested our assistance locating sites where an excavation might discover materials of different ages stratigraphically separated by continuous or episodic
deposition. We were recruited to help him understand the ways
in which the people and the processes that formed the landscape
might have interacted in the past and to locate places that might
preserve a long, readable record.
Together, we defined a study with seven reportable activities:
(1) a topographic survey (all students), (2) an analysis of the geomorphic and geologic setting (all students), (3) a stream-reach
classification (two students), (4) a reconnaissance field study of
the larger area geomorphology (one student), (5) relative dating
of high-level surfaces east of Taylor Creek (two students), (6) a
vegetation survey comparing different geomorphic features (two
students), and (7) a statistical investigation of lithic artifacts at the
ground surface at a proposed ancient quartzite quarry on the site
(two students).
The first week of the class included the usual introductory
readings and activities. We gave special attention to fluvial geomorphology and landslides and students began to research recent
primary literature on archaeological geomorphology in fluvial
environments. A guest lecture by the BLM archaeologist provided background about the study site and what we might add to
his investigation. He described examples of the use of geomorphology to enhance archaeological investigations from his own
experience and explained how to protect the cultural value of this
sensitive area. He also critiqued the research plan and assisted in
its finalization.

The second week began with a walk-around in the field with

the BLM archaeologist and surveying engineer to narrow the
specific area for the survey. With the professor and these professionals, students confronted line-of-site problems related to vegetation in the creek bottom, picked a central surveying station,
and discussed the apparent geomorphic divisions they wanted the
surveyed locations to define. Students also started their other projects, most of which required more specific definition and revision
in response to what they found on that first day. During the rest
of the second week, students worked in teams to complete the
survey (Fig. 2) and gather data for their other field projects.
On Monday of the third week, the class traveled to the Butte,
Montana, BLM office to observe and participate in geographic
information system (GIS) analysis of the survey data. Students
chose the map contour interval (2 ft [0.6 m]) that best delineated
the geomorphic units of the land surface for our purposes, looked
for the best cross-section lines to show important geomorphic features, and observed the strengths and limitations of the survey data
they had acquired. Printed maps were returned with the students
for further analysis, and they made cross sections by hand later.
In the next few days, students worked up their data from
the other projects and shared their findings. The reconnaissance
study and geomorphic interpretation of the survey data documented landslide aspects of the east side of the drainage and erosional hillslopes and alluvial-fan topography on the west side.
Stream terraces were narrow and asymmetrical. Relative dating
of surface exposures on the east side suggested that the landslide
topography was created at about the same time (not the separate episodic movements we were looking for). The vegetation
survey, which hoped to document the usefulness of vegetation
for geomorphic mapping, was inconclusive. Students analysis of
the stream in the area of investigation (pool-riffle) supported the
conclusion that it is in relative equilibrium, probably not experiencing significant net erosion or deposition. The artifact investigation strengthened the interpretation that ancient people were
using parts of the western hillslope as a quarry, based on variations in the degree of working of lithic fragments.
Finally, combining all the data, students chose three sites on
the west side of the drainage, on the lower slopes of small alluvial fans, downslope from quarry areas but closer to the creek
and on flatter surfaces that might have been more attractive as
sites for human shelters. In their presentation to the BLM staff
on Monday, they presented all their work and recommended the
three sites for exploratory excavations as areas where episodic
debris flows or dilute debris flows onto the fans might have buried a succession of human artifacts of different time periods and
where creek erosion seemed minor. We were invited to present
this work at the Montana Archeological Society meeting the following April, and four of the students chose to invest extra time
on that professional talk (Roberts et al., 2007).
Linking Field Projects
In spring 2007, the soil science class participated in archaeological excavations of two of the three sites recommended by the

Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning
surficial processes class. They dug the pits, sifted for artifacts, and
mapped and described the soils, discovering four paleosols that
correlated between the two pits and with occurrences of artifacts.
The 2009 environmental geochemistry class, just completed,
worked with interpreting a 14C date acquired on charcoal collected
at the site. Results from the three classes are being compiled and
will be submitted for publication. This linking of classes, which
included many of the same students, provided a genuinely interdisciplinary field experience. Students gained a deeper understanding of interdisciplinary interaction in geoscience research,
and more significant research was completed, which is more satisfying for the professor too. Field-project linking is just another
possibility of teaching in Experience One (Roberts, 2007).
Assessment begins with projected outcomes. Outcomes in
our geoscience classes are guided by the principal that authentic
practice in the discipline is the best possible learning experience
for our students. That is, if we can show that students are fully
and successfully participating in a variety of professional geological activities, then their learning is, by definition, authentic
and may require no further justification as an educational process. The proof of professional quality comes from the oral and
written reports, the usefulness of these projects to the public and
the land management agencies, and the peer-review publication
process. The relevant assessment question becomes, is our program producing graduates who can address important geological
problems in a professional manner?
We are collecting these types of data for the geosciences
classes, and we will eventually be able to produce this type of
assessment, but the program is young, and we have had little
support for innovation in assessment. Within a few years, there
should be enough data for statistical analysis. In addition, students success in competition for employment and graduate
school positions will provide a reality check on the quality of
their education, and these data are also being collected.
In the meantime, assessment of Experience One has been
conducted at both the campus level and at the disciplinary level. At
the campus level, a Cornell Critical Thinking Test given at UMW
in 2006 showed a marked increase in performance over an exam
given in 2002, prior to the adoption of immersion scheduling.
In addition, a 2006 Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory
(SSI) survey showed a significant increase in multiple categories of student satisfaction from a survey conducted in 1998, well
before the adoption of Experience One (UMW Accreditation and
Assessment Information, 2009). In areas such as instructional
effectiveness and student centeredness, the Noel-Levitz data
show significant improvements associated with the change to
Experience One scheduling.
Most recently (i.e., 20072008 academic year), the campus participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement
(NSSE). The survey, which was prompted by The Pew Charitable
Trusts, was designed to query undergraduates directly about their


educational experiences and to determine the degree of engagement in their education. The premise of NSSE is that student
persistence and subsequent success in college is directly related
to the level of challenge and time on task (NSSE, 2009). It also
contends that the educational research literature shows that the
degree to which students are engaged in their studies impacts
directly on the quality of student learning and their overall educational experience. As a result, NSSE contends that student
engagement can serve as a proxy for educational quality (NSSE,
2009). If true, the UMW survey data show that our educational
quality is very high. Unfortunately, UMW did not participate in
the survey prior to the adoption of Experience One.
The following graphs (Figs. 3, 4, and 5) are NSSE comparisons of the arithmetic average of student scores (weighted
by gender, enrollment status, and institutional size) in three
important benchmarks of student engagement. For more information about the survey and statistical analyses of the data, readers are invited to visit the NSSE Web site (
UM Western students scored higher than other institutions in our
Carnegie classification and higher than the grouped participating institutions in all three benchmarks, with moderate to high
significance in each category.
The level of academic challenge (see Fig. 3) at UMW is
slightly above both our Carnegie class and the average for all
institutions that participated in the 2008 survey. This benchmark
evaluates students perceptions of how hard they are working and,

Figure 3. The University of Montana Westerns performance in the

2008 NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) survey in the
level of academic challenge benchmark. In addition to the kinds and
amount of class preparation and assignments, number and length of
written reports, it queries the coursework emphasis on analysis, synthesis, and application of theories and concepts to practical problems,
and making value judgments.


Thomas and Roberts

Figure 4. The University of Montana Westerns performance in the

2008 NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) survey in the
student-faculty interaction benchmark. Items include prompt feedback
about their academic progress, working on research projects with faculty, discussing class material outside of class time, discussing career
plans, and participating on committees.

Figure 5. The University of Montana Westerns performance in the

2008 NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) survey in the
active and collaborative learning benchmark. Items include how students see themselves in classes in terms of recalling asking questions,
making class presentations, working with other students in or out of
class, tutoring others, participating in community-based projects, and
discussing ideas with others outside class.

probably more importantly, the conceptual level at which they

are operating. These results are very encouraging because some
educators have questioned our ability to maintain a high level of
academic challenge in our more applied learning environment.
The student-faculty interaction benchmark (see Fig. 4) at
UMW is clearly higher than the average of our Carnegie class
and the average for all institutions that participated in the 2008
survey. This is important because it tests whether students perceive that they are learning first-hand from faculty mentors, both
in and out of class, and it is possibly the most important benchmark in terms of expected outcomes related to the transition to
Experience One for the campus as a whole.
UMW scored highest, relative to our Carnegie class and the
total 2008 institutional average, in active and collaborative learning (see Fig. 5). For the geosciences, this rating is especially
significant because our students spend a large proportion of their
time working in collaborative teams with professors and other
students, interacting in the field and on presentations. Many of
our projects are community-based and demand significant effort
outside class time. It is gratifying to see that UMW students, in
general, are aware of this aspect of their education.
Experience One has also greatly contributed to the fiscal
health of the campus in a number of measurable ways. Since
no other public university uses Experience One, it has provided
the UMW campus with a crucial marketing niche to recruit new
students, and since the adoption of Experience One, the UMW
campus has experienced record enrollments. In 2000, prior to
the adoption of Experience One, campus full-time equivalency
(FTE) was 940; it is now at 1205 FTE (UMW Enrollment and
Institutional Research, 2009). Although these numbers might
seem small, campus FTE has never been over 1200, and the
head-countbased funding model used in Montana makes these
numbers significant in terms of resources available to the campus
instructional budget.
It is difficult to draw a direct correlation between Experience One and new-student enrollment growth because the admissions office does not conduct entrance interviews. However, the
data show very clearly that Experience One did not hurt campus
enrollment, as was feared by some members of the Dillon community prior to adoption of the system. More importantly, firstyear student persistence rates rose from 58% in 2004 (preExperience One) to 73% in 2008 (UMW Registrar, 2009, personal
commun.). These data illustrate the power of the immersionlearning scheduling method to improve student persistence.
Assessments of the impacts of Experience One at the disciplinary level have not been as thorough and tend to be more
anecdotal, but the data are no less compelling (e.g., Thomas and
Roberts, 2008). Across campus, faculty report anecdotal evidence
that students are doing better on whatever types of assessments
they are utilizing.
In the geosciences, the only class for which we have not
made significant changes in student-performance assessment
vehicles is the introductory geology course. This class was taught
annually by co-author, Dr. Robert C. Thomas from 1995 to 2008.

Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning
From 1995 to 2008, no changes were made in the assessment
tools used in this class. The assessment consisted of ten laboratory exercises, three short-answer exams, and an independent,
field-based rock project (Thomas, 2001). It is therefore the only
class for which we can compare student success in terms of final
grades. The ten-year average final grade (calculated as the percentage of the total points earned) in this course during the period
of time between 1995 and 2005 (preExperience One) was 74%.
From 2005 to 2008 (during Experience One), the average final
grade increased to 82%. The only variable that changed was the
scheduling model. Between 1995 and 2005, the students went
from juggling four to five classes at the same time to immersing themselves in just one class at a time. As a result, these data
provide evidence that Experience One improves academic performance.
Class attendance has also dramatically improved. Prior to the
adoption of Experience One, faculty reported up to 40% of the
students not attending class on a regular basis. After Experience
One, an average day has more than 90% attendance, and most
students never miss a class. When queried informally, students
list their reasons for improved attendance as (1) fear of missing
important information or activities, (2) an appreciation of their
responsibility toward other students and the professor (especially
when working on projects), (3) an understanding that what they
are learning applies to the real world, and (4) a reduced level of
apathy (even excitement) that comes with engagement in project
work. Students also quickly understand that missing one day of
Experience One scheduling can be equivalent to missing approximately a whole week in the semester system.
The environment for teaching and learning is dramatically
different when we can assume that students will not miss class.
Continuity or flow, already better because of extended hours and
the absence of interruption by other classes, is probably the biggest improvement. Continuity at least partially offsets the sacrifice of content lecture time and exams in favor of field activities.
We do not have to spend a lot of time repeating information and
directions. Fjortoft (2005) showed that one of the most important
variables motivating students to attend class was the chance that
faculty might apply information to solving real problems. Since
Experience One centers on solving real problems, it is likely that
this is a very important factor in the near-perfect attendance we
experience in geology classes at UMW.
Since students in many of the geoscience courses are now
assessed on the quality of project work, it is difficult to quantitatively compare students understanding of content in our classes
versus the lecture-based approach. Reduced lecture time means
students must take increased responsibility for learning terminology and concepts, or they simply have less exposure to those
aspects of lecture. In trade, they gain far more direct experience
with concepts, and they most likely gain a better understanding of
the scientific process through research in the geosciences (Huntoon et al., 2001; Elkins and Elkins, 2007). In addition, students
learn field and laboratory skills that can be very difficult to incorporate into traditionally scheduled classes. The practical benefits


for our graduates are resumes filled with experiences and skills,
and usually one or more professional presentations or papers.
Another revolution is occurring in the area of procrastinationthere simply is not any time for it. We have received positive feedback on this from internship supervisors and employers,
cooperating agencies, and even parents. Evidence of this comes
from the fact that the students actually accomplish so much work
of high quality in the three and a half weeks. As an example, a
representative from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks noted
the professional quality of a restoration assessment report on the
upper Big Hole River that was produced by students in an Environmental Field Studies class in the fall of 2008 (Thomas and
Roberts, 2008). He pointed out that his agency did not have the
resources to do the assessment work, so the UMW students were
providing an essential service that would otherwise not have been
completed. Several students involved in the class have gone on to
do internships with the agencies involved in the upper Big Hole
River project, and all of the students have utilized their copies of
the 150-page assessment report as a keystone document in their
portfolios for employment.
Attempting a Hybrid
Initially, science faculty imagined we could overcome the
scheduling impediment to immersion learning without involving
the entire campus. The administration approved offering some
courses with one hour of lecture and four hours of laboratory
over two days each week, but that created enormous scheduling conflicts with other classes. We also tried blocking all four
hours of single classes into one day per week, where each faculty member chose a different day and paid careful attention to
within-department conflicts. This sometimes worked for avoiding conflicts among upper-division classes, but it was impossible
with lower-division classes. There was also an unavoidable loss
of students and professors attention during the days between
classes. Of course, we tried working with professors across campus to make allowances for our students absences from their
classes, and, in some cases, we even took turns with extended
time blocks. This occasionally worked, but it was ad hoc and
lacked any institutional strength and continuity. As more environmental sciences faculty switched to field-based courses, more
scheduling conflicts arose with nonscience classes and within
the program as well. In addition, as long as professors were distracted by obligations to other classes, the idea that we might be
accomplishing immersion learning was an illusion.
We do not recommend any of the partial approaches that we
tried. For those considering a hybrid, be aware that unsuccessful
attempts at rescheduling may erode student and administrative
confidence in the entire process. We suspect that a large university might be able to create an immersion college within the university, or some students in some programs might complete their
senior year this way. However, transfer students and students who


Thomas and Roberts

have changed their majors are often making up missed classes all
the way to graduation and do not have years when they are only
taking classes in their majors. Students with double majors have
similar issues.

their fourth block to obtain overtime pay express being physically and mentally exhausted.

Finally Getting Started

Availability and affordability of transportation is a continuing problem, although moderate student laboratory fees can usually accommodate vehicle rental fees, mainly because the field
locations are usually within a 50 mi (80 km) radius of campus.
The need for vans to transport students to field sites is extreme,
and our campus fleet is small, but growing. Classes that need two
vans require two state-certified van drivers. We have not found a
satisfactory solution for the costs of longer trips. So far, we have
paid for them with one-time administrative money, departmental
resources, increased student fees, one-time Student Senate funds,
and even fundraisers like raffles, especially for international trips.

The most difficult issue, by far, was the processes by which

the campus decided to adopt Experience One. Faculty support
was strong from the start, something that the FIPSE grant administrator and administrators from other campuses found hard to
believe. There was a great deal of trust between UMW faculty,
and most of us certainly recognized the need for change. Experiential teaching and learning already had a strong foothold on the
campus, extending across most disciplines. For example, faculty
in the Education Department had been taking students off campus for extended field experiences and student teaching for many
years, so they immediately saw the benefits of the large blocks
of time provided by Experience One. In addition, the conceptual framework of the education program is social constructivism
with a heavy emphasis on experiential learning (UMW Education Department Homepage, 2009).
The resistance from staff, the UMW Foundation, alumni
groups, and community members was much more intense and
complex. Many people expressed concern that block scheduling
would increase the cost of education, since only a few private
universities had adopted it (it didnt). A member of the local
press asserted that the student population at Colorado College
consisted of elite students, and therefore the system would not
work for UMW students, many of whom are first-generation
college students. There was community concern that the change
would result in decreased enrollments, which would jeopardize
the campus and hurt business in town.
Without the FIPSE-funded pilot project, the opposition
would have certainly prevailed. The grant gave us an opportunity
to carefully assess an experimental program without much risk or
major additional cost to the campus. The pilot demonstrated an
irresistible combination of better learning and improved student
retention, which gave our administrators the courage and ammunition they needed to facilitate the change.
Faculty Burnout
Experience One is not only an intense experience for the students, but it is for the faculty as well. Faculty who fully engage
in experiential, immersion teaching find it to be very much more
intense than the traditional semester system, requiring them to
ignore illness, work around poor weather conditions, and be vigilant about the myriad of problems that can arise when students
are working on projects. A few faculty see the fourth block each
semester as a means by which to make extra money. This is a
ticket to burnout, since the professional development block is
a needed opportunity for professional development and time to
prepare for upcoming classes. Faculty who choose to teach in


Safety and Physical Disabilities

Safety is always a concern in the field. We do not allow students to work alone in the field, and we go over emergency procedures and make sure that first-aid kits are available close to where
fieldwork in being conducted. Fortunately, the UMW campus has
a dry policy that extends to field trips (with the ability to request
a waiver for special circumstances), which helps the professor to
ban alcohol from the field-based courses.
Students with physical disabilities may simply not be able to
do some of the more physically demanding courses (e.g., structural geology). We make accommodations for these students to
either participate in ways that are less demanding physically, or we
provide another option, like a complementary independent study.
This has the potential to be abused by students who are looking for
ways to get out of class (especially when it is cold outside), but up
to this point, we have not experienced any such abuse.
Field Technology and Equipment
When we made the change to Experience One, we suddenly
needed more surveying equipment, global positioning system
(GPS) and GIS technology, all sorts of field collection and analysis materials, and students who were trained in their use. Some of
this training we provide on site. We require a map, compass, and
GPS class and are revising our degree to add an introductory
GIS seminar. In addition, field classes require an ever-increasing
inventory of everything from hip boots and shovels to flow meters
and orange vests. It could have been overwhelming, but we are
gradually acquiring what we need for classes as they come up in
rotation for campus funds, and we revise classes as equipment
becomes available.
Rapid Access to Literature and Analyses
It was good timing and good luck that our change occurred
simultaneously with the incredible advances in access to profes-

Experience One: Teaching the geoscience curriculum in the field using experiential immersion learning
sional literature online, but it is still daunting. Although students
usually have some exposure to searching out literature on their
own, we often provide much of it. A luxurious and thorough literature search is just not possible during the field classes. All students
take a geology seminar to reinforce their literature research skills.
Students have to rapidly analyze their data; produce tables,
maps, cross sections, charts, and graphs; acquire the right illustrative photographs; organize all this clearly and concisely; and
construct conclusions that are based on the data. In addition, if
chemical or other analyses are required, we must be able to do
them at UMW or contract with others to deliver results rapidly
without huge extra charges. This is the best training imaginable
for students professional lives after UMW, but it can become
hectic for the professor. It is a tribute to the flexibility of students
working in a project-based format that, after a few years of this
experience, they become proficient and some seem to actually
look forward to the challenge of scrounging resources to get the
job done. We hear from employers and graduate schools that this
is one of the greatest assets of our students.
Presentation of Project Results
In the (usually) short time left after analysis of their data,
students must produce written and oral reports for presentation.
Often, these reports are delivered to an audience that includes
members of federal, state, or county agencies or interested private parties who have supported the work and who expect a professional job because a professor supervised it. Effective PowerPoint presentations constructed and delivered in very limited
time by student groups require a major effort. Like everything
else, motivated students learn scientific and technical presentation skills experientially, but it is a bigger time commitment for
both the professors and the students than we initially realized
and also a source of great satisfaction. To help out, the geology
seminar class was designed to have the students give a minimum
of three professional (20 minute) PowerPoint presentations, so
some of them come into project-based classes with advanced presentation skills, reducing the workload on the faculty.
Students Adjustment to Experiential Immersion Learning
Most students need some time to adjust to this new way of
learning. They may resist taking more responsibility and need
a lot of assistance scheduling their time and effort. Group interactions can be messy, and it does not help that most professors have had no real training managing student group projects.
Many undergraduate students are initially quite uneasy when
they realize the professor does not already know the results of
the research or (maybe worse) that the students are going to have
to investigate and choose research methods themselves. However, students are truly motivated by doing real field research,
and most illustrate growing metacognitive skills throughout the
process. We can see incremental mastery of new equipment and
procedures improves their confidence to go on to the next level.


Having a data set that they gathered themselves for a reason

they helped define motivates them to analyze it. They express
justifiable pride in the various presentations of their work. Students eventually come to expect this opportunity from us and
complain if they do not get it.
We thank all of our colleagues at UMW for helping to make
Experience One a reality. We also thank Dave Mogk and two
anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions that greatly
improved this manuscript.
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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

International geosciences field research with undergraduate

students: Three models for experiential learning projects
investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Jeffrey S. Marshall
Geological Sciences Department, Cal Poly Pomona University, Pomona, California 91768, USA
Thomas W. Gardner
Department of Geosciences, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas 78212, USA
Marino Protti
Observatorio Volcanolgico y Sismolgico de Costa Rica (OVSICORI-UNA), Universidad Nacional, Heredia, Costa Rica
Jonathan A. Nourse
Geological Sciences Department, Cal Poly Pomona University, Pomona, California 91768, USA

International field experiences offer exceptional opportunities for effective student
learning in the geosciences. Over the 10 yr period between 1998 and 2008, more than 40
undergraduate students from 14 institutions participated in field research investigating
active tectonics on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Three different project models
were used: (1) a month-long summer research project, (2) a series of 1 to 2 wk independent field study projects, and (3) a week-long field research module. These projects
shared a common research theme (active tectonics), field area (Nicoya Peninsula), and
pedagogy (experiential learning), thus allowing for easy comparison of teaching methods, logistics, and learning outcomes. Each model has unique pedagogical benefits and
challenges, and is therefore better suited for a different group size, student to faculty
ratio, project duration, and budget. Collectively, these student research projects generated significant publishable data relevant to ongoing investigations of forearc tectonics
and earthquake hazards along the Costa Rican Pacific margin. Individual student projects were carefully designed to provide a quality field learning experience, while adding
a new piece to the larger research puzzle. Indicators of project success include levels of
student engagement; gains in technical and cognitive field skills; and productivity of student-authored publications, reports, and presentations. Students commonly described
these projects as instrumental in shaping their professional identity as geoscientists.
Blending international field research with experiential learning pedagogy creates a
powerful synergy that captures student imagination and motivates learning. By placing
students beyond the comfort of their home learning environment, international field
Marshall, J.S., Gardner, T.W., Protti, M., and Nourse, J.A., 2009, International geosciences field research with undergraduate students: Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 7798, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(08). For permission to
copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Marshall et al.
projects pique student curiosity, sharpen awareness and comprehension, and amplify
the desire to learn. Experiential learning pedagogy encourages students to define their
own research agenda and solve problems through critical thinking, inquiry, and reflection. The potent combination of international fieldwork and experiential learning helps
students to develop the self-confidence and reasoning skills needed to solve multifaceted
real-world problems, and provides exceptional training for graduate school and professional careers in the geosciences.

In the natural sciences, the most effective student learning
takes place during hands-on field experiences (Lonergan and
Andresen, 1988; Manduca and Mogk, 2006). While classroom
and laboratory instruction are important, students achieve greater
comprehension and self-confidence while engaged in experiential field studies aimed at solving real-world problems (e.g.,
Kern and Carpenter, 1986; Elkins and Elkins, 2007). Fieldwork
is considered an essential component of student learning in most
undergraduate geosciences programs (Manduca and Carpenter,
2006; Drummond and Markin, 2008). As a degree requirement,
geology majors are generally expected to complete a field methods course and some form of extended field camp or research
program. Geology alumni often describe these field experiences
as instrumental in preparing them for success in their careers as
professional geoscientists (e.g., Kirchner, 1994; Manduca, 1996).
The impact of natural sciences field learning is further
enhanced when students are exposed to new environments that
expand their perspective on the natural world, and broaden their
understanding of global connections. Educational research has
demonstrated that learning is most effective when students are
challenged by uncertainty, whereby moderate levels of anxiety
increase the motivation to learn (Citron and Kline, 2001). In
particular, international study programs that are guided by experiential learning pedagogy (cf. Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984) have
been shown to significantly increase student cognition by placing
participants beyond the comfort and predictability of their home
learning environment (Lutterman-Aguilar and Gingerich, 2002;
Montrose, 2002). With careful planning and design, study abroad
field experiences can provide exceptional opportunities for
enhanced student learning by introducing new disciplinary perspectives and challenging students to think outside the box (e.g.,
McLaughlin and Johnson, 2006; Ham and Flood, this volume).
International field projects that are rooted in research methodology and driven by student inquiry can be especially rewarding
for participating students and faculty (Bolen and Martin, 2005;
Mankiewicz, 2005).
In this paper, we evaluate three different project models for
international experiential field research with geosciences undergraduate students in Costa Rica, Central America (Figs. 1 and 2).
Each one of these project models was employed in the same field
area and had a common research theme and pedagogy, thereby
allowing easy comparison of teaching methods, learning outcomes, and logistical advantages. We begin by exploring Costa

Rica as a premiere destination for international geosciences field

projects. We then describe the tectonic and geologic significance
of the project study area on Costa Ricas Nicoya Peninsula. We
continue by presenting a detailed overview of each of the three
project models. Finally, we compare the project goals, teaching
methods, logistics, costs, and learning outcomes of each model.
Natural Sciences Field Study in Costa Rica
In recent decades, Costa Rica has gained a global reputation as a premiere destination for natural sciences field trips and
study programs. This politically stable nation has developed a
thriving ecotourism industry (e.g., Laarman and Perdue, 1989;
Fennell and Eagles, 1990; Lumsdon and Swift, 1998; Weaver,
1999) and is recognized internationally as a center for scientific
field research (e.g., Clark, 1985; Stone, 1988; Silver and Dixon,
2001; Len and Hartshorn, 2003; Bundschuch and Alvarado,
2007; Silver et al., 2007). Many U.S. universities now offer
study abroad programs and field courses in Costa Rica focused
on the natural and environmental sciences (e.g., McLaughlin,
2005; Parrott, 2005; Vadino, 2005). The world-renowned Costa
Rican National Park and Nature Reserve system (Boza, 1993)
currently encompasses over 25% of the countrys territory, protecting a spectacular array of neotropical landscapes, habitats,
and ecosystems. The country is also known for world-class
river rafting, spelunking, rain-forest trekking, canopy tours,
and exotic wildlife. Costa Rica has a well-developed transportation infrastructure and offers a full range of lodging facilities that cater to a wide variety of travel needs. Access is easy
from many countries worldwide, and airline fares are generally
affordable from major airports.
In particular, Costa Rica provides an especially attractive
setting for international study trips and research experiences
focused on geology and the environment (Marshall, 2005). In
recent years, many geology departments and research consortia have organized successful Costa Rica field trips, courses,
and research projects for undergraduate students (e.g., Gardner, 1999; Mango, 2003; Marshall et al., 2004b, 2005a; Flood
and Ham, 2005; Marshall, 2005; Over et al., 2005). Within a
relatively compact land area (51,100 km2), Costa Rica features
a diverse assemblage of geologic terrains, microclimates, and
ecosystems that offer rich educational field opportunities for
visiting students. Located along the Middle America convergent
margin (Fig. 1), Costa Rica spans a spectrum of morphotectonic
provinces (Fig. 2), extending from the rugged coastlines of the

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica























Figure 1. Digital elevation model (DEM) showing the tectonic setting of Costa Rica, Central America. Costa Rica is part of the Central American volcanic arc formed by northeastward subduction of
the Cocos plate (COC) beneath the Caribbean plate (CAR) at the Middle America Trench (MAT). The
Cocos plate encompasses seafloor formed along both the East Pacific Rise (EPR) and Cocos-Nazca
Spreading Center (CNS). Hotspot volcanism at the Galapagos Islands (GHS) generates a rough domain
of thickened CNS seafloor that includes the Cocos Ridge (CR1) on the Cocos plate, and the Carnegie
Ridge (CR2) on the Nazca plate (NAZ). Sharp contrasts between East Pacific Rise and CNS seafloor on
the subducting Cocos plate result in variations in upper-plate morphotectonics, seismicity, and volcanism along the Costa Rican Pacific margin. Arrow with number indicates the motion direction and rate
of the Cocos plate relative to the Caribbean plate (DeMets et al., 1990). Box outlines the area shown in
Figure 2. Additional tectonic features: PACPacific plate, NOAMNorth American plate, SOAM
South American plate, PANPanama microplate, PFZPanama fracture zone. (DEM is courtesy of the
Institut fr Meereswissenschatten [IFM-GEOMAR], Universitt Kiel, Germany.)





















Figure 2. Digital elevation model (DEM) of Costa Rica showing the tectonic setting of the Nicoya Peninsula (see Fig. 1 for
location). This image reveals the relationship between the morphology of the subducting Cocos plate (COCOS) and the morphotectonic structure of the overriding Caribbean plate (CARIB)
and Panama microplate (PAN). Seafloor domains of the Cocos
plate (yellow letters): EPRsmooth crust derived at East Pacific
Rise, CNS-1smooth crust derived at Cocos-Nazca spreading
center, CNS-2rough hotspot-thickened crust generated at the
Galapagos hotspot. Plate boundaries (red letters): MATMiddle America Trench, CCRDBCentral Costa Rica deformed
belt. Offshore bathymetric features (orange letters): CRCocos
Ridge, QPQuepos Plateau, FSCFisher Seamount Chain. Onshore topographic features (blue letters): NPNicoya Peninsula,
OPOsa Peninsula, GVCGuanacaste Volcanic Cordillera,
CVCCentral Volcanic Cordillera, TrCTilarn Cordillera (extinct), AgCAguacate Cordillera (extinct), TmCTalamanca
Cordillera (extinct), FCFila Costea thrust belt. (DEM courtesy of C. Ranero, Institut de Cincies del MarConsejo Superior
de Investigaciones Cientficas [ICM-CSIC], Barcelona, Spain.
Image derived from digital topographic data from the Shuttle
Radar Topography Mission [NASA-SRTM] linked to R.V. Sonne
multi-beam bathymetric data from the Institut fr Meereswissenschaften [IFM-GEOMAR], Universitt Kiel, Germany.)


Marshall et al.

Pacific forearc, across the mountainous cordilleras of the volcanic front, to the broad lowlands of the Caribbean backarc (Marshall, 2007). Abundant outcrops exhibit a wide range of rock
types and textbook structures. Earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions are frequent, and their impact on Costa Ricas
landscape and human history are readily apparent. In addition
to geology and natural hazards, students can also examine
environmental problems related to population growth, deforestation, water resources, and tourism. Costa Ricas two major
universities, Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) and Universidad
Nacional (UNA), have active geosciences research and teaching
programs, with talented faculty and modern facilities. Diverse
government agencies and nongovernmental organizations also
conduct geologic and environmental studies (e.g., Ministerio de
Ambiente, Energa y Telcomunicaciones [MINAET], Instituto
Geogrfico Nacional [IGN], Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad [ICE], Refinadora Costarricense de Petrleo [RECOPE],
Fundacin Neotrpica [FN], Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad [INBio], Centro Cientfico Tropical [CCT], and Organization for Tropical Studies [OTS]). Together, these diverse
academic, government, and nonprofit entities offer many
opportunities for interaction and collaboration among visiting
undergraduate students and Costa Rican scientists.
Undergraduate Geosciences Research on Costa Ricas
Nicoya Peninsula
Over the 10 yr period between 1998 and 2008, more than 40
undergraduate students from 14 colleges and universities participated in a sequence of related field research projects investigating active tectonics on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
(Fig. 3). These projects were organized around three different
models (Tables 13) encompassing a range of field education
strategies. These were (1) a month-long summer research project conducted by 12 students and five faculty mentors (Keck
Geology Consortium, 1998), (2) a series of 1 to 2 wk independent field study projects conducted by one to three students,
and one or two faculty mentors (Cal Poly Pomona University
and Trinity University, 20032008), and (3) a week-long field
research module with 14 students and two faculty mentors (Cal
Poly Pomona University, 2008). During each of these projects,
the participating students engaged in hands-on field investigations utilizing techniques from multiple geoscience disciplines,
including geomorphology, stratigraphy, structural geology,
geochemistry, and geophysics. Each students fieldwork served
as the basis for a research thesis or for field study credits at his
or her home institution. Individual student projects were carefully designed to provide a quality field learning experience
while adding a new piece to a larger research puzzle on the
active tectonics of the Costa Rican Pacific margin. Collectively,
these projects generated significant new data that support ongoing investigations of forearc deformation and subduction cycle
earthquakes on the Nicoya Peninsula (e.g., Marshall, 2008;
Marshall et al., 2008a, 2008b, 2008c).

Geologic Setting of the Nicoya Peninsula

Costa Rica is part of the Central American volcanic arc,
which is formed by subduction of the Cocos plate beneath the
Caribbean plate at the Middle America Trench (Fig. 1). Plate
convergence offshore occurs at a rapid rate of 89 cm/yr (DeMets
et al., 1990). The subducting Cocos plate consists of seafloor
produced along both the East Pacific Rise and the Cocos-Nazca
spreading center (Hey, 1977; Barckhausen et al., 2001). Hotspot
volcanism at the Galapagos Islands generates a rough domain of
thickened seafloor that includes the Cocos Ridge and adjacent
seamounts. Two major segment boundaries on the subducting
Cocos plate intersect the Middle America Trench offshore of the
Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica (Fig. 2). The first boundary is a
triple-junction trace that divides crust derived at the East Pacific
Rise (EPR crust) from that formed along the Cocos-Nazca
spreading center (CNS-1 and CNS-2 crust). The second boundary is an abrupt morphologic break between smooth mid-oceanridgederived seafloor to the northwest (EPR and CNS-1 crust),
and rough hotspot-thickened seafloor to the southeast (CNS-2
crust). Contrasts in subducting plate morphology, thickness, and
thermal structure across these boundaries produce along-strike
variations in seismicity, volcanism, and upper-plate morphotectonics (e.g., Gardner et al., 1992, 2001; Protti et al., 1995; Fisher
et al., 1998, 2004; Marshall et al., 2000, 2001, 2003a; Ranero
and von Huene, 2000; von Huene et al., 2000; Fisher et al., 2003;
Norabuena et al., 2004; Sak et al., 2004; DeShon et al., 2006;
Sitchler et al., 2007; Morell et al., 2008).
The Nicoya Peninsula spans an emergent segment of the
northern Costa Rican forearc (Fig. 2), exposing Cretaceous seafloor basement (Nicoya Complex) overlain by an upward-shallowing sequence of Late CretaceousQuaternary marine sediments (Dengo, 1962; Lundberg, 1982; Baumgartner et al., 1984).
Because of its proximity to the subduction trench (6070 km), the
Nicoya Peninsula is an ideal setting for the study of megathrust
earthquakes and forearc deformation (Marshall, 2008). The peninsulas landmass sits directly above the seismogenic zone, within a
recognized high-potential seismic gap (Protti et al., 2001). The last
major earthquake centered beneath the Nicoya Peninsula occurred
in 1950, with a magnitude of Mw 7.7. This event produced widespread damage and generated abrupt coseismic uplift, followed by
gradual interseismic subsidence along the peninsulas coastlines
(Marshall and Anderson, 1995; Marshall, 2008). The net pattern
of late Quaternary deformation is recorded by emergent marine
terraces along the peninsulas coast and by incised alluvial-fill terraces within interior valleys (Hare and Gardner, 1985; Marshall
and Anderson, 1995; Gardner et al., 2001; Marshall et al., 2001,
2008a, 2008b, 2008c). The primary research goal of the undergraduate field projects described in this paper was to investigate
the geomorphic and geologic evidence for tectonic deformation,
and to constrain the rates and patterns of active uplift along the
Nicoya Peninsula. These studies reveal variations in the coastal
uplift pattern that coincide with documented differences in the offshore structure and morphology of the subducting Cocos plate.

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica






A1-5 B1 B3



C2-3 B5 B8



Punta Guiones







9 cm/yr

Figure 3. (A) Digital elevation model (DEM) of the Nicoya Peninsula (NASA-SRTM) showing the location of field study sites. Letters and numbers refer to the projects listed in Table 3. (B) Oblique-view DEM of northern Costa Rica (courtesy of C.J. Petersen, German Marine Sciences
Institute, IFM-GEOMAR) showing the Nicoya Peninsula and segmented structure of the subducting Cocos plate offshore. CCRDBCentral
Costa Rica Deformed Belt. (See Figs. 1 and 2 for location and explanation of symbols.)


Marshall et al.


America, and the results from six of the student projects were
published as part of a peer-reviewed research article in the journal Geology (Gardner et al., 2001).
The Keck Summer Research Project consisted of five
basic phases: (1) preproject preparation, (2) summer fieldwork,
(3) independent research at home institutions, (4) abstract writing and presentations for the Keck Research Symposium, and
(5) professional conference presentations and publication of a
journal article. From the outset, the project was designed with the
ultimate goal of generating publishable research results (Gardner,
1999). Students were selected for the project through a competitive application process. During the spring prior to the field season, the project director distributed background reading on the
geology of the study area, and provided logistical information to
prepare students for fieldwork in Costa Rica.
In Costa Rica, the project began with several days of field
trips to key localities designed to introduce the students to the
field area and the research questions. Following this introduction,
the students were asked to write project proposals outlining their
research plan. These proposals were reviewed by project faculty
and revised by the students following one-on-one discussion.
Together, the group developed a set of major hypotheses to be
tested through field research. The first hypothesis was that coastal
uplift and faulting within the field area was controlled by seamount
subduction beneath the Nicoya Peninsulas southern tip. The second hypothesis was that the local stream networks were responding to the same deformation mechanism. The third hypothesis was
that oceanic basement rocks in the field area shared a similar tectonic origin with those beneath mainland Costa Rica.
To address these questions, the students and faculty spent
the next 3 wk engaged in fieldwork (Figs. 4A4F), utilizing techniques of geomorphology, stratigraphy, structural geology, geochemistry, paleomagnetism, and geodesy (Gardner et al., 1999a).
Five students investigated uplifted Quaternary marine terraces by
mapping and surveying terrace deposits and collecting samples
for radiometric dating (Figs. 4D4F; project A1; Table 3). These
five students each worked in different, but contiguous field areas
along the coastline. A sixth student examined stream channel
morphology within all five of these areas, characterizing patterns

1. Keck Summer Research Project (1998)

During the summer of 1998, the Keck Geology Consortium
(Manduca, 1997; de Wet et al., this volume) sponsored a monthlong undergraduate research project on the southern Nicoya Peninsula (Gardner et al., 1999a). This project, referred to hereafter
as the Keck Summer Research Project, involved 12 undergraduate students and five project faculty, including authors Gardner,
Marshall, and Protti (Table 1). In addition, four faculty advisors
from participating institutions visited the field area during the
project. In all, the project participants represented a total of 11
different universities and colleges from the United States and
Costa Rica. The Keck Geology Consortium provided full project
funding, participant stipends, and logistical support (Table 2).
The primary research focus of the 1998 Keck Summer
Research Project was the tectonic impact of subducting seamounts on coastal geomorphology and structure at Cabo Blanco
on the Nicoya Peninsulas southern tip (Fig. 3). A secondary
focus involved the tectonic origin of the peninsulas oceanic
basement crust. Following the established model for Keck Geology Consortium advanced-level projects (Manduca, 1999), each
student engaged in an independent investigation that contributed
toward the overall research goals of the group project (projects
A1A5; Fig. 3; Table 3). Participating students made a year-long
commitment to their projects, developing and completing their
original research in consultation with the project faculty and a
faculty sponsor from their home institution. In most cases, the
students individual projects formed the basis for a senior thesis
that they completed during the academic year following summer
fieldwork. A mid-year workshop at Trinity University provided
a venue for discussion, data compilation, and planning for project completion (Gardner et al., 1999b). The students presented
their final research results at the 1999 Keck Geology Consortium
Undergraduate Research Symposium, and submitted four-page
extended abstracts for publication in the symposium proceedings
(projects A1A5; Table 3). In addition, several students presented
their research at regional meetings of the Geological Society of


Student to
faculty ratio
Follow-up work
A. Keck Summer Research Project (1998)
1 mo
1 yr
B. Independent Field Study Projects (20032008)



12 wk

4 mo1 yr

C. Field Research Module (2008)

1 wk
1 mo
*Amherst College, Carleton College, Colorado College, Franklin and Marshall College, Pomona College, Trinity University, Washington and Lee
University, Whitman College, Mississippi State University, Pennsylvania State University, and Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica.

Cal Poly Pomona University, Trinity University, Universidad de Costa Rica, and Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica.

Cal Poly Pomona University and California State University Northridge.

C. Field Research Module (2008)

SUV 44:
4 rental
4 per room
*Expenses reported here are approximate and are not corrected for inflation, changes in travel costs, or differences in exchange rate over the 10 yr project period from 1998 to 2008.

Total project cost includes airfare, ground transportation, lodging, meals, and field supplies for all participants (students, faculty, teaching assistants). These costs do not include
participant stipends, contract services (e.g., radiometric dating), purchase of major field equipment, or donated equipment, vehicles, and services from host-country institutions.

Total cost per person equals the total project cost for all participants (students, faculty, teaching assistants) divided by the total number of participants.
Total cost per student equals the total project cost for all participants (students, faculty, teaching assistants) divided by the total number of students.
**Total daily cost per student equals the total project cost per student divided by the project duration in days.

B. Independent Field Study Projects (20032008)
SUV 44:
12 rental 2 per room
& grocery

A. Keck Summer Research Project (1998)
SUV 44:
2 per room
4 rental
2 donated

Air travel

Proje ct logistics



Project costs*
Total cost
Total cost
Total daily
lodging and

per student** meals per

% paid by

% paid by



Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica


of bedrock incision and knickpoint retreat (Fig. 4C; project A2;

Table 3). Two students studied structural deformation by collecting kinematic data from faults and folds within Tertiary marine
sedimentary rocks (Fig. 4A; project A3; Table 3). Two students
examined uplift patterns through geodetic leveling and dislocation modeling (project A4; Table 3). Finally, two students examined the origin of oceanic basement rocks through paleomagnetic
and petrologic/geochemical studies (project A5; Table 3).
The logistics of daily fieldwork (Figs. 4A4F) required careful planning and considerable forward thinking by the project
director and faculty. The primary field area encompassed two
40 km stretches of coastline that are nearly orthogonal to one
another (Figs. 2 and 3). The area is rural with unpaved roads and
rugged terrain. Six four-wheel-drive vehicles were available for
regular use. Each student was required to work with a field partner, and each faculty member was in charge of a group of several
students. Field partners were rotated on a daily basis to ensure
that each student had the chance to visit the other students study
areas while also having ample time to work in their own area.
Likewise, the faculty also took turns working in different areas in
order to spend field time with each student. Every evening following dinner, the group met to discuss that days results and to plan
field logistics for the next day. On some evenings, the faculty gave
presentations on regional geology, or on field research techniques.
During the length of the Keck Summer Research Project,
the students and faculty stayed at a rural ecotour lodge located
within the field area near Cabo Blanco (Fig. 3). The project
director reserved the entire facility, allowing for complete freedom of movement and use of public areas. The owner and staff
attended to participant needs and prepared all meals, including
sack lunches for the field. This arrangement provided a safe,
secure, and comfortable home base for students and faculty. This
was critical for engendering group camaraderie and maintaining
morale during this month-long project. The covered outdoor dining area served as an excellent space for office work, group meetings, and presentations (Fig. 4B).
An important aspect of this experiential learning project was
to allow students to formulate their own hypotheses, research
agenda, and data collection strategy. It was therefore critical for
the faculty to anticipate the principal methods and equipment
necessary to tackle the research problems. The equipment had
to be brought from the United States, purchased in Costa Rica,
or borrowed from the host-country institution (Observatorio Volcanolgico y Sismolgico de Costa Rica [OVSICORI-UNA]).
Once at the rural field site, it was extremely challenging to acquire
additional equipment. This required careful advance planning
and the collaborative support of the host-country institution in
moving equipment through customs, transporting it to the field
site, and purchasing or lending additional required items.
2. Independent Field Study Projects (20032008)
Over the 5 yr between 2003 and 2008, 12 undergraduate students from Cal Poly Pomona University, Trinity University, and




















See above




See above

q, r, s, t, u, aa, bb, cc, gg
v, w, y, z, aa, bb, cc, gg
x, gg
y, z, aa, bb, cc, gg
y, z, aa, bb, cc, gg
aa, bb, cc, dd, gg

See above

f, k
j, l, p

a, b, c, e, g, m, n, o, ee
h, ee
d, i


*See Figure 3 for study site locations.

Numbers in brackets (e.g., [1]) indicate report or publication incomplete or in preparation; N.A.not applicable.

Letters refer to the following publications (see reference section for complete citations): Symposium short papers: (a) Bee (1999); (b) Burgette (1999); (c) Burton (1999); (d) Claypool
(1999); (e) Cooke (1999); (f) Hernndez (1999); (g) Kehrwald (1999); (h) Kraal (1999); (i) Krull (1999); (j) Reeves (1999); (k) Shearer (1999); (l) Stamski (1999). Conference abstracts:
(m) Burgette et al. (1999); (n) Cooke et al. (1999); (o) Gardner et al. (1999c); (p) Stamski et al. (1999); (q) Khaw et al. (2003); (r) Marshall et al. (2003b); (s) Khaw and Marshall (2004);
(t) Marshall et al. (2004a); (u) Marshall et al. (2004b); (v) Marshall et al. (2005b); (w) LaFromboise et al. (2006); (x) Utick et al. (2006); (y) Marshall et al. (2007a); (z) Marshall et al.
(2007b); (aa) Marshall et al. (2008a); (bb) Marshall et al. (2008b); (cc) Marshall et al. (2008c); (dd) Morrish and Marshall (2008). Journal articles (cited as personal commun. if not yet
accepted): (ee) Gardner et al. (2001); (ff) T.W. Gardner (2009, personal commun.); (gg) J.S. Marshall (2009, personal commun.). N.A.not applicable.
The totals reported here are the total number of student co-authored reports and publications from each field project. These totals do not necessarily equal the sum of the numbers
listed in the columns above because some of the reports and publications may incorporate the results of more than one research topic or student project.

Total project reports and publications

C. Field Research Module (2008)

1. Volcanic stratigraphy and cross section of the Pos Volcano summit
2. Geology and geomorphology of Cobano marine terraces and
basement rocks
3. Structural analysis of folded and faulted Cabo Blanco marine
sedimentary rocks

Total project reports and publications

B. Independent Field Study Projects (20032008)

1. Tectonic uplift and marine terraces of the Cobano surface (2003)
2. Tectonic uplift and marine terraces of the Iguanazul surface (2003)
3. Uplift rate variations between Iguanazul and Cobano surfaces (2005)
4. Geomorphology and petrology of Holocene beach deposits (2005)
5. Uplift and faulting of Cobano surface marine terraces (2005)
6. Geomorphology and tectonics of La Mansin alluvial terraces (2007)
7. Uplifted marine terraces of the Carillo-Camaronal surface (2007)
8. Stratigraphy of uplifted marine sandstones and terrace deposits (2007)
9. Geomorphology and tectonics of Rio Ora alluvial terraces (2008)

Total project reports and publications


Costa Rica field projects and student research topics*

Student co-authored publications
Student reports
short paper
A. Keck Summer Research Project (1998)
1. Quaternary marine terrace uplift in response to subducting seamounts
2. Stream incision and knickpoint retreat in response to tectonic uplift
3. Deformation kinematics in folded and faulted marine sedimentary
4. Geodetic leveling and dislocation modeling of tectonic uplift and tilting
5. Origin of Nicoya basement terrane: Paleomagnetism and


Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica


Figure 4. Students of the 1998 Keck Summer Research Project, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. (A) Alix Krull (Pomona College), Natalie Kehrwald (Colorado College), and project faculty member Dr. Ed Beutner (Franklin and Marshall College) recording structural data from a tidal
platform outcrop of the Miocene Malpas Formation at Santa Teresa. (B) Natalie Kehrwald (Colorado College) and project director Dr. Tom
Gardner (Trinity University) discussing field data on the outdoor patio of Nature Lodge Finca los Caballos near Cobano. (C) Erin Kraal (Washington and Lee University) and faculty sponsor Dr. Dave Harbor surveying a channel longitudinal profile for a knickpoint study along the Ro
Lajas. (D) Bhavani Bee (Franklin and Marshall College) collecting shell samples for radiocarbon dating on an outcrop of uplifted Holocene
beach gravels at Cabo Blanco. (E) Emily Burton (Carleton College) describing a soil profile on uplifted Holocene beach deposits at Santa Teresa.
(F) Reed Burgette (Whitman College) surveying a topographic profile across uplifted Holocene beach ridges at Malpas.


Marshall et al.

the Universidad de Costa Rica participated in a series of independent geosciences research projects on the Nicoya Peninsula
(Fig. 3) directed by authors Marshall and Gardner (Table 1).
These projects, hereafter referred to as the independent field
study projects, served as the basis for either a required geology
senior thesis, or for independent study credits at the students
home institution. These projects were funded by a combination of small campus research grants, faculty travel funds, and
existing National Science Foundation (NSF) grants for related
regional investigations (Table 2). In some cases, students contributed their own funds to cover some costs, such as airfare or food.
Fieldwork for the independent field study projects generally lasted between 1 and 2 wk (Table 1) and involved one to
three students per trip (Figs. 5A5G). These field projects were
carefully designed to generate new data that would contribute
to the broader collaborative research efforts of the two faculty
advisors. The overall focus of these research projects (projects
B1B9; Fig. 3; Table 3) was to investigate variations in tectonic
deformation patterns along the Nicoya Peninsula segment of
the Middle America Trench (e.g., Marshall et al., 2008a, 2008b,
2008c). The students utilized field techniques of geomorphology,
stratigraphy, structural geology, and geochronology to investigate
the uplift and depositional history of Quaternary marine terraces
(Figs. 5A5B), coastal sediments (Fig. 5D), and fluvial deposits
(Figs. 5E5G). The participating students also had opportunities
for professional interaction with Costa Rican scientists working
on related problems (Fig. 5C). Project results have been presented in senior theses, independent studies reports, and studentcoauthored abstracts, posters, and talks, presented at regional,
national, and international professional meetings (projects B1
B9; Table 3).
The field areas for the independent field study projects
included four principal locations on the Nicoya Peninsula, three
along the coast and one in the peninsulas interior (projects B1
B9; Fig. 3; Table 3). Four of the projects focused on the Cabo
Blanco area, site of the 1998 Keck Summer Research Project
and the 2008 field research module. This location lies inboard
of a chain of subducting seamounts (Fig. 2) that generates rapid
coastal uplift and the formation of a prominent flight of marine
terraces. The students working on independent field study projects in this area focused their research on the geomorphology and
stratigraphy of uplifted Pleistocene terraces (projects B1, B3, B5,
and B8; Fig. 3; Table 3). This work expanded on the results of
earlier investigations in this area, which had focused primarily
on emergent Holocene terraces (Marshall and Anderson, 1995;
Gardner et al., 2001). Together, these studies assembled a comprehensive picture of the late Quaternary uplift history at the
Nicoya Peninsulas southern tip. New age constraints (14C and
optically stimulated luminescence [OSL]) on the Cabo Blanco
coastal terraces established a framework for terrace correlation
to other sites along the Nicoya coast (e.g., Marshall et al., 2008a,
2008b, 2008c).
During other field seasons, students examined marine
terraces and beach sediments along the northern and central

segments of the Nicoya Peninsula coastline (projects B2B4

and B7; Fig. 3; Table 3). These sites lie inboard of relatively
smooth subducting seafloor (Fig. 2), and thus uplift rates are
an order of magnitude lower than at Cabo Blanco. The marine
terraces at these sites had not yet been studied in detail. These
projects, therefore, played an important role in expanding
the database on Nicoya Peninsula coastal uplift patterns. In
addition to marine terraces, several students also examined
alluvial gravel terraces along river valleys near the coast and
within the peninsulas interior (projects B6 and B9; Fig. 3;
Table 3). These projects built upon prior river terrace studies
on the Nicoya Peninsula (Hare and Gardner, 1985) and elsewhere along the Costa Rican Pacific margin (Marshall et al.,
2001). Correlation of the fluvial and marine terrace sequences
is expanding our coverage of tectonic uplift patterns on the
Nicoya Peninsula.
Students were selected for these independent research
projects based on their level of interest, academic preparation,
and prior field experience. The faculty advisors generally prepared the participants for fieldwork several months in advance,
through individual conversation and group meetings. The students received logistical information, background reading, and
necessary field maps. Prior student research reports and posters
were used as a means to instruct and inspire project participants.
A set of research questions and a general plan for fieldwork were
developed through faculty-student discussion.
In Costa Rica, the projects usually began with reconnaissance field trips, designed to familiarize the students and faculty with the study area. The students were encouraged to ask
questions and to suggest ideas for the upcoming fieldwork. The
faculty introduced the students to the field equipment, including
global positioning system (GPS) units, altimeters, and surveying gear. After returning to the hotel from field reconnaissance,
the group would usually examine aerial photographs under a stereoscope, and look over topographic and geologic maps of the
study area. At this point, the students and advisor would develop
a schedule for fieldwork during the ensuing days.
The daily field routine for each of these projects depended
on the research goals, study area, length of stay, number of students, and weather conditions. Nearly all projects involved field
mapping of coastal terraces and deposits (Figs. 5A5B), and the
surveying of topographic profiles using differential GPS, barometric altimetry, and hand levels with stadia rods (Fig. 5G).
Other typical field activities included measuring stratigraphic
columns, describing sediments and soils, and collecting samples for isotopic dating and thin sections (Figs. 5D5E). Each
evening, the students and faculty worked together on field data
(Fig. 5F), discussed new findings and project progress, and
planned fieldwork for the following day. Field accommodations
for these projects consisted of reputable tourist hotels throughout the Nicoya Peninsula (Table 2), including the lodge used in
both the Keck Summer Research Project and the field research
module. Rental four-wheel-drive vehicles were used for travel
during each field season.

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica


Figure 5. Students of the 20032008 independent field study projects, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. (A) Fookgiin Khaw and Julie Parra (Cal Poly
Pomona) near an uplifted Holocene beachrock horizon on Playa Pochotes. (B) Fookgiin Khaw, Julie Parra, and Lauren Annis inspecting an outcrop
of Nicoya Complex oceanic basement at Playa Junquillal. (C) Eli LaFromboise and John Utick (Cal Poly Pomona) with project director Dr. Jeff
Marshall and Costa Rican seismologist Dr. Marino Protti at the Observatorio Volcanolgico y Sismolgico de Costa Rica, Universidad Nacional
(OVSICORI-UNA), Heredia. (D) Eli LaFromboise and John Utick (Cal Poly Pomona) collecting beach sand samples on Playa Negra. (E) Shawn
Morrish (Cal Poly Pomona) describing soil profile on uplifted river terrace deposits along the Ro Ora. (F) Shawn Morrish (Cal Poly Pomona) generating river terrace topographic profiles on a laptop at Hotel Villas Kalimba, Playa Smara. (G) Shawn Morrish (Cal Poly Pomona) recording global
positioning system (GPS) coordinates of a marine breccia outcrop at Puerto Carrillo.


Marshall et al.

3. Field Research Module (2008)

During spring break of 2008, the Geological Sciences
Department at Cal Poly Pomona University ran a week-long
field studies course in Costa Rica, focusing on the Nicoya Peninsula (Figs. 2 and 3). This course, referred to hereafter as the
field research module, was led by authors Marshall and Nourse,
and it involved 14 undergraduate students from two different
California State University campuses, Cal Poly Pomona and
Cal State Northridge (Table 1). The students completed a series
of field exercises (Figs. 6A6G) and earned a total of four units
of course credit for two sections of Geology Field Module.
Because Cal Poly Pomona does not offer its own geology summer field camp, majors have the option of taking four twounit field modules as a substitute. The 2008 Costa Rica field
research module counted as two field module sections because
of the intensity of fieldwork involved, and the participation of
two faculty members with different field specialties. The course
also included two teaching assistants: an advanced Cal Poly
Pomona undergraduate student, and a Cal State Northridge
masters degree student who was doing his thesis research on
the Nicoya Peninsula. A graduate student from the Cal Poly
Pomona Biological Sciences Department also participated in
the course, conducting independent research in the same field
area. Funding for the field research module was provided by a
grant from the Cal Poly Pomona College of Science, supplemented by student contributions (Table 2).
The focus of the 2008 field research module was the active
tectonics and geomorphology of the Middle America convergent margin in Costa Rica. The group visited two active volcanoes within the Central Volcanic Cordillera (Fig. 2) and
spent three field days in the Cabo Blanco area at the southern
tip of the Nicoya Peninsula (Fig. 3). The students engaged in
three field projects (projects C1C3; Fig. 3; Table 3) during
the course: (1) a geologic cross section exercise at Pos Volcano (Fig. 6E), (2) a geologic and geomorphic mapping exercise along a Nicoya Peninsula road transect (Figs. 6A, 6B, and
6D), and (3) a structural geology exercise on a tidal platform
in the same area (Fig. 6C). Each morning began with a field
briefing during which the faculty and students discussed the
days assignments and strategy for fieldwork (Fig. 6F). In the
field, the students worked with partners, making field measurements and recording data and observations in field notebooks
and on topographic maps (Figs. 6A6E). The faculty and teaching assistants circulated among the students to provide guidance and to answer questions (Fig. 6B). At the close of each
field day, the students worked on their maps and notebooks and
completed preliminary assignments that were due at the end
of each exercise. In the evenings, the students read assigned
research papers (Fig. 6G) and gave summary presentations to
the group. On one occasion, the students had the opportunity to
discuss Nicoya Peninsula tectonics with a visiting group of U.S.
and Costa Rican seismologists and geodesists. One month after
return to the United States, the students were required to submit

a final research report on all three of the field projects (projects

C1C3; Table 3). This report was to include 510 pages of text,
maps, cross sections, stratigraphic columns, and field photos.
The students were also asked to submit their field notebooks
for grading. The project faculty members were available during
this time for questions and consultation.
Students were selected for the field research module through
a competitive application process. A series of required planning
meetings was held over a period of 4 mo leading up to the trip.
The group traveled to Costa Rica together on a single flight. On
the first day, the group visited Pos Volcano National Park and
walked on trails to the active summit crater and extinct crater lake.
The faculty gave short field lectures on the geology, tectonics, and
eruption history of the Central American volcanic arc and Pos
volcano itself. The students were given a set of topographic and
geologic maps of the crater area. They were instructed to sketch
the crater in their notebooks (Fig. 6E), and record descriptions of
volcanic units exposed along the crater rim. The assignment for
this project was to construct a topographic profile and geologic
cross section across the volcanos summit.
The following day, the group traveled by highway and ferry
to the southern Nicoya Peninsula (Fig. 3). Multiple field trip
stops were made en route to illustrate the geology and tectonics
of the central Costa Rican volcanic arc and forearc region. Prior
to departure for Costa Rica, each student was assigned a set of
three research articles that they were asked to read (Fig. 6G)
and present to the group. For three consecutive evenings, beginning with the first night on the Nicoya Peninsula, each student
presented a 5 min summary of one of his/her articles. A group
discussion followed. The reading/presentation list was organized to cover a deliberate set of research topics related to the
course theme and students fieldwork. Prior to their presentations, the students were encouraged to consult with the project
faculty. The students were graded based on their general understanding of the paper and clarity of presentation.
The mapping exercise began the next day with a field trip
to introduce students to the geology and geomorphology of the
study area (project C1; Fig. 3; Table 3). Stops were made along
their mapping transect to describe geologic units ranging from
oceanic basalt basement, to marine turbidite deposits, to emergent Quaternary marine terraces. In addition, students were
shown examples of critical structures such as faults, folds, and
unit contacts. Prior to the field trip, the students were given a set
of topographic maps ranging in scale from 1:12,000 to 1:50,000.
During the course of the day, they used these maps and handheld GPS units to locate the field-trip stops. The students were
also given a blank topographic profile of the mapping transect,
a copy of the Quaternary sea-level curve, and geochronologic
data from marine terrace deposits and bedrock units.
The next morning, students began mapping at the inland end
of a 2 km road transect that descended 160 m in elevation to the
beach. They worked in teams of two or three students (Fig. 6A)
with one GPS unit, a hand level, and at least one Brunton compass per team (Fig. 6D). The faculty and teaching assistants

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Figure 6. Students of the 2008 field research module, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. (A) Brian Oliver and Travis Avant
(Cal Poly Pomona) recording field data during a mapping exercise near Delicias. (B) Cristo Ramrez (Cal State Northridge) and project faculty member Dr. Jon Nourse (Cal Poly Pomona) checking map location near Delicias. (C) Andrew
Keita and Azad Khalighi (Cal Poly Pomona) discussing field strategy during structural geology exercise on Cabuya tidal
platform. (D) Azad Khalighi (Cal Poly Pomona) measuring strike and dip of Delicias thrust fault. (E) Jessica Bruns and
Shawn Morrish (Cal Poly Pomona) taking field notes at the crater of Pos Volcano. (F) Students and faculty during morning field briefing on the patio of Nature Lodge Finca los Caballos near Cobano. (G) Julie Brown and Daniel Heaton (Cal
Poly Pomona) reading research articles on the Paquera ferry, Golfo de Nicoya.



Marshall et al.

spread out along the mapping transect to provide assistance

(Fig. 6B). The students were instructed to record all field locations and data (e.g., UTM, strike, and dip) on their base maps
and in their notebooks. They were also encouraged to sketch
outcrops, make detailed lithologic descriptions, and collect representative samples of all mapping units. The students used the
blank topographic profile to sketch a conceptual cross section,
and they used the Quaternary sea-level curve to develop a working model for coastal uplift and marine terrace formation. Upon
return to the lodge, the rock samples were placed in a common
area, and students were provided with additional maps, aerial
photos, and stereoscopes. The students then worked on refining
their field maps and notebook descriptions.
The last field day on the Nicoya Peninsula was devoted
to the structural geology project (project C2; Fig. 3; Table 3).
This project involved collecting structural measurements from
complex folds and faults within a highly deformed marine turbidite unit exposed at the coast in a level wave-cut tidal platform (Fig. 6C). The students first created a base map on graph
paper by measuring the study site dimensions using GPS. During falling tide, the students worked in teams of two or three
using Brunton compasses to measure and record the orientation
of bedding, fold hinges, axial planes, and faults. The students
were encouraged to spread out across the tidal platform in order
to increase the total group coverage of the study site. The maps
and data from each team were later compiled by the faculty
and provided to each student after returning home to Cal Poly
Pomona. The final assignment was to create a structural map of
the study site and write a report interpreting the data and summarizing the deformation history of this unit.
The next day, the group made the return trip to the capital
city San Jos in Costa Ricas Central Valley. That evening, the
students drafted preliminary maps and illustrations from each
of their three field projects, due the following morning. On the
last day in Costa Rica, the group made a field trip to Iraz Volcano National Park and the colonial capital city of Cartago. The
students visited the active crater of Iraz and sites in Cartago
affected by the devastating 1910 earthquake and deadly lahars
of 1964. No assignments were required from this trip.
Accommodations for the 2008 field research module
included two well-established tourist lodges, one in the capital
city San Jos and the other near Cabo Blanco on the Nicoya
Peninsula (Fig. 3). The authors had used both of these establishments for well over a decade. The Nicoya Peninsula hotel was
the same one used in the 1998 Keck Project and several of the
independent study projects. This rural ecotour lodge, located
a short distance from the field area, provided a secure and
comfortable home base for students and faculty (Fig. 6F). The
group ate all meals at the lodge, reducing the chance of food- or
waterborne illness. Returning to the lodge at midday for lunch
also helped to mitigate the effects of heat and dehydration. Four
four-wheel-drive rental vehicles were used for travel during the
project. This allowed for greater mobility on the rural dirt roads
in the field area.


Project Goals and Teaching Methods
Our three project models share a common research theme,
field area, and overarching pedagogy, allowing for easy comparison of project goals, teaching methods, logistics, costs, and
learning benefits. In each case, the students investigated forearc
tectonics and coastal geomorphology on Costa Ricas Nicoya
Peninsula (Figs. 2 and 3). These projects were based around
experiential learning pedagogy (cf. Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984)
in which students adopted a holistic view of their study topic
and played an active role in guiding the learning process. A key
element of this approach is to encourage students to develop
their own research agenda, and to engage them in the deliberate
practice of hands-on problem solving through critical thinking,
inquiry, and reflection (e.g., Montrose, 2002). Each of our projects used experiential learning as a potent strategy for developing the self-confidence and reasoning skills necessary for solving
multifaceted real-world problems in the geosciences. The goals
and methods for accomplishing this differed between each of the
projects depending on group size, faculty-student ratio, project
duration, and expected outcomes and products (Tables 13).
Project Goals
The principal goal of the longer-duration Keck Summer
Research Project was to engage students in a comprehensive
field research experience, including a year-long commitment
to postfieldwork analysis, interpretation, and presentation of
results through thesis writing, conference presentations, and journal publications. Like the Keck project, the goal of the independent field study projects was to engage students in comprehensive research; however, expectations for follow-up activities and
products varied among students, ranging from short-term writing
of a field report, to a full year of data analysis and preparation
of a senior thesis, thesis defense, and conference presentations.
In contrast, the primary goal of the shorter field research module was to develop technical and cognitive field skills within a
narrower research context, leading to a concise, written report
on field results. Both the Keck Summer Research Project and
the independent field study projects can be defined as research
apprenticeships (Seymour et al., 2004), in which the faculty
mentors guide small groups of junior- to senior-level students
through longer-duration comprehensive research experiences.
The field research module, on the other hand, can be defined as
a research-based learning course (Seymour et al., 2004), in
which research-like experiences form the pedagogical foundation for coursework.
Teaching Approach
The two longer-duration research apprenticeships (Keck
Summer Research Project and independent field study projects)
devoted more time to building the research context and allowing students to formulate their own hypotheses and strategies

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
for fieldwork. In contrast, the shorter research-based learning
course (field research module) bypassed the formulation of
hypotheses and jumped straight to focused inquiry on the nature
of field data and data collection techniques needed to answer
specific research questions. For example, the Keck Summer
Research Project and independent field study projects both began
with students exploring their entire field area, and thinking about
the impact of tectonics, climate, and sea-level change on the
landscape. Through group discussion, the students then developed a set of hypotheses that could be investigated during their
fieldwork. The students then worked on identifying the type of
field evidence that could be used to address their hypotheses and
determining appropriate techniques of data collection and analysis. They formulated a research plan and field strategy, and then
they engaged in fieldwork and data evaluation. The field research
module, on the other hand, was based on a strategy of visiting
previously known outcrops that exposed useful geologic information (e.g., a road cut through a dated marine terrace) and asking students about the type of data that could be collected at the
site to answer a specific research question (e.g., the terrace uplift
rate). Through faculty-guided inquiry, the students then learned
how to collect a particular data set (e.g., terrace topographic profile and inner-edge elevation). The fieldwork, therefore, was more
cookbook in nature and involved less big picture inquiry. In
all three projects, however, the students were challenged to interpret the significance of the data they collected. For the field module students, this was limited to relatively simple, localized interpretations, whereas the Keck and independent study students had
more latitude and time to integrate their interpretations within the
broader research context.
Student Mentoring
The ratio of students to faculty (Table 1) was an important
factor influencing the teaching methods and intensity of student
mentoring in the field. The Keck Summer Research Project had
a ratio of 12 students to 5 faculty members (<3:1), and for most
of its duration, additional faculty sponsors visited the field area.
For most of the project, therefore, the student to faculty ratio
was maintained at near 2:1. This allowed for significant facultystudent mentoring in the field and also facilitated the overall
project structure of students working simultaneously at separate field sites, with rotating field partners and faculty mentors.
Students and faculty were able to devote entire days to tackling
specific problems at individual field sites, and the students were
able to benefit from the varied input of different faculty on different days. This approach, however, involved significant logistical complexity and required careful planning and forethought.
The independent field study projects also had low student to
faculty ratios (3:11:1), allowing for individualized field mentoring guided by the particular needs of students and their research
goals. This project model offered the most consistent, and likely
the most effective mentoring, because of the smaller group size
and simpler logistics. It is important to consider, however, that
there may be a trade-off between the perceived learning benefits


of small group mentoring, and the learning gains engendered

by large group competition, camaraderie, and peer mentoring.
In contrast to the other two projects, the field research module
had a relatively high ratio of 14 students to 2 faculty members
(7:1). This necessitated a different approach in which the students
worked each day in small teams on the same problem in a common field area. As the student teams moved through the area,
the faculty and two teaching assistants would circulate among
them to facilitate inquiry and answer questions. The benefit of
this approach was that students could learn through discussion
with their field partners and other teams, and the faculty could
bring all of the teams together on occasion to address common
questions. The field logistics were much simpler than the other
large-group project (Keck Summer Research Project), and the
overall group safety was enhanced by having all participants in
the same area at the same time.
Project Preparation and Follow-Up
All three projects involved both precursory and follow-up
activities to prepare students for fieldwork and to facilitate data
analysis and completion of assignments. These included required
group meetings, reading assignments, presentations, and Internet
bulletins or discussion. For the Keck Summer Research Project,
face-to-face preparatory meetings were impossible due to the
wide geographic distribution of participants. In this case, Internet communication between students and faculty was essential
prior to fieldwork. The postproject workshop, held at Trinity
University six months after fieldwork (Gardner et al., 1999b),
was critical for compiling all of the project data and determining
common strategies for data analysis and presentation. Students
of the independent field study projects and field research module
came mostly from the same institutions, allowing for face-to-face
group meetings both before and after fieldwork. Pretrip meetings
were an essential part of preparing students for the field. These
meetings allowed faculty to introduce the research context, discuss assignments and expectations, provide logistical and safety
information, complete forms and financial transactions, and
engender group camaraderie and enthusiasm. Post-trip meetings
provided an important opportunity for project debriefing, discussions of results and data analysis, reminders about assignments
and expectations, and celebrations of student achievements.
Project Logistics and Costs
The three project models discussed in this paper varied significantly in logistical complexity and project costs (Table 2).
However, because these projects were run in the same general
field area, they shared similar logistical challenges and budgetary structure. The later projects benefited greatly from lessons
learned during earlier projects. It is important to note that the
logistics of larger group projects are exponentially more complex
than for smaller groups. This is especially true for international
projects due to the challenges of overseas air travel, and of transporting, housing, and feeding large groups in a foreign country. It


Marshall et al.

is also important to consider that the average daily cost of international projects is strongly influenced by two factors, the cost
of airfare and the impact of group rates for lodging and meals.
Regardless of project duration, the cost of air travel for a particular project will be the same. Therefore, with air travel included
in the total cost, shorter projects have a higher average daily cost
per person than longer projects (Table 2). While larger groups
introduce more logistical challenges, group rates for lodging and
meals can significantly lower the daily cost per person. In addition, travel costs can vary widely depending on the season, travel
days, type of facilities used, and longer-term fluctuations in currency exchange rates and the global economy.
The complex logistics of organizing and executing the
month-long Keck Summer Research Project required strong
leadership by the project director (Gardner), and careful teamwork among the project faculty, the students, and the respective
staffs of the Keck Geology Consortium, host-country institution
(OVSICORI-UNA), and project lodging facilities. To achieve
success, this type of large multi-institutional project required the
administrative and financial support of an experienced undergraduate research organization like the Keck Geology Consortium (Manduca, 1997; de Wet et al., this volume). It would be
difficult to organize a project of this magnitude through a single
geology department. In addition to logistical and clerical support,
the Keck Consortium provided full project funding, including
student and faculty stipends. The total cost of the project was
high (Table 2), but because of its long duration (1 mo), and the
impact of group discounts, the average daily cost per student was
low compared to the other two projects. Considering the project outcomes (Table 3), learning benefits, and average daily cost
per student, it is clear that the 1998 Costa Rica Keck Summer
Research Project was an exceptionally good investment. This
was an investment, however, that could only be afforded by a
well-funded institution/organization, or by faculty supported by a
substantial external grant.
The logistics of the independent field study projects were
much simpler than the two large-group projects. Travel arrangements and planning for fieldwork are generally much easier for
small groups of four or less people. A more open time frame for
these projects allowed for greater flexibility. In general, the students and faculty had more time for interaction and one-on-one
mentoring. The students took great pride in their projects, and
self-confidence clearly increased. One particular flaw, however,
is that without clear project boundaries and the group competition typical of larger projects, independent research students
often become overwhelmed and face challenges in bringing
their projects to completion. This is especially true for public
university senior thesis students faced with heavy course loads,
work responsibilities, and family demands. Overcoming these
issues often requires careful mentoring by the faculty advisor.
In general, these projects were relatively inexpensive (Table 2)
and were funded through a combination of small research grants,
travel funds, and student contributions. However, due to the lack
of group discounts, and the low student to faculty ratio, the aver-

age daily project cost per student was highest for the independent
field study projects compared to the other two models.
The daily logistics of the field research module were easier to manage than the other large-group project (Keck Summer Research Project), but they were still more complex than
the small-group projects (independent field study projects).
Orchestrating the travel logistics for 18 participants required
a significant investment of time and energy by the project
director (Marshall). Because of its short duration, this project
required careful advance planning and knowledge of the field
area to ensure efficient use of time. A short field course of this
type is more affordable and manageable for a small geology
department in a financially limited public university. However,
without the support of an undergraduate research consortium or
university study abroad program, the project logistics, financial
management, and liability issues became the sole responsibility of the project faculty. In this case, the prior Keck Summer
Research Project provided a useful model for project design
and planning. In addition, the project director had also led two
prior large-group field trips in this area, a study trip in 2000 for
students of Franklin and Marshall College, and a preconference
field trip for the 2001 National Science Foundation MARGINS
Program Central America workshop (Marshall et al., 2001).
One advantage of a short-duration project like the field research
module is that it requires less time commitment by students.
This is especially important for a public commuter university
like Cal Poly Pomona, where many students have jobs and families. This project was particularly attractive to students because
the bulk of costs were covered by a college grant to the project
director. With careful budgeting and project planning, the total
costs were low (Table 2), while the student learning benefits
were high. The average daily cost per student for this project
was nearly double that of the Keck Summer Research Project
but less than the independent field study projects.
Student Learning Outcomes
While no formal assessments of student learning outcomes
were conducted for the three Costa Rica field projects, their
overall success can be evaluated using several qualitative indicators. These include: (1) student enthusiasm and engagement,
(2) advances in technical and cognitive field skills, (3) productivity and quality of student-authored publications, reports, and
presentations, and (4) impacts on student self-confidence and
professional identity.
Student Enthusiasm and Engagement
The high level of student enthusiasm and commitment during each of these projects provides a first-order indication of their
success in engaging participants in the field learning process.
Based on faculty observations and interactions with participating students, all three of the Costa Rica field projects generated
an exceptional level of student enthusiasm relative to traditional
field activities at their home institutions. A fundamental difference

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
between international field experiences and typical fieldwork in
the United States is the excitement of total immersion in a new
physical and cultural environment, including unique landscapes,
climate, wildlife, language, food, and culture. Costa Rica is especially attractive to undergraduate students because of its global
reputation as a premiere destination for ecotourism and adventure travel. The heightened excitement of a study abroad experience tended to amplify student enthusiasm for fieldwork and
scientific inquiry. Their research engagement was also piqued by
interaction with Costa Rican scientists, and by the obvious implications of their studies toward understanding the natural hazards
threatening the local people they encountered during fieldwork.
Technical and Cognitive Field Skills
Another indication of student learning during these projects
was the observed advances made in technical field skills and
higher-order integrative thinking. In nearly all cases, the students
participating in these projects had prior field experience through
regular coursework, field methods courses, field modules, summer field camps, and other research experiences. This preparation allowed most of the students to quickly engage in project
activities without need for remedial field training. Less prepared students generally had the opportunity to learn from those
with more experience. The daily intensity of living and working together in a rural Costa Rican landscape engendered strong
group camaraderie and peer mentoring relationships. In most
cases, the students quickly recognized that the quality of their
own learning experience was dependent on the success of the
entire group. This led to a situation in which few students were
ever left behind, and the students worked cohesively to develop
the skills and thought processes needed to tackle their common
research problems. Unfortunately, we did not have the foresight
to conduct pre and postfieldwork learning assessments. However, the authors all agree that we observed an exceptional level
of student advancement in technical skills and critical thinking
during these international field projects compared to similar
domestic projects in the United States. Other faculty mentors
have reported similar benefits associated with international fieldwork (e.g., Mankiewicz, 2005; McLaughlin and Johnson, 2006).
Research on learning indicates that the unfamiliar setting of study
abroad experiences stimulates student awareness and cognition,
and motivates them to engage in their studies with exceptional
focus and intensity (e.g., Citron and Kline, 2001).
During each of the three Costa Rica projects, the students
learned practical field skills, new applications of field instruments,
and valuable lessons in project design, teamwork, and time management. The Keck Summer Research Project and independent
field study projects immersed students in a high-intensity integrated research experience that mimicked the reality of graduate
school and academia. The students participated in every aspect of
research, from initial formation of ideas and hypotheses, to planning and execution of fieldwork, to data analysis and synthesis,
and finally, communication of results through writing, presentations, and publication. The independent field study projects,


however, were less influenced by peer competition and required

more self-motivation. These projects provided excellent training for students headed to graduate school, or seeking projectlevel employment in the consulting industry. The field research
module offered a much more compact, yet still intense learning
experience that emphasized field techniques, data collection, and
concise interpretation of results from focused problems. This
learning strategy is valuable for building student confidence in
their ability to conduct fieldwork and solve problems.
Student Publications, Reports, and Presentations
An additional measure of learning outcomes for the Costa
Rica field projects is the overall productivity in generating
student-authored research reports, publications, and conference
presentations (Table 3). The Keck Summer Research Project was
highly successful in generating individual senior theses (10) and
short papers (12) for the Keck Research Symposium (Gardner et
al., 1999a). These outcomes were an integral part of the initial
project goals, and students were acutely aware throughout that
their success at fieldwork would determine the quality of these
final products. The level of expectations and friendly competition
were high among these students, resulting in exceptional quality
in their final papers. This success was also facilitated by thoughtful project planning, a fruitful midyear workshop, advising by
home-campus faculty sponsors, and prior academic training at
well-funded, small, liberal arts colleges. The most significant
product of the Keck Summer Research Project was a studentcoauthored paper published in the journal Geology (Gardner et
al., 2001). This also had been part of the original project goals and
design (Gardner, 1999). Much of the midyear workshop (Gardner et al., 1999b) was focused on compiling and standardizing
student data for this publication, and for a preliminary poster presentation at a national conference (Gardner et al., 1999c). Engaging undergraduate students in the process of publishing a journal
article was one of the most beneficial learning outcomes of this
project. Interestingly, only three of the projects 12 students also
presented individual posters or talks at professional meetings
outside of the Keck Research Symposium (Table 3). This may
reflect that the bulk of their attention was focused on completing
senior theses, symposium presentations, and the journal article.
Publication productivity and quality were also quite high
among students of the independent field study projects (Table 3).
Unlike the Keck project, the requirements for project reports and
presentations varied among the independent study students. Four
of the Cal Poly Pomona students were expected to complete a
written senior thesis, thesis defense, and professional conference
presentation. Two additional Cal Poly Pomona students participated in the projects for field credits, but they were only expected
to prepare conference abstracts and presentations. All five of the
Trinity University students were required to complete short field
reports for independent study credits. The one participating student from the Universidad de Costa Rica was conducting fieldwork for a professional license thesis (Licenciatura). In total,
the independent field study projects thus far have generated 14


Marshall et al.

student-coauthored abstracts and presentations for professional

conferences, five field research reports, and one complete senior
thesis, with three additional theses pending (Table 3). Four of the
Cal Poly Pomona student researchers have been lead authors on
five abstracts for poster presentations at professional meetings.
All six of the Cal Poly Pomona students have attended professional conferences and participated in the preparation and presentation of posters and talks. Two of these students have attended
conferences in Costa Rica, where they interacted with researchers
from the international community. Both faculty advisors (Marshall and Gardner) are currently working on student-coauthored
journal articles that will present a summary of research results
from the independent field study projects. One unique flaw of
these projects, due to their open-ended time frame, is the tendency of senior thesis students to gain employment before finishing their thesis and degree. Despite their success in completing
the research and professional presentations, two of these students
have not yet completed their written thesis due to current work
responsibilities. An important strategy for mitigating this problem is to establish a rigid schedule for student progress listing
specific attainable short-term goals.
In contrast to the other two projects, the field research module was not intended to generate publishable research results or
student professional presentations. Instead, the students were
required to submit a single research report summarizing the
results of their three field projects (Table 3). The fieldwork from
these projects did, however, generate new data and observations
that will influence research interpretations and future publications by the project faculty. Over two-thirds (10) of the participating students generated written project reports and illustrations
that showed a strong level of learning and comprehension (grade
A). The other third (4) submitted acceptable reports that demonstrated only a basic level of understanding (grade B). The
lesser motivation of this latter group likely resulted from the lack
of a long-term commitment to the project. The students were
aware that they would receive a passing grade if they submitted
a complete report. The fact that the field research module was
not linked to a larger academic outcome (e.g., a senior thesis)
led some students to complete marginally acceptable work. The
majority of students, however, turned in reports and illustrations
that showed substantial learning, and that demonstrated the overall success of this project.
Student Self-Confidence and Professional Identity
A final indicator of learning outcomes for these projects was
an apparent enhancement of student self-confidence and professional identity. Conversations with student participants revealed a
common perception that these projects had a significant impact on
developing their identity as geoscientists. A number of students
indicated that the experiential learning approach allowed them
to build the self-confidence necessary to tackle complex field
problems. Students participating in the Keck Summer Research
Project and independent field study projects, in particular, have
suggested that these research experiences confirmed their career

choice and reinforced their motivation to pursue graduate studies and professional geosciences careers. Nine of the 12 students
from the Keck Summer Research Project went on to graduate
schools for M.S. and/or Ph.D. degrees. At least four are currently
university faculty members or postdoctoral researchers, three are
employed as geoscientists for government agencies or energy
companies, and one is a schoolteacher. Half of the 14 students
from the field research module have recently graduated, and five
are now in graduate school, while three have accepted consulting jobs. Of the 12 students who completed independent field
study projects, four continued on to graduate studies, and at least
three are working as geoscientists for consulting firms. One of
the independent study students who entered graduate school has
continued researching Nicoya Peninsula tectonics for his M.S.
thesis. This same student served as a teaching assistant for the
field research module and as a field advisor for a current independent study student. Such mentoring relationships are one of the
benefits of the independent field study projects as new students
build on the research of prior participants.
International field experiences offer exceptional opportunities for effective student learning in the geosciences. This paper
examined three project models for undergraduate field research
in Costa Rica, Central America: (1) a month-long summer
research project (Keck Geology Consortium, 1998), (2) a series
of 1 to 2 wk independent field study projects (Cal Poly Pomona
University and Trinity University, 20032008), and (3) a weeklong field research module (Cal Poly Pomona University, 2008).
These three project models shared a common research theme
(active tectonics), field area (Nicoya Peninsula), and overarching
pedagogy (experiential learning), allowing for easy comparison
of teaching methods, logistics, and learning outcomes. Each project model has unique pedagogical benefits and challenges and is
therefore better suited for a different range of group size, student
to faculty ratio, duration of fieldwork, and project budget. With
thoughtful consideration of these factors and careful project planning, each of these teaching models can have substantial positive
impacts on student learning.
The Keck Summer Research Project classifies as a research
apprenticeship (Seymour et al., 2004), in which the primary goal
was to engage students in a comprehensive field research experience, including postfieldwork analysis, interpretation, report
writing, and conference presentations. With 12 students, five project faculty members, and four visiting faculty sponsors (Table 1),
this project maintained a low student to faculty ratio (~2:1). The
teaching strategy consisted of the faculty mentoring individual
students who were working at multiple field sites on a range of
related research problems. This strategy required careful logistical planning to integrate all of the research efforts and to manage
rotating teams of field partners and faculty mentors. This project generated multiple student-authored publications (Table 3),
including symposium short papers, conference abstracts, senior

Three models for experiential learning projects investigating active tectonics of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
theses, and a major journal article. Of the three project models,
the Keck Summer Research Project had the highest total cost
(Table 2), but it also had the lowest average daily cost per student
because of its longer duration and large group size. The success
of this complex project was largely dependent on five factors:
(1) the low student to faculty ratio, (2) the extended duration of
fieldwork (1 mo), (3) careful planning and management by the
project director and faculty, (4) postfieldwork advising by faculty sponsors, and (5) substantial funding and logistical support
provided by the Keck Geology Consortium and the host-country
institution, OVSICORI-UNA.
Like the Keck project, the Cal Poly Pomona and Trinity independent field study projects classify as research apprenticeships
(Seymour et al., 2004). The primary goal of these projects was to
engage individual students in comprehensive research leading to
the completion of a research report, thesis, and/or professional
conference presentations. The teaching strategy consisted of
intensive inquiry-based field mentoring of small student groups
(13). A distinct advantage of this model was the flexibility to tailor projects to the specific academic needs and interests of individual students. Because these projects involved only a few participants (Table 1) and short field seasons (12 wk), the logistics
were relatively simple, and project plans could be easily adjusted
at any time if needed. These projects generated a large number
of student co-authored professional presentations and abstracts
(Table 3), and two major journal articles are planned. The total
cost per field season was significantly lower than the large group
projects (Table 2), allowing for funding through small university
travel grants. The average daily cost per student, however, was
the highest among the three project models because of the short
duration of fieldwork and lack of group discounts.
The Cal Poly Pomona field research module classifies as a
research-based learning course (Seymour et al., 2004), in which
the primary goal was to develop specific technical and cognitive
field skills within a narrower research context. The teaching strategy for this project differed significantly from the other largegroup (Keck) project due to its shorter duration (1 wk) and higher
student to faculty ratio (7:1) (Table 1). This project was based
around a series of short group exercises in which all 14 students,
two faculty, and two field assistants worked together in the same
field area. Publications were not one of the project goals, but students were required to present their results and interpretations
in a final field report (Table 3). While field logistics were less
complex, the success of this short-duration large-group project
required substantial advance planning and knowledge of the field
area to ensure efficient use of time. The total project cost was less
than the Keck project (Table 2), but the average daily cost per
student was nearly twice as high, due to the short duration. This
project was funded by a moderate university grant to the project
director supplemented by student contributions.
The learning outcomes of the three Costa Rica field projects
were substantial, as indicated by high levels of student engagement and enthusiasm, observed gains in technical and cognitive
field skills, and exceptional productivity of student-authored


publications, reports, and presentations. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many students viewed these projects as instrumental
in shaping their professional identity as geoscientists. By placing students beyond the comfort of their home learning environment, the Costa Rica field projects piqued student curiosity,
sharpened awareness and comprehension, and amplified the
desire to learn. The intensity of living and working in an exotic
international field setting engendered strong group camaraderie
and productive mentoring relationships among students and faculty. Throughout these projects, experiential learning pedagogy
played a critical role in enhancing the learning effectiveness of
fieldwork. The students were encouraged to define their own
research agenda, and to engage in hands-on problem solving
through critical thinking, inquiry, and reflection. Through this
approach, students developed the self-confidence and reasoning
skills needed to solve multifaceted geologic problems. This blend
of international field research and experiential learning pedagogy
creates a powerful synergy that captures student imagination and
motivates learning. This potent combination of field education
strategies provides exceptional training for graduate school and
professional careers in the geosciences.
Funding for our Costa Rica field projects was provided by
the Keck Geology Consortium, National Science Foundation
(Tectonics Program), Trinity University (Tinker Fund), and Cal
Poly Pomona University (Research, Scholarship, and Creative
Activity Program, College of Science Quality Learning Fund,
and Provosts Teacher-Scholar Program). We greatly appreciate
the fieldwork and student advising of Keck Geology Consortium Project Faculty D. Merritts and E. Beutner, and Faculty
Sponsors D. Bice, D. Harbor, T. Harms, E. Leonard, B. Panuska, K. Pogue, and L. Reinen. We thank the field module teaching assistants, R. Ellis and E. LaFromboise, for their efforts.
We also acknowledge the contributions of D. Fisher, P. Sak,
K. Morrell, M. Cupper, and G. Simila. We especially thank the
Costa Rican Volcanologic and Seismologic Observatory, Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA), and the Central American School of Geology, Universidad de Costa Rica (ECG-UCR)
for their continued support of our field projects. We are grateful
to the kindhearted residents of the Nicoya Peninsula who have
welcomed us onto their properties and into their homes. We
also appreciate the hard work and critical support of the owners
and employees of Costa Rican hotels and restaurants, including Nature Lodge Finca los Caballos (Cobano), Villas Kalimba
(Playa Smara), Hotel Giada (Playa Smara), Hotel Iguanazul
(Playa Junquillal), Hotel Ro Tempisque (Nicoya), and Apartotel La Sabana (San Jos). We especially thank Barbara MacGregor and Christian Klein of Nature Lodge Finca los Caballos
for providing a comfortable and safe home base for our two
large-group projects. We thank M. Swanson, S. Whitmeyer, and
an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

International field trips in undergraduate geology curriculum:

Philosophy and perspectives
Nelson R. Ham*
Timothy P. Flood
Department of Geology, St. Norbert College, 100 Grant Street, De Pere, Wisconsin 54115-2099, USA

Field experiences form the core of the undergraduate geology program at St.
Norbert College and provide learning opportunities that cannot be duplicated in the
classroom. The field is vital for developing in students a life-long diligent curiosity
for geologywhich we define as a persistent inquisitiveness toward our science. We
regularly offer an international trip of about 2 wk in length. The trip serves as a capstone experience for our students in several ways: it provides focused time to develop
and synthesize their geological knowledge and field skills; it is a setting for mini
research projects; it challenges students to commit to geology as a career; it offers a
multicultural experience; and it develops their emotional maturity.
The international trip need not be logistically daunting or expensive. Most geoscience educators are willing to share their specific experiences and logistical information from leading trips to other countries, but several general recommendations follow. Behavior contracts signed by students emphasize the importance of good conduct
and should clearly outline the consequences of poor behavior, especially if a student
needs to be removed from a trip. A briefing by a health-care professional well versed
in international travel should be required well in advance of a trip, and a medical
inventory of each participant, focusing on medications, preexisting health conditions, and potential emergency procedures, should be done by the trip leaders. Trip
leaders need to work closely with the home institutions risk management office in
drafting a comprehensive liability waiver. Finally, we recommend working with an incountry expeditor, especially for travel. In many countries, utilizing a local driver can
be cost effective and may save legal problems in the event of automobile accidents.


year; ~70% of those go on to graduate school (Anderson et al.,

2006). Compared to many long-standing geology departments
at other liberal arts institutions, the geology program at St. Norbert College is limited in terms of basic resources such as space,
budget, and technology. However, student success indicates that
the core program, which is based strongly on field experiences,
appears to make up for many shortcomings in on-campus
resources. Field-based learning is integrated at all levels in the

St. Norbert College is a small (~2100 students), liberal

arts college located in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, metropolitan area. The geology program at St. Norbert College has three
full-time faculty, and graduates two to four geology majors per

Ham, N.R., and Flood, T.P., 2009, International field trips in undergraduate geology curriculum: Philosophy and perspectives, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W.,
and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 99104, doi:
10.1130/2009.2461(09). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Ham and Flood

curriculum, including introductory (general education) courses,

and majors courses at the intermediate and advanced levels. In
addition, different levels of field experience (Flood et al., 2003)
are provided in order to develop the academic maturity and
professional competency of the students. This goal is achieved
through trips that progress from local, to regional, to national,
and finally to international locales. Especially in a program
with somewhat limited brick-and-mortar resources, even a
modest field program integrated across the curriculum provides
invaluable training to geology students.
More specifically, international trips are not a common
component of undergraduate geology programs, but they do
not have to be viewed as logistically daunting or expensive. In
this paper, we discuss some of the important philosophical and
practical aspects of an integrated field program, and we focus
on the capstone international field trip (e.g., Flood and Ham,
2005). Special attention is paid to the ideal model (i.e., what
we always hope to accomplish), but we recognize that reality
is imperfect. We have found that some international trips can
be relatively easy to offer and well worth the unique rewards
afforded by them. Most potential problems can be averted with
proper planning.
The core geology curriculum and educational philosophy
at St. Norbert College is traditional and skewed to field experience at all levels (Flood et al., 2003). We try to engage students
at any level possible, so that they become interested enough to
develop a diligent curiosity and passion for geology, and in
at least a few cases, commit to geology as a major (Fig. 1). We
define diligent curiosity as the trait of persistent inquisitiveness
specific to a topic, similar to the concept of life-long learning
but more focused. Developing diligent curiosity is especially
important in our introductory geology courses because many
St. Norbert College students take these classes only to fulfill
general education requirements, and, thus, these courses may
be the last formal science to which they are ever exposed. For
students who continue in the geology program, diligent curiosity is fostered to develop enough scientific skill and passion to
pursue geology as a profession. Typically, this goal is ultimately
accomplished through student/faculty collaborative research or
supervised student research. However, all students who participate in an extended international trip participate in the design
and execution of a mini research projectan important component of the international trip experience. The philosophy outlined here is relevant to the classroom, laboratory, and field, but
it is best exemplified by the field experience.
St. Norbert College provides field experiences for most of
the courses in the core curriculum, including Introductory Geology, Hydrogeology, Mineralogy, Petrology, Structural Geology,
and Sedimentology and Stratigraphy. A similar across-thecurriculum approach is presented by Knapp et al. (2006), and
other specific examples are provided in Manduca and Carpenter

Figure 1. The field is the best place to instill passion and diligent curiosity for our science. A former St. Norbert College student contemplates
the volcanic landscape of the international locale of Maui, Hawaii.

(2006). The learning objectives and outcomes vary from course

to course at St. Norbert College, but the methods of instruction are similar. Introductory Geology (physical geology) is the
cornerstone course of the geology program, but it also serves
as an elective course in the St. Norbert College general education program, the first course in the geology major, and our
main recruitment course. The goal for all students in this class,
especially the general education student, is to instill in them the
romance (Whitehead, 1967) of the science as well as fundamental knowledge of geology. In this course, all students are
encouraged to attend a 1 d field trip. This trip is designed to
be as enjoyable as possible while maintaining a solid learning
experience; the trip is largely show-and-tell, incorporates scenic stops of geologic significance, and concludes with a classic
field-style dinner around the campfire with either a campout or
stay at a cabin. Such trips seem most successful when the size
of the group is smallan ideal size is 510 students (Flood et
al., 2007).
Local weekend field trips that may or may not be tied to
a particular course are offered every semester for students in

International field trips in undergraduate geology curriculum: Philosophy and perspectives

the majors courses, as well as for all students who have completed an introductory geology course (Flood et al., 2003). By
so doing, the participants range from first-semester freshman
to graduating seniors and, consequently, the learning objectives
may differ for individual students on any single field trip. In
general, we believe this diversity is an advantage rather than a
disadvantage. The new students are encouraged to learn from
the advanced students, who serve as mentors. Observing the
younger students, the older students gain a perspective on what
they have already learned and develop confidence in their own
abilities. In these ways, not only do students learn from each
other, but camaraderie develops. Being together for several
days in the field changes the dynamics among the students, and
between the students and faculty. We find, back on campus, that
students are more open and are thus more willing to ask questions and challenge ideas after we have had these shared field
The most significant field experiences available to geology
students at St. Norbert College are our annual extended field trips
that are offered for credit or an independent research experience
based on intensive fieldwork. We offer a two-credit (half course)
within-country trip that is typical of those offered by many geology departments; it is usually offered for 10 d over spring break
and is focused on classic geologic locales such as Death Valley,
Big Bend, and the Florida Keys. On most alternating years, we
offer a four-credit (full course) international trip. These trips
are typically 2 to 3 wk in length and occur during winter break.
They are preceded by weekly seminar meetings within the fall
semester, during which lectures, student presentations, trip organization, and research-project planning take place. The research
component typically lasts well into the following spring semester after the trip is over. In recent decades, the international trip
has been hosted in Belize or Costa Rica (Flood and Ham, 2005).
The 20052006 international trip visited the exotic locale of
Hawaii; although not technically an international destination,
logistically and culturally, Hawaii met the spirit of an international trip. Our international trip during January of 2009 was to
the Galapagos Islands, and it was co-run with faculty and students from Macalester College of Minnesota.


Extended and Focused Time for Refining Field Skills

For some students, the international trip is the first opportunity they have had to synthesize observations, measurements,
and interpretations of outcrops in a regional context in the field.
The extended time of a trip also allows for a comprehensive
and first-hand evaluation of regional geology, particularly as it
relates to time, scale, and tectonic setting(s). This experience
provides excellent preparation for the traditional summer field
camp (Fig. 2). Additionally, all students are expected to keep a
detailed field book that instructors regularly review. Students
also must assist other research teams in collecting data (i.e.,
rock samples, water samples, structural measurements).
Execution of Group Mini Research Projects Based on
Original Fieldwork
Mini research projects include pretrip design, collection of
field data during the trip, and post-trip follow-up laboratory work
and/or synthesis of data. Especially for students who decide not to
participate in a traditional senior thesis project as part of the regular curriculum, a mini project exposes them to the basic research
process (Fig. 3). Additionally, a consequence of the research is
that students have the opportunity to add international research
experience to their undergraduate vitae. This accomplishment
is very often viewed as a distinctive feature of their applications
when applying to graduate school.
Each project, ideally, culminates with a poster or oral presentation either at St. Norbert College, or at a regional or national
conference such as the Geological Society of America meetings.
In many cases, the sophistication of the project may not warrant
presentation in a professional venue. However, other forums are
typically available. At our institution, a day of celebration of student creative works and research is held where presentation of
research projects from the trip is ideal.

Benefits of the International Field Trip

The international field-trip experience has been an exciting addition to our undergraduate curriculum, not necessarily
because any one of the trip outcomes is different than those
of a local or national trip, but because the collective sum of
the experience is a unique teaching-learning opportunity and
almost always has a significant impact on new geoscience students. The following is a list of the most obvious benefits that
we have realized from these trips.

Figure 2. A student takes a few moments to write field notes after a day
of outcrop stops and a concluding lecture in Costa Rica.


Ham and Flood

remarkably, some have never been on an airplane before attending this trip. We try our best to immerse the group in the local
culture, meaning we eat the local food, stay at local hotels or
campgrounds, and use local services whenever possible. We
believe that this cultural immersion matures students, instills
a global perspective, and provides enriched experiences from
which our future educators can draw. The international trip can
be profound and life-changing in many ways, but perhaps its
most important impact is in making a student more confident
in their ability to leave the safe confines of their home and
pursue graduate school and research in faraway places. Finally,
at a critical time in modern history, when solutions to environmental and energy problems require international cooperation,
we find it invaluable to instill in students a new-found comfort
when traveling and working abroad.

Figure 3. Students collect sand and bedrock samples along the Pacific
coast of Costa Rica as part of a provenance study.

Experience in Reading Primary Scientific Literature

We have found that students respond especially well to the
task of reading scientific literature in the context of preparing for
a trip, and especially in the case of preparing for their research
projects. Familiarity with the literature is not only important in
developing research methodology and critical-thinking skills,
but it also develops a feeling of intellectual ownership for a
project and the trip. Such a working bibliography typically
includes regional geology articles, as well as technical articles
(e.g., specific field and laboratory methods). Eight to ten primary articles are typically the minimum for any given project.
Students Have the Opportunity to Gauge Their Commitment
to Geology as a Profession
In many programs, students will experience an extended
field trip before they attend field camp (if one is required). We
have always believed that the earlier we can get a prospective
student on an extended trip, and especially an international trip,
the more likely they will commit to geology as a major. This
observation is born out by years of operating a field-based program. Generally, trips of this nature increase the passion and
commitment for geology; however, in some instances, a new
major may quickly realize that majoring in the geosciences is
simply wrong for them. A number of years ago we had one
student decide to switch his major away from geology to mathematics. Although he was intellectually very capable, he simply
could not appreciate the use of multiple hypotheses for the origin of outcrops nor the outdoor demands of field geology.
Gaining a Multicultural Perspective
St. Norbert College draws most of its student population
from Wisconsin. Few of our students have ever traveled outside of the United States prior to our international trips, and,

Growth in Emotional Maturity

This maturity develops as a result of students becoming
more confident in their knowledge and practice of geology,
particularly field skills. However, a student who contributes
positively to the group in seemingly simple ways such as camp
chores also often shows considerable changes in maturity.
As with any trip, the more students team together and accept
responsibility for a successful trip, the more they take ownership of the trip.
Our trips have used Costa Rica as a destination several
times for a number of practical logistical reasons, but any
other international locale could serve similar duty; for some
recent examples, see the abstracts from the recent Geological Society of America meeting theme session International
Undergraduate Field Trips: Logistics, Challenges and Successes at
session_16160.htm. Costa Rica offers relatively inexpensive
travel and lodging, densely located field trip stops with significant diversity of geology and ecology, and very safe travel
conditions. Other schools have also used Costa Rica as a destination for field trips with similar satisfaction (Marshall, 2005;
Over et al. 2005). Although it is not the purpose of this paper
to provide exhaustive details on travel and geology in-country,
we would be more than willing to provide detailed logistical
information to anyone who is interested in leading a trip to
Costa Rica. We emphasize that many geologists are willing to
share their experiences and logistical information with others
interested in leading or co-leading international trips. Many
years ago, our first trip to Costa Rica started with logistical
advice from another geoscience educator, and, similarly, our
most recent trip to the Galapagos Islands came about as a team
teaching effort with faculty from another institution who had
led trips to the islands several times before. Here, we offer a
few key pieces of advice that can be applied to all trips to any
international destination.

International field trips in undergraduate geology curriculum: Philosophy and perspectives

Perhaps the most obvious hindrance to an extended international field trip is cost, both for the leaders and the participants. Some geology departments have the luxury of drawing
supplemental funds from endowments or dedicated travel budgets to offset expensive costs. Most schools, however, must
rely on students to pay for most of the cost of a trip, including faculty expenses. Our institution, although a private liberal
arts college, draws students mostly from typical middle class
families. Consequently, the cost of the international trip is not
trivial. We are always frugal and try to find creative funding
Our department budget provides virtually no internal funds
to offset field-trip costs. One creative and effective solution is
a tuition-return agreement with the college administration. In
our case, course tuition is used to supplement the cost of the
trip, including trip leaders expenses. For example, the tuition
for our last four-credit trip to Hawaii was approximately $1000
(this amount excluded expenses for travel, lodging, and other
basic trip costs). St. Norbert College returned over 90% of that
tuition fee to the trip budget to help offset the total cost of the
trip and to pay for faculty expenses. In return for this agreement, faculty did not and have never accepted salary for the
trip(s), nor have they been given teaching credit. Thus, they
have effectively donated their time to teach the extended trips.
We estimate that this funding mechanism has resulted
in a cost savings of up to ~30% to each student participant,
while at the same time providing funds for faculty expenses and
some additional funds for subsequent laboratory analyses (for
research projects) or purchase of research equipment. Additionally, we routinely solicit funds from alumni to offset student
expenses. However, in the end, the bulk of the expenses of these
trips are born by the student participants.
Student Behavior
Establishing a behavior contract with students is an
effective step toward avoiding serious conduct issues on field
trips. School-sponsored, course-credit trips demand that students adhere to the institutional behavioral code(s). For example, at St. Norbert College, these same codes govern members
of athletic teams at away games. To be clear and to set the correct tone, we require a signed behavior contract. This contract
conveys that the faculty are serious about the behavior of students on field trips, defines student responsibilities, and indicates consequences of violation of the rules. The contract states
that certain unacceptable behavior may result in a participant
being sent home prior to the conclusion of the trip and at the
students expense. Few behavior issues have arisen on our field
trips due in part to the pretrip tone of the faculty and the behavior contract.
Liability, Emergencies, Health, and Safety
Risk management offices are part of every institution.
Communication with a representative of this office well in


advance of a trip will make planning easier and ultimately safer.

Each institution operates a bit differently in terms of managing
safety and legal issues regarding off-campus trips. Our advice
is that it is best to follow the guidance of your respective office
prior to a trip rather than pleading ignorance after a serious
problem develops on a trip (contrary to the oft-quoted rule).
Ultimately, the trip leaders are responsible for the health and
safety of all participants on the trip. Scenario planning is valuable. For example, what actions will trip leaders take if a student ruptures an appendix, breaks a leg, develops acute anxiety
or depression, or even disappears? Negative health, safety, and
legal issues may be averted with advanced planning. We require
all participants to sign a waiver of responsibility drawn up by
the risk management office. The waiver essentially requires
the signer to acknowledge that unique risks are involved with
the trip, although it is unclear how any such waiver would ultimately influence litigation involving a trip problem. Finally,
for personal protection, we recommend faculty add a personal
liability waiver to their regular insurance policy.
As part of the regular weekly meetings that take place
before departure, a representative from our health clinic briefs
the class. The participants are clearly informed regarding health
risks they might face while participating in the trip. Topics
include recommended or required inoculations, travel health
insurance, traveling with prescription medications, and other
issues. Additionally, basic Red Cross first-aid and CPR training
should be required of all trip leaders. Making first-aid training
available to all participants is also a good idea.
An audit of health conditions for each student participating
on a trip should always be done. The trip leaders should know if
students are taking medication, if they have any drug allergies,
and if they have any conditions that might require emergency
care (e.g., what to do in case of a severe allergic reaction to bee
stings). Those new to the field-trip business will be surprised at
the number of student participants with important and special
health issues that could develop into serious medical emergencies in a field situation. By the very nature of our work, geologists often spend time far removed from health-care professionals and emergency facilities. We have found students to be
almost universally cooperative in explaining any health issues
that might require emergency care on our part (e.g., a severe
diabetic and asthmatic come to mind).
The mental health of students should be noted in addition to
their physical health. Serious mental health issues must be considered when deciding whether or not a student can participate
on a trip. We use as an example a case in which a student on one
trip intentionally caused harm to him/herself for attentionand
thus caused travel delays for the entire group. In the following
year, the same student wanted to participate in another similar international trip. We consulted with our institutions legal
counsel, who made it clear that we had the right to decide who
could and could not attend an optional course if a student presented a clear safety concern for the rest of the group. In the
instance of a required course, a more complex issue would have


Ham and Flood

developed, and we would have needed to develop an alternative

method for the student to satisfy the major requirement.
Use of an In-Country Expeditor
An in-country contact, especially a trusted person who can
help with travel arrangements, will very often reduce the cost
of the trip and help avoid some potentially bad situations. For
example, our Costa Rican expeditor books lodging and buses
for our trips and provides health and safety tips. In addition,
when we have had issues with lodging or other reservations, our
expeditor has intervened on our behalf.
On many of our early international trips, we used rental
vehicles and drove ourselves. However, in more recent trips, we
have booked buses with dedicated drivers and recommend this
practice strongly. The initial cost of transportation may seem
high, but the advantages are many. For example, a bus driver
allows the trip leaders to focus on the geology and logistics of
the trip rather than the task of driving. A bus driver will often
know the better-value restaurants in an area, know local customs and sites, and can save on entrance fees and tolls. Finally,
consider that dealing with foreign authorities in the event of an
automobile accident can be very costly and also very serious
from a legal standpoint if you are the driver.
Do Not Reinvent the Wheel
This advice bears repeating. Many geoscience educators
have either done research in or led trips to other countries.
Most are more than willing to share their educational resources,
experiences, advice, contacts, and travel agents. Finding other
geologists who have traveled abroad to countries that interest
you is easier than evereither by Internet search or word-ofmouth. We have never asked another educator for information
about the field trips in other countries who was not willing to
share their experiences.
Given limited resources, the relatively new geology program at St. Norbert College emphasizes traditional field-based
learning. Field experiences have been the core of the program
since its inception. We are of the mind that all geologic questions ultimately have their basis in the field, even though the
specific answer to a question might require complex laboratory
analysis. We do not believe that our resource deficiencies significantly hinder our educational objectives. Field experiences

that are well designed provide unique and essential learning

opportunities to all levels of undergraduates. The international
field trip provides a capstone experience that synthesizes critical skills taught throughout the curriculum. Flexibility is a key
factor in a successful trip. Additionally, logistical issues and
funding need not be major obstacles to offering an international
experiencesuch trips can be run safely, with a modest budget, and with major benefits. The understanding and perspective
gained by field experience provide essential skills, stimulate
creativity, and instill a diligent curiosity and passion for lifelong development in geology.
We sincerely appreciate the helpful comments and suggestions
of Fred Webb, Steve Whitmeyer, and an anonymous reviewer
on the manuscript for this chapter. We also thank our colleagues
at St. Norbert College for supporting our geology program and
field trips. Finally, we thank the many undergraduate students
who have traveled with us throughout the United States and
abroad to study geology. The pleasure has been ours.
Anderson, S.W., Flood, T.P., and Munk, L., 2006, Bucking the trend: Three new
geoscience programs: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 54, p. 4149.
Flood, T.P., and Ham, N.R., 2005, Costa RicaLogistics, challenges, and successes: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 37,
no. 7, p. 193.
Flood, T.P., Ham, N.R., and Gordon, E.A., 2003, Multilevel instruction using
the geology of northeast Wisconsin: Geological Society of America
Abstracts with Programs, v. 35, no. 6, p. 276.
Flood, T.P., Ham, N.R., and Gordon, E.A., 2007, The targeted geology field
tripA tool for recruiting non-majors from introductory courses: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 39, no. 6, p. 551.
Knapp, E.P., Greer, L., Connors, C.D., and Harbor, D.J., 2006, Field-based
instruction as part of a balanced geoscience curriculum at Washington
and Lee University: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 54, p. 93102.
Manduca, C.A., and Carpenter, J.R., eds., 2006, Teaching in the Field: Journal
of Geoscience Education, v. 54, no. 2, 178 p.
Marshall, J.S., 2005, Costa Rica, Central America: A prime destination for
international earth science field experience: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, no. 7, p. 191.
Over, D.J., Sheldon, A.L., Farthing, D., Giorgis, S., Hatheway, R., Young, R.A.,
and Brennan, W., 2005, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago: Capstone experiences for geology majors: Geological
Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, no. 7, p. 192.
Whitehead, A.N., 1967, The Aims of Education and Other Essays: New York,
Free Press, 165 p.

Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Visualization techniques in field geology education:

A case study from western Ireland
Steven Whitmeyer
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, 800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903, James Madison University, Harrisonburg,
Virginia 22807, USA
Martin Feely
Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, National University of Ireland, Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland
Declan De Paor
Department of Physics, Old Dominion University, OCNPS Bldg., Room 306, 4600 Elkhorn Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA
Ronan Hennessy
Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, National University of Ireland, Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland
Shelley Whitmeyer
Jeremy Nicoletti
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, 800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903, James Madison University, Harrisonburg,
Virginia 22807, USA
Bethany Santangelo
Jillian Daniels
Department of Physics, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 100 Institute Road, Worcester, Massachusetts 01609, USA
Michael Rivera
Department of Geology and Environmental Science, 800 S. Main Street, MSC 6903, James Madison University, Harrisonburg,
Virginia 22807, USA

Geoscience students often have difficulty interpreting real-world spatial relationships from traditional two-dimensional geologic maps. This can be partly addressed
with direct, tactile field experiences, although three-dimensional (3-D) cognition can
still be hampered by incomplete exposure of all spatial dimensions. Many of these
barriers can be overcome by incorporating computer-based, virtual 3-D visualizations within undergraduate field-oriented curricula. Digital field equipment is fast
becoming a standard tool in environmental, engineering, and geoscience industries,
in part because of the increased accessibility of ruggedized computers equipped with
global positioning system (GPS) receivers. Handheld computers with geographic
information systems (GIS) software record and display data in real time, which
Whitmeyer, S., Feely, M., De Paor, D., Hennessy, R., Whitmeyer, S., Nicoletti, J., Santangelo, B., Daniels, J., and Rivera, M., 2009, Visualization techniques in
field geology education: A case study from western Ireland, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives
and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 105115, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(10). For permission to copy, contact editing@ 2009 The Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Whitmeyer et al.
increases the accuracy and utility of draft field maps. New techniques and software
allow digital field data to be displayed and interpreted within virtual 3-D platforms,
such as Google Earth. The James Madison University Field Course provides a field
geology curriculum that incorporates digital field mapping and computer-based visualizations to enhance 3-D interpretative skills. Students use mobile, handheld computers to collect field data, such as lithologic and structural information, and analyze
and interpret their digital data to prepare professional-quality geologic maps of their
field areas. Student data and maps are incorporated into virtual 3-D terrain models,
from which partly inferred map features, such as contacts and faults, can be evaluated relative to topography to better constrain map interpretations. This approach
familiarizes students with modern tools that can improve their interpretation of field
geology and provides an example of the way in which digital technologies are revolutionizing traditional field methods. Initial student feedback suggests strong support
for this curriculum integrating digital field data collection, map preparation, and 3-D
visualization and interpretation to enhance student learning in the field.

Fieldwork has been the backbone of geologic investigation
and presentation since William Smith produced the first recognized geologic map of England and Wales (Smith, 1815). Traditional geologic maps show three-dimensional (3-D) features on
a two dimensional (2-D) surface, which requires observers to
mentally visualize the vertical dimension of geologic structures
and landforms depicted on maps. Smith displayed interpretations of geology in the vertical dimension by including cross
sections on his map, a style of presentation that became standard on all geologic maps. More recent illustrative methods that
expand on the basic map and cross-section depiction of geology include sequential cross sections (e.g., Dewey and Bird,
1970), block diagrams (e.g., Argand, 1922; Love et al., 1972),
and balanced cross sections (e.g., Dahlstrom, 1969; Elliott,
1983; Suppe, 1985; De Paor, 1988), among others. To a large
extent, the basic methods of field data collection and map-based
presentation of geologic interpretations have remained largely
unchanged from Smiths day through the twentieth century.
However, recent advances in computer hardware and software
have revolutionized the collection, interpretation, and presentation of geologic field data, with direct applicability to field
education and pedagogy.
An ongoing challenge for geoscience educators is to ensure
that students are able to recognize and interpret real-world geologic structures from a range of perspectives. Many students have
difficulty visualizing the 3-D geometries of geologic structures
and landforms when presented with traditional paper maps and
cross sections. In addition, classroom instruction often lacks the
hands-on experience of working with real materials in their natural setting. As a result, field-based education is still viewed by
many geoscience educators as a core component in the development of 3-D visual acuity (Butler, 2007). Our experience of
teaching geology in field environments, both in Europe and the
United States, suggests that the majority of undergraduate students have three main conceptual difficulties when visualizing
landscape and its geologic influences:

(1) understanding and visualizing the 3-D nature of geologic

structures and how they intersect topography, which is particularly apparent when students are confronted with geologic features on 2-D surfaces, such as outcrops or geologic maps, and are
asked to extrapolate the features into the third dimension;
(2) extrapolating small-scale observations to larger scales
(e.g., relating information from a field outcrop to a regional geologic map); and
(3) visualizing the evolution and modification of geologic
structures and landforms through time, both forward into the
future and backward into geologic history.
Modern, effective teaching and learning practices in the geosciences typically make use of appropriate visual displays and
animations to demonstrate geologic structures, processes, and
their interaction with the landscape. New technology has facilitated a dramatic change in the way geology is mapped, displayed,
and evaluated because of the availability of ruggedized, handheld
computers that easily log geological, geochemical, geophysical,
and/or hydrological data in the field (e.g., Swanson and Bampton,
this volume). These systems record and display data in real time,
which increases the accuracy and utility of working field maps.
Since most geologic maps are now produced digitally using integrated graphics programs, such as ArcGIS and Adobe Illustrator, the compatibility of handheld field computers with office
and laboratory systems enables the seamless transfer of field data
and interpretations. Removal of the time-consuming step of handdrawing a field map while retaining accuracy between digital data
and outcrop evidence means that digital field mapping will be the
present and future method for geologic map preparation.
Perhaps the most revolutionary technological advancement
in geologic fieldwork is the potential for integrated, virtual (computer-aided) 3-D visualization of field data. Digital elevation
models (DEMs) are available for most regions of the developed
world, and the universal access to global terrain models, through
programs such as Google Earth and NASA World Wind, means
that field researchers can use this data to evaluate and constrain
working maps. Most geologic maps have a significant component of interpretation due to incomplete exposure of lithologies

Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from western Ireland


in the field coupled with a lack of direct geologic evidence for

all three spatial dimensions. Computer-facilitated visualization
of 2-D geologic maps draped over virtual 3-D topography can
improve interpretations, and these methodologies and cognitive
implications are easily grasped by novice students as well as geoscience professionals.
In this paper, we advocate a new iterative approach to geologic fieldwork that uses handheld computers to record data and
interpretations in the field. Working field maps and interpretations are draped over virtual 3-D terrains and continually evaluated throughout the mapping process. Data collection, digital
mapping, and 3-D evaluation occur simultaneously as an iterative process during which working field interpretations are continuously updated at the outcrop. This process ultimately yields a
well-constrained and field-tested geologic map. Exercises based
on this iterative mapping approach are an important component
of the James Madison University field course in Ireland, where
upper-level undergraduate geoscience students receive capstone
field-based education. Specific learning goals for the field course
digital mapping exercises focus on the improvement of students
abilities to understand, visualize, and interpret 3-D geologic features from outcrop evidence. Broader goals include providing
students with technical skills recognized as important by industry
and academic geoscience professionals.
Digital Mapping in the Field
Geographic information systems (GIS) software has been
widely used by the U.S. Geological Survey and other geoscience,
environmental, and engineering industries (Longley et al., 2001)
for many years as the storage and presentation medium of choice
for geologic data. Early limitations of GIS software (Mies, 1996)
and the lack of efficient mobile hardware slowed the adoption of
GIS as a mapping tool by many field geologists. This all changed
when civilian scrambling of the global positioning system (GPS)
ceased in 2000, and inexpensive, accurate handheld GPS devices
such as those made by Magellan and Garmin became readily available. Modern GIS software has geology-oriented toolkits
for the preparation of geologic maps and, in many cases, functions effectively on mobile GPS-inclusive hardware (Kramer,
2000; Jackson and Asch, 2002). As a result, familiarity with GIS
software and associated hardware has become an important skill
for employment within geoscience-related industries, including
fieldwork-intensive occupations such as state geological surveys,
departments of environmental quality, and civil engineering (see
Handheld field computers running GIS software allow the
user to record a variety of geologic data digitally in the field. A
geologist may view his or her location in relation to other data,
such as topographic maps and/or aerial photos (Fig. 1A), and
new geologic data can be stored in a spatial database designed
for a specific field problem (Fig. 1B). The integration of hand-

Figure 1. (A) In the field, students have access

to topographic maps, historical fence maps, and
aerial photos as background data on their handheld computers. (B) Using ArcPad software, the
students location was automatically recorded,
and students entered relevant attribute data such
as strike, dip, and lithologic unit. These data
were available to them in real time for immediate assessment of the field geology.

held field computers with workstations running GIS software

has facilitated a new era of geologic field mapping where data
observed and recorded in the field are directly incorporated into
a digital geologic map.
Development of new field mapping methods that take advantage of these advances in hardware and software has come from
geoscientists who have research programs rooted in fieldwork,
and who have a practical appreciation for advances in equipment
(e.g., Walsh et al., 1999; Edmundo, 2002; Knoop and van der
Pluijm, 2006; McCaffrey et al., 2008; De Paor and Whitmeyer,


Whitmeyer et al.

this volume). Not surprisingly, many of the advances in digital

mapping methods have resulted from geologic field courses (e.g.,
Brimhall, 1999; Knoop and van der Pluijm, 2006). The choice
of equipment depends on the users field environment and data
collection goals. Given a mostly rain-free climate, field researchers can use tablet personal computers (PCs) with built-in GPS
receivers running GIS software, such as ArcPAD and ArcGIS,
to record data and build their maps in real time in the field. For
inclement weather environments, ruggedized, handheld pocket
PCs (e.g., Trimble GeoExplorer series) can run field-appropriate GIS software (ArcPAD) that performs many of the important data-entry tasks related to geologic map creation. Final map
assembly requires a laboratory PC running ArcGIS, to which the
field data can be uploaded.
3-D Visualization and Interpretation
One of the major challenges for geoscientists is the 3-D
interpretation of geologic data, and the most effective means
of displaying that data. The petroleum industry has long been a
leader in 3-D display of subsurface seismic and ground-penetrating radar images, colloquially called fence diagrams. Attempts
have been made to combine seismic and other subsurface data or
cross-section interpretations with surface geologic maps in 3-D
block diagrams (Karlstrom et al., 2005). Virtual 3-D software,
such as ArcScene, that displays digital elevation models (DEMs)
has provided a new medium for presentation and interpretation of
geologic maps and field data (Knoop and van der Pluijm, 2003;
Johnston et al., 2005). However, the full potential for evaluation
of geologic maps using virtual 3-D software has been impeded
somewhat by the cost and steep learning curve of popular GIS
programs, such as GRASS and ArcGIS.
The advent of free web-based geobrowsers, for example,
NASA World Wind and Google Earth, has put virtual 3-D terrains at the fingertips of professionals and novice users alike.
Many educators have intrigued students by using Google Earth to
display spectacular landforms in virtual 3-D, such as the incised
meanders of Escalante Canyon or active volcanoes like Mt. Rainier. Ease of use, minimal cost, and universal availability have
encouraged geoscientists to use Google Earth for 3-D display of
geologic maps (Hennessy and Feely, 2008; USGS maps: http:// and other
data sets (e.g., hurricane tracks and data:
ubb/download.php?Number = 110283).
A more advanced use of Google Earthto prepare and
display professional-quality, interactive geologic mapsis
now feasible due to recent software enhancements. The most
recent versions of ArcGIS (9.3) and Google Earth Pro (4.3) can
exchange data between their native formats: shapefiles and Keyhole Markup Language (KML), respectively. However, specialized display features within Google Earth, such as 3-D strike and
dip symbols and cross sections, still require some external programming (see following). As the popularity of Google Earth and
KML programming continues to grow, data-sharing capabilities
among Google Earth, ArcGIS, and other spatial display programs

will certainly become easier. This will make the preparation of

interactive digital geologic maps a standard skill that could be
easily taught to geoscience students.
The James Madison University field course is a senior-level,
6 wk, summer capstone experience that incorporates a variety of
multiday group and independent field geology and mapping exercises. The course is based near the Connemara region of western
Ireland, a strategic location that provides easy access to wellexposed outcrops of highly deformed Dalradian metasedimentary rocks, Paleozoic clastic and carbonate basin stratigraphy, and
the fossiliferous Carboniferous carbonate stratigraphy of interior
Ireland. Student enrollment is typically 2535 individuals from
universities across the United States. Faculty is similarly diverse
and has included instructors from James Madison University,
Boston University, National University of Ireland, Galway, and
other universities.
The course has incorporated a digital mapping and visualization component since 2001 (De Paor et al., 2004; Johnston et al.,
2005). We started with an introductory exercise that used handheld GPS units to log waypoints on a hiking traverse (De Paor
et al., 2004) and later added a laboratory component that used
software, such as Bryce and Carrara, for 3-D terrain modeling and
data draping. Basic 3-D interpretation concepts were addressed
using a block diagram applet written in Flash Actionscript, which
enabled students to project their own scanned sketch maps and
cross sections on the sides of a block that can be rotated using the
computer mouse, and that can be viewed against a backdrop of a
relevant field area (Fig. 2A). More recently, we have provided students with examples of 3-D computer-based visualizations based
on current field areas. These include virtual outcrop models of
folded marbles at Streamstown and Cur, Connemara (Fig. 2B), that
were generated using terrestrial laser-scanning techniques and are
accessible as short AVI movies (McCaffrey et al., 2008, and associated supplemental material, found at
GES00147.S1, VRML
(Virtual Reality Modeling Language) models have also been used
to illustrate the Twelve Bens area (Fig. 2C), a mountainous region
of Neoproterozoic Dalradian metasedimentary rocks in central
Connemara (Hennessy and Feely, 2005). The current James Madison University field course curriculum incorporates field mapping
using ArcPAD on handheld computers, professional geologic map
construction using ArcGIS, and virtual 3-D map evaluation and
presentation using ArcScene and Google Earth.
Field Location
Digital mapping exercises are located on the southeastern
slope of the mountain of Knock Kilbride, along the southern margin of the South Mayo region in County Mayo, western Ireland
(Fig. 3). The geology consists of well-exposed, hillside outcrops

Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from western Ireland


Figure 2. (A) Interactive three-dimensional (3-D) block diagram applet

written by co-author De Paor using Flash Actionscript. The top surface
and sides of the block are draped with semitransparent scans of students
sketches, and the block is viewed against a backdrop of Connemara and
South Mayo. (B) Movie still of virtual outcrop model showing iconic
marble folding in the Neoproterozoic Lakes Marble Formation, Cur,
Connemara. 3-D outcrop model is generated from terrestrial LiDAR
(Light Detection and Ranging) data (from McCaffrey et al., 2008).
(C) VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) model showing the
Twelve Bens, Connemara, western Ireland; 1:100,000 Geological
Survey of Ireland bedrock map is draped over digital elevation model
(DEM) (from Hennessy and Feely, 2005).

Figure 3. Generalized geologic map of the South Mayo and Connemara regions of western Ireland (modified from Chew et al., 2007); the
Knock Kilbride field area is indicated by the white arrow. Inset shows
map location on an outline of Ireland.

of mostly planar, moderately southeast-dipping Silurian sedimentary strata (Graham et al., 1989) that unconformably overlie Early
Ordovician arc-related volcanic rocks (Chew et al., 2007). Tilting
of the strata was likely the product of Caledonian oblique collisions (Dewey and Ryan, 1990; Williams, 1990) that sutured the
Dalradian Connemara terrane to the southern margin of the South
Mayo Trough (Williams and Harper, 1991). This suture zone can
be seen just a few kilometers south of the field area along the
north face of the mountain of Ben Levy (Williams and Rice, 1989;
Whitmeyer and De Paor, 2008). Later deformation consists of
decimeter- to decameter-scale offsets along crosscutting, oblique
normal faults, which may have occurred during late Caledonian
(Late SilurianEarly Devonian) transpressional terrane adjustment (Williams and Harper, 1991; Smethurst et al., 1994).
An interesting aspect of the field area is that homoclinal
Silurian strata dip to the south-southeast at ~60, more steeply
than the topographic slope. Students are faced with a situation
where a northward uphill walk from the lakeshore takes them
down-section stratigraphically. Many students find this inversion
of stratigraphy with respect to elevation challenging to visualize
and interpret correctly.


Whitmeyer et al.

Equipment and Methodology

Students work in groups of two to three, and each group has
one handheld computer. Over the past few years, we have tried a
variety of handheld units, including PDAs (Personal Data Assistants) (NAVMAN, HP iPAQ) and Trimble GeoXMs (2003 and
2005 versions; Fig. 1A). The PDAs were less expensive (approximately $800 with GPS plug-in card and waterproof Otterbox,
versus $2000 for the Trimbles), but we found the GeoXM to be
much faster at acquiring a steady GPS signal, and better in handling persistent, and often horizontal, Irish rain. The handheld
field computers are equipped with ArcPAD, a portable version
of ArcGIS, loaded with topographic maps, historical fence maps,
and aerial photos of the field area. On the first day of the exercise,
students create a shapefile to record data such as strike, dip, and
lithologic unit (Fig. 1B). In the field, this expanding data set is
available to students for immediate evaluation of the area geology
while they collect data at each outcrop. The geographic coordinates (in whatever format the user desires: latitude and longitude,
UTM, Irish grid, etc.) are automatically recorded by ArcPAD at
each sample location when students enter their attribute data.
Following a full day in the field, students upload data from
their handheld computer to a laboratory computer running ArcGIS. Invariably, there are some mistakes and omissions in the
field data the students collected, and this is their chance to fix that
prior to resuming fieldwork the next day. Students quickly learn
the critical importance of recording their data by hand in a field
book as a backup for the handheld computer. Even if they have
not lost any data themselves, the word-of-mouth from a team that
will have to spend much of the next day retracing their steps to
replace lost data is convincing.
The digital inking-in evening session is also a time to
assess the quality of the groups data and their coverage of the
field area. While reviewing and troubleshooting their field data,
students locate areas where they may have misidentified lithologies or missed important contacts or potential faults. At the end
of the evening session students devise a work plan to enhance the
efficiency of their data collection for the next day in the field, and
the fixed field data is downloaded back to the students handheld
computer. Thus, the laboratory computer functions as a backup
for students field data. In this respect, it is similar to the hand
drawn fair copy map that field geologists would keep in the
office as a backup to their field slip.
After 3 to 4 d of field mapping, depending on the size of
the field area and the weather, students have two full days on a
GIS workstation in a state-of-the-art computer laboratory at the
National University of Ireland, Galway. During this time, the
students use ArcGIS to interpret their field data and prepare a
professional-quality geologic map of the field area. The experience of using ArcPAD and watching the ArcGIS upload process
increases students exposure to GIS prior to using ArcGIS on
their own. Building on their preliminary interpretations at earlier evening sessions, students identify and highlight lithologic
contacts and stratigraphic offsets of the contacts to accurately

determine the location of normal faults in the region. Each team

produces, prints, and turns in a professional-quality GIS map of
their field area (Fig. 4), along with a description of the geology
they mapped, and a plausible history of how it was formed.
3-D Interpretation and Presentation
Valuable tools that have recently become available and
practical for display and evaluation of geologic maps and field
data include virtual 3-D terrain models, such as DEMs generated within ArcScene (Fig. 5), and virtual globes, such as Google
Earth (Figs. 6A and 6B), NASA World Wind, and ArcGlobe.
Georeferenced geologic maps can be draped over 3-D surfaces,
and software controls allow the user to rotate, pan, and zoom the
3-D maps. This allows the user to appraise geologic map elements and data from any angle and at any point in the fieldwork
and map preparation process. Students can reevaluate their field
interpretations to better constrain contacts and faults across the
terrain, and they can do this every evening before heading back
out to their field area the next day. This iterative approach to
evaluating geologic maps, while fieldwork is ongoing, permits a
level of self-evaluation that only field researchers who were very
experienced at 3-D visualization could have achieved in the past.
In summer 2008, we incorporated an extra day of laboratory-based computer exercises in order to acquaint students with
the capabilities of Google Earth as a medium for displaying and
evaluating geologic data. Following a general introduction to
Google Earth, students exported jpeg images of their geologic
maps from ArcGIS. Within Google Earth, students used the
Add Image Overlay function to upload their jpeg maps
and then positioned them at the correct latitude and longitude
using the Location tab. This simple step allowed students to
view their geologic maps draped over the Google Earth virtual
terrain, with full access to Google Earths zoom, rotate, and pan
capabilities. Students also incorporated specific point data information, such as orientation measurements, lithologic features,
and outcrop photos, within their Google Earth maps by using
the Add Placemark function. After only a couple of hours,
most groups had truly interactive Google Earthbased geologic
maps of their fieldwork that incorporated field data and photos
georeferenced to their proper field coordinates.
We finished this exercise by demonstrating the capabilities of
Google Earth for presenting cutting-edge geologic research. Examples included four-dimensional visualizations of the emplacement
stages of the Devonian Galway Granite, western Ireland (Fig. 6A;
Hennessy and Feely, 2008), and our ongoing work on an interactive 3-D geologic map of the Knock Kilbride field area with student data collected over the past four years (Fig. 6B). Each year,
field course students have digitally mapped a different section of
the southeastern slope of Knock Kilbride. By the end of the 2008
field season, digital data covered the full southeastern slope of the
mountain. This visualization demonstration showed our students
that their collective data were a vital part of an active research project that utilized modern digital methods and equipment.

Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from western Ireland

Figure 4. Student map of field area produced within ArcGIS with data collected from handheld computers.

Figure 5. Students geologic map of the Knock Kilbride field area, draped over a digital elevation model (DEM)
of the mountain of Knock Kilbride (view to the northeast). By using a virtual 3-D model that incorporates highresolution aerial photos, students can reevaluate their initial field interpretations to better constrain contacts and
faults across the terrain.



Whitmeyer et al.

Figure 6. (A) Google Earth image of the Galway Granite batholith. The emplacement stages of the granite units
are controlled through the time-slider function visible at the top of the image (from Hennessy and Feely, 2008).
(B) Google Earth image of the composite Knock Kilbride geologic map, compiled from 4 yr of student data from
the Ireland field course. View is to the northeast, similar to Figure 5. Data points, line work (faults and contacts),
and each unit (as polygons) can be turned on or off for viewing. Resolution of terrain underlying the geologic map
has been enhanced by overlaying aerial photos on the standard (poor-resolution) Google Earth terrain.

Visualization techniques in field geology education: A case study from western Ireland
The collective Google Earth geologic map incorporated
more advanced features than the students had included in their
individual Google Earth maps, such as selectable layers of lithologic units, contacts, faults, or point data that the user could turn
on or off. Our map used high-resolution aerial photos of the field
area as overlays on the native Google Earth terrain images to
overcome Google Earths poor image resolution of this region.
By editing the Image Overlay tag to make the colors of the unit
layers slightly transparent, we demonstrated how field researchers could evaluate mapped geology against a high-resolution 3-D
topographic base map. This is correlative with the map evaluation exercise that the students had recently completed using their
GIS maps of the field area and ArcScene, which allowed students
to compare digital, interactive geologic maps assembled in two
different software platforms.
We concluded our Google Earth Day by demonstrating
future components of Google Earthbased interactive geologic
maps that were not yet fully developed. These included 3-D
strike and dip symbols as Collada models (
positioned in the proper spatial orientation above the outcrop
location where the data were collected. The current complexities
involved in properly displaying orientation symbols in Google
Earth were apparent to students after we explained that, in order
to transfer the relevant location and orientation data from ArcGIS
point shapefiles into Google Earth Collada models, it was necessary to write a Linux-based bash script (see Appendix 1). We
also demonstrated vertical cross sections that users can pull up
from the Google Earth ground surface (Whitmeyer and De Paor,
2008), and superoverlays of the geologic maps that allow users
to zoom to outcrop-scale details without using large, high-resolution files that cause Google Earth to dramatically slow down
(Whitmeyer et al., 2008).
Preliminary Feedback of the Digital Mapping Exercise
Student feedback of the continually developing digital mapping and visualization exercise indicates a strongly positive


response to both digital field mapping and map preparation using

ArcGIS (Table 1). Interesting trends over the past four years
include a general increase in students incoming familiarity with
GPS and ArcGIS. Four years ago, the use of handheld GPS units
in the field was a novelty for many students, whereas now many
students have GPS units in their cars. When we began the digital mapping project, few students had much exposure to ArcGIS,
whereas in recent years ~40% of the students had already taken a
full semester GIS class. This increased experience with GIS prior
to the field course has allowed us to include more advanced material within allotted laboratory days. However, we found that the
experienced GIS students tended to usurp control of the computer
during the laboratory sessions, and we had to enforce an equalopportunity policy at the computer keyboard so that all group
members had a hand in preparation of the final map product.
As students have entered the Ireland field course with a
stronger GIS background, their opinion of the value of the laboratory GIS component has decreased (Table 1). Student opinion
of the field GIS component has not decreased as much as the
laboratory exercise, perhaps due to less prior familiarity with
the equipment and techniques. In 2008, all field camp students
had used Google Earth to fly around to familiar locations,
like their homes and college campuses, but none of them had
viewed or evaluated geologic maps using Google Earth. Our
demonstration of the potential capabilities of interactive geologic maps built within Google Earth prompted enthusiastic
responses from the 2008 field course students, especially when
they realized that their field data were incorporated into an
ongoing, cutting-edge research project. Interactive digital geologic maps with user-viewable metadata are not a new concept
(e.g., Condit, 1999), but the ease of use of the Google Earth
interface puts the capability to create virtual 3-D geologic maps
that incorporate pertinent field data and images into the hands
of every geologist, whether computer-savvy or not. We envision
that familiarity and acceptance of these modern methods of displaying geologic maps will enable us to present more complex
and challenging exercises in the future.

2005 (n = 35)
2006 (n = 25)
2007 (n = 32)
2008 (n = 29)
Students with previous full-semester GIS* class
How much did you learn from this exercise?
(1 = nothing, 5 = a lot)
How valuable was the field component?
(1 = not at all, 5 = very)
How valuable was the laboratory component?
(1 = not at all, 5 = very)
% agree
% agree
Background knowledge and skills were
appropriate to the level of the course
Content of the course would be of value to my
own research / career path
Would recommend this GIS experience to other
geology students
Note: Note that the evaluation format changed in 2006 (with a year of overlap).
*GISgeographic information systems.


Whitmeyer et al.


Over the last few years, digital mapping has progressed from
being an exciting cutting-edge technology with much potential to
being the standard method of recording field data and constructing geologic maps. Whereas, in previous years, students with GIS
and digital mapping experience were ahead of the curve, now
students must have this experience to keep up with their peers in
the competitive job or graduate student market. Word-of-mouth
communication to the authors from geoscience professionals in
positions within state surveys, environmental consulting firms,
and petroleum and mineral exploration companies has stressed
the importance of familiarity with GIS and digital mapping techniques. Similarly, feedback from James Madison University field
course students that have gone on to graduate programs indicates
the value of exposure to digital mapping and visualization techniques. These advantages often extend beyond improved 3-D
cognition of geologic features to have application to many disciplines (Butler, 2007).
Our task as geoscience educators is to give the students the
skills they need to effectively do geology and be competitive in
their future academic and workplace environments. Though equipment prices and lack of technological knowledge can still be initial hurdles, we must overcome these issues. We need to expose
students to modern equipment and methods, not just to keep up
with the competition, but also because these modern methods can
facilitate visualization of 3-D structures and time-dependent processes in an unprecedented way. Visualization forms an essential
constituent in our cognitive processes, and it is essential that we
utilize this for student instruction. As educators, we have long
stressed the importance of our students learning to think and see
in three dimensions. It is our experience that the integration of
3-D visualizations into field courses and class curricula helps to
improve students visual-spatial skills, and new digital methods
are the latest tool to help us achieve that goal. Our challenge is to
devise protocols and lesson plans that make use of these new tools
in the most effective learning environments. One of these effective
learning environments must be the field, where students assimilate
geologic knowledge first-hand. As digital field methods continue
to evolve, our ultimate goal is to bring all of the available visualization firepower to the student in the natural environment.
Finally, we acknowledge that our preliminary student feedback falls far short of a complete assessment of student learning
in the field. Effective assessment instruments specifically focused
on field education (Hughes and Boyle, 2005; Pyle, this volume)
are essential in order to verify that digital visualization tools, such
as those advocated in this paper, are accomplishing the transformative leap in students comprehension that we desire. Specific
learning objects based on digital 3-D visualizations need to be
evaluated against the educational methods of traditional field
courses. In addition, postfield course surveys that go beyond
the anecdotal are needed to more completely assess the value
and application of students field education in their subsequent
careers. We cannot correct the lack of past assessment data for

field education, but as present-day geoscience field educators, we

can ensure that our future innovations in field-oriented curricula
will be supported by rigorous assessment of student learning.
The authors thank all of the Boston University and James Madison University Ireland field course students (and faculty) who
have directly and indirectly contributed to this work. We thank
Trish Walsh for providing infrastructural support and superb
accommodations at Petersburg Outdoor Education Centre. Partial support for the Google Earth component was provided by
National Science Foundation (NSF) grant EAR-0711077 to De
Paor and Whitmeyer. Aerial photos of Knock Kilbride are reproduced by permission of the Ordinance Survey of Ireland (OSI).
The following is a snippet of a Linux bash script, written by coauthor Daniels, for converting ArcGIS point shapefiles with orientation data (longitude, latitude, strike, dip, dip direction) to KML format
for import into Google Earth. The script creates a kml file that then
links to a 3-D model of a standard strike and dip symbol (created with
Google Sketchup) and orients the model using heading and roll tags.
The dollar signs denote variables that are filled at run time with the
data retrieved from the ArcGIS attribute table. Model details and attribute table format are specific to our project; however, an experienced
programmer might find it useful as a template for creating KML files
from ArcGIS data.
echo -e <Placemark>
<name>FID $tess</name>
<Model id=\042model_$tess\042>

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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research:

An adventure-based approach to teaching new geospatial
technologies in an REU Site Program
Mark T. Swanson
Department of Geosciences, University of Southern Maine, Gorham, Maine 04038, USA
Matthew Bampton
Geography-Anthropology Department, University of Southern Maine, Gorham, Maine 04038, USA

Adapting geologic field education and research training to new geospatial technologies requires considerable investment of time and money in acquiring new instruments,
mastering new techniques, and developing new curriculum in return for dramatically
increased mapping capabilities. The University of Southern Maines Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program has developed an integrated system of
digital mapping specifically designed for geologic work that involves satellite and optical digital survey instruments, digital imagery, and a variety of mapping techniques.
These new digital tools, techniques, and resources are used to explore the nature of
crustal deformation in an adventure-based undergraduate field research program that
employs sea kayaks for coastal access to island bedrock exposures. This new generation
of digital mapping tools enabled the development of new techniques for outcrop surface
mapping where we are able to delineate 1100-m-range mesoscale geologic features
that are often overlooked in traditional quadrangle-scale geologic mapping. Maps of
extensive exposures in coastal Maine created using these digital techniques continue
to reveal new and never-before-seen geologic structures and relationships. Because of
this, undergraduate students are able to make meaningful contributions to our base of
geologic knowledge and acquire essential geospatial skills, while learning these digital mapping techniques in a research setting. The emphasis we place on teamwork,
risk taking, exploration, and discovery as part of the adventure programming aspect of
the field component builds a confidence and enthusiasm that extends into the research
component of the project, where students are able to develop new analytical methods,
applications, and approaches to our field and laboratory work.
Since 1993, we have run an annual summer field school in
geography and geology traveling through the islands of coastal
Maine by sea kayak and making detailed topographic and geo-

logic maps of shoreline exposures. Our work draws on the unique

and challenging research questions concerning regional strain
effects of the late Paleozoicage Norumbega fault and shear zone
system, employs emerging digital mapping and surveying techniques including satellite and optical instruments to address these

Swanson, M.T., and Bampton, M., 2009, Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research: An adventure-based approach to teaching new geospatial technologies in an REU Site Program, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches:
Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 117133, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(11). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The
Geological Society of America. All rights reserved.



Swanson and Bampton

fundamental questions, and serves to increase the technological

skills, mapping abilities, and overall spatial comprehension of
undergraduate students from across several disciplines. For the
past seven years, our project has been supported by the National
Science Foundation as a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site Program (20022010). This program has
enabled us to recruit participants nationwide and has provided
access to a pool of extraordinarily talented scientists-in-training.
Our students are aggressively engaged in an end-to-end research
process, completing an entire original research project each year,
from walking on to the outcrop examining new geologic structure, to delivering a poster with the results of their research work
at a professional meeting. In this research team setting, students
develop an understanding of, and appreciation for, the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of contemporary field research.
All reports indicate that this program is a highly valuable educational experience and contributes significantly to the students
future careers in science. The need for special training in geospatial technologies, the uniqueness of the Maine coast environment
for adventure-based programs, and the geologic history of the
area as a natural laboratory for crustal deformation have all come
together in this unique undergraduate research experience.
Need for Special Training Programs in Geospatial
Basic field techniques involved in geologic mapping allow
the geologist to produce a quadrangle-based geologic map at a
typical scale of 1:24,000, supported by a written report with outcrop photographs of important exposures or photomicrographs
from selected samples. The traditional tools for quadrangle-scale
geologic mapping (Fig. 1A) are familiar: a topographic base map,
field book, Brunton compass, hammer, hand lens, acid bottle, and
field camera. All observations are keyed to base-map locations
using the map reading and topographic interpretation skills of
the field geologist supported by the use of the pace and compass
traversing technique and, more recently, the use of conventional
aerial orthophotos to pinpoint outcrop locations and delineate
bedrock features.
Familiarity with these traditional techniques remains essential. However, digital mapping techniques, remote sensing, and
spatial analysis have transformed the earth sciences (e.g., McCaffrey et al., 2005) and demand that working scientists add a novel
suite of skills to their resumes (National Research Council,
2006a, 2006b). Within the span of a single career, data collection, management, processing, storage, and analysis at all levels,
and in both laboratory and field environments, have been revolutionized. This, in turn, has required changes in existing course
design and the introduction of new courses in order to incorporate the latest technology and techniques into undergraduate education (Guertin, 2006; Neumann and Kutis, 2006; Menking and
Stewart, 2007). Sophisticated digital instruments (Fig. 1B), from
handheld digital measuring devices to portable and ruggedized
computers, are now readily available to most geoscientists in the

Figure 1. Mapping tool kits: (A) traditional geologic mapping tools, including the map clipboard, field book, Brunton compass, protractor, and scale; and (B) digital mapping
tools, including handheld global positioning system (GPS),
rod-mounted RTK (Real Time Kinematic) GPS with field
base station, tripod-mounted total stations, field laptop
computers, as well as the traditional Brunton compass.

developed world. Even simple map-reading skills, traditionally

used to determine the location of outcrops and the position of
contacts have given way to handheld global positioning system
(GPS) technology; hand-written field books have given way to
digital data-logging devices; and hand-drafting techniques have
been replaced by digital map production and display. Existing
hand-drafted geologic maps are also being updated by georeferencing to new high-resolution digital aerial imagery and digitized
to the new digital format and coordinate system. The speed with
which these new instruments can gather and process a wide array
of data has exponentially increased the volume of information we
have available for analysis and interpretation in any given project. Because of the value and importance of these new geospatial
tools, particularly with respect to field research in general, this
innovative REU training program is part of a multidisciplinary
geographic information system (GIS) initiative at the University
of Southern Maine (USM) that promotes the use of geospatial
technologies in research, training, and undergraduate education
in geology and geography.

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research

Coastal Maine as a Unique Learning Environment
The rocky coast of Maine is often an endless vista of islands,
peninsulas, lighthouses, and pocket beaches. A history of glacial
scouring and seasonal storm wave action along the coast, particularly with powerful winter noreasters, has created these seemingly endless geologic panoramas of bedrock exposure, which
can serve, effectively, as our windows into crustal deformation
processes. The outer islands and promontories, particularly on
their open ocean sides, reveal magnificent, glacially smoothed,
bare rock exposures stripped of soil and vegetation that are kept
clean by repeated storm waves.
Local outcrops in this natural geologic laboratory serve as
field-trip sites for our introductory and upper-level geology laboratory courses at USM. Structures in these local outcrops have
been the basis for detailed studies reported in at least a dozen articles on kinematic indicators, fault structure, and dike intrusion
(see, e.g., Swanson, 1999a, 2006). We have also used these island
exposures each summer for the past 15 years as a unique outdoor
learning environment when partnered with the use of sea kayaks
for shoreline access. The scenic sea and shoreline landscapes and
stunning geology of the remote reaches of the coast are best seen
and experienced by sea kayak, and Maines coast offers some of
the best sea kayaking found anywhere in the world. Teaching in
this environment (Fig. 2) naturally leads to an adventure-based
component to any program, where the thrill and excitement of
sea kayaking is accompanied by the sense of exploration and discovery in walking new shoreline exposures and unraveling new
geologic relations.
The aspect that makes this Maine coast area even more
unique is the geology itself: the bulk of the regional deformation has been influenced in some way by broadly distributed
right-lateral shearing associated with the late Paleozoic Norum-


bega fault and shear zone system (Fig. 3). Late-stage syntectonic
granites have been involved in this regional shearing and developed unique deformed geometries that could only be seen in
these large coastal exposures. Documentation of these deformed
geometries is greatly facilitated by the use of new digital mapping techniques. These mapped deformed geometries act as kinematic indicators and record the strain history of oblique convergence during Devonian Acadian collision, an important tectonic
process during mountain building in the northern Appalachians.
Geologic Questions Being Addressed
Geologic interpretations for faults in coastal Maine have
evolved significantly in the past 20 yr from a series of discontinuous postmetamorphic and post-tectonic minor brittle faults
(Hussey, 1988) to a narrow through-going Norumbega fault zone
of right-lateral postmetamorphic displacement coupled to a much
broader, 100-km-wide zone of earlier regional ductile shear
(Swanson, 1999b, 2007). Strain associated with the Norumbega
fault and shear zone system dominates the rocks of the area, and
the focus of the current research project concerns unraveling
the details of this regional pattern. This research grew out of the
development of new interpretational skills in shear zone geology
during the 1980s involving kinematic indicators (Swanson, 1992,
1994, 1999a) that allowed the recognition of basic strain types
(pure shear versus simple shear) and shear senses (left-lateral
versus right-lateral) in these rocks. Training students, not only
in geospatial technologies, but in the kinematic interpretational
skills of the modern-day structural geologist as well, allows us to
assess, document, and quantify deformation strain patterns found
anywhere in the region. The team research approach allows us
to apply these kinematic tools over wider geographic areas at
greater structural detail than previously possible, since a larger
team of researchers using more advanced digital tools is engaged
in yearly mapping, analysis, and writing. By carefully delineating the outcrop strain patterns for syntectonic granite dike intrusions throughout the area, we are able to see for the first time
the broader strain pattern associated with the development of this
major crustal shear zone and the way in which oblique convergence in mountain building can work. The use of digital mapping
techniques allows us to focus on detail outcrop surface mapping
as the preferred way to delineate complex structure, and, in that
way, we are changing the nature of geologic mapping itself.

Figure 2. Sea kayaks are used to transport gear and personnel

to the island field sites and to provide an adventure-based experience of cold-water paddling and remote-island camping in
coastal Maine that helps to foster the sense of exploration and
discovery inherent to scientific research.

The National Science Foundations Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program provides funds for hands-on
research training of undergraduate students in appropriate STEM
(science, technology, engineering, and math) majors as a way to
develop the next generation of researchers. The REU Site Program is designed for multiple student training programs that
allow students to be mentored by, and collaborate with, working
scientists from across the country on relevant research projects.


Swanson and Bampton

Figure 3. The University of Southern Maine (USM) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site project field
area consists of coastal Maine exposures from Casco Bay to Muscongus Bay on the SE side of the Norumbega fault
and shear zone (SZ) system. White arrowed lines show the stretching directions along oblique-to-fault folds related to
regional right-lateral shear, the block arrows highlight areas of layer-normal shortening with no lateral shear, and the
largest block arrow shows the lateral extrusion of the midcoast section where squeezed between left-lateral and rightlateral shear zones. Background geology base map is from Osberg et al. (1985).

The NSF REU Site Program at USM

The NSF REU Site Program at USM trains nine undergraduate students each year in the use of traditional and digital
field mapping tools and techniques in a long-term adventurebased field research project (20022010). Sea kayaks are used
for access to extensive coastal outcrop exposures (Fig. 2), and
participants camp on remote islands during the survey period.
This continuing program of detailed mapping is focused on the
delineation of crustal deformation features related to regional
transpression associated with the Norumbega fault and shear
zone system as preserved in these coastal Maine outcrops. New
digital instruments and resources are combined in a system of
integrated digital mapping and used to construct a digital geospatial database in ArcGIS to coordinate these new digital maps,
photos, data, and interpretations. These new detailed maps of
never-before-seen deformed intrusion patterns allow new analyses and new interpretations of geologic structure. These, in
turn, lead to more accurate structural and tectonic modeling of
basic crustal-scale mountain-building processes.

Each project year is built around an 8 wk summer research

session, and each student returns to their sponsoring institution with DVDs of all project data, field photos, maps, posters,
and PowerPoint presentations as well as a 1 yr student copy of
ESRIs (Environmental Research Institute) ArcMap GIS software. The student researchers prepare several abstracts and
accompanying posters for the Northeast Geological Society of
America (NE GSA) meeting each year; and they prepare and
deliver an oral presentation about their work to their sponsoring departments under the supervision of their faculty mentors
and receive a grade for a six-credit field course (GEY 360/
GEO 360 Field Mapping in the Island Environment: Data
Collection to GIS).
One factor that is important to any REU program is the ability to offer an effective and challenging multistudent research
experience. Our REU Site Program combines a unique and spectacular field environment with the adventure of using sea kayaks
for island access while students investigate fundamental scientific research questions concerning complex crustal deformation
using state-of-the-art digital technology.

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research

Student Recruitment and Selection
The NSF REU Site Program is designed to benefit undergraduate students from colleges and universities where opportunities for research experiences are limited. To meet these program goals, we target the smaller undergraduate institutions with
a nationwide e-mail announcement to all chairs and structural
geology faculty. The e-mail list is created from over ~400 e-mail
addresses taken from the AGI Directory each year. In addition,
the program is listed under the NSF REU program Web site with
a link to the program description and application materials on our
USM REU Web page at
The student-selection process is by necessity a balance
between fostering new research experiences for the students
involved and the successful completion of the specific research
goals for the projects each year. The primary student skills that
influence the selection process are wilderness outdoor experience
(hiking, camping, boating, wilderness first aid) and prior coursework in structural geology and/or GIS. While we offer training
in all aspects of the program, we need the student participants
to have a base of appropriate experience on which to build new
geospatial, interpretational and digital skills. We also strive for a
mix of individual skills and experience in order to enhance the
peer-to-peer learning potential for the research team.
This REU Site Program is in its seventh year and has
involved, to date, 63 undergraduates (nine students per year) representing 45 different colleges and universities from across the
country. Ten schools have sent multiple student participants. Over
the first seven years, our program has attracted an average of 32
applicants each year, with a nearly equal number of qualified men
(53%) and women (47%). Our nine-student research teams have
been composed of, on average, 54% men and 46% women. This
translates to a typical research team of 5 men and 4 women, but
this has varied from 2 to 8 women per team through the years.
Of the 63 students accepted into the program over the past
7 years, the majority (65%) of students have been from strictly
undergraduate baccalaureate degree institutions (our primary
recruitment target), and 35% have been from institutions with
M.S. and/or Ph.D. graduate degree programs in relevant majors.
Students majoring in geology have been the primary target
(72%), but students in geography (22%), environmental science
(4%), and physics (2%) have also been involved. This range of
student backgrounds reflects the need for prior experience in GIS
or GPS in addition to course work in structural geology and field
methods in each years research team. In recent years, we have
tried to have at least one student with a strong GIS or information
technology background (often as a geography major) to handle
the database development aspect of the current program.
Adventure-Based Programming
The REU Site Program at USM provides field research
training in an environment of exploration and discovery on
the Maine coast. Adventure-based education strategies (e.g.,
McKenzie, 2000; Priest and Gass, 2005) for our program center
on the field component to the research work, where all supplies,


gear and personnel are transported to the field sites by sea kayak
(Fig. 2). Students get to experience (and be challenged by) the
rugged and strenuous conditions of cold-water kayaking and
remote-island camping throughout coastal Maine while conducting field research. While we initially used sea kayaks as a logistical and economic necessity, we quickly discovered unanticipated
benefits to this method of transport to the field sites. Group bonding and a sense of personal responsibility through the physical
and intellectual challenges of sea kayaking lead to enhanced self
image and personal growth. Extensive practice on assisted rescues with frequent all-in capsize drills stresses the potential life
and death consequences of the everyday logistics of travel associated with fieldwork in this coastal ocean environment. Rotation
of student leaders for group kayak travel ensures that all students
become involved in navigation decisions, route planning and
the work of flank and sweep boats to keep the group tight during ocean crossings. This constantly reinforces the importance
of team work, cooperation, and group dynamics in everything
we do. By assigning students the responsibility for all aspects of
daily field life, including tasks as diverse as work management,
group meal preparation, menu planning, camp chores, and waste
disposal, we emphasize the need for leadership, cooperation, and
group cohesion. This experience carries over from the tasks of
daily field life to the daily research planning and logistics that are
involved in mapping and survey work.
The intent of the adventure-programming component of
the REU is for personal successes to overcome the physical and
environmental challenges, and for the team spirit fostered by the
day-to-day cooperation in all aspects of the field experience to
carry over to the personal and intellectual challenges the students
face as the program develops toward computer laboratory work,
analysis, abstract writing, and poster design. The greatest challenge in this program is, ultimately, to assemble the acquired field
data into a coherent and meaningful project that contributes to a
better understanding of the research questions involved.
The REU Site Research Project
REU Site Programs need to have a solid scientific focus to
give the participating undergraduate students firsthand experience working in a relevant research project. Our program of field
research centers on the rocky coast of Maine as a unique geologic
resource with a rich and complex geologic history where storm
waves have created extensive coastal exposures. Syntectonic
granite intrusions, quartz veins, brittle strike-slip faults, and the
structural analysis and tectonic interpretation of those mapped
features as they appear throughout Casco Bay and midcoast
Maine are interpreted in terms of regional strain accommodation
associated with transpressional deformation on the SE flank of
the Norumbega fault and shear zone system (Fig. 3).
The Norumbega fault and shear zone system of the northern
Appalachians is an orogen-parallel intracontinental fault boundary
that displays a lengthy and complex structural history and possibly several hundred kilometers of right-lateral, or dextral, strikeslip displacement. Geological Society of America (GSA) Special


Swanson and Bampton

Paper 331, Norumbega Fault System of the Northern Appalachians (Ludman and West, 1999), established the Norumbega as
a major strike-slip fault boundary active from the Mid-Devonian
into the early Mesozoic having a complex history of dominantly
dextral strike-slip deformation for over 100 m.y. Much of the early
deformation associated with the Norumbega was in the form of
regional shearing (Swanson, 1999a, 1999b) about the main fault
trace as part of an even wider zone of orogen-parallel shearing that
has affected much of the northern Appalachians (Hubbard, 1999).
Regional ductile shearing is thought to have localized into higher
strain zones and eventually into a few narrow brittle fault zones
(Hussey, 1988; Bothner and Hussey, 1999) as the system evolved
through exhumation and cooling during the later stages of orogenic activity. Earlier field studies developed an initial orthogonal-to-layer (and normal to regional fold hinge-parallel lineation)
emplacement model for deformed quartz and granite intrusions
(Swanson, 1992, 1994). An array of kinematic indicators for ductile dextral shear parallel to foliation and lineation was observed
(Swanson, 1999a) and used to constrain a tectonic model that used
transpression at a restraining section of the fault to account for
the observed structural patterns (Swanson, 1999b). For the SE
side of the main fault zone, this regional shearing model (Swanson, 1999b) includes an early history of regional oblique-to-fault
folding and reorientation of the steeply dipping fold limbs into
a 12 km inner zone of high dextral shear strain along the main
trace of the NE-striking Norumbega fault.
Our REU Site Program (20022007) expanded coverage
across northern Casco Bay (Fig. 3) (Jansyn et al., 2003; OKane
et al., 2003) and east to Muscongus Bay (Castle et al., 2004;
Doyle et al., 2004; Olson et al., 2005; Betka et al., 2006) within
the SE side of, and at progressively greater distances from, the
main Norumbega fault zone (for regional geology, see Osberg et
al., 1985; Hussey and Berry, 2002). Elongation and shear along
steep limb layers in oblique-to-fault upright folds throughout the
area can be interpreted from kinematic indicators such as symmetric to asymmetric boudinage, asymmetric folds, shear band
fabrics, and the geometry of initially orthogonal quartz veins
and granite intrusions (Swanson, 1992, 1999a). The work of the
REU research teams has documented zones of both right- and
left-lateral shear that have been used in a lateral extrusion model
of a midcoast structural block that is dominated by pure shear
layer-normal flattening (Fig. 3).

maps using simple hand tools and map and landscape reading
skills, a sophisticated analytical interpretation can be produced.
Various techniques are employed to address structures over a
variety of scale ranges (Fig. 4), and regional, local, outcrop, and
feature observations are compiled.
Outcrop Surface Mapping
Outcrop surface mapping techniques are designed to delineate an intermediate or mesoscale range of geologic structure
somewhere between the ~10 km scale of the topographic map
and the ~1 m scale of an individual small outcrop (Fig. 4).
Outcrop surface mapping is a detailed depiction of specific
structural features such as folds, faults, or intrusions found
within single large outcrop exposures. These laterally extensive
exposures are found in glaciated environments, river channels,
above tree line, road cuts, and in wave-washed coastal settings.
The latter types are common along Maines rocky shoreline.
This birds-eye perspective allows the representation of features
that are typically overlooked in traditional quadrangle geologic
mapping because they are too small to be recognized in traditional aerial photographs yet are too large to be seen while
standing on the outcrop. Outcrop surface mapping techniques,
therefore, are capable of delineating new, never-before-seen
geologic features and relationships.
The importance of outcrop surface mapping has long been
recognized in geology. While early workers sketched map views
of outcrop features freehand (see Jackson [1838] for the first dike
intrusion maps of Maine exposures), more recent outcrop surface
maps have been prepared using detailed grid mapping techniques
(e.g., Swanson, 1983, 2006; DiToro and Pennacchioni, 2005)


Geological mapping is one of the fundamental skills of field
research in the earth sciences since its development with William
Smiths initial mapping work during the early 1800s (Winchester,
2001). In particular, quadrangle-scale geologic mapping has been
the backbone of most twentieth-century field research. By compiling and correlating some combination of lithologic, paleontologic, structural, and stratigraphic observations made at scattered
outcrops, and spatially referencing them to topographic base

Figure 4. Scale range for typical geologic mapping leaves a gap in

coverage between typical quadrangle-scale mapping and handheld onthe-outcrop photography. Detailed outcrop surface mapping completes
this scale range and can reveal new, never-before-seen geologic structures and relationships.

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research

involving outcrop grid lines, field clip boards, similar squares,
and hand-drawing techniques. More detailed and accurate representations of larger outcrop structures and their relationships
can be attained using the time-honored plane table and alidade, a
survey instrument used with a stadia rod to determine direction
and distance where position data are plotted directly on a tripodmounted map board in the field (Swanson, 2006).
Integrated Digital Mapping
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, digital survey
instrumentation (global positioning system [GPS] and total station [optical survey transit]) and high-resolution digital aerial
and camera-pole imagery coupled with the data management
capacity of GIS software have transformed the mapping process,
allowing for an all-digital style of geologic mapping (Swanson
et al., 2002). The tools required for this style of digital mapping
create a much more cumbersome field kit (Figs. 1B and 2) for
todays field investigators, but they allow far greater capability
and precision. We refer to this cluster of techniques as integrated
digital mapping (Swanson and Bampton, 2004).
Integrated digital mapping (Box 1) utilizes several different high-precision geospatial mapping tools to create a data-rich
GIS representing complex geologic features. This GIS has a data
structure that is readily navigable, allowing for both visualization
and analysis of complex features with great accuracy and at high
resolutions (Swanson et al., 2002; Berry et al., 2003; McBride
et al., 2004; Swanson and Bampton, 2004). At present, we use
a variety of handheld mapping-grade and survey-grade instruments, imagery, GIS, and data management software, along with
some specialized techniques. Our integrated mapping system
forms the core of our undergraduate research program at USM
under the National Science Foundations Research Experiences
for Undergraduates Site Program.



Digital Instrumentation
Six handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiversmapping-grade Trimble GeoXT GPS with built-in antenna, broad area
real-time corrections, feature/attribute data-logging functions, ~1
m precision.
One GPS field base stationa tripod-mounted Trimble 5700
dual-frequency receiver using a geodetic antennae with ground
plane and a 225 W radio and whip antennae for broadcasting
real-time corrections.
Three RTK GPS roversrod-mounted survey-grade Trimble 5700
receivers using real-time kinematic corrections and three Trimble
TSC-1 survey controllers, ~2 cm precision.
Three Total Stationstripod-mounted SpectraPrecision 608 series
Geodimeters, servo-driven, Windows GeoDatWin controllers, and
autolock tracking of target prisms, ~1 cm precision.
Supporting Digital Imagery
High-resolution digital aerial imageryorthorectified (to remove
lens distortion), georeferenced (positioned, scaled, and oriented
within a coordinate system) with ground pixel sizes of 1530 cm
depending on field area, from Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Low-elevation digital aerial imageryusing a 14 m camera-pole
system with images and mosaics georeferenced to RTK (real
time kinematic) GPS or total station control points; pixel sizes
vary with camera type and camera pole height.
High-resolution macrophotographic imageryusing a digital SLR
(single lens reflex) camera, macrolens, and extension collar for
photomacrography of brittle fault thin sections.
Supporting Hardware
Three laptop computersPanasonic CF-29 Toughbooks with USB
and PCMCIA flash card slots, field hardened for downloading
RTK GPS and total station data, with access to data, maps, GIS
software, and high-resolution aerial imagery in the field.
Twelve GIS laboratory computersDell Precision 340 Pentium 4
in a GIS Laboratory network.
ScannerHP 12" 20" scanner.
PrinterHP Color Laserjet with ledger-sized 11" 17" paper.

Instrument Precision
Instrument precisions used in this report refer to the diameter of multiple same-point position clusters when plotted in GIS
(Fig. 5), which reflect the error in determining coordinate positions for each instrument. Handheld mapping-grade instruments
provide adequate meter-scale precision for plotting positions on
topographic maps, whereas rod and tripod-mounted survey-grade
instruments provide centimeter-scale precision for delineation of
finer-scale features.
Tools and Resources
The equipment, supporting imagery, and software required
for USMs REU Site Program in integrated digital mapping (Box
1) are designed to take the researcher from data collection in the
field to final map presentation in the computer laboratory. The
mapping- and survey-grade instruments include handheld GPS
receivers, a GPS field base station, RTK (Real Time Kinematic)
GPS rovers, and optical total stations. Supporting digital imagery
includes high-resolution digital aerial imagery currently available

PlotterHP DesignJet 36-in.-wide color plotter for map and poster

Supporting Software
ESRIs (Environmental Systems Research Institute) ArcGIS 9.2
softwarefor display, analysis, and spatial data structure.
Microsoft Excelfor data file formatting in the survey download/
export process.
Adobe Photoshopfor creating photomosaics from camera-pole
Adobe Illustratorfor final map and poster production.
Microsoft Accessfor building a searchable database for field data
and metadata.
Microsoft PowerPointfor presentation of project results.
Microsoft ActiveSyncfor connecting to Windows CE devices
(Trimble GeoXT GPS).
Trimble GPS Pathfinder Officefor data transfer and export from
handheld GPS.
Stereoplotstereonet program for PC, Allmendinger (Cornell University Web site).
Microsoft Wordword-processing program.


Swanson and Bampton

Figure 5. Precision for mapping and survey instrumentation is reported as the diameter of a cluster of multiple, same-point, position coordinates when plotted in
geographic information systems (GIS). Mapping-grade
handheld global positioning system (GPS) is capable
of meter-scale precisions, while (A) survey-grade RTK
(Real Time Kinematic) GPS and (B) optical total stations are capable of centimeter-scale precisions.

from the State Office of GIS and low-elevation camera-pole

imagery taken at the field site. The needed hardware consists of
field laptop computers and a supporting GIS Lab, desktop computers, scanner, printer, and plotter. Supporting software needed
includes ArcGIS 9.2, Excel, Photoshop, Illustrator, Access, PowerPoint, ActiveSync, Trimble GPS Pathfinder Office, Stereoplot,
and Word.
Handheld GPS receivers with 1 m precision are used for collecting basic structural orientation data (Figs. 6A and 6B) and for
fast mapping of larger features where higher precisions are not
required, such as general outcrop shapes, soil lines, tide lines, and
contacts of larger intrusive bodies. Real-time kinematic or RTK
GPS receivers with centimeter precisions (Figs. 6C and 6D) are
used to map the shape, orientation, and position of a broad range
of geologic features, such as host rock fabric, folds, faults, and
dike intrusions. For more intricate structures or for conditions
where satellite signals are poor or unavailable, such as in the
woods or near obstructions, the electronic total stations are used
(Figs. 7A and 7B). Optical total stations utilize infrared light and
an autolock system, where the instrument can lock onto and follow a signal-emitting prism, making quick work of any survey
task. All of these instruments allow comparatively rapid collection of large amounts of data (nearly 1000 survey points per day),
including descriptive attributes for the features being mapped.
Data Export
Positional data and attributes collected by these instruments
must be exported in a format compatible with GIS, since that
is where most of the mapmaking and analysis will take place.
Handheld GPS instruments are cabled to computers, and point,
line, and area features are exported directly as ArcGIS shape

files and attribute tables populated with field observations. RTK

GPS and total station point data are exported as .csv files that are
formatted in Excel. Each data point is numbered and associated
with an easting, northing, elevation, object type (point, line, or
polygon), object number (which identifies all the points involved
in a single line or polygon shape), and point code (to describe
the features being mapped). For RTK GPS and total stations, all
attributes are coded into a single multicharacter field that is broken up into separate columns during file formatting using a textto-columns function in Excel. The reformatted .csv files from
both the RTK GPS and total stations are brought into ArcGIS as
x-y data and converted into shape files. GIS software loaded on
field laptop computers provides access to field data and imagery,
allowing continual adjustments to the active field plan as data
points are accumulated (Fig. 7C), as well as on-site field editing
of the developing maps (Fig. 7D).
Digital Imagery
It is possible in many cases to map and interpret some
structures based on high-resolution georeferenced digital aerial
imagery available for the area, assuming the structures are of the
appropriate scale and have a sufficient color contrast to be visible
in the images. For smaller-scale features, low-elevation photography with an adjustable telescoping camera-pole (Fig. 8) can be
used. Photomosaics of the outcrop surfaces are georeferenced in
ArcGIS to RTK GPSsurveyed or total stationsurveyed control
points within each image (Swanson and Bampton, 2008). Structures within these images can be delineated by on-screen digitizing, creating new shape files in ArcGIS. These mapped image
features can be combined or integrated with other GPS or total
station data, since these images are tied to the same datum and
coordinate system used for mapping and surveying.
Establishing a Field Datum
All surveys using RTK GPS and total stations must be tied
to a field datum point in a coordinate system with known xyz
coordinates (easting, northing, and elevation). Handheld mapping-grade GPS works independently of the field datum but has
less precision as a result. All of the RTK GPS surveys are linked
to this initial field datum through the broadcasting GPS field
base station (Fig. 6C). Because the field base station receiver
continuously monitors its calculated position using the available satellite clusters at the time, it compares these calculated
positions with its known coordinates to create and broadcast a
correction factor to the RTK GPS rovers for on-the-fly processing in real time.
The RTK GPS rovers are then used to determine the coordinate positions for the total station tripods and for the reflector
reference objects needed to establish the total stations by position and orientation. Since both RTK GPS and total stations are
using the same coordinate system and are tied to the same field
datum, the resulting surveyed points can be combined in an integrated survey. The coordinate system used here in coastal Maine,
for example, is NAD 83, UTM, and Zone 19 North. Coordinate

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research


Figure 6. (A) Handheld mapping-grade global positioning system (GPS) (Trimble GeoXT) with its touch screen and
built-in antenna is used for (B) logging position and descriptive attribute information (orientation, lithology, etc.) pertaining to mapped features (points, lines, and areas). (C) Broadcasting field base station for RTK GPS setup consists of a
tripod-mounted geodetic antenna with ground plane (to eliminate multipath errors from satellite signals reflected off of the
ground), a Trimble 5700 base receiver, and a 225 W broadcasting radio and whip antenna for communication with (D)
survey-grade RTK GPS (Trimble 5700) and rover receivers with rod-mounted antenna and radio link to broadcasting base
station for real-time corrections to position data.

positions are measured in meters to three decimal places, representing distances to the nearest millimeter.
Datum coordinates. The initial datum coordinates for the
field base station can be acquired by several different methods
depending on the accuracy needed for the survey. Here, the term
accuracy refers to how well the precision survey will fit into
the coordinate system. For a postprocessed datum, 2 hour static
data runs using the GPS base receiver and geodetic antenna with
ground plane can be postprocessed automatically using National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) Web-based
Online Position User Service (OPUS), which compares the base
receiver satellite data to several nearby Continuously Operating
Receiver Stations (CORS) to apply position corrections. GPS
receiver files in RINEX format are uploaded, and postprocessed
results are emailed to the users usually within several minutes.
These postprocessed positions can be calculated using three different levels of satellite orbital model precisions. Postprocessed

GPS base station positions are precise to within ~2 cm relative to

three nearby CORS base stations.
Alternately, this postprocessing procedure can be sidestepped, and, instead, an unprocessed position can be accepted
as datum, where the base station receiver makes a position
calculation based on a single epoch of satellite data. Whereas
global accuracy may be diminished using this procedure, the
internal precision of the survey remains the same. In practical
terms, this quick grab datum may be sufficient for the mapping project at hand and allows the survey to proceed without
the delay of postprocessing. Most surveys need to be tied to
available georeferenced aerial imagery, and a best match can
often be achieved by selecting a datum point visible within the
image that can be recognized on the ground. Northing and easting coordinates for this visual datum can be retrieved in ArcMap using field laptop computers by pinpointing image features with the cursor. Static data collected by the base receivers


Swanson and Bampton

Figure 7. (A) Optical tripod-mounted total stations (SpectraPrecision 608 Series Geodimeter) require a rod-mounted prism
and line-of-sight to map features. (B) Autolock function allows the station to automatically track the target prism mounted
on a short rod for increased precision. (C) Laptop computers in the field are used for downloading and processing survey
data into a geographic information system (GIS). (D) Use of a computer harness allows on-site editing of GIS shape files.

Figure 8. Camera-pole imagery offers a low-elevation aerial view of the outcrop surface utilizing (A) a bracket and plumb tube
for holding, triggering, and aligning the camera on top of a telescoping aluminum pole, adjustable to 14 m in height. RTK (Real
Time Kinematic) global positioning system (GPS) is used to measure the position of georeferencing control points within each
image. (B) Visible geologic features are digitized on-screen to produce shape files in a geographic information system (GIS).
(C) Seamless photomosaics are georeferenced into the correct position, size, and orientation.

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research

can also be postprocessed at a later time for more accurate
elevations to the survey data.
Digital Atlas Structure
Outcrop surface mapping allows us to construct a complete
range-of-scale perspective for the geology of a particular area
(Fig. 4). This perspective extends from the regional scale of the
state bedrock geologic map (1:500,000), through quadrangle-scale
geologic maps (1:24,000), high-resolution digital aerial imagery
(pixel sizes at 15 cm ground distance), outcrop surface maps and
camera-pole imagery, to typical outcrop photos showing features
at your feet. The incorporation of all of these maps and images
within a single georeferenced coordinate space in ArcGIS provides a multiscale digital atlas structure linking global, regional,
local, outcrop, and feature observations (Fig. 9). The coordinated
multiscale maps, images, spatial relationships, and orientation data
create a useful analytical tool to explore, investigate, and analyze,
at a variety of scales, the thematic geologic features portrayed.
High-resolution micro- and macrophotography can be used
to extend the range-of-scale perspective to include detailed maps
of microscopic features based on digital photomosaics of full thin
sections. Using the thin section photomosaic as a digital microscopy system, brittle fault zone samples, with their multiple fault
lines, veins, and an assortment of fault materials, can be easily
mapped at the microscopic scale by on-screen digitizing techniques in ArcMap, zooming in to higher magnifications for accurate interpretation of the observed features.
Digital Analysis Techniques
Digital mapping and survey instruments, digital aerial imagery, and GIS are transforming the mapping process as well as the
analysis of the collected field data.
Orientation analysis. As mapping proceeds, computer stereonet plotting programs can be used to display and interpret structural orientation data. Orientation data that have been positioned
and logged using handheld GPS can be easily copied from the
resulting GIS shape file attribute tables and used to create stereonet plots of selected data. GIS symbol palettes allow rapid plotting of selected strike and dip or trend and plunge symbols, along
with rotation of symbols to appropriate strike or trend azimuth
values. Dip or plunge values can be labeled and edited for size
and position relative to the chosen symbol.
Strain analysis. For strain analysis of mapped features,
GIS can be used to measure lengths, widths, and relative angles
as well as to calculate surface areas of selected mapped polygons. These acquired values can be used to make a number
of different strain calculations based on the mapped geometric relationships. These include: (1) gamma shear strain from
reorientation of mapped features subjected to simple shear, (2)
shortening of folded intrusions by line length comparisons, and
(3) elongation associated with boudinage of more competent
layers by surface area reconstruction.
Spatial analysis. Analytical techniques based on geostatistics, or spatial analysis, can also be used with a variety of point


data such as topographic elevations or structural orientations.

These spatial analysis techniques, until recently, have been considered arcane and highly specialized, but they have now become
widely available on the toolbars of many commonly used desktop
GIS packages, such as ArcGIS and Idrisi. Interpolation using TIN
(triangular irregular network) or IDW (inter distance weighted)
functions creates raster images that can be used to highlight specific spatial relationships such as slope or aspect for topography.
For structural analysis, this allows the user to make spatial variation diagrams that are essentially contour maps of selected feature
variations sometimes referred to as alternate Z-value maps. At
present USMs REU team is exploring the potential of these types
of techniques in developing structural geology interpolations, and
predictive surfaces for complex folding on the local and regional
scales (Land et al., 2004; Kroll et al., 2008).
Database Development
An increasingly important component of modern field
research using digital mapping techniques is the handling of
enormous quantities of digital data, including supporting digital
maps and imagery as well as field data created during mapping,
processing, and analysis.
File system. A simple folder file system in Windows XP is
used to organize the project work space in the GIS Laboratory
network, where students develop folders for processing, analysis, and archiving of final data files. File naming conventions are
important for keeping track of data files as they are created in
the field, during processing of that data into shape files for GIS,
and for updating feature files as more data are added to the final
shapes. File names include a two-letter island reference, which
allows files to be organized alphabetically by island location, date
the data was generated, instrument type, instrument ID number,
and a feature reference to indicate what exactly was being surveyed. Work space folder sizes and total number of files created for each year (Fig. 10) for our nine-student research teams
have increased from just a few hundred megabytes in 2002 to
nearly 50 gigabytes and over 15,000 files in 2008 as techniques
and resources have evolved. We expect this trend to continue
with the acquisition of more extensive camera-pole imagery
for more complex outcrop structure as well as the use of new
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) elevation data to aid in
our regional studies.
Database structure. To keep track of all field-collected and
processed data files, all files are accompanied by direct metadata
entry into a Microsoft Access Database using the field laptop
computers. This procedure records the file name, instrument
type, instrument number, features mapped, object type mapped
(point, line, or polygon), datum and coordinate system used, and
person(s) responsible for collecting or processing the data. This
allows the research team to keep track of all of the field-generated
files and to search the developing database when needed for specific files by date, instrument, feature type, or student worker.
The final GIS shape files (points, lines, and polygons) for
each feature type (granite intrusion polygons, foliation lines,


Swanson and Bampton

Figure 9. Thematic digital atlas structure for syntectonic granite intrusions linking (A) regional geology; (B) area structure; (C) local
features; (D) outcrop maps; (E) camera-pole imagery; and (F) handheld feature photos through a spatial database structure in a geographic information system (GIS). BBFBloody Bluff Fault; CCFCobequid-Chedabucto Fault; CNFClinton-Newberry Fault;
FZFundy Zone; NFNorumbega Fault; N.H.New Hampshire.

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research


abstract/poster presentations and five faculty-led abstract/poster

presentations at NE section GSA meetings. The 2009 NE GSA
meeting featured a symposium and theme poster session on GIS
and digital techniques in the geosciences and an REU studentassisted premeeting workshop on integrated digital mapping for
the general geologic community.

Figure 10. (A) Increasing number of files generated and (B) increasing size of the digital work space for successive years of the Research
Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program are typical for digital
mapping, where an ever-increasing work space volume requires special data management strategies.

structural data points, etc.) created from field-generated survey

data and supporting imagery are archived within the flat folder
project work space. A more versatile spatial database structure,
the geodatabase in ArcGIS, is also used, where final shape files
are organized by location, and a map index can be browsed and
zoomed in to highlight selected features and recall attributes.
Seven years of REU team research thus far has resulted
in significant progress in meeting the research and educational
goals of the project. The geologic work has documented new
structures and contributed to an evolving tectonic model for
Norumbega deformation.
Research Results
REU student research teams have, to date, mapped on 16 different island and coastal field sites from Casco Bay to Muscongus Bay and explored the use and application of new digital tools
and techniques while examining the crustal deformation effects
of regional transpression. This work has generated 34 student-led

Student Research
Research topics explored by student participants and presented as abstracts and posters have focused on three aspects of
our work: (1) the use and application of digital mapping tools
and development of new digital mapping techniques; (2) new
geologic features and relationships revealed in the targeted field
exposures; and (3) the use of GIS in new ways for the compilation and analysis of the collected field data.
Use of digital mapping tools and development of new digital mapping techniques. A main thrust of our research efforts
is focused on developing novel applications for the new digital
mapping tools and new digital mapping techniques that can be
applied to geologic and environmental field projects. These studies have included:
(1) integrated digital techniques for outcrop surface mapping
in structural geology (Berry et al., 2003; McBride et al., 2004;
Swanson and Bampton, 2004) to describe applications to geologic field problems;
(2) aerial camera-pole techniques for generating outcrop
surface imagery (Verhave et al., 2005; Duwe et al., 2006; Mayhew et al., 2007; Swanson and Bampton, 2008) as a new way to
create low-elevation images for detailed mapping; and
(3) a database structure for digital outcrop surface mapping
(Millard et al., 2005; Spaulding et al., 2006; Sigrist et al., 2008)
to keep track of an increasing number of project data files generated each year.
New geologic features and relationships. The geologic
questions addressed by the detailed outcrop surface mapping
evolved as our exploratory work progressed. Specific focus has
been maintained on delineating the nature of the syntectonic granite intrusions found throughout the coastal field areas. Research
has focused specifically on:
(1) the nature of syntectonic granite intrusion (Jansyn et al.,
2003; Doyle et al., 2004; Olson et al., 2005; Betka et al., 2006;
Waters et al., 2008; Saunders et al., 2008) in relation to initially
orthogonal emplacement as dikes and the subsequent strain partitioning into the shear and flattening components of the deformation; and
(2) the structure of pseudotachylyte fault veins (Bates et al.,
2006; Swanson, 2005) in left-lateral strike-slip faults that were
discovered in several Muscongus Bay area locations.
Use of GIS for compilation and analysis. This aspect of the
research focused on the application of GIS and its compilation
and spatial analysis capabilities to the geologic and environmental issues at hand. The majority of this work has revolved around
using digital measurement techniques (angles, line lengths, and
surface areas) in GIS for accurate strain analysis (elongation and


Swanson and Bampton

gamma shear strain) of the documented syntectonic features.

These efforts have dealt specifically with:
(1) strain analysis of deformed syntectonic granites (OKane
et al., 2003; Castle et al., 2004; Benford et al., 2005; Orton et al.,
2007; Swanson, 2007) to quantify the various strain components
of the deformation;
(2) spatial analysis of complex folding (Land et al., 2004;
Plitzuweit et al., 2007; Kroll et al., 2008) using the spatial analyst
tools in GIS to look at the distribution of variation in layer orientations in complexly folded terrains; and
(3) environmental mapping and geomorphology (Arnold et
al., 2007; Gilbert et al., 2007; Saunders et al., 2008; McBride
et al., 2004; Mueller et al., 2008; Vanderberg et al., 2008; Joyner et
al., 2008) as a way to tie the evolving landscape into our developing geologic work.
This student-driven field research has created an extensive
base of field data and observations that will support and foster
the publication of significant contributions in digital mapping
techniques (this paper), spatial analysis of complex structures
as well as the geometry of syntectonic granite intrusions, details
of strain analysis, and the nature of strain partitioning during
transpressional deformation. In terms of the regional tectonics,
the REU research teams have found that right-lateral (or dextral) layer-parallel shear dominates close to the main fault zone
within inner Casco Bay and in a narrow kilometer-wide zone farther east away from the main fault trace in the Phippsburg shear
zone (Fig. 3). Left-lateral (or sinistral) layer-parallel shear was
found to dominate at Pemaquid Point and in the Muscongus Bay
area even further to the east and includes rare exposures of faultrelated friction melts (pseudotachylyte) (Swanson, 2005; Bates
et al., 2006) in left-lateral strike-slip faults. A tectonic model
of southward extrusion of a midcoast block between zones of
opposing shear sense at Phippsburg and Pemaquid (Olson et al.,
2005) during regional Norumbega shearing was developed and
best explains the observed kinematic patterns. Much of this midcoast block as seen in large offshore island exposures at Seguin
and Salter Islands at the mouth of the Kennebec River (Plitzuweit
et al., 2007; Kroll et al., 2008) and Damariscove Island off of
Boothbay (Saunders et al., 2008; Waters et al., 2008) has been
studied, revealing significant layer-normal shortening but little
evidence for layer-parallel strike-slip shearing.
Educational Results
The educational goals of the project involved the research
training and experiences of the participating students as well
as outreach to the public in sharing the results of the students
REU Skills Assessment
In an effort to document the learning process in more than
purely anecdotal terms, we developed an assessment instrument
as a way to evaluate the program outcomes. We made a list of
46 special skills and techniques (Box 2) essential to integrated

digital mapping and the REU experience that the participating

students are exposed to during the course of the program. Most
of these skills are related to the use of digital instruments and
GIS for field mapping and analysis, but they also include various
outdoor skills, use of Brunton and stereonet, use of supporting
software, and abstract/poster development. Students fill out the
skills assessment sheet at the end of the summer field season,
providing a self evaluation of their prior knowledge or skill level
and of their knowledge and skill level after the completion of
the REU summer program. This skills assessment provides a
simple measure of the effectiveness of the learning process as
students are exposed to the new digital field mapping techniques.
The list itself highlights the versatility of these new techniques
and the need for specialized training in geospatial technologies
as part of the future of geologic mapping. The results of the REU
2007 skills assessment survey, for example (Fig. 11), indicate
that significant learning takes place over the eight weeks of the
program. The average prior skill level was 1.56 (on a scale of
05), and an average post-REU skill level is 3.75. This means
an average skill-level increase of 2.19 for the 46 skills and techniques involved. Student responses can be grouped by category
to include outdoor skills, structural geology, digital mapping,
GIS, supporting software, and abstract/poster development. The
lowest initial skill level (0.21) was estimated for the digital mapping component, while the highest initial skill level (2.162.19)
was estimated for the GIS, software, and abstract/poster components of the program. Consequently, the highest average skill
level increase of 3.59 came from the digital mapping skill set,
with the other categories ranging from 1.38 to 2.13. The lowest post-REU skill level was estimated for the structural geology
component (2.90), reflecting the overall complexity of the field
area history. The highest post-REU skill level was estimated for
the outdoor skills (4.10) and abstract/poster (4.06) component of
the program, reflecting overall student confidence in their field
and writing abilities.
Public Dissemination and Education
Most of the REU work is by necessity focused on publicly
accessible state parks and nature preserves where significant
exposures can be found as well as on private islands where permission for access has been granted. The more significant publicly accessible sites examined during the program have included
Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park (featured on the new Maine
State quarter), the historic Seguin Island and Lighthouse, and the
Damariscove Island Nature Preserve. These targeted field areas
and their museums, informational kiosks, and summer visitors
create a unique opportunity for the public dissemination of our
scientific research results. Educational materials have been produced for the Seguin Island site that include maps, brochures, and
summary data compilations exported from ArcMap as layered
clickable .pdf files. A computer has been installed at the Seguin
Island Museum as a digital kiosk to display the layered .pdf map
file so that visitors can explore the many different views (aerial
image, topographic, geologic, land-use features, etc.) of Seguin

Integrated digital mapping in geologic field research



Low-impact camping
Cooking for large groups
Kayak paddling strokes
Rescue techniques
Navigation and charts
Leadership, group work
Brunton compass; quadrants
Planar data, right-hand rule, azimuth compass
Linear data as trend and plunge
Stereonet program for digital orientation data
Strain analysis using line length or surface area reconstruction
Geo XT
Custom Data Dictionary
5700 RTK Measure Points
Continuous Topo Mode
RTK base station setup
Total Station
Station establishment
Design survey strategy
Trimble data transfer utility
Trimble export as shape files utility
Download procedure for imagery from MeOGIS
Upload procedure to OPUS for static GPS
Arc GIS 9
Download, format, display, and convert to shape routine for digital
survey data
Georeference preexisting maps
Merge shape files
Use ET Wizard to connect data points
Plot, rotate, and label map symbols
Areas of polygons
Lengths of line segments
Measure angles
Produce TIN contours from elevation data
Run Arc Scene
Export as video clip
Create new shape file and digitize new features in Edit
Export MXD layouts as tiffs, jpegs & pdfs
Personal geodatabase
Manage and edit coordinates
Adobe Photoshop for camera-pole mosaics
Adobe Illustrator for poster layouts
Hypothesis generation and testing
Write scientific abstract
Design and create scientific poster

Prior skill level

Post-REU skill level




Swanson and Bampton

riculum, and Laboratory Improvement) grant program for the
initial equipment purchases, and to University of Southern
Maine (USM) for research and development funds for the purchase of the field laptop computers. Much appreciation goes to
the many Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student researchers who have contributed their efforts and enthusiasm to various aspects of this work and to the conservatory
organizations and landowners who have graciously provided
access to these extraordinary field sites.

Figure 11. Skills assessment results for the 2007 Research Experiences
for Undergraduates (REU) Program showing the pre- and post-REU
estimated skill levels (on a scale of 05) as an evaluation of learning.
Student responses are grouped by category to include outdoor skills,
structural geology, digital mapping, geographic information systems
(GIS), supporting software, and abstract/poster development.

Island in a navigable and zoomable digital format. Layered .pdf

files with compiled data can easily be added to Web sites maintained by nonprofit organizations charged with the conservation
of these natural areas (Friends of Seguin [Seguin Island]; Boothbay Region Land Trust [Damariscove Island], for example).
Field mapping in the twenty-first century requires an intimate knowledge of the operation, application, and limitations of
a range of new digital resources, computer software, and geospatial technologies. The National Science Foundations Research
Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site Program at USM
offers an adventure-based platform of hands-on exposure to a
wide variety of new mapping tools and resources. Such a fully
integrated multi-instrument approach provides a well-rounded
introduction to these important new tools and resources. Knowledge and experience with a broad range of these new tools and
techniques allow the modern-day field scientist to adjust and
adapt to the specifics of new field research environments. The use
of these new tools and techniques gives scientists access to previously untapped sources of new precision field data, such as highresolution imagery and outcrop surface maps, that can reveal
new, never-before-seen geologic features and relationships.
Many thanks are due to the National Science Foundation for
support of this Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site
Program (grant 0139021 for 20022004; 0353601 for 2004
2007; 0647779 for 20072010); to NSFs CCLI (Course, Cur-

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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology

field course: The use of advanced project options
Robert L. Bauer
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri 65211, USA
Donald I. Siegel
Department of Earth Sciences, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13244-1070, USA
Eric A. Sandvol
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri 65211, USA
Laura K. Lautz
Department of Earth Sciences, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13244-1070, USA

The incorporation of increasingly multidisciplinary aspects of geoscience curricula into a traditional geology field camp requires compromises. Among these, decisions about projects to reduce or eliminate and course prerequisites are two of the
most challenging. Over the past 10 yr, the University of Missouris geology field camp
has completed a two-stage plan to expand our projects in hydrology and geophysics
while maintaining traditional aspects of our course and our standard prerequisites.
The first stage added projects in surface and groundwater hydrology, seismic refraction, and surficial mapping during the fifth week of our six-week course, replacing
an existing mapping project. The second stage added advanced project options that
students can select to complete during the last week of the course. Advanced projects
in hydrology and geophysics were added as alternatives to the existing hard-rock
structural analysis project that had been the sixth-week project for all students. This
staged addition has allowed us to: (1) integrate these projects into a curriculum that
maintains a strong emphasis on historical bedrock geology, geologic mapping, and
three-dimensional visualization; and (2) accommodate differences in the coursework
that students have completed prior to beginning the field camp. Rather than requiring
students to have prerequisite courses in hydrogeology or geophysics in order to select
these advanced project options, we include sufficient instruction during the fifth and
sixth weeks that builds upon previous projects to provide the required background.
To set up the context for our expanded hydrology and geophysics projects, this
paper briefly describes our traditional field projects and our instructional philosophies. We describe the expanded projects that have been implemented during the fifth
and sixth weeks of our course, project objectives, and the ways that these projects
Bauer, R.L., Siegel, D.I., Sandvol, E.A., and Lautz, L.K., 2009, Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced
project options, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological
Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 135154, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(12). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological
Society of America. All rights reserved.



Bauer et al.
reinforce lessons learned during traditional field projects. We present the results of
student surveys that have been used to evaluate the success of these efforts, and we
discuss the personnel and equipment expenses required.

Geology summer field camps give upper-division undergraduate geoscience students intensive instruction and field
experience and integrate standard coursework into a field setting. Historically, this integration has involved geologic mapping
and three-dimensional subsurface interpretations in a wide range
of geologic terrains. However, todays geoscience curricula are
more multidisciplinary, and many programs commonly incorporate hydrology, aqueous geochemistry, and geophysics. Although
the majority of geology field camps continue to place strong
emphasis on traditional field mapping, increasing numbers of
field programs now offer projects in hydrology, geophysics, and
environmental geology (e.g., McKay and Kammer, 1999; Baker,
2006), and some programs integrate various new technologies
into these projects or the field mapping process (e.g., Knoop et
al., 2007; Swanson and Bampton, this volume; Whitmeyer et al.,
this volume). Two of the principal challenges when adding such
components are: (1) to achieve a balanced curriculum that provides sufficiently broad field instruction while integrating new
topics and techniques, and (2) to accommodate differences in
the coursework that students have completed prior to beginning
the field camp. Some field camps accommodate the second challenge by specializing in hydrology, geophysics, or environmental
geologyavoiding any pretense of a broad field curriculum
and requiring that students have the prerequisite courses in the
specialty subject. However, we asked: how and to what degree
can both of these challenges be met?
Over the past 10 yr, the University of Missouri has introduced a series of hydrology, aqueous geochemistry, and geophysics exercises into our six-week course in an effort to broaden our
curriculum and overcome both of these challenges. Our course
continues to emphasize traditional aspects of field geology and
regional geology during the first four weeks. However, we have
also developed instructional modules for the last two weeks that
serve the interests and abilities of students that have little or no
previous course work in hydrology and geophysics, as well as
students who have previous background courses in these subjects
and/or who have advanced interests in hydrology or geophysics.
The fifth week of the course includes instruction and projects in surface and groundwater hydrology, seismic refraction,
stream terrace mapping, and hard-rock structural analysis.
Although structural geology is a course prerequisite, courses in
hydrogeology, geophysics, and geomorphology are not required.
As a result, the instruction during the fifth week provides considerable fundamental background for the projects. During the
sixth week of the course, we offer a series of advanced options:
students have the choice of completing advanced projects in
hard-rock structural analysis, seismic reflection, refraction, and

tomography studies, or groundwater and surface water hydrology. This paper describes our fifth- and sixth-week projects with
emphasis on the hydrology and geophysics projects. To provide a
course context for the addition of this new material, we describe
our instructional philosophy, our basic course curriculum, and
the ways in which we have integrated geophysics and hydrology
into a traditional geology field course.
As a basis for general comparison with other field courses,
our course operates from a permanent residential base camp
that includes a laboratory where students complete their project
reports, and computer facilities that include satellite broadband
access. We accept a maximum of 40 students for our six-week
course, which has prerequisites of structural geology, historical
geology, sedimentology, and mineralogy. Typically, less than one
third of the students are from our department, and the remainder
of participants come from other departments across the country
and the state of Missouri. All students pay the same fees. The
students work 6 d per week. Faculty members generally rotate
into the course for two-week periods to teach projects in their
research specialties. Most field projects are completed at sites
within a 45 min drive from the camp, but the curriculum also
includes a 4 d instructional trip through Teton and Yellowstone
National Parks, and adjacent areas of the Snake River Plain and
Beartooth Mountains.
The Branson Field Station is located in Sinks Canyon in the
foothills of the Wind River Mountains near Lander, Wyoming,
~200 km southeast of Yellowstone National Park (Fig. 1). The
immediate field areas provide a wide variety of rock units and
deformation features that form the basis for our field instruction and projects. The rock section includes exposures ranging
from Precambrian granite-greenstone belts through most of the
Paleozoic (not including Silurian), Mesozoic, and Tertiary stratigraphic sections (Fig. 2).
The Wind River Mountains were deformed by basementinvolved uplift during the Laramide orogeny (ca. 7551 Ma in
Wyoming), which exposed the Precambrian core of the range and
tilted the overlying Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata to the northeast, dipping into the adjacent Wind River basin (e.g., Keefer,
1970). Our field station is located near the Precambrian-Paleozoic contact within the steep-walled Pleistocene glacial valley
containing the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River. Several
doubly plunging, en echelon anticlines, which formed during the
Laramide uplift of the range, occur along the southwestern margin of the Wind River basin within ~25 km of our camp. These
anticlines fold Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata and trend subparallel to the northwest-southeast trend of the Wind River Mountains

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options

110 W

104 W


45 N

41 N

Age in millions
of years

Map Explanation


Quaternary, Pliocene and Miocene
rhyolite and basalt; some intrusives
Upper Tertiary to Cretaceous (?)
intrusive rocks; some extrusives
Eocene Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup

100 km


Quaternary unconsolidated sediments

Absaroka Mountains

Lower Quaternary, Pliocene, and Miocene

Middle Eocene; some Upper Eocene
Lower Eocene


Upper Cretaceous




Jurassic, some Lower Cretaceous




Middle Proterozoic intrusive rocks

Early Proterozoic igneous and

metamorphic rocks


Wind River

Dallas dome
Derby dome


Permian and Pennsylvanian;
some Mississippian and Triassic
Cambrian, Ordovician, Devonian,
and Mississippian






Upper and Lower Cretaceous

Lower Cretaceous; some Jurassic

Wind River basin


100 km


South Pass

Archean igneous and metamorphic rocks

Fault (dotted where concealed)
Thrust fault (teeth on upper plate)

Figure 1. (A) Geologic index map of the state of Wyoming showing the outline of the area containing the Wind River Mountains (after
Roberts, 1989). (B) Geologic map of the Wind River Mountains and adjacent areas of the Wind River basin. (C) Map overlay of B showing
the location of the major features discussed in the text.



Figure 2. Stratigraphic section exposed in the Wind River Mountains and adjacent parts of the Wind River basin. Munits that are included in major mapping projects; Punits that
are studied during major sedimentation and stratigraphy projects; Sunits that are examined in the field for their stratigraphic and regional historical significance. Pleistocene units not
shown in the section were also included in a mapping exercise.


Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options
(e.g., Willis and Groshong, 1993). The folds range from 8 to
15 km long and contain numerous normal and reverse faults produced during the Laramide folding. Two of these folds, Dallas
dome and Derby dome (Fig. 1C), have well-exposed faulted and
folded Mesozoic sections, and serve as field sites for several of
our stratigraphy, sedimentation, geologic mapping, and advanced
geophysics projects. Exposures of deformed and metamorphosed
rocks of the South Pass greenstone belt (cf. Figs. 1B and 1C)
occur in the uplifted Precambrian core of the range, and these
exposures provide field sites for our hard-rock projects in structural analysis and mapping of igneous and metamorphic rocks.
By the end of the Tertiary, the Wind River basin was filled
with Tertiary sediment eroded from the adjacent uplifted mountain ranges and with interlayers of volcanic ash from the Eocene
Absaroka volcanic field to the north-northwest of the basin
(Fig. 1). The result was a landscape of relatively low relief (e.g.,
Mears, 1993). Subsequently, late Cenozoic regional uplift or
regional climate change (cf. Epis and Chapin, 1975; Gregory and
Chase, 1994; Riihimaki et al., 2007) resulted in exhumation of
much of the Wind River basin by the Wind River and its tributary
streams. This process produced the current relief between the
basins and adjacent ranges and also exposed numerous angular
unconformities between the relatively flat-lying Tertiary strata
and the underlying Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata dipping off of
the uplifted core of the Wind River Mountains. Our instruction
and projects in sedimentology, stream terrace mapping, hydrology, and geophysics take advantage of these exposed relationships and/or the associated stream systems.
Although our project settings are primarily geologic, we
also take advantage of our location near the towns of Lander and
Riverton, Wyoming, and nearby mining operations in Fremont
County to help our students appreciate the societal implications
of field geology. For instance, our groundwater and geophysics
projects have examined the relationship of municipal water quality and waste disposal to the local geology. Students also learn
how field geologists working for the Wyoming Department of
Environmental Quality in Lander oversee mine reclamation in
abandoned iron and gold mines in the area.
Geoscience students have a fairly broad spectrum of geology
field courses from which to choose. These range from courses
that concentrate primarily on traditional field mapping, to specialty courses in hydrology, geophysics, or environmental geology, and courses that broadly integrate field computers and geographic information system (GIS) technologies into the mapping
process. Our basic course philosophy has been to give students
a broad diversity of field problem-solving experiences while still
providing thorough training in field geologic mapping. We have
continued this philosophy with the addition of our advanced
course options by working to integrate mapping and subsurface
interpretation techniques into the more instrumented data gathering and analysis that are associated with the advanced projects.


Beyond this general philosophy, we have developed our own philosophies about field and laboratory instruction, field mapping,
and technology integration.
Field and Laboratory Instruction
Our primary instructional goal is to teach field-oriented
problem solving that reinforces critical work skills. We emphasize five-dimensional problem solvingunderstanding the three
physical dimensions of geological features, the way these features
have developed with time, and the processes responsible for the
observed features over time. We emphasize this approach in all
of our projects, and students are asked to address each dimension
in their project reports. The general work skills that we promote
include cooperative group work, effective time management,
report writing skills, and dealing with uncertainty by considering
interpretations with incomplete data.
All of our projects are conducted in groups that usually
include three students. Groups change with each project to allow
students to work with other students of varying interests, expertise, and abilities. This approach promotes cooperative learning
among the students, provides for field safety, and allows us to
group students with different academic and physical strengths. As
in any work situation, group dynamics and abilities will vary, but
we do find that collaborative learning increases students involvement in the learning process. When students share and discuss
their ideas, their thinking about the projects is enhanced and their
understanding deepens. Group projects make up 50% of the students grade, and three individual exams make up the remaining
50%. The diversity of students within a group may lead to uneven
work efforts (reflecting a real-world work environment), but the
grading system rewards those who are the active learners.
Most of our projects include full field days (6 d/wk) combined with evening data analysis or report writing in a laboratory
setting using group laptop computers for project completion. Longer projects may include an entire day in the laboratory preparing
reports. Strict time constraints for project completion require that
the groups develop effective group time management.
Geologists, probably more than other scientists and engineers, are commonly called upon to make interpretations based
on incomplete data. This is particularly true in the development
of structural cross sections and three-dimensional (3-D) interpretations of the subsurface from geologic maps (e.g., Groshong,
2006), but it is also common in hydrologic and geophysical interpretations. We discuss techniques for making subsurface interpretations and cross sections from geologic maps, and instructors
work individually with student groups to help them understand
the process of making reasoned interpretations when faced with
limited data.
Part of our instructional philosophy includes hiring instructors to teach projects in their areas of specialization. For the 40
students that we instruct during our course, we typically hire a
cadre of eight to ten faculty members and three teaching assistants. Faculty members and teaching assistants come from a


Bauer et al.

variety of institutions; generally less than half of the instructors

are from the University of Missouri faculty. Most of the faculty
members teach over two-week periods. Generally, at least five
instructors (faculty and teaching assistants) are in the field with
student groups during the projects. The project areas are wellexposed exemplary areas for the problems addressed, and they
are well-known to the instructors. We promote instructor-student
interactions in the field and prompt feedback to students upon
completion of the projects. Lectures to set up and provide background for the projects are presented in our laboratory just prior
to the projects. Lecture materials are made available to students
as handouts that can be stored in their course binders, and they
are also available for review on the desktop computers in our field
camp laboratory.

the effective use of these technologies and associated software.

Although most students are already familiar with laptop computers and the commonly available software noted here, at this
point, few students come to field camp already familiar with GIS
or map preparation software, or with the hardware and software
used for real-time computer-assisted field mapping. Relative to
our general objective of exposing students to as many different
types of relevant field experiences as possible, we have decided
that taking time to instruct students in the use of such rapidly
evolving technologies is not a priority at this point. Students who
consider exposure to these technologies as an educational priority have several field camp options that provide this experience
(e.g., Knoop et al., 2007; Swanson and Bampton, this volume;
Whitmeyer et al., this volume).

Field Mapping



Traditional field geologic mapping continues to be a prominent component of our field course. Our students use paper
topographic maps and registered paper orthophotos as base
maps. The mapped areas are well exposed and allow students
to draw map-unit contacts on the topographic maps as contacts
are viewed either from a distance or along traverses. Each project group also has a handheld global positioning system (GPS)
receiver to record UTM coordinates of specific station locations
or to reinforce location decisions, but we strongly emphasize the
reading of topographic maps, the use of the Brunton compass,
and the integration of orthophotos as the primary mapping tools.
We believe that this is the best approach to help students develop
the three-dimensional perspective that is so critical to geologists, geophysicists, and hydrogeologists. We emphasize that the
geologic map is an interpretation of field data and observations,
and it serves as the basis for subsurface interpretations and fivedimensional hypothesis testing.
Integrating Technology
We have embraced the use of various technologies to enhance
our data collection, analysis, and report writing for various projects. Each project group has a notebook computer available for
compilation and analysis of field data in the laboratory. Programs
available on these computers and several desktop computers in
our laboratory include commonly available software such as
spreadsheet, word-processing, and photo editor programs. We
have satellite broadband access and a local wireless network that
allows students to download remote data sets and print to networked printers. We also use project-specific equipment and several specialty programs in our advanced geophysics, hydrology,
and structural analysis projects.
Nevertheless, we have not attempted to integrate technologies for recording general project notes or data in the field (e.g.,
using tablet or handheld computers), or for the field mapping
or the map preparation process. The principal factor that influenced this decision is the time required to instruct students in

The first four weeks of our course (Table 1) include as series

of instructional sessions and field projects that: (1) review basic
field methods and introduce students to the Mesozoic and Paleozoic sections, (2) provide projects that help students understand
the sedimentation histories and processes that produced the
sedimentary sections, (3) teach students how to map folded and
faulted sedimentary rocks, and (4) include field mapping projects in the deformed Mesozoic section (Fig. 2). Following the
mapping projects, the students receive a day of field review and
feedback in the area of the last mapping project, and, finally, all
students complete an individual 1 d field mapping exam.
All of our projects are discussed in a regional geologic context. To set up this context, faculty members present a series of
evening lectures on: the regional geology and geologic history
of Wyoming, deformation styles during the Laramide and Sevier
orogenies, the geologic history of northwestern Wyoming, tectonic history of the Snake River Plain and Yellowstone hotspot,
and the Pleistocene glacial history of northwestern Wyoming.
The culmination of the lecture series is a 4 d instructional tour of
the geology of Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and adjacent areas of the Snake River Plain and Beartooth Mountains,
which follows shortly after the field mapping exam.
Philosophy and Logistics
Our fifth week of instruction begins shortly after students
return from their 4 d trip through northwestern Wyoming and
adjacent areas. The general objective during this week is to
instruct the students in a broad range of projects in areas that are
not covered by our basic prerequisite courses. During this week,
we place particular emphasis on hydrology and geophysics to
help the students understand water-related environmental problems and their relationship to the surface and subsurface geology of the area (Table 2). We emphasize the five-dimensional

Week 1

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options
Pace and compass methods
Become familiar with field methods
Section reconnaissance
Learn stratigraphic sections
All Paleozoic and Mesozoic units
Sedimentary structures
Recognize/interpret structures
Mesa Verde Formation
Sedimentary facies
Interpret sedimentary facies
Mesa Verde Formation
Tertiary unconformity

Week 3

Week 2

Section measurement

Week 4


Paleocurrent analysis
Mapping folded and faulted
sedimentary rocks
Map evaluation
Mapping folded and faulted
sedimentary rocks
Review of the map area
Field exam
Mine reclamation tour
Wyoming geotour (4 d)

Observe Tertiary sedimentary facies

and their tectonic implications
Learn to measure and describe
sedimentary units, draw section
Learn paleocurrent techniques
Mapping instruction/techniques

Tertiary units and unconformity

Individual group evaluations

Camp laboratory

Learn from the mapping experience,

produce maps and cross sections
Participate in half-day field review of
the area just mapped

Derby DomeMesozoic units

Individual test of mapping skills

Learn how geologists oversee the
mine reclamation process
Show and discuss features of the
geologic history of northwestern
Wyoming and adjacent areas

Previously unseen area

Atlantic City Mine

approach that we used during the previous course projects and

that continues to provide students with a mental framework to
relate hydrologic and geophysical interpretations to surface and
subsurface geological environments (Siegel, 2002). We strive to
underscore the association between subsurface geometries and
3-D hydrologic systems through field exercises that are organized around the core concept of 3-D visualization the students
learn from field mapping.
The projects during the fifth week each include a day in the
field studying: surface water hydrology, groundwater hydrology, seismic refraction, stream terrace mapping, and structural
analysis in igneous and metamorphic rocks. The first four projects are completed over a 4 d field period on property owned by
The Nature Conservancy in the picturesque Red Canyon (RC)
area (Fig. 3, located on Figs. 1C and 4). The setting lies along
the Paleozoic-Mesozoic boundary between the upper Phosphoria Formation (Permian) and the lower Red Peak Formation of
the Chugwater Group (Triassic). The location includes the confluence of two streams, Red Canyon Creek and Cherry Creek
(Fig. 4), and includes a series of Pleistocene glaciofluvial terraces. Each of the Red Canyon area projects is run by a faculty
member, and all of the projects are conducted on each of the four
field days. The student groups (of three students each) are combined into four supergroups made up of three or four of the student groups. Each supergroup is assigned to one of the four Red
Canyon projects on a given day, and each supergroup receives
a morning lecture and instruction prior to traveling to the field
site to collect data and make observations for the projects. The
hydrology and geophysics project reports are due by 10:00 p.m.
on the day of their assignment. All groups have a full day at the

Sundance & Gypsum Springs

Derby and Dallas domes
Nugget Sandstone
Dallas DomeMesozoic units

Derby DomeMesozoic units

Teton, Yellowstone Parks, Snake River

Plain, Beartooth Mtns, Absaroka Mtns

end of the 4 d project period in which to prepare their maps and

reports for the terrace mapping project. The structural analysis
project is completed by all of the student groups on the last day
of the project week at a location in the Precambrian South Pass
greenstone belt (Fig. 1C) and is due by 10:00 p.m. on the day of
the assignment.
The hydrology, geophysics, and surficial mapping projects
that are now covered during the fifth week replaced an extensive mapping project in the Paleozoic section and a more extensive hard-rock mapping and structural analysis project than we
now include during week five (Table 2). Since the new materials
developed for this week are primarily associated with the hydrology and geophysics projects, the following sections concentrate
on these subjects.
Hydrology Projects
The hydrology exercises emphasize fundamental field and
instrumental skills, data collection, and data interpretation that
are common to a wide range of hydrologic and geochemical
studies in a 3-D setting (Siegel, 2008). Red Canyon creek flows
through a spectacular valley along the contact between a thick
sequence of Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks that dip
off of the uplifted core of the Wind River Mountains (Figs. 3 and
4). The climate is semiarid, which is typical of western Wyoming. Most precipitation occurs during the winter, and snowmelt provides most of the water to rivers in the region. The field
site is located on The Nature Conservancy property where Red
Canyon Creek meanders through a series of stepped dams that
are separated by narrow downcut channels. The water from the

Week 6 (new)

Week 6 (old)

Week 5 (new)

Week 5 (old)


Bauer et al.
Projects (old vs. new)
Mapping folded and faulted sedimentary
Provide more mapping experience
Paleozoic section that includes different
Exposure to mapping different rock units and
faulting and folding mechanisms than the
different fault and fold geometries
previous map areasSheep Mountain
Analysis of deformation fabrics in igneous
and metamorphic rocks

Learn to map igneous and metamorphic

rocks, record and analyze deformation fabrics

Folded Precambrian gneiss and schist with

variable deformation fabricsSheep

Surface-water hydrology
Groundwater hydrology

Expose students to a broad range of surfacewater and groundwater monitoring techniques

to illustrate surface-groundwater interactions

Floodplain of Red Canyon Creek reworking

the lower part of the Triassic Chugwater

Shallow seismic refraction

Introduce shallow seismic techniques and

their relationship to local stratigraphy and

(Same location as above)

Stream terrace mapping

Introduce surficial mapping techniques

Red Canyon glaciofluvial terraces

Analysis of deformation fabrics in igneous

and metamorphic rocks

Learn to record and analyze deformation

fabrics produced during folding and

Folded schist and boudinaged granitic layers

in the roof area of a granite plutonSouth
Pass greenstone belt

Mapping and structural analysis of folded

and faulted schist intruded by granite and
mafic dikes

Learn to map igneous and metamorphic rocks

and large-scale folding without stratigraphy.
Record and analyze deformation fabrics as
an aid to regional deformation geometries
and deformationmetamorphism history

South Pass greenstone belt

Precambrian amphibolite-facies schist
intruded by two igneous units and mafic

Option 1. Same as the old sixth-week


Same as the old sixth-week project

Same as the old sixth-week project

Option 2. Advanced hydrology

Expose students to a variety of real-world

hydrology problems (examples described in
the text)

Varies depending on opportunities in a given

year (example locations described in the

Option 3. Advanced geophysics

Expose students to a variety of real-world

seismic problems (examples described in
the text)

Varies depending on opportunities in a

given year (example locations described in
the text)

creek mixes with groundwater, leading to biogeochemical reactions and mixing relationships down the hydraulic gradient either
in the creek or in the subsurface adjacent to the creek. Different
segments of the creek both receive and lose water to the water
table (Lautz and Siegel, 2006). The Nature Conservancy is interested in determining whether complex hydraulics associated with
meanders and dams effectively add moisture to the unsaturated
soils of the prairie and thereby increase biodiversity. Our field
projects focus on this local interface between surface water and
groundwater, the hyporheic zone, allowing us to easily expose
our students to both surface and groundwater techniques. In a
broader sense, the hyporheic zone is widely consider to be the
richest and most accessible hydrogeologic setting for multidisciplinary 3-D field investigations (Triska et al., 1993; Winter et al.,
1998; Jones et al., 2000).
We began our integrated hydrologic and geophysical studies in 1999 (Bauer et al., 2003). Subsequently, we have incrementally installed 35 shallow wells using a Geoprobe and have
added other small amounts of instrumentation, including several
in-stream mini-piezometers and a Parshall flume, to progres-

sively expand our project area (Fig. 4). The projects that we have
developed are designed to give students a broad understanding
of surface watergroundwater interactions in arid mountain
environments, and they are often linked to large-scale research
projects (Lautz et al., 2006; Lautz and Siegel, 2006; Lautz and
Siegel, 2007; Fanelli and Lautz, 2008; Lautz and Fanelli, 2008).
The three days of surface water, groundwater, and geophysics
projects include: water-table mapping, water-quality sampling,
shallow seismic-refraction imaging, single-aquifer testing techniques and data analysis, stream gauging, and tracer tests. We
are able to logistically compress these experiences within a short
time frame because the diversity of stream-groundwater interaction at our site occurs over a relatively restricted area.
Students measure water level elevations in the 35 monitoring
wells and mini-piezometers installed in an ~2-acre meadow adjacent to a meander of Red Canyon Creek. From these water levels,
students construct a water-table map, focusing on the way that
contours change as they cross the creek under different groundwatersurface-water settings, which change from year to year.
Students use water-height differences between the stream and

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options

Red Canyon
o ect ar
gett San


w te
er Gr
d Ca
o C


Figure 3. Red Canyon viewed to the

northwest from Wyoming Highway 28
overlook showing the location of the
Red Canyon project areas in the distance and Red Canyon Creek in the
foreground. The rock units shown are
dipping to northeast (to the right) into
the Wind River basin off of the uplifted Precambrian core of the range. The
flat-lying mesa above the project area is
capped by Tertiary sediment, illustrating
the angular unconformity described in
the text. The distance from the location
of the photographer to the study area is
~9 km.

Geologic Map Explanation

alluvium and colluvium

White River Formation

Nugget Sandstone
Chugwater Group and Dinwoody Formation
Phosphoria Formation
Tensleep Sandstone and Amsden Formation

Parshall flume

Madison Limestone
Flathead Ss, Gros Ventre Fm, Gallatin Ls, Bighorn Dolomite

Field Site






















TNC restoration dam

8 kilometers

In-stream feature
Wells and piezometers







Figure 4. (A) Bedrock geologic map of

the Red Canyon area showing the location of the Red Canyon project site near
the intersection of Red Canyon Creek
and Cherry Creek. The X on the
southeast side of the bedrock map is the
location from which Figure 3 was photographed, facing northwest. This point
is located at 423613N, 1083552W.
(B) Map of the Red Canyon field site
showing the distribution of wells and
instrumentation on The Nature Conservancy (TNC) property. FmFormation;
LsLimestone; SsSandstone.


Bauer et al.

inside the mini-piezometers in the streambed (i.e., the hydraulic

gradient) to identify segments of gain and loss along the creek.
Students measure discharge along Red Canyon Creek
using multiple methods, including stage-discharge relationships
around flow-control structures, velocity-area methods of varying
complexity, and dilution gauging. By using multiple methods,
students learn several techniques commonly used in professional settings, get exposure to a variety of field equipment, and
engage in discussion of precision and accuracy of various methods. In 2005, we installed a Parshall flume at the site to measure
water height and stream discharge year-round (Fig. 5). Flumes
and other similar structures, including weirs, have prescribed
rating curves that describe the relationship between water height
and discharge. Using these rating curves, student measurements of water height are easily converted to stream discharge
in a manner similar to that used by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at gauging sites across the country. Students then
compare the stream flow rate derived from the flume to values
derived from current meter measurements and dilution gauging.
For the current meter measurements, we use a Marsh-McBirney
Flo-Mate 2000, which is a top-of-the-line meter that relies on

electromagnetics for velocity measurements. For dilution gauging, we purchased an Opti-Sciences GFL-1 Flow-through Field
Fluorometer to continuously measure the concentration of Rhodamine WT, a fluorescent surface-water tracer, in the stream
during tracer tests. The students are exposed to cutting-edge
technology and get experience programming, using, and extracting data from these instruments.
Students measure hydraulic conductivity from slug tests in
the wells, and they use their results, along with hydraulic gradients they measure from their water-table maps, to calculate
groundwater discharge (Q) and velocity (v) using Darcys law,
both horizontally across the stream and vertically up or down
through the streambed (from the mini-piezometer data). We
address the water-chemistry aspects in both groundwater and
surface water by using chemical analysis ampoule kits (Chemetrics). The students measure dissolved oxygen and iron in the field
and alkalinity and total and calcium hardness in the laboratory
later. They also measure field pH and specific conductance in the
field using WTW 340i multiparameter probes.
All of these chemical parameters are then used to determine
major water-rock interactions through bivariate plots (e.g., based
on mass action equation stoichiometry), coupled with reasonable
assumptions about the remaining solutes in the waters. The systems we investigate have low concentrations of Na and Cl, for
example, and these can either be neglected as a first approximation for much of the analysis, or they can be calculated by charge
balance difference from the concentrations of cations and anions
we measure. We particularly focus on the way in which organic
matter in streambeds and/or groundwater changes the oxidationreduction potential of water and how this changes water chemistry (Siegel, 2008). We use bivariate plots to distinguish gypsum
dissolution from calcite dissolution.
Geophysics Project

Figure 5. Students measuring stream discharge using the float method (one
type of velocity-area measurement), just downstream of Parshall flume.

Students complete their shallow seismic-refraction exercise

on the floodplain of Red Canyon Creek adjacent to the hydrology
project areas. The broader instructional objective of this exercise
is to give all of the students, especially to those who have not had
a geophysics course, a basic background in seismic waves and
how they can be used to image Earths interior (even the shallow
subsurface). The local objective is to determine whether seismicrefraction techniques can be used to image the shallow floodplain
strata or the groundwater table.
The seismic data are collected using a 32-channel Geode
Seismic Data Acquisitions system with a sledgehammer as the
source. The students are required to design their own seismic
profile that will be able to image relatively shallow seismic
boundaries (1.52 m deep) beneath the floodplain. The students
deploy 32 geophones and collect the data entirely themselves.
After collecting the data, the students determine the number of
layers that the data support using an interactive computer program on laptop computers to determine the traveltime of the
first arriving P waves. The students then calculate the velocities

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options
and layer thicknesses for each of the layers in their model using
simple ray theory calculations. This technique is presented during the projects introductory lecture, and the students make this
determination without the use of computer software, allowing
them to develop a better understanding of principles of seismic
wave propagation.
After formulating a simple one-dimensional seismic velocity model that best fits the data, the students are required to interpret their velocity model. Because the students are conducting
their seismic experiment at the same field site as the ongoing
hydrology projects, they can use their measurements of groundwater depth to interpret their seismic velocity models. The water
table generally causes the largest velocity change at this site, so
the students are typically able to see how the shallow geophysical
measurements can be integrated with the hydrology projects that
they are also completing.
Terrace Mapping
The glaciofluvial terraces in Red Canyon, adjacent to the
hydrology and geophysics project sites, provide the setting for a
surficial mapping project that introduces students to basic aspects
of stream geomorphology, to concepts of stream equilibrium and
terrace formation, and to concepts of relative age determination
in surficial deposits. The project is set up in a consultant-client
context in which The Nature Conservancy (the property owner)
needs information about the relationship of the local alluvial history to glacial episodes in the alpine headwaters to the west of
their Red Canyon Ranch. In order to expand their irrigation system, The Nature Conservancy is particularly interested in identifying and correlating stream terrace deposits across the area.
To address these needs, each student field group: (1) identifies
and maps the Pleistocene and Holocene stream terraces and modern floodplains associated with the local streams (Cherry Creek,
Red Canyon Creek, and Barrett Creek; Fig. 4), (2) describes the
lithologies of the terraces, and (3) gathers data on the relative
ages of the terraces. The final report, which is completed during
a day in the laboratory, includes a map of the terraces, lithologic
descriptions, a cross section across the mapped area, and a report
discussing a series of questions about the terrace formation history and processes responsible for the terrace development.
Structural Analysis Projects
The Archean rocks of the South Pass greenstone belt were
the site of a gold rush near South Pass City beginning in 1867,
and gold was mined intermittently at the Carissa Mine into the
late 1940s. The day-long structural analysis study involves two
projects in lower-amphibolite-facies metamorphic country rocks
and local plutonic igneous rocks that are located near the abandoned Carissa Mine. The students are asked to determine fold
geometries and finite elongation orientations that may have
locally concentrated gold-bearing veins in the area. The two
projects are designed to instruct the students in field data gather-


ing and plotting techniques to evaluate: (1) fold geometries, and

(2) principal strain orientations using small-scale deformation
features and rock fabrics. The project area includes highly folded
metagraywacke in the roof area of a peraluminous granite pluton.
Data collected for the fold geometry project include the orientations of folded bedding, fold hinge lines, axial plane foliations,
and lineations that are all plotted manually on stereographic projections to determine the 3-D fold geometries. Data collected
for the principal strain project include the orientations of boudin
necks in peraluminous granite veins and a strong foliation that
both occur parallel to the plutoncountry-rock contact in the roof
area. Student groups plot the data manually on stereographic projections using techniques described during a general lecture for
the project the evening prior to the field study. The completed
projects are due the evening of the field day.
The projects reinforce the 3-D perspectives that we emphasize throughout the course and also prepare the students who
elect to complete the hard-rock mapping and structural analysis
project during the sixth project week.
Philosophy and Logistics
We began offering advanced project options during the sixth
week of our course during the summer of 2005. This change in our
curriculum was made possible through a National Science Foundation grant that allowed us to purchase the equipment required
for our advanced projects in hydrology and geophysics. Prior to
2005, the entire sixth week was dedicated to studying deformed
igneous and metamorphic rocks (Table 2) and included a simpler
version of the hard-rock structural analysis and mapping project
that has now become one of our sixth-week project options.
With the completion of our fifth-week projects, students
have received sufficient instruction and experience in hydrology,
geophysics, and structural analysis in metamorphic and plutonic
igneous rocks to select and complete advanced projects in any
one of these three areas. The principal objective of the sixth-week
projects is to allow students to pursue advanced topics in areas
that they find most interesting and/or are most consistent with
their employment objectives. Many of our students come to our
course because of our advanced projects and are already prepared
with previous courses in hydrogeology or geophysics or have
advanced interests in structural geology. However, some students
are not certain which advanced project area they will choose until
after completion of the fifth weeks projects, at which point, all
students are required to select an advanced project. Over the 4 yr
period that we have offered our advanced projects option (2005
through 2008), 25% of the students have chosen the geophysics option, 30% have chosen the structural analysis option, and
45% have chosen the hydrology option. This relative division of
the students among the three project options has worked well,
but we are somewhat constrained logistically by our transportation capacity. We use 15-passenger vans with a maximum of


Bauer et al.

10 occupants per van, and each of the advanced project groups

must have independent transportation to their various project
sites. Field instrumentation and laboratory computing capacity
for completion of the projects have not been an issue, and to date,
we have been able to honor all students project preferences.
Faculty members in charge provide both laboratory and initial field instruction for each of the advanced projects to make sure
that all students have the basic background required to complete
the project. In addition to advanced subject matter, these projects
also have a greater integration of technology. This is particularly
true for the geophysics and hydrology projects, which require
instrumentation for data acquisition and computer programs for
data reduction and analysis, but the students completing the structural analysis project also use laptop computers and fabric analysis software for their data reduction, plotting, and analyses.
Upon completion of the sixth-week projects, all students
complete an individual final field exam over the material covered
during their final project week. These exams make up make up
16.6% (one-sixth) of the students grade (equal to the first field
exam and a regional geology exam).
Advanced Hydrology Projects
The sixth-week hydrologic projects vary from year to year
depending on circumstances and opportunities that avail themselves. The general objective of these projects is to give our
students real world problems, often with insufficient data to
clearly answer the questions asked. Many of the projects can only
be solved by approximation, which is the case in many hydrologic
settings in practice. In some cases, the geophysics and hydrology portions of the camp have addressed common problems, but
again, we vary each years experience somewhat. Despite project and/or site changes from year to year, the same pedagogical
and scientific approaches that we use during our more traditional
stratigraphic, lithologic, and structural mapping exercises (e.g.,
our five-dimensional geology approach), are readily integrated
into the critical thinking and learning experiences provided by
our advanced projects.
We have developed several hydrology projects for the sixth
week that: (1) teach both data collection and problem-solving
skills, and (2) create ongoing discovery by building upon data
sets collected during previous camp sessions. Most of the projects involve dynamic geologic systems that allow students to
learn from the changes in the systems from year to year in addition to their own data collection and analysis. During the past
4 yr, the students have completed the following projects, several
of which are described briefly here: (1) characterizing source
waters for Dry Lake, (2) determining the viability of the Lander
landfill, (3) siting a landfill near Riverton, Wyomingthe Sand
Draw case study, (4) tracing water in the karst system of the
Popo Agie River, (5) evaluating the hydrogeology of the Branson
Field Camp site, (6) evaluating the hydrology of Cherry Creek
meadow, and (7) evaluating variations in the surface-water quality in the Popo Agie River watershed.

The pedagogical format for these projects involves faculty

presenting the problem in ~30 min at the beginning of each day,
and then the students work in the field in small teams until midafternoon, after which they complete their analysis and written
reports by 10 p.m. of the same day. We have students prepare
reports in different formats including: two-page letter reports to
clients, abstracts in Geological Society of American (GSA) format, and small engineering-style reports. We insist that all reports
be typed and prepared professionally and the students usually
rise to the challenge. We have also had noncamp lay personnel
review reports. For example, the Waste Management Supervisor
for Fremont County recently reviewed student reports for clarity from a lay persons standpoint. Having nonfaculty reviewing
reports adds a real-world dimension to the work that captures the
students attention. We have also had students submit their GSA
abstracts for the annual meeting and attend the conference for
presentation of that abstract (e.g., Baum et al., 2006).
Dry Lake Project
Dry Lake (Fig. 6) is located just south of the southern tip of
Dallas dome (Fig. 1C) in a valley with sparse surface water other
than irrigation drainage ditches. Areas immediately adjacent to
the lake include wetlands that attract numerous waterfowl. The
lake reportedly creates quicksand mud boils on its bottom,
which may be discharge zones that sustain the lake, even during drought. A syncline along the southwestern margin of Dallas
dome passes through Dry Lake and has a very steep SW limb and
a shallowly dipping NE limb that parallels the dip slope coming
off of the Wind River Mountains (Fig. 6). The hinge area of the
fold is likely to be highly fractured, so it has been hypothesized
that the lake receives groundwater flow through this fracture
system that is recharged up the rock dip slope to the southwest,
where the regional groundwater flow system is replenished. To
test this hypothesis, the students prepare a water balance for the
lake, based on map data on evaporation and precipitation coupled to measurements of water loss from agricultural ditches that
border the lake and to measurements of specific conductance of
water in the lake. What they find is that the lake is completely
supported by irrigation water, and that ground water is a negligible part of the water budget.
Lander Landfill
The Lander landfill, located just east of Lander, is a source
of local controversy. Landfills are ubiquitous sources of potential
groundwater and surface-water contamination, but do they all leak?
If so, how significant is the leakage with respect to public health,
safety, and welfare? For this project, we have students divide
into groups and prepare brief summary reports to the Wyoming
Department of Environmental Quality on behalf of either: Fremont
County, the landfill owner, or Citizens for an Improved Environment, an advocacy group that wishes to have the landfill closed.
In this report, the students give their professional opinion
whether leachate contaminates a small stream adjacent to the
landfill in a meaningful way. The county would like to see the

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options


Dip slopes in Mesozoic

strata dipping off of the
uplifted core of the range






1.0 km


Figure 6. Map of the Dry Lake area along the southern margin of Dallas dome. Topography in the western part of the map
is due to the Mesozoic dip slope dipping to the northeast into the Wind River basin. The syncline axial trace through Dry
Lake marks the change from this dip slope to the steep southwest limb of Dallas dome. Irrigation ditches flow along the
margin of the dip slope into the valley containing Dry Lake.

landfill used for another 30 yr. The citizens want it shut down.
The point of this exercise is to understand how the same hydrogeologic and geochemical data can be used to argue toward different aims. Students must stick to plausible science, and be careful not to stretch their interpretations too far. The project can be
easily related to projects that the students completed during the
first part of the course (weeks 2 and 3) because the landfill was
placed, unlined, in the exhumed axis of a dome (Fig. 7), similar to Dallas and Derby domes. The students map the Mesozoic
rock units that are deformed by the dome, and they are given
water-level elevations and water chemistry from monitoring
wells installed at the landfill. They prepare a hydrogeologic
cross section oriented normal to the axial trace of the dome and
through the landfill cells; the section must include their mapped
rock units, equipotential lines, and a few flow lines to document
the direction of groundwater flow. These lines are prepared based
on the water-table map that the students construct from monitoring well data and their interpretation of the vertical directions of
groundwater flow with respect to their mapped rock units. These
data and interpretations are the basis for their conclusions in the
environmental risk report that they complete.
Popo Agie River Dye Tracing Test
The Branson Field Camp is located less than 2 km from
Sinks Canyon State Park, next to the raging Middle Fork of the

100 m

Figure 7. Air photo of the Lander landfill area showing the axial
trace of the breached anticline, the location of monitoring wells
(white dots), and the landfill. The center of the landfill is located
at 425043N, 108414.5W.


Bauer et al.

Popo Agie River. This steep, alpine river flows at a discharge

rate of up to 500 cfs (cubic feet per second) during spring snowmelt over large boulders and glacial erratics that cover the valley floor. Within the state park, the river goes underground into
a cave system at the Sinks. The cave system is a dissolution
feature in the Madison Limestone, and ~400 m downstream
from the Sinks, the river resurfaces through a series of springs
at the Rise (Wilson and Rankl, 1996). There is a long-term
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauging station about a kilometer downstream from the Rise.
In August 1983, the USGS completed a dye test through the
Sinks Canyon cave system using a fluorescent dye, Rhodamine
WT, to establish the hydrologic connection between the Sinks and
the Rise (Wilson and Rankl, 1996). They found that the fluorescent dye did appear at the Rise, but it took 2 h for the leading edge
of the dye pulse to appear at the Rise and over 6 h for the complete dye pulse to pass through the system. The long traveltimes
indicate a complex system of tortuous flow paths through the cave
and/or a series of large pools in the system that temporarily store
water, increasing residence time (Wilson and Rankl, 1996). The
USGS also observed an increase in water temperature and flow
rate through the cave, suggesting additional sources of water.
For this project, the students repeat the USGS dye tracing
test, in conjunction with stream flow measurements up and downstream of the cave and a synoptic sampling of the longitudinal
geochemical gradient through the Popo Agie River valley. Details
on the first dye tracing experiment at the camp can be found in
Lautz et al. (2007). Students inject ~100 g of Rhodamine WT dye
(depending on streamflow conditions) into the Popo River just
upstream from the Sinks. They monitor the dye concentrations in
real-time using the GFL-1 Flow-through Field Fluorometer (OptiSciences) (Fig. 8) that they learned to use during the previous
week of instruction (fifth-week project). The collected data are

Figure 8. Two students learning to program the field fluorometer during the Popo Agie dye tracing experiment.

downloaded to a spreadsheet program for analysis. During the dye

test, students measure the flow rate upstream of the Sinks using a
the Marsh-McBirney Flo-Mate 2000 current meter and measure
the stream flow rate downstream of the Rise from the gauging station, which is available online via our internet link. Based on the
streamflow rates and the residence time of the test, the students
derive the storage volume of the cave. Differences in the discharge
rates up and downstream of the cave are used to determine if there
is additional water coming out at the Rise. Finally, the students
generate a longitudinal profile of specific conductance and the
temperature of the river water throughout the canyon to assess the
impact of the cave system and the additional sources of water (if
any) on the geochemistry of Popo Agie River.
The final product of this project is an abstract prepared by
each student group for the annual GSA meeting, with supporting
materials. GSA abstracts include an introduction to the project,
the methods used, the results, and a discussion of the conclusions
of the study (similar to a full-length journal article). The students
are asked to address unanswered questions about the system,
which include: (1) the residence time and storage capacity of the
cave under the current flow conditions (early July), (2) whether
additional sources of water contribute to the outflow at the Rise,
and (3) given the characteristics of the cave system, the way in
which water flow through the cave impacts the geochemistry of
the Popo Agie River. The abstract is limited to 300 words and
must include one supporting figure. The students actually submitted a composite abstract to GSA for the 2006 annual meeting
and presented a poster on their work.
Advanced Geophysics Projects
In order to give the students the broadest possible experience
in active source seismology, we arrange the week-long advanced
geophysics experiments into two separate projects, one project
designed for refraction processing (i.e., time term analysis and
refraction tomography) and the other designed for reflection data
processing (muting, filtering, and normal move-out corrections).
During both of our projects, students learn how to design an
appropriate data acquisition schema for a particular target depth,
and how to determine whether refraction or reflection data analysis is most appropriate for a given problem. For each project, the
students work in two-person groups, and individuals from each
group are assigned jobs as part of the seismic acquisition crew.
Each project involves one day in the field collecting data and a
corresponding day in the laboratory processing the data. From
year to year, specific project locations and objectives vary depending on circumstances and opportunities that are available to us.
To help the students understand the application of seismic
techniques to real field problems, we focus on areas or settings
that the students have studied during the earlier part of the course
(weeks 2 and 3). We explain how various techniques can be
applied to specific problems and how the interpretation of the
data collected helps to address problems that are familiar to the
students from their previous mapping projects. In the process,

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options


students learn both basic data analysis and seismic survey design
methods as well as the basic theory underlying the data processing and analysis that they complete in the laboratory. In 2008,
the objectives of both of our refraction and reflection seismic
experiments (Dallas domeDry Lake and the Riverton landfill,
respectively) overlapped with advanced hydrology projects being
conducted in the same areas. As a result, the interpretation of the
seismic data included both the seismic images processed by the
geophysics students and the results of well data and hydrologic
models used for the hydrology projects.
Data for both the refraction and reflection projects are
acquired using a 32-channel Geometrics Geode data acquisition
system, using 10 Hz geophones and both a hammer and a Betsy
gun (blank shotgun rounds) for the source (Fig. 9). A total station
is used to survey and locate all sources and geophones. During
some phases of the experiments, students are able to use the total
station data to apply elevation corrections in their reflection and
refraction analysis. The general field and data reduction procedures used for our projects are described in Burger (1992) and
Underwood (2007).
Refraction Data Collection and ProcessingThe Dallas
Dome Site
The seismic-refraction projects over the past several years
have given students the opportunity to learn how to apply seismic
imaging to structural problems of faulting and folding near Dallas and Derby domes. The project for 2008 imaged the bedding
in the forelimb of Dallas dome beneath Dry Lake (discussed in
the hydrology section and shown in Fig. 6). The students found
evidence of the small syncline in the subsurface directly below
the lake (Fig. 6). The students also image the water table beneath
Dry Lake, which was observed to dip away from the lake, indicating that the lake was losing water to groundwater.
The Time-Term Method Used to Estimate Refractor Depth.
This method only requires layer assignments for each of the first
break arrivals. It assumes discrete constant velocity layers as
well as a horizontal refractor, which are valid assumptions in our
case. The students divide the refraction arrivals into a three-layer
model by identifying the changes in slopes of the traveltime plots.
We use the software package Plotrefa to calculate the velocities for an n-layer model. The students must decide, based upon
the observed traveltime, how many layers the data will support.
Next, they use a time-term inversion scheme to improve the data
fit beyond a simple one-dimensional (flat-layer) velocity model.
The results of the inversion calculations show a top layer that has
a relatively constant layer thickness of ~2 m (Fig. 10). The second
layer has a maximum thickness of ~18 m that pinches out toward
both ends of the cross section. This pinching out is most likely an
artifact of our acquisition geometry (pinching out at the ends due
to less coverage) and is not a reliable feature of the model. The
boundary between the first and second layers is probably the top
of the water table, while the third layer is probably a distinct lithologic unit (e.g., Frontier Sandstone). The shape of the model is
consistent with a synclinal structure. If reliable, these results may

Figure 9. Setting off the Betsy gun for a seismic-reflection experiment.

Figure 10. Time-term inversion for traveltime data collected along the
northern shore of Dry Lake. The thickening of sediments is consistent
with the existence of a synclinal feature underlying the lake.

affect how we understand folding and faulting in the basin-margin

folds adjacent to the Wind River Mountains (Fig. 1). Since the
students have already become very familiar with this geologic
setting from their mapping projects on Dallas and Derby domes
(weeks 2 and 3 in Table 1), they can use this background to form
a sound interpretation of the resulting velocity model.
Tomographic Analysis Used to Model Traveltime Data.
Students run several different tomographic models with different


Bauer et al.

numbers of iterations and with different smoothing parameters.

This exercise illustrates the trade-off in model smoothness and
the root mean square error for their velocity models. Students
also use the density of raypaths to determine which parts of the
model are reliable and which are not. They find that the thickening of sediments in the center of the spread, once again, suggests
the existence of a synclinal feature underlying the lake (Fig. 11).
When comparing the different models generated in Plotrefa
using the different parameters described here, we do not see a
large difference between any of the models. This leads us to think
that the features identified in the upper two layers between 18
and 78 m horizontally (both velocities and boundaries) are reliable. However, we have slightly less confidence in the third layer
(due to variations between tomographic models and the lack of
raypath penetration).
Reflection Acquisition and ProcessingThe Riverton
Landfill Project
The seismic-reflection project in 2008 was conducted in the
Riverton landfill area. There are important questions concerning
the depth of groundwater in the landfill and the possible existence
of a perched aquifer. Students collected a seismic-reflection line
in order to try and image this perched aquifer and possibly the
deeper regional water table.
During the project, the students learn the basics of seismicreflection experimental design, data acquisition, and data processing. Seismic-reflection data allow geophysicists to image
boundaries where there are changes in the properties of the rocks,
such as rigidity, density, and even water content. Students collect
data using two different types of shooting geometriesa fixed
spread and a rolling spreadso they are able to learn the advantages and disadvantages of different types of experiment design.
Students learn basic seismic processing using Seismic Unix (SU)
and how to filter, mute, and eliminate any bad or dead traces.
They then input the acquisition geometry and sort the data into

common depth point (CDP) gathers. They experiment with different velocity models by applying the normal move-out corrections before stacking the data. Finally, they learn how to convert
their data from two-way traveltime into depth.
After processing the data, the students must interpret the
seismic section using their knowledge of the local geology and
any available well control to try and image the potential perched
water table ~100 ft (~30.5 m) below the surface. An important
aspect of this interpretation is an understanding of the ambiguity
inherent in their data. For instance, deep well control is not available; the shallowest reflection is just under 100 ft (~30.5 m) deep,
but the deepest well only penetrates to a depth of ~55 ft (~17 m).
The interpretation is also hampered by our limited knowledge
of the local seismic velocity structure. As a result, the students
are expected to discuss both their possible interpretations and the
limits of their interpretations based on the quality and limits of
their data sets.
Despite these limitations, we did obtain a spectacular subsurface image of the Wind River Formation (Fig. 12). The image
suggests a remarkably laterally heterogeneous rock unit, which is
consistent with Wind River Formation exposures that the students
examined during the second week of the course (Table 1, Tertiary
unconformity). The reflection profile includes evidence of interlayered sandstone and siltstone lenses and possibly river channels
produced during the unroofing of the Wind River Mountains. We
also observe several major discontinuities at 200, 300, and even
700 ft (~61, 91, and 213 m). These boundaries could represent
significant changes in lithology, such as transitions from sandstone to claystone, or perhaps even the presence of water. Recognition of the alternative hypotheses and their relationship to
earlier field observations or to regional tectonic processes that the
students have learned about during previous project is an important part of the general learning experience. It helps us reinforce
the importance of the five dimensional thinking that we promote as part of our course.
Evolution of the Advanced Geophysics Projects
Each year our students conduct new seismic experiments
in a region where we only have a vague idea of the subsurface
structure. In areas that are proximal to previous years studies,
the students are given the prior years results as background, but
they are expected to independently formulate their own interpretations from the data that they collect. We have used several different software packages to process the seismic data. Currently,
we are using the Plotrefa suite of programs for the refraction
component and Seismic Unix (SU) for the reflection component.
We expect to eventually process both the reflection and refraction
data using SU.

Figure 11. An example tomographic model using the traveltime data

used in Figure 10. Students contrast and compare this approach to
modeling their data versus the time-term approach. The different colored raypaths correspond to different shot points and give the students
a good idea which part of their model is reliable.

Structural Analysis and Mapping of Metamorphic and

Plutonic Rocks
The advanced hard-rock mapping and structural analysis
project is completed on well-exposed outcrops in the South Pass

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options

Horizontal distance in meters








Lenses of sandstone/siltstone?




Possible water-bearing layer



Depth in meters



Figure 12. Common depth point (CDP) stacks using a single stacking velocity with static corrections. The profile was taken along
the western edge of the Riverton landfill (Fig. 1). The landfill is located within the Eocene Wind River Formation, which consists
primarily of fluvial and terrestrial sediments from the Laramide uplift of the Wind River Mountains. The spacing between each CPD
trace shown here is 0.5 m, and the total spread length is 93 m. The R16 location along the profile indicates the location and depth
of penetration of the only water well in the area.

greenstone belt, and it builds upon the one-day set of structural

analysis projects that all students complete during week five. It
is designed to appeal to students who want more extensive mapping experiences as well as students with advanced interests in
structural geology or metamorphic and igneous petrology. Most
students who select this option have already completed an introductory course in igneous and metamorphic petrology in addition to our prerequisite of structural geology. To make sure that
students have sufficient background for the project, we provide
further instruction on the origin and crystallization of peraluminous granites, the use of small-scale folds and fabric to map
large-scale fold features, and the use of porphyroblast-fabric relations to evaluate thermal-deformation histories in such terranes.
The project area includes a thick sequence of folded and
faulted Archean metagraywacke intruded by a granodiorite
batholith, peraluminous granite/pegmatite, and by a series of
mafic dikes. The metasedimentary rocks and some of the intrusive units are deformed by a single large-scale folding event that
has associated small-scale folds and well-developed deformation
fabrics, including an axial plane foliation and lineations that are
subparallel to the associated fold hinge lines. The metagraywacke

contains metamorphic porphyroblasts and mineral assemblages

consistent with middle-amphibolite-facies metamorphism, but it
still preserves easily recognized bedding planes.
The students work in groups of two or three to map the distribution of rock units, bedding orientations, and deformation fabrics and features across a map area of approximately three square
miles (eight square kilometers). The mapping is completed at a
scale of 1:12,000 on paper topographic base maps with registered orthophoto coverage. Lacking a stratigraphic succession to
define fold geometries or relative ages, students must rely on the
orientation and geometries of small-scale features and detailed
field observations to determine the deformation geometry and
geologic history of the area. They collect orientations of bedding, minor fold hinges, axial plane foliation, and both intersection and mineral lineations. Representative field data and minor
fold asymmetries are plotted on field maps to assist in defining
axial traces of large-scale folds. All orientation data are plotted
on stereographic projections to determine the dominant fold axial
plane and hinge line orientations. Rather than plotting the data
by hand (the method used during the basic week five structural
exercise), students compile their data in a spreadsheet during the


Bauer et al.

evenings and import it into a fabric analysis program for plotting

and orientation analysis.
The final group project report, completed during a day in
the laboratory, includes a completed geologic map, a cross section, a table of all data collected, stereonet plots of the data, and
a written report describing the geologic history of the map area.
In addition to showing the distribution of all of the rock units and
faults, the map contains plotted representative orientation data
that constrain the location of fold axial traces. Appropriate axial
trace symbols plotted on the map are guided by the orientation
data on the map, the symmetry of minor folds, bedding-foliation
relationships, and by the concentrations of orientation data on the
stereographic projections. The geologic history report includes
a description of the 3-D fold geometries in the area, the relative
timing of all of the rock units, metamorphism, and deformation affecting the area, and a brief paragraph on processes that
may have produced the deduced history of the area. Students are
encouraged to support their interpretations with as many as three
field photos in their report, which may be submitted digitally or
as printed hardcopy.
Unlike the advanced hydrology and geophysics projects,
which include multiple projects that may vary from year to year,
this advanced project relies on a single area with appropriate
exposures and level of complexity (e.g., does not involve multiple
periods of deformation or metamorphism that confuse the analysis). Such ideal areas are not common, so this project is repeated
in subsequent years. Although the project covers some relatively
advanced aspects of structural analysis, it is fundamentally part
of a traditional field camp program that emphasizes mapping,
3-D interpretations, and geologic history.
The changes to our curriculum during the fifth week of our
course were instituted over a 10 yr period (19992008), while
changes during our sixth week have only been in effect for the past
4 yr (20052008). During this implementation period, we have
been particularly concerned with: (1) maintaining our philosophy
of providing a broad field camp experience that continues to have
a strong field mapping component, (2) preparing students for
projects that require background beyond our prerequisite courses,
(3) student opinions on the value of the advanced projects to their
field camp learning experience, and (4) the ways in which our
course changes affect how we spend our course resources.
To help evaluate the first three issues, we ask the students to
complete a very extensive course evaluation toward the end of the
sixth week of the course. We have administered versions of this
evaluation since 1993, but the responses noted here are only from
the 4 yr period that includes our advanced projects. The survey is
set up to allow the students to provide a quick evaluation of each
of our projects in terms of duration, preparation they received,
their interest in the project, the value of the project, and the format and logistics for the project. Students can also add detailed
comments about any specific project. To help evaluate student

satisfaction with the breadth of our curriculum, we ask if there

are areas of field instruction that they would like to see added/
expanded or deleted/reduced. To further evaluate student satisfaction with our fifth- and sixth-week projects (beyond the project evaluations noted here), we ask the students how important
their advanced project was to their overall field camp learning
experience (very important, important, somewhat important, not
important), and how important the availability of environmental
geology/hydrology projects was in selecting a field camp (with
the same choices).
In general, students are satisfied with our curriculum. The
most common suggestion for changing the curriculum is to add
another hard-rock project at the expense of one of the sedimentary rock projects. Recall that our sixth-week advance projects replaced a week of structural analysis in metamorphic and
igneous rocks, which is now only one of our advanced project
options. The evaluation of the preparation that we provide students for our fifth- and sixth-week projects rates high; most rate
greater than 3.5 on an ABC grade point scale (A = 4, B = 3,
C = 2) and none ranks lower than 3.0. In response to the question about the importance of the advanced projects, the percent of
students responding in each category was: 61% very important,
28% important, 9% somewhat important, and 2% not important.
The student responses were nearly the same from students participating in each of the three advanced projects. However, the
student response to the question about the importance of environmental/hydrology to their field camp choice varied considerably depending on the advanced project they selected. Overall,
the percentage of students responding in each category was: 26%
very important, 24% important, 11% somewhat important, and
39% not important. As might be expected, a greater percentage
of students choosing the hydrology advanced project felt that the
availability of environmental/hydrology projects was very important or important to their field camp choice. Nevertheless, 22% of
these students felt that such availability was not important to their
field camp selection. The way in which this question is asked
could be biased by our (University of Missouri) students, who are
generally required to attend our field course.
The student opinion results indicate that most students
recognize the importance of some exposure to environmental/hydrology projects as part of their field camp experience.
However, it is clear that the ability to choose advanced projects as part of their field camp experience is important or very
important to nearly all of the students (89%). This importance
is quite clear in the students enthusiastic participation in the
advanced projects. Most students are anxiously anticipating the
end of field camp by the sixth week of a six-week course, but
the chance to participate in a week of projects that are more
likely to be interesting for the students clearly helps to sustain
their interest in learning and not just finishing the course.
Although we feel that our fifth- and sixth-week projects
are providing successful student learning experiences, they are
expensive experiences to provide in terms of both personnel and
equipment. During the last two weeks of our course, four faculty

Integrating hydrology and geophysics into a traditional geology field course: The use of advanced project options
members and three teaching assistants are in the field and/or in
the laboratory with the students every day (and most evenings),
providing a student-instructor ratio of less than six to one. The
average of the fifth- and sixth-week faculty salary expenses is
nearly twice that of the average for the first four weeks. Most of
the expensive equipment that we use for these projects (seismic
equipment, total station, fluorometer, pH-conductivity meters,
flow meters, pumps, and chemical kits) was purchased with grant
funds from the National Science Foundation or with funds available from a field camp endowment made possible by alumni
contributions. Our computer equipment is subsidized by the University of Missouri, which provides our laptop computers and
standard site licensed software based on a computing fee paid
by the students in addition to their tuition. Although our courses
room, board, and transportation costs are operated on a breakeven basis, the university and our endowment provide a significant subsidy for our instructional costs. Our expanded curriculum
would not have been possible without these grants and subsidies.


Missouri, and alumni contributions to the Department of Geological Sciences of the University of Missouri. We thank The
Nature Conservancy of Wyoming for allowing us to use their
Red Canyon Ranch properties, and Bob Budd, past manager of
the Red Canyon Ranch, for the excellent background he provided to our students on the range management and scientific
objectives of The Nature Conservancys Red Canyon Ranch
project. We thank Geoprobe Systems and Wesley McCall for
the use of a Geoprobe unit to construct our well field in Red
Canyon, and James Luepke for many years of service as our
Geoprobe operator and demonstrator.
Dallas Rhodes, Drew Diefendorf, and Dennis Dahms made
critical contributions to the development of our early fifth-week
projects, which formed the basis for our initial hydrology and
associated geochemistry projects. Dennis continues to provide
expertise in alpine glacial geology and associated stream terrace features. We sincerely thank two anonymous referees for
their careful and thorough reviews, which helped to significantly improve this paper.

The two-stage expansion of hydrology and geophysics projects for our field course has allowed us to progressively develop
projects that are built on the foundation of our four weeks of
bedrock geology, geologic mapping projects, and regional geology. Our careful site selection and emphasis on shallow groundwatersurface-water interactions has also allowed us to integrate our hydrology and geophysics projects and accommodate
logistical aspects of our fifth- and sixth-week projects. We have
taken advantage of our fifth-week projects to provide fundamental instruction and background that allows students to successfully complete hydrology and geophysics exercises during both
the fifth- and sixth-week projects without requiring students to
have prerequisite courses in these subjects. Although students
who have previously completed introductory hydrogeology or
geophysics course may already be prepared with fundamental
background for our fifth-week projects, such students are still
challenged and gain valuable practical experience during our
advanced projects in hydrology and geophysics. Our advanced
option in hard-rock structural analysis provides an advanced
mapping and bedrock geology field experience for students who
are more interested in honing their geology skills than expanding
their background in hydrology or geophysics. Although we continue to make adjustments to our curriculum, we feel that we are
successfully maintaining our program breadth and providing fundamental instruction and experience in geologic mapping even
as we provide all students with basic exposure to field aspects of
hydrology and geophysics.
Funding that allowed us to develop our hydrology and geophysics projects was provided by National Science Foundation grant
0410493, the College of Arts and Science of the University of

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Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Integrating ground-penetrating radar and traditional stratigraphic

study in an undergraduate field methods course
R.K. Vance
C.H. Trupe
F.J. Rich
Department of Geology and Geography, PO Box 8149, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia 30460, USA

Georgia Southern University maintains a traditional geology curriculum for both
bachelor of science (B.S.) and bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree candidates. Field experiences figure prominently in our curricula, and students have been taught to use
traditional means of gathering and recording field data (e.g., Brunton compasses and
notebooks with sketches). We have recently introduced high-resolution geophysical
investigations that are focused particularly on ground-penetrating radar. A nearby
field location, known as Middleground, offers an excellent road cut with sufficient
exposure, lithological heterogeneity, and relief to conduct both geological and geophysical investigations. We have shown students how one technique contrasts with
the other, and how they can be used to support each other. Student reactions to the
Middleground ground-penetrating radar exercise have been positive and enthusiastic, and have led us to formulate new and diverse applications of ground-penetrating
radar to assist students in developing their three-dimensional visualization skills and
a greater understanding of geophysical techniques in field investigations.

The faculty of the Department of Geology and Geography at
Georgia Southern University (GSU) have maintained an undergraduate curriculum that includes traditional hard-rock and softrock course sequences. Direct feedback from graduate programs
and companies hiring our graduates indicates that the curriculum
is effective, and programs that omit these traditional courses (e.g.,
mineralogy-petrology-structural geology) are putting their students at a disadvantage. Field-based education is a priority (see
Bishop et al., this volume) in the preparation of Georgia Southern geology majors. This critical component is addressed through
field trips in courses for geology majors, optional national and
international extended trips for both geology and geography

majors, a required introductory course in field methods, and a

senior requirement for a full, department-approved field camp
for those earning a B.S. in geology. Furthermore, most geology
senior thesis projects (required for the B.S. degree) involve a field
A goal of field training is to build fundamental skills in
field identification of minerals, fossils, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks and textures, structural features,
weathering features, basic soil horizons, features of economic
or environmental interest, and the use of topographic maps, as
well as proficiency with the compass and geographic positioning system (GPS) equipment. Exercises that require the practice
of these skills should culminate in representation of the study
area in stratigraphic columns, cross sections, geologic maps, and

Vance, R.K., Trupe, C.H., and Rich, F.J., 2009, Integrating ground-penetrating radar and traditional stratigraphic study in an undergraduate field methods course, in
Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 155161, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(13). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All
rights reserved.



Vance et al.

rock descriptions while developing the ability to view the earth

in three dimensions (3-D). Interpretation of these features and
application to real-world problems or needs require assimilation
and evaluation of diverse data to develop the big picture. This
process constitutes a capstone experience for undergraduate students, and field exercises build this capability.
The GSU Field Methods course emphasizes the basic skills
just described, but it has evolved with development of new techniques and equipment, access to this equipment, and the availability of experienced instructors. Students are introduced to
the use of Brunton style compasses, and then to basic surveying
methods with pace and compass exercises. The traditional plane
table and alidade have given way to total station systems. The
use of GPS is pervasive and ranges from compact low-cost units
with meter-scale resolution to advanced systems with centimeter-scale resolution. Some field programs utilize full digital mapping approaches in the field; however, we still utilize traditional
approaches with compass and paper maps supported by GPS.
Many Georgia Southern University geology majors are opting
for a minor in geographic information systems (GIS), and these
students incorporate GIS in their senior thesis fieldwork.
Some geophysical tools can be incorporated into introductory field methods courses without requiring the extensive
background education in both theory and practice more typical
of graduate-level courses. Students can be provided with the
basic operational theory and can gain some valuable hands-on
experience performing a geophysical survey and interpreting the
results of the survey. Learning the limitations of the equipment as
applied to interpretation of results is an essential component of
this experience. Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is particularly
amenable to rapid surveys and is used extensively for geotechnical work and stratigraphic investigations. The practical features
and numerous applications of the ground-penetrating radar system, and course time constraints make ground-penetrating radar
a good choice of geophysical tools to introduce in a field course.
The goal of this project was to integrate ground-penetrating radar
and traditional field stratigraphic study to develop the ability of
students to interpret and extend data from limited surficial exposure into a three-dimensional view of the local sedimentary rocks.

Figure 1. Georgia Southern University Field Methods course student

with cart-mounted MAL ground-penetrating radar system composed
of a 500 MHz shielded antenna, attached control box, Li-ion battery
pack (small black pouch below monitor), and Ramac monitor. The cart
includes an odometer attached to one wheel.


Figure 2. Field Methods course students sledding a MAL 100 MHz

shielded antenna (control box attached) using a shoulder-carried frame
for monitor and battery. An odometer wheel is attached to the rear of
the antenna.

The Department of Geology and Geography acquired a

MAL ground-penetrating radar system in 2005 along with a
Ramac X3M controller paired with either 100 MHz, 250 MHz,
500 MHz, or 800 MHz antennae. These are shielded antennae that
incorporate both transmitter and receiver in one unit. The controller-antenna system can be used in a cart (Fig. 1) or sled mode
for the 500 MHz and 250 MHz antenna, but it requires sledding
(Fig. 2) for the 100 MHz antenna. Either a laptop computer or
the MAL Ramac monitor is used to calibrate and configure the
system and record data and profile markers. The compact, durable
construction and simple operation make the monitor preferable
to the laptop for prolonged field use. The system is powered by

a lithium-ion battery that provides ~5 h of use. A second, fully

charged backup battery ensures a full day of use. Radar profile
distance is recorded internally using a wheel odometer attached to
the antenna or cart or by using a hip chain system. A time-triggering mode is also an option if conditions do not allow direct measurement by odometer. Survey data recorded in the monitor can be
downloaded to a flash drive or through USB cable to a laptop or
desktop computer for processing with MAL software. This system was introduced to undergraduates in the field methods course
in a campus demonstration prior to integration into a traditional
field investigation of local stratigraphy, as described next.

Integrating ground-penetrating radar and traditional stratigraphic study in an undergraduate field methods course
Campus Demonstration
We incorporated ground-penetrating radar in our field methods class for the first time in the spring 2007 semester and will
use this pilot exercise to improve design, implementation, and
evaluation for successive courses. The spring 2007 Field Methods class consisted of 20 students and included a mixture of
experienced geology majors who had completed most of their
upper-level coursework, as well as some for whom field methods was their first upper-level course. The course is generally
composed of two distinct segments: exercises that provide training with equipment and techniques make up the first part of the
course, and geologic mapping exercises make up the second part.
The ground-penetrating radar exercise was introduced in the
middle of the semester after the students had done projects on
topographic maps, and had used the Brunton compass, total station surveying, and GPS navigation. These exercises were done


in teams, and they included evaluation of each students field

notes along with a graded team product.
The students were introduced to ground-penetrating radar
with a brief PowerPoint presentation outlining the relative position of GPR within the electromagnetic spectrum. The relationships among, conductivity, dielectric constant, and wave propagation and attenuation were described with respect to sediments,
rocks, and man-made materials (Sharma, 2002; Bristow and Jol,
2003; Daniels, 2004; Baker et al., 2007). Wave attenuation by
water-saturated sediments and clay was emphasized with respect
to regional applications. The final portion of the presentation
addressed applications of ground-penetrating radar and system
operation (Daniels, 2004).
The presentation was followed with a ground-penetrating
radar investigation- demonstration outside the geology department building, on campus. The students used the cart system with
a 500 MHz shielded antenna and control box operated through
the Ramac monitor. The first step was to calibrate the unit for
a 30 m distance. The system was then used by several students
to generate a suite of profiles (Fig. 3) parallel to the outer wall

Figure 3. Excerpt from a set of three stacked, parallel, 500 MHz ground-penetrating radar profiles run outside
the Herty building on the Georgia Southern University (GSU) campus for a class demonstration and practice
session. The hyperbolic reflections at ~ 116122 ft (35.437.2 m) and 103107 ft (31.432.6 m) are utility
conduits. The heavy reflections at 106117 ft (32.335.7 m) in the uppermost profile are due to a pedestrian
walk composed of paving stones. The profile was processed to eliminate most of the ground-air wave, and the
time-gain was adjusted to enhance the signal that attenuates sharply at 23 ft depth (.6.9 m) with increasing
clay and moisture content. The X in the lowest profile is a surface marker for a reference feature noted during
the profile. The sharp vertical break in the middle profile represents a point where the student stopped forward
motion and rolled the cart backward to locate a reflector, producing a slight dislocation in the profile.


Vance et al.

of the building and crossing multiple utility features in the subsurface. This class activity allowed the students to gain direct
practice with the equipment and introduced a practical application and approach to locating buried utilities and underground
storage tanks. The monitor screen scrolls the radar profile as it is
produced, allowing immediate observation of anomalous reflections without processing the ground-penetrating radar profile.
Surface markers may be added to the profile record to register
known surface features and determine their relationship with the
imaged subsurface targets. After the demonstration, the profile
was downloaded to a flash drive and transferred to a laptop for
initial processing and printing. Printouts of the profiles were copied and handed out for review and discussion of features at the
next meeting of the class. Group review of profiles introduced
students to common components (e.g., ground-air wave signal)
of ground-penetrating radar profiles and encouraged interpretation of anomalous features observed on the profile. Signal loss
with depth that we observed on printouts prompted discussion of
antenna limitations and signal attenuation by clay and moisture.
Filtered and unfiltered profiles were displayed to illustrate the
role and effect of processing.
Field Site Geology
The GSU campus is located in Statesboro, Georgia, within
the eastern edge of the Inner Coastal Plain of Georgia. As such,
topography is typically subdued, and outcrops and road cuts are
rare. We are fortunate, however, to have a rather extensive, easily
navigated, and lithologically diverse road cut near our campus,
and it is this field site that has provided us with an opportunity
to merge classic stratigraphic description with a shallow geophysical technique (ground-penetrating radar). Our field site lies
~14 km north of Statesboro, Bulloch County, Georgia (Fig. 4).
The small community of Middleground is the nearest geographic
feature of note, though the site also lies within the drainage basin
of Spring Branch, a minor tributary of the Ogeechee River. Strata
in the vicinity of Middleground belong to the Meigs Member of
the Miocene Coosawhatchie Formation (Huddlestun, 1988) and
are characterized by weakly consolidated, fine- to coarse-grained,
locally conglomeratic, clayey sandstones, as well as rhythmically
bedded sand and clay couplets (Fig. 5). Preliminary analysis of
the units can be found in Bartholomew et al. (2007). The authors
and their students have measured and described a series of stratigraphic profiles at the site, recording characteristics of the units at
5 m intervals along a transect that parallels Metz Road, a county
road that runs north of Middleground. Initial observations of the
Middleground strata revealed fine sands that are typically interbedded with clays and contain discontinuous stringers of hematite-rich sediment. Pebble-bearing horizons are present, as is a
large body of cross-bedded sandstone that lies sublateral to, and
stratigraphically beneath, the alternating layers of sand and clay.
The road cut is, thus, lithologically heterogeneous, but, just as
importantly, the sandstones and their interbedded claystones bear
ghost shrimp burrows (form genus Ophiomorpha). Thus, all the

Figure 4. Location map for the Middleground field

site, Bulloch County, Georgia. The region delineated by dark shading marks the extent of the Coosawhatchie Formation.

Figure 5. Middleground, Georgia, road cut exposure of sand-clay

couplets in the Meigs Member of the Miocene Coosawhatchie
Formation. Road cut is ~2 m in height.

strata are interpreted to have been deposited at or just below sea

level (Rich et al., 2009). The value of this knowledge is considerable as we prepare students to construct three-dimensional representations of the strata based upon the electromagnetic response
during their ground-penetrating radar survey.
Also worthy of note is the fact that most of the road cut lies
near the drainage divide of Spring Branch, so the strata all lie

Integrating ground-penetrating radar and traditional stratigraphic study in an undergraduate field methods course


upslope of the local shallow groundwater table. Ground-penetrating radar signals are, therefore, relatively clear and easily read as
compared to many sites in the coastal plain where the water table
lies very near the surface, contributing to rapid signal attenuation
with depth. Three-dimensional visualization of the strata imaged
with ground-penetrating radar can be a challenge to many people.
Thus, conducting a ground-penetrating radar survey in a location
where exposures of the strata are available for direct comparison
(ground truth) with the radar image has the potential to facilitate
visualization and translation of a two-dimensional image into
three-dimensional space. This ideal training situation also allows
comparison of the resolution at differing frequencies if multiple
antennae are available, and analysis of signal attenuation with
changes in composition.
Field Exercise
In 2007, the ground-penetrating radar exercise was conducted in teams assigned to pair experienced students with those
lacking substantial field experience. Preparation for the exercise
included the classroom lectures on the physics, capabilities,
and limitations of the ground-penetrating radar equipment, the
campus demonstration of the MAL ground-penetrating radar
system, and assigned readings from Compton (1985) and Freeman (1999) to prepare them to describe sedimentary rocks. The
Middleground road cut (Fig. 6) was ideal for a local field project
because the rock surface at the site is accessible to study, and the
ground surface above the road cut is level to gently sloping and
has recently been cleared of brush. This surface provides access
to run ground-penetrating radar profiles and does not require corrections for topography. This level surface was measured parallel
the road cut and flagged at 1 m intervals to provide immediate
reference for stratigraphic sketches and ground-penetrating radar
profiles. In order to give all students the opportunity to use the
equipment, half of the class did their initial fieldwork on a Friday afternoon and the other half began their project on Saturday
morning. Students were given the UTM coordinates of the outcrop and a time to meet at the site.
The main objectives of the exercise were for each team to:
(1) describe an assigned section of the outcrop including
rock types, textures, composition, and sedimentary layering, and
measure and record planar features such as sedimentary layering
and joints;
(2) use ground-penetrating radar equipment to obtain a 500
MHz profile plus an additional 250 or 100 MHz profile along the
power line right-of-way several meters back from the top of the
(3) interpret two profiles (different frequencies) for each section, correlating outcrop data with the ground-penetrating radar
profiles; and
(4) prepare a report explaining how the outcrop data supported the ground-penetrating radar profile interpretation.
At the site, the students were introduced to the overall geologic setting of the exposure and began by sketching the entire

Figure 6. Field Methods course students working on field descriptions

of the Meigs Member of the Coosawhatchie Formation at the Middleground road cut. The cleared right of way visible above the road cut
provides excellent access to conduct ground-penetrating radar profiles
of the local stratigraphic section.

outcrop with a general description of lithology, textures, and

bed forms. Each team was then assigned a 20-m-long section of
the road cut for a detailed stratigraphic sketch, including bedding and joint orientations and description. During the Friday
and Saturday sessions, each team spent time running groundpenetrating radar surveys immediately above and parallel to the
road cut, giving all students some experience collecting data with
the ground-penetrating radar system. While one team conducted
ground-penetrating radar surveys, the other two teams worked
on outcrop descriptions. Additionally, students augered several
holes for their assigned section to help them correlate the face of
the outcrop with ground-penetrating radar profiles and to check
for lateral deviation from the stratigraphy observed on the road
cut face. The instructor downloaded the ground-penetrating radar
data, performed some minimal processing to eliminate much of
the ground-air wave reflection and to enhance the deeper signal,
and provided profile printouts for the students to use in the laboratory to compare with field sketches and photos and to use upon
return to the field site. The class was given a week to complete
the project. Students were encouraged to return to the outcrop
as needed to refine their data and interpretations. Assessment of
the teams products included grading each individuals field notes
and the teams interpreted profiles and reports.
The quality and quantity of the field data varied greatly (as
expected in early field experiences); some reports included very
detailed descriptions of the project, ample data, and had annotated figures and photos (Figs. 7 and 8). Interpretation of profiles
was generally good; however, this was not translated to wellmarked correlation of specific reflections on most of the groundpenetrating radar profiles. Student descriptions and comments


Vance et al.

Figure 7. (A) A 500 MHz ground-penetrating radar profile of a segment

of the Middleground road cut. Field Methods course students have
color coded the reflections to mark an upper set of wavy to lenticular
bedded, horizontal sand-clay layers (see photo in B) that disconformably overlie an inclined set of Meigs clay-sand couplets (see Fig. 5).
Red line denotes detailed section description at 77.5 m. Horizontal and
vertical scales are in meters; profile has been processed to remove most
of ground-air wave. (B) Portion of the yellow-orange zone of profile
1 (see red marker on 500 MHz profile in A) marking bed forms in the
subhorizontal units (from student report). The length of the solid black
bar on the photo scale is 5 cm.

indicated the exercise was indeed a step forward in developing

3-D visualization skills and learning some of the applications
and limitations of geophysical tools. Comparison of 500 MHz
(Fig. 7) and 250 MHz (Fig. 8) profiles demonstrated the differences in resolution and depth of penetration that accompanies
change in frequency of the antenna. This was an excellent project
for improving their field note-taking skills. Faced with a variety of rock types and sedimentary structures, they had to have

Figure 8. A 250 MHz profile of the same segment of the Middleground

road cut; note the position of profile 1 at 77.5 m. Student coding of
yellow zone corresponds to yellow-orange package of Figure 7A.
All units are in meters; profile has been processed to remove most
of ground-air wave. This is a good effort as students are recognizing
packages of beds and bounding surfaces between packages. The actual
exposure is confined to 1.52.5 m.

good notes and sketches to accomplish the project. The student

reaction to the experience was very positive, and comments on
course evaluations related their enjoyment and appreciation of
the hands-on aspect of the course, outdoor activities generally,
and an appreciation for very practical knowledge and the techniques they learned.
The incorporation of ground-penetrating radar in an undergraduate field exercise was a first-time experience for the teachers;
consequently, we have considered numerous ways to improve the
project before the next field methods course in the spring of 2009.
Enhancements we are considering include the following:
(1) a preparation exercise for ground-penetrating radar profile interpretation (perhaps a profile and strata interpretation to
discuss in class);
(2) more detailed instructions to standardize the method
(numeric or color-coding) for correlating key reflections or surfaces on the ground-penetrating radar profile with those on a
sketch or photothe technique could be introduced in the initial
campus demonstration;
(3) emphasis on major reflections or surfaces or packages of
reflections (Hugenholtz et al., 2007);
(4) addition of several short ground-penetrating radar surveys oriented at 90 to the long profile that parallels the road cut
to obtain a true 3-D perspective to use for generating a block
diagram in the field report;
(5) a required brief discussion of resolution differences
between ground-penetrating radar antennae in the report;
(6) a ground-penetrating radar profile conducted in the
nearby creek floodplain to look for the water table and compare the stratigraphy between the younger fluvial suite and older

Integrating ground-penetrating radar and traditional stratigraphic study in an undergraduate field methods course
marginal marine strata (using an auger to provide ground truth
for strata and water table);
(7) allow students to do some simple ground-penetrating
radar data processing as teams and evaluate the accuracy of the
velocity used to generate the profile;
(8) require photos with sketchesdigital cameras are reasonably priced, and students should get in the habit of photodocumentation of field features; and
(9) design and administer an evaluation instrument for this
exercise (all major courses are evaluated, but not individual exercises).
The overall experience in this initial effort was positive enough to encourage the incorporation of the refinements
described here into the second generation effort in 2009. These
experiences are learning processes for the instructors as well
as the students, and refinement of such exercises is continuous.
This pilot project did not include a specific evaluation to test the
improvements in student visualization of local geology. A specific evaluation instrument will be employed in the next field
class to gauge the success of this effort through a questionnaire
on the site geology, administered on site after initial traditional
road cut study, followed by a postcourse questionnaire to determine changes in interpretation of site geology after integration
of ground-penetrating radar surveys. The use of ground-penetrating radar in geotechnical work and stratigraphic studies and the
resulting literature continues to expand; consequently, incorporation of this geophysical tool in field courses is a very practical
experience for geologists. An understanding of the limitations of
the technique and the challenges of interpretation is an important
part of the experience. We are already using ground-penetrating
radar in several senior thesis research projects, and we have been
encouraged by the trial run described here to continue the introduction of this tool in our field methods course.
Field methods course students received limited instruction on theory and basic operation of ground-penetrating radar
systems before hands-on training on campus conducting surveys that demonstrated the effectiveness of the instrument for
locating buried utilities. The campus exercise also demonstrated depth of penetration limits imposed by the attenuation
of ground radar energy by clay and water. This training was
extended to stratigraphic investigation of a local road cut, which
integrated traditional field observation and measurements with
the geophysical survey. The students embraced the use of
ground-penetrating radar, extending their view of the stratigraphy into the subsurface, while learning that deeper radar
energy penetration at lower antenna frequency is accompanied
by diminished resolution of stratigraphic features. This pilot
project successfully integrated classroom instruction, campus


fieldwork, local stratigraphic investigation, and valuable training with a versatile geophysical tool. The project provided the
instructors with a foundation to build upon and improve the
field exercise through the use of additional ground-penetrating
radar surveys that will allow construction of block or fence diagrams, and that will enhance the development of 3-D visualization and representation skills by students.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the improvement of the
manuscript resulting from the constructive reviews of Steve
Leslie, Ilya Buynevich, and Steve Whitmeyer and the acceptance
of roadside project activity by residents of the Middleground
community and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Baker, G.S., Jordan, T.E., and Pardy, J., 2007, An introduction to ground penetrating radar (GPR), in Baker, G.S., and Jol, H.M., eds., Stratigraphic
Analyses Using GPR: Geological Society of America Special Paper 432,
p. 118.
Bartholomew, M.J., Rich, F.J., Lewis, S.L., Brodie, B.M., Heath, R.D., Slack,
T.Z., Trupe, C.H., III, and Greenwell, R.A., 2007, Preliminary interpretation of Mesozoic and Cenozoic fracture sets in Piedmont metamorphic
rocks and in coastal plain strata near the Savannah River, Georgia and
South Carolina, in Rich, F.J., ed., Guide to Fieldtrips: Boulder, Colorado,
Geological Society of America, 56th Annual Meeting, Southeastern Section, p. 738.
Bishop, G.A., Vance, R.K., Rich, F.J., Meyer, B.K., Davis, E.J., Hayes, H., and
Marsh, N.B., 2009, this volume, Evolution of geology field education for
K12 teachers from field education for geology majors at Georgia Southern University: Historical perspectives and modern approaches, in Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education:
Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of
America Special Paper 461, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(19).
Bristow, C.S., and Jol, H.M., eds., 2003, Ground Penetrating Radar in Sediments: Geological Society of London Special Publication 211, 366 p.
Compton, R., 1985, Geology in the Field: New York, John Wiley and Sons,
398 p.
Daniels, D.J., 2004, Ground Penetrating Radar (2nd edition): Institution of
Electrical Engineers Radar, Sonar, Navigation and Avionics Series 15
(series editors: N. Stewart and H. Griffiths): Bodwin, Cornwall, UK,
MPG Books Limited, 726 p.
Freeman, T., 1999, Procedures in Field Geology: Malden, Massachusetts,
Blackwell Science, 95 p.
Huddlestun, P.F., 1988, A Revision of Lithostratigraphic Units of the Coastal
Plain of Georgia, the Miocene through Holocene: Georgia Geological
Survey Bulletin 104, 162 p.
Hugenholtz, C.H., Moorman, B.J., and Wolfe, S.A., 2007, Ground penetrating
radar (GPR) imaging of the internal structure of an active parabolic sand
dune, in Baker, G.S., and Jol, H.M., eds., Stratigraphic Analyses Using
GPR: Geological Society of America Special Paper 432, p. 3545.
Rich, F.J., Trupe, C.H., III, Slack, T.Z., and Camann, E., 2009, Depositional and
ichnofossil characteristics of the Meigs Member, Coosawhatchie Formation (Miocene), east central Georgia: Southeastern Geology, v. 46, no. 2,
p. 8592.
Sharma, P.V., 2002, Environmental and Engineering Geophysics: Cambridge,
UK, Cambridge University Press, 475 p.

Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciences

The Keck experience
Andrew de Wet
Department of Earth and Environment, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17604, USA
Cathy Manduca
Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota 55057, USA
Reinhard A. Wobus
Department of Geosciences, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, USA
Lori Bettison-Varga
President, Scripps College, Claremont, California 91711, USA

The Keck Geology Consortium is an 18-college collaboration focused on enriching
undergraduate education through development of high-quality geoscience research experiences for undergraduate students and faculty participants. The consortium projects are
year-long research experiences that extend from summer project design and fieldwork,
through collection of laboratory data and analysis during the academic year, to the culminating presentation of research results at the annual spring symposium. The Keck experience incorporates all the characteristics of high-quality undergraduate research. Students
are involved in original research, are stakeholders and retain intellectual ownership of
their research, experience the excitement of working in group and independent contexts,
discuss and publish their findings, and engage in the scientific process from conception to
completion. Since 1987, 1094 students (1175 slots, 81 repeats) and over 121 faculty (410
slots, multiple repeats) have participated in 137 projects, providing a substantial data set
for studying the impact of undergraduate research and field experiences on geoscience
students. Over 56% of the students have been women, and since 1996, 34% of the project faculty have been women. There are now 45 Keck alumni in academic teaching and
research positions, a matriculation rate three times the average of U.S. geoscience undergraduates. Twenty-two of these new faculty are women, indicating remarkable success in
attracting women to and retaining women in academic geoscience careers.

de Wet, A., Manduca, C., Wobus, R.A., and Bettison-Varga, L., 2009, Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciencesThe Keck experience, in
Whitmeyer, S.J., Mogk, D.W., and Pyle, E.J., eds., Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches: Geological Society of America Special Paper 461, p. 163172, doi: 10.1130/2009.2461(14). For permission to copy, contact 2009 The Geological Society of America. All
rights reserved.



de Wet et al.

The Keck Geology Consortium was started in 1987 by a
group of ten colleges including Amherst, Beloit, Carleton, Colorado, Franklin and Marshall, Pomona, Smith, Whitman, Williams, and The College of Wooster. Funding was provided by the
W.M. Keck Foundation, hence the name of the consortium. Trinity and Washington and Lee Universities were added in 1989. In
2006, six more institutions were added: Colgate, Macalester, Mt.
Holyoke, Oberlin, Union, and Wesleyan.
The idea for the consortium originated with Bud Wobus at
Williams College. It was patterned after the National Science
Foundation (NSF)supported WAMSIP Consortium of four of
the current Keck colleges (Williams, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke,
and Smith) in the 1970s, a collaboration that was nucleated by
Wobus at Williams and Mel Kuntz at Amherst (Wobus, 1988).
Their idea to support undergraduates as collaborators with faculty in original field-based research was inspired by the historic
and highly successful field course at Stanford, where they had
been graduate students. The basic concept of the consortium was
to bring together a group of small liberal arts colleges that had
traditionally produced a disproportionately large share of the
Ph.D.s granted in the earth sciences (Manduca and Woodward,
1995). The consortium was to fund, and support in various ways,
research projects by faculty and students from the consortium
member institutions (Manduca et al., 1999). The first three projects in 19871988 covered carbonate sedimentology (Bahamas),
volcanology (Colorado), and paleohydrology and clastic sedimentology (Montana), and they were directed by faculty from
Williams, Amherst, and Smith who had been part of the earlier
NSF-supported WAMSIP consortium. Providing a diversity of
projects has been one of the ongoing goals of the consortium,
along with broadening coverage of geoscience subfields as the
consortium grows.

The Keck Nuts and Bolts

Call for proposals: spring and fall

Project approval: spring (symposium) and fall (GSA Annual Meeting)

Projects advertised online at November-January

Student application process: deadline early February

Student selection process: notification in March-April

Presummer interactions among students, project faculty,

and research advisors/sponsors: spring

Summer research experience: field and/or lab (4 weeks)

Student independent research project: fall and spring

Short contribution draft: March

Project workshops

Annual Keck Geology Research Symposium:

April symposium - poster and oral presentations;
field trip; project meetings

Publication of symposium
proceedings - summer

Other presentations
and publications

Figure 1. The basic components of the Keck Geology Consortium.


Project Selection
The basic structure of the consortium has stayed the same
since the beginning (Fig. 1). Each new research cycle begins
with the directors call for proposals. Guidelines for proposals
are available at the Keck Web site. Projects must involve one or
more Keck faculty, but non-Keck faculty participation is welcome. Typically, projects have a faculty to student ratio of 13,
and most projects have 6 to 9 student participants. Just 5 of 137
projects have involved only one faculty member. Faculty representatives from all the member institutions discuss the merits
of each proposal and select the strongest ones for the upcoming
summer. Proposals for the following year are reviewed at the
annual Keck Symposium in April, and at the Keck meeting during the Geological Society of American (GSA) Annual Meeting
each fall.

Selection of projects is based on a number of criteria,

including the scientific value of the project, its scientific
focus, the quality of the proposed student projects, geographical location and logistics, and the viability of the budget.
Once the proposals are approved by the representatives, the
call goes out for student participants. The Keck Web site is
the primary source of information about upcoming projects,
and the Keck member schools ensure that their students are
aware of the summers Keck projects. Non-Keck students are
attracted through advertising in various online venues such as
the National Science Foundation (NSF), Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR), and Northeast Environmental Studies Group (NEES). E-mails and flyers are sent to geoscience
departments across the United States, and word-of-mouth
remains an important method of locating new applicants. Student from underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged
to apply.

Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciencesThe Keck experience

Student Selection
Interested students (current juniors) apply online to the Keck
Consortium. They must secure a recommender and a research
advisor at their home institution before applying. The students
are encouraged to select three projects in order of preference;
however, students almost always receive their first preference (43
of 45 students got their first choice in 2007). Each Keck institution is restricted to five applicants in order to provide some
flexibility in the selection process, but it is unlikely that more
than two students from any one Keck member school will be
selected, since the consortium attempts to distribute the available
slots equitably among the member institutions. Under the present funding model, ~30% of the student participants come from
outside the Keck Consortium. There are no restrictions on the
number of applications from non-Keck schools.
Students are selected by the 18 Keck representatives, in
consultation with the Keck director and the project faculty,
via an online selection process in February and early March.
At present, the consortium supports ~4550 students, but the
number of student participants has ranged from 24 in 1988
to a high of 85 in 1997 (when sophomore projects were still
offered). Selection is based on the faculty recommendation,
student academic background (course prerequisites and performance), motivation for doing the project, membership in
underrepresented groups, and equitable distribution across the
Keck member schools. Selection is highly competitive (overall
grade-point average [GPA] for students selected in 20082009
was 3.48, with 3.68 in major courses).
The consortium requires students to complete the summer
field-based portion of the project, but they also commit to completing their research during the academic year as a senior independent study research course at their home institution. One of the
strengths of the Keck experience is that all students are guided by
a research advisor from their home institution in addition to their
project director. Ideally, this home research advisor will have
expertise in the students project topic. Joint publications by the
project director, student, and home institution research advisor
are not uncommon. Clear and frequent communication among
all parties is crucial in making this arrangement successful. Most
faculty from the Keck member schools are fully aware of the
expectations of the research advisor, while non-Keck faculty may
require additional guidance. Research advisors are encouraged to
visit their students in the field and to attend the Keck Research
Symposium in the spring.
The project director provides background readings and
prepares a preliminary synthesis of what is known about the
field site, but individual students are expected to craft their own
research proposal and goals. The project director may have a
sense of the overall research questions that guide the project, but
students must be able to articulate the value of their individual
Historically, there have been two categories of student projects, those for eligible sophomores who had completed their first


two years of college and had taken at least one or two geology
courses, and those for rising senior geology majors who were
between their junior and senior year of college. Sophomore projects were phased out over the past few years, so all projects are
now geared toward rising senior students.
Summer Research
The actual research project may have three distinct phases,
beginning with a 4 wk field experience and continuing through
summer laboratory and/or sample preparation into research at a
students home institution during the academic year. In the field
phase, students identify a specific project and gather samples,
make field observations and measurements, and/or complete
mapping projects. As with any research program, the particular
methodologies used are matched to the project goals. In some
cases, the 4 wk period is divided between the field and laboratory
so that students can begin processing samples prior to returning
to their home campuses. Pre-fieldwork might include the use of
geographic information systems (GIS) to prepare field maps, or
training of students in the use of field equipment.
Field-based projects involve a wide variety of pedagogical approaches depending on the nature of the project and the
preferences and experience of the faculty. Each Keck experience
ensures that individual students will have their own research
objective within the overall project. In addition, funding for student field-related expenses, and often for analytical data collection, is assured.
The field phase is not just data collection; invariably, friendships develop, and a sense of common purpose and community
grows. This group identity motivates students during the field
season and supports them through their independent study the
following academic year. Shared challenges, goals, and experiences help integrate the students into a strong research group.
Project faculty employ a number of strategies to engage the students; for example, some students work first in a single large
group, or go through a systematic rotation of different roles (lead
investigator, field assistant), and others involve students in small
teams (three to four students) or assign permanent research partnerships. Regardless of approach, a sense of community is built
quickly through student-to-student interactions. Additionally,
students are housed together on projects, and the experience of
living, socializing, and working together enhances the sense of
camaraderie developed during the field season.
Many project faculty require their students to complete short
project proposals before finalizing the details of the projects. The
project faculty, may, in consultation with the student and home
institution research advisor, determine the specific project before
starting the field season, but usually project selection occurs in
the first few days of the summer fieldwork.
Many field-based projects include a laboratory component
during the summer phase of the project. Laboratory work may
occur before, during, or after the field phase. The summer laboratory work may only involve sample preparation, such as cutting


de Wet et al.

rock chips for thin sections, while the actual observations or analytical work will be done at the students home institution during
the academic year. In other cases, the laboratory work needs to be
completed over the summer because of the nature of the samples
or because the necessary analytical equipment is not available at
the students home institution. Since the students involved in the
Keck projects are required to continue their research as an independent project at their home institution after the summer, the
expectations for each project are high. The students need to leave
the summer season with a viable independent project that will
lead to further research that can be accomplished in an academic
year time frame.
Academic Year Independent Research
While the Keck 4 wk summer experience is shorter than the
time frame for many NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) projects, we have found that continuing the students
research into the academic year has proven successful in many
ways. Maintaining momentum through the academic year, while
challenging, is one of the most successful aspects of the Keck
experience. Shared goals and the commitment of the on-campus
faculty research advisor, combined with regular communication
and attention by the project director, are fundamental to success
during the academic year. Goals are set at the project and program levels. Research plans and deadlines developed by the project directors are in keeping with the projects overall objectives.
In many cases, the students project is tailored to the expertise and analytical resources available at the students home institution. In other situations, students may analyze their samples at
another institution during the academic year. One of the great
strengths of the Keck Consortium is that students have access
to equipment at other Keck or collaborating institutions. This
enriches the students research experience and enhances the scientific value of the research.
Some projects have effectively used course management
software to facilitate communication and data sharing during
the academic year. Some projects involve coordinated laboratory work at one institution, or a collaborating research laboratory, during the academic year. For example, the Keck projects
directed by Tekla Harms, Jack Cheney, and John Brady in the
Tobacco Root Mountains of Montana have involved a midyear
workshop at Amherst College, where students meet to discuss
their results to date and collect additional analytical data. The
2005 Minnesota project took advantage of laboratory facilities at
Washington State University in January 2006.
Annual Symposium and Proceedings Volume
The annual spring Keck Geology Research Symposium is the
culminating event of the Keck research experience. Prior to the
symposium, students submit a six-page research paper with illustrations and references reporting the results of their research. These
short contributions are reviewed by the research advisors and

project directors, edited by the technical editor for consistency in

organization and geoscience style, and published as a proceedings
volume. Past volumes are archived on the Keck Web site (www Since the 20042005 program year, the production of the annual proceedings volume has moved to electronic
publication to reflect a process similar to professional publications.
A draft version of the proceedings volume is printed for distribution at the symposium, during which groups have time to
reconnect, reflect, and share data, often resulting in revisions to
their papers. The students are thus exposed to the ongoing process of writing, editing, and manuscript submittal. All students
also present a poster of their results at the Keck Symposium.
The posters follow standard professional meeting formats. The
final online publication becomes available on the Web site in late
spring (
The annual symposium is hosted by one of the Keck Consortium members (except in 2001, when it was hosted by the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the Goddard
Space Flight Center). The symposium typically involves a 1 d
field trip highlighting the local geology near the host institution.
The field trip serves several purposes, such as reinforcing the idea
that field observations are a critical part of the science of geology,
increasing the students knowledge of regional geology, and providing an opportunity for social and scientific interactions leading to the development of a geoscience community. The evening
after the field trip is devoted to project meetings, which involve
final editing of the short contributions, reviewing the posters, and
fine-tuning the presentations for the following day.
The second day is devoted to the presentation of the research
results. Given time constraints, only a subset of the students give
oral presentations; however, all students present posters on their
research. Each project is assigned a certain amount of time for oral
presentations based on the number of participants in the project.
Project faculty typically give a short introduction to their project
before handing the podium over to the student presenters. The
oral presentations are interspersed with poster sessions. This presentation of results in a supportive but professional environment
builds the students confidence and provides them with valuable
professional experience. Many students also present their results
in other forums. For example, the 2005 Dominican Republic
project resulted in two presentations at the national meeting of
GSA (2005) and nine additional presentations at regional GSA
meetings. It is also not uncommon for Keck students to present
their research at a national GSA or American Geophysical Union
(AGU) meeting in the year following their graduation.
While the consortium encourages presentation of student
work at appropriate national and regional venues, the Keck Symposium is an important and substantive part of the Keck research
experience because of the collaborative nature of the program.
The annual symposium is much more than a place to present
results. It is the capstone of the program, serving a number of
additional and critical functions. The symposium fosters a sense
of Keck community for students, project faculty, and sponsors.
The presymposium field trip, shared meals, and shared science

Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciencesThe Keck experience

Breadth and Depth in Research Projects

The consortium strives to provide a wide variety of projects
from which students can choose, ranging from traditional subdisciplines such as igneous and metamorphic petrology, volcanology, structural geology, sedimentology, and paleontology, to
interdisciplinary studies such as climatology, geoarchaeology,
and environmental geology. In some cases, when the overall
theme of a project is not interdisciplinary, the individual student
projects within it involves several subdisciplines, reflecting the
varying interests and expertise of the faculty and students on the
project. Of the 137 projects funded since 1987, 15 have focused
on metamorphic petrology, 11 on volcanology, 10 on igneous
petrology, 10 on structural geology, 9 on glacial/Quaternary geology, 8 on environmental geology, 8 on tectonics, 7 on geophysics,
6 on carbonate sedimentology, 6 on geomorphology, 5 have been
interdisciplinary, 5 have focused on hydrology, 4 on sedimentology, 4 on experimental petrology, 4 on climate, 4 on paleontology/sedimentology, 2 on planetary geology, 2 on soils, 2 on geoarchaeology, 1 on remote sensing, 1 on GIS, and 1 on mineralogy.
The remaining projects were broadly interdisciplinary.
Over the years, there has been a slight shift toward interdisciplinary and environmental projects, reflecting the changing interests of the participating faculty and students. However, it remains
an important goal of the consortium to continue to offer research
opportunities in a wide variety of subdisciplines of the geosciences.
Of the 137 Keck projects since 1987, 128 have been completely or largely field-based projects, and nine have been laboratory-based projects (experimental petrology, remote sensing,
planetary geology, and GIS). Ninety-nine projects have been
located in the United States (29 states and U.S. territories), and 38
have been conducted overseas in 15 different countries (Fig. 2).
Canada has accounted for 11 projects, while Mongolia, Greece,
and the Bahamas have accounted for four projects each. Other
countries have included Australia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico,
Spain, and Switzerland. Domestic and overseas projects follow
the same general structure and have the same oversight.
Program Administration and Funding
Since its inception, the consortium has been led by a coordinator or director (Fig. 3). Until 1996, this position was a vol-

% Non-U.S. projects


% per year

all act to stimulate the sense of programmatic belonging that is

so valuable to all participants. It is at the symposium that faculty
meet to discuss future collaborations and develop project ideas.
Interaction among all project faculty and sponsors at the symposium is responsible for the strong interconnection among the
faculty, and it is a vehicle for including faculty from other schools
in the geoscience community. They learn about us as we learn
about them, to the benefit of future projects.









Figure 2. Percentage of projects based outside the United States and

its territories.

Keck Emergency
Response Team

Keck Office:
Keck director
Keck administrative assistant

Keck Member
Institutions (18)
council - 18 members:
(1 faculty from each
member institution)
Meets twice a year:
Spring - Symposium
Fall - Annual GSA

Keck Projects:
5-8 per year

Keck Executive Committee

(3 faculty from Keck
member institutions)

Keck nonmember
Project faculty
Project students

Project director
Project faculty

research advisors

Project students
research advisors

Other collaborators

Figure 3. The Keck Geology Consortium administrative structure.

untary, part-time position held initially by Bill Fox at Williams

and then by Hank Woodard at Beloit. Considerable logistical
support was provided by their respective departmental administrative assistants. As the complexity of running the consortium
increased, the demands on the director increased, and full- or
part-time directors were hired who were not teaching faculty. In
2004, as a cost-cutting measure, the consortium returned to the
original model of having a faculty member at one of the consortium institutions direct the program. The consortium director is
now a one-third time position, with a part-time administrative
assistant, both of which are funded by contributions from the
member institutions. The Keck office administers the finances,


de Wet et al.

maintains the Keck Web site, solicits project proposals, manages

the student selection process, deals with safety and insurance
issues, edits and publishes the annual symposium proceedings
volume, assists in the organization of the annual symposium,
seeks funding, and maintains the records of the consortium.
The Keck director is supported in his/her work by an executive committee (three faculty members with substantial experience in directing consortium projects) and a group of representatives, one from each institution (Fig. 3). The consortium has two
annual meetings of the executive committee and representatives:
one at the annual Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in the fall and the other during the Keck Symposium in the
spring. Along with the general business of the consortium, the
representatives plan the program for the coming year at these
meetings. The slate of summer projects for the following year is
finalized at the fall representatives meeting at GSA.
The project directors administer the individual project budgets and, together with the other project faculty, are responsible
for the logistical and scientific aspects of the individual projects.
The funding model for the consortium has evolved over the
years. The W.M. Keck Foundation provided most of the funding
for the first 10 yr, with decreasing contributions for the subsequent 5 yr. Since then, funding has been obtained from a variety
of sources, including the Keck member institutions, NSF, ExxonMobil Foundation, and the National Geographic Society. Presently, ~50% of the funding for the consortium is provided by the
Keck Member institutions, and 50% is provided by NSF (NSF
grant EAR-0648782).
Safety and Other Issues (Keck Policies)
The Keck Geology Consortium is not incorporated, but it
is a consortium or affiliation of 18 colleges. All participants
in the consortium abide by the policies of their home institution and of the institution housing the Keck office and director. In many cases, however, the member institutions may not
have explicit guidelines or policies, or there may potentially
be conflicting policies. In order to clarify any ambiguities, the
consortium has placed an increasing emphasis on safety as the
overarching principle governing policy decisions. Over the
years, it has become increasingly important to be explicit about
policies and procedures concerning field safety, sexual assault
and harassment, nonfraternization, alcohol and illegal drug use,
publication and authorship of results, and student dismissal
from a project. Keck policies are clearly described in a series of
handbooks that are tailored to the student participants, faculty
members, and project directors. The handbooks are updated
annually and are provided to every participant. Project faculty
are required to review all the Keck policies with the students
at the first meeting of the project participants in the summer.
These policies have been largely successful in preventing problems by being clear and proactive.
Safety is the top priority for all projects. Throughout the
program, the consortium has implemented numerous practices

to optimize the safety of all participants. Medical and other

information is collected by the Keck office and distributed to
the project faculty prior to the start of the summer research.
Access to medical care while in the field is determined prior
to departure. While it is not required, many faculty have emergency medical training, and, in some cases, a medical doctor
has accompanied the project in the field.
Communication in the field has become more important:
two-way radios, cell phones, and, in more remote areas, satellite phones are used. Typically, students work in pairs in the
field. While the consortium strives to accommodate any special
needs of students, some projects have unusual requirements,
even for geological fieldwork. For example, scuba certification
was required for the 2007 Saint Croix project, while training in
the use of kayaks was required for many projects on Vinalhaven
Island, Maine. Bears and other natural hazards are a concern
in many locations, and, in some situations, specialized training
is provided. Dietary flexibility is particularly necessary on the
Mongolia projects, and some overseas projects require extensive vaccinations.
The consortium has an emergency response team that
includes the Keck director, several administrators from the host
institution (at present: Franklin and Marshall College), and faculty or administrators from the member institutions. This team is
available to respond to any serious issues that might arise during
the field season or during the academic year (Fig. 3). Depending
on the type of emergency, it is not inconceivable that members of
the team might need to travel to the project location in order to
most effectively deal with the situation. To date, the Emergency
Response Team has not been activated.
Assessment and Feedback
An ongoing assessment and evaluation effort is used to continually improve the program. The Keck office maintains basic
statistics about the projects and the faculty and student participants, including the size and disciplinary focus of the projects,
Keck and non-Keck student and faculty participation, gender,
and participation by underrepresented groups. All student participants anonymously complete a project assessment at the annual
symposium in the spring. These responses cover not only the
overall structure of the Keck experience but also the details of
the individual projects. This information is then compiled by the
Keck office and distributed to the project faculty. The consortium office keeps these records and uses past responses to guide
the next program cycle. There was a 90% completion rate for
student evaluations for the 20042005 and 20052006 projects.
Of those, 100% of student participants reported the educational
value of their Keck experience to be a 4 or 5, and 84% of those
ranked the experience as excellent (5). Evaluations include Likert
scale responses to seven questions, including the effectiveness of
communication prior to the summer experience and during the
academic year, as well as open-ended responses to a variety of
questions related to experience.

Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciencesThe Keck experience

Finally, the Keck office gathers information about Keck
alumni, either directly or through the member institutions.
Results from alumni surveys indicate that the Keck experience
enhances fundamental scientific and geoscience skills, but it also
positively impacts student enthusiasm for science (Lauer-Glebov
and Palmer, 2004). The assessment results indicate that the preparation students receive in their Keck undergraduate research
experiences translates into skills relevant for their careers.
The Keck Geology Consortium was founded with two primary objectives: to provide high-quality undergraduate research
opportunities for liberal arts students, and to energize and support
faculty with new opportunities for research and a new network
of colleagues. The program design addressed both of these goals
simultaneously by using collaborative research projects that
involved students and faculty from multiple institutions. Twentytwo years later, this basic program design is still in place.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the Keck Consortium experience is that students work in collaborative research groups
directly with faculty who have dedicated their lives to the synergy of research and teaching that permeates the undergraduate environment within the consortium institutions (Manduca,
1996; Palmer, 2002; Bettison-Varga, 2005). The Keck faculty
know, from significant individual and collective experience,
what undergraduates are capable of accomplishing in the field
and laboratory when properly supported and mentored during the
summer and academic year. The guiding principle among faculty
in the consortium is their commitment to high-level undergraduate research (Manduca, 1996; Knapp et al., 2006). Although the
consortium is primarily a research-oriented entity, collaborations, camaraderie, further education, and mentoring have invariably become integral aspects of the consortiums philosophy. The
Keck Consortium is not prescriptive in its approach to studentfaculty collaborations, but rather it provides a framework in
which faculty have the freedom to design projects based on their
own experience and expertise.
Right from the beginning, it was recognized that students
would benefit from exposure to the complete research experience, from the development of scientific questions, fieldwork and
sampling, sample and data analysis, to the publication of results
(Elgren and Hensel, 2006). The use of cross-institutional faculty
teams supports professional development in both research and
teaching, and the project groups provide a rich environment for
students to integrate and apply their geoscience knowledge, to
develop as geoscience researchers, to meet students from across
the country who share their research interests, and to test their
interest in pursuing further study in geoscience. Faculty and students at the member institutions and beyond relish the opportunity to participate in Keck projects.
Apart from a few projects that have focused on topics like
planetary geology or experimental petrology, all Keck projects
have had a significant field component. This reflects the fact that


most aspects of the geosciences are firmly rooted in fieldwork

and that field experiences are a crucial aspect of the training of
a geoscientist. Consortium projects involving fieldwork are distinct from other field-related experiences, such as traditional
field camps, because they emphasize original research, and not
necessarily learning a full compendium of field skills. This takes
the faculty and students into uncharted territory, which is both
exciting and unpredictable. While almost all Keck faculty would
agree that exposure to fieldwork such as completion of a traditional field camp is desirable before a student starts a Keck project, this is not always possible. Many Keck institutions do not
require field camp, but most encourage students to complete a
field camp before graduation. Students without prior fieldwork
usually require some field training during the Keck project.
Generally, faculty support the idea that a typical Keck project
is complementary to a traditional field camp but does not fully
replace the broad range of skills learned through that experience
(Baker, 2006).
The required completion of an independent research project based on the summer research and the associated short
contribution is also an important aspect of the program. Keck
faculty firmly believe that student writing is a crucial aspect of
engaging in successful research. Many project faculty require
the students to complete numerous writing exercises during the
summer research season including a research proposal, fieldwork
reports, and a fieldwork summary. The consortium continues to
invest considerable resources in the reporting of the results of the
research through participation in the annual symposium and the
publication of the annual proceedings volume.
For many years, the consortium funded numerous academic
year workshops for students and faculty geared toward the ongoing research projects, or workshops for Keck faculty to introduce
new techniques, pedagogy, or equipment that could benefit future
projects. Faculty workshop topics have included computer applications, remote sensing, teaching geomorphology, and teaching
paleontology. Many of these topics are being perpetuated by the
NSF-sponsored On the Cutting Edge workshops today. Funding challenges have meant that workshops can no longer be supported by the consortium. Given the widespread enthusiasm, particularly for the research workshops, reinstating these workshops
should be a priority for the consortium.
To date, the consortium has supported 1094 undergraduate students (1175 slots, 81 repeats) from more than 80 schools
across the nation (Fig. 4). The 137 research projects sponsored
by the consortium have involved over 121 faculty (410 slots,
many repeats) representing more than 46 different colleges, universities, governmental agencies, and businesses.
Participants in the program are diverse. Women students
have always been attracted to the program, filling 661 (56%) of
the 1175 student positions that have been offered to date. Female
participation on projects has remained remarkably stable over


de Wet et al.


% Female faculty



% Female students


% Female BA degrees (all U.S.)




Number per year













Figure 4. Faculty and student participants in Keck projects and number

of Keck projects over time (data compiled from the Keck records and
the annual symposium proceedings, available at

22 yr (Fig. 5). This overall participation rate is significantly

higher than the rate at which women have been receiving geoscience baccalaureate degrees from all U.S. institutions over the
same period (AGI, 2008). Female faculty participation is lower,
reflecting the lower proportion of women in faculty positions.
Initially, female faculty participation averaged 3% (7 out of 203),
but since 1996, the average participation rate has been 34% (71
out of 207), significantly higher than the 17% (2003 ratio) of
female geoscience faculty in U.S. B.A. and B.S. degree-granting
institutions (Holmes and OConnell, 2004).
Increasing the participation of underrepresented groups
was a consortium goal from the outset. An early grant from the
National Science Foundation specifically targeted minority participation, including the development of 6 wk projects for sophomores. The sophomore projects were designed to give students,
particularly minority students, an early research experience to
encourage their completion of a geology major.
Once the initial program was established and successful,
funding was put in place to expand participation beyond the
original institutions (which had been specified by the Keck
Foundation). Opening up participation was an important goal
from both the student and faculty perspectives. Faculty were
interested in the highest quality research experiences possible with an expanding circle of colleagues who shared their
research and teaching interests. It was clear that funding that
enabled broader participation would strengthen the scientific
base of the projectswhat were the odds that 12 liberal arts
colleges would have the right mix of expertise to address any
specific problem?while allowing new perspectives, new colleagues, and new discussion to enter the consortium faculty
community. Similarly, drawing students from a broader community would enrich the student cohort while expanding the
opportunities for motivated students to participate in research








Figure 5. Percentage female faculty and student participation through

time. The rate at which women have been receiving geoscience baccalaureate degrees from all U.S. institutions over the same period is
from AGI (2008).

(at the time, undergraduate research experiences were not as

readily available as they are today).
Expanding involvement in the program proved to be rewarding for all, broadening the pool of excellent students and faculty
involved in projects, and providing increased access to resources
and advanced facilities at other colleges and universities. The
number of faculty and students from nonmember institutions
has continued to increase (member institutions contribute toward
the funding of the program) (Fig. 6). To date, non-Keck students
have occupied 161 out of 1175 student slots, or 13.7%. More
recently the Keck Consortium is committed to ~25%30% nonKeck student participation as required by the NSF REU 0648782
grant for 20072010. In 2007, 28% of students were from 13 nonKeck institutions. In 2008, the portion of non-Keck students was
29% from 11 non-Keck institutions. A key to success in this area
has been a strong advertising and recruiting effort, coupled with
mentoring of faculty new to the program to help them become
familiar with the educational goals and best practices developed
through the years.
Alumni records indicate that well over 50% of Keck alumni
have attended graduate and/or professional schools, and the vast
majority have received advanced degrees in the geosciences.
Since 1988, Keck students and faculty have presented over 340
multi-authored papers at professional conferences and published
over 70 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a GSA Special Paper (Brady et al., 2004).
Since the Keck Consortium has been in existence for such a
long time, it is now possible to assess the long-term impacts of
the Keck experience on students. Keck alumni can be found in a
wide variety of occupations, including K12 teaching, consulting, industry, state and federal agencies, and academia. Recently,

Twenty-two years of undergraduate research in the geosciencesThe Keck experience

Non-Keck faculty
Non-Keck students


% per year












Figure 6. Percentage of non-Keck faculty and student participation.

we compiled information on alumni who entered academia (visiting, tenure-track, and tenured) as a career. This information is
instructive in evaluating claims that high-quality research experiences lead students to choose a career involving research and
teaching. Since on average there is about a 7 yr delay between
completing a B.A. degree and achieving a Ph.D., the following
information reflects the students that participated in Keck projects in the 1980s and 1990s.
Presently, there are over 44 Keck alumni, out of 710 Keck
students from 1988 to 1999, in faculty positions (visiting, tenuretrack, and tenured) in U.S. colleges and universities. This represents a yield of ~6%. When only junior projects are considered
(42 out of 44 Keck alums in academia completed a junior project, which involved a senior research project during the academic
year), the yield is even higher, 42 out of 503 junior students for
a yield of 8%.
For comparison, an average of 3138 earth science bachelors degrees were awarded in the U.S. between 1989 and
2000 (National Science Board, 2008). Taking into account the
approximately 7 yr delay between the B.A. and the Ph.D., and
looking at the years between 1997 and 2005, an average of 420
doctoral degrees were awarded in the United States (National
Science Board, 2008). Around 15%25% (~84) of Ph.D. graduates enter academia (Keelor, 2005; National Science Board,
2008) resulting in a 2%3% yield of bachelor degree students in
geology moving into academic careers. This number is almost
certainly even lower, considering that many academic positions
in the United States are occupied by graduates who completed
their undergraduate degree outside the United States. According to the National Science Board (2008), 26% of all geoscience Ph.D.s in 2003 were foreign-born. Based on these data,
Keck alumni that completed a junior project are at least three
times more likely than average to obtain a faculty geoscience


Additionally, 22 out of 44, or 50%, of Keck alums in faculty positions are women. This is comparable to the proportion
of women participating in Keck junior projects between 1989
and 1999, which was 54% (58% for sophomore projects). This
is a yield of 93%. Compare this to the fact that in the United
States around 40% of bachelors degrees are awarded to women,
while only 21%22% of assistant professors are women, and
we observe a nearly 50% attrition rate (Holmes and OConnell,
2004; AGI, 2008). Proportionally, female Keck alumni are almost
twice as likely as other female geology undergraduates to enter
college and university teaching, so there is effectively no leaky
academic pipeline for Keck female alumni.
While we cannot be certain that Keck participation was the
dominant reason for the success of these students in pursuing an
academic career, it is certainly true that for most of them, the
Keck research experience was their most significant exposure to
doing research as undergraduates. Highly selective liberal arts
colleges have long been well regarded for their success in producing geoscience Ph.D.s, and in many ways the Keck Geology
Consortium has expanded and enhanced the successful student
mentoring activities of the participating geoscience departments
prior to Kecks inception in 1987. Since successful research skills
and experience are crucial for success at the Ph.D. level, and ultimately for entering academia, is not unreasonable to suggest that
the Keck experience positively impacted these students. As participation in the consortium expands to many non-Keck institutions, it will be informative to see if the success of the program
can be duplicated.
Despite past successes, the consortium faces numerous challenges. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the integrity
of the program while expanding participation to non-Keck students and faculty. The program relies on the full commitment of
all the participants, including the project faculty, students, and
research advisors. Senior faculty at the Keck institutions have
extensive experience with the workings and goals of the consortium and actively mentor their junior faculty. Students and faculty from outside the consortium must quickly come up to speed
with these requirements to realize the programs full benefits.
Another challenge involves increasing the participation of
students from underrepresented groups. For years, the consortium had an excellent track record of involving woman in the
program; however, women are no longer underrepresented at the
undergraduate and graduate levels in the geosciences. Over several years, the consortium ran sophomore projects that specifically targeted students from underrepresented groups. This funding is no longer available and the participation of students from
underrepresented groups in rising senior projects continues to be
a challenge. Recently, the consortium has received funding from
the ExxonMobil Foundation that provides several enhanced
grants for students from underrepresented groups. We anticipate
that the successful recruitment of increasing numbers of students


de Wet et al.

from underrepresented groups into the Keck program will have

lasting effects on the geoscience community.
The Keck Geology Consortium has an extremely strong
record in engaging undergraduate students in meaningful
research. It exposes students to a wide spectrum of the scientific
research endeavors, providing them with skills, self-confidence,
and sense of ownership in the scientific process. This is a process
that has long-lasting, positive consequences, as shown by the very
high percentage of Keck alumni who have come full circle and
are now teaching geology, many in undergraduate institutions
similar to those they graduated from. Fieldwork has remained
one of the core components of almost all the Keck projects. Participation in a Keck project invariably increases the appreciation
of the students for field-based observations and skills. The Keck
experience demonstrates that a carefully crafted, well-organized,
field-based research project may be a key component in retaining students in the geosciences and in providing a vehicle for the
continuation of undergraduates, particularly women, into a wide
variety of geoscience-related careers, including academia.
AGI, 2008, Female participation in the academic geoscience community: Geoscience Currents, v. 9, 1 p.
Baker, M.A., 2006, Status Report on Geoscience Summer Field Camps: American Geological Institute Geoscience Workforce Report GW-06-003, 8 p.
Bettison-Varga, L., 2005, Learning through research: Best practices from the
Keck Geology Consortium: Geological Society of America Abstracts
with Programs, v. 37, no. 7, p. 492.

Brady, J.B., Burger, H.R, Cheney, J.T., and Harms, T.A., eds., 2004, Precambrian Geology of the Tobacco Root Mountains, Montana: Geological
Society of America Special Paper 377, 256 p.
Elgren, T., and Hensel, N., 2006, Undergraduate research experiences: Synergies between scholarship and teaching: Peer Review, v. 8, no. 1.
Holmes, M.A., and OConnell, S., 2004, Where are the women geoscience
professors?: Report on the National Science Foundation/Association for
Women Geoscientists Foundation Sponsored Workshop: Lincoln, Nebraska,
40 p., available at
(accessed 19 August 2009).
Keelor, B., 2005, Earth and Space Science Ph.D. Class of 2003, Report
Released: Eos (Transactions, American Geophysical Union), v. 86,
no. 31, doi: 10.1029/2005EO310004.
Knapp, E.P., Greer, L., Connors, C.D., and Harbor, D.J., 2006, Field-based
instruction as part of a balanced geoscience curriculum at Washington and
Lee University: Journal of Geological Education, v. 54, no. 2, p. 103108.
Lauer-Glebov, J.M., and Palmer, B.A., 2004, Knowing what we know: Assessing the Keck Consortiums core outcomes from a historical perspective:
Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 36, no. 5,
p. 156.
Manduca, C.A., 1996, The value of undergraduate research experiences: Reflections from Keck Geology Consortium alumni: Council on Undergraduate
Research Quarterly, v. 16, no. 3, p. 176178.
Manduca, C.A., and Woodard, H.H., 1995, Research groups for undergraduate
students and faculty in the Keck Geology Consortium: Journal of Geological Education, v. 43, no. 4, p. 400403.
Manduca, C.A., Grosfils, E., and Wobus, R.A., 1999, Working together for our
best interests: Sustainable collaboration in the Keck Geology Consortium:
Eos (Transactions, American Geophysical Union), v. 80, no. 46, p. F111.
National Science Board, 2008, Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 (Two
Volumes): Arlington, Virginia, National Science Foundation (volume 1,
NSB 08-01, 588 p.; volume 2, NSB 08-01A, 575 p.).
Palmer, B., 2002, Lessons from the Keck Geology Consortium: Benefits and
costs of large collaborations: Geological Society of America Abstracts
with Programs, v. 35, no. 6, p. 601.
Wobus, R.A., 1988, Interinstitutional collaboration in undergraduate geological
research: The consortium approach: Council on Undergraduate Research
Newsletter, v. 9, no. 2, p. 3235.

Printed in the USA

The Geological Society of America

Special Paper 461

Field glaciology and earth systems science:

The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), 19462008
Cathy Connor
Department of Natural Sciences, University Alaska Southeast, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA

For over 50 yr, the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) has provided undergraduate students with an 8 wk summer earth systems and glaciology field camp. This
field experience engages students in the geosciences by placing them directly into the
physically challenging glacierized alpine landscape of southeastern Alaska. Mountaintop camps across the Juneau Icefield provide essential shelter and facilitate the programs instructional aim to enable direct observations by students of active glacier surface processes, glaciogenic landscapes, and the regions tectonically deformed bedrock.
Disciplinary knowledge is transferred by teams of JIRP faculty in the style of a scientific
institute. JIRP staffers provide glacier safety training, facilitate essential camp logistics,
and develop JIRP student field skills through daily chores, remote camp management,
and glacier travel in small field parties. These practical elements are important components of the programs instructional philosophy. Students receive on-glacier training in mass-balance data collection and ice-velocity measurements as they ski ~320 km
across the icefield glaciers between Juneau, Alaska, and Atlin, British Columbia. They
use their glacier skills and disciplinary interests to develop research experiments, collect
field data, and produce reports. Students present their research at a public forum at
the end of the summer. This experience develops its participants for successful careers
as researchers in extreme and remote environments. The long-term value of the JIRP
program is examined here through the professional evolution of six of its recent alumni.
Since its inception, ~1300 students, faculty, and staff have participated in the Juneau
Icefield Research Program. Most of these faculty and staff have participated for multiple summers and many JIRP students have returned to work as program staff and
sometimes later as faculty. The number of JIRP participants (19462008) can also be
measured by adding up each summers participants, raising the total to ~2500.
Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in the education of the
scholar by nature, by books, and by action (Emerson, 1837). He
was probably the first North American philosopher to advocate
for the education of students using a pedagogy with emphasis
on direct student involvement and experience relative to bibliomania. Over the last half century, the Juneau Icefield Research

Program (JIRP) has created a singular summer