July 29, 2013
You may have noticed a lull in my blog posting before last week. I’ll go ahead and attribute that to a busy spate of scheduling, planning, and traveling for work; next time I’ll try to leave some auto-posts.
Among the many tasks that diverted me were two particularly enjoyable ones: preparing for and teaching a module of UC Davis’s summer Field Geology course–“field camp” as it is widely, famously, and reverently known among those who obtained geology undergrad degrees in the U.S.
Field Camp culminates a 4-year undergraduate geology program in a three- to six-week “capstone course” (there’s a nice buzzword) that commonly takes place at some research station/empty ski lodge/old CCC camp out in tectonically diverse and rewardingly well-exposed western North America. Most geology programs require a multi-week field course, and although in detail they may vary substantially, the fundamental objective is quite universal: to have students synthesize the knowledge and apply the skills learned during their prior years of coursework. The study of geology requires observing, investigating, and envisioning things on a scale that ultimately cannot be confined to a classroom, and as such relies heavily on experience mapping, measuring, observing, and testing in the field.
Instructing a field camp makes you an odd mix of college teacher and camp counselor. Teaching a large group of students while being stationed out in the wilderness with them is a uniquely challenging but exceptionally rewarding teaching environment.
The UC Davis Geology Department’s field camp comprises a few different sub-disciplines, presented in 1-2 week modules that illustrate a variety of field approaches for different purposes: structural geology, active fault mapping, volcanology, then geophysical survey methods. You can guess which one I was involved in.
For the active fault mapping–or Neotectonics–section we introduce the students to geomorphic mapping and Quaternary dating methods (that is, mapping the extents of surface deposits and figuring out how old they are, plus mapping active tectonic features that are deforming the landscape). These are the three key ingredients to understanding ongoing deformation of the Earth’s crust via geologic constraints. Where faults are slipping, they’re dragging and breaking up features of the landscape that we can understand, map, and measure. We have the students use this information to perform an extremely simplistic seismic hazard assessment (truly just inferring an average recurrence rate of earthquakes of a given magnitude) in order to convey the fundamental concept of earthquake recurrence along a fault.
That’s all the detail I’m free to share in a public forum that future students will no doubt track down, so at this point I’ll transition into some enticing, breathtaking, fun, and tectonically magnificent photos from the field area. The UCD field camp takes place at the UC-run White Mountain Research Station in Bishop, CA, at the northern end of Owens Valley. Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra Nevada, from Mt. Whitney up to Mono Basin, is my absolute favorite place in the world. Maybe you’ll get a glimpse why: