This past Friday, the Earth Structure & Dynamics class assembled behind the Geology Department and then poured themselves into 3 vans and headed west to the Appalachian Mountains. Counting supernumeraries we totaled 36 people, which qualifies as a mobile mob.
The 2012 Earth Structure & Dynamics class basks in sunshine on an outcrop of the Rockfish meta-conglomerate.
On this trip, students practice and hone their skills doing geology in the field and become familiar with the tectonic history of the Appalachian Mountains. Most years the trip runs in early April – a beautiful time of year in the mountains, but a time of year in which the weather can range from outright frozen to quite delightful. This year’s trip reveled in warm and dry weather. We camped in a valley cradled by Cambrian quartz sandstones – it was glorious.
Just how does this operation go down? Typically, we pull up to an outcrop or an overlook and the students debouch from the vehicles. I hand out sheets of paper with an array of tantalizing (or perhaps not so tantalizing) questions. Students work in teams of two and answer the questions; after the work is complete we discuss our answers and try to place the outcrop into the regional tectonic framework. We spent most of Saturday afternoon hiking and doing geology along the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains and from those data constructed a cross section of the geologic structure beneath us.
Snippets from the trip: (top) examining an outcrop of fault breccia, (bottom left) Kyle Stark and Sam Adler recording their field observations, (bottom right) constructing cross sections at day’s end.
Back in the Paleozoic, when I was a student, we’d arrive at an outcrop and the professor would 1) prod us with questions until somebody shouted out the correct answer or 2) give us a mini- (or not so mini) lecture while we all stood around, passive and bored. My little worksheets are intended to get everybody thinking about geology. Students typically adopt a team name for the weekend, here is a sampling from this year’s trip: Gneiss-Gneiss Baby, team Diamonds in the Rough, team Paxtram, team Cococrisp, and who could forget team Big Boudins.
Outcrop worksheet from team Big Boudins. Note brilliant insight and reasoning as to the time required to fold the rock layers!
The days are running out on the spring semester and students are mighty busy, but this weekend field trip, far from the madding crowd, is an important piece in the education of W&M geologists as no amount of classroom or lab work can replace the hands-on experience of doing geology in the field.