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Geologist for a week

Wow, what an experience I’ve had this past week. My partner is a geologist, and he had the chance to TA an undergrad field trip to the southern Flinders Ranges here in Australia. And, luckily, I was able to join for the second week of the field trip.

The assignment for the week was to produce a geologic map an area of the southern Flinders. Never having made a geologic map before, I had no idea what it involved, nor how you would go about it. But, after the first day, I was right up there with the students on the rock outcrops taking bedding, cleavage, and lineation measurements.

Basically, you try to figure out what rock types are where, and then what sorts of things might have gone on (like faults and folds) to move the rocks to places where they wouldn’t have been otherwise. And, I have to say, it was so much fun. Actually, one thing I really noticed is that I probably had more enthusiasm for the project than most of the students. It made me think back to when I was an undergrad, and I don’t think I had then as much enthusiasm as I do now for learning. Which is why I think it’s an excellent idea to take some time off at least between an undergrad and master’s degree. It’s a time that can give you a lot of perspective, and also make you realize how much you like (or perhaps dislike) school. For me, the time off between undergrad and the MELP program was incredibly valuable, and definitely made me a better student.

But, back to the mapping. Even though I’m not a geologist, I felt like it was an excellent opportunity to learn quite a lot about the discipline, as it can often be related to environmental issues. Certainly, it can give you a bigger picture look at climate change. In fact, the place where we were mapping is where geologists have found evidence to support the snowball earth hypothesis. I won’t go into much detail here, but some scientists think that at one point, the earth was mostly covered in ice. Something happened to cause a fairly rapid melting of most of the ice, which then led to the explosion of life in the Cambrian. The evidence we saw for this was a layer of a rock type that forms in warm, shallow marine environments sitting right on top of rocks that would have been deposited by glaciers, suggesting a major shift in climate and environment in a very short amount of time (geologically speaking).

The week was a wonderful reminder to me about how much I love to be in the out of doors, and how wonderful it would be to have a job that allows you to get out into the field. I’m almost certain I’ll do the Montana field program when I come back for the summer term. The week also reminded me of how glad I am that the MELP degree is an interdisciplinary one. I really think you can gain so much perspective and insight from other disciplines, and it’s great to be at a school and in a program that encourages cross-discipline discussion and understanding.

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