Geology students

Earth Sciences Field Trip Provides Students with Solid Lessons

Six faculty members from the Earth Sciences and Science Education Department took 18 majors on a departmental field trip in early October. Many earth science courses involve field trips, but this outing was unique because it was department-wide, and majors had a chance to get to know their professors and each other better.

“One field trip gives students a chance to learn more than weeks in a classroom,” said Gary Solar, geologist, associate professor, and department chair. “And they come back to the classroom with a much better understanding of the material.”

The field trip was organized by Bettina Martinez-Hackert, geologist and director of earth science field studies, who has led study trips to the American Southwest, the Swiss and French Alps, and El Salvador.

By visiting the Niagara Gorge, Taughannock Falls, and Chimney Bluffs, students learned the geological history that shaped—and is shaping—New York State. Starting in Lewiston, the original site of Niagara Falls, on Friday, October 2, students explored the layers of sedimentary rocks exposed in the Niagara Gorge under the guidance of Richard Batt, associate professor and a leading expert on the gorge. That evening, the group traveled to Taughannock Falls State Park, where they camped Friday and Saturday nights.

On Saturday, students traveled to Ithaca to visit the Museum of the Earth, run by the Paleontological Research Institution. The visit included a behind-the-scenes tour of the world’s largest paleontological collection, and an exhibit depicting the geological history of the earth back 500 million years—one-eighth of the planet’s lifespan.

Rock formationAfterwards at Chimney Bluffs on Lake Ontario, students touched 10,000 years of Great Lakes history as they explored glacial formations along the shore. Kevin Williams, assistant professor, is an expert on glacial geology. With Professor Jill Singer, whose specialties include the process of sedimentation, students clambered over layers of sediment deposited by glacial action and carved by the erosion of Lake Ontario and its climate in the millennia since then.

Back at camp that evening, the Geology Club prepared dinner—“fantastic chili,” according to Solar. Jude Sabato, assistant professor who uses mathematical modeling to study the climates on different planets, brought along a telescope. Students were able to see Saturn’s rings and Titan, its largest moon.

On Sunday, the group explored Taughannock Falls State Park’s “hanging valley,” from which the falls spills into the lower valley. “All in all,” said Solar, “students learned something about glacial geology and the evidence for New York State’s glacial history. Most of all, they learned the importance of seeing things in the field.”