The current 1st year undergraduate geologists at the University of Edinburgh got their first proper taste of fieldwork over two trips in April and June. This is a new trip for the University, and I was able to fill a space on the second outing in June (a repeat of the April trip).
Anyone following my blog will have realised that I’m not a field Geologist; my research is very much focused on lab experiments, with the exception of a trip to Utah to collect some water and rock samples. But, aware that my field geology skills need improvement, I was glad to get a place on this week-long excursion to the Lake District in Cumbria, England.
During their week long trip, the students learned about the geology of the Lake District, which was formed during the closure of the Iapetus Ocean as modern day Scotland and England collided 4-500 million years ago. As well as being introduced to the Silurian limestone and mudstones of this ancient sea, students also observed earlier Ordovician volcanic rocks formed from melted oceanic crust as present-day England was subducted under Scotland, and much later Carboniferous limestones and post-closure arid Permian sandstone as the UK moved across the equator 300 million years ago.
Students got to see various sedimentary structures (i.e. flute casts, cross bedding, flame structures), fossils (trilobites, trilobite tracks, brachiopods, etc.), igneous rocks of various flavours (tuffs, breccias, granites), some contact metamorphism, faults, folds, and glacial features (u-shaped valleys and erratics). So, a bit of everything really, and all in a week!
The main aims of the trip(s) were to get the undergrads practicing their skills in looking at rocks in the field, keeping a field notebook with their detailed observations (and some interpretation), collecting field data, and mapping geological units. I think they were all pretty overwhelmed at the start, since their exposure to fieldwork was pretty limited at that point, but by the end of the week lots of students were commenting how much they had learned. Job done.
As well as introducing to the students the skill of recording field observations in their notebooks, they were also required to map rock exposures in two small areas of the Lake District. The first, on a patch of hillside to the west of Thirlmere reservoir, was ‘simply’ identifying between dyke and country rock, although this was tricky since a number of faults displace the dyke and the students were required to make their first interpretations from observations of what the geology was doing in this area. Demonstrators very much had a strong hand in leading the undergraduates through the day, but the skills were introduced for the later mapping exercise.
The trip in June already had its allotted teaching staff and PhD student demonstrators, so I was there simply to spend the week as I pleased without commitment to teach. I therefore used the time to practice my own skills in observations, note taking, sketching in my field notebook, data collection, and mapping. Field note taking is something I do have plenty of experience with, having previously worked as a geotechnical engineer-cum-environmental consultant, but largely this wasn’t related to studying rock exposures, so it was good to get plenty of time to have a detailed look at the rocks the students were also expected to be studying. With age and experience it was certainly much more straightforward for me, compared with the undergrads, but listening in to the demonstrators and staff I also learned a lot, which was my goal for the week.
Two days of mapping to the west of Coniston (south of the Old Man of Coniston) formed part of their assessed work. Here the undergrads were required to map around 1.5 x 1 km area where some (all?) of the rocks they’d seen so far on the trip were present. Detailed information on exposure location, bedding dip and dip direction (or strike, depending on your preference), and of course lithology needed to be collected as accurately as possible, and interpretations made in the field as to what the geology was i.e. contacts between rock types and structural features (faults, folds, etc.). I spent this time doing my own thing, for my own amusement; mostly collecting structural data in an interesting area of the map. To be honest, my only prior experience of mapping was a few days as an undergraduate myself, but I was definitely more confident in what I was doing than many of the students. I’ve photographed a portion of my field map, see below, to show the dip and direction data I collected on one of the rock types in the field area. It was good fun, despite the weather at times, and hopefully next year I will have time to go back and complete more of the map (the students only had two days…).
I learned a lot during the week, and so did our 1st year students. They seemed to enjoy it too, which is always important, and hopefully they’ll go on to enjoy the rest of their degree studies. I always enjoyed the fieldwork I did as an undergraduate; it definitely beats sitting in the office writing about them!