2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)

Paper No. 28
Presentation Time: 1:00 PM-3:45 PM


ANDERSON, Diana E., ORT, Michael H. and OSTERGREN, David A., Environmental Sciences, Northern Arizona Univ, P.O. Box 5694, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, michael.ort@nau.edu

A new, comprehensive field experience for Environmental Science majors was offered spring 2003 at Northern Arizona University. The main objective of the course was to enhance the students' ability to integrate geology, fluvial geomorphology, plant and fish ecology, aqueous geochemistry, and land management issues of a specific region. The study site was a 26-mile stretch of the San Juan River, from Sand Island to Mexican Hat, through the magnificent Colorado Plateau country in southeastern Utah. This semiarid canyonland region has abundant cultural and natural resources, and an especially high demand for water resources. The course structure included several preparatory classroom lectures during the spring semester, culminating in a 9-day field experience immediately following the semester. During the field experience, most of it a rafting trip, the twenty-two students were asked to develop and carry out field-based research using skills gained in lab and field exercises during their previous semesters on campus. Data was collected in teams, entered into field notebooks and presented to the class each afternoon for dissemination and discussion. First year investigations centered on geomorphic and land use controls on plant diversity and aqueous geochemistry at the confluence of four different tributaries to the San Juan. In addition to daily fieldwork, the class met each evening for student-led discussions exploring the environmental science/policy interface, focusing on the complexities of river management in the arid southwest. The field format proved very effective for engaging the students in interdisciplinary study, for providing first-hand experience of some of the problems facing land managers, and for initiating an important database that will be expanded each year. Student progress was tracked through daily scientific write-ups and policy-oriented “thought pieces,” graded each evening by one of the three professors. In future courses, we intend to require additional lectures and readings during the semester to facilitate more sophisticated "near-real-time" interpretation of the data while in the field. We also plan to enter the data in a GIS environment while in the field, developing a dataset that is augmented each year.