Northeastern Section - 40th Annual Meeting (March 14–16, 2005)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM


CURRAN, H. Allen1, GLUMAC, Bosiljka1 and WHITE, Brian2, (1)Department of Geology, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, (2)Department of Geosciences, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063,

Intensive geologic field courses present an opportunity to maximize utilization of Earth's surface environments as a natural laboratory for effective teaching. The Gerace Research Center (formerly the Bahamian Field Station) on San Salvador Island provides a perfect setting for an undergraduate course on carbonate systems and coral reefs. At Smith College, we offer an interdisciplinary, 3-credit, team-taught tropical carbonates course during our January interterm period on an alternate-year basis. The course is designed for geology majors or minors who have completed intermediate-level paleontology and/or sedimentology courses. Maximum enrollment is 16 students, and the course schedule includes 10 full field days, not counting travel days.

San Salvador presents a great diversity of modern shallow marine and terrestrial carbonate settings, ranging from offshore shelf and reefs to beach to dune to inland blue hole, lake, and pond environments, and easily accessible, well exposed late Pleistocene and Holocene bedrock outcrops including fossil coral reefs. The first 6 field days provide an introduction to the island’s modern environments and rock record and include daily field-based student mini-projects that are graded. Each day's plan entails investigation of modern environments, normally involving snorkeling, and rock exposures. The mini-projects involve: 1) sampling, lab preparation, and grain identifications of carbonate sands; 2) measurement, analysis, and interpretation of stratigraphic columns and transects on coral patch reefs; and 3) fossil reef mapping. Evening sessions include lecture-discussions and work on the daily mini-projects. This section of the course ends with an evening specimen-based laboratory exam. Over the final 4 days, student pairs design a larger project and work in the field with close faculty supervision on data collection and interpretation. One example would be measuring beach profiles to relate sedimentary dynamics to seasonal changes. Final project reports are due at the end of the first full week of spring semester classes.

The benefits of a field course of this type are numerous and varied. In addition to being a life-changing growth experience for many, the course builds student confidence in fieldwork skills and generates positive energy within our department.