Southeastern Section–56th Annual Meeting (29–30 March 2007)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:40 PM


WHITTECAR, G. Richard, Ocean Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529,

The value of geological data collected in field courses becomes more apparent to students when the information is needed to understand ecological systems or environmental issues in the field area. At Old Dominion University, all undergraduates in the Ocean and Earth Sciences program complete a two-semester field study course that attempts to solve multidisciplinary questions. Because students come from all tracks in the program – geology, earth science education, and biological, chemical, or physical oceanography – they bring a diverse set of skills and perspectives to the course, so research problems are crafted by the faculty group to require analyses from all of the disciplines in the department.

The field area used for five previous studies – the Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Portsmouth, Virginia – provides the ecological complexity needed for many years of class field work. Located on the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the preserve contains a brackish borrow-pit lake surrounded by a forested watershed and a fresh-water aquifer, and abuts a tidal creek-and-marsh system fed by a suburbanized watershed. Geological features in the study area include Pleistocene and Pliocene marine strata; Holocene soils and estuary channel and marsh sediments; modern lake-bottom deposits; ground-water flowing through both quartz- and shell-rich aquifers; and hydrologic interactions between storm-water runoff, the tidal creek, ground-water, and the stratified, 15m-deep lake. In addition to characterizing these features, students have measured light penetration depths, concentrations of nutrients, E. coli, alkalinity, and chloride, salinity, turbidity, and rates of respiration, photosynthesis, and tidal exchange.

Students first become engaged as they develop detailed plans for sampling and analyses needed to solve the overall problem. They also enjoy learning new field and lab procedures. The biggest challenges come as they analyze and integrate the geological, biological, chemical, and physical data that they collected, as well as data from previous classes, in order to adequately explain the significance of their research. After the course, students report most satisfaction with learning the critical-thinking tasks needed to develop the public presentations and the written report of their research.