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Geology Students Map Minnesota For Capstone Course

Geology field camps are hard to find for geology majors, which is a problem because it is a requirement for most schools. UMD’s Precambrian Field Camp fills this need for UMD and other universities across the nation. The six week camp provides a capstone experience for geology undergraduates and gives students specialized training in mapping ancient rocks in the interior of North America.

Jim Miller
Jim Miller, professor of geology, in the field.
Kris Asp and Taylor Balogh
Kris Asp (l) and Taylor Balogh take measurements on site.
The majority of the country’s geology field camps are in the western part of the country. In fact, most UMD geology majors participate in a field camp based in Park City, Utah.

“There’s about half as many camps now as there were ten years ago. Eighty percent of them are in the Rockies,” Jim Miller, geology professor and camp instructor, said. “So the students involved in our camp choose to be here.”

This year’s field camp started on July 10. There are 22 students from 17 different schools participating. There are four students from UMD and the other students come from all over the country, but all of them share a passion for geology and learning about Earth’s past.

“The students come here open minded and ready to have an experience they’ll never forget,” Miller said.

Taylor Balogh, who will be graduating from UMD in December with a geology major, says that the best things about the camp are the hands-on skills he has come to develop.

“I really like the actual mapping and seeing how the landscape has changed over all these years,” Balogh said.

The Precambrian era began 4.5 billion years ago with the planet’s creation and ended almost four billion years later with the emergence of multi-celled life forms. It covers the vast bulk of our planet’s history. UMD’s Precambrian Field Camp takes students out into the northern Minnesota woods to map the diverse Precambrian terranes of the region.

The group spends four weeks doing mapping exercises in areas around Duluth, the North Shore, Ely, and the Mesabi Range. The students spend a few days at different sites with new projects mapping different rocks, measuring their orientations, and trying to figure out the four-dimensional geologic picture. For one of their exercises during the second week, they hunt for rock outcroppings around the top of Spirit Mountain. The two rocks on the mountain are igneous, created by magma that crystallized several kilometers deep in the Earth over one billion of years ago.

In the last two weeks of camp, the students are required to complete a capstone mapping project in areas that are poorly mapped. Many capstone projects have been in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. On the last day of camp, August 20 this year, they present their maps and “graduate” from the camp.

The camp is now in its fifth year, and Miller says he still is in contact with students from the first field camps. Most of them have careers in the geology field.

“Students from our geology field camp learn a special skill set that is in great demand locally and globally,” Miller said.

Written by Abigail Schoenecker, 7/27/11

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