Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Busy here in Belize

So, since late August I have been in San Ignacio, Belize studying at Galen University.  I had intended to blog about my trips and about some of the geology here, but I've found myself so busy between school and tourist duties that I haven't written anything worth posting in some time.  There are some interesting limestone features here, but I haven't taken the time to look at them in any great detail...

Sleeping Giant Mountain.  It is a limestone mountain, with some lime mining going on nearby.
A gravel mine (?) along the Hummingbird Highway.

One of the rare outcrops with distinct bedding I've seen here.  This was also along the Hummingbird highway, a little after the gravel mine.
Studying here at Galen University, I am taking five courses: Protected Areas Management, Environmental Law and Policy, Applications of Sustainable Development, Hydrogeology, and Mesoamerican Civilizations. PAs Management, Env. Law and Policy, and Apps. of Sustainable Development are all taught my by the same teacher, so as you'd imagine there is a fair amount of overlap in the course content with him.  He has extensive experience with the protected areas of Belize, particularly marine preserves.  He took us to the PA he used to work at, Caye Caulker Marine and Forest Reserve, and I'll probably write up a post on that when I have the time to do it justice.

Protected Areas Management began by explaining the history of environmental protection and use in Belize, which basically equated to the creation of forest reserves for logging use and "Crown lands" ownership under British rule, a 1960s conservation movement parallel to the US movements, and finally a spree of protected areas created with the advent of tourism in Belize in the 80s and 90s.  The course is now discussing the necessities of PAs to function, from inception to establishment, to operation and inventory of ecosystems.

Environmental Law and Policy is actually my favorite class, which focuses on the legislation and national policies relating to the environment in Belize.  There is a strong emphasis on the similarities and differences of the US systems of environmental protection and the Belizean system (much more centralized and underdeveloped).  We recently did some court case summaries of various environmental cases in Belize, and I was lucky enough to learn a bit about the dams in Belize.  Now I want to visit the sites and hear what the managers and locals have to say about their river dam impacts.

For Applications of Sustainable Development, we have projects in which we characterize how sustainable the management of a protected area is.  My group has a trip to Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve this weekend, so expect a post on that as well.  It has some of the only non-marine rocks in the country, so I'm pretty excited about that.  We had a previous trip to Belize Natural Energy headquarters, which is the only producing petroleum company in the country and I'll likely write a post about that trip as soon as I can.

Hydrogeology is an independent study class, since there was not enough interest in it to warrant keeping it open.  We meet once a week for an hour, but the professor has great experience with the USGS working in groundwater and so I've learned a fair amount.  Just wish there was some field component to our class.

Finally, Mesoamerican Civilizations is an excellent class taught by the head archaeologist of Belize.  It is a survey of all the Mesoamerican nations, separated by time periods (Archaic, pre-Classic, Classic, etc.).  We should have a trip to a famous cave site here called ATM cave, which I am hoping I will be able to photograph and write about, but there is a fair amount of water involved at the cave and so I may not be able to get pictures...

Beyond that, I've taken a handful of trips with the other international students here on weekends, but none terribly geo-relevant.  I may write about the live coral reef and colonies I've seen, but my paleontology and coral biology knowledge is pretty shameful...

El Castillo at the Xunantunich ruins west of San Ignacio.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Week One of Field Camp: Capitol Dome, Florida Mountains, Luna County, NM

So after an exhausting spring semester, I had one week to relax and then it was off to Field Camp!  I had purchased some new Red Wing boots, a Marmot Limelight two man tent, a Therm-a-Rest pad (ProLite Plus), and picked up a good rain jacket (Marmot Precip) on sale leading up to the trip so I was plenty excited to use the new gear.  We headed to Deming, NM which is just over 60 miles west of Las Cruces.  The weather report had predicted winds in excess of 45 miles an hour at times, and the airport weather station reported gusts at 52 miles per hour on May 10, but more on that later.

Dragon Ridge as viewed driving south towards Rockhound SP.  It lies at the northern base of the Florida Mountains.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A not so brief reflection on my Field Class from Fall 2011.

Below is a description of the field areas I visited for my Field Class during the Spring 2011 semester.  Before you continue reading, I should warn you that unlike at Field Camp (which I'll cover in a later post) I did not take any pictures for the majority of the field trips.  I was more concerned with learning mapping techniques and getting a good grade than documenting our field areas.  Thus most of this post will be terribly boring and entirely too text heavy.  I'm mainly writing this as a personal review of my progression as a field geologist and to serve as a record of where I've gone in southern NM.

January 15, 2011 Robledo Mountains (First Map and the Final)

This outing was mainly an excuse to get us out into the field and taking attitudes with our Brunton compasses. All of our attitudes were taken off of the Hueco Limestone in a drainage near the gravel mine or in nearby exposures. We then plotted these attitudes on a stereonet and on a field map, then wrote a short report on the lithology and similarity of attitudes in the Hueco. It was a simple outing, but you have to start your field career somewhere...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spring 2011 Semester: How my Junior year got me 3/4 of the way through undergrad

Junior year is commonly expressed as the most difficult portion of college.  The classes are no longer remedial, your teachers have often taught you before and know how to demand the most out of you, and it seems every instructor believes their course is the most important class you are taking at the time.

I cruised through most of my spring semester relatively easily.  My course load was initially light because our Field Class did not start in earnest until a month in.  With the inclusion of the field class I managed to adjust and keep a steady pace through the majority of the semester which appeared to pass more quickly than most.  It wasn't until the last three weeks of the semester that I began to feel the pressures of deadlines and faced the shocking realization that although I had worked steadily and reliably on all of my projects, there was no way I could finish strongly on all of them.  I wrote six papers or reports during the last two weeks of the semester, and was remarkably burnt out as I faced the coming three weeks of Field Camp a week after finals.  Looking back at the semester, I'm still perplexed how I became so busy during the last month of school but I only had one paper I feel was inferior work and I'm proud to have made it through this semester more than any other.

Tectonic Evolution of North America

This course is intended to be a capstone of sorts, integrating every course before it into a means of understanding how western North America came to be, from the accretion of terranes onto the craton all the way to the most modern expression of faulting in the Basin and Range province and Rio Grande Rift.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Visiting Kilbourne Hole (Geology, Rockhounding, and Geocaching)

I have to admit that I was ashamed of how long it took me to finally drive out and visit the famous Kilbourne Hole.  I had heard that the dirt roads were a bit tricky to navigate so I brought along my roommate as a hiking partner and to read the driving directions (the good ol' buddy system).

Fall 2010 Classes: Finally getting to the good stuff!

After two semesters taking "general education" courses: Intro to Geology, Fossils and Evolution of Life class, Mineralogy (with a semester of mineral identification and another for optical interpretation), and a Geochemistry class which was great but more on the theoretical side, I  I was plenty ready to begin taking more field and rock based courses.  The fall of 2010 semester did not disappoint and certainly validated my choice to major in geology.

Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology

Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology happened to be a reprise of Geochemistry for the first couple weeks, with a solid review of Bowen's reaction series, the layers of the Earth and of the three major plate tectonic margins.  I did however begin to better appreciate that tectonic motion is strongly tied to mantle convection and my first introduction to thermodynamics as they apply to earth systems was a refreshing change from the more elementary chemistry and physics explanations I had received in college.  Our textbook for the class Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology 2nd Edition by John D. Winter is really a great reference and was the first geology text I wanted to make sure I kept.

My main take away from the course however was how igneous and metamorphic textures of minerals within a rock aid in determining the petrogenetic history of that rock.  Phase and Ternary diagrams were also used to their full effect in this class, and these really helped me to understand the basics of the processes occurring within magma chambers during crystallization, melting, and recharge events.  Overall though, it was nice to actually deal with rocks in hand sample (even if we did get a bit sick of basalts) and to use thin sections and to find which skills we acquired in optical mineralogy were most useful was also a thrill.

Mafic enclave within rhyolitic or dacitic rock in Cleophus Canyon, near Ft. Selden, NM.  Access is limited since there are petroglyphs within the area as well.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

ASU Analytical Trip (August 11, 2010)

So, after returning from my east coast trip I worked for a while under Dr. R until it came time to take another trip to do analytical work on another university's equipment. This time we headed to Arizona State University to use their SIMS - Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry - machine (a CAMECA IMS 6f).