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Geology of New Zealand

*Now accepting 2019 applications on a rolling basis (reviewed as submitted). 


The Geology of New Zealand Programme (Geology) begins with a five-week field camp, which includes a series of interlinked modules that explore the stratigraphy, mountain building, and tectonics of the South Island, and the volcanology and geothermal geology of the North Island. Following field-camp, students transition to a campus semester at the University of Canterbury located in Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. While at the University of Canterbury, students enroll in four courses, one of which is a research methods course based upon data collected in field camp. For 2009-2017 Geology Research Projects, please see Geology Research Projects.

Field Camp Fall Semester: June 5th – July 13th, 2019

Field Camp Spring Semester: Jan 4th – February 10th, 2020 (subject to change)

For 5 weeks, students will travel throughout the North and South Islands, deciphering the geologic evolution of New Zealand from a series of linked field modules. Our goal is to provide students with a skill base of field-focused techniques that will enable them to understand the fundamental causes and timescales of geologic processes. Field work is complemented by map preparation and exercises in the evenings, as well as lectures that highlight a wide variety of our staff’s field and laboratory-based studies.

2020 field modules (modules subject to change)

  • Module 1: Volcanoes – giveth life and taketh away: Introduction to field observations through volcanology and hazards. Volcanoes bring to light a major problem in measuring and mitigating human environmental impacts, and that is the void in our understanding of how the planet has been impacting itself. Volcanoes can be a threat to society, but they are also a major source of geothermal energy New Zealand relies upon to meet its energy demands. The North Island of New Zealand is one of the most volcanically active regions on Earth. The magnitude, frequency, and environmental impact of eruptions from 300 thousand years ago to the present can be quantified in both time and space through careful field observations. In this module we will first observe and map the products of volcanic eruptions and discuss their impacts on civilization. A special focus will be placed upon introducing field mapping, observations and recording these observations in field notebooks. Finally we will look at how New Zealand is currently exploiting geothermal energy to meet its energy demands.
  • Field Module 2: Introduction to Geologic Field Mapping  in Castle Hills Basin. The first component of field camp is an introduction to field mapping in the Castle Hill Basin, located in the eastern foothills of the Southern Alps, inland Canterbury. Students will learn basic field skills including compass work and navigation, triangulating for location, field notetaking and sketching, outcrop descriptions,  introduction to geomorphological observations, and producing a small geologic map.
  • Castle Hills Basin

    Mapping the Basin

    Field Module 3: Detailed stratigraphic and structural mapping in an uplifted and deformed succession of Oligocene marine strata (Castle Hill basin). The second module examines the stratigraphy and structural geology of Castle Hill basin, located in the eastern foothills of the Southern Alps, inland Canterbury. This part of the course will focus on advanced field mapping skills, including the compilation of a detailed stratigraphic column, mapping geological contacts and structures, geomorphic features, and preparing geological cross sections. The structural mapping concentrates on the complex folding best expressed by a middle Tertiary limestone unit, and we will be developing a structure contour map on this unit. This will develop an understanding of both the structural and geomorphic evolution of the basin, and subsequent uplift, deformation and glaciations

  • The rugged west coast

    The rugged west coast

    Field Module 4: Gondwanaland to New Zealand: reconstructing the geologic architecture of the South Island. Field module 4 integrates different types of geologic data to interpret a geologic history of the Buller District of the West Coast region, South Island. This part of the field programme is based in Westport. This model focuses on the examination of a metamorphic core complex, its less deformed cover and contemporaneous basin deposits reflecting the Cretaceous Gondwana breakup and related extension. Additionally, we will study the tectonic controls on the formation and evolution of the Cretaceous-Tertiary basins of the region, and how this has been subsequently folded and faulted. The field programme provides further field training utilizing and developing basic field mapping skills such as the observation, recording and interpretation of folded bedding-cleavage relationships, and furthers structural relationships at varying scales.

  • Field Module 5: Independent Research Projects. During field module 5, students will apply the skills acquired during the first four weeks of field camp to group mapping projects of previously unmapped terrain on Banks Peninsula. This is the capstone field camp experience that leads into the initiation of your semester research project during this last field module. Research projects in 2017 could involve volcanology, igneous petrology, geomorphology, paleoclimatology, digital mapping (GIS and 3-D visualisation), geo-archaeology, geologic hazards, engineering geology, and geo-education.


Semester at the University of Canterbury

Fall Campus Semester:  July 10th –  Nov 14th (approximately)

Spring Campus Semester: February 10th-June 24th (approximately)

The field camp experience will transition into a semester at the University of Canterbury. Students will enroll in 4 semester courses (2 Geology courses including a required research methods course). The research course is Geol 356 at the University of Canterbury but appears on your Skidmore Transcript as JNGE351D – Research Methods in Geology. In addition, you choose 2 courses from the University of Canterbury course catalogue).  See full description of Research Methods Course


Programme Director: Dr. Darren Gravley, Faculty – Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Darren is a volcanologist in the Departement of Geological Sciences at the University of Canterbury. Darren blends his globally-recognised volcano research with undergraduate and graduate education projects in earth systems science. He studies the largest volcanoes known to man, “supervolcanoes”, and his research spans the globe from Japan to the United States to South America and New Zealand. With a New Zealand mother and an American father, Darren has taken advantage of a unique opportunity to blend his Pomona College undergraduate education with his love of the New Zealand outdoors and a concern for its environment.

Programme Details:

Credits/Units: Five course credits transcripted by Skidmore College. 

  1. Geology Field Camp (JNGE309 – Geology of New Zealand-Field Course)
  2. JNGE351D – Research Methods in Geology *** Please note: This class is Geology 356: Field Focused Research Methods at the University of Canterbury
  3. One course within the Department of Geological Sciences.
  4. Two courses of your choosing

Tuition 2017: $20,750 USD   ***Subject to change

  1. Tuition includes all  field camp costs
  2. Semester tuition
  3. Travel and health insurance
  4. Academic advising
  5. Skidmore Transcript
  6. Pre-Departure Services
    1. Application and Visa Support Services
    2. Housing Support
    3. Course Selection

Housing:   Ilam Apartments: $4,650 USD

Ilam Apartments is a self-catered, fully-furnished apartment-style complex that offers independent living in a supportive environment to students of all ages, at all levels of their academic career, and from all over the world. Meals are self catered (you provide your own food) and not part of housing fee.


Other Program Costs:

  1. Return Airfare –  $1,500 NZD – $2,000 NZD (approximated)
  2. Board – self-catered approximately $200-250 NZD per week
  3. Books – approtimatley $400 NZD

Applications Close 15th March 2018

Geologic Semester Courses and Course Descriptions
Follow this link for a full complete list of geologic courses offered at the University of Canterbury. Please note: Most FA students take 200 and 300 level courses. Prerequisites may apply. You are enrolling for Semester 2 (NZ system)

Complete list of geology courses

Complete list of all University of Canterbury courses

The GEOLOGY programme has been one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I get to travel to New Zealand, an amazing experience in itself, but I was able to study geological field skills in some of its most spectacular settings, all while in the company of good friends and great instructors. I’ve found myself at the tops of volcanoes and mountains, I’ve rafted over and swam beneath waterfalls, and I’ve hiked and camped over glaciers, in forests, and on top of mountains. New Zealand is an awesome place to spend a semester, and Frontiers Abroad is the best way for a geology student to experience it.” – Bryan McAtee, 2009 Lafayette College and Frontiers Abroad student