Welcome to the Frontiers Abroad Blog! Here you can find updates on our students and what they are learning as they travel throughout New Zealand and geologic time.
Module 1: Kaikoura, East Coast, South Island
Just a few short days ago we picked up 24 students from the Christchurch International Airport- all are undergraduate geology students at U.S. institutions and have come to New Zealand for field camp and a semester of study and research. Field camp is five and a half weeks long and is comprised of 5 different modules in unique locations across the country. This first week we are in Kaikoura, a small coastal town located a few hours north of Christchurch. The students stay in a University of Canterbury field station with lovely views of the ocean and mountains.
This week the students are getting acclimated and getting up to speed as they create a geologic map of a portion of the peninsula. Day One was a rest day as the students tackled the jet-lag and took advantage of the calm, warm weather with a swim, run, or nap accompanied by team-building activities. The chilly bin race was a favorite. Day Two was an introduction to orienteering with a cross-peninsula ‘scavenger hunt’. The students learned how to orient their maps, determine North and plot it on a map, triangulate, pace their own scale, and take a bearing. They used their new skills to make their way around the peninsula with a few cultural and team challenge stops along the way.
Today is Day Three and the first day in the field mapping area- South Bay. The weather started off warm and sunny but turned cloudy and windy in the afternoon- the students learned the importance of GABE (Geologists Always Bring Everything) with the ever-changing New Zealand weather. At least it didn’t hail! We started off describing the rocks at different scales and sketching outcrops. This was followed by strike and dip measurements and how to determine bedding and contacts- all very important information for building a geologic map.
We’re very excited about this year’s group of students. They’re a smart bunch with a lot of diverse knowledge and stellar positive attitudes. It’s shaping up to be a great field camp!
Time flies when you’re mapping rocks… The students have spent the last few days in the field mapping area getting to know the rocks, learning how to characterize and measure them, and starting to draw lines on their maps.
The strikes and dips have been measured, the contacts found, and the fault displacement directions determined! As we speak, the students are discussing which colors to use for the different units on their finalized maps- a task that is much harder and far more entertaining after a few tiring days in the field. Hint: greenish-grey is not a standard color pencil color for the SpongeBob Fold Pants unit.
Wish them luck as they finalize their maps, cross sections, and stratigraphic columns!
Module 2: Cass, Inland Canterbury, South Island
Welcome to Cass! This week we traveled a few hours south and west from Kaikoura to inland Canterbury and the beautiful Castle Hill Basin: The home of mountains and rivers, the battle scene in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and some awesome rock climbing and hiking. It’s quite the change from the seaside geology of last week.
We kicked the week off with a small caving expedition through Cave Stream. We grabbed our headlamps and warm tops and waded upstream through the cave. It was a bit chilly but heaps of fun! Then back to the field station, tucked away at the foothills of Sugarloaf Mountain.
The first field day was an introduction to the different rock formations that the students will be mapping throughout the week. They walked up through geologic time along Cave Stream, describing the different units as they went so that, by the end of the day, they had a rough stratigraphic column complete with contacts types and creative names. It was a long, but rewarding day finished off with a swim in the stream.
The next few days were field mapping days where the students were introduced to the mapping area and then set loose to create their own routes through the area and a strategic plan for solving this week’s geologic puzzle. This week’s mapping area is quite a bit bigger than last week’s with many more rivers to cross. The students are grudgingly getting used to having wet feet throughout the day. The field area covers some spectacular ground though including a waterfall, native Beech forest, and some impressive landslides. Not to mention the mind-blowing folding and faulting in the region- but that’s for the students to figure out!
R and R: Punakaiki, West Coast, South Island
Hard to believe that we’re nearly halfway through field camp already! The students finished up their Cass maps, strat columns, and cross sections and were rewarded with a kiwi tradition: Tim Tam slams, as well a trip to Barrytown, population: 1, for a cookout.
The last few days were spent in Punakaiki, a small tourist town famous for its pancake rocks and blowholes, for a much need break. We pitched our tents at a beautiful campsite surrounded by limestone cliffs, native bush, and the wild west coast ocean.
The students spent the day and a half as they chose, with some opting for a hike up the river, exploring the local caverns for glowworms, fishing in the ocean, or just hanging out and catching up on sleep. We finished off the evenings with a bonfire on the beach. Now on to Westport!
Module 3: Westport, West Coast, New Zealand
Back to the grind for module 3 in Westport! After our R and R in Punakaiki we made a stop at 14 Mile Beach for an exercise on folds. The site has some textbook quality examples of the relationship between bedding and cleavage which can be used to determine the orientation and style of a fold.
For the next two days, the students split in to two groups that visited a series of field sites one day and swapped the next. The last field day was capped off with a walk around the coast to some ultramylonites where the students learned about the direction of stress and regional tectonics of the west coast during the separation of New Zealand from Australia and Antarctica. We lucked out on weather this week with only a few showers- something that can be quite rare on the rainforest-like west coast!
Today, the students are finishing up one last assignment and packing up. Tomorrow, we head back to Christchurch and catch a flight to the North Island the next day. Everyone is looking forward to one night in their semester housing during the transition between modules. Then off to the volcanoes!
The last two weeks have been ones of limited internet access and, therefore, a lack of posts! This post will highlight our adventures and studies during the last two modules.
Module 4: Ruapehu, Central North Island
Look familiar? For Module 4 we were in Mordor, from Lord of the Rings, battling evil forces with colored pencils and hi-vis vests! For this module, University of Canterbury fourth year students joined us in a fellowship of geologists as part of their volcanology course. Kiwis and Americans may not be as different as Elves and Dwarves but there was plenty of story swapping and accent impressions as the groups got to know each other.
Day one was spent mapping lava flows and deciphering relative age relationships of flows based on ash and pyroclastic flow layers. Some of these lava flows were deposited as recently as 1975 and smaller, more explosive events happened in 2012. This area of New Zealand, the Taupo Volcanic Zone, is one of the most volcanically active regions in the world!
On day two we did the Tongariro Crossing- one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and packed with cool geology. It was a big day but the students were excited about the volcanoes and great views. In the evening they plowed through to finish their lava flow maps and were rewarded with a fantastic sunset over Mt. Taranaki.
The next day saw the students hiking up another volcano- Mt. Ruapehu, where they studied the structure and deposits of the volcano from the source to its further reaches. We saw an old volcanic vent, lahar deposits, and Mead’s Wall where Gollum makes his debut in the Lord of the Rings.
On day four we drove north to Orakei Krako to see an active geothermal system. The students mapped the different pools and fault-bounded terraces along with pH and temperature measurements. We capped the day off with an epic bridge jump, then a relaxing afternoon at some local hot pools at a park.
For the last two days, the students mapped a section of the Taupo Ignimbrite- Taupo caldera’s most recent large eruption, and used their maps to create research questions that were drafted in to a mock research proposal. We also ran a simulation in which the students were put in to science and hazards teams during a mock eruption of Tongariro. Each student had an individual role and learned what it is like to work within a team monitoring an active volcano. Unfortunately, the science team and the cows were not evacuated in time- luckily it was only practice!
Module 5: Banks Peninsula, Just a skip south of Christchurch, South Island
After a short night back at their Christchurch apartments, the students piled back in to the vans for module 5: research week on Banks Peninsula. Banks Peninsula is home to two major phases of volcanism and the largely unstudied, eroded landscapes provide the perfect location for geologic mapping and new research. The aim of this week is for teams of students to map the lava sequences, volcanic domes, and fall deposits in their mapping area that will be compiled as part of an updated and more detailed geologic map. They also will spend the semester preparing their selected samples for geochemical analysis and thin sections. This year, we covered the “crater rim” and found some new deposits and patterns that add to our understanding of Akaroa Volcano.
In addition to three days of team mapping, the students also picked individual research projects: Some on Banks Peninsula and others with projects headed by faculty back at UC. One group of students interested in sedimentology spent the day at Pa Bay looking at a tricky sediment sequence, another group involved in large scale research questions about Akaroa volcano took an informative tour around the crater rim, while others had a rest day in preparation for their upcoming field work on their projects.
A special highlight of the week on Banks is experiencing the Waitangi Day festivities at Okains Bay. The students enjoyed a Maori Hangi, explored the museum’s unparalleled local collection, and participated in games like races or the Kiwi vs American tug-of-war! Free time during the week also allowed us to catch some local sea food and shell fish that the students enjoyed during a barbeque on the last day.
And with that, the students have completed their field camp with flying colors! Now back in Christchurch, they are preparing for the semester’s classes and research!