Classroom Earth: DEAPS Yellowstone 2016

Helen Hill
Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Before settling down to their new life on campus, 22 incoming freshmen, six upperclassmen alumni of past DEAPS Yellowstone trips, together with four graduate students, faculty and staff spent a week visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks exploring, hiking, and learning.

Leading the trip this year was Robert R. Shrock Professor of Geology, EAPS Associate Department Head, Tim Grove. According to him “the primary goal of DEAPS Yellowstone is to 'turn on' students to the natural world around them and to teach them about the geology, biology and beauty of Yellowstone. It gives them a unique eight-day full immersion in the geologic wonders of Yellowstone."

Photos via EAPS Flickr photostream (All photos credit Vicki McKenna)

Through a rigorous itinerary of daily visits, hikes, and drive-bys throughout the Yellowstone/ Grand Teton NPs, students got an expert grounding in basic earth science from the nature and causes of volcanic eruptions to the origin and diversity of microbial life in hot springs, to what we can tell about past climates from the fossil record: A window on the uniquely broad and interdisciplinary science that exemplifies so much research in EAPS. "This year's students were pretty motivated. We were a large group, but having lots of DEAPS Yellowstone alums as well as terrific geoscience graduate student TAs, allowed for lots of one-on-one learning," Grove said.

On arrival in Bozeman, Montana after their early morning departure from Boston, the group travelled by van to Yellowstone National Park. There, as in past years, DEAPSters set up camp at the Bridge Bay Campground on the west side of Yellowstone Lake and settled in for a week of living in the great outdoors. According to Grove, "this trip is a non-stop learning experience for the pre-frosh - camping, cooking as a group in the morning and evening, and spending all day long exploring the rich variety of geology that exists within a radius of just a few hundred miles within the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons NP."

The trip introduces students, many of whom last studied Earth science back in grade-school, to the fundamentals of geology, including the lexicon of different rock types and geologic eras, the concepts of absolute time and the complete rock record; plate tectonics; how to read topographic and geologic maps; and processes large and small, fast and slow, inherent to hotspots, of which the Yellowstone caldera provides such a superb example.

But, perhaps more than the science, DEAPS Yellowstone provides incoming students with an incredible kick-off experience as they start their undergraduate careers at the Institute. One of the graduate student TAs Marjorie Cantine, a second year working with Kristin Bergmann, comments, "besides everything there is to see, and the terrific live Earth science they get to experience, I think the students got to make good friends during the trip. There is so much anxiety before leaving for college about whether or not you'll make friends or if you really belong at your institution. I hope that for these students, getting to know each other in a non-academic and fun atmosphere helped reduce that anxiety. They definitely loved seeing Yellowstone wildlife and they made up great skits each evening to entertain the group and share what they'd learnt and seen each day." 

As for many geoscientists in EAPS, fieldwork is a big part of Cantine's research. "I'm working with Kristin Bergmann to better understand sedimentary systems during the Ediacaran period, which occurred 635-542 million years ago and saw the evolution of the earliest animals. Understanding the geometry and spatial relationships of sedimentary strata at a large scale can only happen with data collected in the field. DEAPS Yellowstone participants have this unique opportunity to learn all about geology, geophysics, geobiology, and geochemistry under the tutelage of faculty like Prof. Grove, a world expert on the geology and geochemistry of calderas and volcanoes, with Yellowstone's bubbling geysers, fuming hot springs, canyons, valleys, ridges, petrified forests, at their fingertips: It really doesn't get better than this."

Cantine's top three memories of the trip? "A bear! We saw a black bear one day on the road! I had never seen one in the wild before, so that was great. Hot springs - After taking a class on the origin of life this spring, it was a lot of fun to visit the hot springs which give geobiologists a model for what the early earth might have been like, and, apparently a new stop on the itinerary this year:  Mt. Washburn - One day we climbed Mount Washburn [10,425']  a peak with a commanding view of the Yellowstone volcanic system from where the immensity of the caldera that was formed during the last eruption at 645,00 ybp can be readily appreciated - it had a volume of more than 1000 km3 ,site of three super eruptions at Yellowstone and more magma than you can possibly imagine: The pyroclastic flow and lahar deposits were amazing!"

Story image: 2016 DEAPS Yellowstone Participants - credit: Vicki McKenna; Geologic map of Yellowstone NP - courtesy: USGS

Discovering Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences: Yellowstone

Past Trips
2013 | 2014 | 2015

Classroom Earth: DEAPS Extreme Weather and Climate 2016 EAPS News