Thursday, September 27, 2012

Accretionary Wedge #50: Field Camp / Trip Moments

Evelyn Mervine is hosting the 50th anniversary edition of the Accretionary Wedge at her blog Georneys. The topic of the wedge this month is a nostalgic one: talk about a fun field moment. Wow! There have been so many fun moments, in fact, every time I have been to the field its been fun...even the days that didn't seem so great at the time now are just fond memories.

I remember the first field trip of my geology undergrad. Looking even further back I remember the first time I went mineral collecting in a quarry (I was only 10). Over the years I have been in countless old quarries and mines, stopped at hundreds of outcrops and been on many educational geo field trips around North America and the Caribbean. So really the problem is not to tell a fun field story, but how can I tell just one?! I can't!

My first trip

My first geology related field trip was to a limestone quarry an hour north of my home. I was 10 years old and was a major geology nerd as a kid...not much has changed. I had just joined up with the Peterborough Mineral and Fossil Club and this was one of the many collecting trips that the club went on each weekend. The trip was to an active quarry so I had to make sure that I was wearing a hard hat and steel toe boots. We were there to collect pyrite cubes. In hindsight, this was the perfect first trip for me. We were collecting flashy gold pyrite cubes in the limestone which made things easy for me since I didn't have the strength back then to swing my hammer like I do these days. Plus, there was the certainty of finding something that looked cool and was easy to identify. I have been on many collecting trips since and usually the rocks are not so soft and the minerals are not so flashy. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of my first trip so you'll just have to imagine me, my dad, and about fifteen retired men and women in the quarry wandering around looking for the glint of pyrite.   

My first undergrad trip

The first trip of my geology degree was to a spot not far from the school. I went to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario and the trip was part of a second year course aptly titled "Field Methods". The course involved weekly five-hour field trips to local sites were we would map, measure and identify the rocks in the area. It was a hard course, especially since we were all new to the field and were being asked to do a lot, but in hindsight it was a fantastic learning experience. Fond memories include the prof continually yelling from underneath his umbrella and a cloud of smoke "get in the ditch". But I digress. Our first trip was just up the road to place called Joyceville, where we took notes on the syenite outcrop, made a map and talked about joint sets and glacial striations. One thing I really remember was the rain. It poured the entire five hours and at the end all we could do to stay warm was huddle in groups of five or six and try to keep our field books dry enough to write. Sound familiar? I think pretty much every rookie geologist has an experience like this. If only I could find the field book that has those notes in them. 

Bermuda trip

Fast forward a few years to the start of my final year of undergrad. I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Bermuda as the conclusion to my carbonate sedimentology class. It was led by world experts in the field and is in fact known across Canada as the best carbonate trip in the country for students and professionals alike. The beauty of carbonate systems is twofold: "they are born, not made"  and that you can see their development in action. All you have to do is strap on a snorkel and jump overboard, which is exactly what we did. This trip is a highlight of my geological career so far and was one of the most enjoyable field experiences I have can you beat doing geology in the Caribbean and spending all day snorkelling around reefs?

Doing field work!

This became a weird tradition for upper year field trips in the department, at least when my friends and I were on the trips it did. I have no idea if it goes on to this day. However, let me explain before you get any strange ideas about what my friends and I were up to on these trips. We were working in Quebec and upstate New York looking at evidence of the Taconic orogeny during the Ordovician. If you have ever done field work in these areas you know that thrust faults abound. In fact, the whole area is nothing but thrust faults. So, when we would do group photos everyone would lean in the direction of thrust...essentially creating a human thrust fault. See the pictures below...

Everyone do the thrust! Arm gestures are crucial.

Extreme group thrusting!

Things are different now. No longer am I the cold, wet undergrad trying not to rip their map. I am the one yelling "get in the ditch" these days, and trying to coach the next generation of geologists as they learn some field skills while trying my best not to laugh as they bumble along. Being a field trip leader is as much fun as being on a trip. I really enjoy teaching people and explaining all of the amazing things that rocks, sediment, etc. can tell us.

I have been on lots of other trips as well and I enjoy telling stories about them all so perhaps I'll post in the future with some more field trip moments.

Thanks for reading!



  1. Hi Matt your stories are great! Such memories.You are a lucky guy.