Geology students rock outdoor classroom trip

By Cyndi Loza

University students visited Missouri over the weekend to examine rocks formed about 1.5 billion years ago.

“I didn’t think rocks could be that cool,” said Rachel Maurer, sophomore in LAS.

The students in Geology 110 visited St. Francois Mountains of Missouri over the weekend. This was the first of two field trips for the class. During the trip, the students examined Precambrian igneous rocks, formed about 1.5 billions years ago and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, deposited 350-500 million years ago. Students also enjoyed state parks and recreation areas in Missouri.

“This is my favorite course to teach,” said Stephen Altaner, geology professor. “The scenery is beautiful, the geology is unbelievable and the students get to know each other. I get to know the students vice versa and the whole combination makes for just an unbelievable trip.”

Emily Berna, a graduate teaching assistant for the course, explained that when geology is taught in a classroom, students are shown different rock types, pictures. If a student does not examine rocks first hand they may not fully understand some aspects.

“It (the field trip) lets people understand what they’re learning about,” Berna said. “You don’t understand something until you actually do it and doing geology requires a field trip.”

Berna also explained how this field trip helps describe the geological history of Missouri. Since there were volcanoes in Missouri, for example, there are igneous volcanic rocks left over. This was then covered by a marine environment, which produced Paleozoic sedimentary rocks that were full of marine fossils.

“You can learn about what used to go on the earth but if you actually see a visual it helps,” Berna said. “You understand because you can see all these old volcanic rocks and then you can see these sedimentary rocks that are full of fossils and organisms that don’t exist anymore.”

Tyler Beemer, senior in LAS, explained that during the trip the class was given a small bottle of diluted hydrochloric acid, which they dropped on rocks to test if the rock had calcite in it. If the rock had calcite in it, it would react to the acid. This is used to identify the type of rock.

“We had the running joke of dropping acid during the trip,” Maurer said.

In addition to visiting the St. Francois Mountains, the class also visited state parks and recreational areas in Missouri. The class visited Elephant Rocks State Park in Belleview, Mo., Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in Middlebrook, Mo., and Taum Sauk Mountain State Park in Ironton, Mo.

“Elephant Rock … was awesome,” Maurer said. “They had these conglomerations of giant rocks all together and little path ways you could sneak through so it was a ton of fun to, like, jump from rock to rock.”

The class also visited the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Plant, which the class had not visited since 2000.

Altaner describes the power plant as an interesting rarity for a geologist. Usually geologists are able to examine rocks in cliffs or in a river valley. In this instance, geologists are able to see three walls of rock.

“You see rock on one wall, on a second wall and then a third wall,” Altaner said. “You get three walls of a cube to look at and what you see … is a very old igneous rock which is 1.5 billion years old that is beneath sedimentary rock … that’s about a half a billion years old.”

Both Tyler Beemer and Maurer suggested that regardless of the field of study they are in, students should consider taking this course.

“It’s a class you can enjoy going to instead of having to worry about,” Beemer said.

“Going into the trip I felt like I couldn’t really tell you anything about rocks,” Maurer said. “But by the end of the trip I could definitely distinguish major rock formations and types … I feel like I really cemented the information … no pun intended.”