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Dalhousie University’s Senior Field School: California-Nevada 2014 Update

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Dalhousie University’s Earth Sciences Department has embarked on an ambitious experiential learning campaign. We have substantially modified our geoscience field school program in order to prepare our students for the rigors of professional careers in the geosciences.

Download this article as a PDF: Northerner Geoscience Field Experience - June 2014 Update

The senior field school is designed as a capstone course for senior undergraduate geology students. Students develop expertise in the field study of structural geology, stratigraphy, igneous-metamorphic geology and most importantly geological mapping.

The southern Nevada and eastern California region is an ideal teaching laboratory with incredible geologic variation from active volcanoes and faults to Precambrian gneissic complexes to classic examples of fold and thrust belts and exceptional bedrock exposure. Our mobile camp allows us to access the best examples of a variety of geologic settings and thematic mapping exercises.

Four northerners attended Dalhousie University’s 2014 senior field school from May 18th to May 30th. The participants are from various regions across northern Canada including Joanna Panipak from Clyde River, Karlene Napayok from Rankin Inlet, Randy Hinanik from Kugluktuk, and Ed Long from Whitehorse. In total, there were 28 people in the field party: 18 Dalhousie students, 4 northerners, 3 teaching assistants, 1 camp manager, and 2 instructors.

“My trip down to eastern California & southern Nevada for the CNGO-Dalhousie University geoscience training was one of the most memorable educational experiences of my lifetime”
- Randy Hinanik (Kugluktuk)

The two week field experience program for the northerners was designed to be a comprehensive introduction to a variety of geological disciplines. The northerners engaged in all activities with enthusiasm and a high level of attention to detail. They also were fully immersed into camp life with the senior Dalhousie students and made lasting friendships. The interaction between the northerners and senior university students offers a unique opportunity for cultural sharing, knowledge transfer and gauging progress in understanding concepts and field techniques.

The 2014 Northerner Geoscience Field Experience program consisted of 7 thematic exercises:

1: Volcanology (May 19)

As a group, we took a field trip through Owen’s Valley in eastern California to study the various features of the Long Valley Caldera. The last major eruption was
760,000 years ago which produced more than 600 km3 of ash and pyroclastic flows. Students studied ash falls and flows of the Bishop Tuff, columnar jointed rhyolite, resurgent activity including 400 year old obsidian domes and active hot springs with associated gold mineralization.

2: Minerals, rocks, stratigraphy (May 20)

In the morning, the TAs facilitated a measured section and unit descriptions of the rocks that would form the major mapping exercise for the northerners. In the afternoon, an overview of common rocks and rock groups was given focusing on geochemical and mineralogical associations. A desktop map and cross section exercise was also completed.

3: Compass skills, mapping, and cross sections (May 21-24)

The major field school project for both the northerners and Dalhousie students was to produce a map and cross section in the Poleta Folds area of the White Mountains in eastern California. We spent four days learning fundamental compass and map-reading skills, concepts of structural geology including inclined bedding, cleavage, folds, faults, and even overturned bedding and folds. The northerners worked long hours and with great care on the mapping project and produced meticulous and accurate maps and cross sections. During this exercise they gained an appreciation of the three dimensional nature of geologic mapping. Their maps are not reproduced here as they would prefer that next year’s students experience the same challenge and resulting satisfaction of figuring it out on their own.

“We also learned why it was important to write clearly and neatly using a pencil on our maps and to refer to our field notebooks regarding observations we made in the field”
- Karlene Napayok (Rankin Inlet)

4: Metamorphic rocks (May 26) Our next project was in Monarch Canyon on the east side of Death Valley. Here, rocks that reached depths of 25-30 km have been exhumed in a metamorphic core complex and are spectacularly exposed. We learned the steps involved in properly naming metamorphic rocks and went mineral hunting finding garnet, kyanite, staurolite, muscovite, k-feldspar and even a little sillimanite.

5: Diamond drill core logging, mining and gold extraction – Sterling Gold Mine, Nevada (May 27) The drill core logging exercise and mine tour was a great opportunity for all students to gain insight into the various components of an operating mine. Kevin Garceau, the mine geologist at Imperial Metals’ Sterling Mine, introduced us to the property geology before leading the group into a drill core logging activity. Kevin gave us a tour of the open pits, facilities and equipment, processing plant and the leach pad. This very generous access provided by Kevin and Imperial Metals enriched the learning experience for everyone.

6: Active tectonics (May 28-29)

Eastern California is host to numerous active faults, many of which are related to strain partitioning from the San Andreas Fault System. Many of the alluvial fans on both sides of Death Valley show evidence of numerous fault strands of variable shear sense and age. At the Red Wall Canyon and Wild Rose Canyon fans, the northerners were tasked with determining the location of the fault(s), the sense of shear, and the amount of displacement. Using fundamental geologic principles such as cross-cutting relationships, and material identification and descriptions they rose to the challenge and even worked out slip rates over the last 70,000 years.

7: Arid region geomorphology (May 29-30)

Eastern California and southern Nevada afford a window into landscapes largely unfamiliar to most Canadians. Sand dunes, playa lakes, non-vegetated terrain, and the associated blistering temperatures left an impression on all of us. Despite the stark contrast in temperatures, some parts of northern Canada have semi-arid geomorphological features; with new eyes the northerners will revisit their local landscapes this summer.



Randy, Joanna, and Karlene (R to L) will be applying their new skills and knowledge as field assistants with the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office this summer on southern Baffin Island. And Ed (far left) will be tackling new challenges with his grass roots exploration company based out of Whitehorse.

Sponsors, Donors and Collaborators:

  • Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office
  • Natural Resources Canada – Geo-Mapping for Energy and Minerals
  • Government of Nunavut – Nunavut Mine Training Fund Nunavut Arctic College and the Environmental Technology Program Yukon Geological Survey
  • Yukon College
  • Imperial Metals Corp – The Sterling Mine, NV
  • Shell Canada and the Dalhousie Shell Experiential Learning Fund
  • National Car Rental – Las Vegas
  • Shaun Bacon (mechanic and expeditor in Las Vegas) Death Valley National Park
  • Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  • Atlantic Minerals Ltd Integrated Venture Corp Holcim (Canada) Inc Quality Concrete Inc
  • Logan Student Chapter sponsored by GAC and PDAC
  • 1984 Group of Companies
  • Department of Earth Sciences, Dalhousie University (Ann Bannon and Darlene Van de Rijt)

Senior Field School staff and class:
Gabe Creason, Rachel Milligan, James Nott, Leigh van Drecht, Jennifer Archibald, Emmaline Atherton, Kathryn Beaton, Kai Boggild, Nicolas Chupick, Brad Clarke, Sean Des Roche, Laura Dimand, Mclean Donohoe, Arthur Fitzpatrick, Billy Garrison, Jill Kendrick, Winson Li, Beth Lymer, Paige Montgomery, James Norrie, Jarrett Richard, Nick von Buttler

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