Summer School Rocks

Environmental studies major Allegra Torres spent two weeks of her summer break hauling and setting up GPS equipment, hunkering down on her hands and knees to examine and count rock after rock, and trying to remember to drink plenty of water in the hot Nevada desert.

She loved every minute of it.

“I live for the outdoors and hands-on experience,” Torres said, who traveled to Nevada with fellow students Nathan Brown and Brooks Strausborger, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Jackie Langille.

“I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to travel and learn more about geology in the field,” Torres said. “Also, I was very intrigued with Dr. Jackie’s research project: predict a new plate tectonic boundary! It is very exciting to be able to scientifically document such an event, and at such a young stage in formation.”

The team collected GPS points through surveying to compile geologic data and create a detailed map of the area they were working in, along the Central Walker Lane fault system along the central border of Nevada and California.

“The map generated will be used to calculate the exact distance of fault displacement and what magnitude earthquake made it happen,” Torres explained.

“We also did ‘point counts’ of the rocks at certain locations,” said Brown. “This is where a square meter surface was assessed for the variety and size of rocks so that different surfaces could be shown to match, thus allowing Dr. Jackie to show that once-continuous debris flows had been interrupted or offset by fault movement.” This allows for an accurate measurement of plate movement for the faults. It’s very challenging, Brown said, because they had to consistently identify rocks that were as small as one centimeter.

Even with the challenges, the chance to put their classroom knowledge to the test in the field was invaluable, Torres said.

“Geology needs to be experienced in the field. Textbooks and tests can only teach so much,” she said. “During our field research I was constantly observing my surroundings and we were always asking questions and discussed the lay of the land.

“Being in the field with fellow aspiring geologists and Dr. Jackie solidified that this is exactly what I wanted from a college experience: to find my niche of people to collaborate with, who are passionate about learning and constantly question and observe the environment.”