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Mike Wolf near Bonaire
Dr. Mike Wolf, Augustana professor of geology, explores fire coral off the coast of Bonaire.

Geology faculty explore a tropical island for midwinter classes

Tropical field work is tough, but when the necessity arose, geology faculty Dr. Mike Wolf, Jenny Arkle, and I (Dr. Kelsey Arkle) packed our fins and snorkels, purchased our reef-safe sunblock, and made sure we had plenty of fresh Write-in-the-Rain notebooks.

From July 7-14, 2018, we explored Bonaire, a small island municipality of the Netherlands that lies just off the northern coast of Venezuela. Our intention was to scout our two upcoming 100-level and 300-level J-term courses.

The overarching goal of the courses is the same: to provide students with opportunities to learn and apply techniques used by field geologists. Both courses will allow students to ask and answer “big-picture” questions like:

What was the chain of events that led to the formation of this island? or How can we use the fossil record of corals to understand environmental changes that have taken place over the last ~100,000+ years?

Geological field scouting involves a fair amount of planning, a significant component of hunched-over-maps navigation, and a healthy dose of trial-and-error. Our goal was to search for rocks and fossils that we could use to teach the fundamentals of geology at the 100-level and the specifics of field techniques at the 300-level.

After locating prospective field localities, we then drove, hiked, or swam to examine them up close. Among other interesting examples, we found many of the volcanic rocks that originally built the island; bus-sized boulders that are thought to have been transported by tsunami waves; and multi-story stairstep-like terraces, evidence of a tectonically tumultuous past.

During our inaugural J-term course in 2020, students will explore on land and under water, providing them with a rich and (literally) immersive opportunity....

Beyond the interesting and varied geology, Bonaire is renowned for maintaining significant expanses of protected coastal environments, making it a haven for healthy coral reefs. Next January, we plan to spend a significant amount of time exploring these diverse underwater environments. To brush up on our own skills, and to examine the accessibility of various sites, we spent several half-days SCUBA diving off the west side of the island.

During our inaugural J-term course in 2020, students will explore on land and under water, providing them with a rich and (literally) immersive opportunity to see a place from many angles.

And we will enjoy the opportunity to guide students as they participate in this transformative experience—plus access to fine Dutch cheese, daily fresh croissants and locally made cactus nectar.

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