Geology Field Camp Delivers Fundamental Skills and Modern Methods

UC Davis geology field camp

Field camp is one of geology’s enduring rites of passage. In this capstone course from UC Davis, juniors and seniors spend six weeks in the wilderness learning how to document complex geological phenomena.

The corrugated strata at Poleta Folds in Deep Spring Valley, on the east flank of the White Mountains, and other iconic geologic sites in Northern California are where UC Davis geoscience students become versed in fundamental field methods and modern mapping tools. “Teaching a large group of students in a remote desert is challenging, but the location is truly a unique setting for field education. Over the time spent here, every student makes tremendous gains in confidence and skill as a field geologist,” said Professor Mike Oskin, who alternates summers with Professor Eric Cowgill.

Teaching at field camp centers on state-of-the-art geologic mapping—the budding geologists learn to use GPS, remote sensing data, and imaging and analysis software. But students also pick up intangible skills that employers value, such as working with teams and teasing apart thorny rock relationships in a limited time. Environmental firms, federal agencies and petroleum companies all need professional geologists who can deal with the uncertainty inherent in many geologic problems.

For the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, offering “summer field” is fraught with logistical and financial challenges. The challenges aren’t unique to UC Davis; the number of geoscience departments offering summer field courses has dropped by more than half in the past 20 years, according to the American Geological Institute. For students, field camp can be a financial hardship because the course is expensive and takes them away from summer jobs for six weeks.

In recognition of the important and unique learning experience provided by field camp, Professor Emeritus Eldridge Moores, the department’s first field camp instructor, established a fund to help defray costs. The Eldridge and Judy Moores Field Geology Fund supports students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels participating in independent and department-sponsored field excursions in California and beyond.

—Becky Oskin, content strategist, Mathematical and Physical Sciences