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Field Camp

Diane Aga standing next to lab equipment. She is wearing a black jacket with a white button blouse and black eyeglasses.

Professor James Boyle took the field camp students to 18-Mile Creek, in Eden N.Y. to finish their stratigraphic maps.

Field Camp during a Pandemic: Staying Local

By Professor Tracy Gregg

New York’s COVID-19 restrictions limited us to offering a completely virtual field mapping course in 2020, and although the students learned a lot, we all missed the in-person, hands-on experience of our traditional field camp. Keeping in mind the possibility of continued or changing interstate travel restrictions for New Yorkers, we decided to hold our 2021 field camp in-person, and completely within New York State.

Over four weeks, our graduating UB seniors were able to apply the tools and skills they had learned in the classroom to real-world geologic challenges. Although we involved multiple faculty (included some of our retired professors) in the course, Mr. Kevin Griswold (MS candidate) remained our stalwart Teaching Assistant throughout.

Prof. James Bolye took the students to 18-Mile Creek in southern Erie County to teach them how to recognize and map the sedimentary stratigraphy exposed there. Students learned how to map while wading through a stream (avoiding the harmless Lake Erie water snakes) in weather that ranged from pleasantly warm to chilling sleet. Profs. Chris Lowry and Erasmus Oware engaged the students in collecting both geophysical and hydrologic data from Elton Creek near Delmar, NY (thanks to our friends at LaForge Concrete) and on our new North Campus well field. Prof. Lowry worked with alumni at Buffalo Drilling to have three wells drilled just south of Cooke Hall during field camp, giving students a fantastic opportunity to see the drilling process and study the core as it was brought to the surface. During the last week, Prof. Tracy Gregg led the students in field mapping exercises around the Helderberg Escarpment. Prof. Chuck Mitchell (Emeritus) led us all on a one-day field trip across the state as we drove to our campground, explaining how he and Prof. Bob Jacobi (Emeritus) pieced together the tectonic history of the region with detailed understanding of stratigraphy and field mapping.

This course could only have been completed with help from our alumni and some new friends. We owe our gratitude to Twin Oaks Campground for providing us with a wonderful home-away-from home, and to the Five Rivers Nature Preserve for granting us permission to do geologic mapping in and along their creekbeds. Department faculty and staff loaned our students camping and cooking gear for the last week of class, which saved the students unnecessary expenses, and Sue Bratcher organized it all in nice neat piles for us.  Prof. Ivan Parmuzin worked with rather finicky data to generate beautiful basemaps that the students used in the last week. Travis Nelson drove one of the vans out to the Helderberg Escarpment, and made arrangements for us to tour Secret Caverns on our last day of camp.

Field camp students are working in a low part of a creek. They are wearing waterproof clothing while they use instruments to check on the water.

Professor Chris Lowry led the field camp students in a hydrogeologic study of Elton Creek (in Delevan, N.Y.). 

Generous department alumni and supporters donated the funds required to drill the wells; we are hoping to name our new well field the “Ross Giese Memorial Well Field” and are currently working with the University administration in an effort to make that official.  We are also working with the University to create and post informational signs at the well field to educate (and hopefully excite) passers-by about the fascinating geology lurking beneath their feet.

The success of this NY-based field camp, and the practical, hands-on experiences it provided our students, has led our department to consider an “alternate year” model for our future field camps. We plan to head back out West in 2022 (if the pandemic permits) and offer an improved NY-based field camp for 2023.

I want to personally thank the students for being enthusiastic and understanding throughout the course, and for offering great suggestions for the next time we run a NY-based field camp. In addition, Prof. Mitchell and Prof. Jacobi generously spent hours with me via Zoom as they tutored me—a mere volcanologist—in NY state stratigraphy and tectonics. Prof. Gayle Gleason (SUNY-Cortland) remembered me from when she was a TA and I was an undergraduate, and generously shared her teaching materials.

Thank you to all who supported this NY-based field camp! It was a success, thanks to this wonderful UB geology family.