Environmental Geoscience Field Trips

Hello! Here’s a blog post about the compulsory field trips for Environmental Geoscience (EG) undergraduate students 😊

In first year, after two weeks of classes, all earth science undergrads (geology, geology and physical geography, environmental geoscience, etc.) go on a one-day field trip to Pease Bay and Siccar Point (about 1 hour away from Edinburgh). There, they look at red sandstone cliffs and sedimentary processes (ripples, current flow direction, etc.) in Pease Bay, and at Hutton’s unconformity in Siccar Point. The Edinburgh Geological Society refers to Siccar Point as ‘the world’s most important geological site’; it is one of the places where James Hutton (the ‘father of geology’) looked into the ‘abyss of time’. He showed that the Earth was much older than previously thought, as evidenced by the unconformity in Siccar Point between mudstone and greywacke beds, and red sandstone.

I’d say this is a rather cool first field experience 😊

A few weeks later, everyone meets again for a morning walk around Arthur’s Seat (in the city centre) to look at Hutton’s rock (him again!), at lava flows, at columnar basalt, and at many other cool volcanic and sedimentary stuff.

In the second semester of first year (either April or the end of May/beginning of June) there is a week-long residential field trip to the Lake District, where everyone (students from geology, geology and physical geography, geophysics, EG) learns field techniques. The trip culminates with a two-day mapping exercise where you work in pairs to identify rocks, look at their dip and dip direction (the angle and direction towards which the beds within the rocks are tilted), and draw a geological map of the area in the evenings. The map hand-in is in the morning of the last day of the field trip, so the last few evenings/nights are very intense!

A geology student writing down notes on her field notebook through a plastic bag (rain protection – the Lake District is very rainy).

In second year, there are two field trips within the frame of the Environmental Geochemistry of the Earth’s Surface course during semester 1 (which looks at river and estuarine geochemical processes mainly. It’s compulsory for EG students but other students can take it as an optional course). Students go on a one-day road trip adventure across the south of Scotland to Glen Luce (southwest coast), and walk along the Luce estuary to look at salinity changes, tidal effects, and biogeochemical processes.

The second field trip is a weekend trip to the Lake District in early November during which we go up to the Force Crag mine to investigate the acid mine drainage treatment process. Water runoff from the abandoned mine shafts used to contaminate the Coledale Beck (a river which then flows into a larger valley); a water treatment system was built to remove zinc, cadmium, and lead from the outflowing water. The aim of the field trip is to measure water discharge (in L/s for instance) in multiple small streams and analyse the water chemical properties before and after the treatment system.

The Lake District

After three years of intense studying, Environmental Geoscience students (and Ecology and Environmental Science or other earth science students taking the course as an option) get to go on a two-week trip to Jamaica. This is a trip I’ve just come back from, and it was amazing!

During the first week, we stayed at the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory (a pat of the University of the West Indies) to investigate ecological, chemical, and hydrographic (currents, density, water masses) processes in the bay. This involved many boat trips (and a stop to get a fresh coconut – drink the water then eat the flesh!) and a lot of snorkelling in 28°C water to look at mangroves, corals, seagrass, sea urchins, and cool fish (as well as two days of intense report writing and looking for WiFi).

The marine lab
View across the bay from the marine lab pier

After almost one week, we moved to a hotel (in Runaway Bay, a few kilometres east of Discovery Bay). We got a day off and all went to Dunn’s waterfall (walk along a river/climb a waterfall), which had been strongly recommended to us by previous students that had been on the trip. It turned out that a 4000+ passenger ferry had just arrived in the nearby town of Ocho Rios, and there were hordes of tourists climbing the waterfall, so it was a rather strange experience (but I can imagine how amazing it would be without thousands of people). We then went down to Ocho Rios’ food market and tried many types of fruits (I recommend the orange ‘kiwi’ which is very very sweet and amazing. Google told me it’s called “naseberry”).

Market stall (the fruits in the bottom right corner are the “kiwis”/naseberry)

The next three days consisted of driving inland to visit a bauxite mine, sample rivers, walk through dense forests, and swim in a ‘blue hole’ in the middle of nowhere. I won’t tell more so that future EG students on the trip get to experience it first-hand as well 😉 The trip ends with three very intense days of frantic report writing. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were interesting experiences as we all ate quickly, stood up, and left without a word to return to our overheated laptops to keep writing our reports.

Dinner time view from the hotel

The final field trip of the EG students is a five day trip to Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, in June (third year trip as well). The students are prepared for this trip through the Practical Geochemistry and Data Analysis course, during which they get to use different geochemical instruments (x-ray diffraction, x-ray fluorescence, ICP-OES, C/N analysis methods) to analyse sediment samples from Loch Etive (taken by the students that went on the trip a year before), and have to write a report based on a research question that they individually came up with. I have written that report, but I haven’t yet gone to Oban, so I can’t tell you more about what we will be doing there (my guess is: collect sediment samples!).

I hope that this article was informative and interesting, and feel free to ask us questions (by sending us messages through social media, or directly emailing the School) about any field trip that is run by the School of GeoSciences (you can find a list of field trips here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/geosciences/teaching-organisation/ug-students/ug-field-trips).

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