At the end of July, some students were dreading the beginning of the fall semester. Some were eagerly packing for the move to Springfield. Others were on their way to Chile to study volcanoes.
Dr. Gary Michelfelder, assistant professor of geology, and nine students took at two-week short-term study away trip to San Pedro de Atacama and Calama, Chile.
“We were able to get our boots on the ground and be the geologists that we are striving to be,” said Brooke Benz, a geology major.
First, the group had to acclimate to their surroundings and more importantly, the elevation. They studied local cuisine through the Bite of Atacama tour and visited geological phenomenons in the area such as Valley of the Moon, Rainbow Valley and Red Stones.
To the Lascar volcano
After the four-day acclimation period, the group headed to the Lascar volcano. This is the most active volcano in the Central Andes.
Students created two maps: geological and hazard. The geological map shows the different rocks in the area. This one focused on different lava flows and the most explosive eruptions from the last 1,000 years. Most of the rocks erupted after 1993.
The hazard map shows the likelihood of where a volcano will erupt. It also shows how it will erupt and the severity of the flow. Students mapped the area where most recent eruptions occurred. This will help local people plan an evacuation route if there is an eruption.
“We were able to apply everything that we’ve learned in our geology classes. It was wonderful to match classroom with real life,” Benz said.
Studying volcanoes in Calama
The group headed to Calama to study several other volcanoes. Students used the San Pedro volcano to compare volcano products with very young or very active volcanoes.
Their next stop was a small cinder cone volcano, which is a volcano that erupts once and goes extinct named Volcano Poruña. This volcano was used to discuss the formation of volcanoes.
The final volcano was Volcán Ollagüe. This volcano has gas coming out of the magma, or fumaroles. Because of heavy snow, the gas wasn’t accessible, so instead the group headed to the former mines on the volcano.
Thinking towards the future
“This trip is something that I am hoping to start offering more regularly,” Michelfelder said.
However, next time it will be a collaboration with several colleges, including the University of Washington, Cornell University, University of Chile and Northern Catholic University of Antofagasta, Chile.
“The class gave them a chance to experience a very different culture and to learn modern methods of monitoring active volcanoes,” Michelfelder said.