Geology fieldwork in the Colorado Plateau

Six Geography and Physical Earth Science students undertook 2 weeks of geological fieldwork in the awesome surroundings of the Colorado Plateau of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September 2014, collecting data for their final-year dissertation projects.

Colorado PlateauThe students were accompanied by Geraint Owen and Kath Ficken (Geography) and Dr Gerald Bryant of Dixie State University, St George, Utah.  The focus of their study was the Navajo Sandstone, which forms some of the most spectacular landscapes of the region and represents the deposits of what was probably the largest desert sand sea to have existed in the Earth’s history.  The students are investigating the origin of concretions (Andy Cunningham), the distribution and significance of burrows and tracks (Connor Jones and Ifan Jones), the morphology and origin of soft-sediment deformation structures (Kat Carr and Jack Horsbrugh) and the spatial distribution of zones of disturbance (Tom Lawrence).  

As well as working hard in temperatures over 30 degrees, the students found time to visit Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, and spent two days exploring the wonderful scenery and geology in Zion National Park.  Their fieldwork project sites were close to Page, Arizona.  Three of the students were working within sight of the impressive Glen Canyon Dam, which impounds Lake Powell, while the others were working in Waterholes Canyon, a “slot canyon” on tribal land of the Navajo Nation.  The students also experienced first-hand the consequences of natural hazards when several kilometres of Interstate Highway 15, which connects Las Vegas to St George, were washed away in flash floods on the day they arrived in the United States, necessitating an unplanned 2-night stay in Las Vegas!

Students’ comments on the experience include “an amazing experience in a truly unique and jaw-dropping landscape” and “one of the best experiences I’ve had, visiting an area of America with the most stunning scenery and studying geology that is completely new.”