Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just Curious: Specialized Vehicles for Teaching in the Field?

Cross-posted from Geotripper...

I'm thinking of shooting the moon and applying for a grant to purchase a rolling laboratory for field trips, and I'm having a hard time choosing which way to go with this. It's pie-in-the-sky in all likelihood, but what would you do if you could design a vehicle to enhance teaching of earth science in the field?

I'm thinking of a utility vehicle or even a small van-sized RV that could handle fairly tough road conditions (gravel roads at least) that is outfitted with a satellite link and wi-fi router that could provide internet access in isolated campsites, as well as a printer and scanner. We've thought of the most rudimentary RV type of vehicle because a toilet and inside or outside shower can be a godsend in some circumstances (like when someone gets sick). Fridge and small stove maybe.

One very expensive option is a Jeep-based unit from a Colorado company that is an absolutely stripped RV (fridge, bath, shower and queen-sized bed...really!) that can go on literally any road. I like that the electricity is provided by the engine and a roof-mounted solar array. It gets reasonably good mileage, too. Made by special order. And very expensive. Did I say that already?

On the other hand, Roadtrek offers a complete (and very comfy, but you didn't read that) RV that is packed into a van chassis that is no longer or wider than an 8 passenger van. It has all the stuff already listed plus a lot more storage space. But I look at it and think, "wow, six students could work at once on projects on their computers and desk surfaces!" but I have this uncomfortable feeling that a grant evaluator would think "this professor wants a nice place to sleep" (not true, I like sleeping under the stars). This option is actually about $30,000 cheaper than the Jeep.
These might be over the top, so perhaps a truck with utility cabinets, camper shell and an electronic array under the seats in the cab? No place to work, no printers, etc., but a lot cheaper.

Does anyone have anything like this? Have you ever thought about it and what you could do with such a resource? I would love some feedback about the teaching possibilities of something like this. For those who are new to Geotripper, I teach geology at a community college, and usually deal with introductory-level geology students.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Far Western Section NAGT-CalESTA Joint Conference, Bishop California

A few pictures from our recent field conference in Bishop, California:
Convict Lake is dammed by a recessional moraine of the Tioga glaciation in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The mountain in the distance is composed of marble and slate of Paleozoic age; they are the rocks that existed prior to the intrusion of the Sierra Nevada batholith in Mesozoic time.

Mono Lake is a remnant of the ice age pluvial lakes that once extended across much of the Basin and Range Province. It was once a freshwater lake hundreds of feet deep, but today is saltier than seawater. It hosts only two life forms, fairy shrimp and brine flies, but these two species support several million migratory birds which pass through the region every year.

Violet-green Swallows live and nest in the tufa towers that are found around the lake. The tufa towers (below) are composed of calcium carbonate (calcite), and form where freshwater springs flowed into the lake. They were exposed as the lake level dropped 50 feet when Los Angeles started diverting streams that once replenished the lake in 1941. The diversions threatened to destroy the complex ecosystem, which is international in scope (some of the migratory birds travel 15,000 miles). Efforts are now ongoing to raise lake level to about where it was in 1963, roughly midway between the 1941 level and the low point in the 1980's.
More pictures can be accessed here. Do you have pictures of the trip? Send them along, and I'll post them!

Thanks to Wendy Van Nordon, Mark Boryta, and everyone who helped organize a great trip!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dispatches from the Road: Far Western Section Conference in Bishop, California

A few preliminary views from the road at the joint NAGT/CalESTA field conference at Bishop California. One of our stops: the Mono Lake Tufa Towers. The tufa is made of calcium carbonate, and forms near freshwater springs in the intensely salty and alkaline lake.
The lake supports brine shrimp and brine flies which in turn provide sustenance for millions of migrating birds. The lake has been threatened by water diversions that caused to shrink to a shadow of its former size, but lawsuits and legal agreements are stabilizing lake levels.

The lake formed in a volcanic-tectonic depression, and active volcanoes are found in and near the lakeshore. The white island in the distance is formed by uplift of the lake sediments by volcanic intrusions.