Posts in: Field Study

Swimming through Week 2

Last week, we went on two exciting excursions in class. We first visited a local river – the Arkansas, down in Pueblo. Again donning our waders and looking awesome, we took measurements and talked about stream dynamics. It was a cold, rainy day, which made sticking your arms in to grab pebbles fairly unpleasant.

From the data collected that day, we compared different sections of stream for their gross primary production to community respiration ratios. Many hours were spent grappling with Excel, and I’m reasonably sure that everyone in the class found different answers.

On Thursday, we went to the CC Cabin with the Geomorphology class! It was a funny field trip in more ways than one – we had class in a stream, on a porch, and in a thunderstorm.


Paige notices me taking a picture while everyone else settles in for a porch lecture at the CC cabin.

With the Geomorph students, we discussed how fires affect streams and landscapes. We explored the burn scar from the 2002 Hayman Fire near Woodland Park, an area that still has ongoing repercussions from the fire which affect water flows and geomorphology. We looked at sediment transport, old stream channels, alluvial fans, and a place where you could see the black charcoal layer of soil underneath new deposits of sediment from erosion and flooding. We spent time discussing nutrient response to fires, deciding how certain features were made, calculating past stream discharge and power, and the future for the area.


Our class, with the Geomorphology class, learning in a stream!


The top of an alluvial fan in the Hayman burn scar, where water from large precipitation events created this streambed.

It was an incredible place to be, since fires in Colorado are a prevalent issue and the effects on the sediment transport and fluvial systems will continue for years in every burned landscape.


Crossing the stream, led by Natalie.


Splashing into Week 1

Natalie waves instead of recording data!

Natalie waves instead of recording data!

It’s block 32 for me at CC, and I am surprisingly glad to spend it taking Water! Water is a notoriously difficult Environmental Science class, but thus far has been better than expected.

Last week, we went on a field trip to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs! Never did I ever expect that CC would put me up in cabin with hot springs access for three days – but we had a great time. There was a good amount of work involved, but we also got to soak for several hours every night and hang out in cabins and cook delicious meals together.

What we were technically doing was taking measurements of Chalk Creek. Each day we put on our waders and got in the creek, measuring width, depth, elevation of surrounding land, stream velocity, and size of pebbles. From the data we collected, we were able to calculate how much water is flowing through the stream each second now, when it floods a few feet, and when it floods dramatically. Using historical data from a probe downstream, we found an approximation for how often a certain grassy area would be flooded (my answer was every 2.6 million years – a little large but I think I did the math right!).


Betsie, myself, and Darren get ready to do some major stream measurements at Chalk Creek!

Our two professors, Miro and Becca, took time on the trip to get us thinking about ways to look at different streams and assess them for habitat health. We performed experiments to measure flux of nutrients or other things that might be floating in your stream. One afternoon we collected detritus from the streambed and tallied all the macroinvertebrates that were found – far more than I expected!


Miro’s classroom – lecturing about flux dynamics from a stream.

Eating IS studying. . .

Hello again from Lima! It’s a cool Sunday afternoon here in Miraflores as we progress through CC’s Anthropology of Food in Peru.  Our most recent development is that we have started to undergo the research and writing process for our final projects.  Our professor allowed us to select a random topic from a hat, which contained various ideas about regional, cultural and festive food items.  Behind this seemingly simple and tasty research project is a challenge–Mario deliberately chose these topics because they had less literature available.  Thus, we’re forced to go out and eat these foods, talk to people and experts on streets and restaurants and overall become less reliant on our standard student methodology of immediately hopping on research databases and Google. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the great variety and history in Peruvian food, our topics include items such as:

Pachamanca: a pre-Hispanic form of barbecuing the involves the cooking of different foods (most often meats) in the ground upon a hot bed of coals, enclosed by rocks, leaves and other insulating materials. The real slow cook! Several varieties of this method exist in New Zealand and Hawai’i.



Ceviche: A very popular dish in Peru, Ceviche is a mixture of fish, lime, onions and other spices.  However, it is unique because the fish is cooked using “denaturization,” which uses the acids of lime juice to deconstruct the proteins within the fish (essentially cooking it, but without heat).  The result is a scrumptious dish of “cooked” fish served chilled and commonly accompanied by camotes (sweet potatoes) and choclo (a variety of large-grain corn grown in Peru).


At first this was a difficult transition for us because we simply couldn’t find anything on the internet or within printed texts. How the heck are we supposed to approach a topic as pioneers of the field? We don’t know anything! But thanks to the aid of Shelley and Mario throughout the process of narrowing down our topics, we now stride confidently through the streets of Lima in search of pachamanca and ceviche restaurants.  In addition to talking about food theory and cultural dishes in class, our group has also taken a few recent excursions to places like El Barrio Chino (Chinatown in Lima) and El Museo Nacional de La Gastronomía Peruana (National Museum of Peruvian Gastronomy). As we continue to learn more about the roots of the many different foods here, we move closer towards understanding better both the unique diversity of cultures in Peru and the life of an anthropological foodie.

museo nacional

These large ceramic containers were often used in the pre-Hispanic period for a primitive version of fermentation in order to make the famous Peruvian drink “chicha.” In the Incan empire, it was considered dangerous to drink water by itself, since contaminants were known to cause epidemics.  Thus, plenty of chicha was made during this period with the aid of saliva from many different community members. Yum!

barrio chino nuevo ano

Según el calendario chino, el 2013 es el Año de la Serpiente (Foto: USI)


When we originally set the date to visit El Barrio Chino, we had no idea it would be Chinese New Year! Upon arriving, the streets were teeming with people, bamboo shoots and crazy dragons dancing around. Definitely the right day to visit.


Until next time!

¡Hasta luego!




The Lima Foodies

After our first month in Lima, we’ve gotten into the rhythm of class and exploring the city.  Our group has explored numerous museums, archeological sites, local attractions and more during the first block.  Everyone took his or her own approach to block break—some of us stayed in Lima to relax and explore while others traveled to areas like the northern coast to enjoy the lush green reserve and beautiful beaches.  And now, three days into our next course, we’re back into business mode.

A central component of our new course, Anthropology of Food, is the process of research (especially since we’ll be turning in a 20-page research paper as our final assignment).  However, Shelley Harper, who is a librarian at Tutt Library back in Colorado, has been given the opportunity to join us for a week here in Peru.  Throughout this first week, Shelley has been giving us useful tips and strategies for approaching this research process; each day we dedicate about an hour of our class time to learning about new and effective methods for researching unique topics.  That is to say, our professor Mario Montaño has given us final paper topics that are specifically chosen for the reason that they are less developed, and this can make the research process challenging when there are fewer secondary sources to work with.  Nevertheless, with the help of Shelley we are now well on our way to narrowing down our topics and collecting sources for Friday’s bibliography workshop.

Throughout our first few lectures and assignments from Mario, we have all been transitioning to the mindset of the anthropologist.  We’re invited to think about food not only as something that we eat three times a day, but as something that at its root defines the very people who eat it.  Mario constantly emphasizes the importance of food and its relationship with society—analyzing food can tell us about poverty, social customs, history and even politics.  For example, we recently read and talked about an article that discusses culinary history in pre-Hispanic cultures from South America.  As human beings adapted themselves from being simple, nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers to domestic, agricultural societies, several important evolutions occur.  Food once was and still is an important pillar in human life, and its presence, or lack thereof, can truly define a civilization.  The Incan empire was one of the first well-organized civilizations to emerge in South America; through the lens of food, our class has talked about how nobles and common citizens’ lives reflected a disparity that was generated by food.  While nobles had an abundancy of food, which was often a product of power and control over a newly developed agricultural society, common citizens ate more sparsely.  Nobles had large dinner corridors, servants and often regal eating traditions whilst other people simply ate off the ground in their small house.  At the root of all these differences is food, and as we continue to explore the culinary history of Peru, and more generally South America, we look forward to uncovering more about how food deeply affects the social structure of our lives.

Today we visited Villa El Salvador for the second time as volunteers.  This particular site is incredibly well-known for its historical significance but also poverty.  The story originally takes place just outside of Pamplona, which is roughly six miles south of Lima.  Previously an abandoned site, in 1971 it became occupied by over 200 different families that sought refuge in a new community.  The population thrived, and shortly thereafter, a violent conflict erupted between the new tenants and the central government, which resulted in numerous deaths, widespread international media coverage and intense outcry within Peru.  After the conflict finally came to a close, the government resolved to create a new community site, this one 12 miles south of Lima that would be a more suitable location—Villa El Salvador it would be named.  Still, the new roots of this community were shallow and unstable in the beginning; the vast sand dunes seemed almost uninhabitable.  Today, Villa El Salvador is a recognized “food desert,” in anthropological terms, and still suffers from poverty.  As volunteers, our plan is to visit once a week to play soccer, volleyball, jump-rope or whatever fun games the center has planned with the kids. While some of us were outside playing and romping around with the diverse group of kids that gather each day at the center, several other students were indoors helping reorganize the community’s small library.  Service trips such as those to Villa El Salvador are important to our group—not only do we enjoy spending several hours each week giving back to these bright young children, but it also helps provide essential perspective of the place in which we’re studying and living.

Paleotopography Speculation in the Tahoe Region

Looking out on the spectacular view of Andesite Peak from the summit of Castle Peak

Looking out on the spectacular view of Andesite Peak from the summit of Castle Peak

by John McCormick ’14 and Joe Grimley ’13

This week our geological journey brought us to McKissick Canyon, where the paleovalleys filled with “auriferous gravels” (these yielded phenomenal quantities of “placer gold” in the 1850’s) are only outdone by the volcanic deposits that blanket the landscape for hundreds of kilometers.

The pyroclastic volcanic rocks, filled with blocks of rock that were blown up in catastrophic eruptions and entrained in the flows, originated in volcanic centers in Nevada and funneled into paleovalleys that carried them far to the west  toward the Pacific Ocean. As we surveyed the outcrop and made our observations, we painted a picture of what the Sierra Nevadan landscape  used to be like millions of years ago…

Future geologist identify the composition of a volcanic rock of interest at MicKissick

Future geologists identify the composition of Campbell Creek Tuff, a volcanic rock of interest at MicKissick Canyon

Christine Siddoway explains the processes behind inverted topography demonstrated by jointing in the andesitic-basalt at Buckwowerth

As our expedition progressed, so did our understanding of the geologic history for the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The rocks of the Sierra Nevada preserve a record of a succession of dynamic geologic events that help us to reconstruct the topography of the past. Stages in the mountain evolution, illustrated in the sequence of paleotopographic profiles below, include:

1) initiation of the volcanic arc in oceanic setting, later to be accreted to North America  (displayed by early phases of the SN batholith complex)

2) Subduction of the Farallon Plate/ establishment of the Sierra Nevada Batholith complex as a continental margin arc (intermediate plutons of the Sierra Nevada Batholith)

3) Flattening of the Farallon oceanic slab/ Formation of the Nevadaplano (evidenced by isotopic information relating to paleoelevation)

4) Roll back of the Farallon Plate/ ignimbrite eruptions and volcanic rocks

5) Segmentation and subsidence of the Nevadaplano to form the Basin and Range (based on  oxygen isotopes from calcite and smectite)

Illustrated cross section of chronologic tectonic events that shaped topography

Interpretive cross sections illustrating the chronology of tectonic events that shaped topography













The Cenozoic rocks reveal the presence of a dramatic high-elevation region — an orogenic plateau named the “Nevadaplano” — that far surpassed the present-day Sierras in areal extent and elevation. Big rivers flowed from this region, carrying the auriferous gravels, and  large, violent eruptions emanated from volcanic centers in this region.  Based on the current topography of the North Sierra Nevada Range, the plethora of rocks within, and geochemical isotope data, we reconstructed a model and understanding of the paleotopography of the region dating back to 200 million years ago.

Along our educational journey, we still found moments to relax and unwind in Buckeye hot springs, nestled between a dripping travertine mineral deposit and a cold mountain stream.

Students enjoying a well deserved detox in the Buckeye Hot Springs (left to right) Andrew Pontbriand, Vikki Crystal,Will Durrett, Josh Feldman, Henry Fricke, and Joe Grimley

Students enjoying a well deserved detox in the Buckeye Hot Springs (left to right) Andrew Pontbriand, Vikki Crystal,Will Durrett, Josh Feldman, Henry Fricke, and Joe Grimley

And, to have a little fun at Serene Lake  playing ultimate Frisbee.

Will Durrett aims the frisbee as Henry Fricke prepares for an epic lay-out to tie the game

Will Durrett aims the frisbee as Professor Henry Fricke prepares for an epic lay-out to tie the game

Four courageous students charge into the brisk pond after a rousing game of ultimate frisbee (left to right): Andrew Gregovich, John McCormick, Josh Feldman, and Edward Crawford (Outside temperature 40degrees Feirenheit )

Four courageous students charge into the brisk pond after a rousing game of ultimate frisbee (left to right): Andrew Gregovich, John McCormick, Josh Feldman, and Edward Crawford (Outside temperature 40degrees Fahrenheit )









The paleotopography of the Tahoe region is only a small fraction of the overall development of the Sierra Nevada Range.  As we explore several more sites in the future, we will puzzle together the processes and features that composed the paleotopography of the Sierra Nevada Range.

Regional Studies in Geology Capstone Experience

NOTE: Posted on behalf of Vicky Crystal and Alexandra Freeman, students in GY445.

As senior geology majors, we have the option of taking the coveted Capstone Course for studies on the regional geology of one location within North America. This year, 11 seniors and two geology professors, Henry Fricke and Christine Siddoway, traveled to California and Nevada to investigate the exciting geologic history of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Death Valley, Yosemite, and Mammoth Lake.

Overlook of pyroclastic volcanic deposits of McKissick Canyon, Nevada.

Above: Overlook of pyroclastic volcanic deposits of McKissick Canyon, Nevada.

Vicky Crystal’s sketch of McKissick Canyon, Nevada.

Above: Vicky Crystal’s sketch of McKissick Canyon, Nevada.

We embarked on our journey on October 1, 2013. Upon arriving from our flight in Reno, Nevada, we purchased food and supplies for our travels ahead. Due to the recent government’s shut down, national parks have been subject to closure for the time being. This may complicate our plans for geology studies in several national parks! While in the process of loading groceries in the parking lot, student Will Durrett was interviewed by a local news station, asking his thoughts on the situation.

We set up base camp 30 miles away from Nevada City, California. During these first couple days, we designated our daytime to touring the western and eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevadas and our nighttime to blogging and competing in lively cook-off dinners.

So far, we have come across a variety of very different rock formations, ranging from older metamorphic rock to sedimentary river deposits and widely dispersed volcanic deposits. The rock units that we will be working are 600 million years old or younger. Throughout this experience, we will conduct field observations with the intention of building a story of the geologic evolution of this region, with a focus on the paleo topography and modern topography.


Ecological Restoration Week 1

Well, the first week of Ecological Restoration just ended! We have two professors, Marion Hourdequin, a philosophy professor from Colorado College, and David Havlick, her husband, a geography professor from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  We’ve already read a lot of material, from ecological articles trying to pin down a technical definition of “ecological restoration” to layman interpretations of how we ought to regard the environment in terms of our humanity. Since I’m a biology major concentrating in ecology, I began this class with preconceptions, but we’ve already read several articles that have made me question science’s hegemony in the field of ecological restoration. While ecologists are often the ones who lay down the laws, ecologists aren’t the ones who are doing all the ground work. Ecological restoration only works with community involvement, and while science may have all sorts of highfalutin’ hypotheses, these community members often have their own ideas. Some sort of compromise will always be necessary.

The class only has eight students, which is a great size for discussions. The class mainly consists of discussions about the readings, but we also have presentations by various people involved with ecological restoration. On Thursday, Gary Rapp, a retired Colorado Springs city planner, came and talked to us about his work regarding Shook’s Run- a creek that runs through Colorado Springs very close to Colorado College. He has put an incredible amount of time and personal money into restoring Shook’s Run. I particularly appreciate all the work he’s done, because I bike alongside Shook’s Run to get to school every day. On Friday, we spent the morning helping Gary remove invasive species like Siberian Elm and Black Locust from Shook’s Run. We also watered the many native plants that he has planted in the area, from Golden Currants to Plains Cottonwoods and Box Elders.

On Sunday, we leave for Baca, a secluded place for classes to go in Crestone, Colorado, right by the Sangre De Cristos mountain range.  There we’ll hear from a variety of speakers.

Here are some pictures!

Shook’s Run (the park)

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And the actual creek

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Ellen (a student) and Dave Havlick (one of our professors) weeding

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Watering one of the planted trees (the black circle is a pipe that takes the water and feeds the roots of the tree).

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And Gary Rapp standing next to one of his Plains Cottonwoods

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The final stretch…

We’ve moved on from atmospheric physics to atmospheric chemistry, and have spent our time looking at different constituents of our atmosphere and how they get there.  One interesting (and complicated) reaction we have focused on is ozone formation and depletion in various layers of the atmosphere.  In the stratosphere, the second layer of the atmosphere, ozone is incredibly important, and shields out UV light which can be dangerous to humans. We learned about the combination of reactions and circumstances that contributes to the ‘ozone hole’ over Antarctica.  Most in our class were struggling with the material, but we all felt a little better about it after our professors reminded us that this research won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the 1990s.

While lack of ozone in the stratosphere is cause for concern, the presence of ozone in the troposphere, the closest layer of atmosphere to the ground, is equally troubling.  When in the troposphere, ozone can cause health problems and contribute to the greenhouse effect.  Logically, then, regulations should be in place to limit the presence of ozone in the troposphere.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy.  When we took a closer look at the science behind the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, we discovered two main types of pollutants that produced ozone.  Oddly, in some settings, decreasing one type of emission will actually make the air quality worse in that area. BUT, those same decreased emissions would make air quality in an area downwind better. Different emissions regulations are needed in different places, but this would require immense cooperation and huge improvements in technology. So we get into this conundrum about how we really can regulate in a way that is realistic and effective for everyone.

This wasn’t the only bit of policy we conquered as a class. We also had group projects about converting the closed Templeton Gap Landfill (right here in Colorado Springs) to a landfill gas energy production site.  The gas emitted from landfills can be dangerous to us and to our environment, and converting it into energy has been viewed as a positive solution. The class divided into groups that all tackled one science, policy, or logistical issue surrounding this idea.  We then presented our findings to the rest of the class, giving everyone a comprehensive view of the topic.  My group looked at the feasibility of making this business, and for any entrepreneurs out there, I can tell you that it is very much doable.

We have been able to take all of the material we’ve learned and make it incredibly applicable. I think this class, more so than any other class I’ve had, has been easy to make connections and understand the importance of what we are learning. It certainly has lived up to its standard of being a difficult course, but it also has been eye opening and fascinating in many ways.  That being said, we do have a daunting atmospheric chemistry final on Wednesday, so don’t expect to be hearing from me.


Balloon Madness

Reviews are in. Pictures are loaded. Results: weather is looking beautiful to put it lightly (if indicative of a changing climate). Weather balloons are a critical to our understanding of the structure and behavior of the atmosphere. Without the twice daily weather balloon launches which take place simultaneously at over 800 sites around the world, we would not have the week’s weather predictions, any understanding of how the troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere, the part which impacts us the most) is structured, or have an inkling of important global weather patterns.  Weather balloons (as pictured here) are made up of several (if deceptively simple) parts. Our six ft balloon!The most obvious of which is the giant balloon. Our balloon was one of the smallest options out there starting at ground level a tiny 6 feet wide, and as it rises up in the atmosphere and the temperature and pressure drops, it will expand up to 25 feet. Hanging on a long string attached to the bottom of the balloon (around 700 feet of string to avoid the shadow of the balloon) is the information gathering device. I have included a picture of this strange instrument which fits into a human hand and is surprisingly light. The device, called a radiosonde, collects: temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and barometric pressure. This is the simplest of sondes used to collect daily information.

Attached to a weather balloon- measures: temperature, pressure, wind speeds, wind direction,and humidity.

Sondes can vary in size and purpose. A couple of examples would be the well protected versions they drop into the eyes of storms, or the huge telescope they sent up to see the sun’s corona (which was the size of an average car and weighed three tons. But we were sending up the most basic model. We all took turns holding onto the balloon to get the chance to take funny pictures and feel the pull of our six feet balloon.

A few fun and fascinating tidbits about weather balloons:

-The radiosondes are rarely collected once they are sent up. Imagine all of those balloons sent up twice daily, worldwide, just falling all over and never being collected. One: that is a lot of plastic and balloon material. My mother used to yell at me when I would let go of my balloons and told me I was killing birds and other small creatures. Two: could you imagine seeing one of those fall in your backyard with no indication of what it is? I think aliens. Which leads us to the next tidbit.

Our weather balloon soaring (rapidly!) off into the troposphere

-There are some funny stories about civilians seeing radiosondes in the sky or falling and these sightings have led to many UFO and government conspiracy stories. So if you see one of these funny boxes in your backyard, be assured it is just a weather device.

-We are in a global helium shortage! Helium supplies are finite (as most of our other natural resources) and we are using it at a fast rate (again twice daily at over 800 sites worldwide, and these are no birthday balloons). There have been rumors of limiting uses of helium, so the next time you buy some party balloons, consider choosing air over helium.

Overall our class LOVED launching a real weather balloon, and I would recommend placing holding a giant balloon on your bucket list for sure.

EV431Air and our weather balloon.



Science from the Roof of Barnes

For our labs this week, the class is divided into different lab groups, so groups rotate between the three labs to experiment with all of them in small groups. On our first day, yesterday, my group started analyzing air pollution right on campus.  Little did I know, the is an air filterer on the roof of Barnes.  We placed a fiberglass filter in the odd, mailbox shaped machine, and then a vacuum pulls air through the filter.  The vacuum runs overnight to get 24 hours of air filtered.  The filter we placed yesterday will be analyzed by a different group today.

We analyzed filter that underwent the same process a couple days earlier. In order to do that, we had to extract all of the particulate matter that was collected from the filter and create solutions from them that could be analyzed. We diluted them and used two machines to thoroughly mix the solutions.  The solutions were put into vials that can be analyzed with ion chromatography and XRF. This processes will tell us what types of ions and other elements (like metals) are in the air. One great thing about this class is how applicable everything we are learning is. Our labs don’t focus on abstract concepts, they focus on the weather and the air that is all around us.  No one in our class ever has to ask “Well, when could I ever use this in real life? Why does this matter?” because we are using class material in ways that directly pertain to our lives.

Today in class, we learned how a cold front actually effects weather. Of course, watching the news or checking the weather online had given me the terminology and awareness of cold fronts, and that they typically mean clouds and perhaps storms, but now I understand how those cold fronts cause the weather that they do.  All of us had a moment where it clicked, where we were able to justify what we’ve experienced in our lives with the science behind it.  It seems like that’s happening more and more frequently for us these days. As an assignment over the weekend, we had to take a mindful walk (or run, hike, or ski) and really think about the weather around us. It didn’t have to be scientific or quantitative in any way, but we were supposed really absorb our environment, however we felt was appropriate. When we talked about it in the morning, many of our classmates talked about ‘nerding out’ as they had to describe to a friend why a particular weather phenomenon was occurring, or what it meant about our speed traveling around the Earth if the air was calm for a moment. So if you see us around campus, you’ll have to excuse us and our excitement about the weather, but it’s pretty incredible when all of the sudden you finally understand the world around you.