Spring breakers rocked by Florida Keys

This spring break, undergraduates in FIU’s field excursion course got their hands dirty developing their geology skills in the Florida Keys.

The budding scientists went snorkeling in Florida Bay; visited a building materials quarry; sampled groundwater wells for saltwater intrusion in Big Pine Key; viewed limestone in Indian Key; and mapped a fossil reef in Windley Key. Home to coral reefs, barrier reefs and other geologic formations, the Florida Keys offer many opportunities for hands-on study and exploration.

“The field camp is a time when students learn to identify geologic materials and processes, properly take field notes and create geologic maps from field data,” said Rene Price, chair of the Department of Earth and Environment and professor of the course. “By camping in a tent during the course, students obtain real-world experiences as a geologist.”

Offered by the Department of Earth and Environment, the course acquaints students with the geology, sediments and water resources of South Florida or Death Valley National Park in California. Students and professors take a week-long trip during spring break, alternating each year between the two states. This semester was the first time the course took them to the Florida Keys.

Some of the students wrote a journal entry and shared it with FIU News. What follows is a snapshot of each student’s experience told in their own words.

Cesar Castillo and his classmates visited Indian Key Historic State Park.

Cesar Castillo
Junior, Anthropology/Sociology and Sustainability and the Environment

Never had I thought geology would be so interesting. I mean, what is cool about rocks? As an anthropology and sustainability student, I know the relationship humans have with our natural environment is very important and it defines much of our culture (whether we realize it or not). However, it is difficult from the social science perspective for me to completely understand how rocks play a role, I mean I know they do, just not the extent of that role. This field excursion has shown me just how important our South Florida geology is for our everyday lives, and it has further shown me the importance of communication between disciplines. As an example, the Florida Keys get their freshwater from mainland Florida, so, understanding the hydrogeology of the area helped me visualize the social, economic and environmental implications of saltwater intrusion, and the availability of groundwater. Seeing the importance and properties of the limestone in South Florida for building purposes is also very fascinating. Our relationship with nature includes (and sometimes begins with) our rocks, and observing their place in our lives was an experience of a lifetime.

Abigail Chambers enjoys a moment of fun at the Bahia Honda Rail Bridge.

Abigail Chambers
Senior, Environmental Studies

As an environmental studies major, I have always been keen on taking adventurous classes that allow me to broaden my horizons and explore. The field geology excursion class was the perfect gateway to learn more about the Florida Keys and its geologic formations. The week-long study trip was an opportunity like none other. Quarry blasts, snorkel trips to the reef, measuring well salinity at Big Pine Key, and geological mapping of ancient coral formations were the top activities preformed. By the end of the trip, field techniques were gained and memories were fossilized. This course was not only engaging, but it was exciting and enjoyable. I will carry on the knowledge about the Keys and its geology throughout my environmental studies career.

Thomas Zerquera enjoyed fieldwork in the Florida Keys.

Thomas Zerquera
Junior, Geosciences

The field trip to the Florida Keys was an amazing experience. I’ve never been to the Keys or gone camping before. I learned a lot of things about the geology of the Keys. I was one of the least experienced in the group, having only the knowledge from an introduction to geology class I took the semester before. Even so, geosciences professors Rene Price and Rodolfo Rego did an excellent job of explaining what was going on. My major is geological sciences, and I plan to be a geophysicist in the future. Fieldwork in that career is a big part of it, so anything I can get exposed to will be nothing but helpful for me. The camping, snorkeling, sightseeing, experiments and hanging out we did was very fun and memorable. My favorite activity of the trip was when we checked the salinity, temperature, conductivity and dissolved oxygen of the wells in Big Pine Key and had to locate them using a map. I love maps, so I had a lot of fun with that.