Summer Program Takes Student to Ancient Bedrock in Utah

Posted: September 5, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Tina Blue has more than 20 pounds of Utah in her apartment.

A senior geology major, Blue was one of nine students from across the country, and the only one from Mason, to participate in the Fish Lake, Utah, Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) this past summer.

Blue heard about the program from a fellow student who had previously participated in the program and decided to apply. The second-year program was administered by the National Science Foundation, along with the College of William and Mary and Coastal Carolina University. All Blue’s travel and living expenses were covered, and she was paid a $2,100 stipend.

The program began and ended with two weeks of meetings at William and Mary. Nine students and three professors spent three weeks in late June to early July at a campsite near Fish Lake, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Fish Lake is the largest natural mountain lake in Utah.

Students on rocks
Two of Tina Blue’s fellow students find a perch on a rock formation.

“When I first went out there, I didn’t have a project picked out,” says Blue, who grew up near Lynchburg, Va., and had never been further west than Illinois. “I expected it to be something different than anything I had ever done before. It was physically demanding. We were hiking eight hours a day, looking for outcrops.”

Blue’s project title was Sedimentological Investigations of the Flagstaff Formation, Fish Lake Plateau, Utah. “My project consists of mapping and describing the Flagstaff Formation in the Fish Lake Plateau,” Blue wrote on the REU web site. “The Flagstaff Formation, which is primarily a lacustrine (near a lake) limestone, is Paleocene-Eocene in age and is the oldest bedrock exposed in the Fish Lake Plateau.”

The volcanic rocks in this region are 25 to 55 million years old, according to Blue. “I was the only one (in the group) studying sedimentary rock.”

The group members would normally wake up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and leave the campsite around 8 a.m., then spend about eight hours daily collecting data on the Fish Lake Plateau. The group took off parts of just two days: to watch the soccer title game of the World Cup between Italy and France, and to visit a nearby national park.

Blue, who has a 3.8 GPA, is expecting that the project will allow her to graduate with honors in geology next spring. Her hope is to finish the project and present it at an annual Geological Society of America meeting. She will also write a thesis and give a presentation on the project at Mason in the spring.

β€œThe results of my project will be used by other geologists to understand the geology of Utah, and will also possibly assist in the publication of a new Fish Lake quadrangle,” she says.

Blue flew back from Salt Lake City to Virginia with most of the group. But her 16 samples of bedrock came back in a minivan that the group rented for the summer program.

And that box of rocks – samples that she will be using to complete her research project this year – is safely stored in Blue’s apartment.

castle rock
This striking formation is called “The Castle.”
Photos courtesy Tina Blue

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