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Many UW-Eau Claire Geology Students to Benefit from Research Grant

RELEASED: Nov. 1, 2005

UW-Eau Claire senior Adam Kjos collected rock samples over the summer during field work for a research project funded by a grant from the government of British Columbia. (Contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — A number of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire geology students are spending the fall semester busily analyzing rock samples collected and brought back from the mountains of British Columbia thanks to a $310,000 grant (Canadian — approximately $260,000 American) from the government of British Columbia and the collaborative summer field work of several faculty members and students.

Professor of geology J. Brian Mahoney proposed the research grant in collaboration with the University of British Columbia and the Geological Survey of Canada. The two-year grant is for bedrock mapping and associated geologic studies and mineral assessment along the Intermontane/Coast Belt Boundary of the Whitesail Lake map-area of British Columbia.

Mahoney describes the geology of the area as "very complex" and said the goal of the project is to map that geology and determine its composition and age, as well as its economic potential for mining of minerals such as gold, silver, platinum, zinc and copper.

"We're trying to understand the geology in three dimensions," Mahoney said.

According to Mahoney, the Geological Survey of Canada has established a working relationship with UW-Eau Claire because the geology department can offer them regional expertise, excellent on-campus analytical facilities, and the enthusiastic involvement of students.

"We've demonstrated through long association that we're extremely good at what we do," said Mahoney, who estimates that a total of 7-9 students will ultimately be involved in work related to this two-year grant.

Mahoney earned his doctorate from UBC and began involving undergraduate students in his Canadian research almost as soon as he came to UW-Eau Claire ten years ago. He has been doing work in British Columbia for 16 years.

Seniors Adam Kjos, New London, and Kate MacLaurin, Belgium, accompanied Mahoney to British Columbia this past summer, along with geology department chairman Robert Hooper and senior lecturer Lori Snyder. It was the second summer of field work for Kjos, but the first time for MacLaurin.

"I was completely blown away by the whole experience," said MacLaurin, who admitted that she'd never even been a hiker before this trip and had no previous experience of the wilderness.

The researchers were dropped by helicopter on remote mountain ridges, often 75 miles from the nearest road and 100 miles from electricity or other amenities. Every few days the chopper would come back, bring supplies and move them to a new site, keeping the researchers moving for two weeks at a time before bringing them back to civilization for intermittent rests.

The students said a typical day began at 7 a.m. They used existing topographic maps and aerial photos as a starting point to help them map the contacts between different types of rocks.

"If we weren't moving to a new location that day, we moved in loops out from the camp, examining the rocks as we went, and we kept that up for 12-14 hours most days," said Kjos.

MacLaurin explained that the researchers worked long hours to make the most of each day because of the expense involved in moving from place to place by helicopter. And difficult as it was, the group managed to bring back almost a half a ton of rock samples for further analytical work in the department of geology.

"We started out each day with pretty full packs, so by the end of the day, when we finished stuffing them with rocks, they were really heavy," said Kjos.

"Someone figured that each of those rock samples was worth about $1,000 if you figured the cost of getting them and bringing them back," laughed MacLaurin.

Although Kjos and MacLaurin agreed that their field work experience was "life changing," and Mahoney has numerous digital photos that attest to the beauty of the area they were investigating, they also agreed that this kind of rugged field work is not for everyone.

"I know at least one student who said she really doesn't enjoy field work," said MacLaurin. "She said she's happy to just stay in the lab and wait for us to bring back the samples for her."

Kjos went on to explain that in the lab they break the collected rocks into fist-sized samples, and then use special equipment to crush those samples into a fine powder that can be quantitatively analyzed using different sample preparation methods available in the geochemistry lab.

Kjos said that as a result of the field and lab work, he is collaborating with Dr. Hooper to present research on layered mafic intrusions, a type of formation with high potential for platinum and chromium deposits. He plans to present a poster on the research at UW-Eau Claire's annual Research Day. MacLaurin will probably be focusing her research on the age and composition of the intrusive rocks in the region.

MacLaurin and Kjos also said that through conversations with other geology students they've encountered in their travels they've discovered that the UW-Eau Claire geology department has offered them exceptional opportunities for collaborative field work and research. They are paid for their work through grants and/or stipends from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UW-Eau Claire.

"There are graduate programs that don't even come close to offering the opportunities for field work or the kind of lab facilities and equipment we have here," said MacLaurin. "We've talked to graduate students who have less equipment and opportunities than we currently do."

Mahoney agreed.

"The geology field is booming and this kind of experience is invaluable," said Mahoney. These students will be involved in authoring peer-reviewed articles and their names will also appear on the maps produced as a result of this research. They will be in demand both in industry and graduate school."

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NW

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