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Geoscience students investigate coral reefs, caves, ecosystems in Florida

Spring break in Florida took on a new meaning for five WKU geoscience students last week.

Graduate students Josh Brewer of Bowling Green, Ben Miller of Springfield, Mo., and Scot Russell of Uniontown, Pa., and undergraduate majors Cody Munday of Marrowbone and Kristy Burden-Smith of Owensboro, took part in a marathon trip beginning in Bowling Green and culminating in a visit to the southernmost point in the continental United States.

Geography major Kristy Burden-Smith of Owensboro takes notes at an outcrop of ancient coral within the Key Largo Limestone in the Florida Keys.

Geography major Kristy Burden-Smith of Owensboro takes notes at an outcrop of ancient coral within the Key Largo Limestone in the Florida Keys.

The weeklong field trip served as a capstone learning experience for the course “Cenozoic Geology of the Southeastern US” taught by Dr. Lee J. Florea of the Department of Geography and Geology.

During the trip, students examined the environment where limestones are forming, the ecosystems associated with these environments, and the anthropogenic changes during the past century to the south Florida ecosystem. In addition, the students participated in the annual meeting of the Southeastern section of the Geological Society of America, hosted in St. Petersburg by the University of South Florida.

Students in the course visited a wide range of sites during the week. Once in Florida, the first day concentrated on visiting and collecting samples from caves along the Withlacoochee River and in the Brooksville Ridge. On the second day, students visited historic mansions in downtown Miami and mapped rock outcrops and caves for the Miami-Dade Department of Parks and Recreation. On the way to Key West on day three, students took the opportunity to snorkel over modern coral reefs off the coast of Key Largo and to look at the ancient coral reefs that compose the bedrock of the Florida Keys. On day four, students hiked through a range of ecosystems within Everglades National Park. After attending the conference, students were given the opportunity to snorkel in the serene blue waters of Ichetucknee Springs State Park in north-central Florida.

The central theme that linked the sites visited on this trip was the effect of changing sea levels during the past two million years and the potential future effects of higher sea level due to climate change. This course builds upon a core area of concentration within the Department of Geography and Geology that focuses upon surface processes in the modern environment.

“Field experiences such as these have long been a hallmark of undergraduate and graduate engagement in Geography and Geology,” noted Department Head Dr. David Keeling. “Dr. Florea brings significant research experience in Florida to our programs and is leading efforts to engage more students in work outside the traditional classroom.”

Contact: Lee Florea at (270) 745-5982.

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