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17 WKU students explore the Ozarks

Seventeen WKU geography and geology students participated in a fieldtrip through the Ozarks of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas as part of a Spring 2011 course in Geomorphology taught by Dr. Jason Polk.

WKU geomorphology students pose at the spring run of Greer Spring in the Mark Twain National Forest, the second largest spring in Missouri.

The trip was co-led by recent WKU graduate and Hoffman Institute staff member Benjamin Miller, a Missouri native who completed his thesis on complex springs systems in the area, along with WKU geoscience graduate student Sean Vanderhoff, who is completing a thesis on contaminant transport in cave and karst systems.

The purpose of the trip was to engage students in fieldwork related to fluvial and karst geomorphological processes and landforms, along with weathering and tectonic processes. The trip provided them with hands-on experience studying and understanding these complex landscapes.

The group braved intense rains to start the four-day adventure, with stops including the largest springs in both Missouri and Arkansas, several cave systems in different geological settings, the Current and Eleven Point River systems, Prairie Hollow Gorge (a rhyolite canyon), and several other unique locations in and around the Mark Twain National Forest area. Students also toured Blanchard Springs Caverns in Arkansas and learned about not only the geomorphology of the show cave, but also about white-nose syndrome, which is decimating bat populations around the country.

Students admire the deep blue, calcium-rich water of Alley Spring near Eminence, Mo., their first stop of the fieldtrip.

Students participating in the course included undergraduates Anthony Arbuckle, a geology major from Bowling Green; John Crandall, a geology major from Bowling Green; Karen Curry, an anthropology major from Greensburg; Charles Davenport, a religious studies major from Russellville; Jarod Fischer, a sociology major from Bowling Green; Travis Garmon, a geology major from Burkesville; Ryan Hart, a geology major from Elizabethtown; Grant Hess, a geology major from Bowling Green; Olivia Payne, a geography major from Owensboro; Binh Phung, a geology major from Bowling Green; Jordan Seng, a geology major from Dubois, Ind.; Jordan Sloan, a geology major from Greenbrier, Tenn.; Hank Smalling, a geology major from Scottsville; Jenna Woosley, a recreation major from Bowling Green; and geoscience graduate students Sarah Arpin of Carlsbad, N.M., Linda Baizel of Auburn, and Nick Lawhon of Gallatin, Tenn.

“The scenery was surreal and the processes were incredible,” undergraduate student John Crandall said. “This trip made me ask a lot of questions, which is exactly what I was looking for.”

Part of the students’ assignment was to develop research questions about potential environmental issues involving the geomorphology of the area and discuss how they would conduct research to address those problems.

“There is still a ton of research to be done in the area including dye tracing and studying recharge areas and the impact of drought conditions,” undergraduate Tony Arbuckle said.

Other students noted human-caused erosion, flooding, groundwater pollution and deforestation as potential issues for further study.

The WKU group poses at its last stop, the sandstone Shelter Cave Amphitheater, near Blanchard Springs Recreation Area in Mountain View, Ark.

“The students experienced one of the most unique and diverse geomorphological areas with all that the Ozarks offer, and it was greatly enhanced by having a local expert like Ben Miller helping to lead the trip,” Dr. Polk said. “I am very pleased with how engaged the students were and wish the trip could have been longer. For a subject like geomorphology, getting out of the classroom and into the field is necessary to truly appreciate and understand the concepts, and it produces critical thinking about applied research in the real world.”

Geography and Geology Department Head Dr. David Keeling said “field experiences such as these are at the heart of student engagement. Understanding the local environment within its broader regional, national, and global context is crucial in terms of more meaningful policy and decision making about water resources, land-use practices, and other critical human-environment interactions.”

Contact: Dr. Jason Polk, (270) 745-5015.

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