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WKU students explore the Ozarks

Eleven WKU geography and geology students, faculty and staff navigated through the Ozarks of central Missouri as part of an interdisciplinary fieldtrip in Fall 2011 involving courses in Karst Environments, Water Resources, and Field Methods taught by Dr. Jason Polk and Dr. Leslie North.

WKU students participated in a fieldtrip to the Ozarks of central Missouri. Left: Students took notes at Devil's Kitchen in Roaring River State Park, Mo. Top: Micah Ruth photographed a waterfall in Marvel Cave. Bottom: Nick Lawhon and Kamal Humagain created a mud sculpture of Big Red in the back of Indian Creek Cave.

The trip was co-led by Hoffman Institute staff member Benjamin Miller, a Missouri native whose thesis work involved studying complex springs and karst systems in the area.

The purpose of the trip was to engage students in fieldwork related to karst geology, geomorphology, hydrology, and also cultural aspects, through immersion in the environment. The trip provided them with hands-on experience studying and understanding these complex landscapes. The group enjoyed great weather during their adventure, with stops including some of the largest springs in Missouri, several show cave tours in Marvel Cave and Talking Rocks Caverns, and visits to several large sinkholes and unique karst features.

The group also was fortunate enough to be led on a wild cave trip by Missouri caver Aaron Soles, who spent an evening leading them through Indian Creek Cave to experience firsthand the inner workings of a karst landscape.

“My overall experience was highly educational,” undergraduate student Karen Curry of Greensburg said. “This has made me more aware of my own environment and I am going to make sure there is not trash in the sinkholes in my county by educating my neighbors.”

Graduate student Gabe Russell of Diamondhead, Miss., said: “I had an absolutely wonderful time and I think everyone else did as well. This trip made me ask a lot of questions, which is exactly what I was looking for.”

Other students participating in the course included undergraduates Ellen Barringer of Louisville, Micah Ruth of Bowling Green and Travis Garmon of Burkesville, and geoscience graduate students Kamal Humagain of Nepal, Nick Lawhon of Gallatin, Tenn., and Gil Ouellette of Hawley, Pa.

Part of the students’ assignment was to develop research questions about how processes within the observed karst environments and discuss how they would conduct research to address those problems.

The WKU group took a wild cave trip to Indian Creek Cave in Missouri. Front row (from left): Aaron Soles, Gabe Russell, Ellen Barringer; back row: Micah Ruth, Kamal Humagain, Ben Miller, Nick Lawhon, Gil Ouellette, Dr. Leslie North, Dr. Jason Polk, Travis Garmon.

“The students experienced one of the most unique and densely packed karst areas with the Ozarks being such a dynamic karst environment, which was greatly enhanced by the expertise of Ben Miller, Aaron Soles and Bruce Herschend, who brought new perspectives on management and local geomorphology,” Dr. Polk said.

“I am very pleased with how engaged the students were and the opportunity for them to see a variety of cave and karst landforms to supplement what they learn in the classroom,” he said. “For a subject like Karst Environments, 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.”

Dr. North noted: “In a course like Water Resources, it is vital the students have the real-world experience to understand how the hydrologic cycle works and from where people obtain their water. This was a great opportunity to explore the issues related to water resources in karst environments, which contain over 40 percent of the drinking water for the U.S.”

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

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