With funding from the Geology Department's E.H. Watson Fund, 20 geology majors traveled with Geology Department faculty members Don Barber, Katherine Marenco, and Pedro Marenco to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas over spring break, where they investigated the island’s marine environments and carbonate rocks.
Associate Professor Barber on the trip:
Although ancient marine carbonate rocks are common in Pennsylvania, the carbonate rocks (aka limestones) in the area formed hundreds of millions of years ago, when this part of North America was bathed in a shallow tropical ocean. We traveled to the Bahamas, where limestones are presently being deposited and turned into rock, to learn how to interpret ancient limestones as records of past environmental conditions. A central objective of the trip was to observe how marine organisms produce reefs and other types of carbonate mineral material (e.g., shells), and how that material then is transported and deposited in different sedimentary environments.
On most days we spent at least several hours snorkeling along beaches and cliffs, in lagoons, and over the reefs surrounding the island. We also hiked atop former sand dunes that have become cemented into limestone, climbed through a limestone cave filled with saltwater that rises and falls with the tides, and waded through hyper-saline lakes whose unusual water chemistry gives rise to layered algal rocks, called thrombolites, that were common on Earth billions of years ago, but rarely are observed forming today.
To see images from the trip, visit this online gallery.