Dye Tracing through Sinks Canyon: Incorporating Advanced Hydrogeology into the University of Missouri's Geology Field Camp

Article excerpt


The University of Missouri's Branson Geology Field Camp has integrated a series of environmental geology components into its curriculum, including hydrogeology and geophysics. In this paper, we present the results of a dye tracing experiment carried out by undergraduate students as the capstone field experiment of an optional advanced hydrogeology week at the camp. The dye tracing experiment was along the Popo Agie River, which disappears into a karst cave system in Sinks Canyon State Park, Wyoming, and resurfaces about 400 m down the canyon in a large, spring-fed pool, called the "Rise." At the time of the test, the discharge rate in the river was 4,585 l/s (162 ft^sup 3^/s). The students used skills developed during the required first week of hydrogeology, including dilution gauging and automated data acquisition, to design and carry out a dye tracing experiment to evaluate flow through the cave system. The leading edge of the Rhodamine WT dye pulse took just over 2 hours and 5 minutes to travel the short distance between the Sinks and the Rise. The peak dye concentration at the Rise was reached 2 hours and 47.5 minutes after the dye addition. The water residence time in the Sinks Canyon cave system was similar to results reported by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1983, indicating that the cave's physical flow system has not changed in the last 23 years. Students participating in the advanced hydrogeology week rated the interest and value levels of the dye tracing test high and several of the students presented their results at the Geological Society of America 2006 annual meeting.


The University of Missouri's Branson Geology Field Camp has trained undergraduate students in field geology every summer since 1911. During the six-week course, students live in cabins along the banks of the Popo Agie River, in the Shoshone National Forest, near Sinks Canyon State Park and Lander, Wyoming. On field trips, both local and to destinations including Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and the Beartooth Mountains, students complete instructional projects that teach basic methods of field mapping, sdimentation and stratigraphy, structural and metamorphic geology and, more recently, environmental geology and geophysics (Bauer et al., 2003). The field experience students get at the Branson Field Camp is an essential component of their undergraduate experience and a capstone course where they can apply years of geology instruction in the classroom to field-based, real-world problems.

Many geology field camps, similar to Branson, have suffered from decreasing enrollment over the last decade as undergraduate curriculums have shifted from solely traditional geology to more diverse curriculums that include environmental geology, geophysics and hydrogeology. Therefore, many undergraduate geology departments have stopped requiring students to attend field camps and some even question whether traditional mapping-based field camp remains relevant (Day-Lewis, 2003; Drummond, 2001). However, other field camps are incorporating hydrogeology, geophysics and environmental geology into the traditional curriculum to reflect changing foci of geology in today's world (Day-Lewis, 2003; McKay and Kammer, 1999). For the past 15 years the Branson Geology Field Camp has included an integrated series of hydrogeology and geophysics components that focus on various aspects of environmental geology. The camp was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to purchase new equipment to upgrade and expand the hydrogeology and geophysics segments of the course. The NSF funding made it possible to add one-week advanced hydrogeology and geophysics options for students as part of die six-week curriculum, in addition to the pre-existing required week of environmental geology projects. No field camp exercises were dropped to make room for these new, advanced options. Rather, the hard-rock structural analysis project, which all students used to complete, is still available as the third "advanced" option. …


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