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Geology Blogs

Earth Science Sciences Blogs

In this section, students and graduates of subjects in Geology will share their experiences in UCD.  

Geology Graduate Grace Fitzgerald describes her field trip to the Tabernas Basin in Spain.

Having arrived in the South of Spain four days previous, I was now standing out in the heat drawing a sketch of an astounding feature. Spanish sunshine in March was just the cherry on top of the cake. While most of Ireland was receiving threats of snow I stood in a sandy valley in the Tabernas basin looking at one of the most marvellous things I think I will ever see.

The amazing structure I was capturing in my field notebook had been aptly named the Gordo Megabed. Gordo when translated means fat, which is certainly a useful adjective to describe the magnitude of this gigantic slump structure. I remember thinking to myself that I had never before imagined something could be preserved in such remarkable detail millions of years after it happened. 

We concluded the megabed was a massive underwater landslide thought to have been created by the action of six cubic kilometers of material cascading off the side of a mountain and plunging into the sea. The colossal failure of the mountain side and the disturbance it created was now almost fully exposed in a Spanish valley in front of me, having been uplifted out of sea as the African and European tectonic plates came together squeezing Southern Spain. I found it hard to visualize the force the impact of this event would have generated and was not surprised that it could have produced a tsunami. An avalanche of large chunks of schist (a type of metamorphic rock) falling into the sea would certainly have triggered massive wave action. The response to this disturbance had been preserved along the top of the megabed as a layer made of sand washed off beaches by the tsunami waves. This was only day four of our field trip and even more surprises were in store for us.

We were a small group (eleven students and two lecturers) sweeping through the Tabernas Basin in Almeria along valleys to completely alien landscapes chockablock full of the most remarkable secrets about the history of the area.

Each day had the same routine but the things we studied were always new and exciting. We would get up and get dressed at 8am. Slap suncream on (which was very important considering the combination of pale students and the baking hot Spanish sun) and venture out to see the geological wonders of the area. We mapped and drew sketches, we took measurements of the orientations of features to understand how they had been reshaped by stresses within the Earth. After a hard day in the field we would return to our hostel to a beautiful Spanish meal and some of the local wine to discuss everything we’d seen and learnt that day. 

We saw valleys full of garnets, a mineral that provides evidence of the burial of rocks kilometers below the surface in their past, which were then brought back to the surface and subjected to weathering processes. Enough of these beautiful red minerals were present that we could scoop them up and fill our pockets.

The sedimentary rocks deposited in the basins include evidence for major changes in the environment. There were walls of gypsum (calcium sulphate closely associated with salt) due to the drying out of sea during an event called the Messinian Salinity Crisis about 6 million years ago, when the whole of the Mediterranean dried down due to intense evaporation.

We mapped out areas where carbonate reefs once sat teeming with life now raised far above their original home, the sea that surrounded them long gone but its presence forever marked in the rock record. We were shown stromatolites which are amazing mounds created by layer upon layer of single celled photosynthesizing bacteria. They are an important record of ancient life and are preserved because of the ability of sand to stick between layers of the bacteria.

Another day, we were brought to one area remarkably similar to the Giant’s Causeway. However, it was not upright like the Irish equivalent. This created a wall of columnar jointed basalts you could meet head on. We were also taken to ancient submarine volcanoes that were no longer active and had been lifted above sea level over time. Understanding how the volcanic systems in the area once operated was a fascinating journey.

We had the chance to create sedimentary logs by crawling along the face of marine deposits and reproducing the ebb and flow of the tides on paper to understand how the sea system once operated locally. Recording the rise and fall of sea level this way is a skill that creates a beautiful graphic record of changes to these systems. 

Geology is an amazingly interdisciplinary field. You must learn to appreciate the Earth as a dynamic and ever changing system, which is a story the rocks will happily tell you if you learn to read them. My trip to Almeria taught me the beauty of learning to read rocks and how mind blowing and dynamic the Earth we live on really is.

 Geology Graduate Grace Fitzgerald explains why she chose to study Geology. 

Geology is such a diverse and exciting field of study. The creation and destruction of the Earth beneath our feet, strange creatures preserved in rock and ancient catastrophic events are among a few of the things I find fascinating. I was always interested in Science but found it very difficult to pinpoint a specific area within it to study at 3rd level. DN200 Science became a clear first choice for me because of the wide range of pathways it offered.

In Geology, field work is an essential component, which is so different to a classroom learning environment. Most recently I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Almeria in Spain to study the geological evolution of mountain belts. On a field trip you’re out immersed in the Geology of the area for the full day and then return in the evening to your accommodation for a well deserved feed, and a summary of what you’ve studied that day. Each and every day you discover something new about the history of Earth which makes each journey out so worthwhile. You get the opportunity to see evidence for the evolution of life, the tectonic and volcanic history of the Earth and so much more. With a degree in Geology you learn so much about how wonderfully dynamic the planet we live on is.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the academic staff within the School of Earth Sciences because they are so passionate about their research. After I graduate I want to pursue a career involving the reconstruction of ancient environments. I’m currently considering undertaking further study in the mechanisms behind past climate change and catastrophic events.

  Geology Graduate Maria Noone explains why she chose to study Geology and where it has taken her. 

Why did you pick DN200 Science?

I picked DN200 because I loved Science in school. I especially enjoyed Biology, Physics and Geography. I knew that I wanted to study Science but wasn’t sure which (of the many) Science subjects to pick! I chose DN200 because of the wealth of options it provided- I knew I would have as much opportunity as possible to try all the different subjects that I had an interest in.  

Why did you choose Geology?

I picked Geology initially because I enjoyed geography in school and thought it would be interesting to understand the processes that help form the earth- like the things I had learnt in Physical Geography in fifth and sixth year. 

I never thought that I would study geology as my major degree, but I decided to pick Geology as my major about half way through my second year of study in Science. I picked it because I really enjoyed the practical and field trip sessions – there was a lot of engaging hands-on learning. The field trips also allowed me to get to know my classmates extremely well and build genuine friendships- which also encouraged me to pick Geology.

What did you like best about Geology?

As I began to study more and more I realised that I really enjoyed the concepts of Geology, I particularly began to like visualising what was going on underneath the earth’s surface based on the information that was available on the crust.  It was like problem solving in 3-D with minimal information all the while adhering to scientific belief; this provided a challenging and rewarding thought process which I extremely enjoyed. I loved it and because I loved it I became quite good at it.  

What are you doing now?

I am currently working as an engineering geologist with Arup. I use my background in Geology to interpret a wide variety of ground conditions which includes soil and rock mechanics; which helps geotechnical engineers design safe and environmentally sustainable projects. 

  Geology Graduate Maria Noone describes her field trip to Co. Antrim in First Year. 

In the second semester of first year, you have the opportunity to take one of the most practical and unusual modules available to you. This is Field Geology! The course entails a few compulsory lectures but the biggest emphasis is on the five day field trip over the Easter break. I took this module in first year and honestly it was the best decision of my whole college experience, it inspired me to pursue the subject of geology by giving me the opportunity to apply real practical geological work outside of the UCD campus and hence giving a feel for what it would be like to be a real life geologist! The trip overall is fantastic for seeing the Irish countryside in all its glory as well as this it gives you the opportunity to become close with your classmates, meet new people, make friends and lots of funny memories.

The trip is five days long altogether, on the first day we start out in UCD in the morning where you receive helmets, beautiful high vis overalls, a compass clinometer and field mapping sheets all of which you use throughout  the field trip while carrying out your work. We are then driven in UCD mini vans provided by the college to Skerries beach in North Dublin. I remember still being in Dublin at 2pm that same day after being told we were going to Antrim, but do not let this dishearten you this brief stop is just to throw you straight into the work that you’ll be doing in Antrim and get an eye in for things you should be looking for within the rocks such as grain size, crystal size or geological intrusions such as quartz veins etc. 

As a first year who had never gone on a field trip or a class trip away nor extensively studied most of the material before I was kind of a bit clueless at the start, the lecturers know this and besides nobody else really has a clue what is going on either (even if they pretend they do). That’s the beauty of fieldwork there are numerous possibilities as to how the rock outcrop before you came to be there and it is your job to try understand and determine how it formed and by doing this yourself you learn so much. The lecturers also guide you and help you. They may leave you standing staring at rock for a few minutes but this is for your own good in the long run as you learn to think about what you’re looking at and that it’s not just simply ‘rock’.

As I mentioned earlier the scenery is beautiful it includes a trip to one of the most famous Irish Landmarks - The Giants Causeway. This is a part of the northern coast which is composed of famous hexagonal basalt columns which formed due to the nature of the cooling the basalt underwent when erupted onto the earth’s surface.

There’s also a visit to the area surrounding Ballintoy Harbour, this is extremely popular with Game of Thrones fans as it’s a set for the harbour on the Iron Islands.

Geologically this day is really fun. It's near the end of the trip, you’re split into pairs and you get to make your own mini-map of the area which I promise is 10 times more rewarding than it sounds! The whole trip is beautiful, countless beaches and scenic areas are visited, the beaches are often the most geologically important because the erosive power of the sea produces a lot of rock outcrops to see and interpret.

In the evening time we return to the hostel where you get an hour or two to relax and cook meals, this is the best time to discuss what you’ve seen in the field throughout the day with your colleagues and also a time to wind down have a rest grab a bite to eat and a hot shower after a successful day outside! In the evening an hour and a half lecture is carried out about the content seen in the field that day and an introduction as to what will be seen tomorrow, this is done in a laid back relaxed environment and is much more like a communal discussion than an intense lecture. After you’re given time to yourself again to have tea and supper, the hostel has a great atmosphere where you are surrounded by like minded people. 

As a last note, one key aspect to being happy in the field is being warm in the field! When embarking on a fieldtrip make sure you bring your winter gear even though the field trips at the Easter break, we all know Irish weather is interchangeable! I suggest bringing gloves, scarfs, hats, leggings, waterproofs, a really good pair of hiking boots, thermal socks and the warmest most waterproof jacket you have! It doesn’t matter how ridiculous you look, everyone is in the same boat, the most important thing is to be warm!

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