Academic Spotlight
Faculty Research, Performance and Exhibitions

Vinalhaven Fieldwork Reveals Lava Frozen in Time

Story posted January 03, 2010

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, massive granite quarries on Vinalhaven island provided stone for some of the nation's great buildings and monuments -- the Brooklyn Bridge and Washington Monument among them.

students on rocks
Geology 101 students take measurements of coastal rocks on Vinalhaven.

While commercial quarrying has been discontinued, Vinalhaven stone continues to draw geologists from around the nation, including Bowdoin students who travel there with Bowdoin Associate Professor of Geology Rachel Beane to study these ancient volcanic and plutonic rocks.

"Vinalhaven is a world-class example of a magma chamber," says Beane, adding: "Think lava, underground. To have access to a 400 million year old magma chamber frozen in time and to begin to unravel the processes that contribute to volcanic eruptions is quite extraordinary."

In fall 2009, students in Beane's Geology 101 Investigating Earth class got up at dawn in order to drive to the Vinalhaven ferry for their day of fieldwork. Using photos, measurements, and samples taken on site, the students developed original hypotheses about geologic processes that they tested with their data.

Students wrote extended abstracts and presented their research in oral slide presentations, much like a national geology meeting. Some students, notes Beane, will continue their research in subsequent geology courses. Two former students completed honors projects based on their Vinalhaven research.

"For introductory students to study what other geologists are coming to look at, and to make their own hypotheses, is a fabulous way to learn," notes Beane. " They ask questions, work collaboratively, and learn to be scientists.

"Maine has such a variety of geological features," adds Beane. "There are ancient volcanoes, granite quarries, glacial features, ocean and river systems, and a large fault system on the coastline that has been compared to the San Andreas Fault. It makes Bowdoin an amazing place to teach and learn geology."

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