Matter of Course: Into the Field
Environmental Geoscience course gives students essential hands-on experience
Environmental Geoscience EGEO-3003H: Field Methods in Environmental Geoscience
Dr. Ian Power, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Geoscience
There are some things you can’t do remotely. Exploring a historic gold mine site, for example. For this reason, Field Methods in Environmental Geoscience, one of a small number of in-person classes offered at Trent this fall is held outdoors where physical distancing is easiest. Dr. Ian Power, assistant professor in Trent’s School of the Environment and Canada research chair in Environmental Geoscience, who launched the course in 2017, underscores how important the “field” aspect really is.
“Students need to examine and study rock formations and assess potential impacts of mining in person,” says Professor Power. “And we do get to some fantastic sites, including the Canada Talc Mine, which was built in the late nineteenth century, closed in 2010 and has since been remediated by the company that owns it. So, students get to see how they recontour the land and revegetate it, not something you can do remotely.”
Gaining knowledge to pursue a future as a professional geoscientist
A requirement for students in the Environmental Geoscience program, the course also attracts students studying in a variety of programs within the School of the Environment, including Ecological Restoration. A variety of field exercises helps students learn essential skills such as water sampling, measuring pH in the field, mapping, and re-growing vegetation on mine waste. Not only is the course important in terms of educating students, it’s also important in terms of professional accreditation.
“The Environmental Geoscience program provides the knowledge and education requirements for registering as a professional geoscientist in Ontario,” says Prof. Power. “So, when students complete the program they can apply as a trainee with Professional Geoscientists Ontario. That organization lays out all the educational requirements, and one of those is a field course.”
Exploring connections between environment and economy
Teanna Burnie, an honours student in Environmental Geoscience, says one highlight of the course so far has been a trip to the Cordova gold mine near Marmora, Ontario, a visit that revealed how intertwined the economy and mining really are.
“They kept doing sampling over the last 100 years or so, but whenever they’d get somewhere the price of gold would go down and it would never be economically feasible to mine,” says Ms. Burnie. “We looked at what the metals and geology are like there, and whether it could be feasible to actually mine at some point, what with the price of gold as high as it is right now. It was like exploration geology — really exciting.”
Ms. Burnie appreciates the hands-on aspect of the course and the fact that it puts students into work environments they may encounter in the job market. But it’s also invaluable in terms of providing insight into the connection between human activity and the planet since, “key details about the environment come from rocks,” as she says.