For over two weeks each summer, more than 30 grade school educators from around the country embark on a trek throughout the southwestern U.S., visiting some of the most notable and scenic geologic landmarks the country has to offer.
The trip, however, is no vacation. It’s a rigorous, if informal, course in geology and geophysics and how time and natural forces have shaped the world. For the past 11 years, the Texas A&M G-Camp, led by Texas A&M University geology professor Rick Giardino and sponsored by Aramco Services Co., the North American subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, has provided an opportunity for science teachers to gain hands-on field experience they can take back to the classroom.
As the camp’s primary sponsor, Aramco Services provides funding for the group of teachers’ lodging, travel during the trip and food. The energy company also sends along a geologist to lend his or her insight to many of the notable locations the group visits during its journey.
“Saudi Aramco very strongly supports education, especially in STEM,” said Timothy Diggs, senior geological consultant for upstream with Aramco Services Co. “They fund this chiefly so that they can help teachers develop geoscience curricula and introduce it to students at an early age. What we’re trying to do is spark interest in geosciences in students from a younger age and really help develop the geoscientists of future generations.”
Aramco Services has been a sponsor of G-Camp since its inception, and for the past three years has been the primary sponsor. “Making available a hands-on learning experience like this is effective and has a long-term multiplier effect,” said Jack Moore, director of Aramco Services’ Washington, D.C., office.
While G-Camp focuses on geoscience education, it is just one example of the programs Aramco sponsors around the globe in support of STEM education.
Diggs joined G-Camp this year, as he has in recent years, to assist teachers with their observations and interpretations of the outcrops, fossils and various geologic formations and phenomena they encounter during the course of their trek.
“I’ve been involved in doing fieldwork for decades, even though my main expertise within the energy industry has been doing reservoir characterization through petrographic evaluations,” he said. “It’s a very different scale, but I’ve done a lot of fieldwork in a lot of different places worldwide. That’s really how I got involved with this, with management endorsing my attendance in the field to spend some time with the teachers.”
Diggs explained how different aspects of geology play a key role in petroleum exploration by, for example, analyzing burial and uplift histories within complex basins, such as those found in Saudi Arabia. “On the surface, you’d think this doesn’t really have much to do with exploration and production, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Diggs said.
Giardino said the idea for the camp originated more than a decade ago when he served as a dean of the geology graduate program at Texas A&M. He said there was a concern among university administrators, and even energy companies with which Giardino worked, that many of the students going into the graduate program and later into the industry lacked a significant background in geosciences and hands-on fieldwork.
“I suggested that I could create a summer camp for teachers where we take them out in the field and teach them geology at the outcrop,” he said. “Rather than just have lectures in the classroom, they would actually be learning in the field.”
The itinerary for this year’s G-Camp followed a similar schedule as in previous years, Giardino said, beginning in late June in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University, with introductory lectures. Over the next 17 days, the 30 educators, geologists and advisers would travel more than 3,862 km (2,400 miles) and make stops at more than a dozen geologic landmarks throughout Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.
“These locations we go to are some of the really classic areas to show these teachers geology in the field so that they understand the geologic processes that are helping to form and shape the surface of the earth,” Giardino said. “I want to introduce them to as much as we can of the geomorphic processes.”
Among the early site stops are the Canadian River in Dumas, Texas; Capulin Volcano in Pueblo, Colo.; and the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary at the Trinidad Lake State Park, which features Cretaceous and Tertiary-aged rocks that are separated by an iridium-rich layer. According to the Colorado Geological Survey, the iridium layer represents an asteroid impact and possibly a contributing factor to the extinction of many of the earth’s dinosaurs.
Cheryl Pace is a sixth-grade science teacher at Oak Hills Junior High School in Montgomery, Texas, where she teaches a range of students from those with learning disabilities to those in the gifted and talented program. She said the visit to Capulin Volcano was among the highlights of her experience. “We were able to look at volcanic glass, which came from the explosive volcano,” she said. “We were also able to look at pumice hands-on to see how gases create the holes in the rock, and we saw how erosion makes caves and caverns.”
The camp later made stops at the Tepee Buttes near Pueblo, Colo., at the Arkansas River, Monarch Pass, the Colorado National Monument and the Black Canyon in Montrose County, Colo.
“The Black Canyon reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon as far as depth and the way it was cut, but the river was cutting through rock that was phenomenally more dense and harder to cut through than sedimentary rock in the Grand Canyon,” said Scott Azar, a high school earth sciences teacher in Long Island, N.Y.
Applying lessons from the field
Azar said he hopes to pass on the experience from visiting the locations during G-Camp to students in his classroom. He plans to apply his experience with the camp by offering his students a glimpse into other parts of the country and how geology has impacted and shaped the earth.
“A lot of times when I’m teaching, they really don’t have a frame of reference for knowing what different things look like,” he said. “I was really excited to have this opportunity so that I could actually go into the field in different places and take back as much as I could into my classroom so that my students could see more about what the world looks like.”
Applying the lessons learned from their experiences in the field to their classrooms is mandated for teachers applying for G-Camp, Giardino explained. “At the end of G-Camp, each teacher has to prepare and submit a detailed set of lesson plans incorporating what they’ve learned and how they plan to apply it into their classrooms,” he said.
In fact, earning admission to the camp is no given, nor an easy process for prospective attendees. Teachers interested in attending G-Camp must first submit two essays explaining their interests in geology and their experiences in geology education. They must also include which relevant workshops they have attended previously and what other methods and practices they have adopted to enhance their teaching.
“Second, we ask them to tell us what they hope to learn from G-Camp, how they will use this in their classroom, how they will influence other teachers in their building and how they will use it to influence their school district,” Giardino said. “Then we ask them to provide a letter from their principal, from their science coordinator and from a fellow teacher.”
Even during the course of the camp, the teachers are constantly fed information and instructions to ensure they are getting as much out of the experience as possible. “We’ve prepared a whole series of questions that lead them to and through their observations,” Giardino said. “They get graded the next day so that they get immediate feedback and then they are able to leave G-Camp with all of these data.”
About midway through the journey, the camp makes stops in Montrose and Ouray, Colo. In Ouray, the group hiked the Perimeter Trail, a 10-km (6-mile) path around the town of Ouray, located in a valley of the San Juan Mountains. The stop in Ouray also included a Jeep trip into the mountains. “It was very interesting how in 6.5 miles around a town how much the geology would change,” Azar said. “The rock types changed a lot, and the scenery changed.”
Following the visit to Ouray, the journey continued through Colorado south to the Old One Hundred Gold Mine in Silverton where the group toured a formerly active gold mine, and later to the Molas Pass in Durango, Colo. Giardino explained how Molas Pass featured a good representation of the Leadville Limestone geologic formation. “There are a lot of fossils that are present in the limestone there, and the valley is a classic U-shaped glacial valley,” he said.
Later legs of the trip took the group south to Santa Fe, N.M., where the educators visited the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Texas A&M University System is part of a consortium that runs and operates the LANL. Giardino said researchers at the LANL offered a series of lectures to the G-Camp educators that focused on the work the laboratory is conducting in earthquake modeling, hydrology in Alpine environments and forest fire prevention.
Also in New Mexico, the group visited the White Sands, the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Azar said he utilized a 360-degree camera during his trip to create virtual reality (VR) videos and images for his students.
“I’m making virtual reality field trips so that I can send my students to the same places that I visited,” he said. “So, in a way, they will be with me looking at and interacting with the exact same things that I saw. Most of us are probably never going to go to the White Sands. But now that it’s in virtual reality, kids can put their headset on and I can send them to the White Sands. It’s so much more immersive than just showing them a PowerPoint of the interesting things I did.”
Giardino said applying emerging technologies and tools such as VR is one of the methods he hopes to apply as G Camp evolves. “One of the ideas that we’re talking about now is trying to create a G-Camp that will focus on high level field technology designed to introduce teachers to some of the new instrumentation that can be used in the field as well as virtual reality so that they can actually film parts of their field trip and bring it back to their classroom,” he said.
Diggs explained how the lessons and information handed down to the 30-plus educators attending G-Camp each year can have a proliferating effect on the number of students being exposed to earth sciences. With more than 30 teachers each year instructing their approximately 30 students each year, “G-Camp may have influenced more than 150,000 students and counting,” he explained.
Pace said one of the key takeaways from the camp was the ability for teachers to interact with each other and learn how they plan to apply what they learned during the course of the trip. She said that approach could help energize traditional teaching concepts.
“As a teacher, you can know these concepts from reading about them and learning them and seeing videos,” Pace said. “But actually going out there and seeing it, now I have a lot better connection with the concept and with these types of phenomenon so that I can express and better explain to my students because I have actually experienced it.”
Texas A&M G-Camp Site Visits
The Texas A&M University G-Camp traverses Texas, Colorado and New Mexico with stops at several locations that highlight many of the different geological elements and processes of the country. The visits included stops at mountain peaks, rivers, valleys, canyons and more. Sites visited include
■ Canadian River in Dumas, Texas;
■ Capulin Volcano in Capulin, N.M.;
■ Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary in Pueblo, Colo.;
■ Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado;
■ Tepee Buttes in Colorado Springs, Colo.;
■ Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colo.;
■ Monarch Pass in central Colorado;
■ Cerro Summit in Montrose County, Colo.;
■ Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County, Colo.;
■ Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colo.;
■ Black Canyon in Montrose County, Colo.;
■ Ouray Perimeter Trail in Ouray, Colo.;
■ Old One Hundred Gold Mine in Silverton, Colo.;
■ Molas Pass in Durango, Colo.;
■ Los Alamos National Laboratory in Santa Fe, N.M.;
■ Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in north-central New Mexico;
■ Valles Caldera National Preserve in Sandoval County, N.M.;
■ El Malpais in Cibola County, N.M.;
■ White Sands in south-central New Mexico; and
■ Caverns of Sonora in Sonora, Texas.
For more information about the Texas A&M University G-Camp, email program director Rick Giardino at email@example.com.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory Focusing On Hydraulic Fracturing
The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is the senior laboratory in the U.S. Department of Energy system tasked with identifying solutions for nuclear security, defense, emergency response, energy security and environmental management, among a number of other areas.
Recently, the laboratory has been working to establish solutions for challenges facing the hydraulic fracturing industry. One of the possible solutions to the steep production declines common to shale wells that the LANL has touted in recent years is a refracturing process that could extend the life of wells after their IP begins to decline.
The LANL analyzed 23 years of production from 20,000 wells and applied its expertise and high-performance computing to the data it acquired. According to the LANL, the data mining analysis revealed that refracturing existing wells with new technology could transform them into high-performing wells with the production characteristics of a newly drilled site.
“Refracturing could be particularly important because our research shows that older fracturing technologies leave behind a greater amount of shale gas resources than more modern techniques,” Richard Middleton, lead author of the study by a team of LANL scientists, stated in a press release.
Earlier this year, the LANL revealed that a new computational model it had created could potentially boost efficiencies and profits in natural gas production by better predicting previously hidden fracture mechanics.
According to the laboratory, the model offers an improved predictive capability that enables better control of production while reducing the environmental footprint by using less fracture fluid. The LANL estimates that the model could lead to a greater percentage of gas extraction from the deep shale strata.
For more information, visit lanl.gov.
Editor’s note: The author of this story joined the Texas A&M University G-Camp for portions of the trip in Colorado and New Mexico. His visit was funded by G-Camp sponsor Aramco Services Co., the North American subsidiary of Saudi Aramco.