Field Quarter

75 years


students on mountain

Students who are in their junior or senior year are encouraged to participate in Field Quarter, in which they register for a block of academic credit and spend the entire quarter exploring off campus. Students travel as a cohort, with different professors joining the course as the group travels throughout the southwestern U.S., Mexico, Central America and Europe, learning about different physical and cultural environments and applying their knowledge in research projects. The program is open to undergraduate students majoring in environmental science or geography as well as students with sufficient course work in earth sciences and ecology.

2019 Field Quarter

September 2 - November 16, 2019

  • GEOG 2750: Paleoenvironmental Field Methods (Dr. Sullivan)
    Field Quarter students take a break from field work in Grand Mesa, CO
    Field Quarter students take a break from field work in Grand Mesa, CO

    Paleoenvironmental Field Methods focuses on the use of Quaternary paleoenvironmental research techniques, including extracting and interpreting sediment cores from wetlands and lakes to reconstruct and understand paleoclimatic events. Paleoenvironmental research focuses on reconstructing past environments, inferring climate changes in the past, and understanding the relationships between climate changes and environmental/ecological responses. The evidence we use to reconstruct the past comes from a variety of natural, “record-keeping” geologic or biologic processes, referred to as ‘proxies’. For example, the sediments accumulating in the bottom of a lake or in a wetland may preserve various types of plant fossils that can be recovered and used to reconstruct the nature of the vegetation growing around the site in the past. Other proxy evidence from cores may include organic content, bulk density, geochemical properties, peat humification analysis, etc.

    GEOG 2750 Paleoenvironmental Field Methods
    Date Location Activity
    9/2 DU Campus Classwork; prepare for departure
    9/3 Grand Mesa, CO Travel to Grand Mesa; set up camp; biogeography of Western Colorado
    9/4-5 Grand Mesa, CO Collect sediment cores from South Mesa Lake
    9/6 Grand Mesa, CO Collect sediment cores from Kannah Creek Fen; visit High Country News in Paonia
    9/7 DU Campus Break camp; collect tree cores near Mesa, CO; return to Denver
  • GEOL 2400: Geology and Ecology of the Southwest (Dr. Kerwin)
    Students learn how to take core samples from trees for dendroclimatic research.
    Students learn how to take core samples from trees for dendroclimatic research.

    This field course examines the interconnected relationships among natural ecosystems, geologic properties, and climatic changes in mountain ranges from central Colorado to SE Arizona. At the conclusion of the class, students will be proficient in basic field methods of ecology, geology, and hydrology and be capable of analyzing the multiple physical and human drivers that contribute to ecosystem changes across the southwestern USA.

    The course is divided into three sections. Students first develop a basic understanding of regional biodiversity and environmental change by learning about the natural vegetation and key tree species in five ecosystems that characterize Colorado’s Front Range. In New Mexico, students expand on this learning and add a component of geologic change by studying dormant and extinct volcanoes associated with the Rio Grande Rift.  Lastly students consolidate their learning by contributing to an ongoing research project that asks if arid ecosystems can be better quantified using plant morphological traits instead of biomes or plant species. This research takes place in the high-biodiversity Chiricahua Mountains in SE Arizona where students have logistical support from the Southwestern Research Station. 

    GEOL 2400 Geology and Ecology of the Southwest Itinerary

    Date Location Activity
    9/11-13 DU Campus Classroom learning and research
    9/14-17 Mt. Evans Field Station, Idaho Springs, CO Field investigations of five Front Range Ecosystems
    9/18-19 DU Campus Data analysis and examination
    9/20 Raton Basin, CO/NM Examination of Cretaceous Tertiary (K/T) boundary and geological extinction
    9/21 Rio Grande Gorge near Questa, NM Volcanic rifting
    9/22 Valles Caldera, near Jemez Falls, NM Exploring a rhyolitic supervolcano
    9/23 Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, NM Learn about the Mogollon Culture who settled here in the late 1200s
    9/24-9/28 Southwestern Research Station near Portal, AZ Field investigations along a desert to subalpine transect
    9/29-10/2 DU Campus Project wrap up and final examination
    Students creating field maps with use of GPS data.
    Students creating field maps with use of GPS data.
    Dr. Kerwin demonstrates the use of the increment borer.
    Dr. Kerwin demonstrates the use of the increment borer.
  • GEOG 2830: Geography of Europe (Dr. Daniels)
    Students map landscape structure from the summit of Milešovka.
    Students map landscape structure from the summit of Milešovka.

    A field course that examines relationships between humans and the environment in Europe. We will study both urban and rural environments in the Czech Republic to understand the following questions: What are the natural landscape elements (climate, vegetation, landforms) that characterize European landscapes in general, and Czech landscapes in particular? How have humans modified these natural landscapes? How have environmental conditions influenced human activities (e.g. agriculture, architecture, economic development)? How are these human activities manifested at the landscape scale, and how are they organized in geographic space? How have humans attempted to preserve natural landscapes?

    We will spend two weeks in Czech Republic collecting empirical evidence and field observations of natural landscapes and human-environment interactions. We will conduct detailed field mapping exercises in both urban and rural environments, and we will integrate cartographic representations of Czech landscapes into our written reports. We will synthesize empirical data collected in the field, narrative explanations of landscape morphology, and analytical examinations of our findings into a series of written field reports.

    GEOG 2830 Geography of Europe Itinerary
    Date Location Activity
    10/6 Prague Arrival in Prague; introduction to the city, language and transportation
    10/7 Prague Urban geographical/historical walking tour
    10/8 Prague Urban mapping exercise
    10/8 Turnov Field mapping of local geomorphic weathering features
    10/10 Prague Visit Czech Agricultural University to learn about agriculture and sustainability
    10/11 Most Visit historical mining museum to learn about the role of humans as geomorphic agents
    10/12 Prachatice Travel by train from Prague to Prachatice
    10/13 Prachatice Agriculture and soil erosion - field data collection
    10/14 Prachatice Visit to Ekofarma Chrašťany to tour sustainable agricultural working farm and aquaculture facility
    10/15 Boubínsky Prales Visit old growth relict forest in protected landscape area of Šumavá
    10/16 Prague Travel by train from Prachatice to Prague
    10/17 Prague Synthesis: completion of final projects; final discussions
    10/18 Prague Depart Prague for Denver
  • ENVI 2660: Environmental History of Sonora and Baja California (Dr. Sullivan)
    Field Quarter students visit the Tropic of Cancer during their travels through Mexico.
    Field Quarter students visit the Tropic of Cancer during their travels through Mexico.

    Geography and ecology of desert southwest emphasizing Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California del Sur and Baja California. Traveling by van and lodging in tents, trip covers 3,500 miles, offers hands-on experience with principles and problems of physical geography and ecology in desert environments. 

    ENVI 2660: Environmental History of Sonora and Baja California
    Date Location Activity
    10/23-24 Denver Class introduction and overview; prepare for departure
    10/25 Socorro, NM BLM campsite near Lemitar
    10/26-28 Tucson, AZ Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge; Arizona Sonora Desert Museum; dendroecology and geochronology laboratories at the University of Arizona;
    10/29 El Centro, CA

    Mojave desert biogeography

    10/30 San Felipe, MX Sea of Cortez; Baja California geology
    10/31 Punta Chivato, MX Guerrero Negro; endemic plants
    11/1 Loreto, MX El Boleo copper mining company; “urban” analysis; visit Mulegé
    11/2 La Paz, MX Sierra Giganta
    11/3 Los Planes, MX Tropical deciduous forest; cactus sanctuary
    11/4-6 Todos Santos, MX Endangered sea turtles project; “urban” analysis in Todos Santos
    11/7 Cabos San Lucas, MX Coral reef ecology
    11/8 La Paz, MX Coral reef ecology
    11/9-10 Espíritu Santo, MX

    Snorkeling on coral reefs; reef ecology; local tectonics; evolution and speciation; endemism

    11/11 La Paz, MX Snorkeling with sea lions
    11/12 Misión San Javier, MX

    Early mission history; Sierra La Giganta

    11/13 Punta Chivato, MX Explore Punta Chivato region
    11/14 Punta Abreojos, MX Visit Santa Rosalia, Tres Virgenes lava fields, and Mission San Ignacio
    11/15-17 Bahía Asunción, MX Vegetation and water; environmental perception; Vizcaino Desert biogeography; Baja California climatology; fishing cooperatives; geology and biogeography
    11/18 Catavina, MX Guerrero Negro, largest salt evaporation operation in the world; salt marshes; bird migrations
    11/19 El Rosario, MX Catavina boulder fields; boojum trees!; Arroyo Catavina; Baja California endemic vegetation
    11/20-21 San Diego, CA Advection fog and sand dunes; kelp forests and keystone species, coastal agriculture; final exam
    11/22-23 Denver Return to Denver
student coring tree in Guatemala

Field Quarter Blog

This fall’s Field Quarter cohort is gearing up and getting ready to go. Follow along as the students post about their experiences spending 10 weeks in the field. 

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