UW-Platteville's Rawling guides Dune Undergraduate Geomorphology and Geochronology project for second year

September 6, 2011

PLATTEVILLE - This summer, Dr. J. Elmo Rawling III, associate professor in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Geography and Geology Program, and a team of nine students, who came from states as far away as California, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas, embarked on an eight-week-long field and laboratory study of the lake level history and sand dune activity on Door County's eastern side.

The three-year Dune Undergraduate Geomorphology and Geochronology project, which is coordinated jointly between Rawling at UW-Platteville and Dr. Paul Hanson at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is funded by a National Science Foundation-Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant. The project, which aims to increase participation in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, provides students with significant research experience that they can carry on to their graduate careers.

"This is authentic student-driven research," said Rawling, who specializes in geomorphology, or the scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them. "We're there to help and guide the students, but they select the sites, complete the analysis and present their findings. This is the entire research package."

The Lake Michigan side of Door County, which Rawling said has been largely untouched as far as dune research, makes an ideal area for the students to focus their study on because it gives them an opportunity to make a contribution to science early on in their careers. Rawling added that in addition to training in hypothesis testing, basic field techniques and presentation methods, students also get hands-on experience with sediment, soil and particle size analysis, optically stimulated luminescence dating methods and ground penetrating radar equipment.

"This is by far the most rewarding thing I've done academically," said Rawling. "I get to work with the students on what I know the most about, and they are adding knowledge to the body of science that wasn't there before."

During their first trip to Door County, the student team of six women and three men put their GPR skills to the test in order to determine which areas would best meet their research needs. Following analysis they completed with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey in Madison, the students chose to focus on dunes present at Europe Lake in Newport State Park and Kangaroo Lake in a county park near Bailey's Harbor.

Upon their return to Door County, students gathered samples at each location by hand drilling bucket augers down as far as 25 feet into the dunes and took OSL readings with Hanson in order to determine when the dune sediment was deposited.

In late June, the team traveled to the UNL campus in order to complete their OSL dating analysis, and before it was time to leave for UW-Platteville, where they would finish their particle size analysis, they were able to visit the Nebraska Sand Hills, which has the greatest accumulation of wind-deposited sand in North America. Once back in Platteville, as the students wrapped up their work and finished preparing their findings for presentation at the early October Geological Society of America Annual Meeting and Exposition in Minneapolis, Minn., Rawling looked back on the students' growth over the summer.

"It's remarkable the change they go through," he said.

The DUGG project, he added, often gives students a deeper commitment to their field of study and encourages them to continue their research at the graduate school level and beyond. But having an opportunity to collaborate with other students, he said, is really the biggest benefit of all.

"The connections you make throughout your undergraduate years often continue far into your career," he said.

Rawling himself can attest to that - he and Hanson were college roommates.

For more information, contact Rawling at (608) 342-1680 or rawlingj@uwplatt.edu.

Contact: Dr. J. Elmo Rawling III, associate professor, UW-Platteville Geography and Geology Program, (608) 342-1680, rawlingj@uwplatt.edu Written by: Barbara Weinbrenner, communications specialist, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, weinbreb@uwplatt.edu

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