Exploring New Zealand’s Geological Treasures

Syracuse Abroad

Syracuse students can now experience New Zealand and its geologic treasures firsthand through Frontiers Abroad, a Syracuse Abroad world partner program.

Suzanne Baldwin standing outdoors in front of students taking notes
Suzanne Baldwin, the Michael G. and Susan T. Thonis Professor of Earth Sciences at Syracuse, discusses with Frontiers Abroad students the ductile rock deformation associated with formation of the Paparoa Metamorphic Core Complex, West Coast beach, South Island, New Zealand. Photo by Paul Fitzgerald.

In his office in the Heroy Geology Building, Earth sciences professor Paul Fitzgerald pulls a map of his native New Zealand off the wall and spreads it across a table. “Look,” he says, “you’ve got this plate boundary running right smack through the middle….” That’s the Australian-Pacific plate boundary the country straddles, and Fitzgerald talks about subduction zones, the Alpine Fault on South Island, volcanoes, and earthquakes, including the ones that rocked Christchurch and destroyed the inner city in 2010 and 2011. 

Syracuse students can now experience New Zealand and its geologic treasures firsthand through Frontiers Abroad, a Syracuse Abroad world partner program that offers undergraduates the opportunity to study either the country’s geology or its contemporary environmental issues (Earth Systems). Both components feature a five-week field camp where students explore unique areas, learn field techniques, do research, and gather data for individual research projects. Following field camp, they spend a semester at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. “They go to all these fantastic locations,” says Fitzgerald, who, along with faculty colleague, Professor Suzanne Baldwin, taught in the geology field camp for a week in spring 2016 as part of the Erskine Fellowships they were awarded from the University of Canterbury. “The good thing is in each location they have a local expert who teaches the students.”

Exploring and studying New Zealand’s majestic landscape, students and faculty really bond and form lifelong relationships.

—Max Borella

According to Max Borella, administrative director of Frontiers Abroad (FA), the program is affiliated with more than 25 U.S. colleges and universities and drew 50 students this spring semester. It’s also one of several STEM-based programs offered through Syracuse Abroad. Borella cites the field camp as FA’s defining distinction and notes how it builds camaraderie among students and faculty. “During that time exploring and studying New Zealand’s majestic landscape, students and faculty really bond and form lifelong relationships,” he says. “The program’s family atmosphere definitely makes it special.”

Sandy Castellano ’18, an Earth sciences major with a focus on environmental science, enrolled in the Earth Systems program this spring semester. As highlights, along with traveling, she studied volcano outcrops, learned to identify such indigenous species as the Rangiora shrub and the Manuka bush, took courses in Antarctica studies and mineralogy, and participated in a simulated training exercise for a volcanic eruption disaster. For her research project, Castellano examined how ineffective environmental treaties and past economic factors have hindered whale conservation efforts. “The Earth Systems program was the best choice for me because I wanted to broaden my horizons beyond my knowledge of geology,” she says. “And it was great to be around like-minded people who care about the sustainability of the Earth.”

Adam Belkadi ’16, a spring 2016 FA participant, says a class on ore deposits introduced him to geophysical methods relevant to research projects he does for work at Hager GeoScience, a Boston-area geophysical and geological mapping company. He also listed a number of unforgettable experiences, from field camp and fishing adventures to a class on the Maori culture. For his research project, he created a hazard assessment map of the ballistics ejected from Mount Ruapehu, the country’s largest active volcano and a popular skiing and hiking destination. “I was given permission to hike to the summit of Ruapehu, which was moderately active at the time,” he says. “It was a pretty special experience.”

Such experiences are just what Borella and FA director Darren Gravley had in mind when they launched the program in 2008. Gravley, senior lecturer in volcanology and geothermal systems at Canterbury, enjoys teaching students about the country’s variety of volcanoes, their personalities, their geothermal energy, and the role of data in attempting to minimize public danger of eruptions. “The exciting thing is we’re teaching volcanology while standing on the flanks of real, active volcanoes,” he says. “At the end of the day, students are blown away by the fact that they are learning about volcanoes while climbing on top of them.” 

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Jay Cox

This story was first published on December 14, 2017 and last updated on . It also appeared as “Exploring New Zealand’s Earthly Treasures” in the Summer 2017 issue of Syracuse University Magazine.


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