Geology of the Bahamas – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Geology of the Bahamas

On the island of San Salvador, 12 HWS students and 7 undergraduates from Winthrop University are conducting field research during the “Geology of the Bahamas” course with Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens and Professor of Geology at Winthrop University Diana Boyer.

As one of the easternmost islands of the Bahamas, San Salvador is also among the most isolated. While there, students travel the beaches in search of geological features of interest and study in the classrooms of the Gerace Research Center, University of the Bahamas.

“The cool thing about this locality is that we can see modern carbonate environments right next to the rocks that form in them and it allows students to understand rock-forming environments in a tangible way,” Arens says. “This location also allows us to look at carbonate sediments in the field—such places are rare on Earth today.”


Below, a gallery of photos that ran as a special edition of This Week in Photos on Friday, Jan. 1, 2020. 


Students complete three field projects during the January-term program. First, students study the variation in coastal environments as they travel around the island. Through their observations, students examine the changing shape of beaches and the size of individual grains of sand, and identify fauna and sedimentary structures. Students compare these observations from the high-energy windward side of the island to the lower-energy leeward side of the island.

Secondly, students compare the snail and bivalve faunas of today’s ocean with fossils from 125,000 years ago, when sea levels were higher than they are today. Students are building on data collected by previous students in the course.

Finally, students will study the human impact on oceans.

“We are participating in a coal monitoring project and documenting the distribution of microplastics in seawater and sediments at different locations around the island,” says Arens. Although San Salvador is sparsely populated, the island is burdened by the world’s trash, which arrives on the island due to proximity to the Atlantic gyre. Rose Nelson ’22 and Garrett Walters ’22 are considering using the collected data to conduct Honors research.

“Getting to be a part of the first microplastics study ever done on San Salvador really sparked my interest in continuing this research. The passionate research efforts of Professor Arens and Professor Boyer are inspiring,” Nelson says.

This is the fourth offering of the “Geology of the Bahamas” course; it is one of several two- to four-week field experiences offered by the Department of Geoscience. Other programs include storm chasing throughout the United States Midwest, and coastal geology study in Oregon and Washington.