Undergraduate Research > Field Case Study Mogk Henry

Evolution of the Precambrian Rocks of Yellowstone National Park and Surrounding Areas–an NSF/REU Project

David Mogk, Montana State University and Darrell Henry, Louisiana State University

The Yellowstone REU Project explored the Precambrian basement exposed in the northern part of Yellowstone Park. Field studies were conducted with two cohorts of students during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The project goals were to: 1) characterize the igneous and metamorphic petrology, geochemistry, geochronology, sedimentology and structural geology of this unique sequence of Precambrian rocks, 2) integrate these findings with a larger ongoing research effort on the petrogenesis and evolution of Archean continental crust in the Wyoming Province, and for the students, 3) contribute to the professional development of cohorts of students who are ready to pursue the next steps of their careers in graduate school or in the workforce. The following is a summary of the development and implementation of this field program.

Project Goals

The project goals were to produce great Science and great Scientists.

Project Vision

The project was envisioned as a true research experience that would

Selecting the Right Team

Student in the field

A large part of the success of the program involved selection of students who had a keen interest in participating in the program, and who had the academic and personal attributes that would lead to their success. Field work in a remote setting can be physically, intellectually, and emotionally challenging. We had over 100 applicants to this project in each year, and we selected our participants according to these criteria:


Expectation management was a key to the success of this program. It was very important that we clearly identified the nature of the project, the challenges, and opportunities. We did this throughout the project via:

Project Design

The overall project was designed as a "cradle to grave" research experience that included:

Field work; with an emphasis on sampling and mapping

Analytical Studies; during the following school year students continued their work through petrographic analysis of thin sections, and then through subsequent visits to major analytical facilities to collect data required to address their research questions. Depending on the nature of the problem, various students used an electron microprobe to obtain mineral compositional data, XRF for whole rock major and trace element data, or LA-ICPMS to obtain zircon U-Pb age dates.

Communicating Results;all students contributed to

Developing Professional Expertise

Our research project was designed to systematically develop professional expertise. We very deliberately introduced students to a series of scaffolded and integrated experiences to build the totality of their research experience. Students were engaged in:

Field Work: Learning by Design

The summer itinerary was planned to systematically develop knowledge and skills in the students so that they could work in small groups to achieve meaningful results. This work plan included:

Research Design and implementation

Sample Preparation

Analysis–all students visited one of our analytical labs during the academic year. They experienced the full range of procedures required to obtain publishable data:

Communicating Results

Progress Measured:

A variety of assessment instruments were used to determine the extent to which project goals were achieved.

Science Goals

Were measured be the research outcomes which answered our specific research questions. The 2010 cohort: a) interpreted the environment of deposition of the turbidite sequence, and U-Pb detrital zircon data demonstrated that the provenance of these rocks was not the adjacent Beartooth massif; b) two epizonal, peraluminous plutons have an age of 2810 Ma; c) metamorphic grade increases from chlorite-garnet zone in the west to sillimanite zone in the east, with peak metamorphism at ~620oC and ~4 Kb; d) the Garnet Hill area is an injection migmatite area; e) three stages of folding pre-date the intrusion of the plutons (i.e. are Archean in age), and mylonite zones cut both the metasedimentary rocks and the plutons; f) the Junction Butte area is underlain by a 3.2 Ga gray gneiss unit. Results of the 2011 cohort are in progress, but initial results show that the magmatic complex near Slough Creek area show that these rocks are dominantly metaluminous and are distinct from both the western epizonal plutons and magmatic rocks in the Beartooth massif.

Student Goals:

We were interested in documenting the growth of students as they progressed through the project. We used these instruments to document these changes: