Field Trip to Enfield Glen, NY Finger Lakes Region

Alexandra Moore
Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University
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This is a 2.5 hour field trip in which students search through strata of the Upper Devonian Catskill Delta for paleocurrent indicators that allow them to infer paleogeographic differences between Devonian and modern time. Through measurement of paleocurrent indicators, joint surfaces, and observation of local landforms, students construct the paleogeographic history of the NY Finger Lakes region.

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This is one of the early field trips in the first required class for undergraduate SES majors (usually college sophomores). This activity has also been used in a general education course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

It is important that students understand that the rocks we will be examining are marine sediments. Some experience with or knowledge of river systems is helpful, but not essential.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is one of a series of field trips designed to take advantage of the local landscape and geologic features. This trip emphasizes fluvial processes, both erosional and depositional.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity is about reading the pages of Earth history written in the rock record. It includes analysis of both sedimentary rock sequences and glacial landforms. The "Aha! Moment" comes when students realize that Ithaca's landscape, while "gorges," contains an even more fascinating and profound history that can be revealed by a few simple measurements and a little bit of cogent interpretation.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will:
  • Synthesize the data they collect and the features they observe in order to interpret the paleogeographic history of the Ithaca area.
  • Communicate their results in written form to a non-technical audience.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will:
  • Locate themselves on a topographic map.
  • Learn to recognize geologically significant features within a mass of gray sedimentary rock (e.g. ripples and sole marks).
  • Use a Brunton compass to make measurements of strike (joint planes) and trend (sole marks).
  • Plot directional data in support of paleogeographic analysis.

Description of the activity/assignment

Ithaca NY is currently located in a tranquil mid-continental geologic setting. But Ithaca's past was anything but tranquil. Would you believe that we once sat beneath a mile-thick sheet of ice? Or that it was once the bottom of the ocean? In a zone of high seismic activity? Or volcanic eruptions? It's all true. On this field trip to Enfield Glen, in Upper Treman State Park, we will make measurements and observations that allow us to reconstruct some of the events in the geologic past of this locality. Was New York always on the east coast of North America? Come on, let's find out.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are evaluated on the completeness of their paleogeographic synthesis, as well as their ability to communicate their knowledge in non-technical terms.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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