Sage Hen Flat fieldcamp/capstone activity

Basil Tikoff & Randy Williams, University of Wisconsin-Madison (; Tim Shipley, Cristina Wilson, & Kathryn Bateman (Temple University); Sven Morgan (University of Michigan - Dearborn); Michel de St. Blanquat (University of Toulouse, France)

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This activity attempts to simulate the process of field-based science investigation for the Sage Hen Flat area of the White Mountains, California. The Sage Hen Flat pluton is Jurassic in age and intrudes Cambrian-Precambrian sedimentary rocks. The two existing published maps of the area do not agree with each other. Students are provided with new (unpublished) data sets and try to resolve between the two models or come up with a new synthesis. It explicitly addresses uncertainty and how it is characterized by professional geologists.

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This course is designed for senior-level undergraduates, as a capstone experience. It is very appropriate for the latter part of fieldcamp.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

A strong foundation in field geology, including location and plotting measurements on the map, is required. The students should know the designation of bedding, foliation, contacts, and faults on a map. Basic mineralogy of common minerals is necessary. The inclusion of uncertainty (including multiple working hypotheses) is a keystone concept for this module.

How the activity is situated in the course

This module provides the scientific centerpiece for a course about scientific communication (oral and written). This module was developed as an activity specifically in response to the need for fieldcamp modules.

Activity Length

The module takes 5-6 days as written. There are daily instructions, map resources, powerpoint presentations, videos explaining the regional geology, etc.. It could be modified by the instructor to be longer or shorter, as needed.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The activity is designed to recreate the process of doing field-based scientific research. The acceptance and characterization of uncertaint as part of the process of doing science, is highlighted.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Analysis of data, evaluation of uncertainty of both data and models, critical evaluation of competing models, formulation of hypotheses, synthesis of ideas, written communication of complex ideas.

Other skills goals for this activity

Evaluating scientific uncertainty, map making, cross-section construction, integration of different datasets with different strengths and weaknesses, three-dimensional visualization, time management

Description and Teaching Materials

There are a lot of supporting materials. Each file contains "DayX" at the beginning of the file. The two geological maps that form the centerpiece of the exercise are both published by GSA (Ernst & Hall, 1987, MCH066; Bilodeau & Nelson, 1993, MCH077). I would encourage each fieldcamp to purchase a copy of both to share with all the students. USGS topographic maps are provided. We ask instructors to respect the unpublished data from multiple contributors that made this module possible.
Student Introduction to Project (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 159kB Jun19 20) 
Instructor Introduction to Project (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 156kB Jun19 20) 
Crooked Creek 7.5" quadrangle (Acrobat (PDF) 16MB Jun19 20) 
Blanco Mountain 7.5" quadrangle (Acrobat (PDF) 15.7MB Jun19 20) 
SageHenFlatOverview.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 27.6MB Jul30 20)
Instructions for Day 1 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Jul30 20)
Day1SageHenIntroduction.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.2MB Jul30 20)
WhiteMtnOverview.mp4 (MP4 Video 85MB Jun19 20)
CARGO CULT edit.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 61kB Jun19 20)
CargoCultScienceReadingGuide.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 65kB Jul30 20)
SageHen_data.kmz (KMZ File 27.3MB Jun19 20)
Day2 - Instructions.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 2.3MB Jul30 20)
Day2SageHenFabrics.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 8.5MB Jul30 20)
Day2SageHenFoliations.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 284kB Jul30 20)
Day3 Instructions.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 95kB Jul30 20)
Day3Activity.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 107kB Jul30 20)
Day3FieldNotes.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 8.2MB Jul30 20)
Day3SageHenContact.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 9.1MB Jul30 20)
Day4 - Instructions.doc (Microsoft Word 42kB Jul30 20)
Day4SageHenGravity.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.5MB Jul30 20)
Day5 - Instructions.doc (Microsoft Word 49kB Jul30 20)
Day5SageHenFaults.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 29.1MB Jul30 20)
Day5 FaultsReview.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.2MB Jul30 20)

Technology Needs

The module requires the desktop version of GoogleEarth. It also uses pdfs and powerpoints, although Google Slides on the web can be used for the latter.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The new datasets are: 1) Foliation and lineation data for the granite (using the Anisotropy of Magnetic Susceptibility technique); 2) Gravity data; 3) Fault data; and 4) A way of characterizing uncertainty. Please contact the first author if more information is needed to understand any of these. Each of these can be used as a derived product (e.g., foliation & lineation for AMS data; isopach map for gravity data). The videos about the geology of the White Mountains and the powerpoint about fabrics are optional, but likely are a good way to start a day.


The module has a pre- and post-activity assessment (see resources below). These were designed in collaboration with Temple University collaborators. As part of using this module, we would ask that all students take these assessments and we are happy to provide this information to instructors. While we think that the focus on uncertainty will prove compelling, we would like to document this effect (if it exists). Our experience with one fieldcamp suggests that uncertainty was a compelling topic for the students.
Formal evaluation of the geological interpretations can be done in a way consistent with other fieldcamp activities.

References and Resources

There are videos of all of the powerpoints, including the uncertainty modules. These are available from the author and an external reference will be given for them.

The two powerpoints that address uncertainty are central to this activity.

The two pre- and post-assessment activities are listed below:

Because of the large number of moving parts to this module (because of the different data sets), please contact the first author if clarification is needed.

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