Through a competitive application process, four high-achieving Palm Beach State College students were selected to participate in the inaugural GEOPATHS Inspirational Summer Experience. The program provides students with the opportunity to learn about high impact practices and cutting edge techniques used by geoscientists. This program is organized by Florida Atlantic University and Palm Beach State College, and funded by the National Science Foundation.
With no prior experience, the students were immersed in a range of field work experiences and high tech applications across three distinct field days in June, 2021. The students joined scientists from FAU’s Department of Geosciences.
Principal investigator for GEOPATHS, professor, and chair of the Department of Geosciences, Zhixiao Xie, Ph.D., remarks, “Surveys indicate that most students, especially underrepresented minority (URM) groups, don't know much about geoscience programs and what geoscientists do at work. Even fewer know the possible careers and typical salary. This program exposes students, URM students in particular, to cutting-edge geoscience technologies and shows their direct relevance to solving environmental challenges facing our society. Students also learn the excitement and fun of typical geoscience field research activities through close interaction with nature in our backyard parks and beaches.”
Day one included an orientation, and training with unmanned aerial systems (UAS). From flight basics with micro drones to practicing drone operation at a regional park in Delray Beach with the DJI Phantom/Mavic, then surveying with a professional UAS, the Trimble ZX5 drone. Students took turns operating the unmanned aerial systems, and applied those skills during a later field day. Senior instructor and co-director of the Center for GIS, James Gammack-Clark, led the students through day one.
The next field day brought the students to the Montgomery Botanical Center in Miami, and led by professor and director of the Environmental Geophysics Lab, Xavier Comas, Ph.D., where students took advantage of the Miami limestone formation to learn about geophysical methods and imaging. Students deployed an array of geophysical imaging techniques such as ground penetrating radar to search for fresh-salt water intrusion, dissolution features, or limestone facies.
“The field operation of the drones was neat, and I learned how to take off and land, as well as attempt several basic maneuvers. I was able to really get a feel for what it is like to be a remote pilot. From this experience, I learned that drone piloting is involved in many different fields and can help us do mapping and asset viewing in areas where a person might not be able to or want to set foot.”
“My first impression was how friendly everyone was. We are all at the same level of knowledge and this was the first time I have ever met this group of people, and it felt like I have known them, which made the class more enjoyable. That makes me hopeful for this geoscience program. I also enjoyed such a hands-on experience within hours of learning how to use a drone properly. I enjoyed flying the drones. Everyone makes it look so easy so I thought I was going to have the natural talent for flying and I never realized how much actually goes into flying a drone. People really think it's just up and down but learning about the different techniques and how much skill goes behind flying a drone was my favorite part.”
“Flying the drones was very rewarding (even the microdrones, though they were the most difficult to control). The best part is when you get the hang of piloting and can start making your vision reality.”
On the final day, assistant professor and director of the Coastal Studies Lab, Tiffany Roberts Briggs, Ph.D., brought the students to the beach for training on surveying beach geomorphology. With this field day, students learned about the dynamics of barrier island environments where storm impacts, sea level rise, and limited resources are challenging coastal communities nationwide. Sub-environments of the barrier island system such as the backbarrier, dune, beach, and nearshore system were examined using field observations along a cross-sectional profile including data on morphology, sediment properties, and dominant physical processes. The group also explored tidal inlet to understand the role of sediment transport and inlet-dynamics. Hands-on field activities included how to take field notes, using a hand lens, and surveying topography with a UAS. In addition, state-of-the-art remote data collection techniques were demonstrated with the deployment of a UAS to map dune-beach characteristics from the air.
Learn more about the GEOPATHS program.
View photos from the field days.