Boise State’s Department of Geosciences teaches students about geology, hydrology, geophysics, and interactions between humans and earth systems. Many classes, including “Yellowstone Geophysics,” use the natural environment and student field trips as an integral component of the classroom.

Since 2012, Boise State University assistant professor Jeff Johnson has taken students on yearly trips to Yellowstone.

Only a six-hour drive from Boise, the park provides the ultimate geodynamical laboratory where students learn about earthquakes, geyser physics, crustal deformation and volcanology.

In September, students spent four days camping in Yellowstone and exploring the geology of the national park. The weather is invariably brisk during the early fall, but it is an ideal time for students to visit; crowds are diminished and students have time before the trip to do background research on the geologic history of Yellowstone.

Geoscience 397 Class, Introduction to the earth’s gravity, magnetism, electricity, seismicity, heat, and radioactivity, through focused study of the Yellowstone hot spot, intermountain west, basin and range, and Snake River Plain. A three-night field trip through the Snake River Plain to Yellowstone, Allison Corona photo.

Highlights of the trip included the long hike in to Lone Star Geyser (this year in snow!), close encounters with bison, and the grandeur of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

During the 2017 field trip, students also participated in geophysical data collection.

Johnson and his graduate students are involved in ongoing monitoring of the geysers using infrasound in order to understand how subtle changes in atmospheric pressure or winds and earthquake activity may affect the regularity of certain geysers. Doctoral student Jake Anderson assisted with this course, provided each undergraduate with a specialized (infrasonic) microphone to deploy and listen to the low frequency geyser sounds.

At the end of long days in the field, students returned to the campground for food, and then more science discussion. “We sat around the campfire — within earshot of baying wolves — and discussed journal articles focused on the recent geoscience research conducted in the park,” Johnson said.
Photo grid of twelve long exposure images depicting Boise State students and professor sit around a campfire at a Yellowstone National Park campsite.
Photo grid of twelve long exposure images depicting Boise State students and professor sit around a campfire at a Yellowstone National Park campsite.