Justin Levy completed his collegiate career at Missouri S&T doing what he enjoys most – traveling.
Levy was one of eight geology and geophysics students to join Dr. David Wronkiewicz, associate professor of geology and geophysics, on a nine-day field study trip to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas in May. The group left just days after Levy crossed the stage at commencement with his bachelor’s degree in geology.
Although the students did group research on the geological formations and processes occurring on the island and their interdependency on biologic processes, each student also had the opportunity to do individual research.
With a passion for paleontology, Levy focused his research on the types of fossils found on the island. He studied a section of the island called the Cockburn Town fossil reef, which is made up of fossilized coral and shell fragments. He also tried to find fossilized decapods such as crabs, shrimps and lobsters.
“I wanted to compare the evolution of them (the decapods), and see if any evolution had taken place in the last million years,” says Levy. “If it had, it could signify a drastic increase or decrease in the food supply. Say, if one species had gotten much bigger, it could mean there was an increased food supply to allow them to grow to that size.”
Unfortunately, Levy didn’t find any decapod fossils, but he still learned a great deal about the nature of field studies.
“I found out that field research never goes the way you want it to go,” he says. “I thought I had an idea of what I was going to do. I thought it would be fairly easy; that everything would go my way. But I learned that you plan, plan, plan, and when you get to the field, you modify, modify, modify.”
In addition to studying the fossilized reefs of Cockburn Town, the students studied modern reefs, hypersaline lakes and cave systems. Much of their research was conducted in the water, either snorkeling on offshore coral reefs or wading in the shallow water of inland Storr’s Lake. They even did several snorkeling dives at night, encountering sea turtles and a shark.
“James Hutton, the father of modern geology, said that the present is the key to the past,” says Wronkiewicz. “The diversity of geology on the island allowed the students to see Hutton’s concept of past and present geologic processes adjacent to one another in only a few hours of time.”
Levy and other students on the trip wrote about their experiences on S&T’s Miners Abroad Blog. Levy wrote about the striking lack of fresh water on the island. A Club Med resort was built on the island in 1994, he wrote, which increased the island’s freshwater pump rate by some 400 percent. By the early 2000s, the island’s fresh water had dried up. Nowadays, locals use rain collection systems to collect freshwater, then purify it.
The group explored a “blue hole” that used to pump fresh water from beneath the island, but now it pumps salt water. Blue holes are inland caves or underwater sinkholes sometimes called vertical caves. These types of studies using blue holes as well as sea-level proxies can tell researchers about the past environment and help to predict the future, according to Levy.
Levy says he’s thankful for his time at S&T, and the many opportunities he had to travel as a geology student, which included three weeks of field camp in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico; three weeks of advanced field camp in Utah and Arizona; a summer trip to Bolivia with Engineers Without Borders; and a semester as an exchange student in Hong Kong.
“This school has allowed me to find my passion, and that is travel,” he says.
Story by Greg Katski
Photos by Justin Levy