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February 2023
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Faryl Smith: Studying Abroad

Study Abroad in Italy

By Faryl Smith


This summer I was able to go on a study abroad opportunity in Italy to view several different geological structures. Some of the geological structures we went to see was the famous volcano Mt. Vesuvius, the large Turbiditie deposits in the Apennines Mountain range near Arezzo, The Dolomite Latemar in the Southern Alps, the Ancient Port City of Ostia that had been buried by the Tiber River, the lagoonal city of Venice, and so much more. The trip was only 17 days (roughly 2 ½ weeks) but we were able to see and learn so much during that time thanks to the planning of our faculty leaders.

The history, culture, and architecture of Italy was also something we got to learn about and experience on this study abroad trip. All of the cities in Italy, even the more modern ones like Mellon and Arezzo, were filled with the history of their origins both in the customs of the people living in the city and in the buildings that you could see. Many of the buildings, new or old, had architecture that hinted at the history of this country or simply told a story about the buildings origins and the history behind it. Other cities, like Venice and Florence, told you all about the history and culture the minute you saw them. These cities, where ever you looked, told about their origins and if you had a mind to talk to the people of the city they could tell you all about their history, even the history of many of the average buildings in the city. Then there were cities like Rome where both the past and the present history and culture lived side by side.

 Rome was an amazing place to see. Everywhere you looked you could see new buildings with architectures that hinted at the ancient past, and you could even see many ancient structures throughout the city. These structures were also in varying stages of preservation. Some, like the Forum and some of the Temples, were simply ruins that told of such grander that you just can't imagine without a little help, while others were being and/or were restored to their original state (how they were meant to be seen). These buildings, such as the Pantheon, The Coliseum, and Fontana di Trevi (The Trevi Fountain), were amazing to see. Most of them had me wondering, in awe, how such structures could have been built so long ago and still exist. With all that has happened since there construction; war, building and rebuilding, earthquakes, erosion, changing of the climate/weather, the very thought that these buildings still remained for use to see and learn from is so amazing to me. Then there is just the amount of history that is also contained within and by these buildings for generations, so that people can learn about and from them. Another example of this is the Vatican Museum and Church, where they have hundreds of years' worth of art, architectures, history, and artifacts from not only Rome's ancient past, but also from other countries. It's just a total mind boggle to think of all that you could learn from the city of Rome and everything it has to offer.

Then there are the incredibly diverse and amazing geological structures that Italy has to offer because of its unique tectonic setting in the world. It is because of its unusual and unique tectonic setting that it has so many different geological structures for study in such a small area compared to the United States. Mt. Vesuvius, the famous volcano of Italy, is caused by the subduction zone on the western coast of Italy, where one plate is subductinting, being forced under, the plate that Italy sits on. Because of this Mt. Vesuvius has formed into a strata volcano, which is one of the most dangerous types of volcanos because of the unique magma composition that it produces during an eruption. This volcano is currently active and has the probability of destroy everything around it when it erupts. Examples of this destruction are the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii was a city that was buried in ash deposits when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and as such is one of the more famous examples, because of the well preserved city structures/artifacts and the casts of the people that died there. Herculaneum was also destroyed during that same eruption, but this city was closer to Mt. Vesuvius compared to Pompeii and was on its South-western flank, while Pompeii was located further southeast. Now because of Herculaneum's proximity to Mt. Vesuvius, this coastal city was destroyed by pyroclastic flows and quickly buried by massive amounts of pyroclastic materials. As such, this city is extremely well preserved to the point where they were able to find carbonized wood, the original (ancient) wood, within the city because the city was buried so quickly by the extremely hot pyroclastic flows.

Both of these cities have since been excavated, studied, and are now remembered as a part of the history of Italy, just like the ancient port city of Ostia. This city was once the main port city for the city of Rome during the Roman expansion, but over time the Tiber River has moved. In the past the Tiber River mouth was where the city of Ostia was located, as time continued the delta moved out into the Tyrthenian Sea and as it has the river has also moved both southward and northward. As it has moved in the past it eventually reached a point where it flooded the city of Ostia over and over to the point where the city was abandoned and over time buried by the deposited soils of the Tiber River. Since then the city has been excavated and now is a heritage site in Italy located about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the coastline today when it had once been built on the coastline.

 Another famous city that we went to to learn about, even though it has not been buried or destroyed by natural events over time, is the lagoonal city of Venice. This city is so full of history, culture, and architecture from every age that it is an amazing engineering accomplishment that has stood the test of time. However the city itself may not be able to survive the changing climate that is to come. The city of Venice, with all its wonders and history, is slowly subsiding (sinking) back into the lagoonal waters that it lives amongst. This is due to the natural compaction of the lagoons silty soils, which has also been speed up by the weight of the city sitting on these soils. There is also the danger of rising sea level and extremely high seasonal tides that threaten to return Venice to the bottom of the lagoon. In response to these natural processes, to save the city, the people of Venice have raised several sections of the city up to combat the natural subsiding land and are currently installing large lock systems to close off the lagoon during times of high tides (known as the MOSE Project). In this way they hope to save both this historical sight, there history in art and architecture, and a center of Italian culture.

Now when it comes to impressive geological structures under extensive study by scientists we come to the large Mass Transport and Turbiditie Deposits in the Apennines Mountain range and the Dolomite Latemar sequence in the southern section of the Alps. Both of these geological structures are studied by scientists around the world for various reasons. The structure and layers of the Turbiditie and Mass Transport deposits offer information about continental weather, sedimentation, sediment transport, earthquakes, and oceanic structures and processes (ocean currents, elevation, size of the continental shelf, angle of the continental shelf, ocean basin structures, etc.). All of this information can be used by Geologists, Climatologists, Sedimentologists, Paleontologists, and other scientists in their fields of studies. So the Turbiditie and Mass Transport Deposits located in the Apennines are a very important geological structure and the one located in Italy is one of the best outcrops to study in the world. Then there are the Dolomites located in the Alps. These sections of the Alps are composing of volcanic rocks, sediments, and carbonate deposits that were once all deposited in the shallow ocean basins. The Dolomite Latemar is an extremely important carbonate deposit that shows repeating stratification (layers) of carbonates, from deep water to extremely shallow (super tidal range). Because these cycles are so similar and almost perfect it is believed that they show a Milankovitch cycle, variations in the orbit of the Earth to our Sun, which could explain forces that act as controls or effecting factors of our planets climate/climate change. This is still under great debate amongst most Geologists and is still being studied, but because of the possibility these section of carbonate deposits are still being studied by scientists around the world making it another extremely unique and important geological structure.

On our trip to Italy we got to go both to the Dolomite Latemar and to the Turbiditie deposits. For the Turbiditie deposits we got to study the depositional sequence, to locate and map out the transition zones of each section of the sequence, and to be able to locate/identify a Mass Transport deposit or "slump" within these large geological deposits. And at the Dolomite's we got to climb up to the Latemar deposits and see the sequences of carbonates, measure them, and take notes on what we saw in the rock record. Both sites were amazing and it was a great honor and privilege to be able to go to these locations to learn amount these types of geological structures in person.

The entire trip to Italy was amazing and I got to learn so much while I was there. I had learned a little about the Dolomite Latemar, Turbidities, Mass Transport Deposits, strata volcanos such as Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Saint Helens, delta structures, movement of rivers over time, the history of Pompeii, and some history of the lagoon of Venice, but it was a great honor to be able to learn about them in person and to be able to reach out and touch these geological structures and buildings myself. I learned so much from just being able to go and learn about them out in the field, compared to learning about them or being told about them in a classroom. Being able to see and touch these things while learning about them is priceless and incredible. Also be too able to learn and see other peoples cultures, beliefs, history, language, art, architecture and customs first hand is also unforgettable. I learned so much on my study abroad trip to Italy, both about the people there and the geology, that I will never forget what I have learned and experienced, even the embarrassing things, the stressful experiences, the uncomfortable experiences, and the extremely painful ones that my classmates and I went through. I will remember them all.

I always have a hard time finding the right words to express exactly how grateful I am. For this study abroad trip/class I would never have been able to afford to go if it hadn't been for you all. The Tribe helped me to pay for more than half of the trip through the funding available for education. I've never been out of the country, and I could never afford to travel outside of the country, so this class was a once in a life time trip that I am extremely grateful for.

I honestly just don't know how to express how grateful I am without giving off an air of a typical thank you.

Faryl Smith