For the most part, the science classes I have taken in the past were confined to school grounds, maybe venturing outside every now and then to conduct an experiment. The Introduction to Coastal Change course here at Duke, however, offers two field trip opportunities. If you are unable to fit the full class into your schedule, you can still sign up for the field trips under the course name Beach and Island Geologic Processes. Just taking the field trip course still earns you one class credit, a pretty sweet deal in my opinion.
The class itself consists of lectures, exams and a final project. Some of the topics covered are estuaries and lagoons, coastal weather, tides, and shoreline sediment transport. As a Coastal Environmental Management student from Florida, I figured I had a pretty good edge with the content. While I did recognize some of it, I have been able to delve deeper into the topics and also learn about how more recent climate changes are affecting certain systems. The recent hurricanes, for example, have done a number on certain geomorphic processes.
Our first field trip happened to also be the first weekend of March. We drove out to Duke Marine Lab Friday afternoon and got put up in the nicely-renovated dorms. Another cool aspect of the field trips is that they are open to all Duke students, as well as all students at the University of North Carolina. After some brief rivalrous jesting, we became friends with five other graduate and PhD Tar Heels. Staying in the dorms and sharing meals in the dining hall really made it hard not to.
Following a 7 a.m. wake-up call we first headed out to catch a local ferry to Cape Lookout National Seashore. The second day, we took a smaller Duke vessel to Shackleford Banks. Both of the boat rides were fairly short and smooth sailing, but over the course of the two days we recorded our steps taken on the beaches to be 15 miles total.
While on the islands, we were able to see up close and personal the extreme changes hurricanes Florence and Michael brought upon the barrier islands. Our professor, Brad Murray, was speechless when we first landed at Cape Lookout due to how much the dunes had been forced back over what had previously been grassy areas. Additionally, the entire point of Shackelford Banks was moved a mile. When large storms pass through, beaches widen. Professor Murray had been coming to these beaches for decades and had never seen them like this.
Though the changes the storms brought on were unexpected, they provided us valuable learning material. Learning material that I would not have been able to receive without the opportunity presented to attend this field trip. I am grateful Duke’s Nicholas School has provided us with this option and wonder just how much more these areas will change as the climate changes in turn.