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Durham University

Colleges & wider student experience

Student news

Paving the way – innovations in Earth Sciences during a pandemic

(8 February 2021)

Satellite footage of a gorge

Satellite images have been important in this years' dissertation projects

With our Earth Science students unable to access fieldwork sites due to ongoing restrictions, we’re taking a virtual approach to teaching this traditionally ‘hands-on’ subject. 

Instead of getting their hands dirty out in the field, our students are digging deep into the theory of geology through interactive online activities using satellite imagery. 

Students have responded well to a series of integrated quizzes and self-graded exercises to gauge their own understanding, allowing them to take on new ideas, then digest the concepts they’ve learned at their own pace. 

The students’ skills are also being applied through virtual mapping dissertations, devised by our researchers to support their final year projects.

Rocking all over the world

Students have been analysing areas across the world, utilising satellite imagery to make geological maps without the need for hands-on fieldwork to address large-scale scientific questions. 

Supported by a dedicated staff member, each student is working on a specific project. The topics are diverse but range from observations into gold deposits in Peru, mapping lava flows from young volcanoes and studying the impacts of large scale dams in northern China.

They are unearthing interesting results on all continents, reflecting the international research interests of our Earth Sciences department.

A solid foundation

This year the department offered over 60 projects for students, with more than 70 now available for current second years as a result of the success of the current scheme. 

Professor Mark Allen, in our Department of Earth Sciences, said: "We’re pleased to see the positive response to this new approach, with students working closely towards answering a specific research focus or question that naturally ties in with the research of their chosen supervisor.  

"We’re supporting the students through regular supervisory meetings coupled with an informal weekly briefing session, where they can raise any issues, and we can share tips and good practice." 

Find out more