A Summer with Keck

By Dylan Easthouse

My Keck project focused on the geomorphology of the Valley and Ridge Province of the Appalachian Mountains. From our base at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, we spent the first two weeks locating and mapping Quaternary terraces and alluvial fan deposits in the river valleys. Air photos and field verification were used to locate the terraces, and the project participants divided into groups in order to map various regions. My group mapped the Maury River Terraces from Glasgow, VA, to Goshen Pass (60 km.) After mapping the terraces, each student began to formulate an individual research project. My own project involved the caves in the area and their position in relation to the terraces, the gist of my hypothesis being that if one can relate cave height above modern river levels to terraces at the same elevation, then one can also relate the date of the speleothem (stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones) to those terraces. If the speleothem dates can be obtained from caves at numerous elevations within the river valley, then it may be possible to both correlate terraces along the valley, and determine an average incision rate for the river. There are many assumptions inherent in such a study, which deals with dates of 300-400 thousand years and has errors of 20-30 thousand years. These errors, however, can be reasonably explained and minimized through careful sample collection and logical analysis. After the Keck project ended, I took off on quite a different sort of study--a drive across the Northeast U.S. to my home in Prescott, Arizona--an equally valuable educational experience.