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Graduate student performs geologic research in Botswana

December 7, 2011

Dustin Stargel never imagined he would sleep in close proximity to a hippopotamus.

"In the morning, you'd get up and see this big depression in the ground and realize one just slept 20 feet from where you guys were at," Stargel said.

 

The hippos, along with lions, rhinoceroses and other wild game, greeted Stargel, a first-year graduate student at Indiana State University, when he traveled to Botswana this past summer for six weeks to conduct geologic research along the Okavango River Delta.

Traveling with the International Research Experience for Students program through Oklahoma State University, Stargel collaborated with three other American students and four Botswana students.

"I think the overall [goal] is to hopefully link up different geologists and scientists internationally and to show that it's very exciting to work abroad," he said.

 

Originally from Marion, Ind., Stargel earned his undergraduate degree from Indiana University in geology and is currently pursuing a master's degree in quaternary and earth sciences at ISU.

 

The research conducted along the Okavango River Delta focused primarily on studying carbon cycling dynamics, which entailed collecting many samples for water chemistry, including 24-hour diel samplings. Students stayed awake an entire night, testing the water every hour.

Jennifer Latimer, associate professor of geology at ISU, connected Stargel with the OSU program in Botswana and its director, Dr. Eliot Atekwana.

"The Okavango Delta in Botswana is an important water resource for the region. It also has a complicated history of tectonic, environmental and human-caused changes in the area," Latimer said, "As climate continues to change, it is important to understand how different geologic processes have impacted this valuable water resource in order to better plan for the future environmental change."

 

The research on the Delta also contributed to Stargel's personal research for his master's thesis. Traveling to Botswana allowed him the opportunity to engage in his research topic firsthand.

 

There used to be a large ancient lake (Paleo-Lake Mababe) in the area, and Stargel's research focused on using geochemical techniques to evaluate how the lake environment changed over time in response to tectonic adjustments and natural climate change. While the students were in Botswana collecting samples for water chemistry, they also collected sediment samples for Stargel's research.

"It personally allowed me to experience my research site. It gave me better insight into my research. It also gave me a chance to personally get involved in the fieldwork and processes of collecting samples."

Stargel will analyze the sediment cores in the Biogeochemistry Laboratory at ISU, which will include the dissolution of the sediment samples and determination of metal concentrations. The process could take up to a year.

 

A well-seasoned traveler with visits to more than 10 countries, Stargel conceded that this trip to Botswana was "the most rugged."

"The majority of the time we were camping and going around to different sites. We had to start a fire to keep warm because it was winter there, and we made our own food and went out and bought supplies," he said, "We'd go without showers for a few days or be hungry for a while."

Sometimes local farmers and landowners sold the group chickens, which the students needed to butcher themselves.

"I was not expecting that," Stargel said with a smile.

One result of the research experience was a new appreciation for the higher education resources in America.

"It's a luxury to have a laboratory. I never thought that until I went out there," Stargel said, "How difficult it must be for [graduate students in Botswana] to write their thesis."

The lack of laboratories in underdeveloped areas requires students to send samples and research away. Because this is a costly venture, research is often not properly conducted.

Stargel understands the significance of research, both as a graduate and undergraduate student.

"It strengthens your education, gives you more of a well-rounded view and you can come to your own conclusions [after] reading a textbook," he said.

Latimer wants her students to experience research abroad, just as Stargel did.

"As geologists, we often get to travel to many different areas around the world for fieldwork," she said, "These opportunities provide experiences that often cannot be attained in a classroom setting because you are often immersed in a different culture and a different geologic setting."

Photos:http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-3H6xJXh/0/L/i-3H6xJXh-L.jpgDustin Stargel, far right, in Botswana. ISU/Courtesy photohttp://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-VHBftSn/0/L/i-VHBftSn-L.jpgDustin Stargel, far left, with other students conducting research in Botswana. ISU/Courtesy photo

Contact: Jennifer Latimer, associate professor of geology, department of earth and environmental systems, Indiana State University, at 812-237-2254 or Jen.Latimer@indstate.edu

Writer: Mallory Metheny, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, at 812-237-3773