Learning About Geoscience in the Himalayas

Hannah Marshall, top left, and Alex Reisley, bottom left, with classmates at a Hindu temple in Muktinath

Hannah Marshall, top left, and Alex Reisley, bottom left, with classmates at a Hindu temple in Muktinath

This summer, Bowdoin students Hannah Marshall ’16 and Alex Reisley ’16 trekked through the world’s deepest river gorge, visited Buddhist monasteries and investigated geological phenomena. They were part of the School for International Training’s Geoscience in the Himalaya program, which immerses students in Nepalese culture and trains them in field research methods and GIS technology before setting them off to pursue independent projects.

Reisley looked into sinkholes in Nepal’s third largest city, Pokhara, which is located in one of the country’s rainiest areas. Sinkholes are formed when water percolates through the city’s soil bed, carving out underground channels and cavities. As more water enters, the channels and cavities expand, causing the collapse of cavity ceilings under the weight of overlying soil.

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Alex Reisley identifying soil types in a sinkhole

Although previous research had shown a correlation between groundwater flow and sinkholes, Reisley said little research exists on groundwater flow paths. “The goal of my research is to determine whether the total volume of water discharged upstream is traveling through areas where sinkholes have occurred,” he said. His findings could help community members better understand where groundwater flows, enabling them to predict where sinkholes are likely to develop.

Marshall also traveled to Pokhara for her research. There, she investigated land use and geomorphic change in the Phewa Lake watershed. “The city of Pokhara is on the shore of Phewa Lake and it is a major tourist attraction for the region. But because of high sedimentation rates, [the lake] is steadily filling in,” she said. She used repeat imagery and field site visits to trace the lake and river delta over time, comparing her findings with urbanization, land use and major climatic events.

Hannah Marshall doing fieldwork in front of the Kali Gandaki River and Annapurna Mountain range

Hannah Marshall doing fieldwork in front of the Kali Gandaki River and Annapurna Mountain range

Both Marshall and Reisley are earth and oceanographic science majors. Reisley is also majoring in government and legal studies; Marshall is minoring in French.

The student group consisted of 14 Americans, as well as six Nepalis who had recently graduated with geology degrees from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. “It has been amazing working and learning to collaborate in this international group,” Marshall said.

Before they launched their research projects, Marshall and Reisley had an orientation on Nepali language, culture and geology. They then departed on a three-week trek through some of the highest mountains in the Himalayan range in the Kali Gandaki Gorge. Staying overnight in tea houses, the students hiked through the day, stopping to check out geological sites. Dinner at the tea houses along the route was typically dal bhat, or lentils and rice. The group also visited Hindu and Buddhist religious sites. While the sights were amazing, the students did meet some hazards on the road — terrestrial leeches that lurk in wet vegetation, eager to latch onto passing legs and feet.

Reisley said he saw the program as a chance to explore the field of geology, learn about a developing country and “gain a new perspective.” Marshall was introduced to the program by a Bowdoin professor. “I think one of the most exciting things about EOS and geology is the places it can take you all around the world,” she said, “and so I was excited to expand both my geologic and cultural horizons with this opportunity.”

 

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Alex Reisley ’16 with Nepali friends

To see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.

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