Photos by Emily Trost ’13
After the onslaught of midterms, most Princeton students headed home or into hibernation for the weeklong break that began after classes ended Oct. 28. While my classmates recovered, I stood in a Swiss quarry clumsily balancing a hardhat on my head, gazing up at massive walls of chalky yellow and white rock.
With me stood nine students from my paleontology course, a recent alumnus, a geosciences lecturer, a geosciences professor, a Swiss professor of geology, and his graduate student. Our Swiss guide asked us to examine the massive rock for clues about what sort of environment we would have been standing in over 130 million years ago. Putting our noses close to these chalky surfaces, we could see that these rocks told a surprising story. If we had been here 130 million years ago, we would have been walking on the seafloor.
We were looking at the remnants of ancient carbonate platforms, the products of today’s coral reefs that serve as indicators of changing ocean and global climate conditions over time. Our studies of mass extinctions in Professor Gerta Keller’s 300-level course, “Evolution and Catastrophes,” required an understanding of the many global processes that contribute to these severe environmental changes. But to really understand those processes, Keller makes it a necessity that her class travel each year. “The classroom is one thing,” she said. “It’s theoretical. You are shown pictures, given concepts, and explained things — but it’s not real.” Standing on an ancient seafloor in Switzerland, however, is.