Introduction

Hello Everyone!

For those of you who do not know me, I am Cameron Batchelor, a junior geology major at Appalachian State University who had the grand opportunity this past summer (August 2014) to travel to Mongolia to conduct geologic field work with my two research advisers, Dr. Sarah Carmichael and Dr. Johnny Waters, and an international group of geologists called “IGCP 596 & 580.” This blog covers the research I do, the experience I’ve gained, and the things I’ve learned from my years studying geology at Appalachian State University. Here’s a photo to kick things off:

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This is the group of people I was able to give my first ever professional geologic talk to-and the group of people that I grew so close to while out in the Mongolian field for 10 days. Every person in this photo touched my heart in different ways, and I learned so much from everyone. The experience would have not been the same without them! Shout out to the IGCP GROUP 596 & 580, miss you!! You guys all ROCK!!! ūüôā (which means a lot coming from a geologist!)

Read more below to find out why all of these people are amazing-and why geology and research are BEYOND AWESOME!

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Week 1-Ulaanbaatar

On July 31st 2014, I boarded a 15 hour plane ride with both my advisers, Dr. Sarah Carmichael and Dr. Johnny Waters, to Seoul, South Korea where we would then board our connecting flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The sunset I saw that night while boarding the flight to Ulaanbaatar was the most incredible sunset I have ever seen in my life:

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I took this as a sign the adventure I had ahead of me would be incredible, little did I know just how incredible.

Around midnight, we landed in the Chinggis¬†Khaan airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where our soon-to-be dear friend, Odkhuu (who went by the nickname “Star Boy”), picked us up holding a sign “IGCP 596&580.” Him, Seshma, and Ariuka would be the ones who kindly drove us from the airport to our hotel¬†in Ulaanbaatar. Let me tell you, landing at midnight and being able to go right to sleep helped GREATLY in dealing with the 12-hour time change between my home and Mongolia.

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The next four days were spent in Ulaanbaatar at the IGCP 596&580 group meeting. I presented on the geochronology¬†research work I did while at the University of Chapel Hill, “Zircon Age Dating of the Heishantou Formation (now Zhulumute).” This was the first professional talk I had ever given, and although I was nervous, I am glad to say it was a success!

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Here is an official group photo of everyone at the conference (taken right before the city had a major blackout and we had to postpone the meeting for a couple of hours until the power returned):

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In this photo, there are paleontologists, geochemists, stratigraphers, sedimentologists, cyclostratigraphers, and more. It was a great group of people to learn since many of them had expertise in areas of geology I was not strong in. Through their knowledge, I was able to widely broaden my own in many different aspects.

After two days of presentations, we had a free day where we got to tour the city of Ulaanbaatar:

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After our last day in the city, it was time for us to prepare to board a 4 am flight and head out to the western part of Mongolia for 10 days of fieldwork! Bring it on!

Day 1-into the field

On the morning of August 8th, IGCP 596&580 took a 4 am flight (yes, the flight TOOK OFF at 4 am….) from the eastern capital city of Ulaanbaatar to the western city of Khovd.

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When we arrived and got to step off the plane, the sunrise was unbelievably incredible:

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We then entered the airport to be greeted by the rest of the IGCP 596&580 team including Mongolian scientists, cooks, and drivers. They were waiting for us with Russian vans that were built to survive harsh winters and off-roading (the engine was located inside the van between the passengers and drivers seat).

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We then spent the rest of the day driving southwest through the Gobi desert towards our field site.

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Even though this drive forced me¬†to take pounds of dramamine to keep sane (because we had to off-road 90% of the way),¬†I couldn’t help but notice the spectacular landscapes surrounding me consisting of incredible geology¬†and wildlife I had never dreamed of ever seeing, such as intensely faulted rock formations, colorful bedded mountains and canyons, double-humped camels and gazelles. Not to mention the several sightings of Ger’s (a traditional Mongolian dwelling standing on wooden posts, wrapped in wool and tarp used to house families) located in the middle of nowhere.

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In just the first day of driving,¬†our van had broken down three times and had one flat tire. No matter what though, our driver was thankfully an experienced enough mechanic to be able to fix any car problem we had…and I mean¬†ANY!

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I quickly became very grateful for our Mongolian cooks that came along with us on the journey. I was so impressed with everything they did for us. With their van packed to the rim with food and supplies, at each pit stop and camp site we stopped at,  the cooks kindly provided us with delicious meals and snacks. With such high quality food, I would sometimes forgot that I was in the desert in the middle of nowhere, and I felt as if I was back in the main city being served a meal at a top-quality restaurant. Shout out to the cooks, thank you!

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We then reached our first camp site right outside the city of Uench with just enough time to set up our tents before dark.

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We all slept in our tents that night eagerly anticipating our final full day of driving and ready to arrive at our final camp site for which we would call home to for the next seven days!

Day 2-arriving to our Destination

We woke up early and began our drive further southwest to get to our field site-the Gerelt Hoshoo Locality. Otherwise known as “War Monument Locality,” this formation ranges in thickness from 250-450 meters and has been subjected to extreme folding, faulting, and fracturing from joint sets. We arrived just after 4 pm and we began to set up our camp before making a short field trip up the mountain to scope out where we would be doing field work the next four days.

The first thing we did when setting up camp was build our Ger, a traditional Mongolian nomad dwelling that stands on wooden poles and is covered with skin, felt, wool, and tarp.

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This is where we ate all of our meals and would gather after a full day in the field.

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After setting up all of our tents and ger, we drove up to the base of our field locality and took a brief tour before it got dark. Dr. Waters and Thomas Suttner briefed us on the sections of our locality including rock types, fossils that could be found, and the orientation of the sections so we could get right to work the next day.  Since it was my first time examining a full geological field locality, I was quickly overwhelmed with excitement of the work I would be doing the next week-not to mention every time I looked up, I felt like I was in a National Geographic magazine!

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This was our dinner served that night- yum!

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Day 3-6, The Gerelt Hoshoo Locality

The first morning at our field site, I woke up with a dead phone and had no idea what time it was. Unzipping my tent to see if I was late getting up and fearing the idea that I missed out on breakfast, I froze upon seeing one of the most incredible sunrises of my life:

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Thankfully, I realized I was not late for the breakfast and I was able to sit and enjoy that sunrise for at least an hour until it was served!

The next four days in the field were spent at the Gerelt Hoshoo Locality. It was located conveniently right behind our base camp and  was divided into four sections. Unit 1 contained a significant amount of brachiopods, gastropods, cephalopods, rugose corals, and crinoid ossicles found in limestone beds.  Units 2 and 3 mainly consist of dark greenish gray siltstones and shales interbedded with thin, but laterally continuous, limestones. Possible microbialite deposits are found at the base of unit 2. Unit 4 is characterized by a series of coarse sandstones and conglomerates with interbedded siltstones and shales that contain plant debris. The base of unit 4 contains a black siltstone/shale and soil horizon of coal hypothesized to represent the Hangenberg event and the D/C boundary.

On day one, I focused my time on collecting rock samples for zircon geochronology analysis. I took several samples from coarse sandstones found in unit 3 and 4.

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Note the differences in rock hammers-the skinnier one was great in wedging out specific samples of rock  (thanks grandpa!), but the thicker one (made for the hardest of metamorphic rocks) could literally annihilate any chunk of rock that I wanted to sample! (the metamorphic one is owned by Dr. Carmichael-the metamorphic petrologist!)

The second and third days were spent exploring more of the formation and mapping the area out in greater detail. We thought we had discovered a possible ancient river channel, and then we decided against this hypothesis and concluded our section might be overturned. But then we disregarded this hypothesis and concluded we were very uncertain about the true stratigraphy of the section- it would need to be studied in much greater detail (which is what we were there for after all…right?!). The fourth day was spent collecting any last minute samples we felt like we needed-and then packaging them all up to be shipped back to Appalachian State University.

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We thankfully finished packaging and documenting all our samples before the BIG STORM came…

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Dark clouds came rolling in around 5 pm that night. Both my professors advised me to go to my tent and “secure it down with rocks and boulders” to make sure it wouldn’t fly away. Thinking they were overreacting (I mean, we were in a desert…it’s not supposed to rain! There was no way this storm would be “big”…) I picked up a couple of large rocks near my tent and placed them on some corners of my tent-thinking that those few rocks would suffice to hold my tent down in the wind. Walking back to the ger, it wasn’t long until we all heard the roaring winds and rain pelting on the roof¬†of the ger. After a couple of minutes, I peaked out the ger front door to find my tent completely¬†collapsed in the rain.

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Running to it, I sat in my tent, holding it up while I waited for the storm to pass (I was in shock from how strong this storm was. It was as if it was mocking me for doubting its potential!). After about a half hour, the rain let up and I got out to my tent to find a stunning rainbow, which was unfortunately surrounded by distant storm clouds quickly approaching-a second storm was coming (and I wasn’t about to underestimate this next storm)…

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I put my passport in my pocket (I knew if my tent would fly away and I lost everything, I would still be able to get home as long as I had my passport!), and then I put quadruple the amount of rocks and boulders inside my tent to make sure it was secure enough. I then went back to the ger and waited until the second storm passed. To keep the ger from flying away, we ended up parking all of our vans in a circle around the ger to block the heavy winds from pushing it down.

The time was passed that night by¬†bonding with everyone huddled in the¬†ger. We sung traditional songs from our home countries-Russia, Spain, USA, England, Germany, Belgium, Mongolia, and more-while also telling funny stories about our lives. This was the night I was able to bond with everyone the most, and I realized I considered everyone to be part of one¬†big family-even though I had just met them a week prior. It was a great night, and it turns out that we only lost our two shower tents to the strong winds (and everyone bathed in a river nearby anyway, so it was no big deal)! Never underestimate the potential of a rain storm in a desert…

Day 7-the Car Wreck Locality

On day¬†five¬†in the field, our team drove about a half hour away from our camp site to¬†Hushoot Shiveetiin gol (aka “Car Wreck Locality”). Prior to this trip in 2012, Dr. Waters and the rest of IGCP 596&580, who were doing research in Mongolia, accidentally crashed a van at this field site. While they were waiting for the driver to fix the damage, they managed to stumble upon a field locality rich in Late Devonian fossils, which they believe strongly correlated to their initial field site at the Gerelt Hoshoo¬†Locality. Because of this discovery, our group¬†decided to dedicate a full day of field research to this locality.

Dr. Carmichael, Dr. Waters and I began the day scoping out the area. The Car Wreck Locality had never been fully mapped out or explored, so it was essential that we gathered a basic understanding of the overall geology of the locality before taking samples. The locality mainly consists of fossil-rich siltstones that can be correlated with Unit 3 in the measured Gerelt Hoshoo locality.

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I remember clearly that this was the day in the field that Dr. Carmichael and I realized Dr. Waters NEEDED A NEW TAPE MEASURE! Dr. C and I decided it would be a good idea to measure out a strat column of the area-and Dr. Waters kindly let us use his tape measure (which was already taped up with layers and layers of duct tape). After five minutes the tape measure broke and we couldn’t reel the measure back into the casing, so we had to take turns walking to each other and folding the tape measure up when we were done. It made the task of creating a stratigraphic column more difficult and frustrating than it should of been, but we were able to get a section complete and when Dr. Waters asked for his tape measure back, we told him “No, you need to get a new one!!!!” and his response was, “But that tape measure is special to me. I dropped it off the side of a mountain-and it still works fine!” Dr. C and I easily decided that we were going to get him a new tape measure for his birthday.

Right before lunch, Dr. C, Dr. Waters and I excitingly came across a mafic pillow basalt layer in this locality. This was an awesome discovery because it supported our hypothesis that we were in a volcanic arc complex!

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After taking samples of the basalt, we happily drove back to our base camp where we talked the whole night about our discoveries. While gathered around the tables in the ger, eating Russian chocolate and Mongolian tea, this was the night I realized how much fun field work is. You go into the field with proposed hypotheses of what you are going to find, and while you will inevitably stumble upon numerous obstacles along the way, when you find something that supports what you had hypothesized, everything pays off and you fall in love with science all over again!

Day 8-the Mongolian Border Locality

On the 8th day, we drove out about two hours to the “Mongolian Border Locality,” located south and right on¬†the border of China and Mongolia. After the bumpy drive (once again there were no roads leading to this locality and lots of dramamine was taken), our group arrived to the locality greeted by the Mongolian military as they escorted us up the STEEPEST HILL EVER to our field site.

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We then were taken to the Chinese/Mongolian border where a monument marked the exact border separating Mongolia from China.

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It was hard to believe a plaque statue was separating me from the vast country of China.

The field work at this locality was much more difficult than the localities we studied the past five days  because the sections were located on an extremely steep mountain, so it was a constant challenge to keep your balance while hammering away at samples and analyzing fossils.

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The formation primarily contained low-grade metamorphic sediments, with a thick interval of well bedded and highly fossiliferous slates. Fossils found in the slate layers consisted of brachiopods, rugose corals, trilobites (I found one of these!!! Whoo!!), bryozoan colonies, and crinoid crowns. As you moved down the mountain, there is an evident transition from a marine Devonian paleoenvironment into terrestrial deposits from the Carboniferous, which contain several plant fossils.

We stumbled upon another mafic basalt layer while at this locality, which we gladly sampled and celebrated.

After this day in the field, we drove back to base camp sad to realize we only had one more day in the field left! Even though I was sore and tired, I didn’t want this experience to come to an end.

Day 9-the Nuhniinuruu Formation (the most EVENTFUL day in the field)

Where do I start with a post about this day? It is potentially impossible to explain the entire scenario since I feel like it was one of those stories where you “had to be there” to understand why it was so crazy, chaotic, yet now funny, but I’ll try my best to explain this to you all.

The day began with our group deciding to “divide and conquer” on our last day in the field since there were different sections people wanted to dedicate their last day to for last minute sampling. For example, the¬†the brachiopod specialists wanted to return to the Gerelt Hoshoo Locality, while several of the trilobite and crinoid specialists wanted to return to the Car Wreck Locality, while Dr. Waters, Dr. Carmichael, Peter (an experienced paleontologist and stratigrapher from Germany part of IGCP 596&580) and I desired to travel north to the Nuhniinuruu Formation that had not been studied yet to locate an essential¬†bentonite layer.

Because of all our different interests, we split our group into different vans and headed to the places we each wanted to go. The Nuhniinuruu Formation, however, which Dr. C, Dr. W, Peter, and I were going to, was about two hours away north of our base camp. Since this formation was located north, it was conveniently located on the way back to Khovd, which we would all leave for tomorrow to head back to the airport to get back to Ulaanbaatar. Because it was on the way, and because it was two hours away, our group decided that they were going to pack up everything and meet us later in the day at the Nuhniinuruu Formation to camp for the night before heading back to Khovd. This would conveniently shave off two hours of our trip back to Khovd the next day, and it would give us more time to explore the bentonite locality.

Peter had brought a camera crew with him to help film a¬†documentary about our research. So that morning, around 930am, Peter, Dr. Carmichael, Dr. Waters, me, Dea and Helga (our camera crew), our Mongolian van driver, and a Mongolian geologist (who would help us translate with our Mongolian driver since he did not know any english), packed up our tents, put all of our gear in our two vans, and headed north for two hours to the Nuhniinuruu Formation. It was a long and bumpy drive, and mainly consisted of Dr. Waters holding a GPS in one hand and pointing towards the far¬†distance, telling our driver to “head over there” towards our formation.

After about two and a half hours, we realized we were a little lost. Dr. Waters was the only person who knew how to get to this formation, since he was the only one who was there in 2012. Finally arriving to the mouth of a canyon, Dr. Waters insisted for us to get out and walk up the canyon pretty certain it was the one. Relieved to get out of the car, we walked up the canyon and turn after turn, he realized it wasn’t the right canyon. We turned around and jumped in our jeep to drive up the mountain range about two miles to another canyon mouth. Dr. Waters, once again, was pretty certain this was the right location, but he wasn’t entirely confident so he told the camera crew to wait in the van until we scoped out the area to determine if it was indeed the right locality. It didn’t take long for him to realize once again that this was the wrong location.

Finally, getting back into the van, we drove for about twenty minuets to another canyon mouth where Dr. Waters was certain it¬†was the correct location. We got out and ate our lunch before heading up the canyon to find the bentonite layer. While eating lunch, the Mongolian geologist mentioned that he sought it to be a “good idea” for him to leave while we were doing field work and drive about an hour and a half away to a nearby town to restock on supplies for our final dinner tonight. Weary on whether this was a great idea to let him go since he was our translator, and since he would be driving away with one of our only two vans¬†which had all of Dea, Helga, and Peter’s camping gear, we decided we didn’t really have a choice in the decision. We finished our lunch and got our gear together to go hiking up the canyon to find the bentonite layer.¬†Since we realized already half the day’s sunlight had passed, we were all eager to get going, so we got a head start to the camera crew while they took some time to gather all their equipment together after lunch. We figured they could easily catch up with us in no time at all.

So we began to hike. Up and up, around several corners, critically analyzing the folded black, black-grey, green-grey, and brownish fine grained sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, clay-schist, and coarse sandstones bearing limestones looking for the specific bentonite layer.

Before we knew it, another couple of hours passed and we all stopped to realize we had no idea where we were. And we realized we had no idea where the camera crew was either.

“I think they went into town with the Mongolian translator,” said Peter, confident in his assumption.

“Are you sure?” I suggested, “I thought they were gathering up their equipment to follow us up the canyon.”

Peter decided to head backwards towards the van to see if he could run into the camera crew in case they were lost. Dr. Waters, Dr. C and I kept moving forward, determined we were getting close to the bentonite layer. We drew arrows in the dirt to show which direction we would walk for Peter to find us later on. Truth was-things were beginning to look the same and we were losing track of our exact location.

After another hour Peter found us again and said he didn’t find¬†the camera crew. By this time, we all had pretty much given up on locating the bentoninte layer, and figured it would be smart to just start heading back to the van. To officially announce our defeat, we took this photo:

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We began our long trek back, and just because we still weren’t certain about the whereabouts of the camera crew, we began to yell signal sounds loudly, just in case the camera crew was somewhere in the canyon..lost. About an hour later, we located a rams skull that we had saw on the way entering the canyon. Finally, we knew where we were and walked back to the vans!

Seeing the mouth of the canyon in the distance, I quickly ran towards the vans to see if the van that went to town had returned with the camera crew. To my demise, it had not returned, and only our van was parked with the Mongolian driver sunbathing on the hood waiting for our return.

I ran back to Dr. Waters, Dr. C, and Peter to find them staring at a wall of rock about 100 meters away from the intial mouth of the canyon.

“I think this is it!” Dr. Carmichael shouted, pointing to a wall of rock that looked slickly similar to bentonite.

“No, it can’t be,” responded Peter, walking up to the wall of rock to take a sample.

I quickly found out we all became too stubborn to admit the bentonite layer we had been searching for this whole time was located just 100 meters from the mouth of the canyon, and our day of hiking was pretty much wasted. But after much staring, we realized it was the layer we were looking for, and we quickly took samples, excited to finally have located it!

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Then began our debate on the missing camera crew. Did they really go into town with the other van? Or were they still in the canyon? Just as we pulled out some paper to begin drawing pictures to the Mongolian driver and ask if he saw the camera crew with the other van, we saw them walk out of the canyon.

“You’re alive!” yelled Dr. Carmichael with excitement! It was true. They had been looking for us all day in the canyon..carrying their heavy equipment, without any water. Dea claimed she “talked to a lizard” who showed her the way back to the vans.

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Here is the picture of the camera crew when they initially walked out of the canyon (in the black and white shirt). Thankful they were alive and we were all okay, the last thing we had to do was wait. Sit and wait for the rest of our group to meet up with us to camp for the night. We all sat in the dirt, staring out in the distance…waiting any minute for the rest of our vans (and the other van with all of Peter, Dea, and Helga’s equipment) to return.

More and more time passed and we soon began to worry they weren’t going to find us. We figured they were supposed to have met up with us by now, as it would soon get dark. Just as we began to get incredibly worried, we saw a person in the far distance running towards us.

“Is that a shirtless man?” Dr. Carmichael first said when she initially spotted him. We all stood up and wide eyed stared at the man running at us. Personally, I felt scared. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, with only the sound of the wind blowing past dust particles in the sand, and a random man was running towards us in the distance. In fact, I was so scared, I didn’t even take a picture…which I still regret to this day.

Watching this man run towards us felt surreal. We stared and stared, until he was close enough for us to realize it was Star Boy!! (One of our Mongolian friend geologists who was part of IGCP 596&580).

“I came to save you!” he said. “Our van broke down beyond the mountain, but we figured you would be over here. If we just drive to where I say, we can meet up with the rest of camp!”

We all crammed into one van and began to drive in the distance towards “the rest of our camp.”

To cut to the chase, we soon were reunited with the rest of our group at camp. The van that had left us earlier in the day had driven straight to base camp to meet up with everyone else, instead of going back for us. At this point, we were beyond the point of asking questions, so we just set up our tents, and went to eat the last meal of our trip in the field.

Long story short, this day in the field may have been my favorite. Even though we declared it a disaster, I learned so much about field work!¬†I learned that it was okay to make mistakes. I learned that it was okay to admit defeat. I learned it was okay to get lost. I learned it was okay to get frustrated. I learned it was okay to freak out. I learned it was okay to have years of experience as a professional geologist, but still make mistakes. I learned it was alright to be scared when a shirtless man runs towards you in the middle of nowhere. I learned that it was all okay. It’s okay in life if you make mistakes. We all turned out fine, and we ended up getting a sample of bentonite anyway, which is what we wanted all along, right? Looking back at this day, I will always remember these moments as moments that made me a better and more fearless geologist. Failures help lead you to a path of success, and from now on, I will never be scared to admit I am wrong, or that I failed in something. ¬†Just go¬†out and try!

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Now to make the final drive back to Khovd…and board a plane that offered this as our boarding passes (super sketchy!!):

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I’ll see you again Mongolian-outback…I will see you again!

 

Thank you-Final Thoughts

IGCP FIELD

The experiences I had while in Mongolia have¬†been some of the¬†most exhilarating, eye opening, exciting, and amazing opportunities I have ever had in my life. When I came to Appalachian State University, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to travel halfway around the world to study awesome geology and meet so many inspiring people from around the world. I will never forget the experiences I had, and I will take everything I learned and use it in my daily life to grow into the best geologist possible. Thank you to everyone who was part of my journey! Until next time!

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Introduction

Hello everyone!

For those of you who do not know me, I am Cameron Batchelor, a junior geology major at Appalachian State University who had the grand opportunity this past summer (August 2014) to travel to Mongolia to conduct geologic field work with my two research advisers, Dr. Sarah Carmichael and Dr. Johnny Waters, and an international group of geologists called “IGCP 596 & 580.” This blog covers the research I do, the experience I’ve gained, and the things I’ve learned from my years studying geology at Appalachian State University. Here’s a photo to kick things off:

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This is the group of people I was able to give my first ever professional geologic talk to-and the group of people that I grew so close to while out in the Mongolian field for 10 days. Every person in this photo touched my heart in different ways, and I learned so much from everyone. The experience would have not been the same without them! Shout out to the IGCP GROUP 596 & 580, miss you!! You guys all ROCK!!! ūüôā (which means a lot coming from a geologist!)

Read more below to find out why all of these people are amazing-and why geology and research are BEYOND AWESOME!