French school teachers come to Tech to study Rio Grande Rift, Oct. 20, 2005

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 20, 2005 – A contingent of teachers from French schools from throughout the United States and Canada recently traveled to the New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro to attend a weeklong workshop on geologic topics concerning the Rio Grande rift.

The group of 15 French-speaking science teachers, most of them French citizens, received several hours of classroom instruction combined with on-site field observations in an interactive instructional clinic that focused on one of New Mexico’s most significant geologic features.

The Rio Grande rift is an active zone of plate tectonic spreading. The upper mantle and crust along the rift have been actively stretching toward the west for the past 32 million years.

Several geoscientists from New Mexico Tech and New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, an on-campus research and service division of the university, lent their expertise in seismology, volcanology, geomorphology, geochronology, and mapping techniques to the teachers during the week, at times with English to French translations being provided by some of the bilingual participants.

The French Rio Grande Rift Clinic, the first of its kind held solely for teachers associated with French preparatory schools, was largely arranged by Marc Roux, one of the participants and a teacher and head of the Department of Biology and Geology at French International School, located near Washington, D.C.

“The instruction that was kindly provided to us by New Mexico Bureau of Geology and New Mexico Tech geologists throughout the week was the essential core of this professional development program,” Roux explained.

On one of their geologic field trips, the group of teachers journeyed to a field site in Socorro Canyon, located about five miles west of Socorro, just off of U.S. Highway 60. There they studied exposed sections of a fault scarp formed by an active fault of the Rio Grande rift.

Recent studies by New Mexico Tech researchers indicate this particular fault has been associated with two or three significant earthquake events in the last 120,000 years.

Later that morning, a few miles down the highway at a large road cut near Box Canyon, the French visitors examined layers of volcanic ash, lava, and an exhumed feeder dike in the moat of the Socorro caldera. This “super volcano” was formed during the earliest stages of rifting about 32 million years ago.

During the week, the French-speaking science teachers also visited the IRIS/PASSCAL seismic research facility on the New Mexico Tech campus, El Malpais National Monument and the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field near Grants, and San Lorenzo Canyon, located north of Socorro near the center of the Rio Grande rift.

In previous years, Roux had accompanied groups of his own students for similar geologic field trips to New Mexico, which also were coordinated with geoscientists at New Mexico Tech.

“When these students went back to their schools and began creating web pages and detailed reports about their experiences here in New Mexico, their teachers also got excited about the possibilities and asked me if I could arrange for such a program to be put on for them as well,” Roux said.

Roux, who has a bachelor’s degree in geology, said his marked interest in New Mexico geology was sparked by a family vacation to the state taken about four years ago.