Last month, a group of students and faculty from Missouri University of Science and Technology collaborated with international researchers to study geologic formations surrounding the Egyptian Nile, painting a picture of the evolutionary history of the past six million years.
The project is part of the International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE). The program provides students with the opportunity to travel abroad and experience the academic and social culture of their host county while engaged in scientific research. Leading the project is Dr. Mohamed Abdel Salam, associate professor of geological sciences and engineering at Missouri S&T. He has been conducting research in North East Africa for more than 15 years.
“The Nile River continues to beat all odds to exist,” says Abdel Salam. “Geological evolution is fundamentally important to understanding how long-lasting rivers evolve and how climate change and Earth movement affect their evolutionary path.”
Interest in the evolutionary history of the region is not purely academic. “It is important for finding clean groundwater resources and fertile soil for agricultural activities today,” says Abdel Salam.
In Egypt, Abdel Salam and the Missouri S&T students focused on a small portion of the Nile near Aswan in southern Egypt. Students each worked on sub-projects during their 20 days of field work. Some mapped faults and rock layers along the Nile to understand the topographic control of the river channel. The geophysics teams took seismic readings, measuring shock waves through rock layers several hundred meters deep, while other teams measured gravitational and magnetic properties of the subsurface up to one kilometer deep.
“It’s like an intense field camp,” says Crystal Twenter, a Missouri S&T junior in geology and geophysics from Rolla. “In this case, your professors don’t know everything. You can actually hypothesize and come up with a great discovery yourself.”
The trip included a two-day conference in Damanhur, where S&T students presented a thorough background on the geology and climate of the Nile, and Africa as a whole, to Egyptian students and faculty. Some students will also present the results of their work at the Geological Society of America conference to be held in Branson, Mo., this spring.
In addition to Twenter, the following S&T students went on the Egypt trip: Ali Atef, Kathryn Boardman, Bobby Swain, and Tobias Tubber. Atef is a graduate student in geophysics; the others are undergraduates in geology and geophysics. The S&T students collaborated with faculty and students from Oklahoma State University, Hamilton College in New York, the University of Alexandria-Damanhur, and Sohag University in Aswan, Egypt.
“It was fantastic to work with the international students and share the experience of learning the ropes in our field,” says Swain, who is from Winfield, Mo.
Abdel Salam will be going back to Africa this summer to study the Nile in the Ethiopian Plateau through another NSF-OISE-IRES grant. He will be taking four Missouri S&T students and will work closely with faculty and students at Ethiopian universities.