AUC Educational Development Initiatives in Spanish Pyrenees

30 October 2018

AUC’s Faculty Development Fund enabled two core faculty members to explore possibilities for outdoor field courses in the Spanish Pyrenees: Field course in Environmental Earth Sciences and Biodiversity Lab.

Dr. Anco Lankreijer and Dr. Cor Zonneveld traveled to Spain during the autumn break to test the suitability of locations for the Field course in Environmental Earth Sciences and exploring the possibility of hosting a Biodiversity Lab course in the same location. The Field course in Environmental Earth Sciences will be taught by Dr. Lankreijer in the June period starting in 2019, which will involve fieldwork in the Ainsa-region in the central Pyrenees. Dr. Zonneveld will be overseeing the development of the Biodiversity Lab course in the same location.

North-view from Ainsa

North-view from Ainsa on Peña Montañesa and Rio Cinc

Geological processes in Ainsa ripe for study

The Ainsa region shows unique evidence of the geological processes that formed the Spanish Pyrenees. This mountain chain started off as a marine basin in Cretaceous times, before the Iberian Peninsula was united to the European mainland. When the Iberian plate collided with Europe, the resulting compression pushed these sediments to great heights. Destruction of the mountain belt already started during the collision, and some of the debris was pushed up again in the compression. All stages of these mountain-building processes can be observed in various easily accessible locations at relatively short distances. Crossing the mountain chain allows for the study of the complete range, from surface processes to deep crustal high temperature and pressure rock, in addition to a slice of Earth’s mantle.

Such accessibility makes the region unique in offering world-class examples of different types of rock deformation, folding and faulting, while the rock record allows for the study of many different depositional environments, ranging from deep sea to delta, fluvial and salt lakes. On top of all this, during the last ice age, glaciers carved out a majestic topography, which can be observed especially well from suitable vantage points in the area.

Anticline near Boltaña, Cascada de Sorrosal, AUC fieldwork

Anticline near Boltaña / Cascada de Sorrosal

Future AUC courses in the field

While Dr. Lankreijer prepared for the Field course in Environmental Earth Sciences, his colleague Dr. Zonneveld explored options for a twin lab course in Biodiversity Lab. While the season didn't allow experiencing the full richness of the flora and fauna of the region, various promising areas for the Biodiversity Lab were identified. In June 2019 this exploration will be continued, with the course Biodiversity Lab tentatively being taught for the first time in June 2020. Effectively combining the resources and logistics in one field location will enable more students to enjoy fieldwork. And since geological and biological processes continuously interact, the joint setting of the two courses will allow for a rich interdisciplinary educational experience.

Ramonda myconi, a relictual species that only occurs in the Pyrenees and North-Eastern Spain

Published by  Amsterdam University College