Skip to main content

Winter Break Rundown

Hannah talks about what she did over winter break–research in California with a side of Minnesota chillin.

Hannah talks about what she did over winter break–research in California with a side of Minnesota chillin.

At Carleton we run on a trimester system, meaning our academic year is split into three terms. For various reasons, this results in a winter break that is six weeks long, starting a bit before the American thanksgiving, and ending in early January. Because break is so long, it gives student the opportunity to explore various career paths via shadowing, participate in externships, go home, travel, work, etc.

This break I was lucky enough to be able to accompany a professor and two other classmates to California to participate in geology fieldwork, and present my research at a poster session at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) 2023 conference.

Why did I go to CA?

I spent this past summer here in Northfield working with Sarah Titus, one of my favorite professors and a structural geologist, analyzing borehole breakouts to learn stress direction data around the San Andreas fault system (you can read about my summer and research here!). While I was in Northfield, two other geology students, Annika and Amberly, were working at Iowa State with Jaqueline, another structural geologist, modeling borehole breakouts in the lab. All five of us went to California to see some of this stress “in-action” (it takes a long time in some cases) and we collected data on another type of structure that can tell us about stress: deformation bands.


Deformation bands are small faults with small displacements typically found in sedimentary rocks. We can measure the orientation that they form in to help determine what direction maximum and minimum stress is occurring. We worked in Parkfield, Kettleman Hills, Coalinga and other areas in middle CA.

Large set of deformation bands on a rock
Here is a large set of deformation bands tilted to the right. See my yellow field notebook right next to it for scale!

We had 8 days in the field that consisted of waking up at 6 am, getting on the road by 7, and working until the sun goes down and we could no longer see the rocks. The outcrops we looked for were often on private land, so we had to ask permission to get access to some of locations we wanted to get to. The specific rock formation in that area that often had this set of bands that Sarah was looking for is called the Etchegoin Formation, and is a shallow-water marine sandstone. One of my favorite things about this type of sandstone was that it had a lot of beds of sand dollar fossils–and they were beautiful! (at least in the eyes of this geology major). There were a lot of fossils in this formation which is always exciting,  and I tried my best to use my paleobiology knowledge to identify them.

Hannah, Annika, Amberly hiking
Hiking with Annika and Amberly to find the next outcrop

It was a good amount of hiking which was quite fun, with the occasional snake (less fun), but it was nice to be somewhere a bit warmer for part of winter break (especially as a MN resident). We even got to go to the ocean for a day to focus on Jaqueline’s work, which was exciting for me because I have only been a few times in my life. Though field days can get long, we made it through the day with our various Trader Joe field snacks, and the day of work made dinner back out our Airbnb has taste so good.

Ocean selfie
Me at the ocean! Try and spot the seagull

AGU 2023

After our days of fieldwork we headed over to San Francisco for the American Geophysical Union conference. As someone who has never been to a conference like this before it was overwhelming and exciting all mixed into a package called AGU. About 22,000-25,000 geologists attend AGU, to needless to say the conference is quite huge. The amount of talks and poster sessions at a given time is quite enormous.

I will say a lot of the presentations went over my head because I don’t have a specific field of geology yet, nor a Phd or graduate degree. Despite being a bit lost sometimes I definitely got a lot out of the experience. I saw all types of research and projects that fit under the geology umbrella–sometimes it is quite surprising how many sub-fields geology has. It was quite exciting to meet new people, and I met a lot of Carleton alums too! Overall I learned a great deal about geology as a field and as a future career, which was a really great opportunity.

Many people at a conference
A glimpse of the staircase leading down to the poster session at AGU.

What else did I do with my break?

Besides that I spent time at home with my family and got my wisdom teeth out (yay so much fun!). While it was great to see my family but I will say the wisdom teeth part was not my favorite. That being said, I enjoyed slowing things down, catching up with friends from home, and hanging out with my cats.

Hannah is a junior majoring in Geology and minoring in Classics. As a Minnesotan she considers herself somewhat of an expert on MN winters. At Carleton, she fills her schedule with writing for the Admissions blog, working as a CCCE Communications Fellow, doing geology research and TAing geology classes, and increasing voter engagement on campus. When Hannah isn’t in class, she can be found tossing a frisbee with Syzygy, crocheting, reading, walking and skiing in the Arb, thrifting, and hanging out with her besties. Meet the other bloggers!