Geomorphologist Jaakko Putkonen, student team head to Nepal for Himalayan adventure (and lots of study)


David L. Dodds

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Geomorphologist Jaakko Putkonen, student team head to Nepal for Himalayan adventure (and lots of study)

Talk about higher learning!

Jaakko Putkonen, a University of North Dakota geomorphologist, and a student team will leave later this month on a 40-hour trip to Nepal for a summer field course in geology high in the Himalayan Mountains.

Putkonen is a faculty member in the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering, part of the UND College of Engineering and Mines.

"A field course like this one is a key requirement for geology and related majors," said Collin Giusti, a geology senior who's done several expeditions with Putkonen, including a couple of trips to Antarctica.

Like his three UND colleagues, who also are doing this field trip to Nepal – a first for all four students, the choice was for a bigger adventure and a new experience.

Putkonen, an authority in polar and high-mountain research, is taking the following UND students (their names followed by their hometowns, their year in school, and their majors):

  • Collin Giusti, Chanhassen, Minn., senior, geology
  • Connor Lindenberg, Cavalier, N.D., junior, environmental geoscience
  • Cody Brown Hoskins, Williston, N.D., senior, geomorphology
  • Nick Bosshart, Jefferson, Iowa, graduate student, petroleum geology. Bosshart is the graduate teaching assistant (GTA) for the team, which will include students from other universities, as well.

"Our course objective is to teach students the basics of field geology – we're giving them an intense three-week hands-on experience in how to do this," said Putkonen, who started doing science trips to Nepal during his post-doctoral work.

Students will learn the basics of skills of their trade such as geologic mapping, how to make field observations, and how to use their notebooks, Bosshart explained.

"Up at our camp site, we'll be several days from any road, and it'll be slow going because we all have to acclimatize to the thin air at that elevation," Bosshart said, noting that there are no smokers among the group.

"I've traveled and done research in Nepal many times," said Putkonen, who has published several papers relating to his work there. "You go to a place you've never been to and start mapping things. You find the things you need to know about the rocks in the area and how do you sample them, and then you write reports."

It's a physically demanding trip, especially for first-timers, Putkonen noted.

"There are no roads up there, only rough cut trails, so we have to trek up and establish our highest camp at an elevation of about 16,000 feet in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas," he said. "At the end of every day up there, we're completely exhausted, so we just crawl into our tents to sleep."

And, he quips, there's no energy for mischief.

Putkonen, who has stayed fit throughout his professional career so that he can accomplish this kind rigorous field trip, says students will be tried and tested. But they'll get plenty of help from the Nepalese guide and his 30 or so porters.

"Our guide, whom I've worked with for several years, takes care of everything, including arranging the food and fuel – which all has to be carried in," he said. "He even brings ingredients for western food such as French fries and pizza. The Nepalese themselves eat a staple diet of lentils, potatoes and rice, and an occasional chicken purchased from a local farmer."

The trip will cost each student about $6,000 – about $1,500 more than a U.S.-based field course – including airfare and tuition for the course.

"It's worth the extra money to me for the adventure and the kind of coursework and experience we couldn't get in the Black Hills," said Hoskins. "This is a great opportunity for all of us."

But there are physical challenges besides the altitude.

"The steep slopes, weathered bedrock, and intense monsoonal rainfall of the Nepalese Himalayas create ideal conditions for landslides" to quote an academic paper published by Putkonen and colleagues a few years back about research they conducted in Nepal.

"Students will put all of what they've learned in the classroom to work out in the field," said Bosshart.

Juan Miguel Pedraza

University and Public Affairs writer

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