Making A VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool: Part 1

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Making a VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool Part 3 — Putting Panoramas into Google Earth

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Creating a New Virtual Fieldwork Experience

I’m going to start fresh on a VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool in the Niagara River Gorge, just north (downstream) of the Falls.  This post is the first of a planned series on pulling that together.

My goals for this include:

  • Creating a resource for teachers and students.
  • Pushing myself to think and learn about the geology of my new/old home region.  (I’ve recently returned to Western New York, where I grew up but haven’t lived in 25 years).
  • Design teacher professional development workshops in which teachers are immersed in VFE design and creation.  The idea I want to flesh out is having teachers work in teams to rapidly learn how to create VFEs and, simultaneously, work together to create a detailed, large scale VFE.  The current thought is that teacher teams would each focus on a particular feature of process and assemble a mini-VFE or VFE component focused on that one aspect.  These would then be tied together using Google Earth.
  • I wish to emulate what we’ll have to do in some of these workshops — a first look without a whole lot of region specific background knowledge and then limited time to figure out what different teams might do.

I’ll collect a few resources, both in the form of electronic documents and materials and head out shortly.  What do I need?  Maps of the area, for sure.  Google Maps can produce a topographic map of the region(click on ‘Terrain’), but it’s probably good to also have the USGS quadrangle map of the area as well as what I produce in Google Earth.  That first USGS link takes you to the homepage for USGS Topographic maps.  From there, you can either purchase maps or download them.

Here’s a snippet of the USGS Topographic Map:

An exceprt from the Niagara Falls, NY Quadrangle Map

Here’s a snippet of the map in Google Maps:

Niagara Whirlpool terrain as shown using Google Maps.

This link will take you directly to the place for downloading USGS Topographic Maps.  I’ll be taking my computer (carefully) with me into the gorge, so I’ve downloaded the Whirlpool map.  That’s excerpted above.  The Whirlpool is pretty close to the north edge of the map, so I’ve also downloaded the next map to the northA smaller scale map covering a corner of New York State and much of Ontario is also available for download, but at first glance, I don’t think I’ll need it.

Foreshadowing a future post: it’s fairly straightforward to choose a section of a topographic or geologic map and overlay it in Google Earth.

It’s also useful to have a geologic map.  Depending on my time frame, I may stop at the Schoellkopf Geological Museum in Niagara Falls to see if I can buy one (and to check out what all is there).  Here’s a simplified map from Cochise College’s Virtual Geology Museum:

A simplified map of the geology of Western New York including Niagara Falls.

You can find a much more detailed geologic map (and maps of the entire state) here:

Be sure to download the legend as it’s a separate file from the maps.

That’s some useful to direct you.  Of course, there’s more that’s possible to do, like reading Colossal Cataracts, by Irving H. Tesmer, Jerold C. Bastedo, for example.  But you can also do productive things doing less.  I think it’s most important to get out there and look, and to get your students out there looking.

VFEs will never take the place of actually getting out there and looking at the world.  They can, we hope, help you to look more thoughtfully, and help you and your students get ready to go out there, but get out there – ready or not!

Here’s some things you might bring:

  • Map or maps
  • Camera
  • Scale, ruler or meter stick to include in photographs
  • Compass
  • First aid kit
  • GPS unit
  • Comfortable shoes

If you’re going to an area where you can collect samples:

•    Rock hammer (chisel-head preferred)
•    Goggles or other eyewear protection
•    Resealable bags or small specimen boxes, with tissue for wrapping smaller specimens (clear bags with white areas are preferred for writing to label and record specimen data).  Freezer bags are more durable than sandwich bags.
•    Small boxes or plastic totes for carrying bagged specimens
•    Permanent marker for labeling bags and/or boxes and rocks if possible.
•    Specimen labels

It’s not legal to collect in most parks, including all New York State parks, so I won’t need anything from the second list.

That’s it.  I’m out of here for my first of at least a few trips to get this thing together!



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