Geology students, Dartmoor National Park

Geology students, Dartmoor National Park

Plymouth is ideally situated as a location to study Earth Sciences as it is surrounded by an unrivalled diversity of geology, geomorphology and natural environments. It is the site of extensive past resources extraction, which provides lessons for mitigating environmental impact. The region is also at forefront of exciting projects to develop new geothermal and offshore wind energy, as well as the search for new supplies of critical minerals on which sustainable development depends. Throughout your time at Plymouth, we use the local coastal and moorland environments to develop geological, geographical and environmental field skills. These can be day trips, extended case studies or short residential trips.
Maximising the use of local field-locations also helps us reduce our carbon footprint. 
Residential fieldwork to more distant locations focuses on parts of the world where the geology or climate is very different to the SW of England, for example in tectonically or volcanologically active settings such as Italy or the western USA. We also offer the chance to visit desert or arid environments where water resources are a major challenge that geologists can help to manage. Students learn to understand the hazards that are unique to these settings, as well as the resource potential they provide, and how Earth Scientists can help locate and manage these resources. Residential fieldwork also allows students on our programmes to develop friendships, and staff and students to get to know one another.
Professor Iain Stewart, Chair in geoscience communication

“The overlapping diversity of disciplines here at Plymouth makes it a great place to study geology, and our fantastic geological backyard is ideal for an outstanding range of fieldwork experiences.”

Professor Iain Stewart MBE
Professor of Geoscience Communication, Sustainable Earth Institute
Dartmoor #157602818
Dartmoor, South West England

Current field courses

Year 1 

Dorset and Cornwall.  Local fieldwork in the first year focuses on visits to projects where geoscientists are helping develop green energy or critical mineral resources. Students learn to understand different geological settings and how minerals are located and exploited sustainably. Students also learn field techniques that enable them to unravel the geological history of southern Britain, and to put recent environmental changes in a longer-term perspective of climate and environmental change. Students learn to make geological maps on Dartmoor, and these skills can be used to help develop geological resources.
Our fieldwork is supported by learning how to use and interpret remote sensing data, and the application of innovative computer base virtual fieldwork. 
Central Italy (Vesuvius and Central Apennines). At the end of Year 1, all Earth Sciences students travel for a residential field trip to Italy which, unlike the UK, is tectonically active and the site of hazardous volcanoes, earthquakes and related processes such as landslides. Case studies include studying the eruptive Vesuvius and adjacent volcanoes to help understand future volcanic hazards and risk. We also visit L’Aquila, the site of a damaging earthquake in 2009, and learn how geological and geomorphological field skills can help predict the impact and location of future earthquakes. Students also learn how to read the landscape in terms of past tectonic and climate change activity, including the recovery from the last glacial period. 

Year 2 

Devon and Cornwall. As in year 1, the core of second year fieldwork involves day and short residential fieldwork in Devon and Cornwall. In semester 1, this fieldwork focuses on learning geomorphological techniques to map, describe and evaluate the earth’s surface. Students also learn geophysical survey techniques, which enable us to investigate resources below the surface, in what scientists call the ‘critical zone’. In Semester 2, students undertake a field project investigating the spectacular coastal geology in South Devon, learning to describe the dramatic structures which resulted from the region’s turbulent tectonic past. 
Crystalline Rocks. The other second year semester 2 fieldwork case study focuses on rocks that formed. and were then deformed, deep in the Earth’s interior (igneous and metamorphic rocks). This residential fieldwork will be either in Cornwall or Brittany (France). Students learn how these rocks form, but also how they can be used to find new critical mineral resources or as the source of geothermal energy. 
Between Year 2 and 3, Earth Science students at Plymouth have the option to undertake fieldwork at a range of locations in the UK or in Europe as the basis for data collection for their final year dissertations. Past fieldwork projects have been in locations such as the Spanish Pyrenees, Portugal, SW France and Arctic Norway, as well as across the UK (e.g. Lake District, Snowdonia, west Scottish isles). Students who prefer not to do field based projects have the choice of a wide range of lab and computer based projects.

Year 3

Final year fieldwork is optional at Plymouth, and residential fieldwork is in the module Neotectonics, Hazards and Resources. Within this module, students usually have the choice of one of two trip locations: 
Death Valley and SE California (optional). This residential field trip takes in active faults, volcanoes and awe-inspiring desert and mountain landscapes in Southern California around the plate boundary between the America and Pacific Plates. This includes the Pacific coast and mountains around Los Angeles, the San Andreas Fault and the desert rift systems of the East California Shear Zone, which includes the Long Valley Caldera, Owens Valley, Sierra Nevada and the Death Valley rift basin itself.
Sicily (optional). This field trip focuses on volcanology and volcanic related hazards. Students study and compare the evolution of Etna and the island of Volcano. We visit a highly active volcano and learn about its four distinct evolutionary phases, and visit the Etna Volcano observatory to meet the geologists who monitor this volcano daily.

Year 4 (MGeol (Hons) Geology only)

Dartmoor and Somerset. Year 4 fieldwork is currently split into two separate specific projects. Each involves short intense field data collection followed by laboratory analysis of the field data, synthesis of results, and interpretation either as a report or a group oral presentation. One project is related to digital data collection techniques to address the issues of emplacement of Dartmoor granites. The other project critically evaluates the evidence for tectonic versus salt-controlled evolution of structures and stratigraphy in North Somerset and analogues in the North Sea basin.


You can take a zero cost route through your course but there may be some additional costs if you choose an optional field course.

"The third year trip to Sicily was the most striking as the ability to see geology in action by climbing the active volcanoes Etna and Vulcano, and studying their respective impacts on the geological record was amazing."

BSc (Hons) Geology student

View of the village of San Teodoro and Etna volcano on background. Sicily, Italy.
Etna volcano, Sicily
Clearing 2019 - students on Dartmoor with climbing instructor
Dartmoor, South West England
Fieldwork may be subject to change due to staffing and external factors.