Sandia Prep's ninth-grade students headed out to Albuquerque's West Side recently to study the remnants of five cinder cone volcanoes.
Also known as the Three Sisters, the volcanoes are a classic and rare example of a fissure eruption, according to the National Park Service. Unlike most volcanoes, in which magma rises through a vertical central vent, in fissure eruptions, magma rises along thin cracks in the Earth's crust.
Prep's freshmen have been participating in the Albuquerque Volcanoes Geology Field Lab for at least 15 years, according to teacher Helen Haskell. As always, parents are welcome to accompany field trips, and 11 joined this year's outing.
Although the volcanoes are part of the Albuquerque landscape, many students -- indeed, many Albuquerque residents -- have never been there, and most don't know their geology and relationship to the area we live in, Haskell says.
"The Rio Grande Rift is one of the world's largest continental rift valleys and integral to our city having an acquifer, the Sandia Mountains and volcanoes," Haskell explains.
During the field lab, students hike around three of the volcanoes, going past another volcano that was mined completely away. They discuss recent histories of the area, including how one volcano was used for target practice during WWII and how Petroglyph National Monument -- formed in 1990 -- has helped protect the area from trash dumping, mining and development, Haskell says.
Later this year, students will use their knowledge of the Rio Grande rift to examine our city's acquifer and related water issues. They'll also evaluate climate change predictions for the Sandia Mountains (uplifted by the rift 10 million years ago) as well as get more information on how New Mexico's amazing geology supports our economy.