Earth sciences instructor shares experiences from New Zealand trip

Margaret Johnson, an instructor in the earth sciences program at Penn State DuBois, shared photos and stories from a trip to New Zealand during a campus Cultural Lunch on Thursday. The trip took this professional in geologic processes to one of the most renowned geological hotbeds in the world.

The Cultural Lunch program runs monthly on campus, featuring a new speaker each month. They make a presentation on a culture or country they've experienced through travel opportunities, and food from that culture is offered during the program. Johnson's lunch featured such New Zealand styled fare as salmon chowder.

Johnson had made the trip to New Zealand back in 2005, but after attending other Cultural Lunches, she felt her presentation was still very relevant. She said, "These cultural lunches are really wonderful, and I've been to others that I really enjoyed. So, I thought I could present one and share my experiences the way others shared theirs with me."

The trip took Johnson and a friend on a three week hiking adventure through the wild country of New Zealand. Johnson noted how remote much of the country is, having only 4 million people in an area the size of California. She also noted that New Zealand has 13 national parks, the greatest number of parks per capita of any country in the world. Moreover, New Zealand is situated in one of the most dynamic geological areas on the globe, the Pacific Ring of Fire.

"It's one of the most geologically active places in the world, which makes it one of the most beautiful places in the world," Johnson said, explaining that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are more common here than in most places on earth. "Geological activity creates these beautiful landscapes, the mountain ranges." 

Glaciers, Johnson noted, also played a large role in carving out the New Zealand landscape at the end of the last ice age. "The scenery is absolutely beautiful. Many of these ridges on the mountains were formed by glaciers as they were melting." 

Because the remote landscape made most areas she explored accessible only by small airplanes, Johnson was limited to only 40 pounds of luggage for her entire three-week trip. But as an avid hunter of fossils and geological specimens, Johnson was in her own personal playground in New Zealand, often wishing she could carry hundreds of pounds of specimens home. 

"You could tell that many of these rocks went through incredible metamorphosis underground, inside the earth, and were just thrust up.  They appeared to be carved and incredibly beautiful," she said of some large boulders lining the coastline where her group made a rest stop. "If I could have picked them up and put them in my backpack and brought them home, I would have."

Johnson's primary professional interests include geologic processes that shape the Earth’s landscape, plate tectonics and climate change. She has more than a dozen years of experience working in the environmental consulting industry addressing issues such as solid waste disposal, leaking underground storage tanks and contaminated property. She holds an master of science in environmental studies from Southern Illinois University and an master of education in science education from Clarion University; she also holds her Pennsylvania secondary science teacher’s certification in earth and space science.

Last Updated October 28, 2013