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I thank the paleontology and biostratigraphy course instructor, and his assistant for everything they taught related to Geoscience during the field trip. Also, I thank the English course instructor of the English Language Department for proofreading. Finally, I thank all who contributed to making this geological field trip organized and knowledgeable.
In these pages, I will take you along on the paleontology and biostratigraphy course field trip to Austria and Germany that was during the short first-semester vacation in 2015 when I was in my junior year at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals. We totaled ten: eight students, an instructor, and an assistant. We were able to learn about fossils and impact craters in a variety of museums, universities, and geological sites. By joining in this field trip, we fulfilled a core requirement of our geology curriculum. Also, upon our return, we created a group presentation to share with the Geosciences Department students, its faculty members, and its staff about our eight days of continual learning in Europe. Many of the things I saw while abroad were new to me. Not only did I see the world’s largest ammonite fossil, but I was also able to visit the site of an Archaeopteryx fossil’s discovery. What is more, I came back with fossils bought for use as realia and in illustrations as part of my academic and public speaking, and presenting. Although we chiefly studied fossils, we also spared some attention for impact craters.
During the field trip, we visited two universities, four outcrops, and five museums. We relied on trains for local transportation in Austria, whereas we used cars in Germany. In Austria, we visited the University of Vienna and the Vienna Museum of Natural History, which offered a variety of fossils for our study. In Germany, we visited geological areas of interest, such as impact crater sites, limestone quarry, and outcrops. In addition to geological sites, we visited museums, such as the Ries Crater Museum in Nördlingen, we learned about meteorites and craters. We also saw Lagerstätten fossils and other fossils at several museums: Solnhofen fossils at the Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, Miocene fossils at the Meteor Crater Museum in Steinheim, and Jurassic fossils at the Urwelt-Museum Hauff in Holzmaden. Lastly, at the University of Tübingen Museum, we saw Permian reptiles and Mesozoic fossils.
We all met several times with the instructor for an informational session. During those sessions, he gave us a rundown of how to apply for our visa and what things we should bring with us. The instructor recommended long-sleeved shirts and jackets. He also suggested that we bring a notebook and a pencil with which to take notes and for use in sketching on location. He will meet with us at the arrival gate at the airport in Vienna, while his assistant will join us in Germany. Our notebook would be a crucial component of our field trip—we would be turning it in as part of our geology coursework.
The evening of our departure for Europe, my colleagues and I gathered in front of the parking lot next to the Geosciences-Petroleum Engineering Departments on the campus, waiting for University taxis to convey us to the Bahrain airport. Later that night, about midnight, we boarded—only to wait on board for hours, unmoving, while the plane underwent unexpected maintenance.
The next morning, then, found us still flying. Looking out the window to my right, I saw the sunrise reflecting on the Arabian Sea. After some more time, we began our descent, landing in Turkey. Then we flew on another plane to Vienna. After a much shorter flight, we landed. On stepping out of the airplane, I found the weather a little cold, as expected.
Inside the arrivals gate, we found the course instructor, waiting for us. Also, a staff guide from the University of Vienna was with him to welcome us. Together, we walked to buy train tickets—acquired using a coin-operated ticket dispenser (found both in the station and, I later noticed, on one of the trains) and noticeably smaller than our boarding passes at the airport. A few minutes later, we sat on the train as it left the airport. Looking out the window, I saw a vast green landscape covered everywhere by grass and plants. Above the green stood a brilliant blue sky speckled with white clouds. After the train had stopped at our location, the staff went to wait for us at the University of Vienna, while we went walking to the hostel to check in, put our bags, and get ready for our first visit. That afternoon, we began our time at the University of Vienna by examining its fossil collections with the guidance of the geology staff. Among the fossils we saw were many land and marine fossils. We saw a saber-toothed cat, and it had two large fangs extending from its mouth. A Pterodactylus fossil hung by thin strings from the ceiling, suspended above a Stegosaurus. Among the marine fossils, Ichthyosaurus, their bones preserved in a black rock attached to the wall. White coral fossils as well as plant fossils embedded in brown rocks. A fossil of a large bird with long neck and leg bones reminded me of an ostrich. Many ammonite fossils and these had widely different diameters—some about equivalent to that of football but others noticeably smaller. I noted the color of one of the ammonite fossils I saw—brown with some yellow—and also remarked that it showed suture marks. Continuing our visit, we saw a collection of Paleozoic fossils included uniserial and biserial graptolites preserved in rocks, looking much like the pictures seen during lectures. Trilobite fossils in black, and brown rocks. By the time we finished our visit, the evening had fallen. We gathered outside the front of the university for a group photo. Bidding the guide staff, a fond farewell—he, indeed, thanked us for our visit—we went back walking with the instructor to the hostel.
The next morning, we rode a train for the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum). The train made short stops until we arrived. While we were walking to the museum, I noticed tall trees spreading their green leaves over the pavement. The museum itself looked like nothing more than a huge castle. When we entered the museum, we found it crowded with visitors. In the first room, we examined a collection of minerals and crystals. After that, we entered another room about historical geology. In the room that followed that one, we saw fossils of a wide range of geological ages included dinosaurs and Cenozoic fossils. Then, we went to a small geological shop near the exit door of the museum, and I bought ammonite fossils, fossilized megalodon tooth, cast dinosaur fossils, quartz crystal, minerals, and useful geological books. After that, we finished our visit and went back to the hostel.
In the next day, we went again to the same museum to continue our trip to see more about geology, but we were surprised that it was opened only for special visitors. So, we went to have a break at a café near the museum. Then, the instructor suggested that we meet back at a particular time during the afternoon. Some of us had a walk to see the buildings and green trees near, and some went to visit the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum) opposite to the Natural History Museum to see and learn about collections of art, historical items and tools used by different empires and cultures long ago. Then, we all gathered back in the café as we planned and went back to the hostel.
The next day, after checking out of the hostel, we rode more than one train. In the last of these, I looked out my window and saw a field of wind turbines sprouting from the green countryside into the blue sky. Soon after, we arrived in Germany.
On our arrival in Germany, we walked on dark stone tiles to the hotel in Nördlingen. Then we checked in and put our bags.
The next morning, we left for our Ries Crater Museum visit. Inside the museum, I bought a geological map of the area—very useful when we visited the impact crater outdoors later on. As we began our tour, the instructor explained about the geology of the crater that situated in that very area by looking at a model of an impact crater located near the entrance door of the museum. Then we went to watch a video about craters. After which we looked at a video discussing the cratering process and how craters form on the surfaces of planets and moons, we saw space rocks on display. Then, we went upstairs and watched another video about the phases of crater formation that was in more detail. After finishing, we examined a model of rock layers with labels. Then, downstairs, we continued our tour, viewing impact crater images and displays while taking notes in our notebooks.
In the next day, the assistant instructor joined us. Then we rode two rented cars and went into the forest for a look at the rocks and to examine the signs of the asteroid impact on limestone rocks, making sketches of what we saw. In the first stop, we drew and described the outcrop, asteroid rocks, and faults. In the second stop, while we were walking through the green forest, I noticed many tall green trees, through whose leaves the sunlight shone. On closer view, I saw that their trunks narrowed from bottom to top. When we got closer to the place the instructor wanted to teach us, he explained the phases of crater formation. After that, we kept moving straighter for a little distance than before to the outcrop, where the instructor taught us briefly about the geology of the area, as we took notes. Afterward, we made sketches with labels of geological features. I noticed that the more typical pale rocks [limestone] surrounded purple colored rocks [asteroid rocks]. Afterward, we drove to the Bürgermeister-Müller Museum in Solnhofen. Later, when we arrived there, I saw many fossils displayed in rocks attached to the walls—chiefly brown to white to yellow—with spotlights turned on the fossils embedded in them. Of particular interest, we saw an Archaeopteryx fossil. As the instructor explained about Lagerstätten and fossil preservation, we sketched the fossils with brief descriptions. Again, we saw an Ichthyosaurus, this one about the same size as that which we had seen at the University of Vienna as mentioned in chapter three in this e-book. During a free moment, we went to a small shop next to the museum that sold many different types of fossils, minerals, and rocks. After I had bought trilobite and ammonite fossils, we walked around the museum area for a time, viewing at the trees and buildings. Going back to the museum, we continued observing and sketching fossils while adding brief descriptions. Back in the cars after we finished our visit, we made for Solnhofen Quarry, the site of an Archaeopteryx fossil discovery. The quarry was large and had many limestones that looked like broken plates, chiefly colored gray, yellow, and brown. The instructor asked us to try to find fossils, but every rock I examined had dendritic crystals. No one found any fossils in these limestones, but one of my colleagues did find an ammonite fossil next to one of the two cars, which he returned before we left. Then, we drove to an outcrop to visit the area of the impact crater. There, we saw the asteroid rocks, and I noticed parallel line marks on the floor. The assistant instructor taught us about the gravity anomaly of the area. Then, we continued walking to a field that had gray limestones looked like broken plates and had belemnite and ammonite fossils. Next, we drove to another limestone outcrop. On the apex, we saw a rounded shaped fossil—according to the instructor, a stromatolite. Returning to the cars, we drove back to the hotel.
The next morning, we checked out. Then we went by car to the Meteor Crater Museum in Steinheim, where we saw a video about crater and geology, after that, we went straight to another room and saw a collection Miocene fossils. After we had finished, we drove to the Urwelt Museum in Holzmaden, where we saw a large stair model made of rocks, high and wide. We traced its progress by descending a separate stair to reach the bottom of the geological stair, which represented a geological rock unit, with fossils in each stair. At the edge of each stair was a polygonal glass with labels and pictures of fossils. Downstairs, at the bottom level of the geological stair, we were able to see ammonite fossils attached to the wall. After ascending once more, we walked into another room where we saw crocodile fossils, more Ichthyosaurus fossils, and crinoid fossils as well. Then, we drove to a hotel in Tübingen, where we rested for our visit to Tübingen University, scheduled for the following day.
The next day, we checked out then drove to Tübingen University, a professor welcomed us and personally showed us many of the fossils kept inside. We saw still more Ichthyosaurus fossils but also Mosasaurus fossils and dinosaur fossils. A large ammonite fossil attached to the wall had a diameter of what looked to be about two meters—according to its label (), it is the largest ammonite fossil. The instructor taught us about Jurassic fossils and ammonites as we sat at a table decorated with ammonite fossils. Then we went to another room near and saw ammonite fossils of different sizes. After that, we saw a fossilized head of a Tyrannosaurus rex as we were walking to the next room that included Permian reptiles. We took the opportunity to examine a mosasaur fossil more closely before we exited the building for one last group photo as the university professor thanked us for our visit. Returning to the cars, we drove directly to the airport, our field trip drawing to its end.
At the airport, we took our bags from the rented cars then it was returned. Then we all went together to check our bags and collect our boarding passes. The assistant instructor’s flight was scheduled to leave after ours. We thanked him for joining us on the field trip. Then, accompanied by the instructor, we left for our gate. Soon after that, we took off for the first leg of our field trip, stopping in Turkey then the next leg of our transit flight took us to the Bahrain airport, at times through mild turbulence. On arriving in Bahrain, we collected our luggage. Soon, the University taxis arrived at the airport welcomed, and as the instructor waited for his assistant to come at the airport, I thanked him for the geological experience. When at last we came back in Saudi Arabia, we marked the end of our field trip by our arrival at the Geosciences-Petroleum Engineering Departments building.
And what a geological experience it had been! During my time in museums, I learned about phases of formation of impact craters, the names of rocks from space, Lagerstätten fossils, the process of fossil preservation, and the classification of ammonites. Also, I saw a lot of marine and land fossils, sketching and describing geological features in my notebook for submission to my instructor. I did not come back empty handed by any means: I bought a small library of useful geological references dealing with fossils, minerals, and rocks, as well as quartz crystal and dinosaur fossil casts—not real, but a useful illustration for future presentations. What is more, I was able to buy trilobite and ammonite fossils from the shops. I spent hours in museums studying fossils, rocks, and minerals, listening attentively as the instructor opened for us a world of geological information—fossils, asteroids, impact craters, and much, much more.
The World’s Largest Ammonite [Museum exhibit label]. (n.d.). The Palaeontological Collection of the University of Tübingen. Tübingen, Baden – Württemberg.
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Chapter one includes an overview. Chapter two is about traveling from Saudi Arabia to Austria. Chapter three focuses on Austria and geological experiences at the University of Vienna and Vienna Museum of Natural History. Chapter four, explores the time in Germany at the Ries Crater Museum, Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, Meteor Crater Museum, Urwelt-Museum Hauff, limestone quarry and outcrops, and the University of Tübingen. Chapter five is about traveling back to Saudi Arabia.