Geology and Natural History of the Caribbean

J Term Course: GEOL 275 Geology and Natural History of the Caribbean – Barbados and Montserrat

Course Overview

This course will introduce students to the tectonic, geological, oceanographic and environmental aspects of the Caribbean, through introductory on-campus classes and a two-week field trip to Barbados and Montserrat. Through a series of pre-trip, field trip and reflective assignments, students will compare/contrast the physical characteristics and environments observed on/around each island, paying close attention to the influence of geology on human society and the impact humans have had on the natural world. Other activities include a tour of the most active island volcano in the Caribbean, a snorkeling trip, caving trips, and wildlife hikes. This course is open to all students who have satisfied the physical and travel requirements, and who have permission of the instructors. Preference will be given to science majors.

Basic Course Information

  • A 21-day field course (7 days on-campus & 14 days off-campus) offered every 3-4 years during January Term.
  • Visits 2 islands (Barbados and Montserrat, with quick layovers in Antigua)
  • Limited to 16 students.
  • Coordinated and co-taught by Dr. David Griffing and Dr. Eric Johnson.

Highlighted Activities

  • Learn about geology of the Eastern Caribbean subduction zone by examining one of the only exposed and actively uplifting accretionary wedge complexes in the world (Barbados) and one of the most active Caribbean volcanoes (Soufriere Hills in Montserrat)!
  • Explore limestone caves and limestone cliffs made of ancient coral reefs that cover much of Barbados.
  • Hike through tropical rainforests on mountain trails.
  • Snorkel a pristine Caribbean coral reef.
  • Come face-to-face with rare, introduced and endangered native species.
  • Learn about the Caribbean’s unique blend of cultures through historical tours, and an exploration of food and art/music.

Course Trip Fee

A reasonable student fee covers: 1) bus transport from campus to NYC departure airport, 2) all group airfare, 3) all tourist fees and tariffs, 4) all lodging during the trip, 5) $30 per diem to cover 3 meals daily, 6) all ground transportation, 7) all program-related activity fees (island tours, wildlife preserves, museum, volcanic exclusion zone tour, snorkel tour boat trip, etc.), and 8) a share of the lodging, meals and transport costs for the faculty (standard practice for all J Terms).

Travel Requirements

All students must have a valid passport that is not scheduled to expire before or during travel time. The passport number is required by the time of final flight booking (early Fall). Comfort with air travel is important. Although most of our flights will be on standard commercial jets, we will need to utilize very small (7 passenger) charter flights for the 20 minute flights between Antigua and Montserrat. While there are no required immunizations for US visitors to Barbados and Montserrat, it is recommended that all travelers receive immunization for Hepatitis A, and make sure that their standard immunizations (tetanus-diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox) are up to date. See your medical practitioner 4-8 weeks before departure. Students are required to make their own independent arrangements for return home after the course trip ends at the NYC airport.

Physical Requirements

All students must be physically capable to participate in lengthy day hikes – often over uneven trails and rocky surfaces in tropical heat and humidity. Other more limited physical activities involve light swimming/snorkeling and boat rides. All participants should expect long days in outdoor settings (in a variety of weather conditions).

Academic Requirements

J Term course grades are based on: A) participation and behavior during the trip (5%), B) Pre-trip assignments (5%) C) field notebooks maintained consistently by each student throughout the trip (35%), D) individual oral presentations researched and organized during the pre-trip course (30%), and E) a reflective paper written during the course of the trip (20%).

Sample Trip Itinerary of Activities

Actual activities subject to change due to booking availability, changes or delays in travel, time available, weather conditions, and volcanic conditions. Actual travel dates, flight numbers, departure times, and lodging providers included in later course itinerary, when bookings are complete.


Day 1: Notebooks; What to expect; Geography of the eastern Caribbean & our destination islands; Packing review
Day 2: Caribbean tectonic history; Volcanoes and eruption styles overview
Day 3: Volcanic and Sedimentary Rock ID exercise
Day 4: Weekend- No class meeting (work on your presentation materials independently)
Day 5: Weekend – No class meeting (work on your presentation materials independently)
Day 6: Shallow marine ecosystems; Corals of the Caribbean exercise
Day 7: Pleistocene climate and sea-level changes; Last minute logistics (final packing in the evening)


Day 8: Group transport (by bus – morning campus departure) from campus to JFK area hotel, New York. Overnight in hotel.
Day 9: Morning flight departing JFK – Arriving Bridgetown, Barbados in early afternoon; Check into St. Lawrence Gap area hotel.
Day 10: Bus trip to Harrison’s Cave and “coral cap” limestones southern and central coasts; Group meal at Oistins “Fish Fry”(evening).
Day 11: Bus trip to North Coast limestones and Animal Flower Cave.
Day 12: Bus trip to the accretionary wedge sediments and structures of the Scotland District/ Bathsheba Coast.
Day 13: Walking tour of Bridgetown historic sites; Afternoon off.
Day 14: Day off in St. Lawrence Gap.
Day 15: Flight departing Bridgetown in morning – Arriving St. Johns (Antigua) late morning; Charter flights to Montserrat in early afternoon (duration 20 minutes) – Stay in rental house and inn in the St. Peters or Woodlands area, Montserrat. Group Caribbean meal at the Peoples Place.
Day 16: Guided Island tour, featuring the Soufriere Hills volcano, and the Exclusion Zone/Plymouth.
Day 17: Jack Boy Hill overview of pyroclastic flows; Centre Hills Complex volcanics in east coast roadcuts; eastern black sand beaches.
Day 18: Silver Hill Complex outcrops at Little Bay; Reef Snorkel Trip to Rendezvous Bay
Day 19: Rainforest Nature Hike to Oriole Walkway Trail; Woodlands Bay black sand beach.
Day 20: Day Off.
Day 21: Two charters departing Montserrat midday – Arriving St Johns 2 minutes later; Return flight departing St. Johns late afternoon – Arriving JFK in evening. The group departs individually for home.