The Reef Environment and Geology of Modern Carbonate Systems

Program Dates: August 5, 2024 - August 12, 2024

About the Program

This field-based course provides students with an opportunity to study a modern reef environment in an active carbonate depositional system to be used as an analogue for ancient reefs. This trip will spend a week in Bermuda, staying at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Studies (BIOS). Most of the days students will spend their mornings snorkeling and studying reefs from the boat/shore, spending their afternoons in the lab studying their collections, and evenings in the lecture hall where we will stay as a group for the majority of the time. This course will emphasize species-level identification of major coral and carbonate- producing organisms, processes involved in the construction and destruction of reef systems, biologic and geologic processes that cause alteration of carbonate rocks, and reef responses to environmental changes with sea level rise and fall. Students will use a field book to record field- and lab-based identifications of carbonate rocks and sediment grains, record and describe sample collection techniques, and practice observational skills in the field by making sketches of geologic relationships exposed in outcrop. Course will include pre-trip meetings (4-5 lectures) and lab-based specimen identifications. Students must be able to swim in the open ocean, use snorkeling gear (e.g., mask, snorkel, fins), and be comfortable accessing reefs by beach or boat.



Bermuda is an island nation of 54 square kilometers (21 sq. mi) and is located ~650 miles east of North Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean. It is a British Overseas Territory within the United Kingdom with a population of ~64,000 residents. English is the spoken language and their currency (Bermudan Dollar) is tied 1:1 to the US dollar. The main driver of the Bermudan economy is banking and tourism, where the coral reefs and fish that populate the waters around the islands are a main attraction. The largest city is the capital city of Hamilton and Bermuda has one airport that was developed in part by the US military during World War 2.

This course stays at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), which is a non-profit educational research center aimed at teaching students and residents about the ocean sciences, and has been doing so for over 100 years. The BIOS research station is located on Ferry Reach, St. George’s and houses dorm-style rooms, a cafeteria, lecture halls, research labs, and several boats moored at the dock. BIOS is situated to access many beaches by boat, foot, or via a quick drive using their own bus, but also far enough away from the bustle of the cities to enjoy the singing of tree frogs each night.

Bermuda is unique in that it is the northernmost island system that hosts a tropical coral reef ecosystem in its coastal waters. Corals and the reef ecosystem are able to live so far north for two main reasons: 1) the waters are warm enough to host reef-dwelling organisms because the Atlantic Gulf Stream brings warm waters northward from the Caribbean, and 2) the island and adjoining shallow seafloor sits atop an extinct volcano that rises to just below sea level. These two conditions allow for many of the reef inhabitants that live in the Caribbean to also live in the seas surrounding Bermuda, which include most stony and soft corals, fish, and invertebrates like conchs, urchins, clams, and the spiny lobster.



Course Prefix

Course Name



GES 3810

The Reef Environment and Geology of Modern Carbonate Systems


Cole Edwards and Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce

Faculty Leaders

Dr. Cole Edwards

Associate Professor, Carbonate Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences

Dr. Edwards jointed the GES department in 2016. His research focuses on the interaction between the biosphere and environment and their evolution throughout Earth history, as recorded in the sedimentary record. He seeks to find new ways of integrating sedimentological, geochemical proxies of paleoenvironmental conditions, and paleontological data to better understand key intervals in Earth history. His research interests involve several sub-disciplines of geologic study, such as sedimentology, diagenesis, isotope geochemistry, chemostratigraphy, and paleoclimatology.

Much of Dr. Edwards’s research focuses on carbonate rocks, which form through interaction of biological and geological systems. Geochemical data extracted from carbonate sediments can be used to reconstruct environmental conditions of ancient seas and climates to provide information about likely influences on the biosphere. His more recent research uses this approach to study the potential causes of the Late Devonian mass extinction by measuring isotopic data from Devonian carbonate rocks from the Great Basin region (Nevada and Utah) as well as across the world (e.g., Belgium, Vietnam, Mongolia).


Dr. Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce

Sedimentology and Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences

Dr. Liutkus-Pierce is a sedimentologist and paleoenvironmental scientist, and is the chair for the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. She has taught Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, Evolution of the Earth, a summer field course focused on the geology of carbonate islands and coral reef environments, as well as a variety of other introductory courses and labs. She was inducted into Appalachian's Academy of Outstanding Teachers in 2016, and was awarded the UNC Board of Governors Appalachian State University Excellence in Teaching Award for 2017.

Dr. Liutkus-Pierce's research focuses on the reconstruction of paleoenvironmental conditions using a variety of sedimentological and geochemical tools, including lake sediments, paleosols, and root carbonates. Her work on the Engare Sero Footprint Site in Tanzania has recently been showcased by a number of news outlets including the Washington Post, National Geographic, and many others. Dr. Liutkus-Pierce is a National Geographic Explorer, and was named a Fellow of the Explorers Club in 2017.


Program Cost: $3541

Program cost includes airfare, meals, lodging and in-ountry transportation.  All fees associated with tourist site visits and activities.

Please note - Students are responsible for the total program cost upon submitting the application and deposit. Refunds are contingent upon meeting the minimum enrollment of the program. If a student decides to withdraw before departure, that student may be eligible for a refund if the program has met minimum enrollment and is therefore viable. 

Non-billable costs are estimates only and will be affected by personal spending habits, currency fluctuations, etc. Prices listed in USD unless otherwise noted.  Students are encouraged to start planning for their study abroad program costs well in advance. 

Payment Schedule





 Upon receipt of application

Remaining balance due




Estimated Additional Expenses 


Undergraduate Tuition - Resident

$153/credit hour

Undergraduate Tuition - Non-resident

$173/credit hour

Summer Fees




Spending money


Additional meals




Appalachian reserves the right to cancel or alter the program format or to change costs in case of conditions beyond the university's control.  Further details about Appalachian's withdrawal/cancellation policy can be found at this link.


Application Process

  1. In order to apply for this program, you will need to contact one of the program leaders and provide your Banner ID and email address. Program leaders may request additional information or a meeting to discuss the details of the program and your interest.
  2. When permission to apply for the program is granted, you will receive an email from your program leader with instructions to apply.
  3. Apply to the program following the instructions from the program leader.
  4. Print, sign and drop off your application at the Office of International Education and Development at Plemmons Student Union (PSU), Suite 321 ( 3rd floor), 263 Locust Street Boone, NC 28608. Your application will be considered complete when you have submitted your digital application, paid the $300 deposit, and dropped off your printed and signed application. The fee cannot be paid until it appears on your student account. Please note that it may take 2–3 business days for it to post to your account. You will receive an email with Instructions for paying the deposit fee. Instructions can also be found in the application.