Ecosystem Science in the Rockies

Ecosystem Science in the Rockies

Ecosystem Science in the Rockies 

July 12 - August 11, 2015
5 credits




EARTH 450, cross listed as ENVIRON 450, explores the principles of ecosystem science using field projects in the Rocky Mountains. The unique and diverse geological history and climate of this region controls the occurrence of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and the plants and animals of which they are composed.  We will develop and use an understanding of geological and metrological processes to understand the distribution and function of grasslands, forests, and alpine ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains.  The course is designed for majors in geological sciences, natural resources and environmental science to gain field-based knowledge and experience of Rocky Mountain geology and ecology.  It is also designed for students majoring in other areas who have a general interest in this subject matter. This course will be team taught by professors from several different disciplines.

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Prof. Joel Blum U of M E&ES, Prof. Don Zak U of M SNRE, Prof. Tom Baumiller U of M E&ES, Prof. Brian Kennedy U of Idaho


Earth/Environ 116 or Earth/Environ 119 or Earth 120 AND Environ/Bio 281 or Earth 201 or Earth/Environ 202 or Earth/Environ 284 or Environ 209


Satisfies field experience requirement for Earth and Environmental Sciences concentration and Program in the Environment concentration. For a full list of requirements this course fulfills please click here.

Fees and Tuition

Fees: Room/Board/Transportation $1125 

Tuition: Tuition for five U-M credits and course fees must be paid directly to the University of Michigan and will be billed on or before June 30th, 2015. Guest students are charged upper division rates. Up to date tuition rates can be found at the U of M Registrar website. Departmental Financial Aid to help offset tuition cost is available for all qualified University of Michigan students. Please direct any questions to or call 734.615.8600


Frequently Asked Questions
Please click the link above to visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for more info regarding Camp Davis.


Summer 2015 Application

To apply to the Camp Davis Program, click the link above and download the Camp Davis Application. Applications can be submitted via email or post. Deadline for applications is May 1st, 2015.

Course Curriculum

This course is taught in modules as a hands-on research experience. At the end of each module a project write-up is due. Some projects are completed in small groups of 3-4, whereas others are completed by each student. A list of last year’s projects is given below, but they do change somewhat as instructors develop with new project ideas.

Mountain Meteorology. Using a weather station in camp and flying an instrumented  weather balloon, students learn the basic principles of mountain meteorology, cloud identification and severe weather.

Rocky Mountain Geology. Through field observations students learn rock identification, the geologic history of the Rockies, and how geology and glaciations affects the chemistry of streams and soils.

Rocky Mountain Forest Ecology. Students integrate their knowledge of mountain meteorology and geology to understand the driving factors behind five distinct mountain ecosystems. Identification and investigation of soils, woody plants, shrubs and wildflowers are included.

Forest Succession in Riparian Zones. Students learn the basic principles of forest succession and investigate rates of biomass production and carbon sequestration.

Stream Hydrology and Fluvial Ecosystems. Studies of stream hydrology and sediment transport are integrated with identification of aquatic organisms and their habitats.

Environmental Degradation Related to Mining. Students investigate the effects of historical mining on the ecology of the northern Yellowstone region.

A Typical Day of EARTH 450 at Camp Davis

Every day is quite different, but this is an attempt to give some idea of what ‘typical’ daily activities can be like.

 7:00 am     

Breakfast is served in the Mess Hall, including fresh fruit, breads and pastries, waffles and several hot entrees. Students pack their own bag lunches from the various meats, cheeses, and vegetables provided. 

 8:00 am

Students and instructors meet in the classroom building. At the start of a multi-day project there is usually a two hour lecture to introduce the basic scientific concepts and approach of a new project. If a project is continuing there is usually a 30 minute discussion of that day’s activities and organization. Following the lecture or meeting, class departs to the site of a field project. Some sites are in the Teton National Park, others are in the valley surrounding camp. There is sometimes a hike to remote sites. On several days during the course there are challenging all-day hikes to alpine ecosystems. These can be taken at any pace, recognizing that there will be various levels of fitness and tolerance of high-elevation. There are also two overnight camping trips—one to the Wind River Mountains, and another to Yellowstone National Park.

 12:00 pm

Lunch, usually eaten in the field, as a break from data collection and observation in the field. The afternoon is usually a continuation of the morning project. Occasionally the afternoon will be spent in camp completing chemical analyses, working on data interpretation, or researching specific topics in the reference library or on the internet.

 4:00 pm

Day courses end, students shower, check email, fly fish, go river tubing, hiking, jogging, play horseshoes, billiards, volleyball or basketball. Some days it will be necessary to compile research results, work on projects, or study required readings.

 6:30 pm

Dinner is served.  Meals are eaten family style and include a full and varied salad bar, several different entrees, side-dishes and fresh vegetables.  Vegetarian entrees are offered every day.

 7:00 pm

Evenings are a mix between study and play—depending on where the class is with respect to multi-day projects. Some evenings there will be short lectures, data analysis and write-ups in the computer lab, or required reading. Other evenings will be designated as official time-off to either chill-out or participate in extra-curricular activities including, hiking, climbing, swimming at the Hoback River swimming hole, visits to Jackson Hole (25 minutes away), Snake River, Palisades Reservoir, Teton County Rodeo, Teton National Park, Granite Creek Falls, etc.

 9:30 pm

Evening “Drive-In” movie begins on Johnston Hall hill. Johnson Hall has billiards, Ping-Pong, foosball and other diversions.

 Off Days

Camp Davis is a “total immersion” outdoor experience. We hike, explore, swim and enjoy breath-taking views on a daily basis. Approximately one day per week is time off. Some students prefer to hang around camp, catch up on sleep and laundry, and enjoy the activities in camp. Others check-out mini-vans and head off on backpacking trips, river rafting, horse-back riding, mountain climbing expeditions, and shopping expeditions to Jackson Hole.  Please feel free to contact the Program Director (Chris Malvica, or the Course Coordinator (Prof. Joel Blum, for additional details or for referral to students who have successfully completed the course and can answer any questions you may have.