Geology students at the University of Iowa plan to plant hundreds of shrubs near the Iowa City campus to offset the carbon footprint from a field trip they’ll take next month. Art Bettis, the U-of-I geology professor leading the trip to Colorado and New Mexico, says three vans will carry 15 students about 3,000 miles. Bettis did the math — and says the trek will leave a carbon footprint of 6.2 metric tons.

“We calculated that if we take a thousand of the native shrubs that we’re going to be using, we’re getting them from the Iowa State Nursery, the city of Iowa City bought them and the state nursery donated some,” Bettis says. “We’re going to be putting them into this area, about a four or five-acre area as far as strips and nice shapes and stuff like that.”

The students and their professor plan to spend at least three full days planting the native Iowa shrubs at Sycamore Greenspace, a city park and wetland area constructed for storm water management. The mass planting will include about 1,050 ninebark, nannyberry and arrowwood shrubs, in addition to another 50 elderberry and coralberry shrubs. Bettis says the shrubs will sequester more than six-metric tons of carbon in 3-5 years.

“There’s a bike path along this wetland and the shrub planting will shield the bike path from the agricultural fields that are off to the east,” Bettis says. “It’ll make for a lot of nice habitat for wildlife and make the bike path more aesthetically pleasing, too.” He didn’t require any of the students in his class to take part in the carbon challenge aspect of the course, but he says every one of them wanted to get involved. Many are taking their efforts to another level, too.

“There are various things you can do to use less carbon in your lifestyle,” Bettis says. “Some of the students have decided to have one less meal that they eat meat in, because meat’s a big demander. Students are riding their bikes or walking to work instead of driving, taking the bus for various sorts of things. Some of them are even taking the bus to go shop for groceries.”

Bettis and the students will leave on the ten-day camping adventure in mid-May. The plan was to start planting the shrubs on Earth Day last week but it’s too soggy from all the rain. They now hope to get the shrubs in the ground in another week or two.