Tag Archive for Earth and Environmental Sciences

Varekamp Elected Chair of Geology, Public Policy Committee

Joop Varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of earth and environmental sciences, was elected to be chair of the Geology and Public Policy Committee (GPPC) of the Geological Society of America (GSA). The group prepares position statements for GSA (e.g., on fracking, climate change). Varekamp has already made six congressional visits in March, visiting the offices of Senators Richard Blumenthal, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey and Representative Rosa DeLauro. He does similar work as chairman of the board of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment / Save the Sound.

Varekamp also was elected to be the chair of the LimnoGeology (‘lakes’) division of GSA for the next two years, which involves organizing conferences and sessions at annual GSA meetings, and editing special volumes on lakes.

In addition, Varekamp received funding through the Keck Geology Consortium for a research project on the two crater lakes of Newberry volcano in Oregon. Varekamp will visit the lakes this summer with a group of student researchers from Wesleyan, Amherst, Colgate and Smith College.

Resor, Seixas ’10 Co-Author Paper on Structural Mapping of Hualapai Limestone

Phil Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Gus Seixas ’10 are co-authors of “Constraints on the evolution of vertical deformation and Colorado River incision near eastern Lake Mead, Arizona, provided by quantitative structural mapping of the Hualapai Limestone,” published in the February 2015 issue of Geosphere, Vol. 11, pages 31-49. The paper includes research from Seixas’s honors thesis at Wesleyan.

In this study, the authors quantify the structural geometry of Hualapai Limestone, which was deposited in a series of basins that lie in the path of the Colorado River. The limestone was deformed by by a fault pair known as the Wheeler and Lost Basin Range faults.

Students Travel to Puerto Rico to Develop Research Skills

The group photo of the earth and environmental science team.  The group travelled to Puerto Rico in January to develop their research skills.

Twenty-one students, two faculty and one guest traveled to Puerto Rico in January. Students honed their research skills while on the chain of islands.

This semester, 21 senior earth and environmental science majors in the Senior Field Research Project (EES 398) course traveled to Puerto Rico to develop their research, data collection, analytical and presentation skills.

Students gathered samples in a bat cave while wading through inches of bat guano.

Students gathered samples in a bat cave while wading through inches of bat guano.

As part of the EES Department’s capstone course sequence, students are required to participate in a series of student-designed research projects. From Jan. 12-19, students performed independent research in the field.

“The overarching spirit is to have students participate in the full arc of a research project: from the design all the way to the presentation of the results,” said Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, associate professor of environmental studies. Royer has co-taught the class three times, this year with Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, faculty director of the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

Resor Explores Connecticut’s Geological History

Phillip Resor at Connecticut's "Lake Char" fault zone. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Skahill/WNPR).

Phillip Resor at Connecticut’s “Lake Char” fault zone. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Skahill/WNPR).

Phillip Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, was recently interviewed on WNPR about an amazing part of Connecticut’s geological history. According to the story, several hundred million years ago, Connecticut was in the middle of a massive continental collision, which formed the super continent Pangea and pushed up huge mountains. Deep beneath the earth, a borderland beneath the two continents formed. Today, geologists call it the Lake Char fault system; it runs along the I-395 corridor in southeastern Connecticut.

Resor took WNPR reporter Patrick Skahill to East Haddam by Gillette Castle to walk along the banks of the Connecticut River, and showed him fine black patterns flowing through the hardened cliff which showed evidence of ancient earthquakes.

“That super-fine grain material actually is what we call ‘pseudotachylite.’ It was a melt — a frictional melt in the fault,” Resor said. “If you think about rubbing your hands together, you’ll get heat, right? So if you rub fast enough, you’ll raise the temperature to the point where you can actually melt the rock.”

Resor explained that as Pangea broke apart about 200 million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean began to open up. A little piece of that ancient continent called “Gondwana” had broken off and was left behind, stuck to Connecticut. Geologists call this zone “Avalonia.”

Read more and see pictures of Resor and the area he studies here.

Thomas Uses CT Scans, Computer-Aided Visualizations to Study and Teach Microfossils

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental science, holds two samples of microfossils that were printed on a 3-D printer at the American Museum of Natural History. The printed fossil models are about 8,000 times bigger than the actual limestone fossils.  Ellen Thomas holds two planktonic forms which lived closer to the surface of the water. At left is Hantkenina alabamensis, which lived when the world was warm, and went extinct at the time of formation of the Antarctic ice cap about 33.7 million years ago. At right is Globigerinella siphonifera. It lives in the subtropics today, in open ocean. "When it's alive, it has spines and protoplasm inside and along the spines," she said.

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental science, holds two samples of microfossils that were printed on a 3-D printer at the University of Iowa. The printed fossil models are about 8,000 times bigger than the actual limestone fossils. These planktonic forms lived closer to the surface of the water. At left is Hantkenina alabamensis, which lived when the world was warm, and went extinct at the time of formation of the Antarctic ice cap about 33.7 million years ago. At right is Globigerinella siphonifera. It lives in the subtropics today, in open ocean. “When it’s alive, it has spines and protoplasm inside and along the spines,” she said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

This slide contains 65 different microfossil specimens taken from an ocean drilling site in the eastern Indian Ocean. Some are estimated to be 55.8 millions years old and span a duration of 170,000 years. During this time, there was an extinction of deep-sea benthic foraminifera which may have been caused by rapid global warming.

This slide contains more than 300 microfossil specimens from an ocean drilling site in the eastern Indian Ocean. These are estimated to be 55.8 millions years old, and lived during a period of extreme global warming with a duration of 170,000 years. At the beginning of this warm period, there was a mass extinction of deep-sea benthic foraminifera, which may have been caused by the rapid global warming and ocean acidification.

#THISISWHY

Research Professor Ellen Thomas grasps a glass-enclosed sample of hundreds of microfossils, each a white fleck of limestone barely visible to the human eye.

“The first time students look at these they say, ‘they all look the same to me,’ but in reality, they are all have very different shapes,” Thomas says. “Even under a microscope, it can be difficult for a new eye to see the differences, but each species has its own shape; some have a much more open, light structure because they lived floating in the oceans close to the surface. Others have denser shells and lived on the bottom of the ocean, or within the mud. And each one can tell us, in its chemical make up, what the environmental conditions were like at the time that they lived and built their shells.”

By studying and analyzing microfossils, Thomas and fellow scientists are able to explore aspects of climate change on a variety of timescales,

Paper by Gilmore, Harner MA ’13 Says Mars May Host Hydrous Carbonate Minerals

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, and her former graduate student Patrick Harner MA ’13 are the co-authors of a paper titled “Visible–near infrared spectra of hydrous carbonates, with implications for the detection of carbonates in hyperspectral data of Mars,” published in Icarus, Vol. 250, pages 204-214, April 2015.

The paper suggests that hydrous carbonate minerals might be relevant on Mars.

“We bought and made these unusual minerals in my lab and then took spectra of them to simulate what Mars orbiters might see. Carbonate minerals form in water on Earth (e.g., limestones), and are predicted for Mars, but to date are uncommon on Mars,” Gilmore explained. “We suggest this may be because Mars may host hydrous carbonates which look very different than the anhydrous carbonates everyone is looking for in the data.”

Gilmore also is chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Art Books Illustrate Environmental Concerns, Lessons

From left, Sophia Ptacek '18 and Khephren Spigner '18 show their artist book to instructor Kim Diver.

From left, E&ES 197 students Sophia Ptacek ’18 and Khephren Spigner ’18 show their final project to instructor Kim Diver.

Students from Introduction to Environmental Studies (E&ES 197) presented their final projects Dec. 11 in Exley Science Center.

The Project Showcase involved 80 students informally presenting artists books, GIS story maps, children’s stories, fictional journals and other creative explorations.

“All projects are related to environmental issues in the Connecticut River,” said course instructor Kim Diver, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. The project is associated with the Center for the Arts’ Feet to the Fire initiative.

Several Wesleyan scholars and staff volunteered their time to demonstrate artist books to the students including Kate TenEyck, art studio technician and visiting assistant professor of art; Suzy Taraba, director of Special Collections and Archives; Rebecca McCallum, cataloguing librarian; and Joseph Smolinski, the Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment. Erinn Roos-Brown, program manager in the Center for the Arts, helped initiate the idea for the artist book projects.

Photos of the Project Showcase are below: (Photos by Cynthia Rockwell)

Chantel Jones '17 and Tanya Mistry '17.

Chantel Jones ’17 and Tanya Mistry ’17.

GIS Service Learning Class Shares Field Research, Projects with Community

As part of the GIS Service Learning Laboratory course, Katy Hardt '15 researched the wetlands, waterways and critical habitats of the northwest section of Middletown. Hardt and fellow group members John Murchison '16 and Catherine Reilly '15 presented their findings to the Middlesex Land Trust.

As part of the GIS Service Learning Laboratory course, Katy Hardt ’15 researched the wetlands, waterways and critical habitats of the northwest section of Middletown. Hardt and fellow group members John Murchison ’16 and Catherine Reilly ’15 presented their findings to the Middlesex Land Trust.

Five groups of students enrolled in the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Service Learning Laboratory course E&ES 324 spent their semester helping local organizations learn more about land parcels in the City of Middletown.

On Dec. 1, the students presented their research to fellow students, faculty, staff, community members and community partners.

Kim Diver, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, taught the class.

Kim Diver, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, taught the class.

Kim Diver, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, taught the class, which included included lessons on geographic information systems (GIS) concepts and spatial data analysis and visualization.

“GIS are powerful tools for organizing, analyzing and displaying spatial data,” Diver explained. “GIS has applications in a wide variety of fields including the natural sciences, public policy, business, humanities or any field that uses spatially distributed information. In this class, students worked to solve local problems in environmental sciences.”

The students worked closely with community partners from the Middlesex Land Trust, Middletown Conservation Commission, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and others to design a GIS, collect and analyze data, and

NASA Supports Greenwood’s Extraterrestrial Materials Research

James “Jim” Greenwood

Jim Greenwood

Jim Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, was awarded a Faculty Seed Research Grant from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, supported by NASA. The honor comes with a $6,000 award.

Greenwood will use the grant to support his research on “D/H of ‘Dry’ Extraterrestrial Materials.”

Understanding the distribution, delivery, and processing of volatiles in the solar system is of fundamental interest to planetary science. Volatiles influence a number of important properties of planetary bodies, such as the cooling, differentiation, volcanism, tectonism, climate, hydrosphere/atmospheres and especially habitability.

Greenwood will use the award to develop a new state-of-the-art inlet system for the measurement of hydrogen and water and their hydrogen isotope composition in nominally anhydrous extraterrestrial materials. This inlet system will work in conjunction with the Wesleyan Hydrogen Isotope Mass Spectrometer, a Thermo Delta Advantage isotope ratio mass spectrometer installed in August 2014.

With the new system in place by the end of the project period, Greenwood and fellow researchers will be in position to measure hydrogen and water in two Apollo mare basalt rock samples.

“This will increase sensitivity for water by 250x our current measurement,” Greenwood said. “The added capability will allow us to make new and exciting measurements of volatiles in important planetary materials, such as these lunar rock samples.”

Read past News @ Wesleyan stories on Greenwood here.

Studies by Varekamp, Thomas Published in Paleoceanography

varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Wesleyan faculty Joop Varekamp and Ellen Thomas are among the authors of a paper on rates of sea-level rise along the eastern U.S. seaboard titled “Late Holocene sea level variability and Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation,” published in the journal Paleoceanography, Volume 29, Issue 8, pages 765–777 in August 2014. Varekamp is the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of earth and environmental sciences and professor of environmental studies. Thomas is research professor of earth and environmental sciences at Wesleyan, and also a senior research scientist in geology and geophysics at Yale University.

Ellen Thomas discovered that microfossils, such as this  foraminifera fossil, reveal that warm oceans had less oxygen.

Ellen Thomas discovered that microfossils, such as this foraminifera fossil, reveal that warm oceans had less oxygen.

Pre-20th century sea level variability remains poorly understood due to limits of tide gauge records, low temporal resolution of tidal marsh records, and regional anomalies caused by dynamic ocean processes, notably multidecadal changes in Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). In the study, Varekamp and Thomas examined sea level and circulation variability along the eastern United States over the last 2,000 years, using a sea level curve constructed from proxy sea surface temperature records from Chesapeake Bay, and 20th century sea level-sea surface temperature relations derived from tide gauges and instrumental sea surface temperatures.

Thomas also is a co-author of a paper titled ‘I/Ca evidence for upper ocean deoxygenation during the PETM‘ published in the Paleoceanography, October 2014.

In this paper, Thomas suggests that the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a potential analog for present and future global warming, may help in such forecasting future deoxygenation and its effects on oceanic biota. Forecasting the geographical and bathymetric extent,

Royer’s Study Suggests that the Meteorite That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Changed Forests

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of a study that suggests fast-growing deciduous plants replaced slower-growing evergreen plants after an impact of a meteorite 60 million years ago. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Sixty-six million years ago, a meteorite struck the Earth with enough force that the ensuing environmental changes, including floods, earthquakes, variable temperatures and light-obscuring dust clouds, possibly wiped out dinosaurs and other pre-historic life. Scientists believe this opened a path for mammals, and ultimately humans, to evolve.

A new study by Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and colleagues from the University of Arizona and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science suggests that the chaos in the wake of the space rock’s impact changed the Earth’s plant life as well. Deciduous plants survived and flourished to a much greater extent than flowering evergreens, the scientists believe, probably because their properties made them much better able to respond to climate conditions post-impact. The deciduous plants, not needing to maintain their leaves year round, essentially needed less energy for survival.

Royer’s Study Published in PLOS Biology

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of “Plant Ecological Strategies Shift Across the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary,” published in PLOS Biology on Sept. 15.

The study reveals that a meteorite that hit Earth 60 million years ago – and may have led to the mass extinction of the world’s dinosaur population – also led to a shift in the landscape of plants, particularly deciduous plants.

Royer and his colleagues showed how they applied bio-mechanical formulas to fossilized leaves of flowering plants dating from the last 1.4 million years of the Cretaceous period and the first 800,000 of the Paleogene. Read more about Royer’s study in this News @ Wesleyan article.