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$6M in NASA Funding Awarded to Projects with Contributions by Gilmore

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new spacecraft missions. Wesleyan Professor Martha Gilmore is a science team member on two of these missions. Pictured is an artist concept of the solar system courtesy of NASA.

Marty Gilmore

Martha Gilmore

Not one, but two spacecraft mission concepts co-developed by Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, received second-round backing from NASA’s Discovery Program on Feb. 13. Both concepts—which were awarded $3 million each—would assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by examining its landscape, rocks, and atmosphere.

NASA’s Discovery Program, now in its ninth year, funds investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they’re not official missions yet, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. Gilmore’s projects were among four selected.

“Venus is the key to understanding how Earth-size planets evolve. Like Earth, we predict Venus had an ocean that may have lasted for billions of years. Like Earth, Venus may be volcanically and tectonically active today. These missions will target the modern and ancient history of Venus, as recorded in the rocks and the atmosphere. The oldest rocks on Venus are my speciality, and I would very much like to know what environment they record.” Gilmore said.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. The Washington Post: “How One College Is Helping Students Get Engaged in Elections—and, No, It’s Not Political”

President Michael Roth writes about Wesleyan’s initiative to engage students meaningfully in work in the public sphere ahead of the 2020 elections, and calls on other colleges and universities to do the same. He writes: “Now is the time for higher education leaders to commit their institutions to find their own paths for promoting student involvement in the 2020 elections. This kind of direct participation in civic life provides an educational benefit that will help students develop skills for lifelong active citizenship; participants will gain organizational skills, learn to engage productively with others with whom they disagree and learn about themselves.”

2. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: “Nicole Stanton Will Be the Next Provost at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut”

Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton will begin her new role as Wesleyan’s 12th provost and vice president for academic affairs on May 15. She joined Wesleyan in 2007 as associate professor of dance, and currently serves as dean of the Arts and Humanities.

Gilmore’s Paper on Venus’s Volcanoes Published in Science Advances

Martha Gilmore

Martha GIlmore

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of a research article titled “Present-day volcanism on Venus as evidenced from weathering rates of olivine,” published in Science Advances Vol. 6 on Jan. 3, 2020.

According to the paper’s abstract:

At least some of Venus’ lava flows are thought to be <2.5 million years old based on visible to near-infrared (VNIR) emissivity measured by the Venus Express spacecraft. However, the exact ages of these flows are poorly constrained because the rate at which olivine alters at Venus surface conditions, and how that alteration affects VNIR spectra, remains unknown. We obtained VNIR reflectance spectra of natural olivine that was altered and oxidized in the laboratory. We show that olivine becomes coated, within days, with alteration products, primarily hematite (Fe2O3). With increasing alteration, the VNIR 1000-nm absorption, characteristic of olivine, also weakens within days. Our results indicate that lava flows lacking VNIR features due to hematite are no more than several years old. Therefore, Venus is volcanically active now.

The research was mentioned in Science Alert and Universe Today.

NASA Funds Study of Gilmore’s Venus Mission Concept

Martha Gilmore

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes we have a lot to learn from studying Venus—yet the United States has not sent a mission to the Earth-sized planet since the early 1990s. That’s why Gilmore has proposed a major flagship mission concept study to assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by looking at its rocks and atmosphere.

In October, NASA agreed to fund the planetary mission concept on Venus submitted by Gilmore, a planetary geologist, and colleagues at several other institutions, who come from varied disciplines. Gilmore, who is the principal investigator, said NASA received 54 proposals and selected 10 to feed into the next Planetary Decadal Survey. Theirs was the only proposal on Venus to receive funding.

In 2020, the National Academy of Science will convene a panel of scientists and engineers to determine the scientific priorities for Planetary Science over the period 2023–2032. This Planetary Decadal Survey is conducted every 10 years and is tasked with recommending a portfolio of missions to NASA. The mission concepts that were funded will be developed for consideration by the Decadal Survey. In the coming months, Gilmore will be meeting and communicating regularly with her science team and conducting mission design runs at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Final reports are due to the Decadal Survey in June 2020, and will describe mission architecture, cost, and how the mission will address the scientific priorities of the Decadal Survey and NASA.

Gilmore’s expertise is on the surface morphology and composition of Venus, Mars, and Earth, and her PhD focused on Venus during the United States’ Magellan mission. She explained that all three planets are rocky, and there is evidence that they all had oceans early in solar system history. Scientists believe that Mars’s ocean dried up first—within about one billion years—and that Venus’s ocean may have lasted for two or three billion years.

“Thus, for most of solar system history, there were two Earth-sized planets with oceans,” said Gilmore. “Was Venus habitable like the Earth and if so, what changed?”

Gilmore Speaks on Venus’s Terrain at American Museum of Natural History

Sporting their Earth and Environmental Sciences–labeled jackets, John Hossain MA ’18 and Avi Stein ’17 posed for a photo with Professor Marty Gilmore during her recent talk at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, presented a talk at the American Museum of Natural History on Feb. 4 titled “Venus: One Fate of a Habitable Planet.” Gilmore’s presentation was part of the museum’s Frontiers Lecture Series, which highlights the latest advances in our knowledge of the universe by presenting the work of scientists at the cutting edge of astrophysics.

Gilmore, a planetary geologist, uses surface mapping and orbital spectroscopy to study Venus’s terrain. During her talk, she spoke about the planet’s oldest rocks and what they can tell us about the history of water on one of Earth’s closest neighbors.

“Venus is likely to have had an ocean longer than Mars which forces us to consider it as another potentially habitable planet in our solar system,” Gilmore said. “Because it is Earth-sized, it uniquely informs us about the origin and fate of our planet and Earth-sized planets in other solar systems.”

Gilmore supports her investigations by studying minerals formed and/or weathered under conditions on Venus.

Wesleyan alumni Avi Stein ’17 and John Hossain MA ’18 attended the standing-room-only talk.

Gilmore is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. At Wesleyan, she’s also the director, graduate studies, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

Gilmore, Greenwood Recipients of NASA Grant to Map Venus’s Craters

Caption: Radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains.

Professors Martha Gilmore and James Greenwood recently received a NASA grant to study crater parabolas on Venus using radar data. Pictured is a Magellan radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Like planet Earth, the geology of Venus is diverse; consisting of areas of flat plains and deformed, mountain-like terrains called tesserae. And like Earth, Mars, and the Moon, Venus is checkered with hundreds of craters.

“What’s odd about Venus’s craters, is that craters we do see are relatively young, indicating the surface of Venus has been covered by planet-wide volcanic flows,” says Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “The tesserae are the only terrains older than these volcanic flows and thus our only hope at accessing rocks from the first billion years of Venus’s history, when the planet may have had an ocean and may have been habitable.”

As the recipient of a three-year $430,801 grant from NASA’s Solar System Workings Program, Gilmore and James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, will use Magellan radar data to create the first map of crater ejecta on Venus classified by origin on plains or tessera terrain. Their project is titled “Radar Emissivity and Dielectric Permittivity of the Venus Surface Beneath Crater Parabolas.” Crater parabolas refer to the shape of the ejecta deposits as they are carried westward by the high-altitude Venus winds.

O’Connell, Gilmore Elected to Positions with Geological Society of America

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne O’Connell

Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, was named a Councilor of the Geological Society of America for the GSA’s governing board. O’Connell will hold this position July 2017 through June 2021 along with two other faculty from the University of Rochester and California State University.

“GSA members have again elected thoughtful and innovative individuals to lead the organization and further the impact of geoscience,” said GSA Executive Director Vicki McConnell. “I am excited to work with the new Officers and Councilors as they join the GSA leadership team.”

Gilmore is a founding member of the Planetary Science Group at Wesleyan.

Marty Gilmore

In addition, Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, director of graduate studies, was elected by the GSA council to be a society fellow. Society Fellowship is an honor bestowed on the best of the profession by election at the spring GSA Council meeting. GSA members are nominated by existing GSA Fellows in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the geosciences through such avenues as publications, applied research, teaching, administration of geological programs, contributing to the public awareness of geology, leadership of professional organizations, and taking on editorial, bibliographic and library responsibilities.

Ronadh Cox, who nominated Gilmore for the role, said, “Marty has published widely and influentially in planetary geology. She is an outstanding mentor, training undergraduate and graduate students, publishing with them, and launching them toward successful careers. And she is a leader and valued colleague, attested to by numerous advisory board appointments with the National Research Council and NASA.”

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, serves more than 25,000 members from academia, government, and industry in more than 115 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth science education.

Wesleyan Hosts 30th Annual Keck Geology Consortium Symposium

During the Keck Geology Consortium Symposium, participants explored the Bulls Bridge area in Kent, Conn. to learn about the importance of a knickpoint (change in gradient) on the Housatonic River. Participants also examined interesting formations of glacial pot holes.

During the Keck Geology Consortium Symposium, participants explored the Bulls Bridge area in Kent, Conn. to learn about the importance of a knickpoint (change in gradient) on the Housatonic River. Participants also examined interesting formations of glacial pot holes. (Photos by James Zareski)

From April 27-30 the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences hosted the 30th Annual Keck Geology Consortium Symposium at Wesleyan. The event involved several field trips to local sites of geographic significance and concluded with presentations at Exley Science Center from those who attended the field trips.

Graduate student Melissa Luna examines a piece of slag left behind from the Buena Vista Iron Furnace in Canaan, Conn. Iron furnaces were an important industry in Connecticut during the 19th century.

Graduate student Melissa Luna examines a piece of slag left behind from the Buena Vista Iron Furnace in Canaan, Conn. Iron furnaces were an important industry in Connecticut during the 19th century.

The first trip was led by Paul Olsen, the Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. This excursion examined the Connecticut River Valley Basin for remaining traces of the mass extinction that preceded the rise of the dinosaurs 202 million years ago.

“The Connecticut River Valley Basin is one of the best places on the planet to observe the record of the biological and environmental of this mass extinction,” said Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences.

The second trip was led by Will Ouiment, assistant professor of geography at the University of Connecticut. It focused on the evolution of the New England landscape from the late Pleistocene to the present. Some topics included the impact of human activities, historic land use practices and landscape adjustment following deglaciation. The trip stopped at a variety of features including waterfalls, beaver dams, river terraces and wetlands.

Students Present Academic Research at Poster Sessions

Hundreds of Wesleyan students had the opportunity to present their academic research at various poster sessions in March and April. Posters often contain text, graphics and images that illustrate the students’ research results on a single board. Poster session attendees can view the posters and interact with the author.

This year, the Psychology Department, College of the Environment, Biology Department, Neuroscience and Behavior Program, Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, Quantitative Analysis Center and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences hosted poster sessions.

Photos of the poster sessions are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake, Caroline Kravitz ’19 and Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

Kylie Moynihan ’17 presented “Testing the Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Model of Franks et al.." Her advisor is Dana Royer, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences.

On April 21, Wesleyan’s Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division hosted a Celebration of Science Theses, a poster session featuring the work of Honors and MA students in the NSM fields. During the event, Kylie Moynihan ’17 presented her thesis research titled “Testing the Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Model of Franks et al..”

Psychology graduate student Lucy De Souza examined “Honor and Masculinity Among Latinos and European-Americans.” De Souza’s faculty advisor is Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, associate professor of psychology.

On April 27, the Psychology Department hosted a poster session in Beckham Hall. Psychology graduate student Lucy De Souza presented her poster on “Honor and Masculinity Among Latinos and European-Americans.”

Lefkowitz ’12, Thomas, Varekamp Co-Author Chapter On Volcanic Lakes

Based on the senior thesis of Jared Lefkowitz ’12, “A Tale of Two Lakes: The Newberry Volcano Twin Crater Lakes, Oregon, USA,” was published online, Nov. 25, by the Geological Society of London, U.K, as part of the volume, Geochemistry and Geophysics of Active Volcanic Lakes. The study is co-authored by Lefkowitz; Ellen Thomas, research professor in earth and environmental science; and Johan Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science. Varekamp also is professor of environmental science, adjunct professor in Latin American studies, and chair of the Geological Society of America’s Limnogeology Division. Thomas also is the University Professor in the College of Integrates Sciences.

The chapter examines the complex ecosystems of Newberry Volcano’s two small crater lakes, East Lake and Paulina Lake, which are of interest to scientists because of the presence of highly toxic components and the signs gas-charging in East Lake. “These factors present natural hazards, which may change when new volcanic activity is initiated,” Varekamp explained. The presence of nearby “seismic triggers or disrupted lake stratification gives scientists a situation to monitor, as these factors can cause sudden intense CO2 degassing in the very different chemistries and gas contents of the two lakes.”

The authors’ abstract is online here.

Additionally, Varekamp contributed papers on Taal Lake in the Philippines and on the Copahue Volcano crater lake in Argentina. Both of these chapters will be published in the same volume in the upcoming weeks.

Wesleyan Hosts 8th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of Connecticut

Professor Gilmore accepting the Joe Weber Award

Marty Gilmore accepts the Joe Webb Peoples Award at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of Connecticut.

On Nov. 18, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (E&ES) hosted the 8th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of Connecticut (GSC). The event featured a student scholarship wine-tasting fundraiser and a public science lecture called “The Real Jurassic Park in the Connecticut Valley,” by paleontologist Robbert Baker.

During the meeting, Phillip Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, Martha “Marty” Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, were awarded the Joe Webb Peoples Award for their efforts in hosting the 2015 New England Intercollegiate Geologic Conference. The award recognizes those who have contributed to the understanding of the geology of Connecticut through scholarship, education and service.

Many other E&ES faculty were in attendance, including Dana Royer, Suzanne O’Connell, Johan Varekamp, Peter Patton and Timothy Ku. Additionally, several E&ES graduate students attended, including John Hossain, Melissa Luna, Shaun Mahmood, and alumni Bill Burton ’74, Nick McDonald MA ’75, and Peter LeTourneau MA ’85.

De Boer Remembered for Teaching Connecticut Geology

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, emeritus, died July 23 at the age of 81.

De Boer received his BS and PhD from the University of Utrecht before coming to Wesleyan as a postdoctoral fellow in 1963. During his early years at Wesleyan he worked closely with Geology Professor Jim Balsley in the field of paleomagnetism. In 1977, de Boer was named the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and in 1984 he was named the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Sciences.

In the 1970s de Boer worked as a joint professor at the University of Rhode Island at the Marine Sciences Institute where he was a PhD supervisor for Bob Ballard, who found the Titanic in 1985. Ballard later invited de Boer to go diving in the submersible Alvin to collect rocks in the Cayman Trough.

Originally interested in coming to the United States to study the Appalachian Mountains, de Boer’s research focused on the geotectonics of the Appalachians, Southeast Asia and South and Central America.

In 2015 de Boer received the Joe Webb Peoples Award,