University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Geology


Faculty Research

Char Mehrtens, Professor (Stratigraphy, Sedimentation, Carbonate Petrology)

Hi all! It’s a good thing that Jack agrees to do the newsletter every year as it forces me to sit down and think about what has gone on in the past year. It always makes me feel better to remember what happened (and it’s my annual check on my memory health!). Work things: Along with new grad student Steven Gohlke (from UT Austin) I accompanied Hamilton College colleague Barb Tewksbury and others to southern Egypt to help Barb on a structure project she’s doing involving Cretaceous and Tertiary limestones. Barb needed to confirm that the stratigraphy in the geologic structures she can see on satellite imagery. We spent a week in the western desert at an oasis (Farafra) and rented the locals 4 wheel drive vehicles to take us “off roading” to outcrops of chalk and marl. I got to see (and measure and collect) the K/T boundary there. After a quick return to Cairo we headed south along the Nile to Aswan, to Steven’s field area south of there. Steven is studying the deformation bands associated with the Seiyal Fault, and using the burial history to help constrain their timing of formation.

The entire experience was unbelievably awesome, from spending time in the Sahara Desert, to working in Cretaceous stratigraphy to meeting and getting to know Egyptians and their culture. A second field season in Egypt is planned for this winter, and this time I’ll be going with two undergrads, Tony Haigh and Jacob Vincent. Things are still a bit dicey in terms of unrest over there, so send positive vibes for political calm! Some abstracts of this work in progress appear somewhere in this newsletter.

New grad student Ryan Brink (SUNY Potsdam) is working with me on a comparison between the newly identified Altona Formation in upstate NY and our local Monkton. Recent fossil finds have identified that a portion of the sandstone below the Potsdam SS is actually much older and partially age equivalent to the Monkton. Ryan is measuring section and doing petrography to see how similar these units are.

See more at my website, and feel free to send me an email.

John M. Hughes, Professor (Mineralogy, Crystallography, Crystal Chemistry)

My research using the new diffractometer continues, and numerous papers have come out in Canadian Mineralogist, American Mineralogist, and European Journal of Mineralogy. The work continues with new graduate student Jacob Menken, and a lot of exciting experiments are underway. I take over as President of the Mineralogical Society of America in November, which is a humbling and time-consuming task, but one I look forward to greatly. I submitted probably the last proposal of my career this summer, and look forward to even more experiments on apatite. So it has been a busy and extremely rewarding year… stay tuned.

Feel free to send me an email.

Paul Bierman Professor (Geomorphology, Geohydrology, Isotope Geology Applied to Landscape Change)

It's been a busy year in the lab, in the field, and writing. In May, I travelled to Brazil with Veronica-Sosa Gonzalez (UVM MS, 2012) and Josh Farley (RSENR) to study the effect of agriculture on erosion. Then, soon after went to Greenland with UVM MS Candidate Alice Nelson to collect samples of stream sediment as part of our NSF grant to understand the evolution of the Greenland Ice sheet over the last 5 million years. Soon after returning, I taught for my 17th year in the Governor's Institute, a program for talentedVermont High School youth. Then, in August I travelled to the International Geologic Conference in Brisbane, Australia. In September, I was back in Greenland finish up some survey work that we couldn't get done in June because thick fog grounded our plane. One more trip abroad, to France finished up the fall. These I presented work we did on the basal silty ice of the GISP 2 ice core - we found soil that likely predates ice sheet formation more than 2 million years ago. In terms of publications, there were several on a variety of topics. The most wide ranging was led by Eric Portenga - a summary and critical evaluation of all extant 10Be data in GSA Today. The data set quantifies the effect of tectonics, climate, and topography on rates of erosion worldwide. I spent many long weekends revising my chapters for the Pipkin et al. Environmental Geology textbook; it should be published by the time you read this. The fun of this revisions was the photos; we were given access to the National Geographic photo archive; they are some truly phenomenal images. I am finally in the home stretch of our new Geomorphology textbook. Dave and I have the first 8 chapters done and with the publisher after an average of a dozen reviews for each chapter. The last 6 chapters are on my desk and should be gone to the publisher by New Years!

Below are some websites related to my activities and recent publications.


Visit my website.

Andrea Lini, Chair, Associate Professor (Stable isotopes, Limnology and Climate Change)

Our research project on Lake Champlain paleolimnology has made good progress and we were able to secure another round of funding from NOAA to keep poking into Lake Champlain’s sediments. Since the last newsletter, four new grad students have joined the UVM paleolimnology group: two in Geology (Andrew Koff and Johanna Palmer) and two in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (Helen Carr and Lindsay Schwarting). Andrew and Jo will focus on the geochemical and physical characteristics of the new cores we will be collecting this coming winter, whereas Helen and Lindsay will be busy modeling the effects of increased nutrient loads to the lake and studying microfossil remains. Looks like we have some very exciting months ahead of us!

The sediments at the bottom of Lake Champlain are rich in information about the lake and its basin. In the upper half-meter or so, we find records of the lake’s response to European American settlement and 250 years of changing land use and commerce. With 4-year funding from the USGS Water Centers Program and NOAA, and the support of many collaborators, 11 cores from different regions of Lake Champlain have been collected, extending back thousands of years in some places. Here is an updated summary of the findings:

• During the warm and dry eras of the Holocene Climatic Optimum and Medieval Warm Period, the lake was more productive, suggesting that a warmer lake may also be a more eutrophic lake.
• Most of Lake Champlain was oligotrophic before European American settlers arrived in 18th century, although a few shallow regions (e.g., Missisquoi Bay) were mesotrophic.
• Extensive deforestation (up to 80% of Vermont) in the 18th and 19th century noticeably increased sediment and nutrient inputs to the lake, but resulted in only modest eutrophication. Subsequent rapid eutrophication was a feature of the 20th century.
• St. Albans Bay became fully eutrophic between 1900-1940. The underlying cause was diversion of industrial and municipal sewage from St. Albans City into the lake.
• Missisquoi Bay was the last lake segment to change trophic state. Bridge construction in 1936 had no impact on the lake’s mesotrophic condition. Only in the 1970s did nutrient input and algal biomass increase, up to 9 times pre-settlement levels.
• All sites studied have undergone some eutrophication, mostly since 1950.
We currently (Nov 2008) have an exhibit illustrating the power of lake sediment research at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center located at the Burlington waterfront.

Feel free to send me an email.

Keith Klepeis, Professor (Structural Geology, Tectonics and Field Geology)

This past year has been a great one for me personally and for Vermont geology. It represents the 12th consecutive year I’ve supervised student research projects on geological problems in Vermont with colleagues at UVM, the Vermont Geological Survey (VGS), and Middlebury. This year seemed as busy as ever. Undergraduate Abigail Ruksznis (class of 2013) presented the results of her research project relating the bedrock geology of the Plainfield, Vermont to various groundwater problems at Northeast GSA in Hartford. Abi also worked closely with Jon Kim and Marjorie Gale from VGS, and Laura Webb. At the end of the meeting she decided she wanted to pursue similar topics in graduate school, so we thought the meeting was a success! At the moment I am helping her work on her Honor’s thesis for the 2012-13 academic year. While working with Marjorie, Abi discovered a fantastic new outcrop near Route 2 in Essex Junction that promises to reveal how certain types of foliations are related faulting and folding events. She’s using some great new methods to study the fabrics, including a GigapanTM, which allows her to analyze stitched field photographs using deep zoom techniques.

Another student Eric Weber (class of 2013) also began a new summer a project with the VGS and I on the structure of the southern end of the Hinesburg thrust fault near Bristol. Eric is already making great headway and is cutting up samples and mapping out microstructures. Two other undergraduate students (Doug MacLeod and Jeff Tinklepaugh) also are working with me on Vermont geology theses and two graduate students I’ve been engaged with are almost finished (Christine McNiff and Megan Scott).

Feel free to send me an email and visit my website.
(802) 656-0247

Andrew Schroth, Research Asst Professor (Low Temperature Geochemistry, Limnology and Oceanograph)

Hello! I am a new Research Assistant Professor, and I am excited to be a part of UVM and the Department of Geology in particular. I come to the department after 5 years at U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole, MA, where I was a postdoctoral scholar and then a research geologist. Since I began working within the department this past July, I have felt immediately at home due to the friendly faculty, staff and students here at UVM. My primary area of expertise is in low temperature geochemistry and environmental mineralogy, but I also have teaching and research interests in soil science, hydrology and hydrogeology. I am particularly interested in the transport, fate and speciation of metals in surface waters, soils and sediments. I have come to UVM to lead a team of Vermont-based scientists and students in an NSF EPSCoR-funded research effort that aims to better understand nutrient dynamics and algal blooms in Lake Champlain and its watershed, generally in the context of climate change and adaptive management. Our team has been extremely busy this summer establishing an exciting network of sites for time series sample collection (water, sediment and biomass) and sensor deployment on Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay and at select sites within the Missisquoi and Winooski watersheds. Over the next few months, we will be conducting laboratory analyses of these samples as well as processing and interpreting data collected over the field season, while also establishing a winter sampling plan. We will continue to collect data from these sites over the next 4 years in an effort to better characterize and quantify inter and intra annual variability within the system and, more importantly, understand the environmental parameters that control nutrient/algal dynamics within the system. I also have active projects in Alaska studying trace metal speciation and cycling in watersheds, dusts and coastal marine waters that I hope to involve UVM undergraduate and graduate students as soon as possible. In the future, I look forward to developing new projects in the montane watersheds and soils of the nearby Green and Adirondack ranges, as these were the systems that I studied as a graduate and undergraduate student of geochemistry. I am also looking forward to teaching coursework in geochemistry and possibly other subjects through the Department of Geology. I am always keen to meet geologically-inclined alumni and current students! Please do not hesitate to shoot me an e-mail or stop by my office to chat!

Stephen Wright, Senior Lecturer (Glacial geology, Geomorphology, Environmental Geology

I’ve been on sabbatical this fall and have spent many nice September field days working in the Killington area trying to better understand ice flow patterns across this part of the Green Mountains. I’m also planning on using the fall to finish several other field projects in northern Vermont as well as to investigate some areas that are normally too far away to work on during the school year.

I spent the first part of the summer mapping the northern half of the Pico Peak quadrangle, a continuation of the mapping in the southern half of the quadrangle I completed last summer. Part of this work involved following an esker system up the Ottauquechee River valley and then down the Tweed River valley. An outgrowth of this mapping was to outline the extent of a small glacial lake that occupied the Tweed River valley between Pittsfield and the Killington golf course. This relatively high-elevation lake (1,350 ft above sea level) was relatively short-lived, but its catastrophic drainage into those parts of Glacial Lake Hitchcock that occupied the northwestern branches of the White River may be responsible for a huge influx of sediment into that part of the lake over the course of several years. I will be leading a Vermont Geological Society field trip to this area during the summer or fall of 2013.

I brought another group of nine students out to Colorado during the first three weeks of August with the help of graduate student Ben DeJong. We had an excellent group that was both academically curious and a great joy to work with and camp with for 3 weeks. We took advantage of the warmer weather and lack of high-elevation snow (I’m usually out there with students in late May through mid-June) to visit areas well above tree line that are normally inaccessible. Our last long hike was into one of the small Front Range glaciers. Several of the students had been in my glacial geology class the previous spring semester and it was exciting to see, albeit on a small scale, evidence of some of the glacial processes we’d worked on in class and labs.

I’ll be at the Northeast GSA meeting at the Mount Washington Hotel this coming March and will hope to see at least some of you there. The trails at the Bretton Woods Nordic ski center are wonderful, so bring your skis!

Feel free to send me an email.

Laura Webb Assistant Professor (Thermochronology and Tectonics)

I completed the inaugural run of a new course in our curriculum, Field Methods in Geophysics. With funding from NSF-DUE, we acquired ground penetrating radar and electromagnetic induction profiling equipment. Students in the class focused on using this instrumentation to investigate the bedrock geology and hydrogeology of the Christiansen farm in East Montpelier. We had glorious weather, beautiful fall foliage, and a great time. The project was designed in collaboration with the Vermont Geological Survey and Abi Ruknzis (Geology BS student) went on to work in more detail with the class data set and present those findings at the NEGSA meeting.

Last year I also participated in the 2012 UVM Sustainability Faculty Fellows Program. While my research focus is hard rock oriented, I’ve had growing interests in infusing sustainability concepts in my teaching. I also participated in the Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences Workshop at Carleton College over the summer. This workshop is part the InTeGrate project, a five-year, NSF-funded STEP Center grant. I had a great time participating in both programs and hope to remain active in collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum development efforts.

The 40Ar/39Ar geochronology laboratory is coming along. In the last year we completed construction of the noble gas extraction line and are now under ultrahigh vacuum. We now have a diode laser system built by UVM alumnus Jeremy Hourigan (Assistant Professor, UC Santa Cruz; Santa Cruz Laser Microfurnace). Over the summer we finally took delivery of the Nu Noblesse noble gas mass spectrometer, which was no small feat to get it safely in the building. We’re still in the process of commissioning the mass spec, but hope to soon be on our way playing the dating game.

Two of my students defended their MS theses in the last year. Merril Stypula is now off working for the oil and gas industry and Christine McNiff is pursuing her PhD at University of South Florida. Patrick Dyess is in his second year working with me on the titanium-in-quartz thermobarometer project. He may win my prize for largest number of analytical techniques (and abbreviations) combined into one MS thesis (EMP, CL, SIMS, EBSD, XRF...). I’m still active in research in on the tectonics of Papua New Guinea and Mongolia. Both are the focus of current writing efforts and targets for new research grant proposals in the coming year.

Feel free to send me an email and/or visit my website.


Last modified November 07 2012 10:48 AM