University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Geology

Surface Processes and Lake Studies: how the landscape records environmental change

UVM geology researchers are working on several fronts to explore how the Earth’s surface and have responded to environmental change on a variety of time scales. Prof. Paul Bierman and his students are very excited to have a new, state-of-the-art laboratory that enables them to date rocks using minute quantities of elements in minerals.

This research is taking Prof. Bierman and graduate students Joseph Graley, Lee Corbett and Eric Portenga around the world from the arctic to Australia, to explore questions ranging from when glacial ice last covered parts of Greenland, how quickly bedrock outcrops in the southern Appalachian Mountains are eroding, and how much sediment is moving past our nation's capital in the Potomac River. Joseph Graley describes his field work in Greenland, “My work involved sampling rocks by foot, by truck, and by helicopter. The latter of which is of course the most impressive. My general conclusion from the experience is the helicopter geology is to be avoided whenever possible. Not that it isn’t impressive to swoop and dive across the landscape scouting terrain from above. And it certainly is faster than walking. But the constant rush to complete your work while you still have helicopter access and get back before the airport closes, etc. leads to less detailed field observation and less time to reflect on field impressions than I would like.” Joseph and other students of Prof. Bierman’s have pioneered new, highly efficient laboratory techniques that increase both productivity and safety. A new lab web site ( shows how the lab works. Take a virtual tour and check out all the students' web pages.

In addition to his research on the relationship between erosion rates, climate, and other physical variables, Prof. Bierman continues to oversee the UVM Landscape Change Program, which now has over 33,000 images of Vermont available for viewing ( Stop by this website and view thousands of photos of Vermont - during floods , eroding from clearcutting, and spectacular rock exposures in quarries, waterfalls and road cuts. The web site has some great educational resources for place-based and visually-based learning. More than 4000 people visit the website every month. Check it out!

The Limnogeology group coordinated by Dr.Andrea Lini investigates lake sediments at various temporal and spatial scales in order to reconstruct environmental changes of the past. These include, for instance, climate change, catastrophic events, or human impact. Understanding the variability and the thresholds of lake systems helps us predict their response to future climate and environmental changes. Currently, a major focus of the group’s research efforts is Lake Champlain. While we cannot travel back in time, Lake Champlain has preserved remnants of former biological communities and biogeo­chemical conditions in its sediments. Some stresses on the lake are fairly new (e.g., chemical fertilizers and urban storm water runoff) but others such as deforestation and intensive fishing, were more prevalent in the past than they are today. Thus, the potential exists to examine lake degradation as well as lake recovery. Results of research funded by the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA suggests that the more severe lake degradation observed today began in the mid-20th century. Prof. Lini and graduate students Jo Palmer and Drew Koff are currently working on lake sediment cores that will extend the analyses further back in time (to about 10,000 years ago), and explore the interplay between natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

Please visit the Geology Department website for more information on faculty and student research.

Last modified November 08 2012 10:22 AM