University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Geology

Tectonics Research: exploring "how the Earth works" around the globe

Doing geologic research commonly involves finding those often hidden places on our planet that allow us to study well-preserved examples of important “Earth events” and geological processes.

In central Asia, Professor Laura Webb, UVM graduate student Merril Stypula and undergraduate student Graham Hagen-Peter are studying how continents grow and deform in response to collisions with another continents. In the East Gobi Desert of Mongolia, a series of mountain uplifts preserves evidence for how Asia was pieced together gradually from fragments of crust that collided and amalgamated over millions of years. Hagen-Peter describes his recent field season in Mongolia in July, 2009: “We left our desert camp each morning to make traverses across mountain ranges, making careful observations of geological features that record ancient continental motions such as faults and folds. By mid-afternoon the temperatures exceeded 110°F and we soon discovered that 4 liters of water (and the occasional sip of mare’s milk) per person each day was a bare minimum! Despite the challenging working conditions, we found spectacular evidence detailing how large faults move in response to stresses that occur hundreds, even, thousands of kilometers away.”

An area where minerals that formed at large depths within the Earth are exposed at the surface is Patagonia, Chile, the location that Prof. Keith Klepeis and his students conduct research. “In southernmost Patagonia”, says Prof. Klepeis, “we are working along the Beagle Channel, where Charles Darwin named the island of Tierra del Fuego or “Land or Fire” during his famous 1831-1836 voyage of HMS Beagle with Captain Fitzroy.” Along this same fjord, we have discovered the remains of an ancient collisional zone where continental crust was thrust downward into the Earth where it melted and created large volcanoes at the surface. This study, which involves UVM graduate student Janelle McAtamney, Geology Professor Charlotte Mehrtens, and undergraduate Shane Snyder, is generating results that show how the Andes mountain chain was uplifted from below sea level to its present-day heights through a combination of tectonic and volcanic processes.

Research in such remote reasons is full of its trials and tribulations, from extreme weather to physical exertions. And that is the nature of geology – a combination of high adventure, intense intellectual activity and exploration, and companionship among scientists. It is about a love of the Earth and a passion for understanding how it works. It is about an excitement for learning that UVM Geology aims to share with students in the classroom, on field trips and in research experiences.

Last modified February 16 2010 10:22 AM