Research with Faculty

Geosciences research labs are run by faculty focused on specific research. Students and faculty work together in research labs to discover solutions to geosciences issues. The labs are equipped with sophisticated instrumentation and machines, and much of the research done in these labs is published in leading scientific journals. Students are invited to contribute to this research, give presentations, and lead discussions on the research issues at hand.

Professor: Kurt Knesel, Visiting Assistant Professor

Research focus: Knesel studies the origin and behavior of magma. He and his students combine field, textural, and geochemical study of volcanic rocks with laboratory simulation of molten rock to improve our understanding of how volcanoes work. This information also provides insight into large-scale geodynamic processes, such as the motion and interaction of tectonic plates and their influence on the flow of mantle rock.

Projects: Most recently, Knesel and his students have been investigating eruptive behavior of rhyolitic volcanoes, which are among the most destructive on Earth. Student projects are currently focused on decoding chemical signatures and textural analysis of tiny crystals and bubbles in volcanic glass from the largest volcano in eastern Australia to better understand pre-eruptive conditions and processes dictating eruptive style.

Professor: Daniel Lehrmann, Gertrude and Walter Pyron Professor

Research focus: Lehrmann focuses on the factors controlling the evolution of marine sedimentary basins, the evolution of carbonate platforms and tropical reefs, changes in Earth’s chemical and biological systems, diagenetic alteration of carbonate sediments, and major events in the history of life such as the end-Permian mass extinction. He and his students employs techniques including field work, satellite image analysis, GIS, petrography including fluid inclusion geothermometry, CL and point counting, geochemistry, biostratigraphy, paleoecology, database assembly, forward stratigraphic modeling, and statistical analysis.

Projects: Lehrmann and his students are investigating the role of seawater chemistry on carbonate sedimentation and platform evolution at field sites in south China, and locally, he and his students use sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geochemistry to evaluate the paleoenvironment of dinosaur track sites in south Texas.

Professor: Diane Smith, Imogene & Harold Herndon Professor

Research focus: Smith focuses on the dynamics of subsurface magmatic systems, using geochemistry, mineralogy, and modeling to elucidate the evolution of these complex systems in the context of plate tectonics and crustal and mantle magmatic inputs. Much of her work has focused upon Cascades volcanoes and especially the magmatic system beneath Mt. St. Helens, but Smith has also investigated granites of the Llano Uplift and Pikes Peak batholith and forearc intrusions along the southeastern margin of Alaska.

Projects: Smith and her students are investigating magma mingling processes at Mount St. Helens and in the Indian Heaven Lava field in Washington State. She and her students use Trinity’s scanning electron microscope (SEM) to characterize minerals in rock samples, and they can travel to Oregon State University to further analyze variations in mineral composition using high precision electron microprobe analysis.

Professor: Benjamin Surpless, Professor

Research focus: Surpless focuses on well-exposed faults, folds, and fracture networks in western Nevada, western Texas, and southern Utah, considering how the evolution of those geologic systems can be used to constrain seismic hazard, elucidate potential subsurface fluid pathways, and to predict the structural development of other, less well-exposed systems worldwide. He and his students use geomechanical computer modeling, cross-section analysis, structure-from-motion (SfM) models from drone photography, and classic field data collection and interpretation to address a wide range of research questions.

Projects:Most recently, Surpless and his students have focused on evolution of the active, segmented Sevier fault zone in southern Utah. They use a combination of classic geologic field mapping, documentation of fracture geometries and intensities, and drone-based video capture and model construction of inaccessible rock outcrops to interpret the evolution of the complex Sevier fault system.

Professor: Kathleen Surpless, Professor and Department Chair

Research focus: Surpless focuses on the evolution of sedimentary basins in the Cordilleran mountain belt of the western United States and Canada. Results from her investigations have addressed fundamental questions about the formation and destruction of past mountains and ocean basins, past climates, and plate tectonic reconstructions. Her work also has implications for energy resource exploration and carbon capture methods, because underground carbon storage depends on sedimentary layering and structure below the surface.

Projects: Surpless is currently working with students to investigate provenance and depositional age of Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous sedimentary strata within the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and the Klamath Mountains in northern California and southern Oregon. These strata record the history of the basins in which they were deposited as well as the larger paleogeographic and plate tectonic context for their formation. In addition to field work and sample collection, Surpless and her students will collect compositional, geochemical, and age data from these strata to constrain maximum depositional ages and inform sedimentary provenance interpretations in the context of basin evolution and plate tectonics.

Professor: Glenn Kroeger, Associate Professor

Research focus: Kroeger has used seismic refraction and gravity profile data and the modeling of those data to constrain the geometry and evolution of fault systems in the western U.S., including active faults in western Nevada and in Canyonlands National Park. He has also developed SeismicCanvas, a widely-used software application for viewing and analyzing seismic data. The software is currently used by K-12 schools and researchers in universities across the U.S., in Europe, and in China. Seismologists in the United States Geologic Survey and the U.S. Army use Kroeger’s software to address a range of research questions related to the analysis of seismic waves generated by earthquakes or bomb detonations.

Projects: Most recently, Kroeger has worked to improve the quality of earth structure models generated by SeismicCanvas from seismic refraction methods by allowing researchers to more accurately identify the first arrival of seismic waves on seismograms. He is planning to adapt SeismicCanvas to run within modern web browsers to ensure the long-term viability and widespread use of his software.

Professor: Brady Ziegler, Assistant Professor

Research focus: Ziegler focuses on groundwater contamination and biogeochemical processes that impact the chemistry of groundwater systems.  He has participated in several investigations, collaborating with colleagues at the USGS, University of Minnesota, and Virginia Tech, to answer fundamental research questions about the most intensively studied oil spill research site in the world, in Bemidji, Minnesota. He has focused on arsenic mobilization in the Bemidji aquifer and is expanding his research to assess trace element mobilization within the aquifer. Ziegler plans to apply similar research methods to address biogeochemical controls on natural and anthropogenic groundwater contamination in California’s Central Valley.

Projects: Ziegler and his students have focused on research questions that address comprehensive assessments of trace element cycling in contaminated groundwater systems as well as the efficacy of dye tracer studies in karst systems. Their work addresses contamination issues in Minnesota, Texas, and California.