Research in Geology
Tectonics and Geochronology
Departmental faculty and students are engaged in various aspects of structural geology, tectonics, geochronology, geophysics, isotopic geochemistry, and basin analysis. Field- and/or lab-based projects directed by Dr. Bill Hames (Geochronology & metamorphic petrology), Dr. Mark Steltenpohl (Structure and tectonics), Dr. Ashraf Uddin (Sedimentary petrology & basin analysis), Dr. Lorraine Wolf (Geophysics), and Dr. Haibo Zou (Igneous petrology & isotopic geochemistry) include (1) the structural evolution of orogenic core and terrane evolution; (2) thermochronology of detrital and crystalline rocks focused on the timing of orogenic activity; (3) petrogenesis of igneous suites in the context of tectonic setting; (4) microtremor methods in evaluating seismicity in active margins and stable continents; (5) geophysical modeling of continental accretion and breakup; (6) fabric evolution in metamorphic tectonites; (7) processes operating in active and ancient collisional orogens; and (8) sedimentary petrology and basin analysis to reconstruct petrofacies evolution and paleogeography.
Environmental and Natural Hazards Research
Departmental faculty and students are engaged in various aspects of environmental and natural hazards research. Projects directed by Dr. Ming-Kuo Lee (Hydrology), Dr. James Saunders (Geochemistry), Dr. Lorraine Wolf (Geophysics), and Dr. Luke Marzen (Geospatial Analysis) involve hydrologic modeling, aqueous geochemistry, shallow geophysical surveying, and remote sensing/GIS to explore such topics as water budgets and associated ecologic conditions, fate and biotransformation of trace metals, bioremediation of metals-contaminated waters, saltwater intrusion, and earthquake hydrology. Dr. Lorraine Wolf also explores aspects of earthquake hazards, including paleoseismicity. Dr. Phil Chaney (Geography) addresses human impacts and public policy associated with tornado and hurricane hazards. Dr. Yingru Li examines the spatial-temporal variations of water and air pollutions and the impacts on public health.
Sedimentology, Stratigraphy, and Paleontology
Several faculty members share an interest in the rocks that form at the Earth's surface and the fossils they contain. Local projects involve Cretaceous and younger strata exposed in the Coastal Plain, for example, the Upper Cretaceous Eutaw Formation with its feather-bearing Ingersoll shale and echinoid and pen-shell concentration beds. Other North American study areas range from the Paleozoic of Oklahoma to continental shelf sites off the New Jersey coast and carbonate environments in the Bahamas. Internationally, provenance studies of sedimentary deposits in India, Bangladesh, and neighboring countries investigate the tectonic and sedimentary history of the formation of the Himalayan Mountains. In Belize, projects are ongoing to study the KT boundary deposits and petroleum geology of that country.
Dr. Charles Savrda (Sedimentary Petrology) focuses on the study of trace fossils (ichnology) and their use in stratigraphic, paleoenvironmental, and paleoceanographic analyses. His interests include seafloor oxygenation histories of Phanerozoic marine basins, climatic changes as recorded in rhythmic bedding in North American Cretaceous chalk/marl sequences, and sea-level changes as recorded by marine deposits along with their well-preserved fossil concentrations (lagerstätten) Dr. Ronald Lewis (Invertebrate Paleontology) is also interested in lagerstätten and the study of fossil preservation (taphonomy) in general. Currently he is emphasizing the study of present-day benthic foraminifera in the Bahamas in order to understand the fossil record. Dr. David King maintains an interest in stratigraphy and dinosaurs of the southeast and the sedimentary rocks of the Gulf Coastal plain and in Belize. He studies the sedimentology of cosmic impacts in wet targets (e.g., Wetumpka impact crater, Alabama), the KT boundary, and petroleum geology in Belize. Provenance studies are primarily in the domain of Dr. Ashraf Uddin.
Planetary and Impact Geology
Dr. David King conducts research in planetary geology, ranging from studies of the features on Mars and the history deduced from them to asteroid impact research here on Earth. Impact features currently under investigation include the Wetumpka impact crater (Cretaceous), located near Montgomery, Alabama, and the Chesapeake Bay crater in Virginia. He is also involved in study of likely impact craters in Mississippi and Georgia. He also works at the KT boundary studying impact ejecta at sites in Alabama, Belize, Mexico, and Italy. Along with Dr. Luke Marzen, he has co-directed two recent theses on Martian geology, a study of probable marine-target impacts on Arabia Terra and the possible impact crater rim at the global escarpment of the northern plains of Mars.
Research in Geography
The human geography focus area provides students the opportunity to study cultural and socioeconomic issues, urban, rural, and economic development, geopolitics, as well as global perspectives on geographic regions. Dr. Toni Alexander is particularly interested in patterns of ethnic and racial segregation and the social context that promotes or inhibits it. Her most recent work involves a project investigating the social and economic impacts of ethnic diversification of the Alabama Black Belt community of Bullock County by combining qualitative interview approaches with a Geographic Information Systems analysis of socio-economic data. Dr. Gillen's research interests center on entrepreneurialism and the urban cultural economy in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Dr. Chaney’s research interest is on human dimensions of natural hazards, with a focus on public awareness and preparedness, public policy, land use, warning systems and response to hurricanes and tornadoes. Dr. Yingru Li's research interests on Human Geography mainly include health and health care disparities, regional development, and retail location. Her recent research projects focus on the socioeconomic inequalities nad childhood obesity in Alabama's Black Belt Region, spatial inequalities of health and health care in China, and GIS modeling of retail store locations.
This focus area provides students the opportunity to explore topics related to physical geography and the environment including climate and weather, water related issues, biogeography, environmental management, natural hazards, and human impacts. Dr. Marzen is a physical geographer who has spent much of his career investigating the relationships between human activity and the natural environments using Remote Sensing and GIS. He has developed environmental models predicting non-point source pollution in agricultural watersheds, models seeking to explain how and why disturbed landscapes recover, and recently has been working on Remote Sensing methods to forecast drought in order to improve water resource management. Dr. Yingru Li works on projects in environmental geography with GIS applications, e.g. surgace water quality and land use, validating EDEN water-surface model, and predicting air temperature by using GIS spatial analysis and statistical techniques.
The GIScience (GISc) focus area addresses fundamental issues raised by the use of GIS and related information technologies. It is concerned with people, hardware, software, and geospatial data. Dr. Alexander, Dr. Chaney, Dr. Yingru Li and Dr. Marzen all utilize GISc in their research and classes to varying extents. The Department has two GIS labs; a 25 seat lab dedicated to GIS teaching and an 8 seat lab for general use and research. The software utilized includes ArcGIS Desktop (ArcInfo), ArcGIS Server, GeoMedia, Erdas Imagine, and Definiens Developer eCognition Server. The department also has access to several Trimble and TopCon DGPS units. Dr. Yingru Li has been extensively using GIS and spatial statistic techniques in her research, including, exploratory spatial data analysis, geographically weighted regression, multilevel modeling, GIS-based location model, and spatial interpolation model.