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Research in Geosciences

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), Dr. Haibo Zou (Igneous petrology & isotopic geochemistry) and Dr. Stephanie Shepherd (Geomorphology) 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; (8) sedimentary petrology and  basin analysis to reconstruct petrofacies evolution and paleogeography; and (9) landscape evolution of fluvial systems. 

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. Stephanie Shepherd focuses on the interplay of natural and human activity that induces changes in river systems, with a particular interest in stream morphology and sediment dynamics. Dr. Chandana Mitra is a climatologist by training, who researches how long-term climate is impacted by land use/land cover change. She and her students are looking into short term extreme events such as heat waves and extreme rainfall events and how people living in cities are effected. Dr. Li Dong (Atmospheric Science) explores large-scale atmospheric dynamics responsible for extreme climate and weather events including heat waves, droughts and extreme precipitation events.

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. Dr. Li Dong (Atmospheric science) carries out research in paleoclimatology through both numerical modeling and paleoclimatology proxies. Previously, Dr. Li Dong has studied the change of midlatitude storm track during the Last Glacial Maximum by using Earth System Models.

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.

Human 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. Phil Chaney’s research interest is on human dimensions of natural hazads, with a focus on public awareness and preparedness, public policy, land use, warning systems and response to hurricanes and tornadoes.

Environmental Geography

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. Chandana Mitra’s research interest includes trying to understand the urban land-atmospheric interactions which include urban heat island and urban precipitation. She focuses on local and mesoscale levels, trying to quantify and analyze the effects of climate change and anthropogenic activities on urban environment and microclimate. Dr. Luke 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. Stephanie Shepherd uses a combination of field, laboratory, and GIS methods to understand landscape change in small to large river systems in the south central United States.  Her current research in the Buffalo National Scenic River is examining the relationship between river incision, terrace formation and preservation, and lithology in bedrock rivers. Dr. Li Dong is an Atmospheric Scientist who utilizes Earth System Models to investigate land-atmosphere interaction.

GIScience (GISc)

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. Chandana Mitra, Dr. Phil Chaney, Dr. Stephanie Rogers, Dr. Stephanie Shepherd, Dr. Ming-Kuo Lee, and Dr. Luke Marzen all utilize GISc in their research and classes to varying extents. The Department has two GIS labs; a 24 seat lab dedicated to GIS teaching and an 5 seat lab for general use and research. The software utilized includes ArcGIS Desktop (ArcInfo), ArcGIS Server, GeoMedia, Erdas Imagine, and Trimble Developer eCognition Server.  The department also has access to several Leica, Trimble and TopCon DGPS units. Dr. Chandana Mitra uses remote sensing and GIS techniques to quantify landuse landcover change. She uses the CA-Markov landuse landcover model to do future growth projections. For her urban climate research, Dr. Mitra uses infra-red camera and thermometers as well as hygrometers to measure different weather elements. This she extensively uses in her classes and in outreach activities. Dr. Stephanie Shepherd utilizes ArcGIS, surveying techniques, and GPS to understand the drivers of recent and long-term landscape change in river systems. Dr. Luke Marzen has been using terrestrial and aerial LiDAR in recent projects for land cover mapping and forest and tree 3D modeling.

Last Updated: 02/16/2021