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Geological Sciences
University of Idaho
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Moscow, ID 83844-3022
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Graduate Research

Below are some examples of graduate student research. You may also view the full list of graduate theses.


Structural Deformation in Iceland

Jane Barnes

Jane Barnes Jane Barnes Jane Barnes

Even before I was officially enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Idaho, I was thrown into the deep end of my master's research. In the summer before my first semester, my advisor, Dr. Simon Kattenhorn, and I started fieldwork for my thesis on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland. The Reykjanes Peninsula provides a unique opportunity to study exposed ridge systems, granting insight into how spreading occurs along mid-ocean rift zones. While the concept of studying mid-ocean rift zones seems simple, they are exceedingly difficult to study owing to their location under several kilometers of water. Glaciation during the Pleistocene provided an environment for subglacial fissure eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, which can be used as an analog for mid-ocean fissure eruptions.

My master's research focuses on deformation across the peninsula, specifically the formation of deformation bands within hyaloclastite ridges. Deformation bands are strain localization features predominately studied in porous sandstones and other siliciclastic rocks. They form through cataclasis, the brittle breakdown of grains, which results in a reduction in porosity. Differential weathering tends to leave them standing as positive relief features that appear as tabular fins or ribs in outcrop.

In order to understand these deformation bands, I have been mapping orientations, dimensions, and age relationships of deformation bands in the field. Also, I have collected samples to thin section and examine under a microscope. This is termed petrographic analysis, and includes a comparison of grain size in both the deformation band and the surrounding rock, a description of cataclastic breakdown processes, a measurement of offset and band thickness, and measurement of porosity.

My research focuses primarily on topics within structural geology, but I have also been given a chance to study outside of this field here at the University of Idaho. An example of this is the recent volcanology trip to Ecuador, where we visited a number of active volcanoes and gained experience assessing volcanic hazards and mapping recent eruption deposits. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here at the University of Idaho and am appreciative of the opportunities available.



Bolivian Stratigraphy

Heidi Anderson

Heidi Anderson - Bolivia Heidi Anderson - Bolivia Heidi Anderson - Bolivia

I have always been enamored with geology, especially glacial geology. I collected rocks as a kid, examining them for hours. I continue this hobby more intensely today at the University of Idaho where I study the sedimentology and stratigraphy of late Paleozoic glacial deposits in southern Bolivia under the direction of Dr. Peter Isaacson. My Ph.D. project focuses on the Carboniferous Macharetí and Mandiyutí Groups (M&M), a beautiful variety of sandstones and diamictites with all kinds of soft sediment deformation, faceted and striated clasts, and gorgeous cross beds. Lateral variability of both facies and thickness of the M&M groups reflects the tectonics, glaciation, and paleolatitude changes occurring during their deposition and makes correlations and delineation of individual siliciclastic beds’ events difficult.

For the last three summers I have measured sections and collected samples across southern Bolivia in what a friend calls "my Paleozoic sandbox." The goals of my project are to determine the depositional environments of the M&M, their climatic significance and tectonic setting, and correlate them across southern Bolivia using lithostratigraphy, palynology, and sandstone petrology.

My graduate career at U of I has been full of great opportunities. I have had the pleasure to work with an incredibly talented group of geologists from the United States, Spain, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil whose specialties range from carbonate sequence stratigraphy to palynology. Additionally, I have had many opportunities for professional development including leadership roles in the Graduate and Professional Student Association and the Department of Geological Sciences and creative roles including laboratory course development, writing and revision of laboratory manuals and assignments, and teaching science to 10 year olds.



Paleosols in the Columbia River Basalt

Kevin Hobbs

Kevin Hobbs - CRBs CRB Paleosol CRB paleosol close-up

My graduate research at the University of Idaho focuses on soils that were formed atop flows of the Columbia River Basalt (CRB) Group in the middle Miocene. As each basalt flow was emplaced, weathering began as soon as the lava cooled. If the climate, timing, and physical properties of the basalt were correct, then soil formation would result from this in situ weathering. Studying paleosols in the CRBs is a paleopedologist's dream because the protolith can be directly observed and because the preservation of the soil horizons by the overlying basalt flow is outstanding.

My interest in this study was sparked early in my first semester at UI by my and my advisor Dr. Judy Parrish's curiosity about the paleoclimatic implications of the rather common weathering horizons seen in road cuts in the CRB province as well as by my graduate volcanology class with Dr. Dennis Geist. The preserved paleosols show characteristics of humid tropical and temperate soils even though they formed at or above 45 degrees latitude. With the physical, mineralogical, and geochemical properties of the paleosols in mind, my research attempts to determine the climatic conditions necessary for the soils' formation and considers how these conditions fit in with other research on middle Miocene climate in the Pacific Northwest. When complete, this research will add yet another data point to the ever-evolving understanding of climate change in the middle Miocene (which was more drastic and potentially more rapid than predicted modern climate change).

Throughout my research, I have been amazed at how multi-disciplinary this project has allowed me to be. I have collaborated with not only fellow paleoclimatologists, but also researchers in the fields of paleopedology, modern pedology, paleobotany, volcanology, spectrometry, and modeling. The assistance of all these fellow researchers has allowed me to produce more fruitful and insightful research and has taught me volumes about the importance of approaching any research question from more angles than those I might traditionally consider.



Planetary Geology

Christina Coulter

Europa's ridgesMy graduate career started at the University of Idaho in January 2007 under Dr. Simon Kattenhorn with a "big bang", so to speak. Within 6 weeks of arriving at UI to start my master's degree in geology, I was writing my own eight-page proposal for funding. My efforts paid off eventually, and I was awarded an EPSCoR Fellowship through NASA's Idaho Space Grant Consortium, which funded both my fall '07 and spring '08 research on Europa, a moon of Jupiter… Thanks ISGC!

My research focuses on quantifying both lateral motion and associated components of contraction or dilation along Europa's ridges, to better determine their formation mechanisms. The images I'm analyzing are from NASA's Galileo mission. These images are downloaded directly from NASA's PDS imaging node and reprojected using ISIS software (developed by the USGS). Understanding the tectonics of Europa's ice shell is important because if future scientific missions want to explore the possibility of life in Europa's subsurface ocean, we need to know where we would be likely to access this ocean from the surface.

Geomechanics research in planetary geology is strengthening my understanding of GIS mapping techniques and image projection skills. I'm also acquiring new strengths in geomechanics and structural geology. Planetary work is very rewarding, in that almost everything you do or find is new (even though it is rather difficult to schedule a field trip to your study area). I feel that my work will be an insightful contribution to the scientific community.



Paleoenvironments & Paleoclimatology

Renee Breedlovestrout

My research, under direction of Dr. Judy Parrish, entails the study of environments of deposition and the paleoclimate of the Chuckanut Formation (55-30 MYA), located in northwestern and central Washington and southwestern British Columbia. Detailed collection and evaluation of paleoenvironmental indicators such as plant and sediment types are needed to improve our understanding of natural climate change and may ultimately shed light on future changes in Earth’s climate.

 Many layers within the Chuckanut Formation contain plant micro- and macro- fossils within layers of siltstone, mudstone, and coal. Using palynology (study of pollen) and a process of sorting unknown fossils into groups based on their characteristic features (called “morphotyping”), I am creating a detailed catalog of ancient terrestrial plant species obtained from the rocks that will allow me to correlate between discontinuous outcrops.

Data collected from fossil plants in limited areas of the Chuckanut Formation indicate that the sediments were deposited in at least two paleoclimate regimes, subtropical and temperate. Additional fossil localities have the potential to refine our understanding of the changing paleoclimate and may reveal further climate variation.

With data from this study, I will determine paleoclimatic gradients from the West Coast to the Rockies, providing a more detailed reconstruction of the paleoenvironment than previously available. In turn, this reconstruction will be compared to other sites, yielding a more complete understanding of the paleogeography of that time.



Planetary Geology & Martian Resources

June Clevy

 As a doctoral candidate at the University of Idaho, I have had the pleasure of taking my terrestrial map-reading skills to 'new heights'. While studying fracture mechanics under Dr. Simon Kattenhorn, I began working with Scylla and Charybdis Scopuli, two ~1125 km long normal fault systems west of Hellas Basin on the planet Mars. As the work progressed we were invited to Los Alamos National Laboratory to examine hydrogen abundance data calculated from satellite measurements of epithermal neutron counts.

Since then I have incorporated Geographic Information System routines to analyze the spatial relationships between regions of relative hydrogen enrichment/depletion and currently available elevation, crustal thickness, and thermal data for Eastern Mars. While my field area is a bit inaccessible, I have traveled to Canyonlands National Park outside Moab, UT to compliment classroom studies of normal fault processes. I have also been privileged to attend several international conferences, building professional relationships and gathering a couple of awards along the way.

Planetary science is a relatively young field, but funding through the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium is available at both the undergraduate and graduate level for U of I students. Please contact Dr. Kattenhorn or Space Grant Director Aaron Thomas for more information on space science opportunities, or browse the ISGC website at



Climbing/Rappelling Rope Course at Granite Point

 Geology graduate students Ryan Pollyea and Scott Brinton,along with their advisor Dr. Jerry Fairley and Geological Sciences research associate Jennifer Hinds, participated in a rope-safety training course for work in steep terrains.

Ryan is studying fracture networks exposed in steep basalt canyons at the Box Canyon experimental field site located near the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in southern Idaho.

This work is part of an ongoing collaborative research project between the University of Idaho and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES). The objective of the work is to develop new techniques for storing carbon dioxide in the deep subsurface as a means of reducing carbon emissions and reversing global climate change.