Below are some examples of graduate student research. You may
also view the full list of graduate theses.
Structural Deformation in Iceland
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.
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
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
Paleosols in the Columbia River
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
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.
My 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
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
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
Planetary Geology & Martian
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
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 http://www.id.spacegrant.org.
Climbing/Rappelling Rope Course at Granite
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