Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Students Present at Major Geology Conference

Four Washington and Lee University geology majors presented their research at the world’s largest geoscience meeting to be held in San Francisco this week (Dec. 5-9).

Makenzie Hatfield, a senior from Charleston, W.Va., Elizabeth Mann, a senior from Hamilton, Va., Maria Reimi, a senior from Caracas, Venezuela, and Lauren Schultz, a junior from California, Md., made presentations at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting.

In addition to the students, five members of the W&L faculty and four alumni will be among the researchers, teachers, students and consultants in geology and related sciences to participate in the event. This year’s meeting will host more than 5,800 oral presentations and 11,500 poster presentations.

Hatfield’s research will help staff archaeologists at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest reconstruct the ornamental plantings at Jefferson’s personal retreat near Forest, Va. Paper mulberry trees planted by Jefferson were moved by subsequent landowners, and part of the current restoration effort includes planting trees in the precise locations that Jefferson planted similar trees during his design of the property. Hatfield is employing X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) and Intercoupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) geochemical analysis to determine whether the presence of the original nursery soil from the root bulbs of the replanted trees can be identified and used to determine the location of the paper mulberry trees. Hatfield is collaborating on this project with Paul Low, visiting assistant professor of geology at W&L, and Sean Devlin, staff archaeologist and anthropology instructor. Click here for the full abstract.

Mann has been studying the effects of tree throw, the bowl-shaped cavity or depressions created by trees in the subsoil, along a climosequence of sites on shale in the Appalachian Mountains. These sites are associated with the Susquehanna-Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHO), and Mann is using GPS location, tree girth, relative tree age, tree type, dimensions of pit, azimuth of fall, and slope and azimuth of maximum slope.  These observations of tree throw have been made as part of a broader effort to characterize rates of erosion on shale hill slopes. Mann has collaborated with Timothy White, a 1984 graduate of W&L and currently a research scientist at Penn State University, on this project. Click here for full abstract.

Reimi has been working in the geology department’s experimental geochemistry lab on research that she began last summer in Peter Burns’ lab at University of Notre Dame where she was studying a novel aqueous synthesis that leads to the formation of calcite (CaCO3) crystals, up to 500 micrometers in diameter. This work is part of her senior honors thesis on the incorporation of toxic metals such as lead and arsenic into calcite. Click here for the full abstract.

Schultz’s project involves mantle xenoliths, which are pieces of mantle rock brought to the surface by volcanic activity.  While a large degree of the variation between sampled xenoliths can be explained by melting processes, other differences suggest significant heterogeneity present in the mantle where the xenoliths originated. Her work, “Geochemical heterogeneity in mantle xenoliths of the Western Grand Canyon,” asks questions about the source of this heterogeneity in the rock of the upper mantle, emphasizing that xenoliths can provide important insight into compositional and other characteristic variances in the deep Earth. Click here for the full abstract.

In addition to the student presentations, David Harbor, professor of geology at W&L, was invited to present a paper titled “Episodic and long-lived river incision along geologically heterogeneous passive margins,” in a special session entitled “The Long Road To Flat: Toward Understanding the Drivers and Quantifying Change in Orogens.”  Harbor will present research related to nonuniform river erosion caused by drainage capture, through the study of river profiles and deposits from the Appalachians and the Eastern Ghats of India. Click here for the full abstract.

Lisa Greer, associate professor of geology, and Robert Humston, assistant professor of biology, will be joined by two Washington and Lee alumni — Stevenson Bunn, of the Class of 2011, and Allen Curran, a 1962 graduate and Professor Emeritus of Geology at Smith College, to present research on the relative influence of the Suess Effect on carbon isotope chemistry of a Belizean Montastrea faveolota coral. The Seuss Effect refers to the influence that burning of fossil fuels has on carbon reservoirs. Recent work has shown that the geochemistry of coral skeletons can reflect large-scale changes in the ocean carbon isotope budget as influenced by the anthropogenic influx of fossil fuel carbon to the atmosphere (the Suess Effect). Yet not all coral carbon records reflect only atmospheric controls on carbon.  Click here for the full abstract.

Visiting Assistant Professor Low is presenting a poster created with the help of both Schultz and senior Natalie Stier of Alexandria, Va. Titled “Iddingzitized olivine in mantle xenoliths: evidence for (really) early alteration,” the poster reports on research questioning whether there is evidence that high-temperature iddingsite (a mineral assemblage that replaces olivine in oxygen and/or water-rich environments) has occurred in the mantle beneath the Western Grand Canyon, and what this might mean for understanding compositional heterogeneities in the Earth’s upper mantle. Click here for full abstract.

Research conducted by Elizabeth Knapp, associate provost and associate professor of geology, is partly behind the presentation titled “Landscape Dissection in the Alakai Swamp on Kauai by Groundwater Enhanced Weathering and Surface Water,” which focuses on the Alakai Swamp on the high western-side of the shield volcano that created Kauai, Hawaii, some 5 million years ago. Click here for the full abstract.

Harbor, Schultz, and Chris Connors, associate professor of geology, are coauthors on a presentation by former Visiting Assistant Professor Romain Meyer, now of the University of Bergen, Norway. They studied the emplacement and petrogenesis of the geologically youngest igneous rocks in Virginia. Their presentation is titled “Central Appalachian Valley and Ridge Province Cenozoic igneous activity and its relation in space and time with the Late Jurassic rift-to-drift-related alkalic dikes.” Click here for the full abstract.

Whitney Doss, a 2006 W&L alumna and now a graduate student at the University of Colorado, is presenting the poster titled “Paleo-ΔCO32- history of the Panama Basin: New insights into glacial deep ocean carbon storage from benthic foraminiferal B/Ca ratios. Click her for the full abstract.

Bill Barnhart, a 2008 alumnus who is now at Cornell University, is first author of the poster “High-Resolution (0.5m) Optical Imagery and InSAR for Constraining Earthquake Slip: The 2010-2011 Canterbury, New Zealand Earthquakes.” Click here for the full abstract.

Barnhart also co-authored the oral presentation “Recent Intraplate Earthquakes: The Trinidad, Colorado, M5.3 and Mineral, Virginia, M5.8 Events,” which reports geophysical investigations of the Mw 5.8 Virginia earthquake of August 23, 2011, based on the rapid post-seismic deployment of novel high density-seismic arrays using instruments from the Earthscope Flexible Array provided by IRIS/PASSCAL. Click here for the full abstract.

Alexander Burpee, a 2008 graduate currently affiliated with Penn State University’s Geosciences Department, will present “Relationships between sediment caliber and delta shoreline geometry and stratigraphy.” Click here for the full abstract.

Research by former W&L student John Hornbuckle, a 2011 graduate, did as part of a Keck Research Experiences for Undergraduates contributed to the poster “Constraining Lithospheric and Asthenospheric Structure in the Bighorn Mountains: Analysis of Frequency Dependence in Shear Wave Splitting.” Click here for the full abstract.

Other alumni who presented at the conference included Katelyn Olcott, of the Class of 2008, now working toward her Ph.D. at Penn State; Amanda Hughes, of the Class of 2006, now working on her Ph.D. in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard; Barrett Salisbury, of the Class of 2007, who received his M.S. from San Diego State and is now in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State; and Meredith Townsend, of the Class of 2011, who is in graduate school in Stanford’s Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences.

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459

If you know any W&L faculty who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.