The School of Earth and Climate Science awards both Master’s (M.S.) and Doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees. Student applicants to our graduate program commonly have a Bachelor’s degree in Earth Sciences or closely related discipline, but the multidisciplinary nature of our program allows for entry from other backgrounds as well. Students entering the graduate program in Earth and Climate Sciences typically have completed at least one year of chemistry, physics, and calculus, as well as several courses in the Earth/environmental sciences beyond the introductory level. Students who have not completed these basic requirements may be admitted, but may be required to complete specific courses to fulfill deficiencies. Students who wish to be considered for teaching assistantships should have a complete application submitted by the end of the first week in February. Most of our graduate students are supported by Research Assistantships, and prospective graduate students should contact faculty members working in the student’s area of interest to inquire about the availability of funds.
Geodynamics, Crustal Studies and Earth Rheology
Rocks and landforms at Earth’s surface, potentially hazardous volcanic and seismic activity, the response of Earth’s surface to icecaps that come and go with changing climate, and the slow but inexorable movement of continents all result from the interaction of physical and chemical processes taking place throughout Earth’s crust and mantle. With international interest and funding directed towards addressing both basic research questions and applied problems, the broad fields of geodynamics, structural geology, mineralogy and petrology are mainstays of geoscience research. Our ongoing and new capacity for microanalysis, including optical microscopy, energy- and wavelength-dispersive spectrometry, cathodoluminescence, and electron backscatter diffraction, along with grain- through orogen-scale numerical modeling and supercomputer applications, allow us to develop groundbreaking ideas related to coupled physical and chemical processes that shape Earth’s surface and drive evolution of its lithosphere. Our research program spans spatial scales from micrometers in individual mineral grains (deformation mechanisms, mineral chemistry, microstructures) to hundreds of kilometers in mountain belts (tectonic history, magmatism, structural development, and coupling of surface and deep processes). We study events that occurred from 4 billion years ago at the dawn of Earth’s history to those active today. We make observations of the natural world, using field, analytical, geochemical and geophysical datasets, and explain these observations using basic physical and chemical principles. We employ numerical and analogue modeling to test our explanations and conceptual predictions. Our most active research threads center on relating strain to surface evolution, mountain-scale dynamics, mid- to lower-crustal rheology, elastic anisotropy, earthquake geology, microstructural evolution, magma dynamics, pressure-temperature and chemical evolution of metamorphic rocks, stable isotope fractionation and mineral paragenesis.
Climate Change, Glacial Geology, Glaciology and Quaternary Studies
As concern about the timing, magnitude, and rate of future climate change increases, developing a comprehensive understanding of the relevant mechanisms governing climate variability is crucial. The identification of several abrupt climate shifts in the paleoclimatic record greater in magnitude than those experienced by modern society has served to highlight the potential risks associated with continued increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions. A variety of techniques, including modern observations and process studies, paleoclimate proxy data, and model-based data synthesis and prediction, are used to identify triggering mechanisms of abrupt climate change, These, in turn, serve to improve our ability to estimate future changes. Models that explain observed climate variability on all timescales are still inadequate, in part due to a lack of information on fundamental relationships between climate and environmental responses. Hypotheses that relate changes in climate forcings and associated responses are critical, particularly for the Southern Hemisphere, where long high-resolution paleoclimate records and detailed glaciological observations are limited. Additionally, an understanding of human response to past climate change provides an opportunity to understand the societal impact of major environmental events, such as changing weather patterns and rising sea levels. The interdisciplinary field of geoarchaeology provides the opportunity to examine such events in a human context, leading to a better understanding how future events may shape our cultural response. The Department of Earth Sciences and Climate Change Institute have long been recognized as leaders in these areas, and have been involved in defining and refining several paradigms associated with global and abrupt climate change. Over the next decade, Department and Institute faculty will have integral and often leadership roles in several climate research initiatives ranging from deep ice core recovery and geologic sampling to satellite remote sensing and examining human culture/climate linkages.
Environmental Geosciences and Watershed Systems
The Environmental Geosciences Group at the University of Maine studies near surface Earth processes that control water movement, surface erosion, the transport of sediment and nutrients into and through major rivers, and the chemical alteration of earth materials. Ecosystem management, water resource protection, and the supply of clean drinking water are all intertwined with near surface physical and chemical processes. These processes impact the lives of people whenever they drink from Maine’s abundant water resources or cast a ﬁshing line into one of the many lakes and rivers in the state, and they have direct bearing on the structure and viability of ecosystems in both rural and urban settings. Environmental geoscience faculty are involved in studies of watershed geomorphology, peatland hydrology and geochemistry, groundwater movement in fractured bedrock, chemical weathering of bedrock, and geochemistry related to carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of questions that inspire research undertaken within the group include:
- What is the timing and magnitude of sediment movement through watersheds?
- How does groundwater flow within peatland ecosystems interact with carbon cycling?
- What chemical reactions control the weathering of important rock types?
- How do biota affect rock weathering?
- How do watersheds respond to changes in climate, vegetation and urbanization?
Our studies involve field and laboratory measurements, experimentation and computer simulations. Collaborators in environmental geoscience activities at the University of Maine share our goal of improving our understanding of the environment to develop adaptive natural resource management strategies essential to sustainability. These groups, as well as state and federal agencies, provide many exciting opportunities for multidisciplinary interaction.
Marine/Coastal Geology and Sedimentary Processes
The response of shorelines and their inhabitants to rising sea level and associated coastal processes has been a major research focus of near shore Marine Geology for many years. With the recent explosion of human populations in coastal areas, such as barrier islands, deltas and landslide-prone bluffs, there is a growing need to develop quantitative measurements and models to understand how coastal environments have changed, are changing and will likely change as the level of the sea rises and storms frequently alter the shore. Sea-level change is driven by both glacial expansion and contraction, as well as by land level changes associated with loading/unloading of ice on the land; processes that link marine geology to climate change and geodynamics. As the shoreline rises and falls, processes dominated by waves, wind and tides have swept over what is now the seafloor, as well as terrestrial regions and lakes. We have pioneered the development of indices to record sea-level change over the past 20,000 years from locations above and below the present shoreline. We have studied the record of past sea-level changes by mapping the seafloor and lake bottoms. We interact with State agencies, such as Maine Geological Survey and Department of Marine Resources and federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service. We have used our expertise to influence state and national policies on mitigation and prevention of coastal hazards and sound shoreline construction planning.
School research facilities are extensive and modern. Facilities available for solid-earth research include a Cameca SX-100 electron microprobe, Tescan Vega XMU scanning electron microscope (with integrated energy-dispersive spectrometry, electron backscatter diffraction and full-color cathodoluminescence systems), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, powder x-ray diffraction, stable isotope laboratory, computational geodynamics facility, mineral separation, rock preparation, polishing and thin section laboratories, and high resolution photomicroscopy.
Marine Geology equipment and facilities include a suite of digital electronic geophysical equipment for sidescan sonar, seismic reflection and single and multibeam bathymetry, current meters and tide gauges and ground penetrating radar. We have a marine electric vibracorer, a portable coastal vibracorer and hand-operated corers as well as an underwater videocamera. The sedimentology laboratory is fully equipped for core analysis, photography, microscopy, weighing, centrifuging, drying, muffle furnace, sieving, and automated textural analysis with a settling tube for sand and an X-Ray sedigraph for mud. GIS capability is supported with computer workstations mounting ArcView and ArcInfo software.
The glacial and surficial geology group maintains laboratories in the Sawyer Environmental Building. Facilities include preparation areas (including a clean room) for radiocarbon, uranium-thorium, and cosmogenic isotope dating. We also have facilities and equipment for satellite and air photo interpretation and sediment-core analysis.
Facilities and instrumentation in the Sawyer Environmental Chemistry Research Laboratory (SECRL) include an inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometer, a low level cold vapor atomic florescence mercury analyzer system, a direct mercury analyzer, a flow injection mercury system, a graphite furnace/flame atomic absorption spectrometer, a total organic carbon analyzer, a flow solution auto analyzer, several ion chromatographs, an auto titrator, and extensive facilities for sample preparation (e.g., microwave digestion and clean room space).
The environmental geology group maintains a wet chemistry laboratory and a hydrogeology laboratory. The wet chemistry laboratory includes a shaking water bath, pH meters, stirring hot plates, water filtration system and DI water dishwasher, visible light spectrophotometer, as well as other supplies for sample preparation equipment. The hydrogeology laboratory houses a computer workstation, a borehole geophysics winch and downhole tools (caliper, gamma, heat-pulse flow meter), Darcy tube, function generator with voltage potential data loggers (for laboratory experiments), and two Ashtech Z-surveyor GPS Units. These labs also store extensive field sampling equipment including soil augers (hand and ‘little beaver’ power auger), several submersible pumps, peristaltic pump, field portable pH and conductance meters, field spectrophotometer, field filters, Hach digital titrator, several water-level indicators, data-logging pressure transducers, and dedicated field laptop. Computer modeling and data analysis is supported with computer workstations utilizing Geochemistʼs Workbench, GPS processing software (GAMIT/GLOBK), and various open source software (Modflow, FiPy, Python, Octave).
Daniel F. Belknap, Ph.D. (Delaware, 1979), Professor. Sedimentology, marine geology, stratigraphy.
George H. Denton, Ph.D. (Yale, 1965), Professor. Quaternary and Glacial Geology.
Christopher C. Gerbi, Ph.D. (Maine, 2004), Assistant Professor. Mineralogy, rheology, geochronology and tectonics.
Edward S. Grew, Ph.D. (Harvard, 1973), Research Professor. Metamorphic petrology.
Brenda L. Hall, Ph.D. (Maine, 1997), Associate Professor. Quaternary and Glacial Geology, millennial-scale climate change and ice sheet stability.
Gordon S. Hamilton, Ph.D. (Cambridge, 1992), Associate Professor. Polar glaciology, ice sheet mass balance, and the role of ice sheets in modulating global sea levels.
Scott E. Johnson, Ph.D. (James Cook, 1989), Professor. Structural geology, microstructural processes, Earth rheology, tectonics, coupling of deformation and metamorphism.
Alice R. Kelley, Ph.D. (Maine, 2007), Instructor. Geoarcheology, surficial processes.
Peter O. Koons, (E.T.H., 1983), Professor. Mechanics of mountain building, interaction of surface processes and plate tectonics, the evolution of active continental margins, mantle deformation, atmosphere-topography interactions.
Karl J. Kreutz, Ph.D. (New Hampshire, 1998), Associate Professor. Stable isotope geochemistry, paleooceanography, ice core geochemistry.
Andrei Kurbatov, Ph.D. (SUNY Buffalo, 2001), Research Assistant Professor. Explosive volcanism, tephrachronology, glaciochemistry.
Daniel R. Lux, Ph.D. (Ohio State, 1981), Professor. Isotope geochemistry, geochronometry.
Kirk A. Maasch, Ph.D. (Yale, 1989), Professor. Climate Modeling.
Paul A. Mayewski, Ph.D. (Ohio State, 1973), Professor. Glaciology, paleoclimatology, ice core geochemistry.
Stephen A. Norton, Ph.D. (Harvard, 1967), Professor Emeritus. Environmental geochemistry.
Amanda A. Olsen, Ph.D. (Virginia Tech, 2007), Assistant Professor. Environmental geochemistry.
Andrew S. Reeve, Ph.D. (Syracuse, 1996), Associate Professor. Hydrogeology.
Sean M.C. Smith, Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University, 2012), Assistant Professor, Geomorphology and Watershed Processes
Martin G. Yates, Ph.D. (Indiana, 1987), Associate Scientist. Electron beam and X-ray facilities, ore deposits.