Jun 23, 2024  
2022-2023 Graduate Catalog 
2022-2023 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Earth and Climate Sciences

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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.

We admit students to our program only if we have identified an advisor and if a financial plan is in place to fund the student and the research. Therefore, it is critical that prospective students contact potential advisors before submitting an application. We occasionally are able to admit students who have not contacted potential advisors, but this is uncommon.  Students who wish to be considered for teaching assistantships should have a complete application submitted by January 15. Most students are supported through Research Assistantships, which are administered by the faculty members that have received external grant funding.  The January 15 deadline is not firm for prospective Research Assistants, but we ask that applications be submitted by then in case partial funding will derive from a Teaching Assistantship.  

Research Groups

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, geochemistry, and petrology are mainstays of geoscience research. Our ongoing and new capacity for microanalysis, including optical microscopy, energy- and wavelength-dispersive spectrometry, cathodoluminescence, electron backscatter diffraction, and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, along with experimental petrology and 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 the 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 4.5 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, physical and chemical processes in subduction zones, microstructural evolution, magma dynamics, pressure-temperature and chemical evolution of metamorphic rocks, stable isotope fractionation, and mineral paragenesis.


Climate Change, Glacial Geology, Glaciology, Paleooceanography, 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, process studies, acquisition of paleoclimate proxy data, and model-based data synthesis and prediction, are used to study modern climate, document past climate change, and identify mechanisms of climate change that trigger abrupt climate change. These studies, 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 School of Earth and Climate 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, School 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

Near-surface Earth processes control water movement, surface erosion, sediment and nutrient transport 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 measurements, laboratory experiments, 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 environmental 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. Our focus on sea-level change has involved the development of indices to record sea-level change over the past 20,000 years from locations above and below the present shoreline, including 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. Our expertise and research results affect state and national policies on mitigation and prevention of coastal hazards and sound shoreline construction planning.  Marine records of past environmental change are also essential to understanding long-term ocean and climate dynamics. We analyze the geochemical, faunal, and physical properties of both coastal and offshore sediments to gain insight into the drivers and feedbacks involved in Earth’s climate system.


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), ESI NWR193UC excimer laser ablation systems coupled to an Agilent 8900 inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS/MS), experimental petrology equipment, 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, micropaleontology, 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.  A clean room for trace metal analysis equipped with a fume hood and boron-free laminar flow bench is under construction.

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.

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, acoustic Doppler and electromagnetic flow meters, Darcy tube, function generator with voltage potential data loggers (for laboratory experiments), and surveying equipment (GPS Units, total station, autolevel). These labs also store extensive field sampling equipment including soil augers (hand and 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, MIKE SHE, and various open source software (Modflow, FiPy, Python).

Graduate Faculty

Katherine Allen, Ph.D. (Columbia, 2013)  Assistant Professor. Paleoceanography, marine geology and geochemistry.

Sean Birkel, Ph.D. (Maine, 2010), Research Assistant Professor.  Climate and ice sheet modeling.

Seth Campbell, Ph.D. (Maine, 2014), Assistant Professor.  Radar, ice geophysics and dynamics.

Alicia Cruz-Uribe, Ph.D. (Penn State, 2014), Associate Professor. Metamorphic petrology and geochemisty.

George H. Denton, Ph.D. (Yale, 1965), Professor. Quaternary and Glacial Geology.

Christopher C. Gerbi, Ph.D. (Maine, 2005), Professor. Rheology, geodynamics, ice dynamics and geophysics.

Edward S. Grew, Ph.D. (Harvard, 1971), Research Professor. Metamorphic petrology, mineralogy and geochemistry.

Brenda L. Hall, Ph.D. (Maine, 1997), Professor. Quaternary and Glacial Geology, millennial-scale climate change and ice sheet stability.

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.

Joseph T. Kelley, Ph.D. (Lehigh, 1980), Professor. Marine geology, sedimentology.

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), Professor. Stable isotope geochemistry, paleooceanography, ice core geochemistry.

Andrei Kurbatov, Ph.D. (SUNY Buffalo, 2001), Associate Professor. Explosive volcanism, tephrachronology, glaciochemistry.

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), Associate Professor. Environmental geochemistry.

Aaron Putnam, Ph.D. (Maine, 2011), Associate Professor. Quaternary and glacial geology.

Andrew S. Reeve, Ph.D. (Syracuse, 1996), Professor. Hydrogeology.

Kristin Schild, Ph.D. (Dartmouth, 2017), Assistant Professor. Geomatics, remote sensing, ice-ocean interactions, physical glaciology.

Sean M.C. Smith, Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University, 2011), Associate Professor. Geomorphology and Watershed Processes.

Martin G. Yates, Ph.D. (Indiana, 1987), Associate Scientist. Electron beam and X-ray facilities, ore deposits.


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