The Earth is a dynamic system where the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere are coupled. The concept that events occurring in one sphere influence another has important implications for how geoscientists view global and regional scale processes. Through a lens of integrated Global Change, researchers in the Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies conduct cutting edge, interdisciplinary research on both ancient and modern environments to address the complexity of natural systems and anthropogenic perturbations.
Research Focus Areas
Students develop research topics with a goal to produce publishable results from their MS thesis or PhD dissertation within one, or across several of the following focus areas.
- Climate Systems Dynamics
Our program conducts interdisciplinary scientific research that characterizes and models the fundamental dynamics of the climate system over a range of times scales in order to understand rates and processes of environmental change. The integration of geological archives, modern observational studies, and modeling experiments allow us to capture scenarios that incorporate full-system feedbacks. Recent and ongoing research includes:
- Reconstructing a record of water availability, vegetation, and moisture sources in the Searles and Death Valley basins of the southwestern USA spanning the last 150,000 years.
- Integration of continental records of climate dynamics, river and landscape evolution, and tectonics preserved in the Eocene Green River Formation from an episode of unusually warm climate called the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum (EECO). This study aims to better understand how the Earth system will respond to rising temperatures in the future.
- Development of atmospheric CO2 proxies from lacustrine evaporite deposits.
- Characterization of ancient seawater trapped in fluid inclusions in Phanerozoic marine halite.
- Understanding Antarctic Ice Sheet dynamics and Southern Ocean processes using marine sedimentary archives from the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 374.
- Exploring Antarctica’s subglacial environment through the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) project.
- Investigating paleoceanographic and paleoclimatic change during past warm periods.
- Reconstruction of the Pacific Ocean Kuroshio Current Extension and its response to late Neogene climate and tectonic events using stable isotopic analyses, microfossil data, and sedimentologic proxies.
- Characterizing sea surface conditions within the Tasman Sea across the Miocene Climate Optimum using a multi-proxy approach.
- Combining sedimentology with x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to understand the depositional, paleo water conditions, and tectonic histories recorded by thick marine and lacustrine mudstone sequences.
- Sedimentary facies analysis, geochemistry, and palynology of Quaternary river terraces in New York State.
- Modern and Ancient Life
The multibillion-year record of life on Earth has been shaped by extrinsic, abiotic, and biotic interactions. Our program investigates the history of life at the cellular to macro-scales to assess how it has been impacted by environmental change and major climatic shifts, and how microbial life interacts with the hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere. Recent and ongoing research includes:
- Geomicrobiological cycling of environmentally relevant trace metal(loids) such as As, Sb, Se, Cr and U in freshwater and under conditions of extreme salinity, temperature, alkalinity, and anoxia.
- Aquatic food web behavior of biologically sensitive elements such as As, Sb, and Se.
- Long term survival of microorganisms in fluid inclusions in halite. Microorganisms (bacteria-archaea-algae) form tiny ecosystems in fluid inclusion droplets that allow some archaea to survive in a state of starvation survival for tens of thousands of years.
- Paleobiogeographic modeling of early Paleozoic shallow marine invertebrates (e.g., brachiopods, trilobites, echinoderms) across major biotic (e.g., the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event and Late Ordovician mass extinctions) and climate events
- Constraining the environmental conditions under which some of the earliest forest ecosystems (circa 370 Ma) were developed.
- Paleobiogeography of Neogene planktic foraminifera and dispersal patterns related to the development of modern surface ocean circulation patterns
- Understanding the role of cyanobacterial blooms in calcium carbonate whiting events and the influence of biotic and abiotic factors in microbialite formation in Fayetteville Green Lake, NY.
- Characterizing patterns in regional planktic foraminiferal latitudinal diversity gradients related to western boundary currents through the Cenozoic and linking regional patterns to regional paleoceanographic proxies to infer drivers of local diversity.
- Understanding how micro-organisms impact trace metal cycling in landfills and hazardous waste disposal sites.
- Natural Resources
Society depends on the use of renewable and non-renewable natural resources including fresh water, earth materials, and energy resources. One of the most fundamental interactions within the Earth system is between water and minerals. The interaction of water with silicate minerals influences such things as the formation of hydrous minerals at Earth’s surface, the formation of soils, the extent of water storage in the lithosphere, and the production of magma by dehydration of crustal rocks in subduction zones. Our program studies the formation mechanism, temporal change, and distribution of natural resources and their interaction with the hydrosphere within the context of the Earth system. This is done through field study, laboratory characterization, and experimental methods. Recent and ongoing research includes:
- The study of crystal-chemical controls that allow chlorine to substitute for hydroxyls in calcium amphiboles with implications for seawater-rock interactions as well as economic-deposit formation.
- An experimental study of the upper-thermal stability of glaucophane ± zoisite or paragonite breaking down to form jadeite (or omphacite) and garnet to determine the conditions at which blueschist-facies metamorphic rocks convert to eclogite-facies rocks in subduction zones.
- Experimental determination of the reaction of the feldspathoid mineral nepheline with NaCl-brines to develop a paleo-chlorinity and/or geobarometer for sodalite-bearing rocks.
- Computer modeling of sedimentary basin subsidence to understand the fundamental controls on sedimentary facies distributions, including source rocks, and their burial histories.
- Using elemental concentration data coupled with statistical models from marine, fluvial, and lacustrine mudstones to examine the utility and variability of potential proxies for TOC, paleoredox conditions, and sediment provenance.
- Exploring the use of analytical techniques including the use of laser ablation ICP-MS to understand mineral formation and weathering processes.
- Field and analytical study of Pleistocene volcanism in the Chilean volcanic belt to understand the processes of mantle hydration and element mobilization during and after periods of flat slab subduction.
- A field, analytical, and computer modeling study of crystallization in mafic sills to examine the processes of differentiation, element distribution, and ore deposit formation in igneous magma chambers.
- Field and analytical study of massive iron-ore deposits to separate the results of magmatic processes from the results of hydrothermal processes.
- Geophysics and Remote Sensing
Characterization of the surface and shallow subsurface through geophysical and remote sensing techniques, as well as, seismic imaging of the deep crust and upper mantle have been critical to advance our understanding of the Earth system. Recent technological advances in high-quality, low cost sensors and acquisition platforms have revolutionized this research area. Recent and ongoing research includes:
- Detection of unexploded plastic land mines using drone-based thermal imagery.
- Locating abandoned oil and gas wells using high precision magnetometry on a hybrid gas/electric aerial drone.
- Designing rapid deployment broad band seismic arrays to detect induced seismicity from hydraulic fracture operations.
- Passive-source seismic investigation of the Central Chile subduction zone.
- Mapping modern depositional environments in freshwater and saline lakes using a submersible ROV and water chemistry sensors.
- Natural Hazards and Environmental Remediation
With our increased recognition of the interconnection of Earth system and human activity the task of geological hazard and environmental contamination assessment, mitigation, and preparedness has come into sharp focus. Modern geoscientists work at the intersection between societal need for a safe habitat and sustainable use of natural resources with the reality of rapidly growing population expansion into geologically and environmentally hazardous areas. Recent and ongoing research includes:
- Documenting the massive formation of salt occurring in the Dead Sea as a response to the ongoing hydrological crisis within the framework of well-known climate conditions and anthropogenic factors.
- Exploring the use of lichen as passive air-quality monitors in both the Binghamton University Nature Preserve and other urban areas as well as in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (Alberta, CA).
- Assessing the effects of roadway pollutants (deicers, heavy metals, etc.) on constructed wetlands and their efficacy of pollution mitigation.
- Analyzing the effects of pollutants such as road salt and a common agricultural antibiotic (sulfamethoxazole) on the nitrogen cycle with implications on nitrogen pollution in regions such as (but not limited to) the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
- Monitoring ecosystem-scale processes in urban, rural, and mixed land use environments within the Upper Susquehanna River watershed.
- Biogeochemistry of arsenic and humic substances in the Blackfoot Disease endemic area of Taiwan.
- Arsenic contamination of groundwater in the Bengal Delta plain and the role of microorganisms.
- Changes in flood frequency in the context of changing climate.
- Historical changes in stream patterns and erosion in watersheds in the Catskill Mountains of New York bin both dammed and undammed watersheds.
- Detecting harmful algae blooms in freshwater lakes using satellite and drone-based imagery.
Students take a minimum of 6 courses from the Geoscience faculty aimed at developing specific skills for their research projects and to broaden their geological expertise. Some students will take courses from other departments or conduct independent studies when specialized knowledge not covered in the curriculum is required.
The University provides teaching assistantships to the Department to be awarded to high quality candidates that includes tuition remission and a stipend. Graduate assistantships are also available through faculty with funded laboratory and field-based research. The department awards a scholarship yearly to a female student from the Morisawa endowment. Through a generous donation from ROUX, we also offer a yearly fellowship to a deserving MS student.
Our students have been very successful in being awarded student grants through organizations such as GSA, AAPG, SEPM, NSF, SEG, Cushman Foundation for Foraminiferal Research, and IODP.
Facilities, Equipment, and Support
The Department has an extensive set of analytical equipment, as well as, indoor and outdoor laboratory facilities that are used by faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates for research.
- Multi-User Geochemistry Laboratory
Complete sample preparation facilities including fume hoods as well as a portable lab bench design to accommodate short-and long-term needs, and dedicated space for heavy liquid and magnetic mineral separation. This lab also contains a Coy Company Type A anaerobic chamber with incubator, Heidolph/Tuttnauer Model 3870E autoclave, Innova 42R incubated/refrigerated shaker, Fisher Isotemp incubator, and a Labconco FreeZone freeze dryer.
This laboratory contains dedicated instrumentation space for our Varian VISTA MPX ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma – optical emission spectrometer) which allows for elemental analysis from water, soil, vegetation, mineral, and rock samples to the sub part per million (ppm) level. A Milestone Ethos E (Microwave Solvent Extraction Station) is located adjacent to the instrumentation space.
- Geomicrobiology Laboratory
This laboratory is isolated via a double-door access zone and filtered with HEPA environmental controls. It contains a Baker Company SterilGARD® III Advance° Model 603a 6-foot laminar flow hood with an ultraviolet light source and air flow monitor and a low temperature freezer (-80°C).
- Environmental Geochemistry Research Laboratories
This laboratory contains instrumentation space designed to accommodate our NuWave – Agilent 7900 LA-ICPMS instrumentation package. The ICP-MS is used for elemental analysis of water, soil, vegetation, mineral, and rock samples to the part per billion (ppb) level, in a laboratory environment that contains positive pressure and HEPA filtered air. Laser ablation (LA) is used for ablation and chemical analysis of fluid inclusions in minerals.
A separate room contains a Dionex ICS 2000 Ion Chromatograph as well as a Dionex Ultimate3000 HPLC system with autosampler and variable wavelength detector.
- Biogeochemistry Laboratory
This laboratory supports research focused on microbes and their geochemical interactions with metals and other contaminants in modern and ancient oceans, the atmosphere, watersheds, and wetlands, and lakes. This wet chemistry lab includes an Agilent 4200 MP AES atomic emission spectrometer, a Dionex ICS 2100 ion chromatography system, a Perkin Elmer 2400 Carbon-Nitrogen-Hydrogen-Sulfur Analyzer, and a Retsch ZM 200 Mill for grinding vegetation.
- Fluid Inclusion Laboratory
This laboratory is equipped with a heating-freezing stage interfaced to a Zeiss microscope for fluid inclusion studies, and a NewWave Research micromill for in situ rock microsampling.
- Watershed Studies Laboratory
This laboratory includes sample preparation space for equipment used in atmospheric deposition and hydrogeology studies including a Tekran 2537A Vapor phase mercury analyzer, YSI, Campbell Scientific and OTT multi-parameter water quality sondes, URG aerosol collection stations, ISCO automated stormwater samplers and NovaLynx meteorological stations.
- X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy Laboratory
This laboratory contains two Bruker TRACER III handheld XRF spectrometers and a DeWitt Systems core scanning table (1 meter). It provides semi-quantitative and relative abundance data for a host of common elements with applications to mudstone characterization, environmental contaminates, artifacts, bones and shells, and pigments used to prepare historical paints.
- Experimental Petrology Laboratory
This laboratory contains 12 cold-seal vessels, two Ar-media pressure vessels, two one-atmosphere gas-mixing furnaces, a piston-cylinder press, and a 1,000-ton multi-anvil press. The facility allows for low or high temperature petrology experiments at a broad range of pressure conditions.
In a separate space, samples can be characterized using a JEOL-8900 'Super Probe' for electron microscopy and a Panalytical PW3040-MPD X-ray diffractometer for mineral identification and quantification. This laboratory also contains a LECO TGA701 thermogravimetric analyzer used for loss-on-ignition analysis of organic-rich rocks or samples with other volatiles.
- Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory
This laboratory specializes in use of near-surface geophysics and small unmanned aircraft systems (drones) for surface and subsurface analyses. Equipment includes quadcopter, hexicopter, and fixed wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) platforms for deploying environmental remote sensing instruments including LiDar, magnetometers, multispectral, and hyperspectral sensors. A HarborScout unmanned surface vehicle (USV) is available to autonomously collect data on lakes and waterways and is equipped with a water quality sampler, RTK-GNSS, and single beam 200 kHz sonar. A Deep Trekker DTG3 ROV equipped with a 4K high-definition video camera, auxiliary floodlights, water and sediment sampler, temperature, conductivity, pH, oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), and chlorophyll-a sensors is used to characterize aquatic environments.
The laboratory also has a wide variety of near-surface geophysics instruments including a GSSI EMP-400 frequency-domain electromagnetic-induction terrain conductivity meter, Sensors & Software ground penetrating radar with 100, 250, and 500 MHz antennas, Geoscan Research RM85 resistance meter, and Geometrics StrataVisor NZ and Geode active source seismic recorders (24 channels each) with 100 and 40 Hz geophones and 12 channel geophone cables with 2 and 10 m take-out spacing, and a Trillium Compact Posthole broadband seismometer.
- Particle Size Laboratory
The particle size laboratory includes three main components: (1) space for sedimentary geochemistry (wet chemistry), (2) an area for wet-sieving, and (3) a Micromeritics® SediGraph III Plus particle size analyzer. The sedimentary geochemistry and wet-sieving space features two fume hoods, benches, sample storage, a water purification system, drying ovens, freeze dryer, centrifuge, high quality sieves, sample splitters, an analytical balance, orbital shakers, microscopes, and chemical reagents. This lab is used for preparation of bulk sediment samples, dissolution of biogenic components, the extraction of organic components, and sample preparation for grain size analysis. The Micromeritics® SediGraph III Plus particle size analyzer uses x-ray monitored settling technique to quantify particle size by mass (ideally suited for 1-100 µm range) and is preferred method for clay-rich sediments. Binghamton Universities Analytical and Diagnostics Laboratory (ADL) provides complimentary analysis for the quantification of particle size distributions for coarse silt- to sand-sized sediment with a Beckman Coulter LS 13320 Laser Diffraction Analyzer.
- Other Indoor Facilities and Equipment
The department also houses shared equipment used for geologic research and instruction.
- A facility for rock sawing, crushing, powdering, thin-sectioning, impregnating, and polishing
- Networked computing laboratory
- Nikon microscope-photography laboratory for photomicrographs and videos
- A 30ft x 2ft x 1.5ft recirculating flume
- Binocular and monocular petrographic microscopes
- Outdoor Research Facilities
Nature Preserve: The University owns roughly 280 acres of mixed forest, stream, pond, and wetland habitat designated as the Nature Preserve. This on-campus area within the Fuller Hollow Creek Watershed includes hemlock forest and oak woodlands which have developed in the glacial till veneer over shale and siltstone bedrock. The proximity and variety of habitats makes the Nature Preserve a particularly valuable resource for our field-oriented students and faculty.
Nuthatch Hollow: Binghamton University also owns over 80 acres within the Bunn Hill Watershed adjacent to campus. All of the University property within this watershed has been approved for experimental outdoor research.
Ecological Research Facility: This half-acre secure fenced area is dedicated to experimental outdoor research and is located on the border of the Nature Preserve and Nuthatch Hollow. Electricity, water (groundwater from a well drilled into the bedrock), and lab bench space are available onsite. The site contains a field, woods, and a 1,000 square foot hoop house. Faculty and graduate students from several departments use the site for a wide variety of research projects and environmental monitoring.
- Department Policies on Use of Equipment
The facilities and equipment of the department that are used principally for instruction are available also for student research in most cases. Use of facilities and equipment implies acceptance of responsibility for replacement or repair in the event of damage or loss. Specialized research equipment is accessible only with permission from the faculty member or technical staff in charge. Some specific examples are set out below.
With few exceptions, departmental equipment may not be removed from the building, nor transferred from one student to another.
- Keys - Students may have one key for their assigned office and one for the outside building door. These must be signed for in the department office or from the building supervisor, and must be returned when a student vacates his/her office space, or when a prolonged absence is anticipated. A refundable fee is assessed at the time of key check-out. Short-term key loans for other facilities are available with permission from the faculty/staff in charge of that facility. Such keys must be signed for and returned when the specific task has been completed.
- Computers - Computers are scattered throughout the department. Some are dedicated to specific areas, e.g. analytical equipment, seismology, etc.. Others are available for general analytical, word-processing, and e-mail use in room 262C. Research and e-mail accounts can be established through the department office. The computer PODs in the Computer Center, Science 2, and Science 3 have a large number of micros, terminals, and laser printers for general use. Academic Support in the computer center gives short-courses on the use of micros, word-processing, e-mail, internet access, etc. The Science Library has workstations for Internet access for bibliographic searches and other information retrieval. Binghamton University's GIS Core Facility can provide support for projects requiring use of GIS for spatial analysis of data.
- Research Facilities - The Department has extensive analytical research facilities. Equipment includes two heating-freezing microscopes with video recording capabilities for fluid inclusion studies; a recirculating flume for experiments in sediment transport; an experimental petrology laboratory with various high-pressure and high-temperature equipment; a paleomagnetism laboratory; a seismology laboratory with computer workstations, a local seismograph station, and shallow seismic exploration equipment; a Dionex ICS-2000 ion chromatograph; two scanning electron microscopes; a DCP-atomic emission spectrometer and a Varian Vista-MPX ICP-optical emission spectrometer for whole-rock and mineral-separate analyses; an ICP-mass spectrometer for trace element analysis; a JEOL-8900 electron microprobe; a Philips automated X-ray diffractometer; GPS surveying equipment; stereoscopes and a zoom transfer scope for study of aerial photographs. Permission to use equipment must be obtained from appropriate faculty and/or technical staff.
- Brunton Compasses - The Department has a small number of Bruntons to support field courses. These may be borrowed for limited periods, provided they are returned at a predetermined date, in good condition. Since Bruntons are basic tools for geologists, students should obtain their own for extended summer thesis/dissertation work. Arrangements for short-term loans only can be made with the department secretary.
- Microscopes - Student microscopes, stored in Room 254, may be used there but not borrowed or removed. Research microscopes are available elsewhere; make inquiries with the appropriate faculty supervisor.
- Thin-section Supplies - Because of the difficulty for students in securing thin-section supplies, these are normally provided by the department. Faculty will provide such supplies through research grants where large quantities are involved. Supplies and instruction in their use will be provided by staff in charge of the thin-section/rock preparation laboratory.
- Department Vehicles - These are intended for field trips in instructional support. Students may obtain limited short-term use of vans on a stand-by basis, always with the understanding that instructional needs come first, sometimes on short notice. Department vehicles may not be used for personal purposes. Department vehicles may only be driven by students with a valid N.Y. State driving license and holding research or teaching assistantships.
- Other - Other items of research and instructional equipment occasionally can be loaned, with approval by and with supervision of the faculty or staff in charge.
The Department of Geological Science has two state-funded staff positions to provide research and instrumentation support. David Collins is our analytical technician. He oversees the operation of our analytical facilities, including scheduling, calibration, and maintenance. Jeff Carpenter is our thin section and rock cutting specialist and is available to train students on the proper use of equipment.