Title Page Previous Next Contents | Geosciences Department

Geosciences Department

After decades of stability in size, areas of emphasis, and teaching style, Geosciences is continuing to add new dimensions. Rónadh Cox, our associate professor, is cultivating teaching and research interests in planetary geology and has extended her studies in Madagascar to include lavaka, steep gullies that may have their closest analog on Mars. Heather Stoll ’94 has been reappointed to her second term as an assistant professor, focusing in the area of Earth Systems Science and will be on assistant professor leave in Spain during 2005-2006. Heather’s expertise is in climate change at various time scales and her research involves using the geochemistry of coccoliths (marine algae) to help interpret records of past climate and atmospheric CO2. Heather and Alberto Tapia are the proud parents of one-year old Nicolas.
Geosciences faculty members and our research associates continue to be active in research, publication, and applying for grants that help to fund research travel, analyses, equipment, and the publication of joint student/faculty research. Five of our students worked on extended research projects based on field studies and presented their work as senior honors theses. Four faculty members (Cox, Dethier, Karabinos, and Wobus) gave papers at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, Colorado, in November 2004. At least ten Williams alumni including Katie Ackerly ’04 and Eli Lazarus ’04 also presented results of their research at the conference. Mid-December saw another 20 alumni give papers at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, where Professor Wobus acted as the Williams host and organizer for West Coast geology alums.

Measuring water table elevation in GEOS 103
During the Winter Study Period, David Backus took six students from his fall semester tutorial on an extended field trip (Baja California Field Geology, GEOS 025) to Baja California, accompanied by Markes Johnson, who returned to teaching after a productive sabbatical year. Markes is working on another book about Baja coastal ecosystems with his colleague Jorge Ledesma-Vázquez. Markes and David Backus both presented papers at the Seventh International Meeting on the Geology of the Baja California Peninsula, held in Ensenada, Mexico, from April 3-6, 2005. The spring term was a busy time for other members of the department as faculty and students presented their research results in March at the Northeastern Sectional Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Saratoga Springs, New York. Presenters at GSA included David Dethier, Paul Karabinos, Heather Stoll, Tyler Auer ’07, Andrea Burke ’06, Ryan Gordon ’05, Robert Hahn ’05, Nora Matell ’06, Ashleigh Theberge ’06, Susie Theroux ’05, and Seth Zeren ’05. Most of the students presented at a special session organized by Heather Stoll on “Records of Monsoon Dynamics.” Bud Wobus represented the department at the 18th annual Keck Research Symposium in Geology held in early April in Colorado Springs. Student participation in the various meetings was partially supported by the McAleenan and Labaree funds in the Geosciences Department and by the Keck Geology Consortium.
Five honors thesis students presented their work on 16 May; Susie Theroux was awarded the Freeman Foote prize for the best thesis presentation and Jenn Campbell the Mineralogical Society of America prize. Over the commencement weekend, Alicia Arevalos, Jenn Campbell, Ryan Gordon, Robert Hahn, Paul Skudder, and Susie Theroux were inducted into Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. Jenn Campbell was named the winner of the David Major Prize in Geology. Seven rising seniors and several juniors are working in the field or laboratory this summer in areas ranging from Berkshire County and nearby Vermont to Montana, Colorado, and Svalbard. Their work is supported by the Sperry Research Fund, the Keck Geology Consortium, the Center for Environmental Studies, and grants to individual members of the Department from the National Science Foundation and the Petroleum Research Fund.

So big! Surveying the slope of the Saco River in New Hampshire.
David Backus, Research Associate in the department, taught a fall tutorial course on the Geology of the Baja Peninsula and adjacent Gulf of California that was linked to a winter study field methods course that took six Williams students on a three week long trip to the Baja Peninsula. Accompanied by Markes Johnson, the field party also included two students and Professor Jorge Ledesma-Vasquez from UABC-Ensenada, the oceanographic sciences school for Mexico. Also along on the trip was a Pacific Ocean corals expert from the University of Iowa. Students participated in several research projects undertaken during the trip, including the mapping of a Pleistocene sedimentary basin and coral reef complex on Isla Coronado, near Loreto, BCS, Mexico. Mapping of the island was done on satellite images and topographic maps created in the Remote Sensing & Geographic Information Systems lab, located in the Schow Science Library. Research findings from the trip were presented at the bi-annual meeting of the Peninsular Geological Society in Ensenada by both Backus and Johnson. Ashley Sewell ’07, who survived both the tutorial and the trip, is studying rhodoliths (coralline algal balls) as the focus of a summer research job and working with both Johnson and Backus.
Backus also collaborated with Dave Dethier in the teaching of the introductory course on remote sensing and GIS during the spring term. A new exercise developed for this course involved the handling of satellite images and the mapping of geologic units in Baja California using GIS software. As part of the ongoing effort to develop GIS at Williams, Backus along with Sharron Macklin from OIT participated in a conference on teaching GIS at small liberal arts colleges held at Skidmore College and sponsored by the National Institute for Teaching and Liberal Education (NITLE).
Rónadh Cox’s research currently focuses on two very different areas: the island of Madagascar and the jovian moon Europa. The Madagascar project aims to understand controls on the formation and evolution of spectacular gullies (lavaka) in Madagascar. This joint Williams-Université d’Antananarivo project is funded by the National Science Foundation and continues this summer with a field party including Liz Gress ’06 and alumnus Matt Jungers ’03. We will measure and map lavakas in a highly-eroded area near the main rice-producing region of Lac Alaotra, and compare their present distribution and sizes to those of 40 years ago using field maps and air photos in a GIS database. The Europa project deals with trying to understand the origin of bizarre chaos terrain that covers about 30% of the europan surface. Data collected by Lissa Ong ’04, indicate that chaos terrain may be the result of comet impacts that broke through Europa’s crust and penetrated to a liquid layer beneath. Results of both projects were presented at the Geological Society of America meeting in November, and the Europa results were also presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science meeting in Texas and the Japanese Planetary Society meeting in Sapporo.
David Dethier continued as Chair of the Geosciences Department during 2004-2005. His research focused mainly on the measurement of long-term weathering and erosion rates in the Rocky Mountains, supported by a grant from the Petroleum Research Fund. In conjunction with Paul Bierman ’85 (University of Vermont), Dethier continued to investigate weathering and erosion rates using geochemical and cosmogenic radionuclide techniques. Dethier’s students, Jenn Campbell ’05 and Robert Hahn ’05, used the chemistry of weathered rocks and remote-sensing techniques to help evaluate the weathering rate of granitic rocks along the Front Range west of Boulder. Eli Lazarus ’04, Dethier, Matt Jungers ’03 and Karl Remsen ’03 presented results from a weathering depth study in the Boulder Creek, Colorado catchment at the Geological Society of America National Meeting in Denver, Colorado, in October 2004. Robert Hahn and Dethier presented a poster derived from Hahn’s honors thesis at the Geological Society of America, Northeastern Section meeting in March 2005.
Dethier worked with Nick Hiza ’02 and Fred Hines ’02, on a project that installed a 50-m tower to help analyze the potential for wind energy in the Taconic Range. Working with David Richardson and Jay Thoman, he initiated a study of groundwater and perchlorate contamination at Mt. Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown. Dethier coordinates ongoing collection of weather, streamflow, precipitation chemistry, and other environmental data from Hopkins Memorial Forest and their analysis in the Environmental Science Lab in the Morley Science Center. Real-time weather and groundwater data and archived weather data from 20 years of monitoring are available at <http://oit.williams.edu/weather/>. Dethier is also project director for the Luce Foundation grant for Renewable Energy and Resource Sustainability at Williams College.
Professor Markes Johnson returned to teaching after a full-year sabbatical in 2003-2004. As a partial report on his sabbatical activities, he gave a departmental presentation in November. During January 2005, he participated in the department’s Winter Study field course on Baja California Field Geology (GEOS 025) led by Research Scientist David Backus. An aspect of the course supervised by Johnson was mapping of a large Pleistocene coral reef on Isla Coronados in the Gulf of California.
February 2005, Professor Johnson served as chair of the external review committee that assessed the academic program of the Geology and Geography Department at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
In March 2005, Professor Johnson and Professor Jorge Ledesma-Vázquez (Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, Ensenada) were awarded a contract with the University of Arizona Press for the editing of a research volume under the tentative title Atlas of Coastal Ecosystems in the Gulf of California: Past and Present. The atlas is planned as a multi-chapter, 300-page book with contributions from several specialists working on Pliocene-Pleistocene and recent carbonate environments in the coastal zone of the Gulf of California. Ecosystems to be featured include: rocky shorelines, coral reefs, rhodolith banks (unattached colonies of coralline red algae), clam banks, beaches and coastal sand dunes, and geothermal springs. False-color satellite images will be used to map these ecosystems and their “fossil” equivalents throughout the Gulf of California. Publication is scheduled for spring 2008. Also during March 2005, Johnson was awarded a three-year grant from the Petroleum Research Fund (American Chemical Society) under the title “Paleogeography and Correlation of Pliocene Basins in the Gulf of California.”
Professor Johnson presented a paper at the Seventh International Meeting on the Geology of the Baja California Peninsula, held April 2005, in Ensenada, Mexico. He co-authored three other abstracts. During the academic year, he reviewed manuscripts for Transactions Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences, the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, and the Geological Society of America Special Paper series. He also reviewed research proposals for the National Science Foundation.
During the summer of 2004, Paul Karabinos did field work with Ryan Gordon ’05 in the Berkshire hills of southwestern Massachusetts. This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation entitled “How Do Orogenies End? A Case Study from the Taconic Orogen.” They collected samples from well-exposed fault zones throughout the massif, and during the academic year, Gordon studied the microtextures in the samples to determine the sense of movement along the fault surfaces and to estimate the temperature of the rocks during deformation. Karabinos and Gordon also used the electron microprobe at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to date a metamorphic mineral called monazite to constrain when the faults were active. Much of this work formed the basis of Ryan Gordon’s senior thesis.
Karabinos presented a talk the national meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, Colorado, in November 2004. In March 2005, Karabinos co-authored a poster with lead author Ryan Gordon ’05 at the Northeastern Section Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Saratoga Springs, New York.
In the research lab of Heather Stoll, the main protagonists remain the tiny coccolith fossils produced by marine algae, which provide one of the best fossil records of primary production in the ocean and form most of the limestones in the deep ocean. This year work has focused on two new approaches to test how the chemistry of coccoliths is related to the productivity of the algae. Senior honors student Susie Theroux put her double majors in biology and geoscience to good use developing a system to grow the coccolithophorid algae under nutrient limited conditions in the lab to evaluate nutrient effects on the chemistry of the coccolith shells. During the summer of 2004 and fall semester 2004, Andrea Burke ’06 and Alicia Arevalos ’05 investigated relationships between coccolith chemistry and the production of coccoliths in the modern Bay of Bengal using material collected from the surface ocean in sediment traps during 1994-1995. Andrea traveled to Vrije University, Amsterdam, during Winter Study ’05 to work with collaborator Patrizia Ziveri on quantifying coccolith fluxes in these samples. To find out how the nutrient supply to the Bay of Bengal changed in the past, Alicia Arevalos ’05 spent the spring semester at the University of Bristol in England, working with our collaborator Derek Vance to use neodymium isotopes in foraminifera shells as a way to track past changes in the rate of weathering of rocks in the Ganges and Brahmaputra drainage basins. Seth Zeren ’05 completed an independent study in the spring of 2005 using coccolith chemistry to show that past changes in coccolithophorid productivity in the Bay of Bengal are closely correlated with rates of rock chemical weathering in the Ganges and Brahmaputra drainage basins. To complement the work in the Bay of Bengal region, Adam Banasiak ’08 and Nora Matell ’06 helped with geochemical analysis of coccoliths from sediment traps in the Arabian Sea and Sargasso Sea near Bermuda.
Stoll and seven students attended the Northeastern Section Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Saratoga Springs, NY, in March. In a special session convened by Stoll on “Records of Past Monsoon Dynamics and Links Between High and Low Latitude Climatic Processes,” Susie Theroux ’05, Andrea Burke ’06, Alicia Arevalos ’05, and Seth Zeren ’05 presented two talks on their summer and honors/independent study research. In addition, Nora Matell ’06 and Ashleigh Theberge ’06 reported on research they conducted as a final class project in GEOS 215 Climate Changes and GEOS 218T The Carbon Cycle, respectively, both taught by Stoll. In a separate session, Tyler Auer ’07, Robert Hahn ’05 and Ashleigh Theberge ’06 presented a poster sharing work completed for a final class project in GEOS 215 Climate Changes. Research results were also presented by Stoll at the fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco in December, and in an invited keynote talk at the annual meeting of the Goldschmidt Geochemical Society in Moscow, Idaho, in May.
Prof. R. A. (Bud) Wobus enjoyed a mini-sabbatical during the fall semester of 2004. During that time, he edited and prepared for publication the autobiography of one of Williams’ most famous geologists, T. Nelson Dale. Dale taught at the college from 1893 to 1901 and had a 40-year career with the U.S. Geological Survey in the Northeast. The draft of his autobiography was found in a collection of his memoirs given to Williamsiana by his family. Wobus also continued work on a manuscript incorporating several years of his own geological studies with students of the Keck Geology Consortium along the Maine coast. Co-authors of the report on the metavolcanic rocks of Vinalhaven Island are senior thesis students Erik Klemetti ’99, Jen Newton ’00, and Nate Cardoos ’02.
Before the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver last fall, he spent a week in the field in central Colorado lining up future research projects for students in the Proterozoic crystalline rocks of the Pikes Peak regions, and went on a GSA pre-meeting field trip in the central Front Range. While at GSA he represented Williams (for the eighteenth year) at the semi-annual meeting of the Keck Geology Consortium, helped to organize and host a reception for Williams alumni attending the meeting, and was co-author of an invited paper in a special session in memory of John Reid (Williams ’62, and former professor of geology at Hampshire College.) In December, he attended the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, where he hosted a reunion of some 20 Williams alumni in attendance and was co-author of two presentations with his senior thesis students of a year ago, Katie Ackerly ’04 and Paige McClanahan ’04.
During Winter Study, he gave a department colloquium based on two trips he led for Williams alumni in 1999 and 2004. In April, he attended the 18th annual Keck Geology Symposium at Colorado College, where he was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Consortium. He will sponsor a Williams student, Emily Fertig ’06, on a Keck research project in Southwestern Montana this summer. In July, he will lead, for the nineteenth time, the Alumni College in the Rockies, which was the first off-campus travel-study program for Williams alumni when he initiated it in 1981. While in Colorado, he will also offer a weekend workshop on volcanic processes and landscape evolutions for the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, and will begin the organization of a week-long field-based Geo Hostel, “From the Peak to the Park: The Geology of Pikes Peak Country,” which he will lead for the Geological Society of America in June 2006.
As a board member of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, he led a hike for townspeople on the geology of Stone Hill last fall. He was also organizer of the first WRLF winter lecture series and presented its first program in January. While on leave he continued in his annual roles as department representative/student advisor for the Geological Society of America, the Keck Geology Consortium, and for summer field geology courses. He also coordinated the department’s colloquium series for the year, on the theme of “volcanology and volcanic hazards.”
Class of 1960 Scholars in Geosciences
Jennifer E. Campbell
Christopher D. Frank
Ryan P. Gordon
Robert S. Hahn
Jane E. McCamant
Susanna M. Theroux
Seth A. Zeren

Dr. Wendell A. Duffield, Northern Arizona University, Sperry/Five College University Lecture
“Oral Tradition and ‘Prehistoric’ Eruptions: Where Anthropology, Archaeology, Volcanology and Common Sense Intersect”
“Chasing Volcanoes Near and Far”
Dr. Markes E. Johnson, Williams College
“Rocky Shores in the Seychelles and Balearic Island”
Dr. R. A. Wobus, Williams College
“The Geology of Iceland: A Lesson in Paradoxes”
Dr. Richard Hazlett, Pomona College, Class of 1960 Scholars Program
“Russia’s Fiery East: The Volcanoes of Kamchatka”
Michelle Coombs ’94, U.S. Geological Survey, Class of 1960 Scholars Program
“The Alaska Volcano Observatory: Monitoring and Research on the Last Frontier”
Dr. William Scott, U.S. Geological Survey, Class of 1960 Scholars Program
“Ongoing Eruption of Mt. St. Helens – Surprises and Possible Outcomes”
“Ongoing, Episodic(?) Magmatic Intrusion at Three Sisters Volcanic Center, Oregon—What Does It Mean?”
Kate Scheider ’07
“The Effects of Fly Fishing on St. John Coral Reef Habitat”
Jennifer Campbell ’05
“Characterization of Weathering in the Middle Boulder Creek Catchment: An Attempt to Understand Front Range Evolution”
Ryan Gordon ’05
“Kinematics and Chronology of Faulting in the Western Berkshire Massif, Massachusetts”
Robert Hahn ’05
“An Investigation of Digital Methods for Comparing Satellite and Field-Based Surficial Mapping”
Paul Skudder ’05
“Carbonate Dunes on the Gulf Coast of Baja California, Mexico”
Susanna Theroux ’05
“Effects of Nutrient Limitation on the Productivity of Coccolithophore Algae and the Paleoclimatic Implications”
David Backus
“The Geologic History of Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur, Mexico”
Seventh Meeting of the Peninsular Geological Society, Ensenada, Mexico
Rónadh Cox
“Geological versus Human Controls on Lavaka Formation and Extreme Erosion in Madagascar”
Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado
“Mozambique Ocean Paleogeography and Tectonics from Geochronology of High-Grade Metasediments, Madagascar”
Univ. of North Carolina
“Clawmarks on the Landscape: Extraordinary Erosion in Madagascar”
University of Vermont
Providence College
Markes E. Johnson
“Pliocene to Recent Carbonate Deposits, Islas Carmen and Monserrat, Gulf of California”
Seventh International Meeting on the Geology of the Baja California Peninsula, Ensenada, Mexico
Paul Karabinos
“Transpression, Orogen-Parallel Extrusion, and the Formation of Mantled Gneiss Domes”
Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado
Heather Stoll
“Coccolithophorid Productivity Response to Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum”
American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco
“Coccoliths, the Carbon Cycle, and Climate: New Perspective on Productivity Feedbacks”
Brown University
“Unraveling Nutrient, Growth Rate, Calcification, and Diagenesis Effects on the Chemistry of Coccolith Calcite”
Goldschmidt Geochemical Society, Moscow, Idaho
R. A. Wobus
“Beneath Our Feet: The Geology of Sheep Hill, Williamstown, and Beyond”
Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, Williamstown
Andrea Burke ’06
“Monsoon Induced Changes in Coccolithophorid Primary Productivity in the Bay of Bengal”
Northeastern Section Meeting of Geological Society of America, Saratoga Springs, NY
Nora Matell
“Tropical Coccolith Sr/Ca Productivity Records from the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum”
Northeastern Section Meeting of Geological Society of America, Saratoga Springs, NY
Susanna Theroux ’05
“Constraining Nutrient Effects in Monsoon-Driven Productivity Shifts during Mediterranean Sapropel Events”
Northeastern Section Meeting of Geological Society of America, Saratoga Springs, NY
Jennifer V. Abraham
Summer work in the GIS lab at Rocky Mountain Bio Lab, Gothic, CO
Alicia L. Arevalos
Master in Petroleum Geoscience at the University of Aberdeen
Kenneth R. Brown
Work in National Parks
Jennifer E. Campbell
Work at Geologic Data Systems, Denver, CO
Stephen K. Dobay
Christopher D. Frank
Ski race
Ryan Gordon
Robert S. Hahn
Univ. Washington, atmospheric science
John W. MacKinnon
Climbing guide, Shasta Mountain Guides; intern at High Mountain Inst., Colorado
Melanie R. Malone
Jane E. McCamant
Paul A. Skudder
Susanna M. Theroux
Seth A. Zeren
Fulbright Teaching Assistant in South Korea