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Geology and Geophysics - Overview
Overview | Awards and Recognition

geology and geophysics
Postdoctoral Scholars Ilya Buynevich (left) and Liviu Giosan deploy the G&G Department’s new ground-penetrating radar (GPR) unit on Cedar Lake in Falmouth, MA. This high-resolution geophysical technique helps geologists visualize the layering of sediments to determine their age and structure. Funding for the GPR unit came from The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation and the WHOI Coastal Ocean Institute and Rinehart Coastal Research Center. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst)

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The scientists and research staff of the Geology and Geophysics Department (G&G) study the role of the oceans in past climate change, as well as the geologic structure and evolution of the ocean basins and their margins. Among the many scientific pursuits in G&G, three areas stand out this year.

Several scientists are using sediment cores from the North Atlantic to examine large-scale changes in ocean circulation and climate over the past 10,000 years. Others have been looking back even further, to warmer “interglacial” periods that may be analogs of today’s climate.

Another recent research focus has been field, laboratory, and theoretical studies of how molten rock from Earth’s interior leads to volcanism at mid-ocean ridges and in island arcs (see Science Highlights story on Subduction Zones). Geochemistry is a particularly powerful tool for these studies, and our department hosts some of the finest analytical facilities for determining the chemistry of igneous rocks.

A third major focus is geophysics, including marine seismology, geomagnetism, tectonics, and geodynamical modeling. The study of mid-ocean ridges has been a traditional focus of this group, but there is increasing interest in hot spots, subduction zones, and the large-scale dynamics of the mantle.

Over the past two years, the department has strengthened and expanded its research in coastal geology and geophysics. As part of that effort, Jeff Donnelly was invited to join the scientific staff in 2002 as an Assistant Scientist. Jeff uses the geologic record preserved in coastal sediments to reconstruct the history of sea level change and intense storms. He and Associate Scientist Rob Evans, along with postdoctoral scholars Ilya Buynevich and Liviu Giosan, form a nucleus for this emerging scientific initiative.

The appointment of seismologist Jeff McGuire as an Assistant Scientist also represents a new direction. Jeff studies the physical processes of earthquakes along oceanic transform faults, and is interested in the emerging field of seafloor geodesy. In the fall of 2002, Jeff and associate scientists Greg Hirth and Jian Lin organized a workshop to identify the scientific opportunities and technical challenges of utilizing this powerful geophysical technique on the seafloor.

The marine geosciences are entering an exciting period. A new multiplatform, international Integrated Ocean Drilling Program is slated to begin in October 2003. Progress is being made in establishing a network of seafloor observatories. And recent advances in seismological imaging, geochemical analysis, and geodynamic modeling are providing unprecedented opportunities to understand the structure and circulation of Earth’s mantle. The G&G Department is poised to play a leading role in these efforts.

Robert S. Detrick, Department Chair