Research within the School of Earth and Climate Sciences covers ﬁelds as diverse as glaciology, sedimentology, plate tectonics, paleoclimatology, structural geology, glacial geology, sea-level change, hydrogeology, environmental geochemistry, petrology, mineralogy and marine geology. With funding from federal, state and private agencies we seek answers to fundamental questions about Earth’s past, present, and future. Successful research depends partly on graduate and undergraduate students who become involved in projects, and we encourage interested students to contact us! Our research falls into four thematic areas – you can browse these areas below or click on the following links to get there.
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 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.
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.
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. Please go here
for more information.
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.
Outreach and Media Efforts
An important aspect of our work is communicating our knowledge of Earth, its climate and environment to others. We do this in several ways. For example, every year we host an Earth Science Teacher Workshop in which up to 50 Maine State teachers participate in a variety of activities including seminars, demonstrations and ﬁeld trips. Together with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, we have developed the IDEAS program
for K12 teachers that melds climate modeling with the Laptops in Maine Initiative. We also get our students involved by having them develop on-line educational resources such as the modules in our Analog Modeling Facility
. Finally, we communicate through the news media and personal contact with the public. If you are a news agency looking for leading authorities on matters pertaining to the Earth, if you are a teacher who wants to improve your understanding of Earth and Climate Sciences, or if you are a general member of the public who is intrigued by something that you heard or found, please do not hesitate to contact us!