Earth Surface Processes Research

backhoeWhat do landforms tell us? How do humans influence landscapes?


Dr. Billy Armstrong studies glacier dynamics (how glaciers move) and how glaciers shape arctic and alpine landscapes over geologic time.

Dr. Ellen Cowan's research is in glacial-marine sedimentology. Dr. Cowan documents modern glacial sedimentation associated with tidewater glaciers in the fjords of southeastern Alaska, and was part of the 56-member team of scientists who drilled through Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf during the first project of the ANDRILL (ANtarctic geological DRILLing) research program.

Dr. Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce studies rift basin systems and their change through time. In North America, her research focuses on lacustrine and lake-margin environments of Triassic rift basin lakes in North Carolina and Virginia. Using thin section petrography, sedimentology, (micro)stratigraphy, and geochemistry, she is able to determine paleoenvironmental conditions during the life of the lake system. In East Africa, Cynthia studies rift basin environments that were home to our early human ancestors. Using sedimentology, stratigraphy, and stable isotope geochemistry, she is able to reconstruct past landscapes and determine what the area looked like for early hominins. Furthermore, she is currently working on two other footprint sites in Namibia that preserve early human traces in marginal marine sandstones. While these are not rift basin settings proper, Cynthia is able to reconstruct the ancient environment based on geologic properties of the footprinted sandstones.

Mr. Brian Zimmer studies volcanoes and their deposits. He has worked on volcanoes in Mexico, Ecuador, Japan, and the American southwest. Through field investigations, he tries to determine when and how different volcanoes erupted throughout history. Though he does not directly advise students, Brian encourages fellow volcanophiles to contact him about research interests or to discuss potential graduate programs.