Geology professors to conduct research in New Zealand

Hannah Paton

Contributing Writer

A third trip in a series of research-based, National Science Foundation-funded excursions conducted by three professors in the University’s geology department will take place near Franz Josef, New Zealand in March 2014.

Geology professors Craig Kochel and Jeffrey Trop, and Assistant Professor of Geology Rob Jacob first traveled to Franz Josef, New Zealand in January of 2013, and then continued their research in McCarthy, Alaska in July 2013.

Upon their arrival in New Zealand, the professors met up and collaborated with engineer Keith Williams from the non-profit organization UNAVCO to conduct joint research on glacial decay. During their two-week stay, the team specifically studied the formation and decay of “icy debris fans,” fan-shaped landforms made up of deposits of glacial ice and rock sediment, on the Douglas, Mueller, and La Perouse glaciers.

The professors studied the method through which ice comes off the tops of ice caps and makes its way down glaciers to form these icy debris fans, Jacob said.

By examining the landform evolution and depositional processes that create icy debris fans, the professors hope to gain an understanding of the effect of future and past climate change on geological structures.

“We want to understand what has happened in the last 200 years and see if we can associate it with specific markers in the geological record,” Jacob said.

A typical day in the field began with a 10-minute helicopter ride to the icy debris fan, where the team would unload approximately 400 pounds of equipment and begin terrestrial laser scanning to construct a 3D surface topography of the icy debris fans.

The team also measured the size of ice particles and rocks daily and used ground-penetrating radar to create an image of the subsurface. The subsurface image allowed them to determine the thickness of the fans, glaciers, and sediment deposits, and gave them a view of the sub-architecture of the icy debris fan.

Finally, they set up a series of four time-lapse cameras set to take pictures twice a day during the daylight hours for the rest of the year, and two time-lapse cameras set to take pictures every 15 minutes for three months.

Inspiration for the idea came from two separate events in Kochel and Trop’s lives, Jacob said.

While flying over New Zealand to visit his son, Kochel noticed these glacial structures and began to consider them as a topic of study. Similarly, Trop noticed comparable structures while flying over Alaska a few summers earlier.

The three professors teamed up in 2012 and wrote a proposal to the National Science Foundation, were granted funding on Jan. 1, 2013, and began the research right away.

The trip in March will consist of three undergraduate University students, Erica Rubino ’15, Mattie Reid ’15, and Chris Duda ’15, as well as the three professors. They will return to the same location and check the camera content, conduct more fieldwork, and collect new data. The team will also take various helicopter trips to look for more icy debris fans, as they are always looking for more potential sites to conduct research.

(Visited 81 times, 1 visits today)