The Department of Earth Sciences offers opportunities for you to collaborate with faculty members in exciting undergraduate research projects. Many projects involve summer fieldwork. Research projects can be undertaken as a part of the department’s capstone program, and can also be done for honor’s theses within the Honors Program or Thesis Scholars Program. 

Thad Stoddard (2012)

Thad StoddardThad did field research in the Westfjords of northwest Iceland, participating in a Keck Geology Consortium project directed by Professor Jordan. 

Thad’s project focused on an isolated silicic lava flow at the top of the mountain Sauratindur. He studied samples of this lava and adjacent basaltic lava flows using a petrographic microscope, and determined the geochemistry of these samples by XRF and ICP-MS. His work determined that the lava is a dacite with limited compositional variability, and that this lava is not closely related to other silicic volcanic rocks in this part of Iceland. 

Thad presented his work at the Keck Geology Consortium Symposium in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Karen Herrig (2014)

Karen HerrigKaren considered the role of Missouri River sand bars constructed by the 2011 flood as sources of dust along the 59-mile segment of the Missouri National Recreational River, directed by Professor Sweeney. 

Karen’s project had multiple facets:

  1. She was trained to use the Portable in situ Wind Erosion Lab (PI-SWERL), a wind erosion device that measures the potential of surfaces to emit dust. 
  2. She used ArcGIS to map geomorphic features of the sand bars.
  3. She used a variety of lab techniques to determine the grain size and composition of sand bar sediments. 

Her results showed that a combination of river and wind processes rapidly transform the sandbars from areas of active sand and dust formation to more stable features as the surfaces become more densely covered with gravel and vegetation over time. 

Karen presented her work at the annual Geological Society of America meeting in Denver, CO, 2013. This work was supported by the Missouri River Institute.

Lucas Chabela (2014)

Lucas ChabelaLucas researched the interaction of sand dune and ephemeral river processes in the Mojave Desert, directed by Professor Sweeney. 

Lucas accompanied Sweeney in the field, where he measured stratigraphic sections containing alternating sand dune, river and lake sediments. He collected samples for grain size, compositional analysis and age dating. He prepared and analyzed samples at USD and at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln labs. The results of his work suggest that sand dunes blocked the pathways of ephemeral streams, creating dune dams that resulted in rapid sediment deposition behind the dams until they were breached by larger flood events. These features demonstrate the large scale control that sand dunes can have in landscape evolution. 

Lucas presented his research at the annual Geological Society of America meeting in Denver, CO, 2013. This research was supported by a Geological Society of America Gladys Cole Award to Professor Sweeney.