Kansas State University


Department of Geology

From the Department Head

Dear Alumni, Family and Friends:

First, let me start by thanking all of your for your continuing and unwavering support of our department.  It makes a big difference in the experience we can offer our students, especially in these challenging times.  As I’m sure you are aware, emergence of COVID-19, and the university decision to suspend all in-person classes half way through the semester, meant that Geology faculty had to pivot all courses into an online format at a moment’s notice.  The work involved in doing this has been enormous, and I want to thank all the faculty and graduate teaching assistants who went above and beyond to make it happen, doing their utmost to maintain the highest quality educational experience for all of our students.  Unfortunately, there were some things we just couldn’t do.  All field trips had to be cancelled, for example, including a major excursion to Hawaii that was planned for our Regional Geology course this year!  Lab-based activities were also curtailed, but we did our best to limit the spread of the virus while meeting the educational needs of our students.

We are currently in the planning stages with regard to how instruction will be delivered in the fall.  At the moment, the university aims to have students back on campus in the fall, and we are hard at work assessing classrooms and labs to see how we can provide adequate social distancing for students and faculty.  At the same time, we are acutely aware of the possibility of, once again, having to move instruction online, depending on the development of COVID-19. In this regard, we have been trying to put together a contingency plan, assessing how we can teach geology well online or in a hybrid environment. This ‘new normal’ will be challenging for all of us, but with your continued support, I know we will succeed.

Go ‘Cats!

Pamela Kempton
Professor and Head

Spotlight on Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate student Eric Parker has been working with Dr. Aida Farough on a research project titled “Core-scale Anisotropic Analysis of Density and Porosity in a Submarine Volcano: Insights into Fluid Circulation in the Active Hydrothermal System at Brothers Volcano”. Brothers Volcano is an arc volcano that was created by the subduction of the Pacific plate under the Australian plate. It is located 340 kilometers northeast of New Zealand and is the most hydrothermally active volcano on the Kermadec Arc. The cores used in this study were extracted during the 2 month long International Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 376 in 2018, in which Dr. Farough participated as a member of the petrophysics team. The purpose of Eric’s study is to measure the porosity of 65 mini cores drilled in both X and Z directions in order to calculate the distribution of pore spaces.

Porosity ranges from 12.5-44% and density ranges from 1.4-2.5 g/cm3 for the samples. The fresh dacite sample identified as a part of a young volcanic layer has a reference density of 1.6 g/cm3. The peaks of density are associated with hydrothermal alteration, defined by higher concentrations of dense minerals such as pyrophyllite, quartz and illite. Core density and porosity are a valuable addition to petrological analysis and downhole logging data and can be utilized in stratigraphic analysis. Density and porosity measurements combined with permeability, alongside alteration overprinting igneous stratigraphy, provides unique insight into mechanisms, pathways, and extent of fluid circulation and fluid-rock interactions at core-scale in the hydrothermal system at Brothers Volcano. Eric Presented his results in a poster at the AGU fall meeting in San Francisco, CA. Here’s the link to his abstract: https://agu.confex.com/agu/fm19/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/512307

Some greetings from Dr. Sam Chaudhuri

For me, it was pleasing to hear that some of you were wondering lately about the wonderland in which I am living since my retirement. In the narrowest sense, I can script my current state as a new liberation without any academic obligation lending to repeated falls of my life into conditions of hallucination that is often charged with wild imagination on finding rational solutions to a variety of my own intercepted visions. The following is a brief narrative of my parasol-life since I decamped from Thompson Hall to domicile into a hydrocarbon-healthcare-economy based habitat where I have found with blessings a micro-environment of previous Thompson-Hall residents (John, Daniel, Mike, and few occasional encounters during my attendance to AAPG meetings in Houston). They all are inspirational living links to my pre-retirement life.  Hyponoia could come to a life in retirement, when it is compared to a life in academic cauldron. To this date since my retirement, I have escaped from a state of dull activity by finding ways to remain myself engaged in a few different cerebral activities. These include:  reshaping my previous lines of thinking to provide more clarity than has been given till now to a number of enigmas related to oil-gas generations in sedimentary basins in the geological past;  examining configurations of various metals in a selection of plants and animals as additional means of understanding metabolic activities of these living systems; exploring bio-lithological ways for the purpose of sequestration of carbon in deep oceans with the potential of stemming climate change threats from rising accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (At least I am happy being  far away from Thompson Hall attraction by not being forced to do any snow removal task). It is the climate-change work that is holding me back from my making visible progress in the works I need to do in the other two areas. Solution to climate-change issues is being sought from implementation of operational schemes in open ocean areas. To comprehend all multiple connections in the complexly giant problem of climate change and many obstacles that could come on the way to reach the ultimate goal of stemming threats of climate change, collective energy from a team of different minds with different skills is essential. In such a situation, the progress is always slow.  Devising a project of such a large-scale and complex in nature inherently takes a long time. We have been on this work for nearly ten years, frequently redrawing or reshaping our scheme as new lines of information and arguments continue to seep into the whole problem. Right now we see the possibility of having a document on this climate restoration scheme to be ready for publication (in a book form, or a journal article form, or both) before the year ends.  I could only say from working on this climate restoration project that I have broadened the horizon of my own perspective on air-water-mineral-organic matter interactions in open-system conditions. Some of you have heard from me before regarding this broad perspective while discussing on the origin of oils, a glaring void that exists to this date in the literature on this subject. If all pieces go together well on our climate restoration project, you may hear again soon from this ex-resident of Thompson Hall.


Grants and Awards

Dr. Aida Farough receives Charlie Award

Dr. Aida Farough was selected to receive the May Charlie award for excellence in undergraduate advising.  The award is named for Charlie Nutt, executive director at the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), who spent a large part of his career advocating and promoting the advising profession. The award is available to any advisor at K-State who has made an impact on advising, done a stellar job of helping students, found a new method that makes all of our lives easier, and/or has been awesome at their job.  Dr. Farough is responsible for meeting with prospective students, such as high school seniors, as well as internal and external transfer students who are considering majoring in K-State geology.  As such, she is at the front line of our efforts to attract and retain students.  Well done, Aida!

Dr. Brice Lacroix receives a grant from American Chemical Society to study Arbuckle Mountains

Brice Lacroix, assistant professor of geology, has received a grant from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund to study the syn-tectonic diagenetic history of carbonates from the Arbuckle Mountains, Oklahoma.

The Arbuckle Mountains expose 450-million-year-old carbonate rocks from the Arbuckle group, a natural hydrocarbon reservoir that occurs deep in the subsurface in Kansas and parts of Oklahoma. In addition to hydrocarbon extraction, the reservoir is also used to dispose of the wastewater produced during the hydrocarbon extraction process.

The purpose of this research is to better understand the timing and conditions of past fluid-flow that occurred along faults through the Arbuckle group rocks, which would have potentially altered them. Such alteration can affect key rock characteristics such as porosity and permeability.

Lacroix will apply the latest thermochronometry techniques — such as ∆47/U-Pb — that he is currently developing in collaboration with colleagues in Switzerland and France. A better understanding of the fault behaviors and their relationship with fluid flow are important to better understand this natural disposal water reservoir and its link with induced seismicity.

Dr. Ghanbarian working group just started a joint univerity-industry project

Director of Porous Media Research Lab (PMRLAB), Dr. Behzad Ghanbarian, has recently signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to start joint university-industry projects and extend research and collaboration between Kansas State University and industry. Both parties work closely together to address challenges in unconventional reservoirs and their production.

The Geology Department is now equipped with 3D scanner and printer, both located in Porous Media Research Lab. The 3D scanner is capable of capturing the image of an object with 100 mm resolution. The 3D printer can be used to print out fossils, rock samples, or any other objects with 10 mm resolution. Contact Dr. Behzad Ghanbarian for further information and detail at ghanbarian@ksu.edu.

Dr. Brice Lacroix receives an USGS EDMAP award

Brice Lacroix recently received a USGS EDMAP to map a portion of the Coast Range, Central California. During the past years, Dr. Lacroix’s research group (graduate students Christine Ward and Jacob Hughes) has been investigating the tectonic and metamorphic processes related to the formation of the Los Burros Gold-deposit from the Nacimiento block, Central California. They established that this area is tectonically active and records higher landslide rate. In order to better understand this area, two K-State students (William Harvis and Ben Walter) will map a section during Fall 2020 and publish their final product in the USGS National Geologic Map Database.

Dr. Brueseke receives a Kansas State University Small Research grant (USRG)

Matt Brueseke recently received a K-State USRG (Investigating links between <5 million yr old basaltic volcanism in the Centennial Valley region, southwest Montana, and the Yellowstone hotspot; $4,428).  The grant will research in southwestern Montana aimed documenting the physical and geochemical attributes of basaltic lavas in the Centennial Mountains and Centennial Valley, adjacent to the Yellowstone hotspot track (e.g., Snake River plain).  It builds on undergraduate research conducted by recent B.S. graduate Sarah Green and current B.S. student Ben Walters.  Sarah, M.S. student Emily Fenner, and Brueseke spent ~1 week in summer 2019 doing reconnaissance fieldwork for this project.

Sarah Green (L) and Emily Fenner (R) sampling a <2 Ma basalt lava in Centennial Valley, MT. Centennial Mountains in background. The Centennial Mountains are bounded by a tectonically-active north-dipping normal fault; the valley-mountain relationship you see here is similar to Jackson Hole, WY and the Teton range.


Grants and Awards

High-Resolution Sequence Stratigraphy in Mudrock-Dominated Successions: The Chattanooga/Woodford Shale

Dr. Karin Goldberg has received a grant from the American Chemical Society (Petroleum Research Fund) to study the environmental conditions on accumulation of organic matter in mudstones, using the Woodford/Chattanooga Shale in Kansas as a natural laboratory. Such rocks have long been recognized as potential sources for hydrocarbons but only more recently become directly exploitable as actual petroleum reservoirs, leading to renewed interest in the controls on their hydrocarbon potential. The purpose of this research is to better understand the nature of the depositional environments and paleogeographic settings that are most conducive for accumulation of high concentrations of organic matter in mudstones, thus providing a predictive tool for the spatial and temporal distribution of these rocks types. If we understand how the environment controls composition and texture of sediments, we can predict where to look for source rocks, as well as where in these rocks it is easier to fracture in order to extract petroleum.

Tracking water movement in plant stems

Dr. Behzad Ghanbarian from Geology department and his collaborators from Agronomy and Electrical Engineering Departments have received $300,000 from the National Science Foundation for a two-year project to build a tool for measuring sap flow – or the movement of a liquid through plant stems. “The core idea behind this project is that water matters, no matter if you live in Kansas, Texas, New York or anywhere else,” said Behzad Ghanbarian. “Given that the world’s population is getting bigger everywhere, we need to practice in a way that we make sure we will have water in the following decades for our kids and grandkids.” The K-State team hopes to find out how much water moves through plant stems during various growth stages. This uncovers a better picture of how much water requires to be provided through irrigation. What makes this project unique is that the proposed tool based on concepts from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is non-invasive and never touches the plant. It would be capable of measuring sap flow in the plant the entire day.

Geoscience Career Ambassador Training (GeoCAT) Workshop

Dr. Aida Farough, has received a National Science Foundation grant for her project, the GeoCAT workshop, which aims to increase participation of underrepresented populations in geosciences.

One of the main hurdles to geoscience student recruitment is lack of awareness of geoscience career options. To increase awareness of geoscience career opportunities among educators and students, Farough and her co-PIs Pamela Kempton, and Jackie Spears, propose to increase participation in geosciences by hosting the GeoCAT Workshop for educators from minority-serving high schools and community colleges in Kansas as well as Kansas 4-H Youth Development educators and volunteers.

The emphasis on recruiting and supporting underrepresented students is important to building a strong geoscience workforce in the future, particularly in Kansas, with industries that depend heavily on the existence and effective management of water, energy and other natural resources. The long-term economic health of Kansas depends on strengthening the knowledge of STEM careers and successfully integrating minority students into the STEM workforce.

To learn more about the GeoCAT project, visit www.ksu.edu/geocat or follow on Twitter @geoCAT_nsf. Any questions can be emailed togeocat@ksu.edu.

Prof Saugata Datta moves to University of Texas at San Antonio

Prof Saugata Datta, faculty member in Department of Geology for the past 11 years, has left K-State to take up the Weldon Hammond Chair in Hydrogeology at the University of Texas, San Antonio.  Dr. Datta is well known for his outstanding reputation in research, having a long record of publicaton in high impact journals and winning research grants worth nearly $1.5 million over the past 10 years.  His work on water quality issues around the world has significant societal relevance and impact.  His students will miss his infectious enthusiasm, breadth of knowledge, seemingly boundless energy, and unwavering support.  We wish him well in his new role.

Spotlight on undergraduate research

Undergraduate student Lindsay Gutierrez is currently working with Dr. Goldberg on a senior thesis entitled Paleocurrent and provenance analysis of an incised-valley fill at Echo Cliff, KS. Echo Cliff, located southwest of Dover, KS, is a 75-foot exposure of channel-fill deposits accumulated in incised valleys that cut down into the Pennsylvanian marine succession during a sea-level fall. Much of the material filling the channel is believed to have come from the uplands to the north and northwest, but to date no systematic study of the provenance of these sediments was carried out. The purpose of Lindsay’s study is to reconstruct the sediment pathways and to identify potential source areas. During summer 2019, she carried out a detailed facies analysis, with construction of a sedimentary log that included facies attributes and systematic measurement of paleocurrents, and also collected sandstone samples for further petrographic analysis. Lindsay has identified 7 lithofacies deposited in a meandering fluvial environment and a provenance analysis. The integration between paleocurrent and compositional analyses in the sediments exposed at Echo Cliff, with the analysis of regional geological maps, pointed to potential source areas upstream for fluvial deposits. Lindsay’s research identified that the sediments that filled the incised valleys at Echo Cliff probably came from low-grade metamorphic terrains in Washington or Oregon, travelling southeast through Idaho, Wyoming/Montana, Colorado/Nebraska, and finally Kansas. The long distance of transport (about 2,000 miles) is compatible with the fine grain size, good sorting and quartzose composition of the sediments. Lindsay presented her results in a poster at the GSA conference in Phoenix, AZ.

Geology Outreach and Agriculture

Gonzalo Alcantar was one of three students in the KS-LSAMP program sponsored by the Kansas NSF EPSCOR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006:  Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS).  His mentor, Dr. Matt Kirk is an Associate Professor of Geology at Kansas State University (KSU) and MAPS Soils Team leader.  The title of Gonzalo’s research project is Variation in contribution of groundwater discharge to streams across the Kansas precipitation gradient. He said that he picked this particular topic because “I am interested in everything that goes into agriculture/farming and aquaponics/vertical farming, hence the water research.”

Featuring Faculty Research: When gold meets landslides

With about 75% of the gold produced coming from “orogenic gold systems” (i.e. gold formed during orogenic processes and deformation), it’s not surprising we want to understand how these deposits form. One important part of Brice Lacroix’s research consists of defining the geometry of Au-deposits, and to link the mineralization to the different tectonic events that the area experienced in the past. Such an approach generally uses field investigation through structural and geological mapping coupled with cutting-edge petrography (e.g. fluid inclusion microthermometry, and geochemistry techniques). Continue reading “Featuring Faculty Research: When gold meets landslides”