Faculty Research

W&L Geology Faculty do research locally and around the world. Every summer several professors have students work on their research.

Chris Connors
My current research interests are in structural geology, specifically forward and inverse numerical modeling of fault-related folding, seismic interpretation of complex structures, and the development of growth strata associated with fault-related folding. I am a part of the resource assessment of the North Slope of Alaska with the USGS, doing seismic interpretation. I am analyzing the structure of the deep water of several basins in the world using long-offset, prestack depth-migrated seismic data. In addition, I have field projects underway integrating surface and subsurface data in the Appalachians and growth structures in the Catalan Coastal Ranges of Spain. My previous work in the extraction of quantitative information from remote sensing data to constrain structural interpretation and modeling has seen its most recent manifestation in the use of ground-based lidar and structure-from-motion photogrammetry to augment traditional field mapping and field work.

Lisa Greer
Lisa Greer's current research documents the health, abundance, and history of the endangered coral Acropora cervicornis (Staghorn coral) in the Caribbean. This once dominant Caribbean reef builder is now virtually absent from the vast majority of modern reefs. Over the last several years, Lisa has analyzed the geochemistry of Modern and Holocene specimens of this coral from Barbados, Belize, St. John, Florida, and the Dominican Republic to better understand the conditions under which this species thrives. In recent years her multidisciplinary coral reef work has also included quantifying herbivore populations (urchins, parrotfish, and damselfish), creating a working carbonate budget for her study site, quantifying live coral cover at the species level from satellite imagery and photographic data, genetic characterization of acroporids and their symbiodinium symbionts, using coral branch orientation and morphology to track hydrodynamics, and aging Acropora spp. corals using a new genetic aging technique, radiocarbon data, and high resolution uranium series methods. Lisa is also working on a project to quantify the relative contribution of anthropogenic carbon (the Suess Effect) and terrestrial carbon derived from deforestation to the stable carbon isotope composition of corals from southern Belize.

David Harbor
David Harbor researches myriad topics within surficial processes including regenerative agriculture, stream erosion by plucking, and landscape evolution/tectonic geomorphology. Soil carbon research is yielding data and methods for determining soil carbon content in rotationally grazed pastures of western Virginia, hopefully documenting their ability to sequester carbon and pay farmer fees to do it. Ongoing flume study of the plucking process is characterizing and quantifying how sub-block water flow causes plucking, and instrumentation of a channel block to recover surrounding pressures and movements is into version two. I am also finishing up landscape-scale projects in Pakistan, India, and Argentina, as well as continuing my career-long study of the evolution of the Appalachian Mountain topography.

Margaret Anne Hinkle
Prof. Hinkle's interests are in aqueous environmental geochemistry, with particular emphasis on researching contaminant and micronutrient fate during iron and manganese biogeochemical cycling. She is currently studying the biomineralization of manganese oxides by fungi associated with metal polluted coal mine drainage remediation sites and the associated impact on contaminant uptake and retention by the fungal manganese oxide minerals relative to abiotic manganese oxide minerals.

Elizabeth Knapp
Hawaii: Elizabeth's current research is focusing on the Alaka'i Swamp, Kauai. Due to extreme orographic effect, this is one of the wettest places on earth. Groundwater systems that drain basaltic terranes with low relief and high rainfall have the potential to be extremely corrosive (elevated pCO2, low pH and low dissolved oxygen). Her focus is on carbon dioxide consumption by basalt weathering in this intense weathering regime.

Appalachian Critical Zone: Elizabeth is also is collaborating with Penn State as part of the Susquehanna-Shale Hills NSF Critical Zone Observatory. The goal is to develop a climosequence of Silurian Rose Hill shales (at satellite sites) and compare regolith development.

Jeff Rahl
Jeff's research interests are in tectonics, detrital geochronology, and structural geology. Much of his current work is focused on how the mineral quartz responds under pressure, so that we can use the orientation of quartz crystals in natural rocks to better understand their deformation conditions (the stress orientations, temperature of deformation, symmetry of strain, and so forth). Other projects seek to document the ages preserved in the minerals in sedimentary rocks, as a tool to reconstruct where the sediment came from and the erosional history of those source areas.