Geophysics in Alaska 2016

Two SMU graduate student researchers, with SMU Professor of Geophysics Matthew Hornbach, traveled to the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, to participate in a research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to chart heat flow and chirp data on the ocean floor. This research project team, which includes two geophysicists from Oregon State University: Dr. Robert Harris and SMU alumnus Dr. Ben Phrampus ’15, is working aboard the Norseman II research vessel.

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Geophysics Research at Sea

Cathy Chickering Pace is the project specialist in SMU’s Geothermal Lab:

SMU Professor of Geophysics, Matthew Hornbach, is leading a team of researchers aboard the Norseman II in the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, as part of an ongoing project sponsored by U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

The NETL research project, titled Gas Hydrate Dynamics on the Alaskan Beaufort Continental Slope: Modeling and Field Characterization (DE-FE0010180/DE-FE0005806), is assessing the contemporary state of the upper continental slope along U.S. coastal margins to determine if gas hydrates are in equilibrium with present-day climate conditions.

In addition to Dr. Hornbach, the team includes SMU geophysics graduate students Madeline Jones and Casey Brokaw, and Dr. Robert Harris and Dr. Ben Phrampus ’15, both of Oregon State University. Dr. Phrampus, currently a postdoctoral fellow at OSU, is an alumnus of SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, and completed his Ph.D. in geophysics last year under Dr. Hornbach. (Read Phrampus’ dissertation: Gas hydrate as a proxy for contemporary climate change and shallow heat flow on the US East Coast and North Slope of Alaska.)

This research experience provides these graduate students a rare opportunity to participate in collection of heat flow data from approximately 50 sites, at depths of 100-1500 meters on eight different transects overlapping seismic data collected in 1977 by the U.S. Geological Survey. This effort will represent a huge step forward in understanding heat flow in the Arctic Ocean, as currently there are no publicly available heat flow measurements in the Beaufort Sea.

Advised by Hornbach, Brokaw’s thesis project improves the understanding of the thermal evolution of Colorado’s Denver Basin through analysis of thermal conductivity samples correlated with hydrocarbon well log data, heat flow variations, and equilibrium temperature logs. The project is funded by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and is overseen by SMU alumnus Peter Kubik ’02, ’04, geologist at Anadarko.

Jones also is working with Dr. Hornbach, as well as Dr. Zhong Lu, SMU’s Shuler-Foscue Chair of Geophysics. Her thesis focuses on Hebgen Lake, Montana, and the study of previous and potential future earthquakes in the region. Her project uses chirp reflection data for numerical wave modeling to explore causes of the lake seiche phenomenon following the 1959 Hebgen magnitude 7.2 earthquake. (Learn more about seiche here.) Her project also incorporates advanced satellite image processing techniques of current ground deformation of the vicinity to help identify potentially hazardous landsides, and includes a review of previously collected reflection profiles in Yellowstone National Park that can constrain fault characteristics and thus determine if large (M>6) earthquakes occurred there over the last approximately 2,000 years.

Learn more about the Norseman II here.

Track the vessel here:

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