Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Earth Sciences Faculty News

The Department of Earth Sciences passionately trains the next generation of researchers

Heather DeShon, Professor and Chair of the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, described a recent geophysics field study in California led by Beatrice Magnani and Chris Hayward.

Describe the field study in Mono Lake.

Heather DeShonThe Spring Field Studies to Mono Lake, CA was an outstanding success. We took 18 undergraduates, four graduate students, two staff, and two faculty to the field for one week. The students were taught by faculty, research staff and graduate students with a focus on collecting a range of geophysical measurements targeting heat transfer within Mono Lake from shallow magma bodies potentially associated with the Long Valley caldera system. The field studies course learning goals were directly tied to an NSF project funded through Dr. Matt Hornbach. Dr. Hornbach continued to test the SMU-designed thermal probes; Dr. Magnani and students collected lacustrine seismic data; Dr. Hayward and students deployed seismic sensors to track local earthquakes. The spring 2022 field trip was continuation of field work done in 2021 with a different set of undergraduate and graduate students. The department was able to fully support the costs through a combination of targeted endowments, new donor dollars and overhead recovery.

How does the Earth Sciences department build upon their discoveries year after year?

The best science should yield new questions so our work naturally builds over time. Faculty interests also shift over time based on their students’ interests, an interesting conundrum they may discover while teaching, or in response to funding priorities at the federal level. Earth Sciences research spans billions of years and the data we collect widely varies across the department. Dr. Zhong Lu and Dr. Xiao Yang focus on radar and optical satellite data with new satellite passes every 2-16 days, allowing them to globally track deformation and environmental conditions on the surface of the planet. Seismologists like myself, Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith and Dr. Brain Stump collect real-time motions of discrete parts of the planets with data sampled at 40-100 samples per second and continuous telemetry to SMU. If the research area is remote, we may place instruments and return for them 3 months to 1 year later. For the geologists, they may have a field season collecting rocks targeting moments in geologic time, such as major extinction events or magma emplacements, and then spend 1-2 years performing geochemical analyses. Dr. Rita Economos still works on samples from the Moon collected during the Apollo missions.

What national and/or global issues will drive future field studies?

Earth Sciences at SMU has a vision: we engage in cutting-edge fundamental and applied research that addresses societally-relevant problems facing the planet. We train the next generation of researchers, scientists and citizens to be world changers. As such, we respond to the decadal priorities set by NSF, NASA and NOAA and provide fundamental education in geology, geophysics and environmental sciences relevant to Texas and the broader region. We are both responsible for teaching core concepts underlying climate and environmental change, earth hazards, history of rocks and life through time, to the necessary scientific skills needed by the energy and mineral resource sector. We work on microscopic critters and minerals to satellite data in real-time through deep time.

Beatrice Magnani, Professor, Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, teaches courses in global plate tectonics, exploration seismology and seismic interpretation, as well as general introductory courses in earth systems, both the undergraduate and graduate level. She is a geoscientist who studies continents using man-made seismic waves, a method known as “controlled-source seismology.” Read the full article.