3/18/2014 Peter Durantine

Geological Society of America Conference in Lancaster Features F&M Faculty, Students, Alumni

Franklin & Marshall College's geoscience students, alumni and faculty are among the participants and organizers of a mid-March event that will draw 1,200 geologists, environmental and other scientists to the Lancaster County Convention Center.   

Shale gas hydraulic fracturing, Martian volcanoes, Appalachian mountain building, water quality and resources and recent paleontological discoveries are among the topics to be addressed at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Section of the Geological Society of America in Lancaster, March 23-25.

Faculty members in F&M's Earth and Environment Department, recognized nationally for groundbreaking research and alumni achievement in the geoscience and environmental fields, are helping to organize and conduct the GSA conference, co-chaired by F&M's John Williamson Nevin Professor of Geosciences Roger Thomas and F&M alum Noel Potter '61, a Dickinson College Emeritus Professor of Geology.

  • Geological Society of America Conference in Lancaster Franklin & Marshall College's John Williamson Nevin Professor of Geosciences Roger Thomas and F&M alum Noel Potter '61, a Dickinson College Emeritus Professor of Geology are co-chairs of this year's Northeastern Section of the Geological Society of America in Lancaster, March 23-25. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

"There is a lot of applied research at this meeting," Thomas said. "One thing drawing a lot of people is the Marcellus Shale, but the interest is in the natural resources, the geological processes and the environment, more than the drilling itself."

Thomas said Lancaster last hosted the conference 29 years ago. "F&M is nationally known for its geology environmental science and environmental studies," Thomas said. "So this is a great opportunity for us to host colleagues and their students from throughout the region to showcase their research and to present some of our own recent work."

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is an extraction method used in drilling for natural gas in northern Pennsylvania's Marcellus region. This technique, now widely used and controversial, has a much longer history than most people realize. This will be the subject of the conference banquet's address, "Fracking”—A Historical Perspective," to be delivered by William Brice, Professor Emeritus of Geology and Planetary Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown.

The overarching theme of the conference, "At the Junction of the Northern and Southern Appalachians," embraces many talks, posters and workshop-discussions to be held at the three-day event, the organizers of which include four other F&M faculty members.

Associate Professor of Geosciences Andrew de Wet is directing field trips, while Associate Professor of Environmental Science Chris Williams, chair of the Environmental Science Program, and Associate Professor of Geosciences Zeshan Ismat are technical program co-chairs. F&M Professor of Geosciences and Bonchek College House Don Rob Sternberg is audio-visual and workshops coordinator.

Among the six F&M students presenting papers or posters at the conference is senior Amy Moser, a geoscience major who will discuss her independent research project examining how the structure of bedrock near Boiling Springs, Pa., plays a role in directing the flow of groundwater.

"We think the bedrock structure is controlling where groundwater is flowing, and therefore, we can determine where the water is coming from," Moser said.

Moser, who attended the 125-year-old GSA's national conference in Colorado last fall to meet with potential graduate school advisers, is excited about her poster presentation.

"It's definitely an opportune moment to present something at GSA," Moser said.

Thomas agreed, calling the conference an "extraordinary opportunity for students in particular" to present with faculty and meet leading professionals in their chosen fields.

Joining Moser in a Sunday session on hydrology will be Ismat, Associate Professor of Geosciences Robert Walter, Visiting Professor of Geosciences Tim Bechtel, and Potter.

Thomas said the conference will include the presentation of about 450 papers and posters in 71 sessions. Among the presenters is Donald Wise '53, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Professor Emeritus of Structural Geology. Wise, a former F&M student and faculty member, will discuss tectonic links between the Northern and Southern Appalachians.

A session on the geology of Mars will feature de Wet and Rebecca M.E. Williams '95 of the Planetary Science Institute, who has published a number of papers on Mars, and Jacob Bleacher '00, a NASA researcher who co-wrote a 2013 article on Martian super volcanoes that was published in Nature magazine.

"This is the first year we've had a session on planetary geology," said de Wet, who is presenting a poster on Martian volcanoes. "The last year has been a terrific year for our alumni."

Two Monday sessions, a talk and a poster, feature Thomas and his student Katherine Oxman ’14 reporting on evolutionarily significant new fossils found by local collector Kerry Matt in Manheim Township, just north of Lancaster.

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