Student Projects

Colby Geology majors who now are pursuing projects in Professor Gastaldo’s research group include:

Ruofei Jia: Class of 2019

Ruofei comes from Beijing, China, and joined the Geology Department during the 2016/2017 academic year. She and Tim Stonesifer (right), a videographer and licensed drone pilot, accompanied our research group in January 2018 to South Africa’s Free State where Ruofei undertook a drone-based project to model exposures of the Katberg Sandstone, which currently is interpreted to represent braided river systems following a reported mass-extinction event in the Karoo Basin. Ruofei’s project involved taking more than 1500 drone images at several “classic” localities, from various perspectives, and, using AgiSoft’s PhotoScan software, develop 3-dimensional models of the outcrops and localities where the Katberg Formation is exposed. In addition to developing models of sandstone bodies to determine if these represent ancient braided river systems, we hope to create a virtual reality space of two localities which will allow workers around the globe access to these very remote and inaccessible sites. Ruofei has been accepted to Columbia University’s environmental engineering program, but will take her research results to the national GSA meetings in Indianapolis in November 2018, following a summer research internship in the Geology Department.

Kaci Kus: Class of 2018

Kaci, hailing from Massachusetts, spent a 3+ week field season in June 2017 at one of the critical localities  at which the South African vertebrate-defined Permian–Triassic boundary section is exposed.  She and field partner, Sam Sinkler ’18, documented the stratigraphy through an erosional gully (donga) exposure on the Quaggasfontein and Piernarbaakken farms near Old Lootsberg Pass, Eastern Cape Province. Here, Kaci measured and described a 70 m thick succession of late Permian rocks reported to transition the vertebrate-defined extinction boundary, and is now in the process of analyzing her samples. In addition to thin-section characterization, she is undertaking elemental (Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen) analyses of the fine-grained rocks (siltstone) and major-element analysis using X-Ray Fluorescence. She is testing several hypotheses concerning siltstone color, the presence and development of calcareous ancient soils (Calcisols), and the nature of the purported PT event interval. She will present her research results  at the national GSA meetings in Seattle in October 2017.  Kaci is a double major in Geology and Studio Art, and will be attending the Colorado School of Mines in Fall 2018.

Sam Sinkler: Class of ’18

Sam came to Colby as a cross country skier and runner from Minnesota, eh. Sam is a double major in Geology and Government, but prefers the great outdoors to a conference room. Sam’s project is focused on a succession of rock near Lootsberg Pass, Eastern Cape Province, that is reported to represent environments following the end-Permian extinction in the early Triassic. These rocks, dominated by thick sandstone bodies interbedded are different in their character from Kaci’s interval where siltstone color is primarily reddish-gray. Several intervals preserve the trace fossil Katbergia, which Gastaldo and Rolerson ’06 (2008) interpreted as occurring in soils. Sam is testing whether this invertebrate burrow type also can be found in other settings. In addition, there is a thick interval in which several soils horizons are found permeated by large vertebrate burrows. Sam is using the same techniques in his analysis as Kaci, and will present his research results at the national GSA meetings in Seattle in October 2017.

Alicia Fischer: Class of ’18

Dr. Sarah Hall, GSM Vice President, awarding Alicia Fisher the Walter A. Anderson prize for Best Oral Presentation, 6 April 2018.

Alicia began a geochemistry project examining the effects dust input, irrigation, and parent materials on the formation of calcic soils in the desert Southwest of Arizona. After undertaking a pilot project with Dr. Craig Rasmussen, University of Arizona, on the geochemical properties of SEAZ soils as determined from using pXRF (portable hand-held X-Ray Fluorescence spectroscopy), Alicia wanted to expand her study to determine whether the original patterns were reliable and could be replicated using instrumental XRF analyses. Alicia recollected soils from her original localities, completed a series of instrumental analyses and data syntheses, to determine that caution must be exercised when applying pXRF techniques to heterogenous materials such as soils. Alicia presented her pilot-project data at the national GSA meeting in Seattle (2017) and was awarded with the best oral presentation at the 2018 Spring meeting of the Geological Society of Maine meetings in Unity, ME. She will be attending graduate school in the Department of Geology at Auburn University.