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Washington and Lee University

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Faculty Research

W&L Geology Faculty do research locally and around the world.

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 Southern 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 to augment traditional field mapping of contractional growth strata in otherwise inaccessible surfaces, such as vertical cliffs.

Dave Harbor:
Rockbridge County and beyond: Over the past 10 years, Dave Harbor and many students have documented the movement of river knickpoints (steep zones) up through the Maury and James River basins. They don't know how they started nor exactly when. Dave's looking at similar systems in the Massif Central of southern France and India as well.

Argentina: Dave Harbor and Jeff Rahl are looking at the rearrangement of drainage and the incredible incision rates on the eastern flank of the Andes. They are working up both the erosional power and history of the headwaters and the depositional record of the foreland. Jeff's particular focus has been to reconstruct the evolution of the high mountains through the study of foreland basin sediments using detrital geochronology and traditional sedimentary provenance tools.

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.

Lisa Greer:
The Caribbean: Lisa Greer's research documents the health, abundance, and history of the endangered coral Acropora cervicornis (Staghorn coral). 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 andHolocene specimens of this coral from Barbados, Belize, St. John, and the Dominican Republic to better understand the conditions under which this species thrives. She is collaborating with a colleague in Computer Science to develop machine-learning techniques to conduct rapid assessment of live coral tissue abundance from photographic data.

Southern Belize: Lisa is quantifying 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.

Barbados: One of Lisa's recent projects tracked climate-induced changes in Amazon and Orinoco River flow using corals collected off distant Barbados.

Dominican Republic: Lisa has been working on characterizing tectonic and climatic-induced restriction of an inland seaway in the Dominican Republic after the Holocene Thermal Maximum.

Jeff Rahl:
Argentina:Jeff Rahl and Dave Harbor are looking at the rearrangement of drainage and the incredible incision rates on the eastern flank of the Andes. They are working up both the erosional power and history of the headwaters and the depositional record of the foreland. Jeff's particular focus has been to reconstruct the evolution of the high mountains through the study of foreland basin sediments using detrital geochronology and traditional sedimentary provenance tools.

Paul Low:
Grand Canyon: Paul has two ongoing research projects in the Grand Canyon--both studying ultramafic rocks. The Upper Granite Gorge contains several outcrops of Proterozoic (~1.7MA) mafic and ultramafic rocks. There is also an outcrop at Ninetyone Mile Canyon that is particularly well-preserved that has yielded some interesting information about the ultramafic magma chamber dynamics. Farther downstream near Lava Falls, there are (geologically) resent lava flows that bear xenoliths from the lower crust and the upper mantle that we have used to indicate some interesting heterogeneities in composition in composition and strain history in the mantle beneath the Colorado Plateau.

Rockbridge County: Paul also has an ongoing project that is trying to unravel the bewildering array of lithographic textures present in the Holcomb Rock Dam Pluton along the James River. He is also looking forward to projects involving the Mount Horeb Kimberlite in eastern Rockbridge County and the longitudinal assessment of several water quality parameters in Woods Creek right here on campus.

Euan Mitchell:
Oregon:  Euan's current research is focused on the young (few thousand year old) volcanoes found in the central Oregon segment of the Cascades.  Using the trace element chemistry and isotropic characteristics of young lavas spanning a wide range of compositions he aims to understand processes occurring both deep in Earth's mantle (~100 km below the surface where solid rock is melting) as well as shallower processes (within Earth's ~ 40 km thick crust) where the melts created at depth may interact with the crust, altering their chemistry.  He hopes to expand this research to other areas of the Pacific Northwest and globally.

Previous research has taken him to locations such as Japan and western Scotland.