Category: Research

Gustavo Béjar-López Takes First at GSG 2023 3MT

Gustavo Béjar-López
Photo courtesy of GSG Instagram.

The GSG 2023 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) competition was held November 9 in the Forestry Atrium.

First Place went to Gustavo Béjar-López (PhD student in Geology), including a $300 cash prize.

Béjar-López will represent Michigan Tech at the regional competition and will compete for a spot at the national and international 3MT competitions.

According to the University of Queensland, founder of the event, the 3MT “cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills”.

Brendan Harville Presents at the Michigan Space Grant Consortium Annual Conference in Kalamazoo, MI

From his first weeks in the GMES Department, Brendan Harville was interested in getting involved in research. Through a handful of well-timed events in Brendan’s first semester, he seized an opportunity to submit a research proposal with Dr. Greg Waite to the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) undergraduate fellowship to conduct research regarding “Seismic Amplitude-based Lahar Tracking for Hazard Risk Mitigation at Fuego Volcano in Guatemala.” Brendan’s proposal was selected, leading him to plan fieldwork in Guatemala with fellow PhD student Gustavo Béjar-López. Brendan and Dr. Waite used seismic data to create a model that
can locate and track how lahars propagate down drainages from Fuego’s flanks. The work took many twists and turns (as research often does!) and resulted in an improved understanding of how the morphology of Fuego and its many drainages influence lahars and their impacts. Brendan’s work was accepted by MSGC for an oral presentation at the MSGC Annual Conference on October 21, 2023. GMES student Conor Large accompanied Brendan for his presentation over MTU’s Fall Break.

Reflecting on the entire MSGC experience, Brendan says, “My experience with undergraduate research through MSGC was invaluable. I met, connected, and collaborated with many admirable and inspiring peers and mentors for which I am truly grateful for. Special experiences like these are what invigorate and propel students like me toward future goals and aspirations. I would never have enjoyed this opportunity if I hadn’t pushed through my initial fears and feelings of self-doubt.”

GMES celebrates Brendan’s accomplishment and is proud to have submitted four new MSGC proposals this week for the Consortium’s annual call.

Check out Brendan’s day-to-day field campaign journey in Guatemala through his personally made slideshow: Field Campaign Slideshow (

Pictured L to R: Brendan Harville, Conor Large

Nathan Manser on Mining History, Future, and Remaining Dangers

Nathan Manser (GMES) was interviewed by WJMN Local 3 for a story about the mining process and management of byproducts in the past and present, as well as what could lie ahead for the mining industry relative to future mineral exploration in the Upper Peninsula.

Manser noted people in the Upper Peninsula have had to deal with repercussions of what several legacy mines have left behind.

He says the problem and search for solutions to mine tailings is front-and-center for experts in the industry. “There has never been a bigger focus on just that particular topic than then the tailings storage systems have been, especially in the last five years. It’s really accelerated.”

Read more at WJMN Local 3, by Schyler Perkins.

Luke Bowman and Erika Vye Represent Michigan Tech at the GSA Annual Meeting

Assistant Teaching Professor Luke Bowman (GMES, PhD ‘15) and Research Scientist Erika Vye (GLRC/GMES, PhD ‘16) represented Michigan Tech at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, October 14-18, 2023. They participated in a session titled “Field-Based Geoscience Education: Advances in Research, Program Evaluation, Pedagogy, and Curriculum”.

Bowman shared an oral presentation titled “Community Involvement in Building and Testing A Flash-Flood Model for Simulating Flood Frequency” (with co-authors Natalea Cohen (GMES, MS ‘23), John Gierke, Vanessa Bailey, Hannah Lukasik, Shannon McAvoy, Mario Hugo Mendez, Susan Toivonen, and David Yates).

This research, which involves several MTU researchers and students, is part of a multi-year project that addresses climate change-induced, water-related challenges in the Central American Dry Corridor, focusing on agricultural community adaptations to extreme hydrometeorological events in El Salvador. This project is a collaboration of Michigan Technological University (MTU), CUAHSI, and Lutheran World Relief (LWR) in El Salvador, funded as a National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students (IRES).

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 55, No. 6, 2023
doi: 10.1130/abs/2023AM-394917

Bowman also participated in a workshop on Positive Mental Health in the Geosciences sponsored by GSA and the Science Education Resource Center (SERC). The workshop shed light on the challenges experienced by many geoscientists, explored the common signs that indicate when geoscientists are struggling with their mental health, and showcased best practices to create a safe and supportive working environment.

Vye shared an oral presentation titled “The Keweenaw Geoheritage Summer Internship: Exploring Our Shared Relationships with Land and Water” (with co-author Amanda Gonczi).

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 55, No. 6, 2023
doi: 10.1130/abs/2023AM-395861

Vye also supported and co-authored two first-time student presentations in a session titled “The Stories of Geoheritage”: “Connecting Geology, Mining, & Fish Sovereignty in the Keweenaw” by Naomi Smith (Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College),” and “Bridging Knowledges – Using Geospatial Technology to Support Place-Based Geoheritage Learning” by Steph Fones (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) with co-authors Daniel Lizzadro-McPherson and Naomi Smith. Fones and Smith participated in an 8-week Keweenaw Geoheritage internship at Michigan Tech in the summer of 2023. This work was supported by NSF Award # 2136139 – EAGER: Geoheritage and Two-Eyed Seeing – Advances in Interdisciplinary Earth Science Research, Learning, and Inclusion through Shared Ways of Knowing (PI Vye).

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 55, No. 6, 2023
doi: 10.1130/abs/2023AM-395218

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 55, No. 6, 2023
doi: 10.1130/abs/2023AM-395408

The Department of GMES also co-sponsored the Michigan Colleges/Universities Joint Alumni Reception at the GSA conference (together with Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University, Hope College, Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Albion College, and Central Michigan University). It was good to see and chat with our alumni, colleagues, and friends. This gathering was a testament to the enduring camaraderie within our geoscience community.

Pictured from R to L: Frederic Wilson (BS ’71), John Yellich, Luke Bowman (Ph.D. ’15), Erika Vye (Ph.D. ’16), Steph Fones, Naomi Smith, and J. Schneider

Beth Bartel: Women’s Perspectives on Evacuation at Fuego Volcano

Fuego contour representation in a map of Guatemala.
Fuego in Guatemala. NASA Earth Observatory.

Beth Bartel ’23 (Ph.D. Geology) is a co-author of a paper published in Frontiers in Earth Science.

The article is titled “Children first: women’s perspectives on evacuation at Fuego volcano and implications for disaster risk reduction.”

Ailsa Naismith of Bristol University is also a co-author.

The article was included as a part of a special research topic on “Women in Science: Volcanology” and is the first publication from Bartel’s dissertation work. The research was supported by committee members from both the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) and the Department of Social Sciences (SS).

Ian Gannon MS in Geological Engineering Final Defense

On August 3, 2023, Ian Gannon successfully defended his geological engineering research for his MS degree.

Advised by James DeGraff, with Chad Deering and Aleksey Smirnov as committee members.

Title: Integrating LiDAR, Aeromagnetic, and Geological Field Data to Identify Structural-Lithologic Elements Within the Archean Carney Lake Gneiss Complex
Abstract: The Archean Carney Lake Gneiss Complex (CLGC) is a suite of rocks on the southern margin of the Superior Province and within the Minnesota River Valley subprovince. It is one of many gneissic domes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota whose complex geology is poorly understood due to a previous lack of economic interest in gneissic terranes and significant challenges to their investigation. As a consequence, the CLGC and other gneissic domes in the region are represented on geologic maps as undifferentiated masses surrounded by better-defined and understood Paleoproterozoic supracrustal rocks and igneous intrusions. Within the last ten years, however, the United States has identified an urgent need to find new sources of critical minerals to sustain and grow the nation’s technology and defense industries, which has renewed interest in these very old and complex rocks. Under the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) of the U.S. Geological Survey, the CLGC and surrounding Paleoproterozoic rocks have been remapped to update geologic interpretations and to assist in identifying potential mineral systems in the region. Mapping of the CLGC was accomplished using traditional techniques combined with satellite-based phone applications and differential GPS devices to navigate in dense vegetative cover, to obtain accurate coordinates of field sites, and to collect geologic data at outcrops. As a further aid to ground mapping, high-resolution LiDAR and aeromagnetic data were analyzed to determine topographic and magnetic patterns and textures that potentially reflect structural-lithologic domains within the CLGC.

Integration of the new geologic field data with features and patterns identified on LiDAR and aeromagnetic maps allows definition of three domains within the CLGC: (1) a poly-deformed, mostly felsic gneiss with folded and sheared banding; (2) a meta-igneous, plagioclase-dominated gneiss with poorly expressed banding; and (3) a meta-sedimentary gneiss with thin well-developed banding and local relict sedimentary textures. Outcrop mapping also reveals the widespread occurrence and great variety of younger felsic and mafic intrusions that were not fully appreciated by earlier mappers. Data integration has allowed better definition of geologic unit contacts around the margins of the CLGC and within some Paleoproterozoic metasedimentary units, which updates knowledge about the Sturgeon Quartzite to the northeast and the Vulcan Iron Formation to the south. Although some analytical work is ongoing, such as radiometric age dating, the integrated mapping effort has identified between five to eight tectonomagmatic events that have affected the region, plus a number of sedimentary cycles. The abundance of processes that have affected the area provides multiple opportunities for concentration of mineral deposits that could be attractive for future exploration efforts. The data integration approach developed for this thesis project should be useful in identifying structural-lithologic domains within enigmatic Precambrian gneiss domes elsewhere in the region and globally.

Simon Carn on Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Fagradalsfjall

False color image of part of Iceland showing a bright, orange flow on top of older lava flows.
The false-color image of fresh lava flowing south in Iceland was acquired on July 17, 2023, by the Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI-2) on Landsat 9.

On July 10, 2023, lava began to spill from the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system in southwestern Iceland, marking the third consecutive summer of activity at the volcano.

Simon Carn (GMES) was quoted by NASA’s Earth Observatory and eGreenews in stories about the continuing eruption of Fagradalsfjall.

“Based on satellite and ground-based data, emissions of sulfur dioxide from Fagradalsfjall are in the range of several thousands of tons per day—similar to the 2021 and 2022 eruption,” said Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech and member of a NASA team that monitors sulfur dioxide emissions.

Read more at NASA Earth Observatory, by Adam Voiland.

Jordan Ewing Computational Science and Engineering Ph.D. Defense

On Friday, July 21, Jordan Ewing successfully defended the research for his doctoral degree in computational science and engineering.

Advised by Thomas Oommen, with Laura Brown, Stanley Vitton, and Paramsothy Jayakumar as committee members.

Title: Remote Sensing Approach for Terramechanics Applications Utilizing Machine and Deep Learning

Abstract: Terrain traversability is critical for developing Go/No Go maps, significantly impacting a mission’s success. To predict the mobility of a vehicle over a terrain, one must understand the soil characteristics. In situ measurements performed by soldiers in the field are the current method of collecting this information, which is time-consuming, are only point measurements, and can put soldiers in harm’s way. Therefore, this study investigates using remote sensing as an alternative approach to characterize terrain properties.

This approach will explore the relationships between electromagnetic radiation and soil types with varying properties. Optical, thermal, and hyperspectral sensors will be used to collect remote data and compare it against ground truth measurements for validation. Machine learning (linear, ridge, lasso, partial least squares, support vector machines, and k nearest neighbors) and deep learning (multi-layer perceptron and convolutional neural network) algorithms will be used to build prediction models.

Results showed that soil properties such as soil gradation, moisture content, and soil strength measured by a geogauge and averaged cone penetrometer for 0–6” and 0–12” (CP06 and CP12) can be estimated remotely. Deep learning provides the best models for estimating terrain characteristics compared to machine learning. It is shown that this method can produce much finer spatial resolution coverage than traditional geospatial point-based interpolation approaches and yield a higher prediction accuracy. Predictions maps can be used to generate threshold-based Go / No Go maps using a vehicle cone index or as a cost map for vehicle performance. A Polaris MRZR vehicle was used to test the application of these prediction maps for mobility purposes, and correlations were observed between the CP06 and rear wheel slip and CP12 and vehicle speed.

This study demonstrates the potential of using remote sensing data for more rapid and finer spatial resolution predictions of terrain properties with higher accuracies compared to traditional in situ mapping methods implementing machine and deep learning algorithms. The remote sensing approach allows the generation of Go/No Go and vehicle cost maps and, most importantly, provides a safe alternative to keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

Beth Bartel Geology Ph.D. Defense

On Friday, July 7, 2023, Beth Bartel achieved resounding success as she skillfully defended her research for her doctoral degree in geology.

Co-Advised by Greg Waite and Rüdiger Escobar Wolf, with Angie Carter, Kari Henquinet, and Luke Bowman as committee members.

Title: Information Use and Decision-Making for Evacuation at Fuego Volcano, Guatemala Information Use and Decision-Making for Evacuation at Fuego Volcano, Guatemala

Abstract: Active volcanoes are complex, multi-hazard systems. Early warning systems (EWS) may enable populations to live sustainably with volcanic hazards, but developing an effective EWS is far from straightforward, as is measuring its efficacy. At Fuego volcano, Guatemala, pyroclastic density currents (PDCs)—fast-moving flows and surges of hot volcanic gas, ash, and rock–killed more than 400 people during a paroxysmal eruption in June 2018 and continue to threaten the ~60,000 people living within the identified hazard zones. In this dissertation, I use mixed ethnographic methods to investigate evacuations at Fuego during and since the tragedia through three projects. I first investigate information availability and its use in decision-making on 3 June 2018. Next, I examine current practices for evacuation decision-making four and five years after the disaster, focusing on a partial evacuation on 7–8 March 2022. Finally, I use that same event to study how cultural gender expectations impact evacuation strategies and how women’s experiences in evacuation can inform future risk reduction strategies. With this dissertation, I aim to contribute a better understanding of the complex factors challenging the efficacy of EWS in order to improve existing approaches in and beyond Guatemala. In this way, this work aims to serve the population around Fuego volcano and others like it in various cultural, geographic, and economic settings.

Caleb Kaminski MS in Geophysics Final Defense

On April 21, 2023, Caleb Kaminski demonstrated resounding success in defending his research for his Geophysics Master of Science degree.

Advised by Aleksey Smirnov, with Paul van Susante and Jeremy Shannon as committee members.

Title: Exploring Ground-Penetrating Radar Responses to Basaltic Terrain for Upcoming Lunar Expeditions

Abstract: In preparation for upcoming lunar expeditions, a comprehensive understanding of the Moon’s geophysical properties is imperative, particularly in the context of resource identification and extraction. This study focuses on the experimental characterization of electromagnetic (EM) behavior in the radio spectrum for ground-penetrating radar applications, utilizing basaltic Keweenawan stamp sand and highland lunar simulant soil test materials with varying particle grades. Under controlled laboratory conditions, we systematically analyzed and compared the differences in EM wave velocity and signal amplitude as a function of particle size and mineralogy, as represented in radargrams. Our findings demonstrate that the highland lunar simulant exhibits a significantly higher EM reflection coefficient than the stamp sand, which can be attributed to its lower conductivity arising from compositional differences. These results hold important implications for the development of remote sensing techniques and optimization of ground-penetrating radar systems for future lunar missions, ultimately enabling the efficient detection and extraction of valuable resources such as water ice on the lunar surface.