Graduate Bulletin

Spring 2018

Geosciences Department

As the core discipline examining Earth’s natural processes and materials, Geosciences boasts unparalleled diversity. Spurred by urgent scientific and social questions, ranging from environmental concerns to the origin and evolution of the planet itself, the Geosciences are experiencing remarkable growth, with excellent career opportunities. The Geosciences encompass many disciplines including geology, geochemistry, and geophysics, and its interdisciplinary nature fosters natural links not only with chemistry and physics, but also with environmental science, materials science, engineering, biology, and health fields. Developments in technology and new innovative approaches have transformed graduate study in many areas within Geosciences, and students participate in research utilizing state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities.           

Graduate students may choose among degree programs with emphasis in different areas in Geosciences. Ph.D. and M.S. thesis-based programs are offered with concentrations in areas including seismology and tectonics, mineral and rock physics, crystal chemistry, geochemistry, petrology, sedimentary geology, planetary geosciences, and hydrogeology (described in more detail below). There is also a non-thesis M.S. program in hydrogeology focused primarily on training professionals in environmentally related fields. Also offered is an M.A. in Teaching Earth Science, which leads to provisional certification for teaching earth science in secondary schools of New York State.

Areas of Emphasis in Graduate Study and Research

The Department’s philosophy has been to pursue excellence by concentrating its research initiatives in specific areas of the Geosciences. Graduate students benefit from greater focus and also enjoy close interaction with faculty members. A distinctive aspect of graduate study in the Geosciences department is the opportunity for collaborative research, often involving several faculty members. The department’s extensive state-of-the art computers, laboratory facilities and modern instrumentation have helped to foster a well-earned reputation for observational, experimental, multifaceted approaches to Geosciences research. Cooperative programs with other departments, nearby institutions, and national laboratories provide access to unique facilities (e.g., NSLS).

Seismology, Tectonics, and Shallow Surface Geophysics
A primary focus in seismology and tectonics is the determination of detailed three dimensional earth structure, from the core to the surface, and related studies on the dynamics that drives mantle convection, deformation of the lithosphere, and plate tectonics in general. Particular emphasis is placed on interdisciplinary research and collaboration, where inferences made from seismological, geodynamic, and geodetic investigations are integrated with findings from the fields of mineral and rock physics, geochemistry, and petrology. Areas of specific focus in seismology include inner core structure, anisotropy, and attenuation, outer core structure, core-mantle boundary structure, upper mantle structure, strong ground motion studies, earthquake source parameter studies, and theoretical studies on seismic wave propagation. Investigations in tectonophysics include the coupling between mantle convection and lithospheric dynamics, the development of the kinematics, mechanics, and seismicity within plate boundary deformation zones, and the inference of mantle flow beneath the lithosphere. Current projects involve using earthquake and space geodetic data to infer the deformation fields and employing numerical, analytical, and analog modeling to understand surface geodynamical observations, ranging from geoid, topography, plate motions and surface deformations in the global and regional scales to the partitioning of strain and tectonic implications at geometrically complex plate margins. All of these projects emphasize the use of integrated seismic, structural, geodetic, and field data to understand the structure, composition, and dynamics of the Earth’s interior, as well as the driving forces for plate movements and deformations. The topics in shallow surface geophysics include field geophysical surveys of glaciotectonic deformation of Long Island sediments using ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity, seismic reflection and refraction as well as borehole geophysics.

Mineral and Rock Physics
Research in these fields focuses on the investigation of the structure and composition of the Earth, geophysical properties of Earth materials, and the mechanical behavior of the crust and mantle. An important emphasis is the study of high-pressure and high-temperature phases and assemblages, particularly those of relevance to the mantle. In situ measurement of elastic properties, compressibility, and determination of crystal structure complement studies of high-pressure phase relations for constraining models for Earth's mantle and equations of state for mantle phases. Specific projects include determination of ultrasonic wave velocities of minerals and rheological determination of the strength of minerals at the pressure and temperature conditions of the Earth's mantle to depths greater than 500 km. Research initiatives in these areas are closely linked to the activities of the Mineral Physics Institute at Stony Brook and the NSF Consortium for Materials Properties Research in Earth Sciences [COMPRES]. Facilities available in the Department of Geosciences and the Mineral Physics Institute include equipment for ultrasonic interferometry, Brillouin spectroscopy, and multi-anvil apparatus for experiments at high pressure and temperature; these are all integrated with synchrotron X-ray sources at the NSLS. Complete single-crystal and powder X-ray diffraction facilities and transmission electron microscopy and electron diffraction are available. Another important area of study is rock physics, fluid flow and earthquake mechanics. Experimentally and theoretically based, this program focuses on brittle fracture, mechanical compaction of porous rock, strain localization, frictional instability, and hydromechanical behavior. The rock mechanics laboratory includes a triaxial press, an acoustic emission system, and permeameters.

Crystal Chemistry and Crystallography
The department has a strong background in the study of earth materials at the atomic and molecular level, and in using the results of these studies to interpret the properties of materials constituting Earth from crust to core. Two centers of excellence, the Center for Environmental Molecular Sciences (CEMS) and the Mineral physics Institute (MPI) concentrate of the behavior of upper crustal and Earth’s Interior, respectively. Both employ a wide range of structural probes, some located in the department and others located at national and international synchrotron X-ray and neutron facilities. Within the department, extensive facilities for single-crystal and powder X-ray diffraction, with capabilities for in situ high-temperature and high-pressure studies exist. Projects emphasize crystal structure studies on oxides, hydroxides, sulfides, carbonates, and silicates, including characterization of phase transitions, ordering phenomena, and ion exchange. Convenient access to the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the National Synchrotron Light Source, NSLS, provides opportunities for unique experiments requiring a high-intensity X-ray source. Other projects utilize X-ray absorption spectroscopy to examine local structure in minerals, neutron diffraction for studies of hydrous phases, and solid-state NMR spectroscopy to investigate crystal chemical substitutions and defects. Many of the department’s faculty are actively engaged in the design and construction of the next generation of beamlines required for high pressure and environmental investigations. These facilities are being designed with the requirements of the Stony Brook and wider national and international user base in mind. This work is complemented by electron diffraction using the department’s transmission electron microscope.

There are broad opportunities for graduate study and research in many areas of geochemistry. Major initiatives exist in isotope and trace-element geochemistry, aqueous and hydrothermal geochemistry, geochemistry of mineral/fluid interfaces, and theoretical and experimental geochemistry of mineral-melt systems. All programs have a strong experimental foundation, and many integrate experimental work with field studies.

Specific areas of research utilizing trace elements and radiogenic isotopes include evolution of Archean and Phanerozoic crust and geochronology of lithologic assemblages. These integrate with petrologic studies of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous terranes throughout the world. Research involving the chemistry and structure of sulfide and carbonate mineral surfaces are among the programs in low-temperature aqueous geochemistry; these include emphasis on geocatalysis, crystallization and trace element incorporation mechanisms, as well as the role of sulfides in the origin of life. Field-related studies focus on fluid chemistry in active hydrothermal systems. Research on silicic melts combines theoretical and experimental approaches for characterizing speciation and crystal-melt equilibria, and also for examining nucleation and growth. Closely related experimental studies focus on phase equilibria, solid-solution models, and the development of geothermometers and geobarometers, including applications in field studies.

Experimental and analytical work makes use of the department’s electron microprobe, transmission electron microscope, thermal ionization mass spectrometers, FT-IR, Mössbauer lab, DCP and ion chromatography labs, X-ray diffraction facilities, and three synthesis and experimental petrology labs. Additional work uses facilities in other Stony Brook departments, including NMR spectrometers located in the Dept. of Chemistry, as well as facilities at nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory, including the NSLS.

Opportunities for graduate study and research in petrology range from atomic-scale investigations, for example, dealing with the structure of glasses, to global questions regarding the relationships of magmatic suites to large-scale mantle and crustal processes. Projects include spectroscopic and quantum chemical approaches for examining mechanisms of volatile dissolution and crystal nucleation in melts and experimental investigations of the effects of pressure, temperature, and volatile composition on stabilities of minerals and melts, with corresponding development of thermodynamic models. Field and laboratory work are integrated in some studies. Experiments are being applied to Martian meteorites.

This work is supported by experimental facilities that contain controlled-atmosphere gas-mixing furnaces, cold-seal bombs, piston-cylinder apparatus, internally heated pressure vessels, as well as multi-anvil apparatus for experiments at high temperature and pressure conditions. Analytical facilities include an electron microprobe, a transmission electron microscope, thermal ionization mass spectrometers, a Mössbauer lab, and X-ray diffraction facilities.

Sedimentary Geology
Research initiatives in sedimentary geology at Stony Brook integrate geochemistry with field, petrologic, and stratigraphic studies. Trace element and isotopic studies of terrigenous sedimentary rocks provide information on their provenance, age, and composition, which yield insight to broader issues of crustal evolution, including sediment subduction, growth of continental crust and the sedimentary mass, and recycling of sedimentary rocks. Carbonate rocks and their diagenesis are another important area of research that utilizes a wide range of approaches. Petrography is combined with microanalytical techniques for trace elements and both stable and radiogenic isotopes to reconstruct the diagenetic environments and the physicochemical characteristics of paleohydrologic systems. Emphasis is also placed on the quantitative modeling of rock-water interaction. A strong component of fieldwork is common for studies of both clastics and carbonates. Analytical facilities include the department’s electron microprobe, optical and cathodoluminescence petrography and electron microscopy facilities, a mass spectrometry lab, a Mössbauer lab, DCP and ion chromatography labs, X-ray diffraction facilities, and a variety of facilities at the NSLS.

Planetary Science
Graduate research opportunities are available in the field of planetary science, including planetary geochemistry and petrology, planetary spectroscopy, planetary geophysics and Astrobiology with current focus on Mars and the Earth’s moon. Several faculty and students have been actively involved in planetary missions, including Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Odyssey. Projects are available to evaluate geological, chemical, spectroscopic and geophysical data that have been returned from these and other missions. Planetary science research is also supported by an assortment of experimental and analytical facilities. A recently installed infrared spectroscopy laboratory supports experimental and analytical studies in emission and reflectance spectroscopy of Mars and lunar analog materials as well as investigations of the fundamental infrared spectral properties of a wide variety of minerals. High pressure—high temperature experimental laboratories (see details under Petrology and Mineral and Rock Physics) may be used for evaluating the origin and history of igneous rocks from terrestrial planets and rocky satellites. Low temperature and hydrothermal experimental laboratories are available for the study of Martian near-surface aqueous processes and for investigating issues related to Astrobiology. Experimental laboratories are also supported by a broad array of analytical facilities (see details under Crystal Chemistry and Crystallography, Geochemistry and Sedimentary Geology)

The non-thesis M.S. program with a concentration in hydrogeology is designed to give those with a B.S. degree in physical sciences a solid foundation of theoretical and practical graduate training emphasizing the physical and geochemical aspects of hydrogeology. Coursework and a final research project totaling 30 graduate credits are arranged to accommodate working professionals, with most courses taught in the evenings. This is a part-time degree program. A formal thesis is not required. Coursework includes groundwater hydrology, aqueous geochemistry, rock and soil physics, numerical hydrology, statistics and probability, and organic contaminant hydrology. Final research projects are arranged individually with faculty supervisors and are designed to give students experience in field, laboratory, or theoretical approaches.