25 Jan 2013 | Geology |

Have a geology question? I’ll do my best to answer, and I’ll post it on my blog under Ask a Geologist if you’re willing. Just check the contact tab if you’re not sure how to get a hold of me.


Masters Thesis: Sedimentary and climatic response to the Second Eocene Thermal Maximum in the McCullough Peaks Area, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, U.S.A. (Done with open publishing: free to read)

Bighorn Basin Coring Project 
BBCP on Facebook
BBCP at the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program
My blog posts about BBCP

I completed my thesis research under the greater umbrella of the Bighorn Basin Coring Project. BBCP is interested in hyperthermals – geologically short-term (~200kyr) climactic warming events caused by the rapid input of isotopically light carbon from terrestrial reservoirs. (Though the exact reservoir is still up for debate, destabilization of methane clathrates seem the most likely as of right now – see McInerney and Wing (2011) for a more thorough discussion.) In addition to warming the climate, the input of carbon into the atmosphere also had other effects – it caused the carbonate lysocline to shoal in the oceans, which made life very difficult for carbonate-precipitating organisms and caused extinctions among benthic forams (e.g.: Alegret et al., 2009), and also seems to have made all of the mammals become tiny and cute, though we’re not quite sure why that is as of yet. (e.g.: Secord et al., 2012), among other effects still being studied. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum is the most well-studied of these events and was also the greatest in magnitude. The hyperthermal of interest to me is ETM2, which was about half the magnitude of the PETM. I’m using cores drilled at Gilmore Hill in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA, to study climate patterns through the time period leading up to ETM2. The cores come from the Willwood Formation, which is primarily made of meandering river sandstones and overbank deposits, which later developed into soils. The soils “fossilized” into paleosols, which I am in the process of describing and analyzing.

So why do we care about hyperthermals? Well, in the big picture sense, it’s part of the greater history of our planet, and understanding climate controls and forcings is generally valuable; geology is all about connecting the present Earth with the Earth of the past. But perhaps what makes research into the PETM and similar events particularly relevant is that they represent a natural occurrence of global warming caused by atmospheric input of isotopically light carbon. And atmospheric input of light carbon is what humanity is currently doing at a breathtaking rate, one which exceeds the “rapid” input seen during the PETM. Studying the effect of that sort of climate shift on one continental site is one more small piece of the puzzle.

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum: a Perturbation of Carbon Cycle, Climate, and Biosphere with Implications for the Future (McInerney and Wing, 2011) – This is an excellent overview paper of current PETM research if you want to know more!

Terrestrial carbon isotope excursions and biotic change during Palaeogene hyperthermals (Abels et al., 2012) – A paper regarding the appearance of the ETM2 and H2 hyperthermals at two sites in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA. The Gilmore Hill section is about 1km from the Gilmore Hill site my cores come from, and I’m working on ETM2 and the climate leading up to it.

Clarion Blog Spec Tech Articles 
Making Mountains
The Whole Tuff
Learning the Drill
The Lost City of the Deep

5 thoughts on “Geology

  1. Reply Mike Dunne Jul 19,2013 20:59

    Interesting; my brother is a Geologist, although he’s been in ‘administration’ for many years now (University of Tennessee).

  2. Reply pdtillman Apr 8,2015 23:54

    Cool stuff, thanks. I should learn more about the PETM….

    Went to field camp back in the Pleistocene at YBRA in Red Lodge. I’m another geologist who likes SF. Now I’ll go read some of yours.

    Cheers — Pete Tillman

  3. Pingback: Announcing Thrawn and On and On » Bookworm Blues

  4. Reply Liz Mar 21,2017 11:51

    My best friend got her MS in Geology in 2013; I have no idea what she’s talking about, but she feeds my love for disaster movies with “OH MY GOD SO WRONG” commentary.

    Also: thanks for being awesome. I started reading your fic in middle school, and I still re-read AA occasionally. I’m actually creating an archive of my favorite old GW fics so they don’t disappear off the internet (sort of became a thing after ten of them went poof, and no Google-fu could find them), and also creating .mobi versions (crazy 21st Century). I’m still working out a form letter for requests (the lawyer in me does that), but I’d love to host AA &co. If you have any positive (or negative) feelings about this, let me know? pyrrhical[at]gmail[dot]com (Also you should totally make a page for yourself at – all of the old GW authors are pretty much nonexistent, which is damn depressing.)

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