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ODU Researchers Have a Lot to Report at Geology Meeting

Scientists from Old Dominion University presented important discoveries - including novel applications of Google Earth - at the 2011 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minn., earlier this month.

"The research presented at the GSA meeting reflects the broad range of geology and geochemical expertise we have at Old Dominion and the innovative work that our faculty and their students are doing," said Rodger Harvey, chair of ODU's Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and himself an organic geochemist.

Here are the six ODU presentations at the conference, which reported an attendance of 6,000.

• Declan De Paor, ODU associate professor of physics, presented "Modeling Earth's Crust, Mantle and Core with Google Mars and Google Moon." Geophysicist De Paor has come up with an inventive way to use masked versions of Google Mars and Google Moon (which are part of the Google Earth application) to represent the Earth's outer core and inner core, respectively. This makes the geological modeler's job of visualizing the crust and mantle much easier. De Paor authored this new paper with graduate students Mladen Dordevic and Steven Wild.

• Dordevic was first author, together with De Paor and Wild, of a digital poster titled "A Geological Mapping Game in Google Earth." The researchers have used the Google Earth web browser plug-in to create a learning experience in which students explore the terrain in a virtual field vehicle "stopping to study the landscape, collect rocks and collaborate with other students on the construction of a geological map." The mapping exercise was demonstrated in real time at a digital poster session using the onshore and offshore geology of Puerto Rico.

• Richard Whittecar, ODU associate professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, presented a new model designed to help wildlife habitat managers, wetland design professionals and regulators better predict the availability of groundwater supply for discharge into wetlands. Whittecar authored "Estimate Historic Groundwater Fluctuations in Wetlands with Effective Monthly Recharge (WEM) Model" together with his students John McLeod and Tracy Thornton. Analysis of 25 years of southeastern Virginia weather data together with daily head data from a U.S. Geological Service well in Suffolk allowed the researchers to test and validate their model.

• McLeod was first author, together with Whittecar and graduate student Kerby Dobbs, of "Analysis of Geologic Settings and Hydrologic Conditions that Affect Restored Pitcher Plant Bog Habitat, Sussex County, Virginia." Results of the research suggest that forest fire suppression and the loblolly pine woodlands that thrive because of the suppression are not good for pitcher plant bogs. Long-leaf pine savanna ecosystems, managed with annual prescribed burning, withdraw less groundwater than loblolly pine woodlands, effectively increasing the volume of water available to supply the pitcher plant bog, the researchers write. This study will provide resource managers with information critical for restoring rare wetland habitats.

• David Burdige, ODU Eminent Scholar and professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, presented with colleagues from four other universities their work on a model to help explain the role peat bogs play in greenhouse gas production and global warming. "Linking Dissolved Organic Carbon Dynamics with Terminal Remineralization Processes in Peatlands" was the topic of the presentation. Peat bogs are carbon sinks and lock up huge quantities of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. But research has shown that as the earth warms the carbon budget of peat bogs is being affected, with carbon and methane (both greenhouse gases) being released in greater quantities than normal. The new model more fully explains all phases of the decomposition of peat carbon.

• Nora Noffke, the ODU geobiologist who has won international recognition for research establishing microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) as evidence of the earliest life on Earth, reported new evidence from her global expeditions that life existed on Earth more than 3 billion years ago. The new paper was co-authored by ODU graduate student Daniel Christian, as well as Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. Noffke is an associate professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences at ODU and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Institution.

This article was posted on: November 1, 2011

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