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Research & Labs

Our Research

We have an active and exciting program in basin analysis and opportunities for nearby research in a variety of settings:

  • Triassic rift basins
  • Coastal Plain sediments of Cretaceous through Pleistocene age
  • Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of the Appalachians
  • The modern coastal environment.

Examples of recent projects include:

  • the study of factors controlling porosity and permeability
  • differentiation of eustasy from uplift/subsidence
  • ecology and evolution of shell-drilling naticid gastropod predators and their molluscan prey
  • Cretaceous through Miocene calcareous nanofossil biostratigraph
  • Sr isotope stratigraph
  • Seismic stratigraphic interpretation

Our faculty:

  • Patricia Kelley, Ph.D.
  • Todd LaMaskin, Ph.D.
  • Richard Laws, Ph.D.

Several Earth and Ocean Sciences faculty members are engaged in studies of climatology and paleoclimatology. Much of this research focuses on how climate contributes to environmental and societal change. Time scales of this research range from the Quaternary to the present. Major emphases and analytical techniques in this research group include:

  • Statistics and computer modeling
  • Hydroclimatology
  • Geochemistry
  • Stable isotope geochemistry
  • Paleolimnology
  • palynology
  • Geomorphology
  • Soils
  • Geoarcheaology.

Geography and Geology students are involved in local and international field projects including:

  • Assessment of sea-level rise along the Carolina coast
  • Monitoring precipitation in the Bahamas
  • Assessing variability of agricultural drought in Jamaica
  • Reconstructing Holocene precipitation variability and vegetation in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Other recent faculty projects have focused on:

  • Cave formation in the Bahamas
  • Prehistoric agriculture in the circum-Caribbean
  • Impacts of modern climate change on carbon cycling in boreal soils and streams of Newfoundland
  • Sea-level change and coastal geoarchaeology in Portugal
  • morphological evolution of Bald Head Island, NC
  • Floodplain deposition along the Cape Fear River, NC

Our Faculty

  • Michael Benedetti, Ph.D.
  • Doug Gamble, Ph.D.
  • Andrea Hawkes, Ph.D.
  • Chad Lane, Ph.D.

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The Laboratory for Applied Climate Research (LACR)Paleoenvironmental Change Research Group

The close proximity of UNCW (less than 10 miles) to coastal sounds, tidal creeks, estuaries, barrier islands, and the Atlantic Ocean makes coastal and estuarine processes research a natural focus for geological study. Current research projects include:

  • analysis of particulate and contaminant transport in tidal creeks
  • quantifying tidal hydrodynamics in inlets and creek systems
  • assessing the impact of hurricanes and nor'easters on local beaches and marshes

Another important research component addresses the evolution of coastal features (e.g. barrier islands, deltaic systems) and the response of these systems to anthropogenic and natural disturbances.

Our Faculty

  • Joanne Halls, Ph.D.
  • Andrea Hawkes, Ph.D.
  • Lynn Leonard, Ph.D.

Several faculty in the department have expertise in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and cartography asessential tools for the analysis and visualization of the inherently spatial information behind all geoscience disciplines. Examples of on-going research include:

  • Seabed classification and modelling of underwater habitats off the coast of Florida and SE North Carolina
  • Mapping of historic oyster reefs in the Cape Fear River
  • Modelling the temporal changes in marshes, investigating the community distributions of bottlenose dolphins
  • Lland use and land cover change in southern and eastern African savannas
  • Human-environment interactions research in lesser developing nations

In addition, faculty are using GIS to map shorelines and quantify erosion, accretion, and inlet migration. Faculty are also using this technology to create digital geological maps of many places throughout North Carolina. The department maintains well-equipped spatial analysis, cartography, and remote-sensing teaching/research labs.

Our Faculty

  • Eman Ghoneim, Ph.D.
  • Joanne Halls, Ph.D.
  • Elizabeth Hines, Ph.D.
  • Narcisa Pricope, Ph.D.

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Socio-Environmental Analysis Lab
Remote Sensing Research Laboratory

Several Earth and Ocean Sciences faculty members engage in studies related to the cultural landscape of the southeastern United States and places around the globe, as well as human-environment interactions across different biome and landscape types. Emphasis is placed on the geography of the "South" as it pertains to:

  • Cultural and ethnic heritage
  • The expression of culture through architecture
  • The history of race relations and the civil rights movement
  • Ethnic settlement patterns resulting in rural enclaves
  • Various urban issues.
Additionally, the study of human-environment interactions in the context of complex, transfrontier areas across southern and eastern Africa also contribute to our understanding of coupled natural-human systems.

Our Faculty:

  • Elizabeth Hines, Ph.D.
  • Narcisa Pricope, Ph.D.

Much of the research conducted by this group involves the use of deep-sea research vessels equipped to collect oceanographic and seafloor geodetic, geological, and geophysical data, such as:

  • CTDs
  • Multibeam bathymetry
  • Sidescan sonargraphs
  • Gravity
  • Magnetics
  • Cores
  • Single and multi-channel seismics

Examples of recent projects include:

  • Investigations of the morphology structure and tectonics of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, the East Pacific Rise, Southwest Indian Ridge and the Puerto Rico Trench
  • The tectonic, volcanic, sedimentary history, and paleoceanography of the Caribbean basin and Western Pacific
  • Cross-shelf sediment transport in the South Atlantic

Our Faculty:

  • Andrea Hawkes, Ph.D.
  • Richard Laws, Ph.D.
  • Lynn Leonard, Ph.D.
  • Scott Nooner, Ph.D.

Several Earth and Ocean Sciences faculty members are engaged in studies of the atmospheric, surface, and subsurface components of the hydrologic cycle. Major emphases in this research group include:

  • Groundwater hydrology of the Carolina Coastal Plain
  • Hydrology and geomorphology of the lower Cape Fear River
  • Karst hydrology of tropical islands in the Caribbean

Geography and Geology students are involved in local field projects monitoring groundwater wells near the UNCW campus, water and sediment sampling in creeks, and investigating the effects of sea level rise and dredging activities on salt marshes. Other recent faculty projects have focused on:

  • Stratigraphy and groundwater at the Savannah River Site, Georgia
  • Floodplain sedimentation rates along the Upper Mississippi River
  • Spatial variability of rainfall on San Salvador Island, Bahamas

Our Faculty:

  • Michael Benedetti, Ph.D.
  • Doug Gamble, Ph.D.
  • Lynn Leonard, Ph.D.
  • Peter Zamora, Ph.D.

The Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences has an active program in mineralogy, carbonate and clastic sedimentary petrology, igneous and metamorphic petrology and structural analysis. There are numerous opportunities for on-going field and laboratory research in both continental and marine settings that include but are not limited to:

  • The North American Precambrian shield
  • Appalachian and Codilleran orogenic belts from the Precambrian to Cenozoic.

Examples of current research projects include the study of:

  • Mineral resources
  • Mineral and whole-rock geochemistry as protolith and petrogenetic indicators in metamorphic and igneous rocks
  • Mineral assemblages as indicators of metamorphic conditions and P-T-t paths
  • Development of structures and rock fabrics as indicators of tectonic processes

Our Faculty

  • David Blake, Ph.D.
  • Todd LaMaskin, Ph.D.
  • Michael Smith, Ph.D.

Our Specialized Research Laboratories

The Basin Analysis Research Laboratory (BARL), led by Dr. Todd LaMaskin, is an applied learning research lab that uses a wide array of tools to address problems in sedimentation, stratigraphy, tectonics, and geologic time in a broad theme of understanding the evolution of sedimentary basins over time. Current research in the LaMaskin lab falls into two broad categories: (1) Using sedimentary provenance to understand the evolution of plate margins and continental sediment dispersal systems, and (2) Using stable isotope stratigraphy to establish a chronostratigraphic signature for the Late Triassic, Carnian-Norian Boundary interval. The lab maintains its primary workspace in the group-use Advanced Microscopy Laboratory, a 400 sq. ft facility housed in DeLoach Hall (RM 215). The Advanced Microscopy Laboratory is houses research-grade petrographic microscopes (Olympus BX-60 and Leica M165C with HD camera) and research-grade stereo microscopes (Leica DM2700P with attachable Leica DFC 450 camera and Leica DMEP). The lab also hosts a fume hood used for sodium polytungstate heavy mineral separation, a magnetic separator, light table, a sink and cabinets for storage. BARL researchers also routinely utilize workspace in the Clean Laboratory, the Geologic Materials Laboratory, Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS) Laboratory, and Spatial Analysis Laboratory.

The Crustal Dynamics and Geophysics Laboratory, led by Dr. Scott Nooner, makes available the following equipment:

Mac workstations and PC laptops with Matlab, COMSOL finite element software, ArcGIS, Adobe Illustrator, and LabView, Broadband Seismometer, pressure gauges (for seafloor geodesy), Solinst water level recorders and air pressure recorders, Deadweight tester (for pressure gauge calibration), Ground Penetrating Radar, GPS antennas and receivers, Starfish towed sidescan sonar and a Soldering workstation. For more information on this lab, please visit Dr. Nooner's webpage.

Located on the second floor of DeLoach Hall and Academic Support Building 107, the Geologic Materials Lab maintained by Dr. Dave Blake, is equipped with an impressive array of state-of-the-art saws, grinders, and microscopes such as: an 18" Contempo Lapidary slab saw, 10" Felker trim saw, 8" Hillquist SF-8 trim saw, Buehler 4" variable speed trim saw, Dayton Electronics variable speed 2-3" trim saw, Buehler Ecomet I polisher/grinder, Highland Park Vi-Bro-Lap, Redlands 16" horizontal lapping unit, Fisher Scientific solid state ultrasonic cleaner FS14, Fisher Scientific Drying Oven, Thermolyne extra-capacity hot plate, Hillquist cut-off saw and grinder, Hillquist cut-off saw and grinder (Deloach Hall), Hydraulic rock splitter, Sepor mini-jaw crusher, VD Chipmunk Crushe, UA V-Belt Pulverizer Disk Mill, SPEX 8510 ceramic puck shatterbox, Beuhler vacuum impregnation container and Buelher vacuum pump, Gast Roc-R vacuum pump and air compressor, Speedaire 1 HP 3 Gal air compressor, Binocular Olympus polarized microscope, Hillquist cut-off saw and grinder, and a Graves Mark IV Faceting Machine.

The director of the Invertebrate Paleontology Lab, Dr. Patricia Kelley, in collaboration with Thor Hansen (Western Washington University) has compiled a database on predation by shell-drilling naticid gastropods in the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain; collections now include >150,000 mollusc specimens of Cretaceous through Pleistocene age.Recent and current work in collaboration with graduate students includes: the ecological response of the Iceland molluscan fauna to the invasion of predatory gastropods during the Pliocene; taphonomy of an ophiuroid mass mortality bed in Mexico; geographic variation in drilling predation in Brazil and Argentina; relationship between drilling predation and prey diversity in the US Coastal Plain and Europe; conditions under which cannibalism by drilling predators occurs; metabolism and extinction susceptibility in Plio-Pleistocene bivalves; escalation, coevolution, and drilling predation on bivalves and gastropods; factors affecting durophagous predation in ammonites, bivalves, and gastropods; live-dead comparisons of molluscan assemblages as tools in conservation paleobiology; life span bias in the fossil record. Kelley also directed (with Greg Dietl, Paleontological Research Institution) a Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Biodiversity Conservation program investigating paleoecological changes in the Plio-Pleistocene of the Carolinas (based on collections amounting to >75,000 mollusc specimens) as an analog for the modern biodiversity crisis.

The Isotope Mass Spectrometer Lab, led by Dr. Chad Lane, is equipped with a Thermo Delta V Plus mass spectrometer. Four peripheral devices are currently interfaced with the Delta V Plus. The first is a Costech 4010 Elemental Analyzer with a zero-blank autosampler primarily used for the measurement of carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of solid organic materials (soils, sediments, feathers, eggshells, tissue, etc.). The second is a Thermo Finnigan Gasbench II system that can be used for the isotope analysis of carbonates (C and O), headspace (C, N, O, H), dissolved inorganic carbon (C, O), and water (O, H). The third is a Thermo 1310 gas chromatograph and interface for C,H, and N compound-specific isotopic analyses. The fourth is an Aurora 1030 TIC/TOC analyzer that can be used to analyze the stable carbon isotope composition of dissolved inorganic and organic carbon. The Isotope Mass Spectrometer Lab also houses an Thermo 1310 GC-MS/FID system for the identification and quantification of organic compounds, two high-precision microbalances, and a micromill.

LACR, directed by Dr. Doug Gamble, is equipped with-state-of-the-art meteorological field equipment and computing facilities. The equipment includes an Onset weather station, multiple tipping bucket rain gauges and data loggers, over 50 Onset temperature sensors and data loggers, sling psychrometers, infrared temperature guns, hand held anemometers, and stream discharge gages. To supplement data collected with this equipment, LACR also houses an extensive climate data library, including special collections of Caribbean climate data and tropical cave climate data. Computing resources associated with the laboratory including a Dell Precision 600 Workstation and software for statistical, meteorological, GIS, and remote sensing analysis.

This facility, directed by Dr. Ai Ning Loh, includes 520 sq. ft. of space dedicated to the study of fate and transport of naturally occurring organic matter in aquatic systems. The laboratory is housed at the Center for Marine Science (rm 2302) and is supervised by Dr. Ai Ning Loh. The lab is fully equipped for the extraction, purification and detection of solvent-extractable organic molecules, and for the analysis of dissolved and particulate C, N and P. In addition, the lab also includes equipment for sample collection (field pumps, vacuum pumps, peristaltic pumps, filter manifolds, benthic chambers) and sample preparation (balances, furnace, oven, shaker table, centrifuge, sonicator). Small field equipment such as a light meter, YSI, HOBO sensors, box corer, GPS, depth sounder and tools are also available. The lab has several -20°C freezers, one deep freezer (-80°C) and one temperature-controlled incubator.

The Paleoenvironmental Change Research Group laboratory, led by Dr. Chad Lane, is equipped with two large fume hoods, refrigerated storage, two convection ovens, a vacuum oven, two muffle furnaces, ultrasonic bath, benchtop and large sample centrifuges, a rotavap, and compound and dissecting microscopes. The laboratory also contains all of the necessary equipment for fossil pollen extraction, solid phase extraction of organic compounds, fossil charcoal analysis, macrofossil isolation, and stable isotope sample preparation.

The Remote Sensing Research Laboratory (RSRL), directed by Dr. Eman Ghoneim, is housed on the first floor of DeLoach Hall (RM 125A). This research lab is equipped with 6 workstations having an ESRI site license (ArcGIS-Arc 10.3.1), ENVI (5.2) capabilities and a B&W laser printer. Yvonne Marsan, the departmental lab technician, helps maintain the equipment in this space.

The Sea Level Research Lab, led by Dr. Andrea Hawkes, is dedicated to studying short- (storms, tsunamis, earthquakes) and long-term (glacial isotatic adjustment) changes in sea level. The lab includes 3 research-grade (two Leica and one Olympus) binocular microscopes, one with high-resolution HD digital imaging capabilities. The lab also includes microfossil and sediment analysis preparation equipment (sieves, slides, chemicals, beakers, wet and dry splitters, etc) and small field equipment such as a laser total station, YSI, HOBO pressure sensors, Ekman grab sampler, samples bags and vials, GPS and depth sounders, and tools. An exterior cold storage facility (250 sq. ft) is located behind CMS. Large field equipment is stored in an exterior dry storage unit behind CMS and includes russian, gouge and vibracores, rods, vibrating motor, hoses, tripods, and core sleeves.

The Socio-Environmental Analysis Lab (SEAL), led by Dr. Narcisa Pricope, is an interdisciplinary applied learning lab that uses geospatial modeling and remote sensing to understand the interconnections between human population dynamics, land use and land cover changes, and climatic variability at different geographic scales. The focus is on environmental variability and the vulnerability of populations to natural and anthropogenically-induced changes. Much of our work is concentrated in the drylands and savannas of eastern and southern Africa, as well as other developing countries, and stresses collaborations with diverse stakeholders to influence natural resources policy. The lab is equipped with several workstations, research-grade tablets, various GPS devices (including a Trimble GeoExplorer and Trimble Juno), specialized software licenses including eCognition, IDRISI Selva, and TerraSync, as well as high-definition cameras and camcorder to adequately capture socio-environmental aspects of our fieldwork.

This facility, supervised by Dr. Michael Benedetti, includes 2 rooms on the second floor of DeLoach Hall that serve multiple purposes, including faculty and graduate student research, undergraduate research and independent study, applied learning projects, and lab-based teaching in geology, geography, and oceanography. The laboratory is well-equipped for physical and chemical analysis of sediments and soils. Equipment includes a distilled water supply, three fume hoods, drying ovens, muffle furnace, vacuum pump, sonicating bath, centrifuge, and a variety of reagents and glassware used for wet chemistry. Common procedures include particle size by sieve stack, sonic sifter, and hydrometer methods; organic matter and carbonate content by loss on ignition or wet chemical methods; and determinations of moisture content, porosity, hydraulic conductivity, and bulk density.
The Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL), directed by Dr. Joanne N. Halls, was opened in January 2000 and is located in room 1004 in Osprey Hall. We have workstations with an ESRI site license (ArcGIS 10.3.1 plus extensions) and ENVI (5.2) image processing software. Peripherals include a, scanner, large format plotter and HP high-res color printer. The Dept of Geography and Geology also has two Trimble RTK survey grade GPS receivers and 10 Trimble JUNO mapping grade GPS receivers.
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