History of the Department

1981 to present date
The Northern Temperate Lakes–Long Term Ecological Research project (LTER), which involves six UW departments, has been funded by the National Science Foundation since 1981. The Wisconsin site was one of the first six sites funded for study in the LTER program, which now comprises over 20 sites within the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Antarctica, each representing a different ecological setting. The interdisciplinary Wisconsin group focuses on an integrated suite of lakes in Vilas and Dane counties. From the department, Carl Bowser and Mary Anderson have contributed expertise in ground water geochemistry and hydrogeology. All of the LTER chemical water analyses have been accomplished in the department’s geochemistry laboratory under Bowser’s supervision. The lab has derived much of its instrumental and personnel support from the program since 1981.

1982-84
The Paleontology faculty grew with the appointment of Jennifer Kitchell, whose interests emphasized the study of organic evolution through evidence from the fossil record. She created a new course, Evolution and Extinction, which is an introduction to paleobiology. In 1984, Kitchell moved to the University of Michigan, and in 1986 was awarded the Schuchert Medal by the Paleontological Society.

1983
Stable isotopes–The appointment of John Valley brought a new dimension to the department through his establishment of a world class stable isotope laboratory. Not only has this laboratory enhanced his own interest in the metamorphic evolution of the crust, but also studies of diagenesis, paleoecology, economic geology, igneous petrology, and anthropology. In the 1980s, Valley was able to disprove the hypothesis of T. Gold that unlimited supplies of methane rise from the mantle by showing that the isotopes of carbon and oxygen from carbonate minerals in veins from a deep core hole in Sweden could not be from the mantle. He also conducted detailed studies of fluid conditions in orogenic belts.  In the 1990s, his development of new microanalytical techniques have permitted advances in understanding basalt genesis, kinetics of mineral reactions, and meteorites.

Strombus gigas, detail
Strombus gigas, detail

1986
Paleobiology–Dana H. Geary was appointed in the new specialty of paleobiology. She has focussed upon evolutionary diversification as influenced by environmental change using stable isotopes in molluscan and foraminiferal skeletons (with Valley) as clues for understanding such effects as the formation of the Panamanian isthmus and changes in salinity of the Pannonian Lake in Hungary. With Byers, she presents the very popular introductory course, Evolution and Extinction.

fossil
Calymene celebra

1986-91
David L. Clark was appointed for a five year term as Associate Dean for Natural Sciences in the College of Letters and Science. This position provides liaison for all natural science departments within the college.

1987
Hydrogeology–Jean Bahr joined Mary Anderson as a second professor of hydrogeology. She brought expertise in contaminant transport by ground water using field tracer monitoring. Bahr also has applied her interests to the paleohydrology of mineralizing fluids, anomalous gas pressures, and the coupled flow of heat and fluids beneath ocean ridges.

1987
A major in geological engineering was established, which has involved several of our faculty members and has brought numbers of the engineering students into the department’s basic courses. Besides structural geologist Michele Cooke, who held a joint appointment in both Engineering and Geology (1996-98), Professors Anderson, Bahr, Mickelson, and Wang have participated in this interdisciplinary program.

Radiogen Lab
Radiogenic Isotope Lab in 1997

1987
Radiogenic isotopes–The appointment of Clark M. Johnson prompted the development of a state-of-the-art radiogenic isotope laboratory. Isotopic analyses of such radiogenic elements as uranium, lead, samarium, and neodymium, serves not only the geochronologic study of orogenic terranes and the identification of sedimentary provenance, but also Johnson’s main interest in the evolution of crust and mantle. He developed oceanographic and anthropologic applications. In 1997-98 the lab pioneered methods for the investigation of iron isotopes as keys to past biotic fractionation, which will have important applications in the search for influences of Precambrian life.

1989
Seismology–Clifford Thurber brought new approaches to seismology. He uses 3-D seismic imaging (tomography) to investigate faults and volcanoes, and satellite sensing for seismic verification of nuclear explosions. Having discovered a correlation between a rapid increase of aseismic slip or creep prior to earthquakes on the San Andreas fault, he successfully predicted several small earthquakes in 1996.

1989
Carbonate sedimentology–J. Antonio Simo succeeded to the carbonate sedimentology position, which was created by L.C. Pray 20 years earlier (Simo came first to the department as a Fullbright post-doctoral scholar in 1987).

scuba divers
Research in Florida

He specialized in the evolution of carbonate platforms, sequence stratigraphy in sedimentary basins, and the diagenesis of sedimentary successions. He collaborated in linking the details of sedimentology and stratigraphy with hydrogeology. His European training and contacts  brought a new cosmopolitan dimension to the department.

1989-92
The Gas Research Institute funded a three year, $1.2 million contract for a study of pressure compartments within a deep Ordovician gas reservoir in the Michigan basin (St. Peter and Glenwood formations). Faculty members Jean Bahr, Phil Brown, Charles Byers, Robert Dott, Clark Johnson, Toni Simo, John Valley, and Herb Wang, post-doctoral scientists Greg Nadon and Bernard Coakley, and six graduate students collaborated in the research. The investigation showed that both the original depositional facies and diagenesis of the formations were very different in the basin than where they are now exposed on the Wisconsin dome. Although the diagenesis produced complex seals and compartmentation within the gas reservoir; the overpressures may simply be the result of delayed re-equilibration, since deglaciation and the resulting isostatic rebound of Michigan.

1990
Mineralogy–The appointment of Jillian Banfield brought mineralogy research to a new level of refinement with the application of high resolution transmission electron microscopy, the logical advance beyond the X-ray techniques introduced 40 years before by S.W. Bailey. Banfield is pioneering the investigation of the role of micro-organisms in reactions with minerals and fluids. She established a close working relationship with the Department of Materials Science in the College of Engineering. She also pioneered by developing an on-line version of the popular Gems and Precious Stones course, which she taught from Japan while she was on leave there (1996-98).

1990
High temperature geochemistry was added to the department’s programs with the appointment of Lukas P. Baumgartner. His research concerns both the chemistry of high temperature magmatic fluids and fluid-rock interactions in contact metamorphic aureoles. He adapted the stochastic permeability modeling pioneered in hydrology to the study of contact metamorphic hydrothermal systems. In 1998, Baumgartner accepted a distinguished professorship at Mainz, Germany.

GPS in Western Mexico
GPS in Western Mexico

1991
Global geophysics–With the appointment of D. Charles DeMets, the department gained new expertise in global tectonics. His research provides a new level of refinement of global lithosphere plate kinematics using both field and modeling approaches. He also studies elastic behavior in earthquake zones using continuous GPS monitoring.

Bacterium and feldspar
Bacterium and feldspar

1991
Geomicrobiology–Associate Scientist William Barker joined Jillian Banfield’s program in the rapidly developing new field of geomicrobiology. He brought expertise in electron microscopy of the mineral-microbe interface. In 1998, Barker was appointed director of the campus-wide Electron Microscopy Laboratory.