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Major Research Themes & Programs

Visit our department directory for all faculty contact details. 


Geological Engineering and Geological Hazards

Geological engineering integrates the disciplines of geology and engineering. Geological Engineers possess the ability and skills to identify and solve problems that enable them to perform robust design of structures on soil and rock, characterize and manage water and/or mineral and energy resources, to ensure efficient and safe construction at a site, and to assess and develop mitigation strategies against geologic hazards. 

Academic Faculty:Jeffery Moore, Kip Solomon, William Johnson, Paul Jewell, and Fan-Chi Lin.


Experimental Geophysics and Geochemistry

Faculty at the U carry out a wide variety of  studies to better understand what controls the physical and chemical properties of rocks and how these relate to field and geophysical observations. 

Academic Faculty: Sarah Lambart, Lowell Miyagi, Peter Lippert, and Juan Carlos de Obeso.


Petrology and High Temperature Geochemistry

Researchers at the U use Petrology & HT Geochemistry to understand fundamental differentiation mechanisms on Earth such as redox processes, mantle reservoir evolution, magma genesis, and fluid-rock interactions. Research employs novel isotopic systems, in-situ element analysis, as well as experimental techniques and thermodynamic modelling. Applications cover a broad array of topics and timeframes, from early Earth evolution during the Archean to CO2storage and hydrogen extraction today. 

Academic Faculty: Juan Carlos de Obeso, Sarah Lambart, and Chad Ostrander.

Emeritus Faculty: John Bowman and Barb Nash.


Solid Earth and Tectonic Process

The processes that govern the formation and deformation of Earth's crust are investigated through field studies, geodesy, seismic data, paleomagnetism, physical and numerical modeling, petrology and geochronology. Research topics include the formation and evolution of oceanic and continental lithosphere, crust and plate reconstructions, basin formation, continental rifting and faulting dynamics.

Academic Faculty: Sarah Lambart, Juan Carlos de Obeso, Peter Lippert, and Tonie van Dam.

Emeritus Faculty: John Bartley


Surface and Hydrologic Processes

Surface and hydrologic process research at the U uses advanced field and lab techniques to investigate everything from watersheds and aquifers to source-to-sink sediment transport and land surface dynamics. Our research focuses on investigating a wide spectrum of topics in groundwater hydrology, isotope hydrology, bioremediation of groundwater, surface water dynamics, and environmental engineering.

Academic Faculty:Brenda Bowen, Gabe Bowen, Thure Cerling, Randall Irmis, William Johnson, Paul Jewell, Jeffery Moore, and Kip Solomon.


Isotopic Geochemistry and Biogeochemistry

Biogeochemistry research seeks to understand and predict chemical processes that connect Earth’s environmental and biological systems. Research at the U is expansive and on the cutting edge of technology.  Our work includes the use of isotopes to study the diets, behavior and evolution of modern and ancient animals, including humans and human ancestors. We use isotope and elemental chemistry to study how carbon and nutrients are cycled through vegetation, soils, watersheds, and oceans today and in the geologic past, with implications for future change on our planet. Our geochemistry researchers also explore processes in Earth’s surface and crust that mobilize and concentrate elements, recording the inner workings of systems ranging from volcanoes to freshwater aquifers and improving predictions of the occurrence of minerals that are critical to the green economy. 

Academic Faculty:Gabe Bowen, Lauren Birgenheier, Paul Brooks, Thure Cerling, Juan Carlos de Obeso, Randall Irmis, Paul Jewell, William Johnson, Sarah Lambart, Chad Ostrander, and Kip Solomon.



Paleoclimatology research at the U focuses on developing various proxy records to reconstruct past climatological and environmental conditions.  Applying isotopic, geochemical, and sedimentological proxy data to identify and understand paleoclimatological, paleohydrological, and paleoecological change. An overarching theme of our research is improving models for the interpretation of climate proxy data of climate to improve future climate projections. 

Academic Faculty: Lauren Birgenheier, Brenda Bowen, Gabe Bowen, Randall Irmis, Paul Jewell, Chad Ostrander, and Thure Cerling.


Energy Geosciences

The faculty at the U are internationally recognized for their work in energy resources, broadly.  Focus ranges from hydrocarbon energy research to energy solutions for a net zero carbon future, such as carbon storage, critical mineral development and geothermal energy.  Researchers are undertaking studies that range from subsurface basin analysis, reservoir characterization, mineralogy and petrology experiments and modeling, and fluid flow dynamics.  Environmental effects of resource extraction on water and land use are also investigated.

Academic Faculty: Lauren Birgenheier, Cari Johnson, and Juan Carlos de Obeso.

Research Faculty: Kris Pankow


Seismology, Geophysics, and Tectonophysics

Seismology & Geophysics research covers strong motion seismology, seismic sources, local and regional site characteristics, local wave amplification, seismic wave propagation modeling, seismic tomography and the relatively new method of seismic interferometry.  Research is also being conducted on gravity, magnetic, and electromagnetic modeling and inversion methods for accurate and efficient geophysical data analysis in regions with complex structure.  For more information on research topics within the geophysics department please contact the faculty listed below.

Academic Faculty:Fan-Chi Lin, Keith Koper,Lowell Miyagi, Peter Lippert, Michael Thorne, Tonie van Dam, and Michael Zhdanov.



Geodesy is the science of measuring the shape, gravity field, and the rotation of the Earth and the changes in those parameters over time. Tools include GNSS, Lidar, InSAR, gravity (terrestrial, and satellite), tilt and strain meters, Very Long Baseline Interferometry, Satellite laser ranging, satellite altimetry, etc.. Geodesists use these tools to investigate tectonic, seismic, volcanic, and surface processes and annual and long-term redistributions of ice, ocean, and freshwater mass due to climate warming.

Academic Faculty:Tonie van Dam, and Jeffery Moore.

Research Faculty: Scott Miller


Paleobiology and Evolution

Paleobiology & Evolution research at the U covers a wide range of times and organisms. The paleobiology faculty at the U works in close collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Utah. Our research has focused heavily on the Mesozoic vertebrate paleontology of Utah over the last ten years and researchers from the U were a part of a team that discovered a new species of horned dinosaur in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, Nasutoceratops titusi. For more information on the fascinating studies that are being undertaken at the U please refer to the faculty listed below.  We also research marine paleo-ecology throughout time, with emphasis on animal-animal interactions (ammonite functional morphology) and animal-environment interactions (trace fossils; biomineralization regimes).

Faculty:Randall Irmis and Kathleen Ritterbush


Last Updated: 6/27/24