Focused areas of research

The Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering research is breaking new ground each semester of every year, and as always, is a continuing resource of regional and national geological information.

To view and filter faculty by the following focused areas of research, visit the Department faculty page.

  • Earth and planetary surface processes

    Work in this area encompasses a wide range of topics that involve water, landscape, environment and climate, their interactions and evolution. Selected examples of currently funded research include: paleoclimate studies using sediment and micropaleontology proxies, environmental systems monitoring with distributed temperature sensing, Mars exploration and polar/climate processes, climate and environmental shifts as recorded in stable isotopes, abandoned mine land remediation and monitoring, and the influence of faulting and other tectonic processes on mountain geomorphology and sedimentary basins.

    See also the interdisciplinary graduate program in Hydrological Sciences

  • Earthquakes and seismology

    Faculty work on seismic hazards, neotectonics, and tomographic imaging of Earth’s plate boundaries and other crust and mantle processes. We are interested in recent motions of the Earth’s crust, characterization of subsurface structures and surface fault expressions, and the physics of strong ground motion. The Nevada Seismological Lab maintains a regional seismic monitoring network that investigates the size, frequency, and distribution of earthquakes and promotes earthquake preparedness in the state. 

  • Geodynamics

    Research in this area encompasses tectonics, metamorphic geochemistry, structural geology, and geodesy. Our faculty pursue fundamental research on mantle/lithosphere dynamics and metamorphism, tectonic deformation and recent history of Sierra Nevada and other orogenic systems worldwide. We are interested in the thermal and compositional changes associated with plate margin processes and we also have a strong focus on evolution and deformation in the Walker Lane and across the Basin and Range. The Nevada Geodetic Laboratory (NGL) conducts research in the field of space geodesy to study scientific problems that have both regional and global significance. They use Global Positioning System (GPS) to study tectonic activity across Nevada and to study global patterns in surface mass loading and global-scale plate tectonic problems.

  • Geological engineering

    Faculty work in areas that are related to the potential for natural and man-made hazards as well as the interaction of human-built infrastructure with earth materials. Specific projects include modern computational methods for debris flow modeling and glacial lake outburst hazard prediction, stability and rock mechanical properties in underground mines and other civil infrastructure, and hydrologic flow and conductivity of materials in municipal solid waste systems.

  • Hydrology and hydrogeology

    Faculty work in areas of contaminant transport, numerical modeling, geomorphology, surface hydrology, hydrogeology, GIS and spatial analysis, paleohydrology and climate change.

  • Mineral and energy resources

    The Mackay School has a long history in the study and understanding of both ore deposits and geothermal energy systems. In the Center for Research in Economic Geology applied research focuses on geochemistry and alteration caused by fluids in hydrothermal systems that lead to the genesis of mineral deposits their discovery and production. The Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy explores the surface expression of and structural controls on geothermal systems in Nevada and similar extensional tectonic settings worldwide, and development and expansion of both traditional geothermal resources and engineered geothermal systems.

  • Volcanology, geochemistry & petrology

    Faculty pursue multi-disciplinary approaches to understanding magmatic systems including geochemistry, igneous petrology, numerical modeling, and fieldwork. Research encompasses applications of isotope geochemistry, the relationship between volcanism and ore deposits, petrology, magma evolution at depth, recent volcanism, eruptive volcanic histories, and geologic mapping. We also work on the stability of volcanic edifices and hydrothermal alteration of volcanic materials.

Department labs and analytical facilities

See how Department research is put to work in our labs and explore facilities and equipment available to faculty and students.

Taking research beyond the lab

Research in the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering research happens all over the state, world and galaxy! Explore how the Department is leading in geological sciences research below.

Reflecting on 15 years working on Mars

When the mission for the Mars rover Opportunity was declared complete, after 15 years rolling around the dusty planet surface examining rocks, soil, craters and dunes, science team member Wendy Calvin was a little sad, but said the rover "had a good long life."

Wendy Calvin is the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering Chair and professor. Her experience as a member of the Mars Rover science team is passed down to students and shared with other faculty.

Geophysics at Fly Ranch

The Department's applied geophysics graduate class spent spring break doing remote sensing field work out at Fly Ranch in Gerlach, Nevada. They tested out using the drone to create incredibly high-resolution models of the landscape.