Student Research

Pitt-Johnstown Energy and Earth Resources 

Surface Process Research

In addition to his sedimentology research, Dr. Chris Coughenour has an ongoing research project exploring the geomorphology and edaphology (soil-plant relationships) of soils in western Pennsylvania. 

petrologyThis effort has been part of the SPUR Biodiversity initiative funded by the Alice Waters Thomas Fund. During the past two summers, four students were involved in the research, and additional students have joined the project for directed research credit. 

One of the primary goals of the project is to explore the relationships between invasive plant growth and soil properties near forest edges.  There have been few published studies addressing this topic.  

With the assistance of Dr. Bruce Robart (Biology), the student researchers identified and mapped the presence of invasive shrubs at 6 forest edge locations on campus (nearly 600 invasives were identified and measured at these locations).  More than 50 soil samples were collected for analysis of physical properties such as bulk density, porosity, horizon depths, and soil moisture. Working with Dr. Coughenour on the statistical analysis of the data, it was shown that invasive shrub densities varied significantly between the six sites and that soil B horizon depth and soil water potential appeared to be important controls on invasive shrub presence, although more research is needed to confirm this and to explore the potential importance in terms of noxious weed control.

Two students, Tyler Norris and Rachel Shanley, will present their work at the Geological Society of America national meeting in Baltimore, MD in November, 2015. 

Petrology Research earth-resources

Dr. Kerrigan’s current research is focused on the geochemistry of altered rocks found in complexly deformed mountain belts.

Recently Dr. Kerrigan and collaborators (including Pitt-Johnstown undergraduates) have focused on rocks found in the Piedmont Province of Appalachian Mountain Belt outside of Philadelphia.

The Piedmont Province has a complex history of multiple tectonic collisions spanning back over a billion years ago.

A particular suite of enigmatic rocks known as ultramafic (high magnesia, low silica) have eluded proper characterization and geologists have only speculated on their origins and tectonic/alteration history. 

To address these questions Dr. Kerrigan and Energy and Earth Resources undergraduate student, Kris Miller spent several weeks in the summer of 2015 geologic mapping and sample collecting at a field site outside of Philadelphia which possesses these ultramafic rocks.

Upon return to Pitt-Johnstown, facilities within the Department of Energy and Earth Resources have been utilized to process samples and conduct detailed petrologic, geochemical, and structural analyses.

Results of this studies are anticipated to be presented at scientific meetings convening in the spring of 2016. Understanding the history of these rocks is imperative to fully understanding the geologic history of the Appalachian Mountain Belt.

surface process