Examples of past undergraduate research - Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences - Purdue University

Examples of past undergraduate research

Tornado Super Outbreak 

Adam Simkowski

The focus of Adam's junior year research was the Tornado Super Outbreak of April 3-4 1974.  Professor Mike Baldwin and Adam retrieved the event’s model data from NCEP and ran it through the Purdue WRF model. The purpose of the research was to determine all the different dynamical forcing responsible for the large tornadogenesis that occurred. With access to past research (by Agee, Church, and Morris) completed at Purdue in late 1974 and numerous other data sets with records of the event, he was able to reconstruct and properly analyze the events of April 3-4, 1974. Using the WRF run as the main tool, he evaluated the WRF run comparing it to data recorded that day and found the WRF model preformed quite well and learned about many different dynamical and instability forcing factors in the process.

Glacial Erosion in Model Fold-and-Thrust Belts

Zach Umperovitch

Zach am currently working on a project to create scaled topography in an analog modeling apparatus ("sandbox") to better understand how glaciers play a role in determining the location and intensity of deformation in developing thin-skinned fold-and-thrust belts. The specific region being modeled is the St. Elias orogen in Alaska where the Pacific Plate obliquely subducts under the North American Plate, accretes material on the overriding plate and forms a doubly-vergent wedge. 

(Prof. Saad Haq, Research Advisor)

Summer Field Assistant - Alaska Range, Alaska

Mark Keys

Mark worked on a research project involving geologic mapping and sedimentologic analysis of Late Cretaceous deposits in the highly deformed Cantwell Basin, Alaska. The Cantwell Basin contains the record of the early uplift history of the Alaska Range and subsequent strike-slip displacement along the Denali fault system. Displacement along the Denali fault system is responsible for the highest mountain ranges in North America, and Mark spent most of his time working around the base of Mount McKinley.

E. coli sources, Lake Shafer, Indiana

Lauren Paterson

Lauren spent a year assisting an MS student working on a USDA-funded project in which stream sampling was used to locate probable sources of E. coli in the Lake Shafer watershed, White County, IN. E. coli levels well above safe limits for full body contact have been found repeatedly in this popular recreational lake. She played a critical role in surveying ditches, taking discharge measurements, collecting water samples, and data analysis. This year, working on another part of the project, she is creating lesson plans, a powerpoint presentation, and hands-on projects about E. coli for middle school students in the Lake Shafer watershed area. The goal of Lauren's current work is to get teachers and students interested and involved in local environmental issues, such as the E. coli problem, as a way to motivate student interest in learning science.

Flow of the Arolla Glacier, Switzerland

Marie Minner

With funding from a National Science Foundation "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" grant, Marie traveled to Switzerland to take part  in field work on the Arolla Glacier.  Working as part of an international research team which included faculty and students from Purdue, Marie was involved in drilling boreholes through the glacier and performing a range of experiments to determine the mechanics of ice flow.  In addition to several weeks of field work, Marie was involved in data analysis during the academic year, and has been involved in producing a tape showing highlights of an experiment in which a mini video camera was lowered down several boreholes to examine the structure of ice within the glacier.

Vorticity in an Explosively Deepening Cyclone

Richard Knabb

The relationship of isobarically-calculated potential vorticity (PV) and absolute vorticity (AV) to an explosively-deepening extratropical cyclone was the subject of Rick's B.S. Honors thesis. Rick documented the similar relationship of the cyclone to the upper tropospheric maxima in both the PV and AV fields, with the cyclone propagating counter-clockwise relative to the two maxima. The added complexity of the PV field helped identify a distinct tropopause fold that occurred prior to cyclone development.

Rick's thesis was awarded first place in the American Meteorological Society's MacElwane Award competition, which annually recognizes the best paper written by an undergraduate student. The work was then presented in a paper co-authored by his advisor, Dr. Phillip Smith, at the First International Winter Storm Symposium.

Diamonds in California

Judith Coffman

Diamonds have been found in the Sacramento area of California; their source, however, is not known. With funding from the US Bureau of Mines, Judith is using indicator minerals found in association with diamonds to construct paleo-drainage patterns for the area. This should provide an indication of the source area for the diamonds. Judith's analysis of samples brought back from California has included heavy mineral separations and chemical analyses using an electron microprobe.

Visualization of Climate

Richard Jones

The overwhelming amount of data produced by global climate models is usually displayed in "flat" contoured maps, which fail to convey the actual climate. In our department, we have conducted several projects that model the climate expected from increased carbon dioxide levels or the past climate predicted for different periods of geological history. The main problem is visualizing these predicted climate changes in a easily-understandable form.

Richard has applied advanced computer graphics, originally developed for special effects in movies and for engineering problems, to display the climate models on a globe of the Earth (with seas, mountains, etc.), with translucent overlays of different climate parameters (temperature, winds, differences from present climate, etc.)  On these high-resolution computer graphics, we can interactively rotate the globe and focus on regions of importance. Richard's system will be linked directly into the output from a super-computer which runs the climate models, thus enabling immediate "real time" examination of the climate when different parameters are altered. His research is supported by IBM as part of Purdue's Climate-Water Modeling Program.

Drainage of the Celery Bog, Indiana

Wes Hawthorne

Starting as a freshman, Wes has been involved in research on the Celery Bog which is located on the edge of West Lafayette, Indiana.  The bog was drained in the early 1900's, but since the 1970's has reverted back to a wetland.  Wes has been using dyes to examine flow connections in the remaining portions of the old tile drainage system, and has taken water samples to look at chemical changes in water flowing out of the bog.  This work is providing important background information for the City of West Lafayette which has established the Celery Bog as a park, and  is planning extensive drainage improvement work at the outlet from the bog.

Summer Field Assistant - Alaska Range, Alaska

Mark Keys

Mark worked on a research project involving geologic mapping and sedimentologic analysis of Late Cretaceous deposits in the highly deformed Cantwell Basin, Alaska. The Cantwell Basin contains the record of the early uplift history of the Alaska Range and subsequent strike-slip displacement along the Denali fault system. Displacement along the Denali fault system is responsible for the highest mountain ranges in North America, and Mark spent most of his time working around the base of Mount McKinley.

Paleomagnetic data analysis programs

Russell Schwab

The analysis of paleomagnetic data was quite awkward until Russell designed a suite of mouse-driven, windows-based interactive programs for personal computers.  Suddenly it was a delight to see the magnetic behavior of samples and outcrops in 3-D color, with a full set of statistical analysis tools just a mouse-click away!  His analysis software system is the standard suite employed by all paleomagnetic studies at Purdue, at the University of Wyoming, and at other universities.

Pacific plate motion

Martha Sutula

What was the motion of the Pacific plate during the period when Pangea was breaking up into the present continents? The dip of the Earth's magnetic field changes with latitude, and this information is recorded by iron-oxide particles locked into marine sediments. By examining the directions in past sediments from the Pacific, we reconstruct the history of its movement to the north and south.

Martha compiled the Early Cretaceous paleomagnetic data we measured from Deep Sea Drilling Site 167, located on the Magellan Plateau in the central tropical Pacific. She discovered that the Pacific plate was moving southward during the earliest Cretaceous, stopped in the Aptian (mid-Cretaceous), then reversed direction, northward (the direction the Pacific is still moving today). This analysis was incorporated into a synthesis of other ocean drilling sites, and was published in scientific papers in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, and in the Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program.

An Analysis of Surface Global Temperature Records

Chris Ardeel

Chris worked as an undergraduate research assistant and honors student on a research project to analyze global surface temperature data for inhomogeneities and peculiarities. Chris and his advisor, Dr. Agee, presented a paper on this work at the American Meteorological Society, and the work was published in the Conference Proceedings on Global Climate Studies. In Chris' work, the NASA-Goddard and UK-East Anglia global surface temperature data sets were analyzed for peculiarities and inhomogeneities. One of the objectives was to determine the validity of proposed global warming due to the build-up of carbon dioxide gases. The NCAR Community Climate Model was used to provide a complete global surface temperature record for the present-day climate. Although NASA and UK records for the past 120 years are incomplete and spotty (especially over the oceans), such features could be imposed on the model temperature data and the average global surface temperature could be re-computed. Strong evidence was obtained to show that global temperature trends may be caused by inhomogeneities in the temperature records, rather than by mechanisms due to physical forcing.

Stratigraphy of Cretaceous guyots of the Pacific

Brian Greer

During the Cretaceous, global sea levels oscillated due to undersea volcanism, the rifting of continents, global cooling cycles, and other causes. Reefs on Pacific islands responded to each change in sea level. These reefs, now thick limestone deposits on submerged seamounts, were recently drilled by the Ocean Drilling Program.

Brian applied a combination of geophysical logging data, Formation MicroScanner imagery within the drill holes, carbonate depositional environment knowledge, and a lot of imaginative testing of hypotheses, to the detailed core and drilling records from some of these seamounts. From this array of data and knowledge, he constructed an apparent sea level curve for the Aptian-Albian of the Pacific. The Pacific seamounts are not affected by regional tectonics, therefore this curve represents the global rise and fall of sea levels. These changes in sea level also affect the margins of the continents, in turn governing the burial rates of organic-rich sediments and future oil reservoirs.

A Diagnosis of Moisture Parameters in the Tropics

Robb Velasco

Robb worked on this project as an honors student, and the results of his work were published in a scientific paper, which he co-authored, that appeared in the November, 1991 issue of the Journal of Climate .  Robb's thesis was submitted to the American Meteorological Society (AMS) to be placed in national competition for their MacElwane Award, given annually for the best-written paper by an undergraduate student. He placed second and attended the Annual Meeting of the AMS to receive his cash award and certificate.

Robb used a form of the atmospheric thermodynamic equation to compute the monthly-averaged energy required to produce rainfall amounts over tropical oceanic regions for the period, June 1984-May 1987. He then compared these amounts to those observed at atolls and other island stations. In addition, he computed the amount of water vapor that was available to convert into rain, thus obtaining the precipitation efficiency. Computed results of precipitation compared very well with island station observations. In particular, the results showed a clear progression of the 1986-87 El Niño event, from the normally warm water region of the equatorial western Pacific to the central Pacific. They also showed that the South Pacific convergence zone (SPCZ), a major convective cloud band in the south central part of the tropical Pacific, contained the largest precipitation amounts and had the highest precipitation efficiency.

A Study of an Intense Upper Air Cyclone Development

Melinda Hunter

In Mindy's B. S. Honors thesis she studied the evolution of an unusually strong middle-tropospheric cyclone development that occurred in the absence of a complementary surface cyclone over the midwestern and eastern United States. She also demonstrated the ability of the National Weather Service's Nested Grid Model to successfully forecast this event. Mindy found that the crucial development mechanism was the advection of cold air aloft. Occurring in a strongly tilted wave system, the advection of warmer air and release of latent heat downstream resulted in only weak response at the surface.

Mindy presented a portion of her work in a paper co-authored by her advisor, Dr. Phillip Smith, at a Symposium on Weather Forecasting in Atlanta. Mindy is now an air pollution meteorologist with the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission.

Summer Field Assistant - Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Ryan Nicols

Ryan was involved with a research project studying deformation in synorogenic conglomerates along the eastern flank of the Bighorn Mountains. The data obtained by the project is currently being evaluated to explain the uplift of the mountain range and the coeval development of the Powder River Basin. The Powder River Basin contains substantial petroleum and coal resources, as well as several key regional freshwater aquifers. Ryan spent most of his time collecting structural data in Wyoming.

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