Active Research Fields

Earth science education

Earth Science Education Research focuses on understanding how people learn about the earth in classrooms, in laboratory settings, in the workplace, and in the field. It also focuses on the systematic study of how teaching Earth science can be improved in all of these settings. This kind of research uses methods drawn from the social sciences, such as laboratory experiments, interviews, surveys and classroom or field observations. Our research generates new theories about how people learn Earth science, new ways to measure skills and knowledge and rigorously tested new approaches to teaching. Our aim is simple: through this research we will improve student, teacher, and public understanding of the geosciences and ensure a broad, diverse and well-prepared future geoscience workforce.

Students in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences have the opportunity to earn an M.S. in geosciences focused on geoscience education. Through a partnership between the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences and the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, WMU also offers a Ph.D. in science education with a geosciences' emphasis. Furthermore, the Mallinson Institute for Science Education offers a unique concurrent enrollment program in which students earn both an M.S. in geosciences and a Ph.D. in science education. Graduates from these programs have attained positions in middle/high school teaching, community college teaching, administration, outreach and informal education, teaching-focused positions in universities and faculty research positions in geoscience departments.
  • Specific areas of research include: The role of spatial skills in tasks as diverse as geoscience fieldwork, sketching, remote sensing and weather forecasting; comparison of novice and expert approaches to solving geoscience problems; the role of fieldwork in undergradaute geoscience education; developing and testing new Earth science curricula and classroom approaches at the K-12 and undergraduate levels; understanding barriers and opportunities for minority student participation in the geosciences at community colleges and minority-serving institutions; preparation and professional development of K-12 teachers.


The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences hosts an energetic and growing program of diverse geochemical research. Faculty explore a range of socially and scientifically relevant problems, employing modern techniques in both the laboratory and the field. Furthermore, we have pioneered an innovative undergraduate program in geochemistry, the only one of its kind in the nation. Students enrolled in this cutting-edge program gain access to a rigorous curriculum that cultivates expertise in a range of geochemical subjects that are in high demand throughout the environmental consulting, geotechnical and remediation fields.

  • Our geochemical research is essentially focused on: Biogeochemistry, geomicrobiology, isotope geoscience and low-temperature aqueous geochemistry.
  • Geochemical research facilities: Geochemical research facilities are primarily housed  in Haenicke Hall, built in 1997, integrating geoscience, biology and chemistry research laboratories that facilitate active cross-disciplinary research and collaboration. Additional research facilities are housed in Rood Hall.
  • Major instrumentation managed by geoscience faculty in Haenicke and Rood Halls includes: An ApplikonBio chemostated bioreactor; a Perkin Elmer Optima 2100 DV; a QuantaChrome Nova 2200 particle surface area analyzer; a Micromass Optima stable isotope mass spectrometer; two large Coy glove-box anaerobic chambers; UV-Vis spectrophotometers; a Dionex Ion Choromatograph; an SRI FID Gas Chromatograph; an X-ray diffractometer and a wide range of conventional laboratory equipment for routine geologic, wet chemical and microbiological work.
  • Field equipment includes: Field-portable UV-Vis spectrophotometers and chemical analysis equipment; pore water diffusion equilibrators for time-integrated groundwater sampling; a pore water squeezer and sediment coring equipment.

Geoinformatics and spatial data analysis

The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences has developed a strong research emphasis in the areas of geoinformatics and spatial data analysis. Research in these fields is being enabled by the acquisition of a state-of-the-art remote sensing facility and the installation of a real-time receiving station.

Projects: Several ongoing projects address the potential influences of natural processes, global change and regional human activities on the water and carbon cycles and on ecosystems. Dr. Mohamed Sultan and his collaborators develop and apply an integrated systems approach to assess, monitor and model the recent and future impacts of changes in the landscape and land cover. Remote sensing and geographic information systems are being used to analyze and visualize spatial datasets to address a wide range of hydrologic and environmental problems.

Associated faculty: Dr. Mohamed Sultan


The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences has a long history of geophysics research. Expertise and resources of the department have been applied in mapping natural resources which opened new avenues for geologic research.

  • Geophysical research has been applied in the following areas: Assisting in archaeological research; developing custom ground penetrating radar antennae; ground water supply and contamination problems; locating lost and abandoned water and monitoring wells; mapping glacial drift thickness; mapping of the sub-bottom of Lake Michigan; sedimentary basin analysis; reservoir characterization and petroleum exploration.

Glacial geomorphology

The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences is actively involved in mapping the glacial geology of southwestern Michigan through the National Geologic Mapping Act of the U.S. Geological Survey. This program is part of Michigan Geological Survey's mapping program. The land forms and sediments are studied to understand the stratigraphy, chronology and glacial depositional processes involved in their formation.

  • Mapping provides geological information for use in: Aggregate resource location; land use planning; decision making involving location of waste disposal facilities and well head protection.
  • Research methods include: Clay mineralogy; gamma ray logging of test holes and newly drilled water wells; test drilling by rotasonic and other techniques.


The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences has a long and prestigious history of hydrogeology research. Our faculty concentrate their research on various fields within hydrogeology, working with master's and doctoral students. The Hydrogeology Field Course and the Certificate Program in Applied Hydrogeology build a fundamental understanding about this subject.

Geosciences faculty specialize in different aspects of hydrogeology with focus on the following research:

  • Application of geophysical and electrical methods to solve hydrogeological problems
  • Applied hydrogeology, Hydrogeologic Atlas of Michigan
  • Assessment of potential climate change impacts on water resources
  • Biogeochemistry of wetlands and effects of biota on pore-water chemistry
  • Bioremediation of soils contaminated with organic chemicals
  • Groundwater supply and contamination problems in Egypt
  • Mapping glacial sediments that form the surficial aquifers in southwest Michigan
  • Microbial interaction with uranium to deal with uranium-contaminated groundwater
  • Monitoring groundwater and studying Saginaw Formation, which serves as the major bedrock aquifer in Michigan
  • Permeable reactive barriers on in-situ treatment of contaminated groundwater
  • Reducing failure of the bluff along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan
  • Remote sensing for groundwater studies
  • River and lake sediments contaminated with Polychlorinated Biphenyl
  • Slug tests and methods of building wells to monitor and recover spilled fuels and solvents
  • Stable isotopes of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen
  • Subsurface flow and contaminant transport in fractured rock
  • Use of ground water tracers to characterize transport of septic effluent in Charlotte County, Florida

Associated faculty: Dr. Michael Barcelona (Chemistry), Dr. Daniel Cassidy, Dr. Johnson Haas, Dr. Duane Hampton, Dr. Alan Kehew, Dr. Carla Koretsky, Dr. R.V. Krishnamurthy, Dr. Matt Reeves, Dr. Bill Sauck, and Dr. Mohamed Sultan

Igneous petrology and high-temperature geochemistry

This research program is focused on the origin and evolution of magmatic intrusive and extrusive systems with special emphasis on the formation of economic sulfide mineral deposits. The program combines field and laboratory based studies on igneous rock occurrences.

Facilities: The research group uses the Economic Geology and Stable Isotope Geochemistry laboratories in Haenicke Hall for its lab-based investigations. The commonly used lab-based research methods include petrographic observations from hand-sample and thin section studies, major, minor and trace element geochemistry and sulfur isotope geochemistry. A Delta-V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer and an Elemental Analyzer are used for determination of sulfur isotope data. Electron microprobe analysis is used by this group in collaborative studies with other research institutions.

Projects: The members of the research group have been involved in projects on the magmatic and tectonic evolution of areas such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and southeastern Alaska. Igneous activities associated with convergent tectonic events such as the 1.8 Ga old Penokean Orogeny in UP Michigan and northern Wisconsin is one of the areas of study. The group is also involved in the preparation of geological maps of focus areas in UP Michigan for the Michigan Geological Survey, as a part of the Statemap program funded by the United States Geological Survey.

Associated faculty: Dr. Joyashish Thakurta

Remote sensing

The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences has developed a strong research emphasis in the area of remote sensing. Remote sensing research is led by Dr. Mohamed Sultan through the Earth Science Remote Sensing Facility. This facility is a fast-growing learning center for researchers and visiting scientists. The lab collaborates with many institutions nationwide and abroad on research studies.

Sedimentary petrology

The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences hosts a new program of diverse petrological research with a focus on carbonate diagenesis. Faculty explore a range of topics related to how carbonate rocks form and are altered through physico-chemical processes.

  • Projects: Dolomite nucleation and growth kinetics, dolomite stoichiometry as a fluid flow proxy, origin of limestone microporosity, stable isotope fractionation in carbonate minerals.

Sedimentary systems and basin analysis

Research in sedimentary systems and basin analysis in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Western Michigan University encompasses a wide variety of fundamental and applied scientific topics.

Faculty research includes the study of Pennsylvanian-aged fluvial deltaic units in Michigan and phylloid algal reefs in Utah involving: Estimation of third order sea level changes through backstripping; formation and evolution of dolomite in the Michigan Basin and their relationship to a sequence stratigraphic framework; paleoceanography of the Michigan Basin, influence on pinnacle reef development and potential as hydrocarbon reservoirs; quantitative analysis of tectonic plate spreading rates and the study of Michigan Basin geological formations for potential carbon dioxide sequestration.

Student projects include:

  • Paleoceanography of the Michigan Basin utilizing the stable isotopic composition of brachiopod shells.
  • Phylloid algal mounds in the Paradox Basin of Utah.
  • Silurian pinnacle reefs in the Michigan Basin, reservoir architecture and stratigraphic framework.
  • Students of the Carbonate Sedimentology Laboratory are strongly encouraged to present and publish their research findings.

Outcrop locations visited by students include:

  • Silurian carbon isotope excursions and their relationship to global climate change and mass extinctions.
  • Assessing the Ordovician bolide impact hypothesis in the Henrietta Field.
  • Paleozoic mixed carbonate and clastic systems in the Paradox Basin of Utah, the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas and New Mexico, Florida, the Bahamas and Belize.
  • Paleozoic section of the central and northern Appalachians.
  • Perimeter of the Michigan Basin in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.

Associated faculty: Dr. Robb Gillespie, Dr. Michelle Kominz and Dr. Stephen Kaczmarek