Geosciences Department

Geosciences Department

Steinmetz Spotlight: Sydney Walters ’22

Steinmetz Spotlight: Sydney Walters ’22

Sydney Walters '22

Sydney Walters ‘22 proceeding her thesis research over spring break at the Northeast Regional Geologic Society of America Conference (NEGSA) in Lancaster, PA.

Avanti Khare, Sci-Tech Editor
May 5, 2022

This week’s Steinmetz Spotlight is Sydney Walters. She is a senior Geoscience major with a minor in Spanish Language and Culture from Avon, Connecticut. Her research focuses on the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano on the island of St. Vincent that occurred in April 2021.

She writes about her project, “The eruption of the La Soufriere volcano is really interesting to study because volcanic activity began there in late December of 2020 when the volcano began erupting effusively, which means that there was a lava dome being built in the crater that was formed by extremely viscous lava that was being extruded. On April 9, 2021, the volcano began erupting explosively and there were more than 30 separate explosions that took place over about 2 weeks. Effusive to explosive eruption transitions are really interesting and tricky to understand so for my research, I am analyzing scoria clasts from the explosive eruption in order to find evidence of what may have triggered the eruption to go from effusive to explosive. By determining what caused this transition, we can better understand the dynamics of the volcanic system and subsequently improve our monitoring techniques so that we can know when to evacuate people from active volcanic areas and keep everyone safe.”

When asked what led her to this area of research, Walters cites her lifelong interest in volcanoes. She says, “I have always been extremely interested in volcanoes and my research advisor was asked to help spearhead this research prior to the volcano becoming explosive. My thesis, Prof. Holli Frey, originally was supposed to focus on water analysis, looking for geochemical signatures that would allow us to predict if the volcano would erupt. However, my entire research project changed when the volcano went explosive so now I am a part of an international team, working with people from the Caribbean and the United Kingdom, trying to determine why it went explosive.”

Steinmetz Spotlight: Emma Puhalski ’22

Emma Watson

Avanti Khare, Sci-Tech Editor
April 21, 2022

This week’s Steinmetz Spotlight is Emma Puhalski ‘22. She is a Geoscience and Biology double major from Wilbraham, MA. Her research project focuses on stable isotope concentrations in sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

She writes about her work, “I am studying the stable carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen isotopes in the Antarctic sea scallop Adamussium colbecki as a proxy for past sea ice state in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Fluctuations in sea ice cover are major drivers of climate change, but Antarctica lacks notable proxy records of sea ice state. Bivalves record environmental conditions and can track changes in sea ice cover over time. Adamussium colbecki is a large sea scallop with a circum-Antarctic distribution and an abundant fossil record throughout the Holocene. Our group’s prior work showed that carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes in modern scallop shells record seasonal variation in sea ice state over time when paired with growth markers called striae. I have applied this paleoclimate proxy by analyzing A. colbecki subfossils from terraces along Explorer’s Cove (EC) and Bay of Sails (BOS), western McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Seawater temperature proxy records suggest warmer conditions 2,000-5,000 ybp, so we expect variable δ13C stable δ15N values recording annual sea ice in shells from both sites. Preliminary results indicate that sea ice may have been persistent at both EC and BOS, which may represent a colder and more stable sea ice state for Antarctica in the past.”

Our Program

Three Geology Students in the field.

In our last external review (2016), the reviewers noted that “the Union College Geology Department is, in many ways, undoubtedly one of the best undergraduate geology programs in the country. The faculty are all dedicated teachers and scholars, the equipment and resources available for faculty-student research are extraordinary, and the students they attract into the program are hard-working and highly motivated – with nearly 50% continuing on for postgraduate studies – a remarkable achievement. The Geology Department at Union College is highly successful and a model for what a modern science department at a liberal arts college should be.”

Our program is strong and well-equipped, and is located in one of the most geologically diverse regions in the eastern U.S. We take advantage of our resources, and most courses involve both field and lab work. We have a variety of popular lab and non-lab courses at the introductory level.

We also have a strong undergraduate-oriented research program, with a wide variety of ongoing projects. We are a member of the Keck Geology Consortium, which offers additional research opportunities every summer.

Geology majors can and frequently do minor or double major in related disciplines such as Engineering, Economics, Chemistry, Political Science, Biology, or Physics, or any other field at Union.


Geology lab

Laboratory facilities and research in the geology department are discussed together because of the close connection between available laboratory equipment and research programs. Research in our department serves the dual role of faculty development and teaching. Research labs are the same labs in which many upper level courses are taught. Participation in research and research-like experiences are a vital part of the Union Geology education. All laboratory equipment is used in courses, and is accessible to students for use in independent, faculty supervised research projects.

The geological collections in the department represent a significant teaching and research resource. These include the Wheatley, Pfordte, Leo M. Hall, and other collections of minerals, rocks, and fossils. The department also maintains a sizable collection of topographic and geologic maps in addition to the library collections.

The major items of laboratory equipment support specific research and teaching needs. These include rock and mineral analysis (X-ray diffraction, ICP-MS), high pressure equipment to simulate conditions deep within the earth and to make measurements of material properties under those conditions, sedimentology (grain size analysis, inorganic and organic carbon analysis, core image analysis), water analysis (ion chromatograph, field measurement equipment) and general sample preparation equipment (crushers, sieves and shakers, rock saws, thin section equipment).

After Union

Graduation photo of students outside with Nott Memorial in background

Many careers are open to Union Geology graduates because of our emphasis on research-oriented activities, technical writing, field work, and public speaking. Our graduates are extraordinarily well prepared for graduate school and many professional fields compared to their peers. About half of our graduates go on to graduate school, and the other half into a wide variety of Geoscience and other fields.