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Geology Makes Strong Showing at International Geoscience Conference

October 3, 2019

Photo of student placing sample into magnetometer.

Sindy Lauricella, a Highlands geology graduate student, works in the university’s state-of-the-art paleomagnetic rock magnetic laboratory, using a superconducting magnetometer to measure changes in the Earth’s magnetic fields. Photo: Rick Loffredo/University Relations

Las Vegas, N.M. – The New Mexico Highlands University Environmental Geology Program students and faculty made a strong showing at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona Sept. 22 – 25.

Sindy Lauricella, a geology graduate student, presented her research on the long-dormant Krasny Vrch volcano in the Czech Republic. She said this type of maar diatreme volcano occurs when molten magma comes into contact with groundwater, resulting in an explosive eruption.

“For my master’s thesis, I studied the magma emplacement, how it moved, and subvolcanic deformation associated with the growth of the volcano,” Lauricella said. “I studied both the geochemistry and magnetic petrology, which is using thin sections of rock to identify changes in chemistry over time.

“I’m currently working to determine how many eruptions took place at the Krasny Vrch volcano in its lifespan, including changes in Earth’s magnetic fields,” Lauricella said.

Lauricella said volcanic research is important because investigating and understanding ancient volcanoes can then guide researchers and predict eruptive behavior of active volcanoes worldwide.

Lauricella, a 24-year-old from Taos, New Mexico who is the first in her family to complete college, said it was a high-impact opportunity to present her research at the Geological Society of America meeting, which draws geoscientists from around the globe.

“It was my first time to present a research poster. I feel confident with my research after presenting it to skilled professionals in geology. I felt so fortunate I was able to attend with both my professors, Dr. Michael Petronis and Dr. Jennifer Lindline, and represent Highlands,” Lauricella said.

Lauricella said having Petronis advise her on her master’s thesis transformed her into a scientist, with Lindline also playing a major role in her scholarly development and confidence.

“I feel very fortunate to work alongside these two role models,” Lauricella said.

“Sindy has quickly transformed into a solid field geologist since starting her master’s thesis last year, and this impressed me greatly,” Petronis said. “Her research is part of a broader project to understand volcanic processes in the Czech Republic that bears on volcanoes worldwide.”

In the summer of 2018, Lauricella was part of a Highlands University expedition the National Science Foundation funded to conduct groundbreaking research in the Czech Republic aimed at understanding the legendary Krasny Vrch volcano.

Lauricella used Highlands University’s state-of-the-art paleomagnetic rock magnetic laboratory for her volcanic research.

“When I returned to Highlands, I used the paleomagnetic rock magnetic laboratory to analyze more than 400 rock samples from 42 sites at the Krasny Vrch volcano. I used instruments to determine Earth’s magnetic field and the direction of lava flowing in the samples,” Lauricella said.

Petronis and his students co-authored seven diverse research abstracts, which were presented at the Geological Society of America meeting. Their studies provided results on paleoclimate change, water resources and quality, volcanic eruption processes, and faulting related to the San Andreas fault in California and Nevada.

Lindline and Highlands geology students co-authored a study following amounts and trends in five years of water quality data from the Rio Mora at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge to understand the river’s baseline condition and its response to land use, climatic, and other influences.

“This knowledge is critical as water quality in the system sets the basis for the rest of the ecosystem health,” Lindline said.

Lindline co-authored another research paper with students studying magmatism along the eastern flank of New Mexico’s Rio Grande rift, one of only a few active continental rift systems throughout the world.

“Continental rifts represent the first stages in the complex process of extension and rupture of continents and give rise to earthquakes, volcanoes, and dramatic topography,” Lindline said.

Lindline said the Geologic Society of America meeting was an important opportunity for Highlands’ geology students, including Lauricella, Johnson Adio and Richard Pratt, to receive outside feedback on their research, methods and results.