DeFord Lecture Series

DeFord Lecture Series Speaker Schedule

The DeFord (Technical Sessions) lecture series has been a requirement and a tradition for all graduate students since the late 1940s. Once the official venue for disseminating EPS graduate student research, the DeFord Lecture series is now the forum for lectures by distinguished visitors and members of our community. Faculty and researchers from the Jackson School have invited prestigious researchers from around the world to present a lecture in this series. This is made possible only through a series of endowments, such as those funding past Distinguished Lectures.

The list below shows all the scheduled talks this semester. If you would like to meet with any of the speakers, please contact them or their hosts directly.

DeFord Lecture Series 2024 Speaker Schedule

All talks are Thursdays from 4-5PM (CST) in the Boyd Auditorium (JGB 2.324).  Lectures will be recorded, and most past lectures are posted on the Jackson School YouTube channel.

Jan. 25

Dr. Karin Olson Hoal

Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University

Critical Minerals and Metals in a Changing Resources Sector

Abstract: The renewable energy transition presents conflicting interests and impacts: a perceived green low-emissions economy powered by significant increases in not-so-green metals extraction, or mining. Unlike bulk ore commodities, critical minerals and metals that the new energy economy requires are hosted in trace quantities in rocks and minerals. Knowledge of their distribution through mineral and geochemical characterization is important; examples include ores, drillholes, and nodules on the seafloor.

Assumptions as to critical mineral availability, future production, what is where and how to get it out are based on how things have been done in the past, so that new resources are likely to be extracted as they traditionally have been and with similar impacts. As geologists, we understand the complexities of materials variability in the subsurface, with mineral compositions and ore types having a somewhat predictable nature, and we transfer that knowledge into best practice for more sustainable, and risk-reduced operations. This is the area of geometallurgy (geomet), which influences decision making on the engineering and financial side, and which is driving change in the resources sector through understanding geology.

In this presentation, the landscape of critical minerals and metals is addressed from the viewpoint of geoscience and mineral compositional variability, and in the context of a more sustainable and responsive mineral resources sector.

Feb. 1

Dr. Peter Flemings

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Texas at Austin

The Mystery of Methane Hydrate: A film on the mission to core a methane hydrate reservoir and a talk about the science behind it.

Abstract:  The Jackson School led a 2 month drilling expedition to collect core and measure in situ properties in a hydrate system in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico in the summer of ‘23. An international team of geobiologists, sedimentologists, petrophysicists, hydrologists, and geochemists is studying how hydrates form and how carbon is exchanged between the ocean and basin sediments.  The Jackson School of Geosciences recently released a short documentary about this mission. I will introduce methane hydrates, and discuss initial results. We will then show the video and have a short Q&A.

Feb. 6

Dr. Arthur Stokreef

Canada Nickel Company

A path to sustainable mining: Low-carbon North American Nickel

Feb. 8

Dr. Simon Jowitt

University of Nevada Reno

The Minerals Industry and Climate Change Mitigation; a Vital Partnership

Feb. 15

Dr. Matthew Becker

Department of Geoscience, California State University Long Beach

How Groundwater Impacts the people and ecosystems of the South Pacific Islands

Abstract: The Pacific Ocean is host to more than 30,000 islands, the vast majority of which are small, remote, and vulnerable to climate variability. Groundwater plays an important role in the resilience of these isolated environments. We will see how groundwater was a critical resource for the first settlers of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), how it helps coral reefs flourish in a nutrient desert (Darwin’s Paradox), and the role it plays in terrestrial flora and fauna. Understanding of these interactions is hindered by the complexity of groundwater flow in coastal and offshore environments. Our recent investigations of the distribution of groundwater flow to fringing coral reefs sheds some light on these processes. Climate change and sea level rise will disrupt and potentially overwhelm these unique and biologically critical ecosystems. An improved understanding of hydrogeologic systems and their interactions with marine life surrounding Pacific islands will be essential for strategic adaptation to environmental stresses.

Feb. 22

Dr. Maureen Long

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences,
Yale University

The weird and wonderful lowermost mantle: patterns and drivers of Deep mantle flow

Abstract: Mantle convection and its surface manifestation, plate tectonics, are fundamental to Earth’s evolution. Observations of seismic anisotropy, or the directional dependence of seismic wave speeds, provide some of the most direct constraints on the pattern of convective flow in the Earth’s mantle. Seismic anisotropy analysis is routinely applied to study upper mantle processes, leading to fundamental discoveries about the patterns of flow in the upper mantle and the drivers of that flow. There is also convincing observational evidence for seismic anisotropy in the lowermost mantle; however, it has proven challenging to develop reliable frameworks for accurately measuring D” anisotropy and for interpreting these measurements in terms of mantle flow patterns. Despite the challenges, however, observations of lowermost mantle anisotropy have the potential to shed light on a number of fundamental unsolved problems relating to deep mantle structure and dynamics, including the origin and evolution of enigmatic structures such as large low shear velocity provinces (LLSVPs) and ultra-low velocity zones (ULVZs). This talk will describe a set of studies aimed at measuring and interpreting seismic anisotropy at the base of the mantle, using a combination of tools and approaches. The relationships between mantle flow (and its expression in seismic anisotropy) and structures such as LLVPs and ULVZs are of particular interest, given their potential to shed light on fundamental aspects of deep mantle dynamics.

Feb. 29

Dr. Francis Nimmo

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences,
University of California Santa Cruz

How similar is Venus to Earth?

Abstract: Venus and the Earth are almost identical in size and bulk composition, but appear to have followed very different evolutionary paths. Why? And how different are they really? In this talk I will focus on two aspects. One is the recent claim that Venus possesses features similar to continents on Earth, perhaps even suggesting an ancient Venusian ocean that has now vanished. The second is the viscosity structure of Venus’s mantle, and how it compares with that of the Earth. I will suggest some predictions that can be tested with observations from forthcoming Venus spacecraft missions.

March 7

Dr. Heather Savage

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences,
University of California Santa Cruz

Earthquake Fever: How Hot do Faults Get?

Abstract: During earthquakes, faults heat up due to their frictional resistance. Sometimes, the temperature rise during earthquakes makes the rocks hot enough to melt. However, solidified frictional melt (pseudotachylyte) is not very common in the rock record, and other paleoseismic temperature proxies have only recently been established. The dearth of pseudotachylyte led researchers to hypothesize that faults get very weak during earthquakes, and hence do not produce much heat. However, we have had little information on whether faults produce some amount of heat (enough for faults to weaken during earthquakes but not enough to melt) from the rock record. Here, we use a new sub-solidus temperature proxy, biomarker thermal maturity, to identify temperature rise on faults in a variety of tectonic settings. With this new temperature proxy, we revisit some outstanding questions in fault mechanics such as: Where does earthquake slip occur in a fault zone? Can creeping faults host earthquakes? Does lithology control rupture propagation? and how is energy partitioned during earthquakes? Finally, we have paired these biomarker measurements with K-Ar dating techniques to establish the age of earthquakes on the San Andreas fault at the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD).

March 14

Dr. Benoît Cordonnier

European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

Preparing the Next Generation of Rocks Mechanists with 4D-XCT

Abstract: With the new Extreme Brilliant light Source (EBS), the European synchrotron has become the first worldwide 4th generation synchrotron. The 2 orders of magnitude increase in beam brightness has unlocked a new range of possibilities in imaging geosciences, allowing for high resolution in space and time. The constant developments on the beamlines allow multi-resolution scanning from hundreds of microns to submicron observations. The brilliance of ESRF also gives the incredible opportunity to perform in-situ scanning through thick apparatuses in earth-like conditions. Today from long term experiments (project CHRONOS) to high-speed acquisition (project SHOCK/BREAK) we give a flavor of the possibilities ESRF can offer to support Geosciences.

March 21

Dr. Gabrielle Wong-Parodi

Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Stanford University

The Dynamic Relationship Between Tropical Cyclone Threats and Human Behavior

Abstract: Climate change is unpredictable and occurring more rapidly than expected, requiring people act to reduce impacts on the environment and humans. Linear models of behavior change are unsuited for understanding the dynamic relationship between psychological processes (i.e., risk perceptions, emotions) and behaviors (i.e., household preparedness, energy conservation) that unfold against the dynamic and increasing magnitude of climate change-related threats. In this talk, I present longitudinal studies examining this dynamism in the context of tropical cyclones and describe a new model of dynamic climate action. I also discuss the implication of the results for adaptation, and in the design of meaningful interventions to promote protective adaptive behavior.

March 28

Dr. Jerry Mitrovica

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences,
Harvard University

New Directions in Modeling of Ice Age Sea Level and Dynamics

Abstract: Over the last decade there have been major advances in the theory and modeling of ice age sea level changes, including the development of methods that permit high spatial resolution (< 1 km) within global models, improvements in coupling to ice sheet models, and the formulation of adjoint equations that allow for efficient assessments of model sensitivities. I will highlight each advance using case studies focused on problems in paleoclimate, modern climate, and archaeology.

April 4

Dr. Estibalitz Ukar

Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin

The Green Rock Revolution: The Role of (Ultra)Mafic Rocks in the Energy Transition

Abstract: Driven by the urgent need to mitigate climate change and transition towards low-carbon energy sources, the global energy landscape is undergoing a profound transformation. Amidst this shift, mafic and ultramafic rocks have emerged as potential game-changers, offering promising solutions to several critical challenges facing the energy transition. In this talk, I will explore the multifaceted role of (ultra)mafic rocks in facilitating this transition, including: 1) serving as a source of clean, renewable, carbon-free natural hydrogen, 2) acting as a sink to permanently and securely trap large amounts of CO2 in mineral form through carbon mineralization, and 3) providing valuable mineral resources, including nickel, cobalt, and magnesium, which are essential components of batteries and other renewable energy technologies. Through three recently funded DOE projects, we are exploring ways to combine these technologies and leverage the unique properties of ultramafic rocks to address climate change mitigation, sustainable mining, and renewable energy production.

April 11

Dr. Crispin Little

School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

The Evolution of Hydrothermal Vent Communities: A 3.77 (or possibly 4.28) Billion Year History

Abstract: Over the past 40 years our understanding of the diversity of life in the deep sea has been revolutionized by the discovery of dense communities of large animals living at chemosynthetic environments. These communities can be found at hydrothermal vents, methane seeps and organic-falls (sunken dead large marine animals and wood) where the energy source at the base of the ecosystem is chemical (chemosynthetic), rather than coming from the sunlight falling on the upper layers of the ocean (photosynthetic). These chemicals are reduced compounds, such as hydrogen sulfide and methane, which is then oxidized by microbial organisms to produce energy (chemosynthesis). Many of the animals that dominate the biomass at modern chemosynthetic environments have symbiotic relationships with these microbes (chemosymbiosis), and this allows these animals to grow very fast and to large sizes, compared to their relatives in other marine environments. These animals include bivalves, gastropods and tube worms. Fossil vent communities are found in two different rock types in the geological record: volcanogenic massive sulfides (VMS), which formed at high-temperature vents, and jaspers (iron-silica rocks), which formed at low- temperature, sulfide-poor vents. Animal fossils can be found in VMS deposits from the Silurian period onwards, although there are some enigmatic structures from Cambrian vents, which might have had an animal origin. Microbial fossils have been discovered in VMS deposits all the way back to the Paleo-archaean era (3.235 billion years ago) and in jaspers to the Eo-archaean (3.770, or possibly 4.280 billion years ago), with the latter being (possibly) the oldest organisms yet discovered on Earth. These very early dates help to corroborate ideas that terrestrial life may have started at hydrothermal vents. The evidence also suggests that life may have been possible on Mars during its equivalent aged warmer period, and that life may be present at putative hydrothermal sites on the icy moons with liquid oceans (e.g. Europa and Enceladus).

April 18

Dr. Rose Cory

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Michigan

The Role of Iron in The Degradation of Dissolved Organic Carbon in the Arctic

Abstract: Current estimates are that 5–15% of the tremendous pool of organic carbon stored in permafrost soils could be emitted as greenhouse gases by 2100 given the current trajectory of climate change, resulting in an additional one third degree Celsius of warming everywhere on Earth (i.e., Arctic amplification of climate change). However, the degree to which climate change will be amplified by greenhouse gases released from thawing permafrost is highly uncertain in large part due to insufficient understanding of the processes that degrade dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to carbon dioxide (CO2). Our work has shown that DOC degradation is tightly coupled to iron redox cycling in permafrost soils of the Arctic and in the surface waters draining these soils. For example, in waterlogged soils, redox reactions of iron produce reactive oxygen species (e.g., the hydroxyl radical) that oxidize DOC. On a landscape scale, the hydroxyl radical produced by iron redox cycling can oxidize as much DOC to CO2 as does microbial respiration of DOC in arctic surface waters. Upon export of dissolved iron and DOC from permafrost soils to sunlit surface waters, iron likely catalyzes the sunlight-driven (photochemical) oxidation of DOC to CO2. As a consequence, current estimates of additional global warming from the permafrost carbon feedback may be too low by ~ 14%.

April 25

Dr. Richard Taylor

Department of Geography,
University College London

Adapting to the Amplification of Climate Extremes Through Freshwater Capture: Evidence from the Tropics

Abstract: In low-income countries of the tropics undergoing rapid growth, global warming presents challenges to the expansion and sustainability of water supplies required to advance progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Substantial uncertainty persists in projections of precipitation under climate change. A widely observed impact, pronounced in the tropics, is the intensification of precipitation comprising a transition towards fewer but heavier rainfalls. How does this transition impact terrestrial water balances? How might these changes influence freshwater demand? I will interrogate these questions and review mounting empirical evidence from the tropics of the resilience to climate change of groundwater resources, which act as a natural inter-annual store of freshwater supporting adaptation to the amplification climate extremes. Presented evidence includes case studies and local-to-regional scale analyses from tropical Africa and the Bengal Basin of South Asia. Outcomes emphasize the interconnected nature of surface water and groundwater as well as the value of groundwater as a natural, distributed store of freshwater. This insight provides a platform to explore more equitable and sustainable water development pathways resilient to climate change.