Geologist Arlo Weil wins grant to study curved mountain ranges

Posted June 3rd, 2009 at 1:00 pm.


Arlo Weil in northern Spain's Cantabiran Arc

Associate Professor Arlo Weil, chair of the geology department, and colleagues from the University of Victoria and Spain’s Salamanca University recently received an International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) award to study curved mountain ranges around the world.

“Understanding how map-view bends of mountain belts form and evolve is a first order Earth System problem and is the focus of this proposal. Earth’s great mountain systems, both modern and ancient, are characterized by significant map-view bends,” wrote the researchers in their proposal.

The researchers plan to do fieldwork twice a year for the length of the five-year project. Weil is hoping Bryn Mawr students will serve as research assistants at many of the sites.

Planned locations include Andean South America; Kazakhstan; the Caribbean region; the Melanesia region of the Pacific; the Gondwanides, including Patagonia, the Cape belt in South Africa, and the Tasmanides in Australia; the Mediterranean-Alpine domain including the Rif of Morocco and related Betics of southern Spain, the Calabrian / Sicilian region of southern Italy, the Carpathian mountains, and the Isparta Angle (Turkey); the Cordillera of western North America; and the Variscides of western Europe.

The project is multidisciplinary and will involve the collection and dissemination of data spanning the fields of paleomagnetism, geochronology, structural geology, stratigraphy and sedimentology, igneous and metamorphic petrology, geochemistry, paleogeography, geophysics, paleontology, tectonics, and mineral-deposit studies.

The researchers are hoping that direct societal benefits of the project will include improved understanding of the geological evolution of the specific target regions, and enhanced comprehension of the links between mountain systems, mineralization, and hydrocarbon reserves. In addition, the project provides numerous opportunities for the transfer of knowledge into remote and developing regions, and for the involvement and funding of young, active researchers within these regions.

“An improved understanding of the processes responsible for the formation of bent mountain systems promises both scientific advances, such as an improved understanding of the mechanisms and processes responsible for plate tectonics and for changes in Earth geography through time; and directly applicable societal benefits, including refined models of climate and climate evolution, and increased exploration efficiency for both mineral deposits and hydrocarbon reservoirs,” wrote the researchers.

The formal name of the project is “Bending and Bent Orogens and Continental Ribbons: Implications for the Paleogeographic and Tectonic Evolution of Earth, and the Structure of the Lithosphere.”

Weil’s colleagues on the project are Professor Stephen T. Johnston of the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, and Gabriel Gutierrez-Alonso, professor of structural geology and global dynamics at Salamanca University.

The IGCP is a cooperative enterprise of UNESCO and the International Union of Geological Sciences and has been stimulating comparative studies in the Earth sciences since 1972. Its programs are intended to bring research from third world countries to the foreground and foster international collaborations. In addition to funding the research, the award will support biannual field conferences.

Read more about Weil’s research in Bryn Mawr Now.

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