Maria GonzalezEarth and atmospheric sciences faculty members at CMU have laboratory facilities to support research in an array of areas including:
  • Mineralogy
  • Paleontology and palynology
  • Igneous and metamorphic petrology and geochemistry
  • Sedimentology and stratigraphy
  • Fluid inclusion
  • Structural geology and geophysics
  • Environmental geochemistry and hydrogeology
  • Geologic mapping and geospatial analysis
  • Meteorology teaching lab featuring full mediation, including a projector, visualizer, and geo-wall projection for three-dimensional visualization
  • Meteorology research lab with two computer clusters used for forecasts and simulations using meteorological computer models similar to those run by the National Weather Service


CMU Meteorology Students Take Advantage of the Snowy Winter.

CMU meteorology students take advantage of the snowy winter by practicing snow sampling techniques.  Dr. Kluver's meteorological instrumentation class took a break from studying the radar screens to take snow samples outside of Brooks Hall.  Students measured snow depth, snow density, and the amount of water stored in the snow pack.

​Direct Observations of Rapid Crystal Growth in Silicate Magma

Cell phone and laptop batteries, x-ray equipment, electronic components for your cell phone, computer, and video games, even lightweight structural components used in the defense and aerospace industries… they're all made from metals such as lithium, beryllium, cesium, and tantalum.  These otherwise rare metals are found in abundance in rocks named pegmatites.  What makes pegmatites different from other igneous rocks is the enormous size of the crystals composing the pegmatite (up to several meters long), making them perfect sources of industrial minerals and strategic metals.  However, after more than a century of research, it is still debated how pegmatites are formed.

Whether it's sugar candy, snowflakes, or rocks formed by magma, to understand the morphology of any crystalline material we need to understand the relation between nucleation of crystals (how long you have to wait before a self-organized structure appears) and how fast they grow.  But therein lies the problem.  Because magmatic rocks are made deep within the subsurface of the Earth, we cannot directly observe their formation.

That's why CMU's Dr. Mona Sirbescu, with support from the National Science Foundation, teamed up with the German Institute of Geosciences, Helmholtz Center in Potsdam, Germany, for some cutting edge research.

The team devised a new kind of Diamond Anvil Cell experiments, adapted to the specific conditions of their study.  A Diamond Anvil Cell (DAC) is a device used to create extremely high pressures.  The DAC traps sample materials between two diamonds, each with a flat surface.  When a modest force is applied, the DAC can generate tremendous pressure on the sample.  These DAC experiments allowed the team to watch and measure the growth of crystals in silicate magma at conditions simulating the pressure and temperature conditions of the interior of the Earth.

A tiny amount of hot, silica rich, viscous magma was generated and squeezed at pressures equivalent to a depth of 10-12 km below the surface of the Earth, then cooled quickly in the space between the two diamonds.  By doing this, they were able to get crystals to nucleate and grow, about two thirds of the cell diameter in just three days.  For geologic time scale, this growth rate is extremely fast.  Moreover, the rock texture and morphology of the crystals are close replicas of textures and morphologies of natural pegmatites.  In the experiments, the concentration of chemical elements that were not included in the growing crystals such as lithium, tantalum, and boron increased to very high levels in the surrounding melt.  The rapidly growing crystals basically bulldoze away the unwanted elements.  But among the elements unwanted by the common minerals happen to be economically valuable metals.

Based on these experiments, we now have a better understanding of how these important metals accumulate, helping with future geological prospecting and exploration.  In addition, the study suggests that the huge crystals in pegmatites do not need millions of years to form. They only need a few days or weeks.

Better Predicting Volcanic Eruptions by Studying Underground Magma Plumbing Systems

25 million years ago, they were a group of active volcanoes; today we know them as the Henry Mountains.  Situated in southern Utah, the tops of these now extinct volcanoes have been eroded by time, exposing their inner workings.

Each summer, with the help of two separate National Science Foundation grants totaling nearly $500,000, Dr. Sven Morgan, Professor of Structural Geology and Tectonics at CMU, takes a handful of students 11,000 feet up into the Henry Mountains to explore these exposed magma plumbing systems.

"We're trying to understand how the magma plumbing system works." Said Dr. Morgan. "Beneath volcanoes there is a complex system of magma pipes and flat-like layers that connect and separate and form large caverns.  We map out the geometry of the magma pipes, how they are connected, the direction the magma flowed, and how these large magma caverns form."

After mapping and collecting samples, Dr. Morgan and his students take their findings back to the lab.  Using geochemical and magnetic analyses, they model how the volcano was constructed and calculate how fast the magma flowed. 

"By studying these underground magma plumbing systems, we can better predict volcanic eruptions."

To date, Dr. Morgan and his colleagues have published six scientific articles on their work, some including CMU students as co-authors.​