Photo courtesy of P. C. Lippert

Extinct volcanoes in central Utah

The western deserts of Utah looked incredibly different 2 million years ago. Lava flowed across the landscape and ash clouds blanketed the ground in pumice. This volcanic activity continued periodically until approximately 1400 A.D. and produced over two dozen distinct eruptions. Our work investigates the timing of these eruptions and the processes that control the evolution of magmas.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, we investigate these lavas in a variety of ways. First, we use the 40Ar/39Ar dating technique to determine precise eruption ages for the different volcanic events. This detailed work involves crushing and milling rocks to extract individual mineral grains or to eliminate minerals that are not of interest. We also use the chemistry of the rocks to model crystallization process that would allow for the production of multiple lavas from the same magma chamber over geologic time. Finally, we use the mineral zircon to estimate the temperature of the magma during crystallization prior to eruption, as a proxy for chemical evolution, and to date the timing of crystallization using the U/Pb dating technique.

Hosted at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, this project collaborates with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Boise State University. As a primarily undergraduate institution, students at Westminster College will gain hands-on research experience that will allow them to acquire skills necessary for the workforce or graduate school.

This work is supported by NSF awards EAR-1940305 and EAR-1940266.