Marine Geology and Geophysics

Studies in Marine Geology and Geophysics focus on understanding how our earth works by investigating...

  • The structure of the earth beneath the oceans
  • The processes that shape the seafloor
  • The interactions between geological and biological systems
  • The history of ocean circulation patterns and climate change preserved in seafloor and lake sediments, corals, ice sheets, and other natural archives
  • Climate variability and impacts

Approach to the challenge

Marine geologists approach these problems through studies of oceanic rocks, sediments. Marine geophysicists are primarily concerned with the application of gravity, magnetics, heat flow, and seismic methods to study the structure of the earth beneath the oceans. Climate scientists develop and use a variety of techniques to reconstruct past oceans and climates, with the goal of providing perspective for ongoing and future climate change. Within the Joint Program, there are geologists, geochemists, geophysicists, and climate scientists who conduct research on a wide variety of topics, including:

  • Dynamics of convection in the mantle that drives the motion of tectonic plates
  • Tectonic, volcanic, and hydrothermal activity at mid-ocean ridges, and the structure of the oceanic crust
  • Coastal processes and the structure of continental margins
  • Interactions of continental and oceanic geologic processes
  • Past, present and future climate variability and impacts

Interdisciplinary work

Investigators from different disciplines also often work together with the goal of understanding the interactions between earth's processes, the oceans, and ecosystems. Geological processes influence the chemistry of the oceans and impact the distribution of organisms. Similarly, biological processes affect the chemistry of the oceans and sediments, and can even alter the composition of oceanic crust. Climate studies are naturally interdisciplinary.

Research tools and techniques

To explore the seafloor, marine geologists and geophysicists use a wide range of research tools and techniques, including field work, laboratory analyses, and numerical modeling. Many go to sea on research vessels to collect data and samples, either remotely using geophysical tools, rock dredging, sediment coring, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), or directly using a submersible. While climate scientists also often use seafloor samples, they also use other natural archives such as lake and marsh sediment, corals, ice sheets, cave deposits, and trees to develop climate reconstructions.  Across these subdisciplines, cruises and field work are typically followed by extensive data and/or sample analysis in the laboratory, and interpretation and modeling of the results.

Unique opportunity

In the Joint Program, graduate students have a unique opportunity for training and research in fields including geophysics, petrology and geochemistry, coastal processes, past, present, and future climate variability and impacts.