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Academy for Learning Retirement Zooms geologic history


New Mexico State University’s Academy for Learning in Retirement (ALR) presentations by four members of the Southern Rift Institute in the NMSU Department of Geological Sciences will help attendees understand how the interactions of erosion, volcanism, sedimentation and faulting have shaped the landscape of the Rio Grande Rift in New Mexico – the terrain we see on the surface, New Mexico’s fossil record and the complex geological features deep under New Mexico’s surface.

  • Monday, Nov. 30: Dr. Jeff Amato, Overview of the Geology of Southern New Mexico and the Rio Grande Rift.
  • Thursday, Dec. 3: Dr. Emily Johnson, Volcanism of the Rio Grande Rift.
  • Monday, Dec. 7: Dr. Brian Hampton, A 5-Million-Year-to-Present Evolution of the Rio Grande Fluvial System, southern New Mexico.
  • Thursday, Dec. 10: Dr. Reed Burgette, Growing Mountains and Earthquakes in the Southern Rio Grande Rift: A Recent Geologic Perspective.

Visit dacc.nmsu.edu/ALR to register for sessions. Registered e-mail addresses will go into the ALR database and attendants will receive an e-mail with the Zoom link the evening before each subsequent presentation.

Amato, a professor of structural geology and geochronology, has directed the Southern Rift Institute since 2017. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Occidental College in 1990 and a doctorate in geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University in 1995. He joined NMSU in 1999.

“My focus is on rifting from about 15 million years to three million years ago,” Amato said, “and [Dr. Reed Burgette’s] research is on the more recent extension. The entire history of the rift spans up to 36 million years, so we have a vast amount of research in the coming years.”

Johnson is a vulcanologist interested in the young volcanic history of the rift. She earned bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences at the University of Michigan in 2003 and her doctorate in environmental sciences at the University of Oregon in 2008. Johnson became an assistant professor at NMSU in 2013 and is now an assistant professor.

“Volcanic eruptions have occurred in the southern rift up through about 3,000 years ago, which means future eruptions are possible,” Johnson said. “I’m interested in studying the styles, frequency and locations of past eruptions, and how fast the magmas rose to the surface; these topics are all important for assessing possible future volcanic hazards in the rift.”

Hampton is a sedimentary geologist interested in the age of eroded sediment and how it is distributed throughout the rift. He earned his bachelor’s degree in geosciences from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma in 1997, his master’s degree in geology and geophysics from Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge in 2002 and his doctorate in earth and atmospheric sciences from Purdue University in 2006.  Hampton came to NMSU in 2013 and is an associate professor.

“Depositional systems like the Rio Grande are sensitive to changes in tectonic conditions in the rift,” Hampton said. “Studying both modern and ancient river deposits in the Rio Grande rift will help with understanding uplift, erosion and sedimentation on both human and geologic timescales. Sedimentary layers contain an excellent record of past life and also house much of the Mesilla Basin’s groundwater aquifer resources.”

Burgette earned his bachelor’s degree in geology and biology at Whitman College in 1999 and his doctorate in geological sciences at the University of Oregon in 2008. He was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Tasmania 2008-12 and an adjunct instructor and research fellow at the University of Oregon 2012-13. Burgette came to NMSU in 2013 and is now an associate professor. His focus is neotectonics and earthquakes, and he is interested in determining the rates of uplift in the region.

“Many of the mountain ranges in our area, including the Organ, San Andres and Sacramento Mountains, have fault scarps which attest to the prehistoric occurrence of strong earthquakes,” Burgette said. “I am interested in applying modern surveying and dating methods to better understand the rate of deformation and seismic hazard in the southern rift area.”

ALR is a nonprofit started in 1992 by former NMSU President Gerald Thomas, along with retired deans Thomas Gale, Virginia Higbie, Flavia McCormick and others, including former professor and teacher Clarence Fielder.