The Tales That Rocks Can Tell
Rocks can tell great stories to those trained to read their verse. Within their folds and fractures are tales of collisional geological processes responsible for creating massive structures such as the Himalayas or New Hampshire's White Mountains. Under the tutelage of Professor Wally Bothner and with funding from UROP, geology major Jack Loveless is learning how to read Earth's story.
"My research involves examining rocks for evidence of fault formation," Loveless explains, fingering a series of folds in a fist-sized sample. "A fault is a major rock fracture caused by two units moving against each other. The Earth's crust is brittle, so you'll see a series of fractures in faulted rocks at the surface. As you get deeper, the temperature increases and the rock becomes more pliable, creating waves and folds."
Loveless is describing a sample from New Hampshire’s Epping quadrangle, a 50-square-mile section of terrain. Within this region is a rock unit called the Calef Member, which is thought to be fault bounded. Loveless examines thin sections of rock samples from this region under a microscope to see if there is increased deformation—stress and strain—concentrated on the fault. By characterizing the rock, he hopes the fault can be more accurately mapped.
"There's a major fault that goes all the way up through Maine called the Norumbega System," says Loveless. "There are smaller faults that diverge off this system like streams off a river. We're trying to find out if the Calef Member is part of that larger system. Confirming this would be a major contribution to the understanding of New England geology."
Loveless, who is headed to graduate school at Cornell University, says he originally planned to study physics, but was drawn to geology because he likes being outdoors.
"I remember taking a course my sophomore year when we spent eight hours per week in the field," says Loveless. " I loved looking at the folds in the rocks and trying to figure out what they meant. From that day I became hooked on structural geology. To make a map from scratch and come up with a finished project that tells a story about the rocks, about that area—that's an unbelievable experience."