Annette Delaney
Kansas Geological Survey

Graduate students honored for geological survey research in Kansas

Tue, 06/21/2016

LAWRENCE — Four University of Kansas students received outstanding achievement awards last month from the Kansas Geological Survey, based on KU's West Campus.

Sarah Morton, doctoral student in civil engineering from Oxford, Connecticut, received the William W. Hambleton Student Research Award. As a graduate research assistant in the KGS Exploration Services section, Morton is helping improve noninvasive seismic techniques used to characterize rock and soil structures down to about 300 feet deep. Using surface-wave seismic methods, scientists create sound waves to measure their underground movement. Because sound waves travel through different rock types, sediments, and fluids in distinct ways, the measurements can be used to interpret underground conditions and material properties. Morton’s work is being used to detect abandoned limestone mines in south-central Kansas and lead and zinc mines in the recently dismantled southeast Kansas town of Treece, where lead levels run high and underground voids cause sinkholes. She also is involved with tunnel detection research in Arizona sponsored by the U.S. Army. The Hambleton award is named for the KGS director from 1970 to 1986 and is given for excellence in research as demonstrated by outstanding writing or oral presentation.

Sarah Child, doctoral student in geology from New Lisbon, New York, received the Jack Dangermond/Esri Geospatial Technologies Student Award. A member of the KGS Cartographic Services unit, Child is helping standardize the state’s geologic databases to make them more accessible to researchers and the public. She also has created an automated template containing GIS data used on Kansas geologic maps. A GIS (geographic information system) is a combination of computer hardware, software and data used to collect, interpret, manage and display all types of geographically referenced information. The template, which includes the location of roads, rivers, railroads and towns, saves hundreds of hours of data compilation. The Dangermond award was established by Jack Dangermond, president of the Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (Esri), to recognize student accomplishments in the application of geospatial technologies.

Cassidy Nelson, an undergraduate student in geology from Council Grove, received the Norman Plummer Outstanding Student Award. As a data entry assistant in the KGS Data Resources Library, Nelson enters and archives data from water well and oil and gas well records submitted to the state and clarifies the data for researchers and the public. To ensure accuracy, he contacts drillers for missing information and provides quality control. The library houses records for more than 450,000 oil and gas wells and 250,000 water wells. Nelson also works in the KGS Drill Core Library, the repository for rock cores and samples from more than 4,000 bore holes drilled in Kansas for oil and gas exploration or geologic investigations. Through careful scrutiny, he has identified and inventoried cores that were previously useless because they were not linked to specific locations. Norman Plummer was a KGS staff member from 1936 to 1969.

Joey Fontana, a master’s student in geology and geophysics from Mandeville, Louisiana, received the Lee C. and Darcy Gerhard Field Research Student Award. As a graduate research assistant in the KGS Exploration Services section, Fontana has worked with crews gathering seismic data in two regions of the state where catastrophic sinkholes have occurred. To help ensure public safety, the KGS is monitoring a solution well field near Hutchinson where dissolution of underground salt has caused surface subsidence and over abandoned lead and zinc mines underlying U.S. highway 69 in southeast Kansas. Fontana has also worked on a project mapping faults in Oregon and verified the quality of seismic data collected at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The Gerhard award is named for the KGS director from 1987 to 1999 and his wife.

The Kansas Geological Survey studies and provides information on the state's geologic resources and hazards, particularly ground water, oil, natural gas, and other minerals. It employs approximately 35 students. The recipients were presented cash awards and certificates. 

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