Currently Funded Projects

QRC members lead and participate in a wide range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research projects from the study of past earth climates and glaciations to shifts in the geographic distributions and evolution of vegetation and faunal communities, to the evolution and dispersals of the genus Homo and the increasing scales of human modification of earth environments through the Holocene. QRC provides a venue for meeting and collaborating with scholars across Quaternary disciplines. We are also fortunate to be able to provide seed funding and small grants for member research projects. We are especially happy to support grad student and junior scholar research activities, much of which leads to larger, external funding from agencies like the National Science Foundation.


  • 2016-17 | |
    • Cassandra Brigham, Student
    • Juliet Crider, Faculty

    Investigating fault scarp degradation in jointed basalt in southern Iceland

    Abstract: Fault scarps in jointed bedrock hold information key to illuminating a region’s recent tectonic history, such as timing of faulting and magnitude of events, if their morphological evolution through time can be deciphered. This project will investigate how jointed bedrock fault scarps record fault activity and determine the principal drivers of bedrock scarp degradation. This study will focus on characterizing this evolution in basalt-hosted normal fault scarps in southern Iceland, where scarps are abundant and well-exposed. The ongoing oceanic rifting in southern Iceland is marked by late Quaternary-to-recent tectono-volcanic systems identified as the East and West Volcanic Zones (EVZ and WVZ) and is characterized by numerous zones of fissures and faults that affect recent basaltic lava flows. In multiple sites, a single fault cuts through flows of various ages. Close correlation exists between the vertical throw of the major faults and the age of the affected lavas in outcrops, with scarps in Pleistocene flows exhibiting throws of several tens of meters or more and those in Holocene flows less than ten meters. Assuming continuous faulting in this region through the Holocene, we can use the age of the basalt flow as an approximation of the time of scarp formation. The morphology of a scarp from the same fault in each differently aged flow will thus offer a snapshot of its evolution through time, providing the opportunity to establish a space-for-time substitution investigating the tempo and style of scarp growth and degradation along a fault. This study will focus on characterizing the morphology of these bedrock scarps of different ages. We will quantify the degree to which these scarps have retreated through time by measuring the setback between the trace of the scarp in the youngest lava flows and those that preceded it. We will also determine the principal mechanisms of retreat and their timing. The processes that control the retreat of bedrock scarps have been explored in the specific contexts of waterfalls and glacial headwalls, but are still poorly constrained for fault scarps. We hypothesize that scarp degradation is dominated by strong ground motion, with scarps in the more seismically active areas experiencing higher rates of retreat. Cosmogenic exposure dating on a selected scarp will provide the overall retreat rate of the scarp and shed light on the processes that govern its degradation.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Nicolas Cuozzo, Student
    • Ron Sletten, Member

    Constraining ages of glacial deposits recorded in a Victoria Valley permafrost core

    Abstract: The past stability of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) remains an important, yet unsettled question. Efforts to address this question focus on EAIS stability during the Pliocene (5.33-2.58 Mya), a period characterized by CO2 levels comparable to today’s levels and global mean temperature comparable to those predicted for the end of the century. While the marine record from the Antarctic Drilling Project (ANDRILL) and recent ice-sheet models suggest a dynamic EAIS during the Pliocene, there is not yet strong corresponding terrestrial evidence of a dynamic Pliocene EAIS. Stratigraphic and geomorphic evidence of glacial deposits from EAIS outlet glaciers in the Antarctic Dry Valleys may provide the much-needed terrestrial record of EAIS stability. Here, a 15-meter ice-cemented permafrost core collected in Victoria Valley is analyzed using cosmogenic nuclides to provide quantitative constraints on the timing of the EAIS glacial history in the Dry Valleys. Based on the presence of oxidized layers from apparent paleosols, the core appears to have recorded four depositional events that are believed to represent different periods of glaciation. Each depositional unit was deposited and exposed to cosmic rays at the surface until subsequently buried during the next glacial event that then shielded the sediment from further cosmic ray exposure. Sediment was subsampled in the core at the upper, middle, and lower limits of each depositional unit and analyzed for 10Be and 26Al, as well as texture, soluble salts, and other parameters. Several possible models of the burial history, accounting for exposure time, burial time, and inherited nuclides, are tested using inverse modeling techniques to provide a timeline for EAIS history in Victoria Valley. Preliminary results of the four units show ages of 30 Ka, 1.05 Ma, 2.4 Ma, and 3.9 Ma, suggesting the earliest expansion of the EAIS coincides with the warmer and wetter conditions during the Pliocene and corroborates the ANDRILL findings.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Joel Gombiner, Student

    A search for pre-LGM megaflood sedimentation in Cascadia Basin

    Abstract: Marine sediments along the Cascadia margin are likely to contain continuous, long-term records of marine and continental change in the Pacific Northwest over the last several million years. While glaciations, floods, and erosion have reworked the terrestrial record, many marine sites had continuous deposition over this timespan. Such sites are potential archives of oceanographic history, meltwater influx, density-current processes, subduction zone tectonics, and landscape evolution. We propose to study two legacy sediment cores from Cascadia Basin, focusing on depositional chronology and tracers of sediment provenance. The two cores, Deep Sea Drilling Program (DSDP) Sites 174 and 175 are by far the deepest cores from this region, and thus unique in their recovery of sediment spanning multiple glacial-interglacial cycles. This work is a first step towards finding and developing long-term records of megafloods down the Columbia River and understanding Cascadia Basin sedimentation throughout the Pleistocene.

  • 2016-17 | |
    • Bernard Hallet, Faculty
    • Ron Sletten, Faculty

    Freezing soils and patterned ground in the tropics

    Abstract: Geophysical patterns form spontaneously in diverse settings and environments, in response to non-linear processes. Notable examples include sand dunes and ripples, beach cusps, stalactites, icicles, columnar joints, and patterned ground. These patterns not only attract the eye, but they also stimulate studies that often yield fundamental insights of broad interest [1]. Decades ago, we launched a study of a spectacular example of patterned ground, sorted stripes, near the summit of Mauna Kea (Hawaii) that is absolutely striking because of its geometry regularity (see accompanying photograph).  This study is deeply rooted in QRC; Steve Porter catalyzed it, and it addresses periglacial patterned ground, the principal research interest of QRC’s founder, Lincoln Washburn [2].

    This project will complete the work to date, solidify previous results and complement them with new data that will help 1) bring to fruition perhaps the most comprehensive study of periglacial hillslope activity and self-organization to date, and 2) improve understanding of patterned ground and the motion of surface soil and pebbles on alpine hillslopes.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Andrew Hoffman, Student
    • Knut Christianson, Faculty

    Earth Rover – A low budget, expandable, autonomous platform for exploring the Pacific Northwest

    Abstract: This product, designed to support data collection in unsampled regions of glaciers where high strain rates crevasse the ice surface, and oversteepened tributary walls induce avalanching will expand the sampling capabilities of UW earth scientists in the pacific Northwest. Working with students from UW mechanical engineering, we will build on an established rover design by developing steering vision, and suspension systems that will optimize the rover’s turning efficiency and mobility over uneven mountainous terrain. The final rover product will be deployed on Easton Glacier, measuring surface elevation change via photogrammetry, snow depth and snow water equivalent from ground-penetrating radar, and glacier velocities from stationary rover GPS measurements. The high impact science and research potential of our modular design will enhance collaborations with the UW engineering and the Quaternary Research Center, and our modular configuration extends Earth Rover’s applications beyond the cryosphere. We anticipate applications in other areas of the geosciences, archeology, and civil and environmental engineering. The co-educational development of our terrestrial Rover will bring these disciplines together on a collaborative project that will continue with further rover development and project integration.

  • 2013-14 | |
    • Batbaatar (Bataa) Jigiidsuren, Affiliate Member

    Mongolia Research

    Abstract: Glaciers in Central Asia present an excellent opportunity to test glacier sensitivity to various climate settings. During the global last glacial maximum, around 20,000 years ago, glaciers in southern Siberia and Altay mountains hosted large glacier-dams to originate some of the largest outburst floods on Earth. Central Mongolia shows a similar pattern of glacier advances, in addition to slightly bigger glaciers ~30,000 years ago. In contrast, Bataa discovered that hyper-arid Gobi glaciated during the warmest period of the early-middle Holocene, with no evidence of glaciations during the coldest of the last ice age. In that condition sunlight provides sufficient energy to evaporate the ice from these precipitation-starved glaciers. This phenomenon was first observed in dry parts of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan, and now similar ‘peculiarity’ in the high roofs of Tibet have been discovered. This project aimed to constrain the chronology of glaciers in key locations, and compile a map of paleo-glaciers with different sensitivities.

  • 2013-14 | |
    • Batbaatar (Bataa) Jigiidsuren, Member

    Dating newly suspected MIS2 moraines in Central Asia by CRN

    Abstract: Glaciers in Central Asia present an excellent opportunity to test glacier sensitivity to various climate settings. During the global last glacial maximum, around 20,000 years ago, glaciers in southern Siberia and Altay mountains hosted large glacier-dams to originate some of the largest outburst floods on Earth. Central Mongolia shows a similar pattern of glacier advances, in addition to slightly bigger glaciers ~30,000 years ago. In contrast, we have discovered that hyper-arid Gobi glaciated during the warmest period of the early-middle Holocene, with no evidence of glaciations during the coldest of the last ice age. In that condition sunlight provides sufficient energy to evaporate the ice from these precipitation-starved glaciers. This phenomenon was first observed in dry parts of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan, and now we’ve also discovered similar ‘peculiarity’ in the high roofs of Tibet. This project aims to constrain the chronology of glaciers in key locations, and compile a map of paleo-glaciers with different sensitivities.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Jiun-Yu Liu, Student
    • Peter Lape, Faculty

    The Emergence of Iron Metallurgy in Taiwan: a Trade Diaspora Model

    Abstract: My research takes a new approach to investigating the emergence of prehistoric iron metallurgy in Taiwan by using a trade diaspora model, which privileges the role of trade diasporic “foreigner” communities and their interactions with local communities. Trade diaspora are characterized by groups of merchants who travel far from home and locate themselves in a different community to trade goods and provide services. Recently, archaeologists have applied the concept of trade diaspora to explain the interaction between foreign immigrants and indigenous people in historic periods. My project will use the trade diaspora model to explain archaeological data from a time period in Taiwan pre-dating the appearance of documentary historical records, about 1800 years ago.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Ben Marwick, Member
    • Alexis Litch, Member

    Re-evaluating of the geology and archaeology of the Chauk region, Myanmar: New approached to an archaeologically significant landscape in Southeast Asia

    Abstract: The Chauk region of central Myanmar is important as the source of oft-repeated but untested claims about Middle Pleistocene human occupation of mainland Southeast Asia. In the 1930s Hallam Movius and others made a cursory survey of the area, and reported surface finds of stone artefacts and a model of Plio-Pleistocene landscape evolution. Movius’ model proposed a series of river terraces formed during the Pleistocene and correlated to the last glacial-interglacial cycles. Stone artefacts found on the surface of these terraces were argued by Movius to have been placed there shortly after the terraces formed. This claim is based partly on his interpretation of the terrace chronology, and partly on assumptions about the antiquity of the artefacts due to their simple appearance. From this claim comes the concept of the ‘Movius Line’, which roughly divides the Palaeolithic world into a western hemisphere (where handaxes and and other bifaces are present) and the eastern hemisphere (where they are absent). Defining and explaining the Movius Line is an active debate in modern Palaeolithic Archaeology.

    Despite the prominence of the Movius Line in discussions of global patterns of human evolution, there has not been any new data from the location of Line since Movius’ initial field work. The glacio-eustatic nature of the terraces is itself doubtful, which would prevent any correlation with their European analogs, as previously done by Movius and Terra. There is no absolute chronology – the terraces have not been investigated using radiometric methods. There has been no analysis of the stone artefacts to verify that they are human-made and rather than natural, a strong possibility given their proximity to a seasonally high-energy river.

    This pilot project proposes to address these gaps in our knowledge of Southeast Asian archeology. We aim to (1) determine the nature of the terraces by careful geological mapping and study of sediment provenance; (2) collect samples for dating them; (3) survey for stone artefacts on the surface to collect for detailed analysis. New landscape maps and descriptions will directly add to our knowledge of landscape evolution in this region. New dates will allow us to make novel, robust comparisons to regional Quaternary dynamics. Archaeological finds will facilitate comparisons with nearby regions and periods from which we can infer technological connections or isolation.

  • 2013-14 | |
    • Dave Montgomery, Member

    Tibet Moraines Project

    Abstract: From dating of lake sediments from a QRC trip to NE India, it is clear there were historical floods (e.g., 750 AD), and from the Chinese dating it is clear there were several earlier ones during the Pleistocene. In 2004, samples were collected that allowed dating the times during which there may have been major ice dams across the Yarlong Tsangpo, but most of these samples have not been analyzed as the chronology of glacial damming was outside of the scope of the project that supported the fieldwork. The QRC trip to NE India collected samples of flood deposits that have been dated to the time of the most recent Tibetan lake sediments. This project proposed to date the remaining samples from Tibet using cosmic ray exposure analysis with Be-10 for boulders sampled from moraines and OSL for sands from lake sediment exposures. These data will provide a much-enlarged chronology of ancient glacial river damming (and thus outburst flooding) events that will be of great use for an ongoing project (Huntington/Montgomery) dating the Tsangpo flood deposits in NE India. The goal is to combine our existing dates on Tibetan lake sediments and dated moraine dams collected by Gillespie, Montgomery, and Henck, with downstream flood deposits collected by Larson, Montgomery, and Huntington to write a group QRC paper that ties these observations together (through the dates) and sets the stage for further work in the region.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Julian Sachs, Faculty

    Expression of the 8.2 Kyr Event in Palau

    Abstract: The relatively stable climate of the Holocene epoch (11.7 kyr BP-present) was punctuated by a period of large and abrupt climate change ca. 8.2 kyr BP, when an outburst of glacial meltwater into the Labrador Sea drove large and abrupt climate changes across the globe. However, little is known about the response of the tropical Pacific to this event. This project seeks to characterize the climatic expression of the 8.2 Kyr Event in Palau, western tropical North Pacific by measuring hydrogen isotope (2H/1H, 2H) ratios of microalgal lipids in sediments from Jellyfish Lake on the island of Merchecher and T-Lake on the island of Ngeruktabel. Since 2H values of microalgal lipids in the marine meromictic lakes of Palau have been shown to be sensitive recorders of rainfall we propose to produce a rainfall reconstruction with decadal-to-centennial resolution for the period 9-7 kyr BP. Sediment cores for this project were collected in 2013 and 2016 and initial core descriptions and radiocarbon chronologies have been generated. We hypothesize that the tropical rain band known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) was driven south by the meltwater flood, as predicted by climate models, and that this resulted in a drying of Palau.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Hope Sisley, Student
    • Julian Sachs, Faculty

    Rainshadow Effect on Stable Isotopes of n-Alkanes across the Cascade Mountains of Washington, USA

    Abstract: The Cascade Mountains, which run north-south through Oregon and Washington into British Columbia, are one of the dominant geographic features of the Pacific Northwest.  This project seeks to examine the stable-isotopic orographic rainshadow effect produced by the Cascades by comparing the d2H (dD) and d13C of n-alkanes (a long-chain hydrocarbon found in the waxy cuticles of plant leaves) from living plants, leaf detritus, and soil organic matter in a transect across the Cascades of Washington state.  The dD of a plant is dominantly dependent on the dD of local rainfall, while the d13C depends mainly on the species of the plant and the aridity of its environment; the dD and d13C of n-alkanes in the soil depend on the plants which have contributed leaf litter to that soil.  Documenting how the Cascade rainshadow affects and/or controls hydrogen and carbon isotopic trends is critical to understanding the fate of atmospheric moisture when it passes through orogens, and how plants (and soils) react to those changes.  Moreover, understanding how isotopic trends evolve across the Cascade rainshadow is a mandatory step towards documenting the topographic evolution of the Cascades through geologic time via isotopic proxies.  Identifying the nature of the isotopic trends – for instance, where and how transitions in isotopic composition occur – will allow us to determine if the degree and trend of isotopic depletion is directly correlated to rainshadow intensity and, by extension, the Cascades’ topography. This will provide a dataset for researchers studying isotopic distillation both by plants and by atmosphere dynamics, and a modern comparator for studies of ancient isotopic trends in this and similar settings.

  • 2016-17 | |
    • Ron Sletten, Faculty

    Constraining material properties and age of Mima Mounds

    Abstract: The Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington are the archetype for similar appearing mounds around the world. This project seeks to better constraining the time for the formation of the mounding, as well as documenting the nature of the organic matter in the A horizon. An estimate of the time since the mounds have formed will be determined using cosmogenic Be-10. The exposure age of clasts in the center of a mound (shielded by 2+ m of A horizon material) will be compared to the exposure age of clasts from the inter-mound area at depth of a few decimeters. The exposure age will also help determine if the mounds are in a stable positions or if they are dynamically being rebuilt. The dark organic horizons are believed to be from black carbon that formed in the Mima Prairie as it was burned to facilitate the agricultural practices of the Native Americans for growing Camus species, a starch-rich plant that they actively harvested. The black carbon content will be estimated by chemical oxidation followed by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to measure the aromatic content. To provide additional characterization, the organic matter in particular mounds that are dated by Be-10 and analyzed for black carbon, will be dated by C-14. The data will be interpreted in the context of the prevailing hypothesis of mound formation being formed by gophers. The Mima Mounds will be featured as an excursion for the Geological Society of America conference to be held in Seattle in October 2017, as well as presented in a talk at the memorial session for Steve Porter.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Li-Ying Wang, Student
    • Ben Marwick, Faculty
    • Julian Sachs, Faculty

    A pilot geochemical analysis of food residues on ancient pottery from Kiwulan, Taiwan

    Abstract: Our current knowledge of indigenous settlements in northeastern Taiwan suggests a relatively complex social system in the 17th century, around the same time as European contact (Chen 2007; Cheng 2008; Li 2014). I am investigating that whether European contact in this region stimulated a change in indigenous social organization by examining the archaeological evidence at the Kiwulan site (600 to 100 BP, i.e. AD 1400-1900), a major late Iron Age settlement in northeastern Taiwan (Chen 2007). In order to examine the social changes that occurred as a result of the European contact, I am comparing multiple lines of archaeological evidence between the pre-contact and post-contact periods.

    This project proposes to further examine one of my foci, locally made pottery, which can reflect prehistoric socioeconomic patterns and enable me to explore the emergence of social inequality. I plan to test the hypothesis that European contact in northeastern Taiwan stimulated a change in social organization, which transformed food consumption at Kiwulan. My model predicts that one of the effects of social-economic inequality induced by European contact was greater differentiation of food consumption after European contact. I will use well-established isotope geochemistry methods to identify the types of foods stored in pots found at Kiwulan.

  • 2017-18 | |
    • Elizabeth Wratten, Student
    • Juliet Crider, Member

    An investigation of the tsunami deposits of Mud Bay, Bellingham, Washington

    Abstract: The purpose of this project is to collect and describe sediment cores from Mud Bay, Bellingham, Washington, for the purpose of assessing the presence of tsunami deposits. No previous tsunami work has been conducted in this location, but the estuarine setting is ideal for preserving tsunami deposits. Furthermore, rapid historic sedimentation following early 20th-century construction of a railroad trestle has likely protected any late-Holocene deposits from erosion or disturbance. Proposed work includes characterizing stratigraphy in the incised creek channel, sediment coring on the mud flats. By collecting plant fragments, for radiocarbon dating, above and below horizons that show abrupt land-level change or a silt/sand sediment pulse, I hope to bracket the age of the event horizon and compare this to known tsunami deposits in the region.

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