Geology Student Broadens Horizons Aboard Research Vessel

By Peyton McElaney

In the summer of 2019, CLAUDIA BANKS was in the American Southwest, mapping formations of sedimentary and metamorphic rock for her capstone geology class. A few weeks later, the 2020 geology graduate found herself in a slightly different position — on-board a research vessel in the Pacific Ocean.

Claudia Banks (Image: Scott Harper)

While trading the arid terrain of the Southwest for the salty breeze of the Pacific may seem like a complete U-turn, for Banks this was just another opportunity to broaden her horizons.

Banks boarded the vessel as a participant in STEMSEAS, a program sponsored by Columbia University with aid from The National Science Foundation that allows undergraduate students to conduct scientific research at sea.

This was unknown territory for Banks, whose previous geology field trips had all been on land. Luckily, STEAMSEAS didn’t require any past research experience on the water.

“The point of the program is to get students interested in oceanography and science overall,” Banks said.

For one week (July 27 to August 3), Banks and her peers sailed from Newport, Oregon, to San Diego, California, aboard the R/V Atlantis, a research vessel capable of advanced investigation and exploration. The participants assisted in graduate student research and attended lectures twice a day discussing their academic futures, with topics that included preparation for internships along with scientific subjects such as hydrothermal vents.

While participating in the program, Banks became familiar with sophisticated technology – most notably the ALVIN submersible. One of the world’s few deep-sea research submersibles, ALVIN is famous for exploring the wreckage of the Titanic, among many other underwater research opportunities.

“It was such a unique experience that we students were very eagerly awaiting due to the prestigious reputation of this submersible among the scientific community,” she said. The 45,000-pound data-collecting vehicle, in operation since 1964, can reach depths up to 2.8 miles underwater.

Banks isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Shortly after her STEMSEAS experience, she presented research at the 2019 Geological Society of America conference in September. With plans to study sedimentary and structural geology in the Amazon Basin and pursue her Ph.D. in Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, she has her eye out for more unique research opportunities.

Banks is back on dry land for now — but could her ambitions take her back on the open water?

“Since I did not throw up and enjoyed life on the ship,” she said, “I discovered that I would love to potentially do a research project on a research vessel.”

Story originally from


Taking the laws of physics and reversing them to understand what happened in the Earth’s interior 55 million years ago. UF Geologist ALESSANDRO FORTE’s along with fellow researchers collaborate to reconstructed the phenomena occurring under the North Atlantic Ocean 55 million years ago, during a period known as the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM),  that may have led to a period of rapid global warming or a “greenhouse gas ‘burp”.

The full story can be viewed here:

UF Publications | Looking Deep Inside The Earth


Forte. A reconstruction on the 3-D structure of the Earth's mantle below the North Atlantic 55 million years ago.
Forte. A reconstruction on the 3-D structure of the Earth’s mantle below the North Atlantic 55 million years ago.
Ellen and Jon Martin led three NSF-funded field deployments to Greenland over the past two summers, for a total of 20 weeks in the field.  The project introduced 2 UF Postdocs, 2 PhD students and 3 undergraduates to high latitude field work in remote locations, and has employed additional undergraduates to help analyze samples back at UF.
The goal of the project is to sample two types of streams in Greenland, those that drain ice sheet meltwater from newly exposed landscapes and others that drain annual precipitation and permafrost melt (no glacial water) from more mature landscapes.  The team analyzes the chemical composition of these two stream types to determine how they differ and how those differences may vary over a range of time scales from daily, to annual, to millennial.
Jon Martin, Andrea Pain (Postdoc), Scott Schnur (PhD student, Emory University), Mark Robbins (PhD student), and Hailey Hall (undergraduate) sampling waters and gas exchange along a river outside of Sisimiut, a town of ~1500 residents on the west coast of Greenland. (Photo by Ellen Martin)

Their results should contribute to our understanding of how weathering in these two types of streams affects delivery of nutrients to the ocean as well as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the oceans to help refine predictions of future responses to ice-sheet retreat and to provide context that will allow scientists to interpret past ice-sheet retreats and climate changes, based on chemical records.

See information about ongoing NSF-funded Greenland Research aimed at developing a holistic understanding of weathering across forelands of retreating ice sheets:

Thomas Bianchi and Elise Morrison’s article in AUG’s EOS addresses the need to establish aquatic critical zones (ACZ’s) and understand how human manipulation of the surface through canals, dammed reservoirs, irrigation ditches, and pollution effects species diversity, microbial communities, and nutrient levels in aquatic zones across the planet. Through this research, they hope to get a full picture of the extent of the Anthropocene and understand how these changes will continue into the future as climate change.

Photo Credit:

A study by Dr. Joseph Meert — Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences — and his colleagues suggests an unstable magnetic field may provide an explanation for major evolutionary changes at the end of the Ediacaran Period (542Ma). Read more about their study in a recent article featured in Science Magazine, “Hyperactive magnetic field may have led to one of Earth’s major mass extinctions.” The original research article is currently in press in Gondwana Research — “Organisms with the ability to escape UV radiation would be favored in such an environment.”


Meert, J.G., Bazhenov, M.L., Levashova, N.M., Landing E., Rapid changes in magnetic field polarity during the Late Ediacaran: Linking the Cambrian Evolutionary Radiation and increased UV-B radiation, Gondwana Research, doi://10.1016/
Those with UF Gatorlink access can read the in press article here.

The magnetospheric shield protects the Earth from incoming solar and cosmic radiation. During periods when the Earths magnetic field is weak, the shield is down and harmful UV-B is increased on the surface of the Earth.
The magnetospheric shield protects the Earth from incoming solar and cosmic radiation. During periods when the Earths magnetic field is weak, the shield is down and harmful UV-B is increased on the surface of the Earth.