OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University, along with several other institutions, has received a collaborative research grant from the National Science Foundation to study how curved mountain chains form.
The research will focus on the Sevier thrust belt from northern Utah to western Wyoming, which was part of an ancient chain of mountains that formed 60-100 million years ago. Since then, uplift of younger mountains, such as the modern Wasatch Range, and erosion have partly stripped away the ancient Sevier mountains, revealing complexly folded and faulted rock layers. Interestingly, the Sevier mountains, like the Alps, did not form in a straight line, but rather were distinctly curved.
WSU Geoscience professor Adolph Yonkee, along with a team of researchers and undergraduate science students, will spend the next three years studying the remains of the Sevier thrust belt in search of clues to better explain how curved mountain chains form.
"Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain why many mountain belts are curved," Yonkee said. "We are looking for evidence to support or disprove these ideas. Along the way I expect we’ll find some surprises."
According to Yonkee, the research also has implications in the search for untapped petroleum reserves. Jim Coogan, one of the senior researchers and Rady Chair of Petroleum Geology at Western Colorado College, will model three-dimensional fold and fault structures to help understand why petroleum fields develop in some parts of curved mountain belts, but not in others.
The grant of about $225,000 will fund three years of research by four senior researchers along with undergraduate student researchers from WSU and Bryn Mawr College. Data collected in the field will be analyzed at both institutions, along with modeling work done at Western Colorado College.
Yonkee said the research area offers unique advantages for such a study, but its size also creates challenges. The study will focus on three transects (respectively centered near Jackson and Afton, Wyoming, and Ogden, Utah) that the team hopes will provide critical information. Ultimately, results will be compared and contrasted with studies of other mountain chains, such as the Pyrenees, Himalayas, Alps, and Andes.
Adolph Yonkee, chair, Department of Geosciences
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