My research interests span multiple earth science subdisciplines – soil science, mineral weathering, geomorphology, and ecosystem development. First and foremost, my greatest research interests lie in understanding the geographical, physico-chemical, environmental conditions that influence soil development in the Great Lakes Region. The sandy, nutrient-poor, strongly developed soils in the mixed forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are particularly interesting to me. The proximity of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Lake Superior leads to enhanced snowfall, thicker snowpacks, and inhibits soil freezing. Thus, the unique geography of these soils provides a unique and excellent opportunity to explore the connections between climate, parent material, and vegetation and how their interactions affect soil development.
As soil development occurs over time, primary minerals are weathered and release cations into solution. Thus, the current elemental constituents of the solid soil will reflect the geochemical history of the weathering system. Throughout the dense forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we see evidence for widespread soil disturbance by tree uprooting, which occurs naturally during windstorms or heavy rain or snow storms. Tree uprooting leads to microtopographic variations in the earth’s surface, forming pit-mound features. Soil development appears to be accelerated in the pits vs. the mounds, due to thicker litter layers and snowpacks and greater exposure to percolating water. These environmental factors should also enhance soil weathering and pedogenesis. I am interested in quantifying the degree of weathering that occurs in tree uprooted pits vs. undisturbed soils.
Due to greater insulation driven by thicker snow packs in the Upper Peninsula, considerable snowmelt water is delivered to deeper horizons in these soils. My advisor, Dr. Schaetzl, and his colleague, Dr. Rothstein in the Forestry Department, examined the chemistry of soil water moving through various horizons in these soils during various seasons. They determined that the largest delivery of water occurs during the spring snowmelt, ultimately driving pedogenesis and promoting deep carbon storage. Part of my dissertation work is to take their conclusions one step further and collect soil water at a much greater temporal resolution during the spring snowmelt season. I am interested exactly when the greatest concentrations of dissolved constituents are delivered to deeper horizons, and how they move relative to one another throughout the snowmelt. Ultimately, I would like to connect these data with my solid-phase soil weathering data in order to better understand the entire weathering system of soils in this region.