Geomorphology and Soils

Snow and Snowpack Controls on Dissolved Organic Carbon Production, Transport and Stabilization in Northern Forest Soils

Theoretical and Paleoenvironmental Implications of Dating and Characterizing Loess Deposits in the Upper Midwest

Spatial Signatures of Soils and Sediments: Geomorphic Research on Silty Soils in the Midwest USA

Development of a Holistic Framework for Critical Dune Management; Phase 3

Reconstructing the Impact of the Middle Holocene Nipissing Transgression on the Southwest Coast of Lake Huron: An Analog to Future Sea Level Scenarios on a Warming Earth

Reconstructing the Rates of Sand Supply to Lake Michigan Coastal Dunes: Implications for Climate Change and Environmental Policy

Assessing the Chronological Relationship between the Formation of Coastal Sand Dunes and Drought Episodes in the Northern Part of the Lake Michigan Basin

An Attempt to Improve Existing Soil Maps with a Simple Digital Model for Delineating Hillslope Position

Luehmann, M.D., Schaetzl, R.J., Miller, B.A., and M. Bigsby. 2013. “Thin, Pedoturbated and Locally Sourced Loess in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan.” Aeolian Research: in press.

BOOK CHAPTER: Schaetzl, R.J. 2013. “Catenas and Soils.” In: J.F. Shroder (ed.) Treatise on Geomorphology 4:145-158. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

Schaetzl, R.J. and J.W. Attig. 2013. “The Loess Cover of Northeastern Wisconsin.” Quaternary Research 79:199-214.

Schaetzl, R.J., Enander, H., Luehmann, M.D., Lusch, D.P., Fish, C., Bigsby, M., Steigmeyer, M., Guasco, J., Forgacs, C., and A. Pollyea. 2013. “Mapping the Physiography of Michigan Using GIS.” Physical Geography 34:1-38.

Schaetzl, R.J. and M.D. Luehmann. 2013. “Coarse-Textured Basal Zones in Thin Loess Deposits: Products of Sediment Mixing and/or Paleoenvironmental Change?” Geoderma 192:277-285.

Schaetzl, R.J., Yansa, C.H., and M.D. Luehmann. 2013. “Paleobotanical and Environmental Implications of a Buried Forest Bed in Northern Lower Michigan, USA.” Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences: in press

Scull, P. and R. J. Schaetzl.  2011.  “Using PCA to Characterize and Differentiate the Character of Loess Deposits in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, USA.”  Geomorphology.  127: 143-155.

Stanley, K. E. and R. J. Schaetzl.  2011.  “Characteristics and Paleoenvironmental Significance of a Thein, Dual-Sourced Loess Sheet, North-Central Wisconsin.”  Aeolian Research.  2:  241-251.

Hobbs, R., R. J. Schaetzl, and M. D. Luehmann.  2011.  “Evidence for Periodic, Holocene Loess Deposition in Kettles in a Sandy Interlobate Landscape, Michigan, USA.”  Aeolian Research.  3: 215-228.

Drzyzga, S. A., A. M. Shortridge, and R. J Schaetzl.  2011.  “Mapping the Stages of Glacial Lake Algonquin in the Upper Great Lakes Region, Canada and USA, Using and Isostatic Rebound Model.”  Journal of Paleolimnology.

Geomorphology and Soils

geomorph_Lk-Mich-dunesgeomorph_loess-tillGeomorphologic research and teaching in the Geography Department emphasizes the interactions between landforms, soils, and environmental change. Soils-based research is done within a geomorphological framework, while geomorphic research often utilizes soils and paleosols as indicators of landform age or the chronology of landscape evolution. Much of the work we do has a Great Lakes or Great Plains regional focus. Paleoenvironmental reconstruction is a significant component of our research, with the primary goal to determine the range of (paleo) environmental conditions within a region and how they affect landscapes.

Within geomorphology, our program emphasizes a wide range of processes, including soils, glacial, coastal, fluvial, and eolian.

Glacial geomorphology focuses on the northern Great Lakes region, and often employs soils or surficial sediments to interpret the various glacial depositional environments, or to better understand the development/evolution of these landforms over time. We also have a focus on mapping of glacial landforms.

Our Department also has a long history of including undergraduates in research. The most recent example is an undergraduate Honors seminar taught by Randy Schaetzl. The students examined the soils and sediments of two kame deltas in central Lower Michigan, and used luminescence dating technologies to date one of the deltas. This links to a short video about the project.

Coastal geomorphological research is centered on the shore of Lake Michigan and is associated with high resolution monitoring of shorezone processes and change using GPS and remote sensing.

Work in fluvial geomorphology centers on the investigation of the post-glacial history of watersheds and streams in Michigan by reconstructing the evolution of alluvial fills, terraces, and changes in stream characteristics. A goal here is to integrate the influence of Holocene climate change into an understanding of fluvial systems in Michigan. Post-settlement impacts on fluvial systems are also under study by students and faculty.

geomorph_Dec-fieldworkEolian landscapes currently being studied include both coastal and inland dunes within Michigan, and dune fields on the Great Plains. In both areas, the aim is to determine the chronology of dune evolution and the variables that promote activation and/or stabilization of dunes. Thus, buried soils are frequently used as chronostratigraphic markers through radiocarbon dating. We are also developing an interest in dating eolian and outwash sands using optimally-stimulated luminescence.

geomorph_Saginaw-fieldworkWithin soils, the research emphasis is on soil genesis within a variety of geomorphologic contexts. Soil chronosequence and chronofunction work has been a strength of the Department in the past. Work on pedoturbation and soil evolution continues to be a research topic of ongoing interest. Since soils are important keys to (paleo)sedimentologic environments, identification of these environments, though the use of soil maps and other spatial data, are an important component of our work. For example, we are currently using soils data to identify areas of eolian activity in Michigan, to understand some of the many aspects of glacigenic depositional processes, and to decipher the glacial lake chronology, based on soils formed in probable glaciolacustrine sediments. Finally, we are very interested in the links between soils and vegetation in the upper midwest.


Faculty and students utilize a fully-equipped geomorphology lab for their research. The lab houses all the standard equipment needed for soil and sedimentological analyses. Equipment (most newer than 4 years) includes a high precision laser particle size analyzer by Malvern Instruments, two petrographic microscopes, a binocular microscope, image analysis software for one of the petrographic scopes, sieves and shakers, a 4-decimal and 2-decimal balance, two research-grade centrifuges, a pH and ion-specific meter, three ovens, two freezers, a muffle furnace, two dessicators, and all the necessary support glassware and chemicals.

Field equipment in support of our geomorphology lab includes a complete, in-house collection of topographic maps for Michigan, over a dozen Brunton compasses, and numerous soil augers. The Department has its own 23 hp John Deere diesel backhoe, equipped with four-wheel-drive capability, and the ability to dig pits to 2 meters. The backhoe is taken to research sites on its own trailer.

Quaternary Landscapes Research Group

The Quaternary Landscapes Research Group (QLRG) is an informal cluster of like-minded individuals at Michigan State University who are actively reconstructing prehistoric landscapes, both the processes involved in their physical formation as well as their use by humans.  Our research is focused on the Great Lakes region.  Our overall goal is to form and maintain an interdisciplinary network that seeks to improve our historical understanding of the Great Lakes region.

Although the core of the group is based in the Department of Geography, individuals from the Departments of Anthropology and Geology are affiliated, and we work closely and often with them.  Quaternary studies is not the property of Geography on this or any other campus; at MSU it appears so only because it is the most efficient way of operationalizing this web page and the QLRG.  The purpose of this page is to point out the various aspects of Quaternary Studies that are based in, and run out of, Geography at MSU.  Many other projects are ongoing across campus, which we cannot give justice to on this web page.  The QLRG is a field-oriented group; we value field research and working with students in both the field and laboratory.

Publications of the Quaternary Landscapes core faculty (Arbogast, Schaetzl and Yansa)