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Current Mentors and Research Areas

Dr. R Shane McGary (PI) is a JMU geophysicist, specializing in electrical and electromagnetic geophysical methods. REU students will combine geological understanding with resistivity and/or electromagnetic geophysical data to characterize the arrangement of void spaces and water flow patterns within the subsurface karst system.

Dr. Ángel Garcia (Co-PI) is a paleoclimate specialist who uses caves and other karst features as a central theme for multi-disciplinary research. He is interested in the intersection of cultural knowledge and geologic information in addition to the reconstruction of historical or ancient climatic events using speleothems among other components of caves as proxy. REU students will work with data collected from speleothems to reconstruct aspects of paleoclimate.

Dr. Ángel Acosta-Colon is a UPR-Arecibo interim department head (Physics and Chemistry department) and cave cartographer who uses LiDAR technology to construct tridimensional physical models of caves and other void spaces. Organized cave exploration involves the physical pursuit of discovery of caves and cave systems, and scientific field documentation that can be in the form of GPS location, karst formation, cave speleothems, and survey documentation. Acosta-Colon’s research integrates big data processing information using CaveGeoMap and Matlab® code that uses basic survey cartography instruments (digital distance meters, inclinometers and compasses) and measurements (lengths, azimuths and inclinations).

Dr. Yonathan Admassu is a JMU engineering geologist interested in stability of highway cut slopes that are subject to differential weathering. He is also interested in the application of terrestrial and airborne LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and ArcGIS for various applications in engineering geology, including sinkhole identification, mapping, and classification. REU students will be using airborne LiDAR for the identification and automated classification of different types of sinkholes in the Shenandoah Valley.

Dr. Kayla Yurco is a JMU geographer broadly interested in conservation, development and land use, and environmental governance. She considers the coupled interactions between social and ecological systems and the growing importance of unprotected ecosystems. REU students might investigate the fragility of unique ecosystems in the cavern environment and ways to protect them.

Dr. Chris Swezey is a research geologist affiliated with the U.S. Geological Survey. He conducts basic geologic mapping and research on stratigraphy, sedimentology, and geomorphology. His work is focused primarily on Paleozoic basins of the eastern United States, and potential applications for water, energy, and mineral resources. In addition, Dr. Swezey is interested in the western Virginia karst region in the Valley and Ridge Province of the Appalachian Mountains. REU students will construct stratigraphic profiles of carbonate rocks.

Dr. Bruce Wiggins is a JMU biologist who investigates how streambank restoration practices in agricultural areas affect the community structure of benthic macroinvertebrates in streams. He integrates GIS to measure characteristics of the surrounding landscape that affect water quality with the goal to understand the role that land use plays in water quality, and to determine how well the various types of restoration practices are working. REU students will use GIS to analyze water quality data from karst-containing watersheds.

Callan Bentley is interested in the communication of geological concepts, particularly through visualizations. Callan constructs and deploys gigapixel imagery, 3D models built using photogrammetry, and virtual field experiences to share understanding and appreciation of geological ideas. REU students will be working in the construction of useful products/websites/modules that help people (students, the public, policy makers, etc.) internalize geological lessons about karst terrain.

Dr. Dan Doctor is a research geologist in the U.S. Geological Survey conducting geologic mapping and specialized geologic research for the Appalachian Basin project. His current research interests include stratigraphy of the Appalachian Basin, landscape evolution within the Appalachian Valley and Ridge physiographic province, karst hydrology and geomorphology, sinkhole hazard studies, and paleoclimate records from karst regions. REU students will work with Dr. Doctor in developing field based maps of the Appalachian Basin to understand the role of stratigraphy in sinkhole and cave development.

Dr. John Haynes is a JMU sedimentary petrologist with research interests developed around problems identified in the field that can be explored through the study of sedimentary rocks in thin section, and with other petrographic methods. He works with sedimentary successions of all ages, and most of his research in the U.S. is based on Lower Paleozoic strata of Ordovician and Silurian age, including decades of work on Ordovician K-bentonite beds. REU students will develop stratigraphic sections to study the intersection of bedding orientation and cave development within the Shenandoah Valley.

Dr. Randall Orndorff is a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, focusing on geologic controls on karst development. Dr. Orndoff’s research explores the link between cave and sinkhole development to stratigraphy/lithology, structural geology (faults and folds), topography, and potentiometric surfaces. As a geologic mapper, data from almost all of these potential aspects are collected and can be compared to cave passage position and trends of sinkholes on the earth’s surface. REU students will construct maps of cave passages to determine what stratigraphic or bedding aspects of the geology control the karst development or joints, folds, and faults within the bedrock. Maps will be complemented with LiDAR technology to identify sinkholes that can then be overlain on a geologic map to look for correlations to geologic unit, structure, or topographic position.

Questions? Please contact Dr. Angel Garcia at or 540-568-6567.

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