Not your average day job


The evolution of Earth's surface fascinates me because it is the link between atmospheric and deep-Earth processes and the key to understanding their interactions. Tectonic and geodynamic forces build topography, so that constraints on the evolution of mountains and plateaus can reveal how these forces work through time.  Large-scale topography sets the boundary condition for atmospheric circulation patterns on million-year timescales, influencing global climate and precipitation gradients—which, along with the underlying geology and steepness of the landscape itself, control erosion patterns that in turn shape topography.  Understanding how these processes operate and interact in nature is a grand challenge of Earth-systems science and the focus of our research. Read on to learn about some of our recent projects....

Detrital record of focused exhumation & erosion, NE Indian Himalaya

Funding: NSF CAREER Award (NSF-EAR 0955309)

This project investigates Himalayan tectonics using bedrock thermochronology and the detrital record preserved downstream of the Eastern Himalayan Syntaxis. The primary research objectives are to determine 1) how focused rapid exhumation at the syntaxis has been, 2) how long it has persisted, and 3) its impact on the sedimentary record of orogenesis.

Publications: Adlakha et al., 2012 (Tectonophysics); Lang et al., 2013 (Geology); Lang & Huntington, 2015 (EPSL); Lang et al., 2016 (GSAB).

Clumped isotope thermometry of soil carbonates as a proxy for paleoclimate & elevation

Funding:  NSF Grant EAR-1252064

                 Quaternary Research Center

Clumped isotopes in carbonate-bearing paleosols hold great potential to shed light on soil formation processes and quantify environmental change in the deep geologic past. We are investigating the relationship between environmental conditions and temperatures recorded by clumped isotopes in modern soils in the Andes and North America. Our most recent projects are targeting loess deposits in the Palouse region of eastern Washington, the Andes, Europe and the Chinese loess plateau.

Publications: Peters et al., 2013 (EPSL); Huntington & Lechler, 2015 (Tectonophysics); Burgener et al., 2016 (EPSL); Ringham et al., 2016 (EPSL)

Use of clumped isotope thermometry to study burial, diagenesis and fluid-fault interactions in the shallow crust

Funding:  American Chemical Society PRF Grant #49704

This project involves a the application of clumped isotope thermometry to determine temperature of crystallization for diagenetic carbonate.  We combine clumped isotope data, petrographic analysis, CL microscopy, oxygen isotopic analysis, and models of fluid-rock interaction to investigate burial diagenesis on the Colorado Plateau, Tibetan plateau and other areas. Recent projects focus on structural diagenesis and fluid-fault interactions in the Paradox Basin (Moab Fault, UT), Guadalupe Mountains, Andes, and San Andreas Fault.

Project featured in ACS-PRF report on research [here].

Publications: Huntington et al., 2011 (J Sedimentary Res.); Budd et al., 2013 (2013, J Sedimentary Res.); Bergman et al., 2013 (Amer. J. Science); Huntington et al., 2015 (GSA Bulletin); Quade et al., 2015 (GSA Special Paper); Huntington & Lechler, 2015 (Tectonophys., Invited Review); Hodson et al., 2016 (Tectonophysics); Luetkemeyer et al., 2016 (Tectonophysics)

Impact of glacial megafloods on erosion of the Tsangpo gorge, Eastern Himalaya-Tibet

Funding: National Science Foundation Grant EAR-1349279

This project investigates the history, hydraulics, and erosional impact of prehistoric megafloods in the eastern Himalaya, with the goal of understanding how rugged mountain topography influences flood flows and hazard, mechanisms of landslide triggering and erosion during floods, and the role of extreme events in long-term river incision. Our recent work focuses on developing numerical modeling approaches using GeoClaw to simulate historical and prehistoric floods, and comparing the results to field observations and flood deposit provenance.

Publications: Lang et al., 2013 (Geology)

Clumped isotope thermometry methods development

Funding:   Royalty Research Fund Grant 65-2771

                  National Science Foundation Grant EAR-1156134

We built the clumped isotope facility in IsoLab (see Facilities) and continue to work on improving analytical methods, data processing, and thermometer calibration for carbonate clumped isotope thermometry.

Publications: Huntington et al., 2009 (J Mass. Spec.); Huntington & Lechler, 2015 (Tectonophys, Invited Review); Schauer et al., 2016 in review (RCM); Kelson et al., 2016 in review (GCA)

Terrestrial paleoclimate and paleoelevation from carbonate clumped isotope thermometry

Reconstructing Earth-surface paleo-temperatures on continents is important for studying the evolution of life, climate, tectonics and landforms. We use carbonate clumped isotope thermometry to reconstruct temperatures of ancient lakes and soils and develop new approaches to determine the relative contribution of climate change and elevation change to the temperature record, providing a basis for interpreting temperatures recorded by ancient deposits in the western US, Tibet, the Andes and China.

Publications: Huntington et al., 2010 (Tectonics); Huntington et al. (2015, GSAB); Carrapa et al., 2015 (Tectonics); Quade et al., 2015, (GSA Special Paper); Huntington & Lechler, 2015 (Tectonophysics); Hyland et al., 2016 in review (Geology); Licht et al., 2016 in review (AJS)

Geomorphic evolution of the Three Rivers Region, China

This project investigates the erosion and incision history of the Three Rivers Region (TRR) in western China over a broad range of timescales. We use sediment discharge data and cosmogenic radionuclide studies of modern river detritus to (1) test conflicting hypotheses for temporal variations in erosion in the TRR in response to Tibetan Plateau growth, (2) investigate the concept of effective discharge in monsoon regions, and (3) document the impact of recent development activities on erosion.

Publications: Henck et al., 2010 (Geology); Henck et al., 2011 (EPSL); Schmidt et al., 2011 (Annals Assoc. Amer. Geographers)

Erosion, deformation & climate in the Nepal Himalaya

This project focuses on documenting erosion rates and patterns of faulting in the Nepal Himalaya in order to test the hypothesis that climatically driven erosion has focused deformation along the Himalayan front through time. The work integrates 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology, thermal-kinematic numerical modeling, geomorphology, and structural geology approaches.

Publications: Hodges et al., 2004 (EPSL); Ruhl & Hodges, 2005 (Tectonics); Huntington & Hodges, 2006 (JGR); Huntington et al., 2006 (EPSL); Huntington et al., 2007 (Tectonics)

Inferring flow conditions from sedimentary deposits: turbidity currents, tsunamis & floods

This research focuses on developing methods of inverting geometric and grain size data from sedimentary deposits  to quantify the flow conditions under which they were deposited. Such methods can be applied to a variety of  flows that are difficult to observe directly or model in the laboratory, providing quantitative information about ancient depositional environments.

Publications: Huntington et al., 2007 (EOS)

Some of this material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.