Three new postdoctoral Exploration Fellows have joined the School of Earth and Space Exploration, starting with the current academic year. Their terms run until 2016.
The three scientists are Sarah B. Cichy, Harmony Colella, and Monica Palta. Two earned their PhD degrees in 2011: Cichy at Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany, and Colella at the University of California, Riverside. Palta earned her degree in 2012 at Rutgers.
"My fascination about volcanoes began with a helicopter ride over and into the crater of Mount St. Helens at the age of 9," Sarah B. Cichy says. More than two decades have passed since then and she is still eager and passionate to tackle the questions “How do volcanoes work?” and especially “What causes them to erupt either explosively or effusively?”
“My main research interests are focusing on magma degassing (i.e. bubble formation through volatile exsolution) and microlite crystallization from magma storage conditions to magma ascent dynamics, and beyond”, she says. "I study these processes and their timescales through chemical and textural analyses, comparing natural rock samples with experimental run-products."
Her interdisciplinary SESE Fellowship project will combine petrology, volcanology and isotope geochemistry to develop an eruption-geospeedometer, and is mentored by SESE professors Christy Till, Amanda Clarke, and Richard Hervig.
As a member of the EPIC group (Experimental Petrology & Igneous processes Center; http://epic.asu.edu), Cichy is also responsible for reactivating and managing the high-pressure/high-temperature gas vessel lab of retired ASU professor John Holloway.
She has a personal website at http://scichy.wordpress.com.
Harmony Colella says, "Geology and geophysics have played a central role in my life and interests. I experienced my first earthquake at 7 years old, and I have been fascinated by them ever since."
Her current research is driven by a curiosity about earthquake processes in subduction zones, where the largest and most destructive earthquakes occur. In particular, her work focuses on the interactions of different types of slip along the subduction zone interface and their effects on long-term recurrence rates of great megathrust earthquakes.
"Specifically," she says, "I'm interested in the probability that any given slow-slip event triggers a great megathrust earthquake. Recent studies suggest slow-slip events also trigger an increase of smaller earthquakes near the base of the locked section of the megathrust, which raises interesting questions about seismicity rates prior to great earthquakes."
She also investigates the possible causes of segmentation of the megathrust and its effects on long-term probabilities, and how slip is partitioned between the megathurst and strike-slip faults at a convergent plate boundary.
Like most geologists Colella loves camping and hiking especially on the flanks of volcanoes with her dogs. She volunteers for a local dog rescue. Colella recently began SCUBA diving, which has added a new way to explore some field areas "and piqued my interest in marine life and ecology."
As Rivers Run
For Monica Palta, the draw is the interaction between human society and wetlands.
"I examine water quality and quantity issues affected by human use of, and development within, floodplain ecosystems," she explains. "Currently, I'm studying nutrient and microbial pollution in the Salt River in Phoenix, and the ability of Salt River wetlands to attenuate this pollution under different climate scenarios."
Wetland systems, specifically those associated with rivers and streams, have been the focus of her professional interest and endeavors for the last 15 years. Her passion for better understanding human-river interactions began during an undergraduate year abroad in India, where she conducted a study on pollution loading in the Ganges River for her Senior Honors Thesis.
"Floodplain and estuarine ecosystems provide important services to human populations, and have often been at the epicenter of both agricultural and urban expansion," Palta says. However, she explains, we know little about how key ecosystem processes such as nutrient and water cycling interact with each other, and with pollutant loading and flood control infrastructure, in urban rivers.
As a SESE fellow, she will focus on linking fluvial dynamics to processing of pollutants in the Salt River, under the mentorship of SESE professors Hilairy Hartnett and Enrique Vivoni.
On occasion, she notes, fieldwork in her diverse and unusual field sites has involved dragging ladders and car batteries through swamps to take environmental measurements — while avoiding both carpets of poison ivy and a myriad of poisonous snakes on the ground. In South Carolina, she once had an encounter with shotgun-toting hunters who mistook her rustlings in the brush for a feral hog.
"I never ended up uncovering Jimmy Hoffa’s body from the sediments of my study wetlands in New Jersey," she says. "But I did happen to spot one of my field sites on TV one night — it was the scene of the murder of Vito Corleone’s driver in the first Godfather movie."
Her personal website is at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Monica_Palta