Most people will never spend any time on Antarctica, let alone months. However, WSU geologist Jeff Vervoort spent two months on the continent studying the Transatlantic Mountains, including six weeks in the field.
In recognition of his body of research, Vervoort was recently elected as a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA).
“I was down in the field for six weeks,” he said. “I was blogging with The New York Times. You can Google ‘Vervoort,’ and it comes up. It was quite an experience.”
Vervoort specializes in radiogenic isotope geochemistry. That type of work involves using the natural isotopes that make up the composition of the rocks. Each element in the rock will have different isotopes, he said.
Using those isotopes, they can decipher different information about the sample. Some elements decay at different rates. Those rates lead to different ratios of isotopes in the samples, he said.
“Some (isotopes) are stable, some are radioactive,” Vervoort said. “We can look at the ratios and determine different things, such as age.”
Those properties can help scientists like Vervoort try to piece together information on how the earth’s crust formed and evolved.
“We find out how old (the rocks are) and the processes of the earth,” he said. “It’s how earth evolved and how the earth formed. We can know more about it.”
That search for knowledge led Vervoort to his work in Antarctica. There has been a lot of interest in what formed the continent. The key is in the glaciers, he said.
“We were looking at the material carried by glaciers to the edge of the ice platform,” he said. “Those contain the origin and the evolution of the continents, and how they evolved through time.”
Vervoort came to WSU in 2002. A big draw was the ability to establish a lab for his research.
“There was the opportunity to establish a radiology isotope laboratory and analytical facilitation,” he said. “We use chemistry, in my case geochemistry, to understand the earth. It’s about how the earth formed to how the oceans formed and circulate and change. The make-up of the earth provides clues.”
The GSA has more than 24,000 members in 97 countries, according to its website. Vervoort is one selectee of an annual class. Members are elected based on their accomplishments, Vervoort said.
“There is one national meeting annually and four regional ones,” he said. “You get nominated, it goes to a committee and then you get selected based off your work.”
Vervoort has no immediate research plans besides finishing his research on Antarctica.