AWG Brunton Award Winner 2020 - Priscilla M.

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The are proud to sponsor Brunton Awards for the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) - created to promote the future of field mapping and data acquisition for the upcoming generation of women geoscientists. This award goes to female geoscience students at the senior level or in her early graduate studies who has been a summer intern, excelled at field camp, or performed field data collection that leads to a senior or graduate thesis.

This year we are proud to award Priscilla for her work in California.

Read more about Priscilla's work below.

As an undergraduate geology major at California State University, Fullerton, I was particularly intrigued by an introductory course in hydrology and surface processes that focused on how different agents of erosion shape the land and impact the formation of diverse depositional environments. I am fascinated by the dynamic processes acting in and on the Earth’s surface and how they illustrate the relationships between individual geological systems. This theme of connectedness is interwoven in my undergraduate research and has fueled my aspirations to pursue graduate-level research opportunities in sedimentology and stratigraphy.

Throughout my undergraduate career, I have experienced the importance of field work through various course-related field and mapping trips. During these trips, I acquired fundamental data collection and mapping skills that have been integral to my development as a geoscientist. I gained my appreciation for field work while taking a field techniques course, in which I learned how to measure attitudes of structural features using a Brunton, create stratigraphic columns, and synthesize field data to make complete geologic maps and cross-sections. Since completing the field techniques course, I have continued to develop my skills in upper-division courses, such as structural geology, in which I had the opportunity to map horizontal and vertical fault displacements near the epicenter of the recent Ridgecrest earthquake event. My ability to collect and interpret field data enables me to approach geologic problems and scientific questions with higher-level thinking and perceptive self-confidence.

For my senior thesis, I determined the major and trace element composition of tuff beds in the oil-bearing Modelo Formation (Modelo) in Balcom Canyon, Ventura County, California. This project involved combining field and analytical techniques, along with the 1985 field notes of Dr. Andrei Sarna-Wojcicki (USGS), to produce a geologic strip map and stratigraphic column with associated geochemical characterizations of the tephra units. I identified, collected, and mapped tuff samples at the field site with my thesis advisor, Dr. Jeffrey Knott. From those samples, I separated the glass shards and sent them to various labs for electron-microprobe (EMA) analysis and inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) analysis. I compared the results to the USGS tephrochronology database and other published studies to identify the volcanic sources and eruption ages of the tuffs. We determined that the source for one of the ash beds is the Yellowstone caldera, which means that airborne volcanic ash travelled over 900 km (600 miles) from its source into California nearly 8.99 million years ago. The correlations of volcanic glass shards also provide the first numerical ages for the Modelo Formation in Ventura County, California. Participating in a project that integrated both field and laboratory work developed my scientific knowledge and skill set, as well as my interest in geochronology and stratigraphy.

This summer, I participated in the first ever CSUF Department of Geological Sciences virtual, four-week field camp course. Despite the unprecedented circumstances brought forth by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), I had the opportunity to collect digital data and interpret geologic events in different field locations without having to physically visit the sites. Using various software tools, I mapped the Frying Pan Gulch and Block Mountain areas near Dillon, Montana and the Quaternary geology of Owens Valley, California.


In the Frying Pan Gulch and Block Mountain areas, I mapped and analyzed parasitic folds, strike-slip faults, and thrust faults using satellite imagery, aerial photography, three-point problems, and unit descriptions. Using the data collected from each site, I produced geologic maps, cross-sections, and stratigraphic columns. Additionally, I wrote a reconnaissance report assessing the hydrocarbon potential in the Block Mountain area using unit descriptions and a stereonet analysis of the main fold at the proposed drill sites. During the third week of field camp, I mapped Quaternary glacial, alluvial and volcanic deposits that have been offset by multiple faults in Owens Valley, California. I measured fault displacement along scarps and calculated the slip rate of the Owens Valley Fault in the Crater Mountain area using LiDAR data. Lastly, I conducted literature review to interpret the depositional and regional tectonic history of California during the Miocene. These four weeks of rigorous training have prepared me to address geologic problems with confidence and work effectively, both collaboratively and independently. I look forward to visiting the field sites in the near future to corroborate my maps and observations in-person. Although I did not experience the long days hiking in the field nor did I get to bond with my classmates over nightly bonfires, I gained invaluable knowledge and skills that will allow me to excel in a new technologically-driven era of the geoscience world.

After graduating from CSUF, I will attend California State University, Northridge (CSUN) as a graduate student in the Department of Geological Sciences. Working in association with Dr. Kathleen Marsaglia at CSUN and Dr. Joann Stock at Cal Tech, I will apply advanced stratigraphic and geochemical techniques to analyze the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California. Additionally, I will work as a teaching assistant for an introductory geology lab course offered to all students enrolled at CSUN. Dr. Marsaglia’s current studies of volcaniclastic sediments at the California Borderlands, and the project she has developed in the Guaymas Basin with Dr. Stock are the types of research that I aspire to conduct in the future. My long-term goal is to complete a PhD program and conduct academic research through a professorship. As a first-generation college student, I recognize the value of encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to seek geoscience careers in and I plan to continue using education as a vessel for the advancement of not only myself, but of all students passionate for scientific knowledge. I look forward to using the Brunton compass in future field endeavors and empowering other women geoscientists to pursue their academic and professional aspirations. Thank you AWG and Brunton for your support!

The Association for Women Geoscientists is an international organization devoted to enhancing the quality and level of participation of women in geosciences and to introduce girls and young women to geoscience careers. Membership is open to anyone who supports AWG's goals.

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