Campus Director, NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium

Member, former secretary of the American Geophysical UnionPlanetary Sciences Section

Former member of the Committee for Planetary and Lunar Exploration

Member of the Geological Society of AmericaPlanetary Geology Division

Participant in Project Astro of Connecticut

Research Interests

I have three primary research interests on three terrestrial planets:

Planetary Geomorphology and Tectonics

The oldest landforms on Venus are highly deformed plateaus called tesserae that were witness to the volcanic resurfacing that covers the remaining ~80% of the planet. Through mapping and modeling, we seek to document the complex deformational history of these terrains; even the direction of stress is open to debate. The tesserae are also interesting because they have some chance of being very ancient crust and are thus a high priority target for spectroscopy and sampling.

My group also has focused on the morphologic, geometric and thermal characteristics of martian gullies in order to answer the question: why don’t gullies form everywhere on Mars? Our work shows that the gullies form on slopes that have a particular geometry which likely corresponds to a limited thermal regime. These observations should limit the mechanisms (the how and when) of gully formation.

Planetary Exploration

The ability to do geology on the surface of another planet is fundamentally limited by the landed assets. With a rover on the surface of Mars, your hammer is a power-hungry abrading tool, your eyes collect more data than can be returned and your mobility is constrained by safety concerns, limited communications with Earth and mission lifetime (rovers typically do not turn back). It is critical to give the rovers the tools they need to maximize the chances of observing and recognizing geologically important materials. A large portion of our work, in collaboration with colleagues in the Machine Learning Systems Group at JPL, is devoted to maximizing science return of missions by automating tasks that lead to science discovery. For Mars, we have designed a series of algorithms that can detect important minerals (calcite, jarosite) autonomously in visible/near-infrared spectra. We intend that such algorithms be used onboard rovers and orbiters to analyze all data, including data that might otherwise not be returned to Earth.

I am also obsessed with Venus Sample Return and thinking about the next steps in Venus exploration along with many colleagues as part of VEXAG.

Environmental Remote Sensing

A strength of the E&ES department is the collaborative efforts of several of its members to study the environmental health and history of Long Island Sound. With colleagues at UConn, we are developing methods to detect the (arguably) invasive marsh plant, Phragmites in remote sensing images by measuring the visible/near-infrared spectra of major marsh plant species in the field throughout the growing season. Our work shows that Phragmites is best distinguished from other species in August/September due to its high biomass. By mapping the distribution of Phragmites using images over decades we hope to better understand what contributes to the spread of this species. We also intent that the metrics developed by useful and useable by land managers.

Remote sensing of vegetation may also be useful as a detection method for soils that are contaminated with Hg, a legacy of the hatmaking industry in CT. We’ve measured the spectra of contaminated leaves and find that Hg-rich mustard spinach leaves have a distinct red/NIR response in the early portions of the growing season.