Paul Heller - Research Statement

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My research interests revolve around the study of sedimentary response to tectonic, climatic and sea-level changes over various time scales. If we hope to interpret such events as the tectonic timing of mountain belts, the history of eustasy or climate change, we must first understand how these events influence sedimentary basin development and deposition. Unfortunately, studies of modern systems, while showing us active depositional processes, can not be simply scaled up to explain the evolution of stratigraphy that took millions of years to develop. Sedimentary basins are more than the simple addition of many short-term events. Over long time periods, basin stratigraphy is primarily controlled by rates of change of sediment supply, basin subsidence and absolute sea level. However, over short times scales basin subsidence becomes less important, and changes in discharge (for rivers) and autocyclic and chaotic events (river avulsion, storms, climate) have stronger influence. Since these factors can all be changing simultaneously, unique interpretation of stratigraphy is, at best, not trivial.

My approach to basin analysis integrates various methods to study stratigraphy that developed over short, medium and long time scales. While most of my work involves outcrop-scale study, I am also involved in analyzing strata developed on very large (e.g. seismic interpretation of structural basins) and very small scales. My involvement in the development of a small-scale experimental basin provides a means to analyze stratigraphic development under precisely controlled conditions of subsidence, sediment supply and sea level change. Most student projects are centered around field studies designed to test clearly defined hypotheses concerning tectonic (eustatic, climatic)/sedimentary interactions. I stress breadth of training for geology graduate students including a fundamental understanding of subsidence mechanisms, physical transport processes, sedimentary petrology, and the plate tectonic evolution of mountain belts and continental margins.

For a list of ongoing projects please click here.

June 1, 2013