New Gloucester student investigates Yellowstone supervolcano

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FARMINGTON — What volcanic secrets are hidden beneath Yellowstone National Park and how does a University of Maine at Farmington student get the opportunity to investigate them?

Bryce Neal, UMF senior from New Gloucester and a geology major, was accepted in spring 2017 in the National Science Foundation’s competitive Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. He spent the past summer with a team of researchers measuring Yellowstone’s magma chambers and super-heated water located in the Earth’s upper crust.

“This was a terrific opportunity for me as I headed into my senior year,” said Neal. “UMF’s geology program has a huge field component. And with that experience in hand, I felt prepared for the field research in Yellowstone and for where it would take me.”

The Yellowstone research was led by Adam Schultz, Oregon State University professor of geology and geophysics, and hosted by OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Neal worked with Schultz’s team at Yellowstone and in Oregon.

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In Yellowstone, the team used an electromagnetic geophysical exploration technique known as magnetotellurics that images the electrical properties of the earth at subsurface depths. The resulting data show the hot groundwater heated by magma and erupted by geysers that exists under Yellowstone.

The data will be presented by Neal and his REU research partner, Rebeca Gurrola, student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, at the American Geophysical Union Conference, the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world, in New Orleans in December.

In addition, the data will be used as part of a larger project by Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin Madison creating a computer model of the entire system that exists under Yellowstone, the largest supervolcano on the North American continent

Neal is completing his degree at UMF and working as a research assistant with Doug Reusch, professor of geology, helping to map the bedrock above the Saddleback Ridge wind farm. 

“My love of the Maine mountains drew me to UMF,” said Neal. “Its location at the foot of the Appalachians is an ideal place to study the natural world through the lens of geology.” 

During his time at UMF, he has also researched high elevation ponds in Maine; worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Maine Conservation Corps, building and maintaining trails on Maine public lands and state parks, served with the University’s Rotaract organization and skied with UMF’s Nordic Ski Team.

UMF student Bryce Neal, of New Gloucester, is pictured at McKenzie Pass in the Oregon Cascades.

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