Exploring the Critical Zone

Through field studies, laboratory analysis, and modelling

Hi! My name is Rachel, and I am a PhD student in the Geoscience Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I work with Dr. Ken Ferrier and Dr. Michael Cardiff. I am equal parts geomorphologist and hydrogeologist. That is to say, much of my thought revolves around understanding the feedbacks between rock, water, and life in the shallow subsurface in relation to weathering, porosity development, nutrient mobilization, and the physical and chemical evolution of the Critical Zone. In my work, I use a range of techniques including field study, laboratory analysis, and modelling to investigate the processes that characterize Earth's surface.

When I'm not working, you might find me trail running with my pup, Piper, biking or climbing rocks in Wisconsin parks, or cheering on my favorite football team (hook'em horns)!

Recent Work

Southern Volcanic Zone, CHL

Glaciers are powerful and efficient agents of topographic change, and warming climatic conditions mark a juncture in the way many landscapes are evolving as they re-emerge from beneath retreating glaciers. Active volcanic environments are uniquely impacted by conditions deep within Earth's crust— these conditions control how often, how explosively, and how much mass is erupted. Can surface processes impact crustal conditions that control eruption traits? How do glacial and interglacial cycles play a part? My collaborators and I have taken to the Southern Volcanic Zone in Chile as a natural laboratory to answer these questions.

Wyalusing State Park, WI

The Critical Zone is Earth's thin skin that hosts interactions between life, water, rock, and the atmosphere. Water movement in and through the Critical Zone is governed in part by surface and subsurface structure. Water reacts with minerals in the soil and rock as it flows through a hillslope, altering chemistry and structure in a process called weathering. How do changes in the shape of hillslopes affect patterns of weathering within the hillslope? Does a hillslope with a uniform interior weather the same as one with mixed composition? I am investigating these questions in my work at Wyalusing State Park. (photo by Sally Stevens)


AWG Camping at Wyalusing

Hosting our first event in almost 2 years

This year, I have the pleasure of serving as president for UW-Madison's chapter of the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG). Our chapter was founded in 2019, but has been inactive since March of 2020 due to the prevalence of Covid-19. We have officially ended our chapter's hiatus though, and we organized a camping trip that took place this past weekend at Wyalusing State Park! As you might be able to tell from the group picture, fall colors are just starting to appear in the Wisconsin River valley. I was able to guide and educate the group on geologic history of the area and even check up on my drill sites on the way out of the park. This trip was such a fun collision of passions!

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