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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program

17-14. Using paleomagnetism to understand the tempo of hazardous volcanic and neotectonic activity

Paleomagnetism can provide critical constraints on the eruptive behavior of volcanoes and on the extent, magnitude, and timing of deformation in active tectonic terranes.  Understanding the hazards posed by volcanoes requires characterizing their behavior, including quantifying the timing and magnitude of past eruptions in as much detail as possible. Comprehensive histories of hazardous volcanoes in subduction environments (e.g. Cascades and Aleutians) and magmatic plume environments (e.g. Hawaii, Yellowstone) have shown that volcanoes commonly erupt in brief episodes.  In many cases, temporal clustering of eruptions has been identified by absolute chronometers (e.g., 40Ar/39Ar dating), but these methods cannot distinguish whether eruption episodes occurred over timespans of thousands of years or tens of years.  Deciphering the frequency, clustering, and duration of volcanic eruptions is essential to understanding and evaluating potential volcanic hazards and, when coupled with stratigraphic, volumetric, and compositional data, to understanding fundamental magmatic processes.  Paleomagnetism utilizing paleosecular variation of the geomagnetic field is the only tool available that can constrain prehistoric eruptive events on time scales of decades to centuries.

Volcanism and tectonism are commonly linked. Locations of volcanoes are typically fault-controlled such that an understanding of both local volcanic and regional tectonic environments is essential to evaluating seismic hazards. The applications of paleomagnetism are broad and lend themselves to a variety of potential research areas including using paleomagnetism to enhance our knowledge of volcano-tectonic linkages.  We welcome proposals on topics such as characterizing the frequency of eruption of the abundant small volcanoes along the Cascades arc axis, or improving our understanding of the frequency, timing, and duration of magmatism at high threat volcanoes (e.g., identifying brief episodes in the growth of South Sister volcano near the rapidly growing city of Bend, OR, or evaluating the apparent episodic behavior of Yellowstone caldera lavas). The well-defined stratigraphic control provided by laterally-extensive Columbia River basalts provides a research opportunity in constraining magnitudes and rates of deformation to evaluate potential seismic hazards in the forearc and Yakima fold belt of the Pacific Northwest.

We seek a postdoctoral scientist with strong field and laboratory experience in paleomagnetism.  The successful applicant will work with experienced geologists and paleomagnetists based in Menlo Park, CA, and with chronologists who are focused on improving the dating of volcanic rocks via 40Ar/39Ar dating, surface exposure dating, and/or ion microprobe dating of zircons.  The imminent arrival of an updated cryogenic magnetometer that has automated sample handling capabilities will provide the incumbent with rapid turnaround for sample analysis, creating the opportunity for multiple field iterations to constrain research hypotheses.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisors (listed below) early in the application process to discuss potential project ideas.

Proposed Duty Station: Menlo Park, CA

Areas of Ph.D.: Geology, geophysics, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Geologist; Research Geophysicist; Research Physical Scientist. (This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the USGS Human Resources specialist.)

Research Advisor(s): Julie Donnelly-Nolan, (650) 329-5210,; Duane Champion, (650) 329-4671,; Andy Calvert, (650) 329-5276,; Mark Stelten, (650) 329-5213,; Cynthia Gardner, (360) 993-8914,; Jon Hagstrum, (650) 329-4672,; Scott Bennett, (650) 329-5365,

Human Resources Office Contact: Leah Lor,, 916-278-9394

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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
URL: Donnelly-Nolan.htm
Direct inquiries to Cara A. Campbell at
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Last modified: 11:07:38 Fri 08 Feb 2019
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