As an (OLD) undergrad student here at New Mexico Tech, I am lucky enough to be involved with a very interesting science project. This school is actually renowned for the research opportunities available, and it truly doesn't disappoint if you are at all interested in doing some work while studying. Although I am passionate about volcanoes, I also like seismology and faults a great deal too. Maybe because my family lived in LA for many years, and I was in countless earthquakes growing up (including the North Ridge Quake of '94), I don't know! But I am fascinated by the mechanics of the moving, dynamic earth, it never ceases to amaze me!
There are many types of faults and they all are formed in different tectonic regimes. The ones I am working on are in Southern California, one in the Salton trough, the other in the Whipple mountains. They are both low-angle normal faults, which in the world of geology are the most contentious type of fault. Some scientists don't believe they actually form and slip at low angles (<30 degrees), because that orientation defies accepted rock mechanic theory. Our group is working to answer some basic questions about how they form and slip at this mis-oriented angle. My part of the project is to conduct a particle size analysis of the fault rocks at different depths from the slip surface. I spend many hours looking down a microscope, taking pictures of "thin sections" of rocks and then manipulating the images. When I plot grain size vs. # of grains on a log scale, the pattern in the graph will help to constrain the conditions of formation of the rocks. It's challenging work, but exciting too cause no one else has ever done this in-depth of a study on low-angle normal fault rocks. Plus, I get to work with two geniuses of structural geologists and 2 genius metamorphic petrologists as well!