Quaternary Landscapes Research Group

an informal assemblage of geographers and our colleagues working on research questions related to Quaternary landscapes in the Great Lakes region, USA

Our home is the Department of Geography at Michigan State University

General contact information
Department of Geography, 116 Geography Building
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1117


The QLRG Geography core faculty
From left: Randy Schaetzl, Catherine Yansa, Alan Arbogast

Quick link to publications list


What we are all about

The Quaternary Landscapes Research Group (QLRG) is an informal cluster of like-minded individuals at Michigan State University who are actively reconstructing prehistoric landscapes, both the processes involved in their physical formation as well as their use by humans.  Our research is focused on the Great Lakes region.  Our overall goal is to form and maintain an interdisciplinary network that seeks to improve our historical understanding of the Great Lakes region.  

Although the core of the group is based in the Department of Geography, individuals from the Departments of Anthropology and Geology are affiliated, and we work closely and often with them.  Quaternary studies is not the property of Geography on this or any other campus; at MSU it appears so only because it is the most efficient way of operationalizing this web page and the QLRG.  The purpose of this page is to point out the various aspects of Quaternary Studies that are based in, and run out of, Geography at MSU.  Many other projects are ongoing across campus, which we cannot give justice to on this web page.  The QLRG is a field-oriented group; we value field research and working with students in both the field and laboratory.
field trip GEO 408


Who we are and what we our interests are

Core Geography faculty (alphabetical)

Alan Arbogast, Professor

PhD Kansas 1995  
Advisor: William Johnson  
email address
 

517-355-5262

  • eolian geomorphology
  • fluvial geomorphology
  • coastal geomorphology

 

 

 

 

Randy Schaetzl, Professor
 
PhD Illinois 1987  
Advisor: Donald Johnson
email address    
517-353-7726

  • soils and soil geomorphology 
  • loess and eolian systems
  • Quaternary landscape evolution 
  • plant geography 
  • pedology; indices of soil development 
  • glacial geomorphology

Catherine Yansa, Associate Professor
  
PhD Wisconsin-Madison 2002
Advisor: Vance Holliday 
email address   517-353-3910

  • palynology (pollen)
  • paleobotany (plant macrofossils)
  • Quaternary paleoenvironmental reconstruction
  • plant geography
  • paleoethnobotany

 

 


Associated QLRG faculty
We are proud to be associated with the many fine faculty at MSU, who also teach and conduct research on Quaternary topics.
Jeff Andresen (Geography)
  • climatology
  • agricultural meteorology

Lynne Goldstein (Anthropology)

  • archaeology
  • Great Lakes region
Grahame Larson (Geology)
  • glacial geology
  • hydrogeology
Bill Lovis (Anthropology)

  • archaeology
  • cultural resource management
  • paleoecology

Dave Lusch (Geography)

  • glacial and periglacial geomorphology
  • soil, landform and vegetation interrelationships
  • remote sensing, GIS and GPS applications
Jody O'Gorman (Anthropology)
  • archaeology
  • late prehistory in the Great Lakes region
  • archaeological resource management

Remke van Dam (Geology)

  • applied geophysics
  • sedimentology /clastic sedimentary systems

Michael Velbel (Geology)

  • regolith geochemistry and mineralogy
  • weathering

What our current research is focused on

Current research foci reflect the myriad of landscapes and prehistoric cultural affiliations found in the Great Lakes region, including:

  • Geoarcheology


Our work revolves around the Quaternary landscapes of the Great Lakes region, with an emphasis on Michigan.  Because landscape evolution is complex and multi-faceted, we approach these problems from a multi-disciplinary angle, and we incorporate GIS in our research prootocols.  Our research strengths and equipment allow us to approach problems of Quaternary paleolandscape and paleoenvironmental reconstruction using data derived from soils (both surface and buried), landforms and plant fossils.  Much of our work involves 14C and OSL dating, as a way of establishing approriate paleoenvironmental chronologies.

 

 

What our current research areas are like
It's no secret.  Many people think Michigan and the Great Lakes region consist of little more than cloudy, flat, dense forests.  NOT true!  We think this landscape is one of the most exciting, complex and fascinating landscapes to work in.  And so little of it has been studied that much remains to be done.  Top it of with the fact that much of this landscape is public land (State or National  Forest, etc.) and what you have is a recipe for unhindered, fun and interesting fieldwork.  Have a look at some of the landscapes we work in....  You might be surprised at what you see.


A couple of 10,800-year old spruce logs, buried by outburst flood, northern Lower Michigan.

What we have published
We believe in publication in peer-reviewed, research-based outlets.  The list that can be reached via this link provides a complete, current compilation of our published works, including abstracts.  We would be happy to provide reprints at any time; just email us and ask.  We believe strongly in involving students in our research and publication; many of our papers are co-authored with students.
 

The equipment we have
We have ample field and laboratory equipment to support our research and that of our students.  The list below includes the main pieces of equipment that we currently have.

FIELD EQUIPMENT

  • A 24 horsepower, 4-wheel drive diesel tractor and backhoe, capable of excavting to 6 feet. 
  •   


Deep soil pits, dug by machine - easy to work in!

  • An array of augers, shovels and soils/sediment sampling equipment.  
  • A vibra-core device to sample dune and bog sediments.  
  • A Russian peat corer, typically used to sample peat and muck for pollen and plant macrofossils.
  • A Livingston piston corer for collecting sediment cores from the bottoms of lakes for paleobotanical and sedimentological analyses.

  • A lightweight portable (backpack) vibracorer that is used to sample soft, semi-saturated sediments.
  • A laptop computer with a built-in GPS unit, so GIS data can be viewed and used in the field.

LAB EQUIPMENT

We have two fully functional soils, geomorphology and palynology labs. Our current labs are equipped to make distilled water and also contain:
  • two fume hoods
  • various types of balances
  • two high-speed centrifuges
  • a petrographic, binocular and high power traditional light microscope, including a Leica DM LB compound microscope (for pollen), a Leica MZ6 zoom stereomicroscope (for macrofossils) and Q-Imaging micropublisher digital camera with Image Pro Express imaging software.  Each is equipped with a video camera so that the images can be captured and transferred to a computer.
  • a sonic sifter for particle size analysis
  • a Mastersizer 2000, high precision, laser particle size analyzer
  • freezers and refrigerators for sample storage
  • a complete array of soil analysis equipment, e.g., sieves, grinders, pH and specific ion meter, muffle furnace, etc.


The equipment is shared equally among faculty and students.


The courses we (and others) teach
We have a long list of courses that are related to topics in the Quaternary.  And we pride ourselves on being effective, caring educators.  For information on courses, please go here.


The financial support we have
The Department of Geography is committed to funding its graduate students and their research.  In order to acquire funding, QLRG students must apply to the graduate programs (MA, MS or PhD) within the Department of Geography.  Funding is awarded competitively, through the Department, as Teaching and Research Assistants.  When a TA, a student can obtain valuable teaching experience under the close mentoring of a faculty member.  When an RA, the student works closely with their faculty advisor on a research project.  Sometimes these projects blossom into the student's thesis research, although they need not necessarily do so.  Students in Geography are free to choose whatever research project they wish, as long as it meets with the approval of their graduate advisor.

The Department also has several Graduate Office Fellowships (GOFs) available.  GOFs usually range from $500 to $2500, and are awarded in support of research.

We also have a strong track record, for PhD students, of success in obtaining support from NSF for dissertation research.  Doctoral Dissertation Improvement awards, funded through NSF, can range up to $16,000.

 

What our students have done
Representative student theses, dissertations and research projects over the past 15 years include:

  • Chronosequences of soil development on lake terraces in Michigan
  • Reconstructing the evolution of coastal dunes at Petoskey State Park in northwest lower Michigan
  • Using relative dating techniques and soils to establish ages of debris flows in the southern Appalachians
  • Determining the amount of salt added to soils near roads in the snowy parts of Michigan
  • Post-glacial evolution of a portion of the Manistee River valley in northwest lower Michigan
  • Reconstructing the Holocene geomorphic history of a portion of the Muskegon River valley in northern lower Michigan
  • Soil frost and freezing in various landscapes, forested vs cultivated
  • Effects of aspect on soil development
  • Preliminary reconstruction of interior dune geomorphology in the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan
  • Ant pedoturbation in sandy soils
  • Development of fragipans in forest soils of the Great Lakes region
  • Using soils data to determine the extent of post-glacial flooding
  • Using soils to determine the relative age of dunes in eastern lower Michigan
  • Evaluating the timing and importance of perched water tables in soils formed from dense till
  • Using digital technology to map landcover change and coastal dune mobilization at Warren Dune State Park
  • Determining the effects of explosive munitions on soils and landscapes
  • Using GIS to locate sand deposits that could be used as foundry sand sources
  • Characterizing and mapping the central Wisconsin loess sheet, and determining its source(s)
  • Identifying and explaining the origins of silt infills in a kettles within an interlobate landscape
  • OSL dating of small perched dune fields along the Lake Michigan coast
  • Ascertaining the distance-decay trends of loess characteristics, from a source
  • Loess deposits in NE Wisconsin
  • Loess deposits in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan
  • Dune history and eolian geomomphology of the islands of the Lake Michigan archipelago
  • Comparing periods of coastal dune activity in the Great Lake region with episodes of dune mobility in the Great Plains
  • A comparison of coastal change on the east and west sides of Lower Michigan
  • Mammoth and mastodont home ranges in the Great Lakes region
  • Paleoecological information obtained from Late Pleistocene spits in Glacial Lake Algonquin
  • Using detailed DEM data to improve soil maps and mapping
  • Assessing the development and Quaternary history of the Au Sable Delta in Lower Michigan
  • Fluvial geomorphology of the Upper Muskegon River, Michigan
  • A comparison of Great Plains and Lake Michigan sand dune chronologies
  • Native American influences on the composition of late Holocene forests in upstate New York: A multi-proxy synthesis
  • Late Pleistocene deltas in Lower Michigan
  • Landscape reconstruction of Late Woodland agriculture at Tobico Marsh, Michigan based on pollen analysis

Michigan state geography  Michigan state physical geography geomorphology geomorphology soils pollen palynology Michigan state geography  Michigan state p
Recent Quidders talks
The QLRG sponsors informal, research-related talks, once or twice a month, in the Department of Geography. We call these presentations "Quidders Talks." for the Quaternary Discussion Group. All persons interested in Quaternary issues may speak, and all are invited. Although our records are incomplete, the listing below is representative of the titles that have been presented in recent years. After each talk we usually adjourn to a local watering hole for continued discussions and comradery. Please join us!

2014 talks
"Deglaciation and post-glacial fluvial geomorphology of Northwestern Pennsylvania" (Todd Grote, Eastern Michigan University)
"Collaborative research interests in Michigan archaeology, geography, and geology" (Bill Lovis, Michigan State University)
"Historic channel changes in Lower Michigan" (Michael Michalek, Michigan State University)

2013 talks
"OSL Ages on Loess Constrain the Advance of the Chippewa Lobe in Western Wisconsin, USA" (Randy Schaetzl, Geography)
"Sand dune development and reactivation in the Tanana River Lowlands, central Alaska" (Bill Johnson, Kansas University)
"Quaternary Geology of Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan" (Jeffrey Howard, Wayne State University)
"Glacial Lake Agassiz: A reassessment of its role as the smoking gun for triggering abrupt climate changes at the close of the last ice age" (Tim Fisher, Univ of Toledo)
"Dunes and Lake Algonquin spit indicate strong NE winds during Late Pleistocene in Michigan's central Upper Peninsula" (Jay Strahan, Geography)
"Driving vs. resisting forces in Anthropocene politics" (Whitney Autin, State University of New York, Brockport)
"Quaternary geology of metropolitan Detroit, Michigan" (Jeffrey Howard, Wayne State University)
"Wait... wait, Don't tell me!... Evolving paradigms of sand dune origin in Michigan" (Walt Loop, US Geological Survey)

2012 talks
"Aspects of the Pleistocene Vegetation of southern Ontario: Insights from the Zorra Quarry and Innerkip sites" (Catherine Yansa, Geography)
"Variability in Shoreline Position at four sites in Lower Michigan" (Phil Wernette, Geography)
"The Black River delta: A Glacial Lake Algonquin Feature in northern Lower Michigan" (Randy Schaetzl's Freshman Honors Seminar class)
"Evidence for high level proglacial lakes of the Port Huron and Lake Border moraines in northwestern Lower Michigan" (Kevin Kincare, USGS)

"Landform Characterization Using Geophysics - Recent Advances, Applications, and Emerging Tools" (Remke van Dam, Geological Sciences)

2011 talks
"Morainic features and ancient shorelines in Michigan's eastern UP: A Fall 2011 field report" (Bill Blewett and Scott Drzyzga, Geography, Shippensburg University)
"The rivers of no reprieve: a tectonic and climatic tale from the heart of Siberia" (Ben Johnson, Geological Sciences)
"Analyzing digital water well logs to characterize the lithofacies of selected morphostratigraphic units in southern Lower Michigan – a first attempt" (David Lusch, Geography)
"Thin loess in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan" (Michael Luehmann, Geography)
"Pleistocene-age Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) and Extant Beaver (Castor canadensis) environments of southern Wisconsin" (Catherine Yansa, Geography)
"Dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico: Nitrate yield from the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins" (Brad Miller, Geography)
"Exploring the potential linkage of coastal sand dune activation and drought episodes in the northern Lake Michigan basin" (Alan Arbogast, Geography)


2010 talks
"Using GIS data to develop a better physiographic map: The Michigan example" (Randy Schaetzl, Geography)
"Supercool glaciers and landscape development in the Great Lakes" (Grahame Larson, Geological Sciences)
"An eolian mantle on the Dowagiac Delta, Berrien County, Michigan" (Alex Shackleton, Geography)


2009 talks
"The research of natural forest dynamics in the Czech Republic: Research activities of the Department of Forest Ecology, VUKOZ" (Pavel Samonil, Forestry, Czech Republic)
"The Iron County loess deposits: Loess is more" (Mike Bigsby, Geography)
"A full glacial paleoenvironmental record from western Tennessee: Aspects of a multi-proxy study" (Catherine Yansa, Geography)


2008 talks
"Paleolakes, spits and loess- what can they tell us about paleowinds?" (Randy Schaetzl, Geography)
"Silty sediments in kettle bottoms of the Lake Michigan/Saginaw interlobate" (Trevor Hobbs, Geography)

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