Speaker series to highlight Penn State earth and environmental sciences research

The 2015 Graduates of Earth and Mineral Sciences (GEMS) Speaker Series will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Fri. Sept. 25 in 117 Earth and Engineering Sciences Building (EESB) on Penn State's University Park campus. The event is free and open to the public. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

The 2015 Graduates of Earth and Mineral Sciences (GEMS) Speaker Series will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Fri. Sept. 25 in 117 Earth and Engineering Sciences Building (EESB) on Penn State's University Park campus. The event is free and open to the public.

This year's event will focus on research conducted by faculty in the college’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). William Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of EESI, will give the introduction. Keynote talks will be given by Richard Alley and Michael Mann. Breakout talks will be given by Tom Murphy, Dave Pollard, Alan Taylor, Peter Wilf, and Dave Yoxtheimer . A reception will be held following the talks at 3:30 p.m. in 217 EESB.

Keynote Speaker Biographies:

Richard Alley, an Evan Pugh Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Penn State, has made outstanding contributions to the study of ice, its interactions with the landscape and its link to climate. He has made important advances in topics as diverse as grain-scale physics controlling ice deformation, the role and nature of ice streams and processes at the bed of the ice sheet. His work synthesized the evidence that abrupt climate changes have occurred in the past and drove hypotheses about their cause and the role of ice on ocean circulation. Alley, an outstanding science communicator whose skills and enthusiasm have influenced both policymakers and large public audiences, appears regularly on major media outlets, including NPR, BBC and PBS.

Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist, is a distinguished professor of meteorology and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State. He has contributed to the scientific understanding of historic climate change based on the temperature record of the past thousand years. He is best known for using theoretical climate-system models and analyzing observational climate records to advance understanding of the Earth's climate and the changes -- both those naturally occurring and human-forced -- that have occurred over time

 Breakout Speaker Biographies

Thomas Murphy, director of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, has 28 years of experience working with public officials, researchers, industry, government agencies and landowners. His work has centered on educational consultation in natural resource development, with an emphasis specifically in natural gas exploration and related topics for the last nine years. Murphy lectures globally on natural gas development from shale, the economics driving the process and its broad impacts including landowner and surface issues, environmental aspects, evolving drilling technologies, critical infrastructure, workforce assessment and training, resource utilization and financial considerations.

Dave Pollard is a senior scientist in EESI at Penn State. Pollard works with both global climate and ice-sheet models to investigate the physical processes that have shaped Earth's climate over geologic time and project the future of the Earth's system. He has developed a world-renowned model noted for its ability to run simulations over long-time frames quickly and without sacrificing accuracy. His recent work examines the grounding zone, the edges of an ice sheet where the ice becomes afloat on the ocean. The zone is a critical region that is projected to contribute to sea level rise as ice there melts, breaks and enters the ocean at an accelerating pace.

Alan Taylor is the E. Willard Miller Professor of Geography and director of the Vegetation Dynamics Lab at Penn State. His recent research has focused on identifying the influence of changes and interactions of land use history and climate on fire disturbance and forest conditions in the western United States. Taylor addresses both theoretical and applied questions in his research and uses a wide range of methodological approaches including tree ring analysis, spatial analysis and statistical modeling, simulation modeling and historical ecology. Taylor has also conducted research on the dynamics of subalpine bamboo forests with giant pandas in southwest China and on highland bamboo forests in mountain gorilla habitat in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda.

Peter Wilf is a paleobotanist and professor of geosciences at Penn State. He uses fossil plants to investigate ancient ecosystems, past environmental change and the evolution and extinction of plants and plant-insect associations. Wilf’s emphasis is on questions with relevance for modern climate change, biodiversity, biogeography and ecological processes. Significant field areas for his highly collaborative and international research program are Patagonia (Argentina), Western Interior USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Panama and southeastern Pennsylvania.

David Yoxtheimer, a Penn State alumnus, has 18 years of hydrogeologic consulting experience. He is a registered and professional geologist in Pennsylvania and he is employed as an extension associate in the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research at Penn State. Yoxtheimer investigates water-treatment, water-quality and environmental issues related to natural resource development and specifically to the Marcellus shale. Yoxtheimer also acts as an outreach liaison between the University, natural gas industry, environmental organizations, local government and the general public to advise stakeholders on key environmental issues.

The annual GEMS speaker series, sponsored by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ alumni society, is intended to showcase topics timely and relevant to the college’s focus areas, encourage and educate our students and the public and encourage collaboration across disciplines.

For more information please online or contact Colleen Swetland at


Last Updated September 22, 2015