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Spotlight / Conference Showcases Local Geology and Highlands Research

​Las Vegas, N.M. – Highlands University geology students and faculty showcased their research on the rich geologic history of the Las Vegas area from the mountains of Hermit’s Peak to the canyon lands of Rio Mora at the 66th Annual New Mexico Geological Society Fall Field Conference Sept. 30 – Oct. 2.

The university’s Geology Department hosted the conference that attracted nearly 170 geologists and geology students from New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“With our location at the juxtaposition of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Great Plains, Highlands has an exceptional and diverse natural geologic laboratory in our backyard that rivals almost anywhere in the world,” said Highlands geology professor Jennifer Lindline. “We offered the conference participants the chance to hike, tour and experience the unique geology that our students experience in their fieldwork.”

Lindline organized the conference along with fellow Highlands geology professor Michael Petronis and Joe Zebrowski, Geographic Information Systems Laboratory director and GIS instructor.

Nelia Dunbar participated in the field conference. She is the deputy director of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Minerals and also is the assistant director for the bureau’s research laboratory.

“Jennifer and Mike have really raised the profile of geological research at Highlands by investigating geology in the northeastern part of New Mexico that hasn’t been studied before and through using new analytical techniques,” Dunbar said. “For example, Jennifer dove into studying the age of the Hermit’s Peak pluton, dating it at 1.7 billion years, and studied how it formed.”

Dunbar said that the Highlands Geology Department does an outstanding job of engaging undergraduate and graduate students in research.

Lindline said: “The faculty and student research broadens our understanding on topics like local landscape evolution, bedrock geology, the age and uplift history of the area’s mountains from Hermit’s Peak to the Turkey Mountains, geothermal potential of the Montezuma Hot Springs, paleoclimate of the Las Vegas Wildlife Refuge, and much more.”

Jose Cervantes, a 21-year-old Highlands geology junior from Catalina Island, California, is one of the 24 Highlands geology students who participated in the conference, thanks to scholarships from the New Mexico Geological Society, Highlands Foundation, Highlands President’s Office, and others.

“This conference was an intense, first-hand learning experience for me about the unique geology of the Las Vegas area from the igneous rock outcroppings at Buena Vista to how Hermit’s Peak formed,” Cervantes said. “Touching and looking at the minerals in the rocks in the field is fascinating. Seeing how my professors and geologists of all ages are forging ahead to better understand the geology of the Las Vegas area was inspiring, and got me interested in possible research topics. ”

Lindline, Petronis and Zebowski also edited a 312-page guidebook for the conference, Geology of the Las Vegas Region. The book contains 12 full-length technical papers, 28 minipapers, road logs, trail logs, maps and photographs.

“This conference and the guidebook were a team effort, with our students making tremendous contributions ranging from their research that was featured in the guidebook to leading interpretive geological hikes. At Highlands we are blessed to work with a cohort of geoscience students with incredible passion for learning, enthusiasm for field work, interest in laboratory analyses, and keenness for geographic information systems analysis,” Lindline said.

She said the geology conference is already generating ideas for collaborative research projects between Highlands and other New Mexico universities.

“Ideas were flying,” Lindline said.

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