2021 Research Highlights


It was another great year for research at the Jackson School of Geosciences! Let’s look back on some highlights:

UT Austin Teams Up With City and Community to Fight Extreme Heat in Austin

Summary Report Heat Watch Austin 102020
A map of afternoon temperatures collected in Austin in august 2020 as part of the CAPA heat watch program. Blue denotes the coolest temperatures. Red denotes the hottest temperatures.

In June, The University of Texas at Austin announced that is partnering with the City of Austin, community groups and East Austin residents to find out where hot temperatures are affecting people the most — and proposing solutions to cool down these places. Jackson School Professor Dev Niyogi is the project lead.  >> read more

Austin Partners with UT to give City Lakes a Health Checkup

The crew pose on the deck and inside the boat. The bridge is visible behind them.
Marcy Davis, Brent Bellinger (on deck), Dan Duncan and Naoma Mccall (behind glass) on the first day of lake surveys. Credit: UTIG

In September, The University of Texas at Austin and the City of Austin gave Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake a first-of-its-kind health checkup, scanning the lakebed CT scans and taking algae biopsies. The checkup investigated thickening algal mats linked to sediments washed in by severe flooding. It will support the City of Austin’s routine water quality and harmful algal sampling efforts. Marcy Davis, an engineering scientist at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) is the project co-lead. >> read more

Gulf Coast Ready to Develop Carbon Storage Hub

Co2 Storage Map
The western Gulf of Mexico’s CO2 storage potential. The Gulf Coast Carbon Center estimates the total storage capacity of the region to be 559 billion metric tons. Credit: The Gulf Coast Carbon Center.

In May, members of the Gulf Coast Carbon Center at the Bureau of Economic Geology published a paper in Greenhouse Gases: Science and Technology providing a high-level overview of policy incentives for carbon capture and storage and how Texas and Louisiana’s high concentration of industry and unique offshore geology make the region a particularly good spot to build up a carbon storage economy. The paper was authored by Senior Research Scientists Tip Meckel and Susan Hovorka, Research Scientist Alex Bump and project manager Ramón Treviño.  >> read more


UT Researchers Pushing Innovative Solution at DOE’s Hydrogen Earth Shot Kickoff

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A figure outlining the steps of in-situ hydrogen production. Credit: Bureau of Economic Geology.

On August 31 and September 1, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin presented their plan for turning untapped oil into clean hydrogen energy via an innovative combination of of in-situ combustion and carbon dioxide storage. Research Scientist Ian Duncan, the director of the Earth Systems and Environment group at the Bureau of Economic Geology, is leading the research>> read more

Study Offers Plan to Overcome Hurdles for Hydrogen Energy

Hydrogen tanks at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Photo by Werner Slocum / NREL)

In May, a research team from The University of Texas at Austin analyzed what it would take to scale up the use of hydrogen, including integrating hydrogen into the country’s natural gas system. The research presents an initial goal of replacing 10% of the nation’s natural gas supply with hydrogen as a reasonable first target. That move could reduce U.S. greenhouse gasses by 3.2%, based on 2019 emissions, and help meet the Department of Energy’s goal of enabling a low-carbon economy in the U.S. Mark Shuster, associate director of energy at the Bureau of Economic Geology in the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, led the research. >> read more

UT Begins Offshore Search for Sand Resources to Protect Texas from Coastal Erosion

An aerial view of a dredging vessel at sea. Trails of sand are visible in vessel's wake.
A dredging vessel, the R.S. Weeks, pumps sand from an offshore sand deposit to be used in a 2017 beach restoration project at McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. UT is conducting geophysical surveys to locate similar offshore sand deposits that will be used to protect the entire Texas Gulf Coast from coastal erosion. Credit: Texas GLO


On April 14, Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin embarked from Galveston in search of sunken treasure that holds the key to protecting Texas from storms and rising seas: sand. The scientists are assisting the Texas General Land Office in locating the sand needed to restore and reinforce the state’s beleaguered beaches and build a formal sand inventory for Texas. Senior Research Scientist John Goff is leading the effort.  >> read more

Mars’ Surface Shaped by Fast and Furious Floods from Overflowing Craters

Mars Outlet Crater
Craters and river valleys on the surface of Mars. A breached crater lake and outlet valley are outlined in white. Credit: NASA/GSFC/ JPL ASU

In September, Nature published a study presenting evidence that massive floods from overflowing crater lakes had an outsized role in shaping the ancient Martian surface, carving deep chasms and moving vast amounts of sediment. Assistant Professor Timothy Goudge led the research. >> read more

World’s Largest Pterosaur Leaped Aloft to Fly

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A step-by-step reconstruction of a proposed Quetzalcoatlus launch sequence. The pterosaur crouches, leaps and then starts to flap its wings.
Credit: Kevin Padian et al / John Conway

In December, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology published the most comprehensive study of the giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, the largest known flying animal to ever live. The study presents a new species, details on how the pterosaurs’ lifestyle and habitats, and how they likely took to the air by leaping. The study was co-edited by Matthew Brown, the director of the vertebrate paleontology collections at the Jackson Museum of Earth History. >> read more

Top Geology Award Goes to Ian Dalziel of the Jackson School of Geosciences

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Professor Ian Dalziel receives the Penrose Medal from Geological Society of America President Barbara L. Dutrow. Credit: GSA.

In October, the Geological Society of America awarded Jackson School Professor Ian Dalziel with the Penrose Medal for pioneering discoveries about Earth’s ancient geography and its past supercontinents. Established in 1927, the Penrose Medal is widely considered to be geology’s most prestigious career award. >> read more

Tracking Water Storage Shows Options for Improving Water Management During Floods and Droughts


Aquifer Revised
A map showing total water storage change in cubic kilometers for 14 major aquifers over 15 years based on satellite data. A study led by The University of Texas at Austin used the data to examine how irrigation and climate influenced each aquifer’s water supply. Total water storage includes groundwater, soil water and surface water. Warm colors indicate aquifers that lost water. Cool colors are aquifers that gained water. Credit: Scanlon et al.

In August, researchers at the Bureau of Economic Geology created a balance sheet for water across the United States – tracking total water storage in 14 of the country’s major aquifers over 15 years, with the research examining the interplay between irrigation habits and climate on water. The research was led by Senior Research Scientist Bridget Scanlon. >> read more 


For more information, contact: Anton Caputo, Jackson School of Geosciences, 512-232-9623; Monica Kortsha, Jackson School of Geosciences, 512-471-2241.