Utah Mud Volcanoes

Laura Sherrod - 2015

Mud volcanoes in the Colorado River delta have been the focus of several interesting discoveries within the Kutztown University Physical Sciences Department.  A joint collaboration between geologists, physicists, and chemists in this department over the course of two summers of field work in Hite, Utah, has created several undergraduate research projects.  These mud volcanoes were originally reported by Netoff, et al. (2010) who examined earthquake epicenters in the Lake Powell vicinity and demonstrated that earthquakes of greater than 5.5 magnitude did not occur. The absence of significant seismic shaking indicates that the spectrum of features associated with these mud volcanoes must be of aseismic origin.  They are particularly interesting as they expel methane gas (Livingston et al., 2014) and display more complex surficial geometries and structures than previously documented in other sand and mud volcanoes in the literature. 

Picture taken from the cliff overlooking the Colorado River and the adjacent mud volcanoes

Mud volcano crater at the site in Hite, Utah

With funding from PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education), Dr. Sherrod brought four undergraduate research students (Ryan Higgins, Kaley Miller, Kelly Morgano, and David Vales) and one recent graduate (Emily Snyder) to Hite, Utah to perform geophysical surveys over the mud volcano craters with the intent of generating a three dimensional image of the subsurface structure of the mud volcanoes.  Dr. Simpson met the group in Utah and introduced them to the site.  field days started early to avoid the intense July Utah heat.  A record was kept of the daily events:

Daily log
The first days were spent determining an appropriate survey location.  A rise in the level of Lake Powell had flooded the intended survey site of active mud volcanoes, causing the field crew to move upstream to inactive mud volcanoes.  An inactive, multi-vent mud volcano crater was chosen as the primary target.  The first several days were dedicated to resistivity surveys.  The soil conditions were dry at the time of surveying requiring the electrodes to be watered to provide good electrical contact.  GPR profiles were performed over similar survey transects.  The final days in the field were dedicated to excavation, to confirm the results of the geophysical surveys. 
Ryan Higgins waters the electrodes for the resistivity survey
Results Published in Sedimentary Geology in February 2016
Utah Mud Volcanoes Results
Geologic Mapping Ground Penetrating Radar
Sherrod Home Page GSKU Resistivity