About the Web Site: GEOACTON.COM is my (Gary Acton's) personal and professional web site. I created the web site to maintain control over the content and the longevity of my web site.
I live in College Station, Texas, and work at Sam Houston State University,
where I teach and do research
in geophysics. My research focuses on Earth's ancient magnetic field and
the magnetic properties of rocks, sediments, and meteorites, which I study to learn
about the origin and history of Earth and its magnetic field, to determine the
age of rocks, to explore for resources, to unravel environmental and climatic change,
and to estimate how Earth's surface moves and deforms.
Many of the rocks and sediment samples that I use come from scientific ocean
drilling in the ocean basins around the world.
I joined SHSU in late August 2013 after working the previous tens years as a research scientist at the University of California–Davis (UCD) and the eight years before that as an expedition project manager and research scientist with the Ocean Drilling Program at Texas A&M University. During that time, I worked on a range of topics including rapid changes in the geomagnetic field (Figure 1), environmental and climate change, methods for improving the geologic timescale, formation and evolution of oceanic crust, petroleum potential of rift basins, and the magnetism of the early solar system. The most common aspect of these studies is the application of quantitative data analysis methods to large geological and geophysical data sets, many of which are derived from ocean coring.
Figure 1. The position of the north geomagnetic (red and white dots) is shown for a time interval from 344 to 327 thousand years ago (ka). From about 336-332 ka, the geomagnetic field experienced a rapid change during which the north geomagnetic pole moved from near the North (geographic) Pole to near the South Pole and then back to near the North Pole. Such large short-term changes are referred to as geomagnetic excursions. Had the geomagnetic pole remained longer in the vicinity of the South Pole, the event would have been a geomagnetic reversal. The excursion shown here was recorded in sediments cored at Ocean Drilling Program Site 1062 (the star) off of southeastern U.S.
The path to my current research interests and to SHSU, rather than being carefully planned and crafted, has been something like a random walk. Random walk describes a mathematical method employed to model processes in which the path to the endpoint is described by a series of random steps. My steps were slightly biased by my interest in science, math, and traveling, but randomness still played a significant role.
During my junior year in high school, I decided that college would be the step I would take to move on from rural Indiana where I had grown up. I enjoyed watching the Bob Newhart Show and decided I wanted to become a psychologist, just like Bob. A high school guidance counselor explained that jobs in psychology were more difficult to secure than in psychiatry, and that I should instead become a psychiatrist. Knowing little about either profession, I agreed. To become a psychiatrist, one must go through pre-med, which means taking many science courses. I started that path with some chemistry, various math courses, and an introductory geology course. I liked geology so much that I decided to make it my major and to minor in math and chemistry.
With a mixture of geology, math, and chemistry, I decided to get a graduate degree in hydrology. I applied to one of the top programs at University of Arizona (UA). The Hydrology Department replied with a standard letter of acceptance. My application, however, had also been distributed to the Department of Geosciences at UA. The geophysics faculty wrote several letters directly to me and persuaded me to accept a position in their department instead. Thus, I became a geophysicist.
While at UA, I became fascinated with the sub-discipline called paleomagnetism because one of the professors, Bob Butler, needed a student to go into the mountain ranges of the Mojave Desert of California to drill oriented core samples from outcrops of Miocene volcanics. The goal was to determine the size of tectonic rotations of crustal blocks of the southern Basin and Range province. Camping in the desert and collecting rocks with a gas-powered drill seemed like a good way to get a degree. I came away with a love for fieldwork and a lot of lab experience from measuring the magnetic properties of hundreds of samples.
After two years at UA, I left with an M.S. in geophysics to get a Ph.D. at Northwestern University (NU). My decision was driven to work with a prominent paleomagnetist, Prof. Richard Gordon, and to be nearer to friends from Indiana. When I got to NU, Richard was on sabbatical and I started working on propagating rifts and the initiation of seafloor spreading with Prof. Seth Stein. Before classes had even started, Seth had me write my first American Geophysical Union abstract and submit it to go to the annual December meeting in San Francisco. Thus, I started working on a number of projects and papers related to extensional tectonics and seafloor spreading. When Richard returned from his sabbatical, I started working with him on global hotspot and plate motions. We decided to improve the North American apparent polar wander path and Richard sent me off to collect more oriented drill cores. This time I sampled shallow marine Late Cretaceous units that outcrop in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Texas. I was assisted by Katerina Petronotis, another NU graduate student, who is now my wife. By the time I had graduated, I had firmly acquired a love of traveling and fieldwork, along with a background in marine geology and geophysics, but I still had not made it to any oceans to collect new datasets.
Getting to the oceans was again a series of random steps, which led first to postdoctoral position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, where I lived next to the ocean but never managed to get on a research vessel. From there, I went to University of New Mexico for two years and then two years at University of New England (UNE) in Armidale, Australia. I did managed to do more fieldwork, this time drilling more small drill cores in volcanic units along the Great Dividing Range in eastern Australia.
During my second year as a faculty member at UNE, the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) at Texas A&M University had an urgent need for a staff scientist, who had to be ready immediately to sail on a cruise in the Caribbean Sea. I accepted the job, and over then next 18 years while at ODP and then UCD, I sailed not only to the Caribbean Sea but also to numerous sites in the North Atlantic, the equatorial and north Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, Baffin Bay, and the coast of West Antarctica. I even spent three months on Ross Island in Antarctica working with the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) program.
I plan to continue to probe the Earth to learn more about its history and processes while at SHSU. I have establish a laboratory with an automated track instrument for measuring magnetic and compositional properties along drill cores. I also hope to make great use of the coring and sample preparation facilities in the new SHSU Core Laboratory as well as to participate in additional ocean drilling projects to exotic destinations yet to be determined.