UoB Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Rebecca Dorsey, University of Oregon, USA

BMVP Becky Dorsey

Tectonic Controls on Sedimentary Basins and Regional Paleorivers

May 14 - August 15 2018


Becky Dorsey is a Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oregon. She received her Ph.D. in 1989 from Princeton University where she studied Plio-Pleistocene sedimentation and tectonics in the active arc-continent collision of Taiwan. She studies the stratigraphic record of ancient sedimentary basins with the goal of understanding structural, climatic, and surface-process controls on basin evolution in active regions.

During postdoctoral studies at the University of Wyoming, Becky began her career-long investigation into late Cenozoic development of the Pacific-North America plate boundary and San Andreas fault system using the tools of basin analysis, stratigraphy, and geomorphology. Current research includes work on four projects: (1) birth and evolution of the Colorado River; (2) geological controls on biological diversity in Baja California; (3) testing hypotheses for Eocene paleorivers in the Pacific Northwest; and (4) tectonic controls on transient rapid uplift and exhumation in Taiwan.

Professor Dorsey served on the faculty at Northern Arizona University for 7 years, and moved to the University of Oregon in 1997 where she has served as Department Head and Associate Head. Dorsey’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation for over 25 years, and she has authored and co-authored about 75 journal articles and book chapters. Becky is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and past chair of the GSA Sedimentary Geology Division. She was a Distinguished Lecturer for the NSF MARGINS and Geo-Prisms programs in 2010-2011, and has served on the editorial boards of Geology, Basin Research, and GSA Bulletin.  


The British islands provide a rich natural laboratory for studying the tectonic and climatic controls on sedimentation and basin formation through time. Research for the Meaker Visiting Professorship will explore regional mountain building and depositional episodes in England, Scotland and Ireland from early Paleozoic to Tertiary time. Specific areas and topics of research will be tailored to meet the interests of students and faculty at the University of Bristol.

Major episodes of plate convergence and extension have created mountain ranges, volcanoes, faults, and sedimentary basins that contain a superb stratigraphic record of tectonic and surface processes through geologic time. Periods of interest include: (1) the early Paleozoic Caledonian orogeny which closed the ancient Iapetus ocean 550 to 350 million years ago; (2) the Devonian to Carboniferous Variscan orogeny which involved Himalayan-style continent-continent collision ~300 m.y. ago; and (3) early Tertiary magmatic uplifts in Scotland that produced large paleoriver and deltaic deposits in southern England.

This research will explore the processes by which sedimentary basins and paleo-river systems in the UK region have responded to thrust loading, rifting, magmatism, and climate change through time. An important goal of the project is to involve Bristol students and staff, and provide instruction in relevant methods as needed. Dorsey plans to address the research questions listed above through collaborative, interactive field-based analysis of ancient sedimentary sequences and structures that deform them. Research will include geologic mapping, process-based sedimentology, structural geology, and stratigraphic analysis in selected field sites. Basin histories will be evaluated with quantitative subsidence analysis, and depositional systems will be reconstructed with the aid of regional correlations and stratigraphic architecture. 

During her stay in Bristol, Professor Dorsey will be hosted by Professor Katharine Cashman (Earth Sciences)

Some of the events that Professor Dorsey will be involved with are listed below (dates and times tbc where not listed):

Birth, Life, & Death of Paleoriver Systems: Insights From the Stratigraphic Record
21 June, 1pm, G27 School of Earth Sciences

We often think of large rivers in terms of well studied modern examples, rivers that are currently “alive”. But continent-scale rivers are not permanent. They form in response to various types of climatic and tectonic forcing (often due to major plate-boundary reorganizations), they may persist for 10’s of Myr, and eventually are terminated by processes such as regional uplift and deformation. Thus the life cycle of a paleoriver system offers insights into long-term changes in regional topography and underlying processes of crustal and mantle deformation that control topography through time. The stratigraphic record provides an excellent tool for studying paleoriver evolution. We can apply concepts in sequence stratigraphy (e.g., interplay between sediment supply and accommodation space) to interpret the tectonic, climatic and eustatic controls on river behavior over a wide range of timescales. This presentation will explore the stratigraphic record of processes that govern initiation and evolution of paleoriver systems through time, with examples from the Colorado River (SW U.S.), Eocene Tyee Formation in western Oregon, and the UK region.


Research Presentations:

Postgraduate seminar sessions, on one or more of the following: