Brenda B. Bowen

Associate Professor of Geology & Geophysics
Director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center
University of Utah


Brenda is an interdisciplinary geoscientist who received a B.S. and M.S. in Earth Science from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Utah where her doctoral research focused on the history of fluid flow in the Navajo Sandstone (with links to the geology of Mars!).  She worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Central Michigan University studying the geochemical evolution of acidic brines in southern Western Australia, and then began a position as a faculty member in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. She returned to Utah with her her husband (also a geology professor) and two young sons in 2012.  Dr. Bowen has over 35 publications that focus on how changing environmental conditions influence the composition of sediments, authigenic minerals, and fluids in both modern dynamic surface systems and ancient lithified strata.  Current projects are focused on geologic CO2 sequestration, structural diagenesis and fluid flow, links between biology, geochemistry, sedimentology, and human activities in extreme environments including the Bonnevile Salt Flats.  In addition to her geologic research and teaching, Dr. Bowen is also the Director of the interdisciplinary Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah where she is actively working to develop interdisciplinary academic programs that address critical issues related to understanding global change and creating sustainable solutions.

Title: Dynamics of the Changing Bonneville Salt Flats

1:05pm - Friday, May 13th

Abstract: Bonneville Salt Flats (BSF) is a vast and dynamic perennial salt pan in northwest Utah that is changing rapidly. The system responds to variations in rain, wind, evaporation, and groundwater flux, and also to a century of land-speed racing, potash mining, and recreation. The system is now changing in ways that are limiting these historic uses, and managers are responding with mitigation efforts to try to maintain multiple uses. Land managers and stakeholders are actively making decision about what to do to try to preserve this environment, primarily for the legacy of land speed racing, while still maintaining opportunities for natural resource extraction and ecosystem function. Bowen will discuss her role as a part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, land-managers, and stakeholders who are working to understand how and why the system is changing.  Bowen and her students are examining the spatial heterogeneity in sedimentology, geochemistry, microbiology and mineralogy at BSF to interpret the natural variability and the impacts of the processes that influence the environment over human to geologic time scales. Field observations and remote sensing analyses show how the surface has changed over seasonal, annual, and decadal time scales. Geochemical analysis of brines that can both dissolve and grow the salt crust suggest that multiple different fluid populations are actively interacting with the salt. Temporal and spatial changes in the salt crust extent, texture, and composition illustrate the ephemeral and dynamic nature of the BSF deposits. A data-driven understanding of the processes and time scales of change at BSF can help to guide sustainable management decisions that will preserve the character of this unique environment for generations to come.