Ken Coulson, Grants-in-Aid Spotlight

Ken Coulson, a third year Ph.D. student at Loma Linda University, received the 2014 John H. and Colleen Silcox Named Grant as part of the Grants-In-Aid research grant program. This generous grant recognizes his research in southwestern Utah, where Ken is studying Upper Cambrian elongate microbialites.

Broadly, his work involves low resolution stratigraphic analysis of various sections throughout the research site that will provide an overall large scale context and depositional history. A higher resolution portrait of smaller scale sedimentary fabrics will involve thin-section work and lab analysis. Ken’s main objective is to test whether a relationship exists between microbialite elongation, microbes and the environment. He hypothesizes a biophysical explanation whereby narrow interspaces, elongation and geometric consistency result from the biological interaction of microbes working in concert with bi-directional physical processes.

Pursuing this objective will also shed light on Upper Cambrian paleo-environmental and paleo-geographical factors that specifically relate to the continental margin is it existed at that time in western Utah. In addition, the budding new interest in ancient microbialites as source rocks will no doubt furnish the oil and gas industry with valuable data.

Ken’s microbialite-bearing bed is found within the Upper Cambrian Notch Peak Formation located in Utah’s southern House Range. Elongate microbialites, although not unique, are quite rare in both modern and ancient settings. What makes these microbialites interesting, however, is the depositional process which, as yet, has no modern analogue. At present, the only model that exists for elongate morphology is derived from intertidal elongate microbialites found in Shark Bay, Western Australia. There, bi-directional wave fronts moving perpendicular to the shoreline scour out interspace zones, while sediment accretion adds mass parallel to flow direction. Yet the Notch Peak elongate forms are clearly sub-aqueous, lacking the characteristic facies of a highly energetic intertidal environment, thus making this research project an important component for future paleo-environmental studies.

Ken is passionate about geology. It’s often been said that the study of earth history is a bit like putting together a giant earth history jigsaw puzzle. Ken agrees, but adds it’s even more challenging because many of the pieces are actually missing! Ken is married to his lovely wife, Beth, and has two beautiful daughters. As such, Ken is often torn between playing with rocks and playing with his girls, all three of them! Truth be told, however, he will always admit that the latter win out!

Ken considers himself very fortunate to work on such a grand piece of earth history. He sincerely thanks John H. and Colleen Silcox in addition to all members of Silcox Family for their generous funding and inspiration to continue his work.