Oberlin College Geology  
Bruce M. Simonson

Professor of Geology

On the Oberlin College faculty since 1979. Office phone number is (440) 775-8347

Areas of Interest

  • sedimentary geology
  • Precambrian geology
  • impact ejecta in the stratigraphic record
  • environmental geology

Educational Background

  • B.A., Wesleyan University, CT 1972
  • Ph. D., Johns Hopkins University, 1982

Courses Taught Recently

Research Interests

While studying sedimentary geology with Francis Pettijohn at Johns Hopkins University, I acquired a keen interest in what things were like on the early Earth in general and the origin of banded iron formations (BIFs) in particular. To this day I am primarily focused on these questions. I studied various iron formations in North America starting in 1975, then ventured over to Western Australia to see how they compared with the classic BIFs of the Hamersley Basin starting in 1985. This proved to be the nicest field area I have ever worked in, so I am still working there off and on. Much of these work was down with the aid of Oberlin students as field assistants, mostly notable Kathy Schubel ’87 and Scott Hassler OC '82, with whom I have continued to collaborate to the present. Another reason I kept going back was that we discovered a few layers rich in distinctive sand-size spherules of former melt that represent ejecta from a huge asteroid or comet impact like the one that killed the dinosaurs. There are a minimum of three such layers in the Hamersley succession, each of which represents a major impact. Because of the global nature of the end-Cretaceous spherule layer, I went looking for equivalent of the Hamerlsey layers in the Transvaal Basin of South Africa because it roughly contemporaneous and shows numerous striking parallels with the Hamersley succession. I succeeded in finding one layer there in the summer of 1995 and have gone back repeatedly since in order to learn more about it and search for more layers. This also sparked my interest in impacts to the point where I started up a general course on the topic (GEOL/ASTR 117, “Meteorite Impacts in Space and Time”) that I have taught several times. I keep thinking that 2 or 3 decades investigating a given topic ought to satisfy my curiosity, but I still find the early Earth fascinating, and with the recent upswing in astrobiology, even fashionable. I plan to keep working on spherule layers and other Precambrian problems as long as they keep my interested.

Biographical Notes

My folks were from the midwest, but I grew up in suburban Washington, D.C. and went to a local public high school. I attended Wesleyan University from 1968 to 1972 and spent a semester mapping in Honduras as Greg Horne's field assistant. After doing a senior project on Honduran plutons under Jim Gutmann, I spent fall 1972 taking Francis Pettijohn's sedimentary geology courses at Johns Hopkins University the last time he taught them. I got hooked on sediments and the Precambrian, so after spending 2 more years working in Honduras and Costa Rica, I returned to Hopkins did a PhD on banded iron formations under Lawrie Hardie’s supervision. In 1979, I moved into Tank Co-op and I’ve been on the Oberlin Geology faculty ever since. I met my wife Sue in Honduras where she was a Peace Corps nurse and we married in 1974 in Tegucigalpa. We’ve raised three not-so-little buckeyes along the way. Our son Joe and older daughter Sonja both graduated from Grinnell College; he is now living in Japan, she is in Pittsburgh. Our younger daughter Maya is still studying art at Alfred University. Sue stays busy helping to run the Oberlin Choristers, a local group of choirs involving hundreds of children.

  • Students in Enviornmental Geology witness shore erosion firsthand on an afternoon field trip to the coast of Lake Erie. The teacher (Bruce Simonson) is standing next to a shale outcrop that is being actively undercut.

The most recent update was Friday, 09/05/2008