Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Seth D. Burgess

I am a research geologist in the Volcano Science Center specializing in accessory mineral geochronology. 

My doctoral research focused on utilizing accessory mineral U-Pb ID-TIMS (isotope dilution thermal ionization mass spectrometry) geochronology to examine the plausibility of a causal link between large igneous province (LIP) magmatism and mass extinction, with particular focus on the end-Permian and early-Jurassic extinction events. This work yielded high-precision timelines for extinction and LIP magmatism, as well as the ability to resolve their relative timing, and lead to a general model predicting the efficacy of magmatism as the primary trigger of mass extinction.

My current research is focused on application of uranium-based geochronometers (U-Pb, U-Th, (U-Th)/He) to date volcanic rocks by utilizing TIMS, SIMS (secondary ion mass spectrometry) analysis on accessory phase minerals (e.g., zircon, allanite) primarily for the purpose of accurately determining the timing of voluminous eruption and for constructing comprehensive eruption histories of long-lived volcanic systems characterized by potential future volcanic hazard.

Ongoing projects include: (1) Leading a group of CalVO scientists in an effort to better understand the threat of volcanic hazards from the Clearlake Volcanic Field (CLVF). The CLVF is the closest young, long-lived volcanic system to the densely populated CA Bay Area. In this project I'm employing U-Pb zircon surface dating to better constrain the eruption history of the volcanic field. (2) Determining the timing of large Pleistocene volcanic eruptions in Alaska by zircon surface U-Th-Pb SIMS geochronology. (2) (3) Using zircon U-Pb SIMS and TIMS to date the eruption of key Neogene and Quaternary stratigraphic-marker volcanic ash beds in western North America for use in regional correlation and paleo-climate and paleo-environment reconstruction. (4) Employing zircon and allanite U-Th SIMS dating of the Pleistocene record of rhyolite dome extrusion at the Coso volcanic field (California) in order to better constrain magma petrogenesis and more accurately assess hazard potential. (5) Using zircon U-Pb ID-TIMS dating of volcanic ash beds intercalated with the Miocene Columbia River LIP basalt flows to investigate eruption tempo at the millennial scale, which informs magma generation and climate feedback models.

Professional Experience

  • Research Geologist
       U.S. Geological Survey, California Volcano Observatory, Menlo Park, CA, 2016–

  • Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow
       U.S. Geological Survey, California Volcano Observatory, Menlo Park, CA, 2014–2016

  • Research/Teaching Assistant 
       Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 2008–2014

  • Staff Scientist
       NASA-Ames Research Center, Sunnyvale, CA, 2006–2007

  • California State University Lecturer 
       San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, 2006–2007

  • Soil Scientist 
       USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil Survey of Yosemite National Park, CA, 2001

Education and Certifications

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D. Geology 2014
    Thesis: High–precision U-Pb geochronology of large igneous provinces and mass extinctions: testing coincidence and causation

  • San Jose State University, M.S. Geology 2006
    Thesis: Field, geochemical, and geochronologic study of the inner Tuolumne Intrusive Series, Sierra Nevada Batholith

  • California Polytechnic State University, B.S. Soil Science 2002
    Thesis: Effect of lichen colonization on mineral weathering 

Affiliations and Memberships*

  • American Geophysical Union since 2006

  • Geological Society of America since 2005

  • European Geophysical Union 2010-2014

Honors and Awards

  • National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Cozzarelli Prize in Physical and Mathematical Sciences, 2014

  • Outstanding Teaching Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2012

  • Student Research Scholarship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009, 2010, 2011

  • Presidential Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007

  • Outstanding Thesis Award, College of Science, San Jose State University, 2006

  • Norman H. Doloff Scholarship, San Jose State University, 2004

  • National Outstanding Senior, National Agronomy Student Recognition Program, 2002

  • Outstanding Student in the College of Agriculture, California Polytechnic State University, 2002

  • Royce Lambert Scholarship for Outstanding Student, California Polytechnic State University, 1998, 1999

Science and Products

*Disclaimer: Listing outside positions with professional scientific organizations on this Staff Profile are for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement of those professional scientific organizations or their activities by the USGS, Department of the Interior, or U.S. Government