January 2019 Meeting

Monday, January 14, 2019
6:00 - 7:30 pm

Pellissippi State Technical Community College
10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville
J.L Goins Administration Building
Faculty/Staff Dining Room


Introduction to Dead Sea regional geology and the Mt. Seldom salt diapir


Dr. Robert D. Hatcher, Jr.
UT Distinguished Scientist & Professor
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
and Science Alliance Center of Excellence
Knoxville, Tennessee


A Geological Society of America Penrose Conference in February, 2018, provided an opportunity to learn more about the geologic and human history of a controversial region in the Middle East. The conference dealt with salt tectonics and was held in an area where a large, exposed salt wall (Mt. Sedom) near the Dead Sea can be studied at the surface in the context of the regional geology. Most knowledge of salt geology is derived from seismic-reflection data, data from salt mines, drill data, and surface geology in regions, e.g., Iran, which are largely inaccessible to much of the geoscientific community. Participants were provided with a half-day guided tour of places of historical interest in Jerusalem, including the Mt. of Olives, Western Wall, and the Old City, before being driven by bus to a resort hotel at Ein Bokek, located on the west bank of the southern Dead Sea. The hotel affords views of spectacular geologic scenery from the African Plate, where Israel resides, across the Dead Sea sinistral strike-slip fault system (and plate boundary) into Jordan and the Arabian Plate. The salt wall comprising Mt. Sedom is also clearly visible from the hotel. The Dead Sea, containing the lowest elevations on Earth, is part of a rhomb graben stepover along the Dead Sea strike-slip fault.

The two geologic field days were spent looking at salt structures around and in Mt. Sedom, an exposure of the Dead Sea fault, and spectacular earthquake-generated soft-sediment structures (seismites) in uplifted and dissected Quaternary lake sediments west of the Dead Sea faults. During the return to Tel Aviv, we drove through a region along the main Dead Sea consisting of karst topography from recent dissolution of salt where hotel resorts had to be abandoned, because they were built on sediments that include interbedded salt.

A guided tour during the return to Tel Aviv was also provided through the ruins of the ancient Masada Jewish fortress, located on a mesa and accessible via several hours of hiking up steep trails or by cablecar. The fortress fell in 72 B.C. to a Roman siege that began a year before. Suicide was contrary to Jewish law, so the surviving Jews killed each other before the Romans made their final assault on the fortress, and the Romans found no living survivors (actually one woman and several children hid and survived).

During the time of the Penrose Conference, the Israelis bombed radar installations in Syria, but no mention was made of this during the meeting. I learned of this through calls to the US.


Dr. Robert D. Hatcher, Jr. is currently a Distinguished Scientist and Professor with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. Dr. Hatcher's primary research goal is to gain a better understanding of the evolution of continental crust, mostly through the study of mountain chains and mature crust. Most of his research has been concentrated in the southern and central Appalachians, but large amounts of time have been spent visiting and studying other mountain chains, and Precambrian continental crust. His primary interest is in the mechanics and kinematics of large faults, which formed a natural transition into related long-term interests in the geologic controls of petroleum occurrence in the Appalachians, radioactive waste management, the causes of intraplate seismicity and geologic evidence for determination of recurrence intervals for intraplate earthquakes. While a structural geologist, most of his research is interdisciplinary, integrating stratigraphic, geochronologic, geochemical, and geophysical data into structural studies. As a field geologist, however, his field data form the basis for all other supporting studies. He has been involved for many years with geophysicists and geologists in other academic institutions and the USGS in the geologic interpretation of seismic reflection and potential field (aeromagnetic and gravity) data. From 1981 through 1983 (part of the Bechtel team), he participated in the Electric Power Research Institute-sponsored study of eastern seismicity, and during the late 1970s and early 1980s participated in the TVA-sponsored Southern Appalachian Tectonic Study (with S. S. Alexander and W. J. Hinze, 1979-1980). Current research support includes a Nuclear Regulatory Commission grant for study of the East Tennessee seismic zone (through 2015), a USGS EDMAP grant (detailed geologic mapping of stream terraces around Douglas Lake), and a National Park Service grant (detailed geologic mapping, Obed W & SR region).



Page updated January 14, 2019