Dr. Walter S. Kiefer
Dr. Walter Kiefer's research focuses on the internal structure and evolution of the terrestrial planets. One major area of interest is the thermal evolution of planets. His studies of mantle convection and tectonic features on Venus focus on understanding its apparent evolution from an Earth-like body with mobile lid convection in the past to a planet with a mostly stagnant surface at present, which was likely caused by loss of liquid surface water. Other projects include studies of core formation and the early thermal evolution of asteroid 4 Vesta, modeling of magma production in mantle plumes on Mars, and simulations of mantle convection on Io driven by tidal heating.
The second main emphasis of Dr. Kiefer's research is using gravity and topography observations to study the structure of the crust and lithosphere of the terrestrial planets. He was a member of the science team for NASA's GRAIL mission, which produced a very high resolution map of the Moon's gravity field. He has used gravity observations to understand the subsurface magmatic plumbing of volcanic structures such as the Marius Hills and the Gruithuisen Domes on the Moon and Syrtis Major on Mars. In support of these projects, he has measured the density and porosity of lunar and martian rocks using laser scanning and helium pycnometry in the Lunar Sample Laboratory and the Antarctic Meteorite Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Dr. Kiefer has contributed to numerous summer teacher training workshops, including many based at field sites in the western United States that serve as analogs for processes on the terrestrial planets (including the Channeled Scablands, the Columbia River flood basalts, Yellowstone, the Snake River Plains, the Cascade volcanos, Meteor Crater, and Mono Lake). He has also contributed to the development of a variety of educational products designed for use in either formal classroom settings or in informal education settings such as libraries.