Sara Gran Mitchell

mitchell biology professor

Biology Department
Director, Geosciences

Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Washington

Fields: Geosciences, geomorphology

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Office Phone: 508-793-3420
Office: Swords 234
Lab:  Swords 211
PO Box:
Office Hours:




Environmental Geology
Introduction to Geology
Geosciences at Holy Cross



I am a geologist who specializes in the long- and short-term evolution of landscapes. My current research focuses on the relationships between climate, tectonics, and erosion in the topographic development of mountain ranges. In particular, I am interested in the effects of glacial erosion on the height and morphology of young mountain ranges. The techniques and methods I use include field observations, geographic information system (GIS) analysis of digital topography, and isotopic and geochemical measurements. These techniques allow me to investigate rates of surface processes, landform ages, and erosion patterns in mountainous regions. I am also interested in the effects of human settlement on landform evolution, the effects of development on surface and subsurface hydrology, and the linkages between geomorphology, hydrology, and ecology, particularly in river environments.


Student Research

Students with an interest in geology who would like to consider pursuing a research project in my laboratory are encouraged to contact me at their earliest convenience

  • Elizabeth Humphries, Summer and Fall 2012, Global analysis of glacial cirque altitudes. Elizabeth presented her work at the 2012 national Geological Society of America conference in Minneapolis, MN and is currently a Ph.D. student in the Geological Sciences program at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.
  • Renee Harkins, Summer 2009 to Spring 2010, Sediment transport in central Massachusetts streams. Renee presented her work at the 2009 national Geological Society of America conference in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from the Oregon State University with a M.Sc. degree in Horticulture in 2013.
  • Neil Shea, Spring and Summer 2008, GIS analyses of glacial cirques in Glacier National Park, and sediment mobilization in Beaver Brook, Worcester Massachusetts. Neil presented his work at the 2009 Northeastern Geological Society of America conference in Portland, Maine, and graduated from the University of Connecticut with a M.Sc. degree from the Integrative Geosciences program in 2013.
  • Vanessa Dagley, fall 2007, Channel grain size distributions in Beaver Brook, Worcester.



Kelly, M.H., Anders, A.M., and Mitchell, S.G., 2014. Influence of bedding dip on glacially-eroded steps, Uinta Mountains, USA. Geografiska Annaler, Series A: Physical Geography, v. 96, n. 1, p. 147-159. {Get PDF}

Anders, A.M., Mitchell, S.G., and Tomkin, J.H. 2010. Cirques, peaks, and precipitation patterns in the Swiss Alps: Connections between climate, glacial erosion, and topography. Geology, v. 38, n. 3, p. 239-242. doi: 10.1130/G30691.1. {Get PDF}

Mitchell, S.G., Montgomery, D.R., and Greenberg, H.M., 2009. Erosional unloading, hillslope geometry, and the height of the Cascade Range, Washington USA. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, v. 34, p. 1108-1120. DOI: 10.1002/esp.1801. {Get PDF}

Mitchell, S. G., and Montgomery, D. R., 2006. Polygenetic topography of the Cascade Range, Washington State, USA. American Journal of Science, v. 306, p. 736-768. (Get PDF)

Mitchell, S.G., Montgomery, D.R., 2006. Influence of a glacial buzzsaw on the height and morphology of the Washington Cascade Range, Washington State, USA. Quaternary Research, v. 65, no. 1, p. 96-107. {Get PDF}

Mitchell, S.G. and Reiners, P.W., 2003. Influence of wildfires on apatite and zircon (U-Th)/He ages, Geology, vol. 31, no. 12, p. 1025-1028. {Get PDF}

Reiners, P.W., T.A. Ehlers, S.G. Mitchell, D.R. Montgomery, 2003. Coupled spatial variations in precipitation and long-term erosion rates across the Washington Cascades, Nature, v. 426, p. 645-647 {Get PDF}.

Reiners, P.W., T.A. Ehlers, J.I. Garver, S.G. Mitchell, D.R. Montgomery, J.A. Vance, and S. Nicolescu, 2002. Late Miocene exhumation and uplift of the Washington Cascade Range. Geology, v. 30, no. 9, p. 767-770. {Get PDF}

Mitchell, S.G., A. Matmon, P. R. Bierman, Y. Enzel, and M. Caffee, D. Rizzo, 2001. Displacement history of the Nahef East fault, northern Israel, using cosmogenic 36Cl, Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 106, no. B3, pp.4247-4264. (Get PDF}

Gran, S.E., K. K. Nichols and P. R. Bierman, 1999. Teaching winter geohydrology in Vermont using frozen lakes and snowy mountains. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 47, no. 5, pp. 420-437.

Patterson, Carrie J., A. R. Knable, S.E. Gran and S. J. Phippen, 1999. Surficial Geology, in Patterson, C. J. project manager, Regional Hydrogeologic Assessment, Upper Minnesota River Basin: Minnesota Geological Survey RHA-4, Part A, scale 1:200,000.