Dr. Brian Bodenbender

Professor of Geology & Environmental Science, Department Chair
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Brian Bodenbender has been teaching geology and environmental science at Hope College since 1996 and is a member of the Campus Sustainability Committee. He engages students in research in both geology and environmental science.

Along with his on-campus classes, he teaches geology, biology and sustainability courses on Eleuthera Island and San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Although he enjoys taking students into bat-, snake- and spider-infested caves, helping them avoid deadly plants and vertebrates, introducing them to anoxic slime, decaying compost and smoldering landfills, and exposing them to bites, stings and punctures from insects, plants, marine invertebrates and unreasonably sharp rocks, the highlight of teaching in the Bahamas is leading students to visit the Three Beautiful Places.

Areas of expertise

Brian is trained as a paleontologist and has continuing interests in fossils and Earth history. His work on fossils has concentrated on the evolutionary information that can be teased from the orientations of crystals in echinoderm skeletons, although he has also strayed into dinosaur paleontology. As he has taught more environmental science, he has developed interests in sustainability, shaped by the knowledge that extinction can happen even to the most successful of species.

His geology research studies landscape changes in Lake Michigan dunes using direct measurement of sand movement and photographic methods such as gigapixel photography and drone-based imaging. His environmental research includes examining the origin and transportation of plastic litter and microplastics in the Lake Michigan basin.


  • Ph.D., geological sciences, University of Michigan, 1994
  • M.S., geological sciences, University of Michigan, 1990
  • B.A., geology, The College of Wooster, 1987

Honors, grants and awards

Brian has had research funding from the Petroleum Research Fund, the National Science Foundation, the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, and the Great Lakes Colleges Association. He was selected as a participant in the first NSF Ideas Lab.

Selected publications

Book chapters

  • “Coastal Dune Environments of Southeastern Lake Michigan: Geomorphic Histories and Contemporary Processes,” in Ancient Oceans, Orogenic Uplifts, and Glacial Ice: Geologic Crossroads in America’s Heartland (Geological Society of America Field Guide 51), 2018
  • “The Role of Extratropical Cyclones in Shaping Dunes along Southern and Southeastern Lake Michigan,” in Coastline and Dune Evolution along the Great Lakes (Geological Society of America Special Paper), 2014
  • “Dune Complexes along the Southeastern Shore of Lake Michigan: Geomorphic History and Contemporary Processes,” in Insights into the Michigan Basin: Salt Deposits, Impact Structure, Youngest Basin Bedrock, Glacial Geomorphology, Dune Complexes, and Coastal Bluff Stability (Geological Society of America Field Guide 31), 2013


  • Using Photographic Measurement and Gigapixel Panoramas to Study Changes in a Lake Michigan Sand Dune,” Journal of Great Lakes Research, 2021
  • “The Origin of Dark Sand in Eolian Deposits along the Southeastern Shore of Lake Michigan,”  Journal of Geology, 2011
  • “Multidisciplinary Field Investigations: Using Shared Logistics to Increase Research Productivity,” CUR Quarterly, 2004
  • “A Reconnaissance of Skeletal Crystallography in Rhombiferans, Diploporans, and Paracrinoids,” Journal of Paleontology, 2004
  • “Blastoid Stratocladistics — Reply to Sumrall and Brochu,” Journal of Paleontology, 2003
  • Facing the About: Why Disciplines are Essential to the Liberal Arts,” LiberalArtsOnline, 2003
  • “Stratocladistic Analysis of Blastoid Phylogeny,”  Journal of Paleontology, 2001
  • “Skeletal Crystallography and Crinoid Calyx Architecture,” Journal of Paleontology, 2000
  • “The Environmental Science Minor: A Disciplinary Approach to Interdisciplinary Studies with a Grounding in Undergraduate Research,” Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 2000
  • “Echinoderm Skeletal Crystallography and Paleobiological Applications,” Paleontological Society Papers, 1997
  • “Patterns of Crystallographic Axis Orientation in Blastoid Skeletal Elements,”Journal of Paleontology, 1996

View all of Brian Bodenbender’s published work at Digital Commons.

Outside the college

Brian enjoys being a dad, camping with his family and traveling to remote mountain streams to pan for inconsequential amounts of gold and significant amounts of scenery and solitude. He likes listening to eclectic music weighted toward obscure folk artists, but has never understood jazz and can frankly do just fine without it. His favorite authors include Will Cuppy, John McPhee, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walt Kelly and Patrick O'Brian. Against his better judgment, his reading tastes repeatedly return to first-person war narratives.

Profile photo of Dr. Brian Bodenbender
Dr. Brian Bodenbender

Phone Number616.395.7541

A. Paul Schaap Science Center Room 2047 35 East 12th Street Holland, MI 49423-3605
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