Frank R. Ettensohn

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  • Professor
  • Jefferson Science Fellow
  • College of Arts & Sciences Distinguished professor
  • Earth & Environmental Sciences
  • Sedimentary Geology
314A Slone Research Building
8592571401(office), 8594895594 (mobile)
Research Interests:

Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1975


Frank Ettensohn's research interests largely center on sedimentary geology and are integrative and field-oriented in nature. His background is in the fields of stratigraphy, sedimentology, and paleontology, but he has found it rewarding to integrate these disciplines with each other and commonly with regional tectonics for a more complete resolution of the problem at hand. Dr. Ettensohn and his students have been especially successful using this approach in the areas of black-shale geology, carbonate paleoenvironments, and seismites.

Recently, this approach has been used to decipher possible relationships between foreland-basin stratigraphy and tectonics via lithospheric flexure. Based on his recent work on the Appalachian Basin, it appears that there is growing evidence in the Paleozoic foreland-basin sequence for the presence of second- and third-order, unconformity-bound flexural sequences reflecting orogenies and included tectophases. These sequences generally exhibit a well-ordered stratigraphic succession of dark shales, flysch-like clastic sediments, carbonates, and marginal-marine clastic sediments, which may be repeated several times reflecting recurrent tectophases. Similar sequences have been observed in other North American foreland basins, and it is a continuing goal of this research to see how extensive in time and space such sequences are, for they potentially have great predictive value. Dr. Ettensohn has also used related approaches for understanding how far-field tectonic forces may influence development of more distal, cratonic stratigraphy during coeval, craton-margin orogenies.

Most recently, Dr. Ettensohn and his students have been examining horizons of soft-sediment deformation of probable seismic origin, or seismites, in these sequences as evidence of coeval far-field tectonic effects. Although Dr. Ettensohn encourages integrative studies, he has also advised more specific studies in paleontology and stratigraphy, particularly in the area of echinoderm paleoecology and systematics, which is an area of special interest.

Selected Publications: 

Ettensohn, F.R., Clayton, G., Lierman, R.T., Mason, C.E., Krause, F.F., DeBuhr, C., Brackman, T.B.,  C.E., Anderson, E.D., Dennis, A.J., and Pashin, J.C., 2020, Late Devonian lonestones, diamictites, and black shales from the Appalachian Basin: Discerning relationships and implications for Late Devonian Appalachian history and glacially driven sea-floor anoxia: Geological Society of America Special Paper 545, p. 67–88.

Harris, A.W., Ettensohn, F.R., and Carnahan-Jarvis, J., 2020, Paleoecology and taxonomy of Schoenaster carterensis, a new encrinasterid ophiuroid species from the Upper Mississippian (Chesterian) Slade Formation of northeastern Kentucky, U.S.A.: Journal of Paleontology, v. 94, p. 531–547; doi: 10.1017/jpa.2019.107.

Ettensohn, F.R., Seckinger, D.C., Eble, C., Clayton, G., Li, J., Martins, G., Lo, E., Hodelka, B., Harris, F., and Taghizadeh, N., 2020, Age and tectonic significance of diamictites at the Devonian-Mississippian transition in the Central Appalachian Basin: Geological Society of America Field Guide 57, p. 79–103.

Udgata, D.B.P., and Ettensohn, F.R., 2020, Middle Mississippian (late Osagean, early Viséan) Floyds Knob glauconite interval, Borden and Ft. Payne formations, Appalachian and Illinois basins, central Kentucky, U.S.A.: The synergistic influence of tectonics, paleoclimate and paleogeography: Geological Society of America Special Paper 545, p. 115–150.

Ettensohn, F.R., Pashin, J.C., and Gilliam, W., 2019, The Appalachian and Black Warrior Basins: Foreland Basins in the Eastern United States, in Miall, A.D., ed., The Sedimentary basins of the United States and Canada, 2nd ed.: Sedimentary Basins of the World, Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 129–237.

Gooding, P.J., and Ettensohn, F.R., 2019, Mississippian-Devonian black shales of Kentucky: East-west transect in five cores from the Appalachian Basin to the Illinois Basin: Kentucky Geological Survey, KGS Map and Chart MCS 5, Series 13, Publication No. 17982; doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.20029.31207 (

Ettensohn, F.R., 2019, Geologic origins of the North American shale-gas revolution: Can it happen elsewhere?, in Boughdiri, M., et al., eds., Paleobiodiversity and tectono-sedimentary records in the Mediterranean Tethys and related eastern areas: Advances in Science, Technology & Innovation (ASTI), IEREK Interdisciplinary Series for Sustainable Development, Proceedings of the 1st Conference of  the Arabian Journal of Geosciences (CAJG) : Switzerland, Springer, v. 9, p. 279–281 (

Zeng, M., and Ettensohn, F.R., and Spangenberg, J.E., 2018, Bedding-parallel lenticular soft-sediment deformation structures: A type of seismite in extensional settings?: Tectonophysics, v. 747–748, p. 128–145.

Ettensohn, F.R., 2018, Notes for a carbonate core-logging workshop: Lexington, Geological Society of Kentucky and Kentucky Section, American Institute of Professional Geologists, 43 p.

Koirala, D.R., Ettensohn, F.R., Clepper, M., 2016, Eustatic and far-field tectonic control on the development of an intra-platform carbonate-shoal complex: Upper Tongue of the Tanglewood Member, Upper Ordovician Lexington Limestone, central Kentucky, U.S.A.: Sedimentary Geology, v. 345, p. 1‒18.

Zeng, M., Zhang, X., Cao, H., Ettensohn, F., Cheng, W., and Lang, X., 2016, Late Triassic initial subduction of the Bangong-Nujiang Ocean beneath Qiangtang revealed: Stratigraphic and geochronologic evidence from Gaize, Tibet: Basin Research, v. 28, p. 147–157.

Ettensohn, F.R., and Lierman, R.T., 2015, Using black shales to constrain possible tectonic and structural influence on foreland-basin evolution and cratonic yoking: Late Taconian Orogeny, Late Ordovician Appalachian Basin, eastern USA, in Gibson, G.M., Roure, F. and Manatschal, G. (eds.), Sedimentary basins and crustal processes at continental margins: From modern hyper-extended margins to deformed ancient analogues: Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 413, p. 119‒141.

Ettensohn, F.R., and Hendricks, R.T., 2015, Photographic core-logging manual for rocks within and adjacent to the Devonian–Mississippian black-shale sequence in Kentucky and nearby areas: Morehead, Rubicon Geologic Consulting, 54 p.

Zeng, M., Ettensohn, F.R., and Wilhelm, D.B., 2013, Upper Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) carbonate stratigraphy and syndepositional faulting reveal likely Ouachita flexural forebulge effects across eastern Kentucky, U.S.A.: Sedimentary Geology, v. 289, p. 99–114.

Ettensohn, F.R., and Lierman, R.T., 2012, Chapter 4, Large-scale tectonic controls on the origin of Paleozoic, dark-shale, source-rock basins: Examples from the Appalachian foreland-basin region, eastern United States, in Gao, D., ed., Tectonics and sedimentation: Implications for petroleum systems: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir 100, p. 95–124.

Coates, J.W., Ettensohn, F.R., and Rowe, H.D., 2010, Correlations across a facies mosaic within the Lexington Limestone of central Kentucky, U.S.A., using whole-rock stable-isotope compositions, in Finney, S., and  Berry, W.B.N., eds., The Ordovician Earth System: Geological Society of America Special Paper 466, p. 177–193.

Ettensohn, F.R., 2010, Origin of Late Ordovician (mid-Mohawkian) temperate-water conditions on southeastern Laurentia: Glacial or tectonic? in Finney, S., and Berry, W.B.N., eds., The Ordovician Earth System: Geological Society of America Special Paper 466, p. 163–175.

Ettensohn, F.R., Ausich, W.I., Kammer, T.W., Johnson, W.K., and Chesnut, D.R., Jr., 2009, 11: Carboniferous echinoderm succession in the Appalachian Basin, in  Greb, S.F., and Chesnut, D.R., Jr., eds., Carboniferous of the Appalachian and Black Warrior basins: Kentucky Geological Survey Special Publication 10, p. 85–93.

Su, W., Huff, W.D., Ettensohn, F.R., Liu, X., Zhang, J., and Li, Z., 2009, K-bentonite, black-shale and flysch successions at the Ordovician-Silurian transition, South China: Possible sedimentary responses to the accretion of Cathaysia to the Yangtze Block and its implications for the evolution of Gondwana: Gondwana Research, v. 15, p. 111–130.

Ettensohn, F.R., 2005, Chapter 5. The sedimentary record of foreland-basin, tectophase cycles: Examples from the Appalachian basin, in Mabesoone, J.M., and Neuman, V.H., eds., Cyclic development of sedimentary basins, Developments in Sedimentology, 57: Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 139–172.

Ettensohn, F.R., Kasl, J.M., and Stewart, A.K., 2004, Structural inversion and origin of a Middle/Late Ordovician carbonate buildup: Evidence from the Tanglewood and Devils Hollow members, Lexington Limestone, central Kentucky (USA): Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 210, p. 249‒266.


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