Earth & Environmental Sciences (EES) evolved from the Geology Department that was originally founded by Herman Leroy Fairchild in 1888. EES maintains its outstanding tradition of geology research, but now also represents the full range of Geoscience research, covering the solid Earth and other planets, the oceans, and the atmosphere. It is not uncommon to see research projects in our department bridging these disciplines for holistic explorations of earth and environmental science processes and properties.
EES’s mission is to conduct scientific research and teaching of the highest order to better understand our planet, its climate, and other planetary bodies, and to prepare our students for success in an ever-changing world.
EES faculty conduct research encompassing all aspects of the Earth and the environment. From planetary formation to solid Earth processes to ocean and atmosphere dynamics, we seek to better understand the history, present, and future of Earth and planetary processes and how they affect, and are affected by, the living organisms that reside on it.
Earth and Planetary Sciences
We study the origin and evolution of planets and moons in the solar system and beyond using a unique combination of theoretical models and geochemical, geophysical, and astronomical observations. This involves research with dedicated high performance computing facilities and cutting-edge laboratories on campus. The ultimate goal is to deepen our understanding of planetary systems by comparing numerical models with geological, geophysical, geochemical and astronomical observations and to make predictions as well as suggestions for future space missions.
We study the magnetism of natural minerals to understand the origin, evolution, and habitability of Earth and other planets of our solar system. We are currently studying the Earth’s magnetic field during the Cambrian period, ca 550 million years ago. During this time, the planet saw an explosion of life and we are investigating whether there are links between protection of Earth provided by the magnetic field and this evolutionary event.
We seek to understand: (i) the evolution of planetary magmas through time; (ii) the conditions of early Earth and implications for the inception of the biosphere; (iii) secular changes in the oxidation state of magmas and fluids, and the connection between the chemical state of the crust and mantle; and (iv) non-traditional mechanisms of isotope fractionation by designing and executing high pressure/temperature laboratory experiments in which we synthesize rocks and minerals under conditions appropriate to our planet, the Moon, and other "rocky" planets in our solar system.
We use seismological techniques to extract information about Earth’s internal physical properties (velocity structure, rheology, and composition). All these, believe it or not, can be decoded from basic recordings of ground vibrations delivered from seismometers scattered across the globe that have been listening to our Earth shaking.
We use mathematical theory, numerical modeling, fieldwork, and physical experiments to better understand how landforms like rivers and hillslopes fundamentally work, with an eye toward connecting geomorphology with other fields. Ongoing research focuses on the formation of large-scale spatial patterns in arctic soils and their connection to fluid instabilities; sediment diffusion in rivers; the evolution of blocky, rocky hillslopes; and development and testing of landscape evolution models.
Oceans and Atmosphere
Climate and Ice Cores
We study the atmospheric composition and climate by utilizing modeling and field observations from various atmospheric locations across the globe and glacier ice. Our research examines the various interplays between atmospheric chemistry, climate, and biogeochemical cycles. Particular focus to date has been to understand the factors that control the atmosphere’s ability to self-cleanse itself of the various air pollutants and reactive greenhouse gases injected into it by human activity and nature and to understand past changes in the methane budget.
We use isotope geochemistry and uranium-thorium series radionuclides to track carbon as it enters, moves within, and exits the world’s oceans to better understand the mechanisms for past and current changes in marine carbon cycling. The dynamics of related elements, such as iron, nitrogen, and manganese, are also explored with measurements conducted in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans.
We use field observations and numerical models to understand various processes concerning the biogeochemistry of the oceans and aquatic environments. This research (1) explores greenhouse gas dynamics within marine and aquatic systems to quantify feedbacks associated with global climate change, (2) investigates factors influencing the strength of the biological pump, and (3) studies the sensitivity of marine organisms to environmental change.
The Paleoceanography laboratory uses the isotopic and chemical composition of microfossils (i.e., foraminifera) and marine sediments to investigate changes in ocean circulation, ocean chemistry, and climate during the last 66 million years of Earth’s history (Cenozoic). The long-term goal of this group is to study the interactions among the oceans, the atmosphere, and the biosphere over long geological time scales to improve our ability to forecast how these interactions will evolve in the future.
- Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Group
- Biochemical Oceanography Group
- Dirt, Rivers, Ice and Particles (DRIP) Lab
- Early Earth and Experimental Geochemistry Group
- Ice Core and Atmospheric Chemistry Lab
- Ocean BioGeoChemistry Group
- Paleoceanography Research Group
- Paleomagnetic Research Group
- Planetary Science Laboratory
- Seismology and Computational Geophysics
- Structural Geology and Tectonics Group
- Tracking Radioisotopes for Aquatic Chemistry and Environmental Research (TRACER) Lab