EARTH HISTORY AND PALEOENVIRONMENTS
The Earth History group at Penn State combines expertise in sedimentology, stratigraphy, sedimentary geochemistry, geochronology, and the geologic record of global change. Our strength is in interdisciplinary approaches—integrating field observations, petrographic and geochemical analyses, and computational models to investigate Earth system evolution. We use the physical, chemical, and biological signatures preserved in the rock record to reconstruct the conditions of ancient Earth.
FACILITIES AND RESOURCES
- Earth History Laboratories (B007, B009, B029 Deike)
- Petrographic Analysis Lab (Deike 430)
- Sediment Core Scanning Lab (Research West)
- Carbonate Clumped Isotope Laboratory (B021 Deike)
- Laboratory for Isotopes and Metals in the Environment
- Planetary Sedimentology Lab
WHO WE ARE
Learn more about our faculty and research groups:
Dr. Ben Cardenas and the Planetary Sedimentology Group use the sedimentary records of Earth, Mars, and other rocky planets and moons to understand how these planetary surfaces have evolved through deep time. We inform our satellite and rover-based interpretations of planetary surfaces with Earth-analog field sedimentology, the study of modern sedimentary systems, numerical experiments, and the interpretation of 3D seismic volumes.
Dr. Erin DiMaggio studies 2-3 million year old sedimentary rocks and volcanic ash layers in the Afar Depression, Ethiopia to learn about past depositional environments, rift tectonics, and volcanic systems. These sedimentary rocks contain fossils of vertebrate fauna, including early humans, making this area an important place for studying human evolution.
Dr. Matthew Fantle's research group utilizes novel metal isotopes, in conjunction with traditional isotopic systems, aqueous geochemistry, and various modeling techniques to develop new proxies, understand diagenesis at a process level, and interpret geochemical records of the past. Over the years, the Fantle group has contributed to characterizing the isotopic composition of fluxes in the geochemical cycles of a range of elements, including Ca, Fe, Mg, Li, and Sr, constraining the rates and impacts of carbonate diagenesis using isotopic tools, quantifying the impact of microbes on mineral isotopic composition, and investigating hyperthermal events in the rock record.
Dr. Kate Freeman employs fossil molecules (biomarkers) and their stable isotopes to study past changes in the carbon cycle, past climates, vegetation and soils, lakes and oceans. Her work has focused on proxies for past atmospheric CO2 levels, rainfall, temperatures, and fire. Her team has used these proxies to investigate dramatic moments in Earth’s history, such as the K-Pg bolide impact, hyperthermal events in the Eocene, the interplay of climate, fire, and landscape changes associated with global grassland expansion in the Neogene, and the ecosystem and climate context for the rise of human ancestors and early farmers.
Dr. Liz Hajek uses the stratigraphic record to reconstruct past landscape conditions on Earth and other planets. Her research group uses field observations from ancient deposits, observations from modern systems, and numerical models to understand dynamic conditions in sedimentary environments and how Earth’s surface responds to change.
Dr. Miquela Ingalls and her research team use field geology, petrography, and stable isotope geochemistry to reconstruct the conditions (temperature, nutrient availability, hydroclimate) under which life evolved throughout Earth history, and how microbes influence the carbonate rock record. The Ingalls lab also studies how the chemical, textural, and isotopic features of carbonate rocks alter during early diagenesis and tectonic burial and unroofing to improve our ability to interpret sedimentary geochemistry in old rocks.
Dr. Brian Kelley investigates the co-evolution of Earth environment and life through the integration of sedimentology, paleobiology, geochronology, and geochemistry. He specifically focuses on ancient intervals of rapid climate warming to better understand fundamental Earth system processes and the potential consequences of anthropogenic climate change.
Dr. Kimberly Lau’s group uses the geochemistry of sedimentary rocks to understand biogeochemical and Earth system change. Integrating field, analytical, and modeling approaches across spatial scales, this work aims to improve interpretation of geochemical (including isotopic) proxies in carbonate and siliciclastic rocks. Additionally, research in our lab aims to understand fluid-rock interactions in the context of early diagenesis and in geochemical cycles (i.e., nutrients, continental weathering).
Dr. Mark Patzkowsky focuses on the ecological, evolutionary, and geological processes that control the diversity, distribution, and abundance of fossil taxa in time and space. We work at local (outcrop), regional (depositional basin), and continental scales. Understanding how processes interact across these scales is the key to understanding global diversity through time, simply because global diversity is built from local, regional, and continental diversity.
Dr. Peter Wilf and the Paleobotany group use fossil plants to investigate ancient ecosystems, past environmental change, biogeography, and the evolution and extinction of plants and plant-insect associations. They emphasize questions with relevance for modern climate change, biodiversity, biogeography, conservation, and ecology. Significant field areas include Patagonian Argentina, Western Interior USA, several SE Asian countries, and southeastern Pennsylvania.