EPS Professor Daniel Stolper Developing a New Paleohygrometer with Heising-Simons Faculty Fellowship

April 27, 2023

Please join us in congratulating EPS Professor Daniel Stolper on being selected as a Heising-Simons Faculty Fellow to develop a paleohygrometer.

Congratulations Daniel!

Professor Stolper's project is A First-of-its-kind Paleohygrometer: 17O as a Proxy for Past Relative Humidity in Fossil Wood.

Project Description: Relative humidity is a key climate variable that controls local landscape form (e.g., desert vs. tropical). We currently have limited ways to reconstruct relative humidity in the geological past. Stolper proposes here to create a novel geochemical proxy for the reconstruction of past relative humidity (i.e., a ‘paleohygrometer’). It is based on the observation that when leaves photosynthesize, water evaporates from the leaf to the atmosphere. This evaporation leaves a telltale signature in the stable triple oxygen isotopic composition of the remaining water ( 16 O, 17 O, and 18 O; note 17 O and 18 O were both originally discovered at Berkeley). Although plant water is not preserved in the geologic record, sugars biosynthesized in leaves that go on to form cellulose (a key component of wood) do preserve this isotopic signature. Stolper proposes to develop a new method to reconstruct the triple oxygen isotopic composition of ancient leaf water using cellulose as a proxy. He will develop the methodology, calibrate it, and then use it to reconstruct relative humidity in the geologic past during times of both colder and warmer climate states.

The Heising-Simons Faculty Fellows Program catalyzes scientific discovery by investing in high-risk, high-reward research directions. The Program supports exceptional faculty working on topics in a diverse set of fields, including astronomy, physics, geology and geophysics, materials sciences (in both physics and engineering), and physical and materials chemistry. Program awards focus on creative and novel approaches that promise to lead to important scientific breakthroughs contributing to a greater understanding of the universe and its components, from the molecular and atomic to the geological and planetary scales, among other areas. Awards also fund the development of new tools, techniques and measurements that help probe these physical phenomena in new ways.

The Heising-Simons Faculty Fellows awards is made to two UC Berkeley faculty members each year. Each $1M faculty award is distributed over a period of five years.