Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Geophysics

Research Spotlights

In their recently published article in Nature, EPS graduate student Alexander (Zan) Stine, Harvard fauculty member Peter Huybers, and EPS faculty member Inez Fung have found a shift towards earlier seasonal transitions in the temperature record over extratropical land in the last 57 years. This shift is anomolous when compared to the variability seen in the preceeding 100 years, and is not predicted by any of the model-based simulations of 20th century climate reported by the IPCC. (reprint)
Zan Stine discusses this work on Nature's podcast.
In the Press

EPS graduate students Michael Lamb and Sarah Aciego and EPS faculty members Bill Dietrich, Michael Manga and Don DePaolo have found new evidence that amphitheater-headed canyons on Earth and Mars might be carved by catastrophic floods rather than slow erosion by seepage erosion. Studying Box Canyon Idaho, which has morphologic attributes long inferred to result from gradual erosion by spring water, the team reported in the journal Science (reprint) that the canyon was instead carved during a megaflood about 45 thousand years ago. Press coverage.

EPS faculty member Paul Renne and colleagues at the Berkeley Geochronology Center, the Free University of Amsterdam, and Utrecht University, are fine-tuning geochronology to unprecedented levels of accuracy. By calibrating the uniquely versatile 40Ar/39Ar radioisotopic dating method with climate proxy signals tracking Earths orbital cycles, the team reported a ten-fold increase in accuracy. As an illustration of the consequences of their study, reported in Science (reprint), the age of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, and the extinction of the dinosaurs, has been adjusted by almost 500,000 years to 65.95 Ma. UC Berkeley news release.

EPS faculty member Jim Bishop and Phoebe Lam, former graduate student and now an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, are challenging the theory that almost all iron for fertilizing oceanic plankton blooms comes from wind-blow dust. In a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters (reprint) they show that the key source of iron in the Western North Pacific is not dust, but the volcanic shelf sediments of the Kuril - Kamchatka island arc system. Understanding the origins, transport mechanisms and fate of naturally occurring iron in high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll surface waters is important in climate change calculations.

In a recent issue of Science (reprint) researchers from Berkeley (Miller fellows Sebastien Merkel and Sergio Speziale, graduate student Lowell Miyagi and EPS faculty Rudy Wenk), Arizona State University, Princeton and the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne report on experimental deformation of the mineral phase postperovskite MgSiO3 with diamond anvil cells at pressures of 150 GPa. This phase is supposed to constitute the D" layer in the earth, just above the liquid core boundary. Using information about deformation mechanisms derived from the experiments the team then model the evolution of anisotropy in the deep earth that seismologists have observed.

In their recently published paper in Science (reprint), recent EPS Ph.D. graduate John Moreau and Prof. Jill Banfield, along with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Labs, demonstrated the presence of extracellular biofilm proteins inside bacterially-formed aggregates of nanocrystalline zinc-sulfide (orange and yellow features in image). These proteins promoted the rapid aggregation of sulfide nanoparticles formed by bacterial sulfate reduction in an abandoned flooded mine, and thereby restricted the dispersal of contaminant metals such as zinc, arsenic and selenium. In nature, metal-binding proteins associated with sulfate-reducing bacteria or biofilm formation may serve to inhibit the mobility of nanoparticulate or colloidal toxic metals away from their source.

In their recently published paper in Nature (reprint), Taylor Perron, Jerry Mitrovica, Michael Manga, Isamu Matsuyama and Mark Richards argue that there were once oceans on Mars, but that Mars has tipped over since they dried up. The northern plains are ringed by surface features that look like relic shorelines. However, long-wavelength trends in their elevation argue against the shoreline hypothesis. In this new study it is shown that polar wander can explain the shoreline deformation.

In their recently published paper in Nature (reprint), Barbara Romanowicz and Federica Marone present their study of seismic anisotropy beneath the North American continent. Seismic anisotropy provides information about mineral orientations, which, in turn, can be related to flow in the mantle. Their study shows evidence for two layers of anisotropy. At asthenospheric depths, the fast axis is sub-parallel to the plate motion, confirming the presence of shear related to current tectonic processes, whereas within the lithosphere, the orientation is significantly different, indicating that anisotropy at these shallower depths was 'frozen-in' long ago.

In their recently published Science paper (reprint) Brett Baker and Jill Banfield and prior members of the Banfield group (Gene Tyson, Eric Allen, Judith Flanagan, Phil Hugenholtz), in collaboration with Rick Webb (Univeristy of Queensland), describe the discovery microbes on a novel branch on the tree of life. The archaeal organisms grow within acid mine drainage microbial communities that play a key role in metal sulfide mineral dissolution and acid mine drainage formation. These groups, named ARMAN, were overlooked by conventional microbiological methods (PCR and culturing). Surprisingly, these cells appear to be among the smallest yet described. The study shows how community genomic analyses can detect new lineages of organisms and facilitate their characterization, enhancing our understanding of the role of microorganisms in important geochemical processes.

Professors Inez Fung, Ronald Cohen, Donald DePaolo, William Dietrich and James Kirchner of the Dept. of Earth and Planetary Science have formed the Keck HydroWatch Center with Professor David Culler of the Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The new center will dramatically expand the observations of all aspects of the water cycle by developing cost-effective, rapid-response, and accurate sensors and techniques to monitor water quality, quantity, and pathways.