Within the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, research facilities include a fission-track laboratory, DC and IC plasma-emission spectrophotometers, an atomic absorption spectrophotometer, and a morphometric and image-analysis system and a newly acquired state-of-the-art computer cluster for large numerical simulations and parallel processing. An ion chromatograph, tandem-accelerator mass spectrometer, X-ray diffractometers, TEMs and SEMs, including a JEOL high-resolution SEM, a scanning Auger multiprobe, thermal gravimetric mass spectrometer, fluid-inclusion laboratory, cathode luminescence apparatus, proton-precession magnetometer, and portable gamma-ray spectrometer are available at collaborating Departments and laboratories: access to virtually any facility or instrument can be arranged within the larger Penn community, or at collaborating institutions.
The study program in terrestrial biogeochemistry examines forest nutrient cycling and its relation to climate and soil type. Our current research activities are focused on A) an improved understanding of nitrogen and phosphorus availability in forested watersheds; B) on vegetation and nutrient dynamics on serpentine-derived soils and C) long-term variations in nutrient cycles after disturbance. Other areas of interest include sulfur cycling as a tracer for methanogenesis in wetlands and the role of nutrient cycling in ancient forests. This research is field-based and experimental, using both traditional mass-balance approaches as well as stable-isotope techniques to analyze mineral fluxes within these ecosystems.
Anthropogenic global warming is expected to have a significant impact on ocean circulation, biogeochemistry, ocean pH and ecosystem structure, changes which will feedback onto the climate system and atmospheric CO2. Recent research suggests that this feedback is positive: i.e., human-induced global warming might result in a decrease in the rate at which the ocean takes up and stores atmospheric carbon dioxide, further enhancing global warming. The goal of our research is to improve understanding and prediction of:
(a) Oceanic uptake, storage and release of atmospheric CO2 and other gases;
(b) Climate-sensitivity of ocean biogeochemical cycles and interactions with ecosystem structure;
(c) Feedbacks between ocean carbon cycle, ocean ecosystem structure, ocean circulation and climate.
The paleobiology program concentrates on studies of terrestrial paleoecology, paleoclimatology, and biodiversity within the context of systematic biology and biostratigraphy. Faculty interests cover vertebrates and plants. Collaborating faculty study marine invertebrates and microfossils.
Research in this area is focused on mechanistic and process-level studies designed to provide a fundamental understanding of theoretical and applied problems in earth science. The research typically involves Quaternary geology, geomorphology, sediment transport, hydrology, and ecosystem ecology and is closely linked to research programs in marine and terrestrial biogeochemistry. Many of our programs have a tropical component and all research products are useful for management, restoration and remediation of ecosystems.
Structural geology is the study in theory, in the laboratory and in the field of mineral and rock deformation at scales ranging from intracrystalline to continental. Tectonics is the study of the construction of the Earth; how large-scale processes of rock formation and deformation interact to create the planet. Research at Penn focuses on regional aspects of these sciences.
Fission-track thermochronology is one of the newest and most powerful tools geologists use to reconstruct tectonic and thermal histories of diverse geologic terranes. The method has been applied to many fields of geology, thus enhancing positive interactions between scientists in different disciplines of earth and planetary sciences.