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Research Themes

Climate and Water Science Heading link

Climate and water control the viability of ecosystems; element cycling between land, water, and the atmosphere; landscape changes, and the occurrence of natural disasters such as drought, wildfires, floods and hurricanes. As climate changes and water resources are stressed, the economic, geopolitical, and health impacts on society are becoming more evident. Our research in climate and water science includes land-atmosphere interactions and the global water and carbon cycles; chemical reactivity of water with other Earth materials; dynamics of surface waters with changing climate; and, synthesis and modeling of large datasets that address human impacts on water resources and ecosystems.

Solid Earth and Planetary Science Heading link

Dynamic Earth processes shape the interiors and surfaces of Earth and planetary bodies producing Earth materials, tectonic motions, and micro-large scale features. Our work includes synthesis of data and samples collected in the field, databases obtained by remote-sensing, and numerical modeling of motion and heat flow. Mineral reactions in subduction zones that generate earthquakes and ore bodies, formation of crusts on icy planetary bodies, and cratering of the Mars’ surface are some of the processes currently studied.

Geobiology and Astrobiology Heading link

Life on Earth over geologic time, life in extreme environments, and potential life on other planets are linked through interaction of organisms with planetary materials. Our research uses geochemical, biological, and statistical analyses of biomarkers, fossils, and microbiota, along with experimental simulation of extreme environments to study life’s origins and evolution. Terrestrial study sites range from landfills to Yellowstone hot springs, Illinois to the Philippines, and ancient rocks to the depths of Antarctic Lakes. Current experimental simulations are focused on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

Geochemistry and Human Health Heading link

Geochemistry can provide information essential for understanding individual and community health issues. Our research in this area is developing and includes application of isotopic tracers for forensics work; trace metal and organic pollutant analyses in soils, water, air, and fish; and, analysis of relevant data on weather patterns and climate change.

Urban Environments Heading link

Earth and environmental science research in Chicago and surrounding areas focuses on climate and impacts on local communities; air, water, and soil pollutants including toxic metals; and methane generation in wetlands and prairies. The Department also has established partnerships with public high school students and teachers, and with community college faculty, through various education research grants.