Research Themes

Climate and Water Science

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 coastal environments with changing climate; and, synthesis and modeling of large datasets that address human impacts on water resources and ecosystems.

Earth and Planetary Geophysics

Dynamic geophysical processes shape the interiors and surfaces of Earth and planetary bodies producing tectonic plate motion, earthquakes, and large-scale structural features. Our work includes synthesis of field data and databases obtained by remote-sensing, as well as numerical modeling of motion and heat flow. The evolution of the U.S. Mid-Continent rift, formation of crusts on icy planetary bodies, and cratering of the Mars’ surface are some of the processes currently studied.

Geobiology and Astrobiology

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

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 for weather patterns and climate change.

Urban Environments

Earth science research in Chicago and surrounding area focuses on local climate; air, water, and soil pollutants including toxic metals; methane generation in landfills; Great Lakes coastal processes; and, urban ecohydrology. The Department also has established partnerships with public high school students and teachers, and with community college faculty, through various education research grants.