2016-2017 Report to President

Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

The Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) studies Earth, Planets, Climate, and Life and has broad intellectual horizons encompassing the solid Earth, its fluid envelopes, and its neighbors throughout the solar system and beyond. The department seeks to understand fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes that define the origin, evolution, and current state of these systems and to use this understanding to predict future states.  The department comprises 40 faculty, including three with a primary appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), one with a primary appointment in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS), and another with a primary appointment in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Aero-Astro) and more than 310 research staff, postdoctoral appointments and visiting scholars.

EAPS is notable for its emphasis on interdisciplinary problems and is involved in numerous laboratories, centers, and programs that address broad questions in the Earth sciences, including those that are among the most pressing societal issues of our time: change in climate and environment, natural resources and hazards, and the origin and evolution of life on Earth and, perhaps, elsewhere.  For example, the Earth Resources Laboratory (under directorship of Professor Bradford Hager) integrates faculty, staff, and students across disciplinary, department, and school boundaries to investigate geophysical and geological problems in energy and resource development.  The Center for Global Change Science (under directorship of Professor Ronald Prinn) builds cross-institute activity in meteorology, oceanography, hydrology, chemistry, satellite remote sensing, and policy.  The Lorenz center (under co-directorship of Professors Kerry Emanuel and Daniel Rothman) aspires to be a climate think-tank devoted to fundamental scientific enquiry.  Furthermore, EAPS is MIT’s largest participant in the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MIT-WHOI) Joint Program for graduate education and research in ocean sciences and engineering.

Educational Activities:

The EAPS faculty is committed to the development and maintenance of vibrant education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level.  Student engagement with the education program is a continuing departmental goal.  Graduate students meet with the Department Head and Associate Head at least once per term to discuss concerns and issues arising in their respective programs with the goal of sustaining active and open conversation around educational issues.

Graduate Program:

EAPS has vigorous graduate educational programs in the areas of Earth, Planets, Climate, and Life, including geology, geochemistry, geobiology, geophysics, atmospheres, oceans, climate, and planetary science.  We are pleased that the Committee on Graduate Programs approved the joint EAPS/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution proposal to add biological oceanography as a thesis field in the department.  This addition will provide an appropriate departmental home for graduate students who have a strong “oceanographic” focus for in their ocean biology, physiology and ecology research. In fall 2016, EAPS had 149 graduate students registered in the department, including 74 students in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program and one Fifth-Year Master’s student.  Women constituted 45 percent of the graduate student population, and 6 percent were members of an underrepresented minority group.

The excellence of the EAPS graduate program is built not only on the strength of teaching and supervision by the faculty but also on the involvement of EAPS graduate students in departmental activities.  Students develop formal and informal ways of improving their educational experience as well as the student life of the department.  For example, the graduate students continue to take responsibility for an expanded orientation program for incoming graduate students.  They plan a number of social events to introduce the newcomers to EAPS, MIT, and the Cambridge area.  The department graduate students are well organized and meet regularly, with one student presenting his/her research to the student body at the weekly Graduate Student Seminar. Undergraduate majors are encouraged to attend these talks.  The departmental Graduate Student Mentoring Program continues as a well-received approach to provide peer support for new students.

EAPS awards an annual prize for excellence in teaching to highlight the superior work of its teaching assistants.  During the 2017 academic year Ms. Alissa Earle, Ms. Lauren Kipp, Ms. Rohini Shivamoggi, Mr. Eric Stansifer, and Mr. Martin Wolf were recognized for their contributions.

Our students were also recognized by M.I.T. and their respective professional societies and outside organizations.  Mr. Michael McClellan was awarded MIT's 2017 Karl Taylor Compton Prize.  The Karl Taylor Compton Prize is the highest award presented by the Institute to a student or student organization "in recognition of excellent achievements in citizenship and devotion to the welfare of MIT.”  Ms. Marjorie Cantine and Ms. Kelsey Moore were selected as 2017 MIT Graduate Women of Excellence.  Ms. Lauren Kipp was awarded the School of Science Graduate Teaching Award. Ms. Hannah Mark received an "Outstanding Student Paper Award" at the Fall 2016 Meeting of the American Geophysical Union for her project “Seismic coupling at divergent plate boundaries from rate-and state friction models”.  This work was also recognized with an Honorable Mention for the GeoPRISMS Student Prize.  Mr. Adam Sarafian won the Castaing Award for best student presentation at the 2016 Microscopy and Microanalysis Conference.  Other student awards for AY17 can be found at https://eapsweb.mit.edu/news/2017/2016-2017-member-awards.

EAPS graduated a total of 30 doctoral students and five master’s students in AY17. Details can be found at https://eapsweb.mit.edu/news/2017/2017-degrees-awarded.

Undergraduate Program:

EAPS had 19 undergraduate majors in AY2017, 75 percent of whom were women, and 5 percent of whom were members of an underrepresented minority group.

We note that the EAPS undergraduate population has always been small but that standard satisfaction is high and that we continue our efforts to increase the number of majors.  As a major component of these efforts EAPS has reorganized the degree requirements for the major.  While the subjects listed remain essentially the same, going forward they will be organized into four concentration area (Geoscience, Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate, Planetary Science and Astronomy, and Environmental Systems) to make the subject selection by a student more easy.  Other activities include events for incoming freshman, involvement through freshman advising and teaching beyond EAPS, widened use of social media, and increased visibility on campus.

The department maintains a strong presence in undergraduate education across MIT so that the general MIT student body has ready access to education in geo-scientific aspects of climate and environmental change, natural hazards, and natural energy resources.  Mick Follows co-taught an ecology class with Civil and Environmental Engineering. Our faculty members with joint appointments (Kerri Cahoy, Noelle Selin, Collette Heald, Ruben Juanes, Dara Entekhabi) are also active in teaching undergraduates.  The department supports and provides leadership of two major undergraduate programs at MIT, Terrascope (under directorship of Prof. David McGee) and the Experimental Studies Group (under directorship of Prof. Leigh Royden).  EAPS also offers a relatively large number of Freshman Advising Seminars. With the combined enrollment of Terrascope and the advising seminars as well as the Experimental Studies Group, EAPS connected with 7 percent of the students in the freshman class on a weekly basis.  Similarly, EAPS continues to be an active participant in three interdisciplinary minor programs; the broadly-based Energy Minor, the Astronomy Minor (with Physics) and the Atmospheric Chemistry Minor (with, Chemistry, Aero/Astro, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and IDSS).  We look forward to participation in the newly approved Environment and Sustainability minor.

At the 2017 Student Awards and Recognition Dinner, the Goetze Prize was awarded to Mr. Costa D. Christopoulos (advised by Prof. Dan Cziczo) in recognition of his outstanding senior thesis.  Ms. Brynna G. Downey received the W.O. Crosby Award for Sustained Excellence, recognizing her achievement, both academic and intellectual, as well as general contributions to the department.  Ms. Lilian A. Dove was the recipient of the EAPS Achievement Award, which recognizes a rising senior from across the EAPS disciplines.  The award is presented to a student who has distinguished her or himself through a combination of high GPA, focused course work, and leadership within EAPS.  Ms. Kaylee Brent was recognized as an outstanding undergraduate teaching assistant for her work in 12.000 Solving Complex Problems and Mr. Taylor Safrit for his work with the students in 12.409 Hands on Astronomy: Observing Stars and Planets.  Mr. Nicholas Hoffman was selected as a 2017 Burchard Scholar by the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.  Ms Madonna Yoder received the Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research from the Sea Grant program for her research on the Lower Charles River Chart project.

EAPS graduated seven bachelor degree students in AY17.  Details can be found at https://eapsweb.mit.edu/news/2017/2017-degrees-awarded.


The department continues in its efforts to hire the best young scientists and help them develop successful careers.

Dr. Matěj Pěc a geologist, who recently completed a postdoc at the University of Minnesota, joined the department in January of 2017.

EAPS also welcomed Dr. Andrew Babbin in January of 2017.  Babbin is a marine biogeochemist and recently completed a postdoc here at MIT in CEE.

We are now halfway through the sixth year of the junior faculty mentorship program introduced in January 2012.  Each junior faculty is assigned a mentor team comprising a primary mentor (often a close colleague) and two senior faculty members from outside the candidate’s disciplinary group.  They meet – as a group – once a semester and report to the Head of Department. Junior and senior faculty alike are satisfied with the new system, but feedback solicited from junior faculty will be used to make further improvements.

Promotions (Effective July 2017):

Associate Professor of Oceanography Michael Follows was promoted to the rank of Full Professor with Tenure.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science David McGee was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with-out Tenure.


EAPS Communications continues to produce the department’s monthly e-newsletter EAPSpeaks (sent to just over 2,600 people), and its annual print magazine EAPS Scope. Both publications rely on the rich stream of news stories at eapsweb.mit.edu/news (around 230 for the 12 month period beginning July 1, 2016.) Over the same period EAPS following on facebook continued to grow steadily from just under 6,000 to over 7,100.

EAPS Program in Atmospheres Oceans and Climate (PAOC), one of the four academic research programs in EAPS, maintains its own separate, independent website. Faculty in PAOC employ a writer (Ms. Hinkel) to prepare stories about activity in that program. Beginning in late spring 2017, it was agreed that she would coordinate closer with the EAPS Communications Team. Ms Hinkel joins Ms. Jennifer Fentress, responsible for design, brand management, marketing and preparation of EAPS Scope; Ms. Heather Queyrouze Wagner, responsible for day to day management of the EAPS website, social media, and preparation of EAPSpeaks, and Communications Officer Helen Hill who continues to provide science writing, create multi-media content, and provide strategic and technical oversight.

Major initiatives in AY17 have included ground-up design and implementation of an undergraduate recruitment campaign with the goal of beefing up the number of Course 12 undergraduates. “Go Beyond” twins strong, short taglines with compelling imagery across printed materials spanning traditional posters to brochures, to a stand-alone website twelve.mit.edu. We are looking forward to working with EAPS new education officer to further develop this campaign.

Inadvertedly, the department's news channels (our website, and social media) have become dominated by stories related to climate and planetary science with notably fewer stories spotlighting activity in other geoscience areas. A particular goal for AY18 is to instigate an uptick in geo-flavored news stories.


During FY17, EAPS Senior Development Officer (SDO) focused development efforts on the EAPS capital campaign, planned gifts, fundraising for research needs and building discretionary funds and fellowships.  New gifts and pledges to EAPS in FY17 totaled $10.7M – representing a four-fold increase from FY16.  The large increase was largely due to an influx of capital gifts, planned gifts, and major gifts and foundation grants for research.

In FY17, MIT approved the plan to meet EAPS pressing space needs by designating wet lab space to be renovated in Building 4, and by building an addition to the Green Building for program space, subject to our raising a total of $30M in capital gifts. EAPS Visiting Committee members Neil Pappalardo and Neil Rasmussen, along with MIT Corporation Chair Emeritus John Reed are kindly assisting EAPS as a de facto “think tank” for our building plans and fundraising efforts.  Thanks to gifts from Neil Rasmussen and Neil Pappalardo, a total of $4M was committed for capital funding needs in FY17.  With several other solicitations under way, we look forward to gaining momentum with our capital fundraising through FY18 and beyond.

Major gifts totaling $560K were also received from individual donors for the SPECULOOS exoplanet research project, climate research, the Women in XII Fund, and the Callahan-Dee Fellowship Fund.  Foundation support for research totaled $1.82M.  Several of these foundation grants were facilitated through close collaboration between faculty, the EAPS SDO and colleagues in MIT’s Office of Foundation Relations.

A total of $2.96M was received in new planned gifts during FY17 (mostly Charitable Remainder Unitrusts).  This long-term investment provides assurance that EAPS will be able to attract students and faculty of the highest caliber for decades to come.  Most planned gifts involved close collaboration between the EAPS SDO and colleagues in the Office of Gift Planning and the Recording Secretary’s Office.

Graduate student support remains an important development priority for EAPS. In FY17 we received a total of $430K towards expendable graduate fellowships, the majority through the generosity of EAPS Visiting Committee members.  Annual and newsletter appeals resulted in an additional $200K to build named endowed fellowship funds (Elliot, Madden, Toksöz, and Treitel funds) and the EAPS Discretionary and Graduate Student Support Funds.

Among many visits, events and reports to donors throughout the year, the following stewardship and outreach events deserve particular mention, as these illustrate the considerable effort and teamwork that they involved from faculty members, students, and colleagues in EAPS Headquarters (notably Allison Provaire, Brandon Milardo, Helen Hill, Jen Fentress and Heather Queyrouze Wagner).

EAPS hosted a celebration of the Pauline Austin Centenary in December, 2016, where the late Dr. Pauline Austin’s family members joined former peers and students to remember her work as Director of MIT’s Weather Radar Research Project and to unveil a display on the 16th floor of the Green Building that celebrates her life.  The display and celebration were made possible by an anonymous donor, whose gift also facilitated the acquisition of new equipment for the synoptic teaching lab.

Our third annual EAPS Patrons Circle appreciation dinner for major donors to EAPS fellowship funds was held in April 2017. (The EAPS Patrons Circle now has 32 members.)  Patrons who attended enjoyed a poster session from students and scientific presentations from Maria Zawadowicz (2017 Grayce B. Kerr Fellow) and EAPS postdoc Dr. Julien de Wit, (2012 Grayce B. Kerr Fellow).  The celebratory event concluded with inspiring remarks from EAPS Patrons Circle Chair Neil E. Rasmussen '76, SM '80.

In September 2016, EAPS Head of Department Robert van der Hilst and Richard P. Binzel hosted a group of alumni and friends on a visit to Cape Canaveral, FL to witness the exciting Osiris-REx launch.  Maria Zuber, Vice-President of Research, joined us to speak at a welcome dinner on the eve of the successful launch.

In October 2016, EAPS and the Lorenz Center hosted the sixth Annual John H. Carlson climate science lecture entitled “Big Ice, Antarctica, Greenland and Boston” by Richard Alley, at the New England Aquarium, attracting over 200 guests. 75 VIP guests, faculty and students attended a private dinner following the lecture.

EAPS hosted the public William F. Brace Lecture, and, along with the Center for Global Change Science, co-hosted the Henry P. Kendall Lecture at MIT.  EAPS and the Earth Resources Lab also hosted an annual reception for EAPS alumni/ae and friends during the SEG meeting in Dallas, TX, and EAPS hosted a reception during the AGU annual meeting in San Francisco, CA. These events together attracted several hundred guests.

During the past year, EAPS SDO Angela Ellis has partnered with faculty and various colleagues in the School of Science, Resource Development and MITAA to highlight EAPS research through internal presentations to fundraisers as well as regional and local alumni events: Ben Weiss spoke about his research to the MIT Club in Cleveland, Ohio; Sara Seager spoke at events in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, CA; and Amanda Bosh spoke at Tech Reunions at MIT. Richard Binzel and Paola Rizzoli have starred in online events hosted by MITAA.  Many EAPS faculty are also recruited to lead trips with the MITAA Travel Program and we continue to partner on outreach and follow-up efforts.

During FY18, fundraising will be increasingly concentrated on EAPS capital campaign that is now an integral part of MIT’s Campaign for a Better World. Our vision is to secure an additional 20,000 square feet of space for EAPS, that will include modernized lab and teaching facilities in Building 4, and an exciting addition to the Green Building to provide an attractive focal point on campus for “earth and environment”, while enabling EAPS to recruit and retain the best faculty and students for years to come. 

We look forward to continuing our close partnership with School of Science, RD and MITAA colleagues on outreach and major gifts, and are optimistic that MIT alumni/ae and friends will continue to magnify the impacts of EAPS research into Earth, Planets, Climate and Origins of Life through their generous philanthropic support.

Faculty Research Highlights:

Andrew Babbin

Assistant Professor Babbin is a sea-going biogeochemist studying how ocean chemistry regulates marine microbial metabolisms, particularly pertaining to the cycling of the element nitrogen. His new group operates at the interface of chemical oceanography and marine microbiology, investigating the interactions among the rates of diverse metabolic reactions, the distribution of microbial clades, and the underlying chemistry across marine ecosystems.  Two recent research cruises have been completed, one studying seawater chemistry across the Pacific basin, and another specifically targeting the biogeochemistry of the hydrothermal vent systems along the East Pacific Rise. Additionally, the Babbin Laboratory construction has just been completed in Building 54, permitting new experiments to probe how individual bacterial strains respond to specific physicochemical stressors to affect microbial function, community composition, and the resultant marine biogeochemistry.


Babbin, A.R., B.D. Peters, C.W. Mordy, B. Widner, K.L. Casciotti, B.B. Ward (2017), “Novel metabolisms support the anaerobic nitrite budget in the Eastern Tropical South Pacific”, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 31, 258–271.

Kristin Bergmann

Assistant Professor Bergmann’s research group studies the ancient interactions between the environment and early complex life.  In particular, her group studies the nature of carbonate sedimentation through time and reconstructs temperature records from rocks approximately 1 billion to 443.8 million years ago.  The Bergmann lab uses a combination of approaches including fieldwork, micro-analytical methods including electron microprobe and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), and carbonate clumped isotope geochemistry.

During the fall of 2017, the Bergmann group installed a Nu Perspective Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer into the newly renovated lab space on the 10th floor of Building 54.  Three field seasons were conducted during the last year to Svalbard, Norway to sample Neorproterozoic to Ordovician (541-443.8 million years ago) aged strata, to the area outside of Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada, and to Anticosti Island in Canada.  Bergmann also taught a new IAP course Earth's Sandbox: Mass Extinctions and a second year of Sedimentary Environments and Sedimentology in the Field that took 9 students to the Death Valley area, California over spring break to study 530 million year old rocks.  Bergmann collaborated with MIT Libraries and GIS Lab to introduce drone technology to the fieldwork and classwork.


Gilbert, P.U.P.A, Bergmann, K. D., Meyers, C. E., DeVol, R. T., Sun, C., Blonsky, A. Z., Zhao, J., Karan, E. A., Tamre, E., Tamura, N., Marcus, M. A., Giuffre, A. J., Lemer, S., Giribet, G., Eiler, J. M., Knoll A. H., Nacre tablet thickness records formation temperature in modern and fossil shells, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2017, 460, 281-292.

Knoll, A.K., Bergmann, K. D., Strauss, J., Life: The first two billion years, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 2016, 371, 1707.

Edward Boyle

Professor Edward Boyle’s group completed an oceanographic section for lead (Pb) and Pb isotopes from sections in the Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea to North Pole and return). There is no previously published data on Pb in the Arctic Ocean. Pb concentrations in the Bering Sea are high with a distinctive isotopic composition from Asian sources, but most of this Pacific Pb is lost during continental shelf biogeochemical processes during transit through the shallow Bering Strait. The most recent Atlantic waters entering just below the shallower Pacific waters show higher Pb and Pb isotope ratios and different isotope ratios. Because the residence time of waters at the North Pole and Canada Basin is very long (centuries), Pb concentrations are very low because of limited anthropogenic connection during the recent century.

The Boyle group also developed a new method for the determination of chromium isotopes in seawater and applied this redox-sensitive tracer to oceanographic profiles from the Arctic, Central North Pacific, Mexican Oxygen-Deficient Zone (ODZ), and the anoxic bottom waters of the Santa Barbara Basin. Chromium isotope ratios are being used by geologists to assess oxygen conditions in the distant geological past, but there is very little data from the modern environment to allow us to assess and model Cr isotope behavior. Cr isotope analysis of trace-level Cr in seawater is very difficult and has been achieved by only 2-3 groups in the world. Our Arctic data is very similar to published Cr isotope data from this basin, and the open ocean data fall on a consistent Cr isotope – log[Cr] relationship consistent with Rayleigh fractionation due to redox transformations. Heavy Cr isotopes are enriched in anoxic waters of the Mexican ODZ and bottom waters of the Santa Barbara Basin due to reduction of Cr from Cr(VI) to lighter Cr(III) and removal of the light Cr(III) by scavenging onto sinking particles.


Moos, Simone Beatrice, The Marine Geochemistry of Cr isotopes, Ph.D. thesis, MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, September 2017.

Timothy Cronin

Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science Timothy Cronin started his appointment on July 1, 2016; his first year was focused on growing his group and developing his research program on climate, clouds, and atmospheric convection. Cronin immediately began co-advising third-year PhD student Tom Beucler (together with Professor Kerry Emanuel), and the two of them co-authored a paper on how the tropical atmosphere may be unstable to separating into moist and dry regions due to interactions between atmospheric water vapor content and radiative heating rates (doi:10.1002/2016MS000763).  Tristan Abbott began in September 2016 as a first-year PhD student advised by Cronin, and James S. MacDonnell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Daniel Koll joined the group in February 2017. Cronin taught 12.815: Atmospheric Radiation and Convection during his first semester in Fall 2016, and took spring 2017 off teaching. Cronin continued collaboration with Harvard Professor Eli Tziperman, and together with a former summer student, they published a paper on how the formation of very cold air masses is likely to be suppressed in a warmer world by increasing insulation from thick clouds (doi:10.1175/JAS-D-16-0193.1). Cronin was awarded an NSF grant as co-PI, on understanding the temperature-dependence of climate feedbacks (NSF award AGS-1623218). Cronin also served as a science advisor for the WGBH/NASA project “Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms.”

Daniel Cziczo

The focus of Professor Dan Cziczo research group is understanding the chemical composition, size and morphology of small atmospheric particles, commonly termed aerosols, and how these various properties impact the uptake of water. My research group is organized around answering four questions:

How do particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, in particular those produced by human activities, affect the planet’s climate? We seek to answer this question because he largest uncertainty in understanding the Earth’s climate is the formation and persistence of clouds [IPCC, 2013]. The uncertainty is due to several poorly understood processes and measurements including: (1) the microphysics of how particles nucleate droplets and ice, (2) the number of droplet and ice forming particles as a function of atmospheric properties such as temperature and relative humidity, (3) the atmospheric distribution of droplet and ice forming particles and (4) the role of anthropogenic activities in producing or changing the behavior of droplet and ice forming particles. This, the major focus of my group, is organized around a set of projects aimed at reducing uncertainty in these four areas. We use a combination of laboratory, field and modeling studies to accomplish this goal. Secondary foci in the field of Atmospheric Chemistry are better understanding the role of aerosols in visibility, heterogeneous chemistry, and the initiation of precipitation (i.e., the role of aerosols in the Earth’s water cycle)

Do we have the right instruments to answer the questions we’re interested in? In order to accomplish my group’s goals we are actively involved in the development of new instruments for laboratory and field use. A major group goal has been instrument miniaturization in order to access remote field sites with limited space and power as well as deployment on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Development activities include ongoing partnerships with private industry (e.g. Aerodyne, Inc., Billerica, MA and Droplet Measurement Technologies, Boulder, CO) as well as government laboratories (e.g. NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division in Boulder, CO).

Do clouds around other planets, both within and beyond our solar system, limit our understanding of those planets? EAPS has offered a location where my group’s expertise and instrumentation for terrestrial aerosols and cloud formation can be leveraged to address topics of interest in other fields. In Planetary Sciences, we have extended the capabilities of cloud chambers designed and built for terrestrial studies to conditions found on other planets. Studies include determination of conditions required for cloud formation in the Martian Atmosphere and mimicking exoplanet cloud formation.

Can our instrumentation for atmospheric studies be used to understand pre-industrial aerosols? In the field of Paleoclimatology, we have sought to address another of the large uncertainties in understanding climate change: the lack of data characterizing the pre-industrial aerosol loading of the atmosphere. Modern instrumental records of aerosols date back, at most, a few decades. To overcome this limitation, my group has utilized a single particle mass spectrometer to characterize aerosol trapped within ice cores. Using this method we use a modern technique to characterize aerosols dating back hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. The ultimate goal is to “stitch” pre-industrial to contemporary records with a common instrumental technique.


During the 2016-17 MIT Academic Year my research group had the following accomplishments:

Associate Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (2011-) and Civil and Environmental Engineering (2014-)

UCAR Member Representative from MIT and President’s Advisory Committee on University  Relations (2013-); elected Chair (2016-)

UCAR Congressional Meetings, May, 2017

Editor, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (2007-)

Postdoctoral Fellows Advised: A. V. Johnson, M. Roesch, C. Roesch

Ph.D. Students: S. Garimella (graduated summer, 2016), M. Zawadowicz (expected graduation summer, 2017), M. Wolf (EAPS outstanding TA award), T. Erjavec

UROP Students: C. Christopolous (graduated 2017, EAPS outstanding thesis), L. Koolik (graduated 2017) L. Dove (EAPS outstanding undergrad award)

Visiting Scientists: K. Xiangrui (University of Stockholm)

Book Chapters: Ice Formation and Evolution in Clouds and Precipitation: Measurement and Modeling Challenges (2017), AMS Monographs, Chapter 8 (Measurements of Ice Nucleating Particles and Ice Residuals) lead author; Chapter 1 (Introduction) and 2 (Cirrus) contributing author.


INUIT (invited plenary); AAAR 2016; ICNAA 2017


*denotes first author by Cziczo group student or post-doc

**denotes MIT News Highlight

*Garimella, S., et al., Uncertainty in counting ice nucleating particles with continuous diffusion flow chambers, accepted at Atmos. Chem. Phys. (2017).

*,**Zawadowicz, M. A, et al., Improved identification of primary biological aerosol particles using single particle mass spectrometry, accepted at Atmos. Chem. Phys. (2017).

*Roesch, M. and Cziczo, D. J., Dry particle generation with a 3D printed fluidized bed generator, accepted at Atmos. Meas. Tech. (2017).

Hiranuma N., et al., Development and characterization of an ice-selecting pumped counterflow virtual impactor (IS-PCVI) to study ice crystal residuals, Atmos. Meas. Tech., 9, 3817–3836 (2016).

*Garimella, S., et al., The SPectrometer for Ice Nuclei (SPIN): A new instrument to investigate ice nucleation, Atmos. Meas. Tech., 9, 2781–2795 (2016).

Tang, M.,  Cziczo, D. J., and Grassian, V., Interactions of Water with Mineral Dust Aerosol: Water Adsorption, Hygroscopicity, Cloud Condensation, and Ice Nucleation, Chem. Rev., DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.5b00529 (2016).


MIT’s The Science and Engineering Program for Teachers, MIT’s “Short Program” on “Agriculture, Innovation and the Environment”, AAAR, Wisconsin, Aerodyne, Minnesota, UCLA, Arizona State, Purdue, Gothenburg, ICNAA

Administrative initiatives:

Member, PAOC (Houghton Committee)

Member, MIT Atmospheric Chemistry

EAPS Admission and Building Committees

Personnel information:

Appointment: Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (2014-)

Teaching and curriculum:

12.338/.814/1.842, Aerosol and Cloud Chemistry and Microphysics, Spring 2012 -

12.335/.835, Experimental Atmospheric Chemistry, Fall 2012 -

12.422, Planetary Atmospheres, Spring 2017 –

MIT Professional Education “Summer Short Program” on “Climate Change: From Science to Solutions”, Summer 2016 –

12.993, The Science of Geoengineering, 2016

Kerry Emanuel

During the academic year July 2016-June 2017, Professor Kerry Emanuel and his research group continued several lines of research and initiated several others. Graduate student Vince Agard and I continued studying how severe local storms, which produce damaging wind, hail, and tornadoes, respond to climate change. We believe we made something of a breakthrough in this research showing that the energy available to severe convective storms rises exponentially with surface temperature. Diamilet Perez-Betancourt and I are exploring the dynamics of spiral rainbands in hurricanes. My graduate student Rohini Shivamoggi and I continue to study the physics of secondary eyewalls in tropical cyclones. Fuqing Zhang of Penn State and I explored the fundamental predictability of tropical cyclone intensity and published two papers on the topic. I showed that the incidence of tropical cyclones that rapidly intensify just before landfall – a serious forecasting problem – will likely increase as the planet continues to warm. I participated in a project that demonstrated that Atlantic hurricanes were likely more active in the early Holocene as a consequence of the greening of the Sahara Desert.


Emanuel was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Selected References:

Pausata, F. S. R., K. A. Emanuel, M. Chiacchio, G. T. Diro, Q. Zhang, L. Sushama, J.C. Stager, and J. P. Donnelly, 2017: Tropical cyclone activity enhanced by Sahara greening and reduced dust emissions during the African Humid Period. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., doi/10.1073/pnas.1619111114.

Emanuel, K., 2017: Will global warming make hurricane forecasting more difficult? Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 98, 495-501.

Romero, R., and K. Emanuel, 2017: Climate change and hurricane-like extratropical cyclones: Projections for North Atlantic polar lows and medicanes based on CMIP5 models. J. Clim, 30, 279-299.

Korty, R. L., K. A. Emanuel, M. Huber, and R. A. Zamora, 2017: Tropical cyclones downscaled from simulations with very high carbon dioxide levels. J. Clim, 30, 649-667.

A complete list of 2016-2017 references can be found at http://eaps4.mit.edu/faculty/Emanuel/publications/research_papers.

Raffaele Ferrari

Professor Raffaele Ferrari and his group have continued their study of the ocean circulation and its impact on climate.  They wish to highlight three main lines of research. (1) Last year, they showed that the waters that sink in the ocean abyss at high latitudes return to the surface along the slopes of abyssal seamounts and ridges.  This was in contrast to the textbook view that these waters come back to the surface uniformly in the open ocean. This year they showed that the upslope flow impacts the overall abyssal ocean circulation and the residence time of heat and carbon in the abyssal ocean with obvious climate implications.  These results are attracting much attention in the community and were recognized in Ferrari’s nomination for the Cody Award. (2) The periodic drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide was key to plummet Earth’s climate into ice ages over the last two million years.  While the oceans are believed to have taken up the atmospheric carbon dioxide during the glacial periods, the specific mechanism is not well understood.  They showed that the expansion of sea ice around Antarctica at the inception of an ice age (driven by changes in isolation) results into additional uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans, which further cools atmospheric temperature, resulting in more sea ice growth, more ocean carbon dioxide uptake and finally a full ice age. (3) Half of the ocean carbon uptake is the result of photosynthesis by phytoplankton.  There is an ongoing debate on whether the bulk of ocean photosynthesis starts at high latitudes in winter or spring.  Using newly developed profiling floats equipped with bio-optical sensors they have shown that, while some photosynthesis starts in winter, the bulk of biomass production and carbon uptake does not start until spring.  This result has important implications for the response of ocean photosynthesis to climate change that we are now exploring.


Ferrari was awarded the Cody Award by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for outstanding scientific achievement in oceanography (https://scripps.ucsd.edu/people/awards/cody). Student Henri Drake was awarded an National Science Foundation Fellowship and Madeleine Youngs a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. Potsdoc Joern Callies was hired as an assistant professor by Caltech. Postdoc Alizera Mashayek was awarded a UK National Environment Research Council Fellowship.

Gregory Fournier

Research progressed within the lab this year on several fronts:

Dating the Tree of Life. 

Using computational techniques and genome sequence data, this project attempts to combine genomic, paleontological, physiological, and geological/geochemical evidence with molecular clock models to calibrate the evolutionary histories of major groups of microbes, in order to estimate when they likely evolved, and how their metabolisms influenced the planetary system.  So far, this project has resulted in the completion of several pilot studies focusing on specific groups of microbes with biogeochemical relevance.  Some key results of this work follow:  Cyanobacteria, the group of photosynthetic microbes that originated oxygenic photosynthesis and the rise of atmospheric oxygen on Earth, likely diverged from other nonphotosynthetic bacteria ~3 billion years ago, with extant cyanobacterial groups diversifying ~2.4 billion years ago, close to the time of the rise of atmospheric oxygen.  This work is currently being elaborated upon by graduate student Kelsey Moore, collaborating with Prof. Tanja Bosak to add carefully curated cyanobacterial microfossil evidence to our calibrations.  Similarly, methanogens, a group of Archaea responsible for nearly all biogenic methane production on Earth, are estimated to have originated by 3.6 billion years ago, independently supporting the hypothesis that the early Earth was warmed by a “methane greenhouse” during the time when the sun was too faint maintain liquid water on the surface of the Earth without some insulating effect.  Other lineages of photosynthetic bacteria that do not produce oxygen (green and purple sulfur bacteria, green nonsulfur bacteria) were also dated.  It was found that both groups of sulfur bacteria diversified ~2 billion years ago, at the same time as the hypothesized transition to sulfidic conditions in some marine environments.  Furthermore, the green nonsulfur photosynthetic bacteria were found to substantially predate these other groups.  Graduate student projects within the lab are currently extending this work to dating specific metabolic processes in microbial evolution, including carbon fixation, and methanogenesis from acetate, amines, and sulfur compounds.

Ancestral reconstruction of the earliest proteins.

Several ancient protein families diversified before the last common ancestor of all life on Earth.  These protein families have essential functions in all life, and diversified through gene duplications very early on, in some of the earliest evolutionary events that comparative genomics can detect.  One of these groups of proteins are the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase proteins, which add the correct amino acid to its corresponding tRNA during protein translation.  However, since these proteins have undergone substantial evolutionary changes, reconstructing their history has been very difficult and uncertain.  In order to resolve this history better and push back the earliest record of comparative genomic information, they have performed intensive, manual and automated structure-based alignments of these protein families, which have resulted in much higher quality phylogentic trees that can be used to make more accurate evolutionary inferences.  Reconstructing the ancestral sequences across this tree reveals that the very earliest synthetase ancestors already had a full complement of all 20 amino acids in their sequences.  This is direct evidence of an older, more primitive system for aminoacylating tRNA that predates these protein families diversifying, which makes the significant prediction that the genetic code itself fully evolved within an earlier “RNA world” with proteins evolving later to take over these specific functions.  Currently, they are working to improve the quality of these reconstructions with collaborators at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, to potentially resurrect these primordial protein ancestors and determine their earliest functions in the lab.

Genomes and the Rise of Oxygen.

This project, a collaboration between NASA Astrobiology Institute’s “Foundations of Complex Life” team at MIT, and “Alternative Earths” team at UC Riverside, CA, together with Roger Summons and Junior Researcher Abigail Caron and Postdoctoral Associate David Gold, investigates the history of the emergence and spread of oxygen-related genes across microbial lineages.  Mapping the evolutionary histories of these genes using phylogenies based on genome sequence data reveals how and when major groups of microbes likely first encountered oxygen, and adapted to changing levels of oxygen across >2 billion years of planetary change.  This year, as a result of this work they published a key finding in Nature, that oxygen-dependent sterol biosynthesis genes shared between eukaryotes and bacteria likely originated by 2.3 billion years ago, about the same time as oxygen levels first rose in Earth’s atmosphere. This shows that biological utilization of oxygen likely occurred at very low concentrations, relatively swiftly after it was first available, and also, that there is a >400 million year “gap” where sterols were likely being produced, but not preserved, as the oldest sterols in the rock record are only ~1.6 billion years old.  Mapping similar patterns in other genes lacking such a clear time-calibrated record is the ongoing and current focus of this research activity, and has required substantial development of computational tools to take into account the uncertainty of evolutionary histories in specific genes, to accurately estimate their patterns of transfer and loss between lineages. 

Honors and special activities:

Ongoing awards to the lab this year include the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origin of Life, and a collaborative award from theNSF Integrated Earth Sciences program.  Additional funding awards were received this year: a supplemental award to the Simons Foundation award was received to support an additional postdoctoral researcher/graduate student.  They also received the Charles E. Reed Faculty Initiatives Fund Award, to support a graduate student research project on reconstructing the evolutionary history of carbon fixation cell machinery in the evolution of photosynthetic microbe lineages over the last 2 billion years.

During the Fall 2016 semester, Fournier was co-instructor together with Alan Grossman of the Biology Department for Microbial Genetics and Evolution, a course cross-listed between their two departments as well as Course 1.  Currently, his component of this course is being re-developed as a stand alone course offering in EAPS in Fall 2017, “The Phylogenomic Planetary Record”.  In the Spring 2017 semester, Fournier taught a fully developed course from the previous Spring 2016 special topics course offering, “Astrobiology: Origins and Early Evolution of Life”.  This course is now a permanent addition to the EAPS course offerings, and an elective for Planetary Science and Geobiology tracks within the department.

Timothy Grove

Professor Tim Grove with graduate student Alex Mitchell completed an experimental investigation of melt – wall rock reaction during melt transport in subduction zones.  These are the first such experiments that rigorously recreate the process that occurs when deeper hotter mantle melts ascend into shallower, cooler parts of the mantle wedge and interacts with that mantle.   An important control on the melt – wallrock reaction is the proportion of melt that infiltrates.  When the percentage of melt added is > 20 %, the resulting reaction leads to the production of wehrlite, a rock type common in exposed mantle rocks.  This work provides an explanation of how these rocks might form.  Until now the formation mechanism was enigmatic.  The temperature of the overlying mantle also exercises a crucially important control.   Over a small temperature range (80 oC) melt – wall rock reaction can lead to the generation of the entire spectrum of mantle rock types from depleted dunite to refertilized lherzolite (in other words, the entire spectrum of rock types found in mantle sections exposed around the world).


The following list of papers have been published since Grove’s last report.

Mitchell, A.L., Grove, T.L. (2016) Experiments on melt-rock reaction in the shallow mantle wedge.  Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 171, 107, doi 10.1007/s00410-016-1312-2.

Nittler, L.R., Chabot, N.L., Grove, T.L. and Peplowski, P.N. (2017) The Chemcial Composition of Mercury. (in press).

Tissot, F.L.H, Dauphas, N., Grove, T.L. (2017)  Distinct 238U/235U ratios and REE patterns in plutonic and volcanic angrites: Geochronologic implications and evidence for U isotope fractionation during magmatic processes. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, (in press).

Grove, T.L. and Brown, S.M. (2017) Magmatic processes leading to compositional diversity in igneous rocks: Bowen (1928) revisited. Amer. J. Sci. (in press).

Charlier, B., Grove, T.L., Namur, O. and Holtz, F. (2017) Crystallization of the lunar magma ocean and primordial mantle-crust differentiation of the Moon. Earth and Planetary Science Letters  (submitted).

Grove, T.L., Till, C. B., Barr, J.A., Donnelly-Nolan, J.M. (2017) Wet and dry mantle melting and fractional crystallization at Newberry volcano, Oregon.  Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. (in prep.)

Honors and Special activities:

Grove gave three invited seminars:  At Washington University in St. Louis he was invited to be the lecturer at their annual Larry Haskin memorial symposium.  At Arizona State University he was invited to give their SESI Colloquium.   Grove was also invited to give a talk at Corning at their 4th Annual Research Fellows Grand Challenge Workshop.  (This was in April 2016, but I forgot to report it!)

Teaching activities and institute service:

From August 19th to 27th he led the DEAPS Yellowstone trip with 35 people attending.  In the Fall he taught three classes, 12.108 – structure of Earth Materials, 12.001 Intro to Geology (he taught Oli’s part of the class) and a Freshman Advising Seminar, Meteorite from Mars Kills Dog (12A03).  In the Spring he taught Thermodynamics for Geoscientists  (12.480) and a special reading group in Undergraduate Petrology.

Grove continued as Associate Dept. Head and they implemented a new curriculum that they hope will make Course 12 more attractive to majors.  They also stepped up recruiting by contacting admitted MIT pre-freshmen and having them over to our building for food and conversation.  They continued to meet regularly with the undergraduate and graduate students and post docs to seek their input and feedback on our programs.  They ran their third Open House for graduate student admission and it went well.  Much of 2016 involved meeting about new building things and supporting the dept. head in his efforts to secure space in building 4 – 4th floor.

Other service and community outreach:

Grove continued to serve on AGU’s Development Board.   He is now chair of AGU’s Centennial Steering Committee.

In September 2016 he served as the chair of a NASA review panel for Cosmochemistry.

He serves as a member of the Joint Committee for Marine Geology and Geophysics in the MIT/Woods Hole Joint Program.  He stepped down as chair in November 2016.

He continued as a member of MIT’s Future of the Libraries Task Force.

He continues as Executive Editor for Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, and serve as an Editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy.

Thomas Herring

Professor Thomas Herring is using primarily global positioning system (GPS) data to develop geophysically based models of Earth deformations on global, regional, and local scales and changes in the rotation of the Earth.  He is also using interferometric synthetic aperture radar to study small surface deformations and geodetic methods to study Earth’s gravity field. His group is using high-precision GPS measurements
in many different study areas, including over much of the southern Eurasian plate boundary and the western United States.  They are investigating processes on time scales of years leading up to earthquakes, transient deformation signals lasting days to many weeks, postseismic deformation after earthquakes on time scales of day to decades, surface wave propagation during earthquakes using high rate GPS data and ice dynamics.  All of these measurements have sub-millimeter to few millimeter precision. The group is also monitoring and modeling human-induced deformations in hydrocarbon fields and on tall buildings, including the Green building at MIT.


Li, J., C. Rude, D. Blair, M. Gowanlock, T. Herring, V. Pankratius, Computer Aided Detection of Transient Inflation Events at Alaska Volcanoes using GPS Measurements from 2005-2015, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2016.10.003

Herring, T.A., T. I. Melbourne, M. H. Murray, M. A. Floyd, W. M. Szeliga, R. W. King, D. A. Phillips, C. M. Puskas, M. Santillan, and L. Wang, Plate Boundary Observatory and Related Networks: GPS Data Analysis Methods and Geodetic Products, (2016) `http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016RG000529/full

Stevens, L., M. Behn, S. Das, I. Joughin, B. Noel, M. van den Broeke, T. Herring, Greenland Ice Sheet flow response to runoff variability (2016), Geophys. Res. Letts, 2016GL070414. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL070414/full

Çırmık, A., Pamukçu, O., Gönenç, T., Kahveci, M., Şalk, M., Herring, T., Examination of the kinematic structures in İzmir (Western Anatolia) with repeated GPS observations (2009, 2010 and 2011), Journal of African Earth Sciences (2017), doi: 10.1016/j.jafrearsci.2016.11.020. 

Ju, B., Gu, D., Chang, X., Herring, T.A., Duan, X. and Wang, Z., 2017. Enhanced cycle slip detection method for dual-frequency BeiDou GEO carrier phase observations. GPS Solutions, 21(3), pp.1227-1238.

John Marshall

During the academic year July 2016-June 2017, Professor John Marshall and his research group continued several lines of research.  Marshall has ongoing projects in the Arctic, Antarctic, the Southern Ocean and the Dynamics of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).  He is particularly excited by the former study which is exploring the role of the ocean in mediating ITCZ shifts.  This has led to a pleasurable collaboration with my colleague Professor David McGee and an excellent Ph.D project by Brian Green.

Graduate students Brian Green and Mukund Gupta are progressing well with their theses and Brian expects to graduate sometime in 2018.  Marshall is taking on a new graduate student in the fall.


Coupling of Trade Winds with Ocean Circulation Damps ITCZ Shift (Green, B. and Marshall, J.), Journal of Climate, vol. 30, no. 12, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0818.1

A complete list of my recent publications can be found here: http://oceans.mit.edu/JohnMarshall/papers/present-to-2011/

Marshall group is here: http://oceans.mit.edu/JohnMarshall/group/

David McGee

Assistant Professor David McGee and his groups research continues to focus on understanding the response of precipitation patterns in past climates in order to offer insight into the sensitivity of the hydrological cycle to climate change.  This year they have offered important new insights into the history of North African climate, documenting large-scale changes in windblown mineral dust emissions from the Sahara desert that both trace local aridity and may amplify regional precipitation changes by reducing sea surface temperatures over the tropical North Atlantic Ocean (Williams et al., 2016; Hayes et al., 2016).  This work is a part of a larger effort to understand the patterns and drivers of past changes in tropical precipitation and the Hadley Cell.  They continue to use lake and cave deposits to trace past precipitation changes in poorly documented regions in the Southern Hemisphere such as Madagascar (Scroxton et al., 2017) and central Brazil (Wortham et al., 2017), and they have recently received NSF funding to extend our work reconstructing past lake level changes in the Central Andes of Chile and Bolivia.  Finally, they have just submitted a manuscript compiling data from around the tropics that identifies a consistent pattern of changes in the trade winds and Hadley cells that accompanies past changes in the position of the tropical rainbelt (McGee et al., submitted).  This manuscript provides a broad template for understanding past tropical precipitation changes and also identifies an important mechanism by which trade wind changes damp the magnitude of tropical rainbelt shifts, effectively limiting the range over which the rainbelt can move.


 This year was McGee’s second year as the director of the Terrascope Freshman Learning Community.  The ~45 students this year focused on the challenge of making cities more sustainable and resilient.  He taught its fall course (12.000, Solving Complex Problems) and led a spring break trip to Mexico City.  He also worked with Terrascope staff to strengthen the program’s spring term design course and initiated partnerships with the Environmental Solutions Initiative and D-Lab.

Field work:

MeGee led a multi-institution drilling project in the Searles Basin of Southern California to reconstruct past precipitation changes in the Owens River system, a major source of drinking water to the Los Angeles metropolitan area. A graduate student and postdoctoral researcher were involved in this field work as well.


McGee’s group was awarded one new NSF grant this academic year.


His group sponsored activities at the Cambridge Science Festival and at the Carlson lecture at the New England Aquarium.  Over one hundred children and their parents learned about the study of past climate change and its relationship to questions of future climate change as a part of these events.

July 2016-June 2017 Publications (*: graduate student or postdoctoral advisee):

N. Scroxton*, S.J. Burns, D. McGee, B. Hardt, L. Godfrey, L. Ranivoharimanana, P. Faina, 2017. Hemispherically in-phase precipitation variability over the last 1700 years in a Madagascar speleothem record. Quaternary Science Reviews 164, 25-36.

B.E. Wortham, C.I. Wong, L.C.R. Silva, D. McGee, I.P. Montañez, E.T. Rasbury, K.M. Cooper, W.D. Sharp, J.G. Glessner, 2017. Assessing response of local moisture conditions in central Brazil to regional variability in monsoon intensity using speleothem 87Sr/86Sr values. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 463, 310-322.

C.T. Hayes*, J. Rosen*, D. McGee, E.A. Boyle, 2017. Thorium distributions in high and low dust regions and the significance for iron supply. Global Biogeochemical Cycle 31, doi:10.1002/2016GB005511.

R.H. Williams*, D. McGee, D.A. Ridley, C.W. Kinsley*, S. Hu, A. Fedorov, I. Tal, R. Murray, P.B. deMenocal, 2016. Glacial to Holocene changes in trans-Atlantic Saharan dust transport and dust-climate feedbacks. Science Advances 2, doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600445.

C.T. Hayes*, D. McGee, E.A. Boyle, S. Mukhopadhyay, A.C. Maloof, 2016. Helium and thorium isotope constraints on African dust transport to the Bahamas over recent millennia. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 457, 385-394.

Submitted or In Press Publications:

D. McGee, E. Moreno-Chamarro, B. Green, J. Marshall, E. Galbraith, L. Bradtmiller. Hemispherically asymmetric trade wind changes as signatures of past ITCZ shifts. Submitted to Quaternary Science Reviews.

D. Ferreira, J. Marshall, T. Ito, D. McGee. Linking glacial-interglacial cycles to multiple equilibria of climate. In revision for Nature Geoscience.

G.H. Rowland, H.C. Ng, L.F. Robinson, J.F. McManus, K.J. Mohamed, D. McGee. Investigating the use of 232Th/230Th as a dust proxy using co-located seawater and sediment samples from the low-latitude North Atlantic. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, in press.

D. McGee, P.B. deMenocal. The African Humid Period recorded in multi-proxy data: Climatic signatures and cultural consequences. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science, Oxford University Press, in press.

Shuhei Ono

Shuhei Ono, Associate Professor, EAPS, studied abundance of doubly-substituted isotopologue of methane (13CH3D) to identify the sources of methane in the environments, including swamps, natural gas, and hotsprings in Iceland and seafloor. Methane on the Earth is largely produced by microbes.  This new tool will help us develop ways to test if methane on other planets and their moons can be sourced from microbes.


Shuhei Ono was awarded Gast Lecturer 2017 form Geochemical Society and European Association of Geochemistry.

Synergistic Activity:

Chair, Joint Committee on Chemical Oceanography, MIT-WHOI joint program

Co-chair, Goldschmidt Conference Boston 2018


Ono S.  2017.  Photochemistry of Sulfur Dioxide and the Origin of Mass-Independent Isotope Fractionation in Earth's Atmosphere. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. 45

Whitehill*, A. R., L. M. T. Joelsson, J. A. Schmidt, D. T. Wang*, M. S. Johnson and S. Ono (2017). "Clumped isotope effects during OH and Cl oxidation of methane." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 196: 307-325.

Wang* DT, Welander PV, Ono S. (2016) Fractionation of the methane isotopologues 13CH4, 12CH3D, and 13CH3D during aerobic oxidation of methane by Methylococcus capsulatus (Bath). Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 192: 186-202

Luo* G, Ono S, Beukes NJ, Wang DT, Xie S, Summons RE. (2016) Rapid oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere 2.33 billion years ago. Science Advances 2

Matěj Pěc

Assistant Professor Pec joined the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT on January 2017 and has dedicated most of his time to starting up his experimental rock deformation laboratory.  The laboratory space renovations required frequent meetings and consultations to make sure that everything is built to specifications and fits his needs.  The lab space has passed all inspections and was finally open for use by the end of May.  Pec has welcomed his first post-doc, Hamed O. Ghaffari in early June and they have since installed their main research tool in the laboratory - a solid medium deformation apparatus capable of reaching up to 2.5 GPa confining pressure (about 80 km depth on Earth).  Currently, they are running several calibration tests and familiarize themselves with the new equipment.  Several more calibration runs will be necessary before they can start doing real experiments, however things are moving forward swiftly – the main goal is to get the lab up and running so that they can conduct research.

Pec has written and submitted two grant proposals, one of them to the Charles E. Reed Faculty Initiatives program which got successfully funded. He wants to equip the deformation apparatus with an array of piezoelectric transducers which will allow them to “listen” to the samples as they deform as well as actively survey the microstructure during deformation with acoustic waves – given that this is an experimental approach the initial funding will allow him to trouble shoot the design and generate preliminary results which can be used in the future for a larger proposal.  The second proposal was submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF), division of Earth Sciences – Geophysics program, the goal of this proposal is to conduct a series of experiments which will clarify the influence of stress and strain on the melt network topology of partially molten rocks.  Pec also helped with the writing of a NSF – post-doctoral proposal with Caily Condit, a PhD student in Boulder, CO. This proposal got successfully funded and Cailey will be joining his lab next year.  they would like to investigate the rheological behavior of amphiboles, a common, yet poorly constrained mid- to lower-crustal mineral.

J. Taylor Perron

Associate Professor Taylor Perron and his group study the processes that shape landscapes on Earth and other planets.  Their efforts are currently focused on understanding widespread patterns in landscapes, climate’s effects on erosion, and the landscapes of Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan.

Titan’s landscapes look similar to Earth's in many ways – rain-fed rivers have carved deep valleys into its surface, even though the rain is liquid methane and the valleys are carved into ice.  Perron’s group has now discovered a way in which the landscapes of Titan – and Mars – are quite different from Earth's.  River networks give us a window into the history of each world (Figure 1).  Most topography on Earth is the result of plate tectonics, which builds mountain ranges that jut up and divert rivers as they flow towards the oceans.  No one knows for sure what built the topography on Titan, but Perron and former graduate student Ben Black discovered that the rivers there have not suffered similar diversions [Black et al., Science, 2017].  This tells us that the history of topography on Titan is more like that of Mars, where the large-scale features of the landscape were established first and then stayed more or less the same as rivers flowed across the surface and cut valleys.  Along the way, Black, Perron and colleagues confirm that Mars did not have plate tectonics and show that Mars' river valleys mostly formed after the period of intense impact cratering had ended.

One of the major themes of Perron’s research at MIT has been the influence of climate on erosion and landscape evolution. In a new review paper in Annual Reviews, Perron summarizes this research as well as the state of knowledge in the field of Earth sciences on the quantitative relationships between long-term climate and the erosion of Earth’s surface [Perron, Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 2017].  This review will serve as a guide for understanding the past evolution of Earth’s landscapes, the probable effects of future climate trends on erosion, and the most fruitful directions for future research on the topic.


PhD student Maya Stokes was awarded an AGeS (Awards for Geochronology Student Research) grant from the National Science Foundation Earthscope Program.


Black, B. A., Perron, J. T., Hemingway, D., Bailey, E., Nimmo, F., & Zebker, H. (2017). Global drainage patterns and the origins of topographic relief on Earth, Mars, and Titan. Science, 356(6339), 727-731.

Perron, J. T. (2017). Climate and the Pace of Erosional Landscape Evolution. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 45, doi: 10.1146/annurev-earth-060614-105405.

Figure 1. Images of river valleys on Mars (left), Earth (center), and Saturn’s moon Titan (right). Credit: Ben Black/NASA.

Paola Rizzoli

Professor Paola Rizzoli and her collaborators in the CENSAM (Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling) project of SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology) have continued in the investigation of the dynamical and thermodynamical changes in the South China Sea (SCS) induced either by surface fluxes or boundary conditions.  A further study has focused on the interactions between the SCS and the Indonesian Throughflow and the consequent variabilities induced into the Sulawesi Sea ( References 3-4-5 ).

The collaboration with Prof. Eltahir of C&EE has first focused on investigating the exchange properties in the waters of the Singapore straits ( reference 1).  The coupled atmosphere/ocean model developed for the Maritime Continent has been implemented to allow for anthropogenically induced warming.  Numerical simulations are been carried out for the prediction of increasing temperatures and sea level rise by the end of the century under three different warming scenarios of the 2013 IPCC.


1) Invited autobiographycal paper for the 2017 issue of Annual Review of Marine Science ( reference 2)

2) Selected by the American Geophysical Union as the 2017 Rachel Carson Lecturer for the December 2017 AGU meeting


1) Y.Su, E.Eltahir, P.Malanotte-Rizzoli, The bottom water exchange between the Singapore Strait and the West Johor Strait, in press in Continental Shelf Res. 2017

  2) P.Malanotte-Rizzoli : Venice and I : how a city can determine the fate of a career, Annual Review of Marine Science, Vol.9, doi/10.1146/annurv-marine-010816-060632, 2017

3) B. Thompson, P. Tkalich, and P. Malanotte-Rizzoli , Regime shift of the South China Sea SSR in the late 1990s, Climate Dynamics, doi: 10.1007/200382-016-378-4, 2016

4) J. Wei, P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, A. Gordon, M.T. Li, and D.X. Wang , Opposite variability of the Indonesian Through flow and South China Sea Through flow in the Sulawesi  sea, J. Phys. Oceanogr., doi:10.1175/JPO-D-16-0132.1, 2016

5) J. Wei, P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, M.T. Li, and H. Wang , Decomposition of thermal and dynamic changes in the South China Sea induced by boundary forcing and surface fluxes during 1970-2000, J.Geophys.Res.Oceans,  doi:10.1002/2016JC012078 ,2016

Daniel Rothman

Professor of Geophysics Daniel Rothman and his group have recently focused on two subjects: the stability of the carbon cycle and the effects of climate on landscapes.  The latter research led to a publication earlier this year showing that river networks in humid

regions bifurcate at wider angles than networks in arid areas.  The characteristic junction angle in humid regions is consistent with the group's earlier theoretical prediction that networks growing in diffusive fields should ramify at angles of 2 pi/5 = 72 degrees.  Groundwater flow, a ubiquitous presence wherever rainfall exceeds

evaporation, provides the requisite diffusive field in humid climates.  Results are summarized in the accompanying figure.  The group's work on the carbon cycle proceeds from the perspective of dynamical systems.  Their most recent effort, currently in review, shows how disturbances in the carbon cycle at geologic time scales inform our understanding of the stability of the cycle at human time scales.


The influence of climate on the geometry of river networks.  Parts (a) and (b) compare mean junction angles to an index (AI) of humidity throughout the conterminous United

States.  Part (c) shows that the mean angle approaches the predicted angle of 72 degrees as climates become more humid.  Typical angle histograms are shown in parts (d) and (e).  Reference: Seybold, H., Rothman, D.H., and Kirchner, J.W., ``Climate's watermark in the geometry of stream networks,''  Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 44, 2272-2280 (2017).

Roger Summons

Members of Professor Roger Summons geobiology laboratory continue to query geochemical records concerning early life and evolution of planet Earth.  Collaborating with other researchers interested in these topics, they continue to advance knowledge about the environmental controls on the production of diagnostic lipids in modern organisms and settings and their meaning for interpreting ancient fossilized counterparts.

A signature result was the study led by postdoctoral associate David Gold together with with former MIT undergraduate Abigail Caron and EAPS faculty member Greg Fournier.  They used a phylogenomic and molecular clock approach to show that the sterol biosynthetic pathway, essential for the evolution of all complex life on Earth, most likely originated about 2.4 billion years ago and concurrently with geochemical evidence for atmospheric oxygenation.

In a study that looked at possible preservation of organic records on Mars, Wilhelm and others showed that hyperarid and only poorly habitable environments with can still be excellent candidates for the search for ancient life provided appropriate steps are taken to avoid contamination.

Last but not least, they published two studies concerning the correlations between the occurrence of certain bacteriohopanepolyols (bacteria-specific lipids) and environmental redox conditions.  A third study reports creation of a mutant cyanobacterium that is unable to make a class of methylated bacteriohopanepolyols and the effects of mutation on adaptation to environmental stressors.

This research is funded by grants from the NASA, The Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life and the National Science Foundation.


Bhattacharya S., Dutta S. and Summons R.E., 2017. A distinctive biomarker assemblage in InfraCambrian oil and source rock from western India: Molecular signatures of eukaryotic sterols and prokaryotic carotenoids. Precambrian Research 290, 101–112.

Garby T.J., Matys E.D., Ongley S.E., Salih A., Larkum A.W.D., Walter M.R., Summons R.E. and Neilan B.A., 2017. Lack of methylated hopanoids renders the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme sensitive to osmotic and pH stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 83, doi:10.1128/AEM.00777-17.

Gold D.A., Caron A.M., Fournier G. and Summons R.E., 2017. Paleoproterozoic sterol biosynthesis and the rise of oxygen. Nature 543, 420-423. 

Gold D.A., O’Reilly S.S., Luo G., Briggs D.E.G. and Summons R.E. 2016. Prospects for sterane preservation in sponge fossils from museum collections, and the utility of sponge biomarkers for molecular clocks.  Bulletin of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History 57, 181-189.

Hamilton T.L., Welander P.V., Albrecht H.L., Fulton J.M., Schaperdoth I., Bird L.R., Summons R.E., Freeman K.H. and Macalady J.L., 2017. Microbial communities and organic biomarkers in a Proterozoic-1 analog sinkhole. Geobiology (In Press).

Matys E.D., Sepúlveda, J., Pantoja, S., Lange, C.B., Caniupan M., Lamy F. and Summons, R.E., 2017. Bacteriohopanepolyols along redox gradients in the Humboldt Current System off northern Chile. Geobiology (In Press).

O’Reilly S.S., Mariotti G., Winter A.R., Newman S., Matys E.D., McDermott F., Pruss S.B., Summons R.E., Klepac-Ceraj V. and Bosak T., 2017. Tracing the incorporation of microbial organic matter into ooids and grapestones using surface-coated and cortex-bound lipid biosignatures. Geobiology 15, 112–130. DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12196

Wilhelm M.B, Davila A.F., Eigenbrode J.L., Mary Parenteau N., Jahnke L.L., Liu X.-L., Summons R.E., Wray J.J., Stamos B.N, O’Reilly S.S. and Williams A., 2017. Xeropreservation of functionalized lipid biomarkers in hyperarid soils in the Atacama Desert. Organic Geochemistry 103, 97–104.

Robert D. van der Hilst

Professor Van der Hilst has been head of Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences since January 2012.  His research continues to focus on (i) regional tectonics in SE Asia and North America, (ii) imaging of Earth’s deep interior using dense seismograph arrays, in collaboration with Visiting Professors De Hoop (Rice University) and Campillo, (Univ. of Grenoble, France) and colleagues at Imperial College London), and (iii) development of algorithms for high-resolution seismic imaging with natural earthquakes (in collaboration with De Hoop).  Last year, Van der Hilst’s team developed a method for determining contrasts in mass density and seismic wavespeed across interfaces deep in Earth’s interior and from such measurements they estimated the composition and temperature beneath the Hawaiian the Central Pacific at depths that are well outside the reach of direct observation and measurement (3,4). Furthermore, they presented a novel approach to high-resolution imaging of the structure of Earth’s crust, the rocky outer part of the Earth on which we live (2) and demonstrated that one can use seismic waves to detected and quantify deformation of a volcano due to tides and changes in precipitation and atmospheric temperature (1).

(1) Shujuan Mao, S.-J., Campillo, M., Van der Hilst, R.D., Brenguier, and Hillers, F. G., Monitoring temporal variations in crustal strain with seismic arrays (in preparation for Science Advances).

(2) Shang, X.-F., De Hoop, M.V., Van der Hilst, R.D., Common conversion point stacking of receiver functions versus passive-source reverse time migration and wavefield regularization, Geophysical Journal International, v. 209, p. 923-934, 2017.

(3) Yu, C.-Q., Day, E.A., De Hoop, M.V., Campillo, M., Van der Hilst, R.D., Mapping Mantle Transition Zone Discontinuities Beneath the Central Pacific With Array Processing, Journal of Geophysical Research (under review).

(4) Yu, C.-Q, Day, E.A., De Hoop, M.V., Campillo, M, Goes, S., Blythe, R.A., Van der Hilst, R.D., Compositional heterogeneity near the base of the mantle transition zone beneath Hawaii (in preparation for Nature Geosciences).

Jack Wisdom

Professor Jack Wisdom has been working in a number of areas.  During the 1980s and 1990s Wisdom developed an integration method for studying the evolution of planetary systems. This method, now popularly known as the Wisdom-Holman method, is the basis for most long-term integrations of planetary systems and small bodies in the solar system.  It is also known as the method of symplectic integration.  Recently, Wisdom has made several improvements in the method.  First, he developed a new method to rapidly advance Keplerian orbits (one body orbiting a fixed center).  The Kepler advancer is a key component in the Wisdom-Holman method.  In this project he collaborated with Physics graduate student David Hernandez.  The new method is fast and accurate and works for all types of orbits. Second, Wisdom extended the Wisdom-Holman method to include the scattering and collisions of small bodies with (massive) planetary bodies.  Wisdom used these new methods to carry out a new study the delivery of meteorites from the asteroid belt to Earth.  It is observed that about twice as many meteorites fall in the afternoon as in the morning.  This is known as the afternoon excess.  In the late 1970s George Wetherill studied the evolution of meteorite orbits, using approximate methods, and deduced that there was an as yet undiscovered source of Earth crossing orbits in the middle of the asteroid belt.  In the early 1980s Wisdom found that chaotic resonances in the middle of the asteroid belt could pump up meteorite eccentricities to the point of being Earth crossing.  In 1985, he first proposed, as an Assistant Professor in EAPS at MIT, that meteorites follow a chaotic route to Earth.  Thus Wetherill's previously undiscovered source was now discovered.  There were many later developments in the study of meteorite delivery.  In the late 1990s, there was a study that simulated the evolution of meteorites from chaotic resonances in the asteroid belt (using the Wisdom-Holman method), and from these simulations estimated the fraction of meteorites falling the afternoon to those falling in the morning.

This study was unable to reproduce the afternoon excess, so the authors concluded that the afternoon excess was an observational artifact, and the Wetherill-Wisdom story was bogus.  This year, Wisdom revisited this problem with his new simulation methods.  He found that indeed meteorites are delivered from the asteroid belt by way of chaotic resonanaces.  He also estimated the afternoon excess for several different chaotic resonances and found that the observed afternoon excess is almost exactly reproduced.  Thus the study in the late 1990s that found conflicting results was shown to be incorrect, and the error in that study was identified. The Wetherill-Wisdom story is correct, after all.