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Research

How does the Earth work? Why is it habitable? How will human activities affect its future? Research in our department spans an unusually broad range of subjects, encourages interactions among the subdisciplines listed below, and involves fieldwork, laboratory experiments, theory and numerical modeling.

Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

The coupled ocean and atmosphere system interacts with life to set the physical and chemical conditions of Earth's surface. At Princeton, we use multi-scale models of varying complexity to study stratosphere-troposphere interactions, the importance of topography and the terrestrial biosphere in regulating climate, the coevolution of atmospheric pCO2, ice volume and sea level, decadal to millennial oscillators in the climate system, and ocean tracers as a means to understand the cycling of climatically important molecules.

Faculty:
Stephan Fueglistaler: Atmospheric dynamics and transport, water vapour and clouds; climate
David Medvigy: Vegetation-climate interactions; deforestation feedbacks; terrestrial carbon budgets; atmospheric variability
Michael Oppenheimer: Climate change, ice sheets, sea level
George Philander: Ice ages, ocean-atmosphere interactions, ocean circulation
Jorge Sarmiento: Ocean biogeochemistry, circulation, climate using global models and observations

Biogeochemistry

Geochemical and biological processes modify Earth's surface (atmosphere, soils, sediments, oceans, groundwater). At Princeton, we study nutrient availability and biological productivity in the surface ocean, global nitrogen and carbon cycling, the importance of metals in oceanic and soil environments, ocean acidification, and the role of extremophiles in geochemical cycling on Earth and potentially Mars.

Faculty:
Michael Bender: Ocean biogeochemistry, paleoclimate, history of ocean chemistry
François Morel: Trace metal biogeochemistry, phytoplankton, ocean acidification, carbon and nitrogen fixation.
Satish Myneni: Aquatic and soil chemistry, colloids and surfaces, chemical speciation, trace element biogeochemistry, natural organohalogens, spectroscopy and microscopy
Tullis Onstott: Permafrost, subsurface biosphere, molecular biology, microbiology, stable isotopes, mars, extremophiles
Daniel Sigman: Paleoceanography, paleoclimate, nitrogen cycle, stable isotopes, carbon and nutrient cycles in Earth history
Bess Ward: Microbial ecology of the ocean's N cycle, functional diversity of marine phytoplankton

Geophysics

Geophysics focuses on the physical properties of Earth at all scales, from atomic to global. At Princeton, we study the physical properties of minerals in Earth's deep interior with high pressure experiments, we develop images of Earth's 3D structure using seismic tomography, we study the physics of earthquakes and the laws of friction, we model wave propagation using vast parallel computers, and we study subtle changes in Earth's gravity to model processes as diverse as plate tectonics and the growth and decay of ice sheets.

Faculty:
Tom Duffy: Mineral physics, diamond anvil cell, high pressure, mineralogy,  shock compression, earth's interior, planetary interiors, vibrational spectroscopy, synchrotron X-ray diffraction
Jessica Irving: Deep earth seismology, inner core structure, whole Earth oscillations, body wave seismology, core processes
Allan Rubin: Fault mechanics, earthquake nucleation, earthquake physics, microseismicity, magma transport, dike propagation
Frederik Simons: Global geophysics, seismology, geodesy, spectral analysis, inverse theory, wavelet analysis, satellite observations,large-scale tectonics, earthquake early warning
Jeroen Tromp: Theoretical & computational seismology, global seismology, exploration seismology, helioseismology, tomography, seismic interferometry, seismic imaging, inverse methods

Geology

The rock record contains information about the coevolution of life, climate and Earth's deep interior. At Princeton, we study Earth's ancient magnetic field, the relative motion of continents, the growth, deformation, and stabilization of Earth's lithosphere, perturbations to the global carbon cycle, paleontological evidence for animal evolution and mass extinction, and the history of climate change.

Faculty:
John Higgins: Geochemical reconstructions of past climates, isotope geochemistry, global biogeochemical cycles, rock-water interactions, planetary habitability
Gerta Keller: Paleontology, stratigraphy, geochemistry of major catastrophes (volcanism,impacts) in earth history
Adam Maloof: Earth history, sedimentology, stratigraphy, stable isotopes, paleomagnetism, paleogeography, paleoclimate, neoproterozoic, cambrian, carboniferous, pleistocene
Blair Schoene: Geochronology, thermochronology, Earth history, tectonics, geochemistry, lithospheric evolution, magmatic processes