Notes from the Field

Books by Professor McGhee

Distinguished Professor George R. McGhee's books about his research on macro-evolutionary processes, including a new title from The Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology on convergent evolution:

"Convergent Evolution on Earth, Lessons for the Search for Extraterrestrial Life"
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press)

"Carboniferous Giants and Mass Extinctions, The Late Paleozoic Ice Age World"
(Columbia University Press)

"When the Invasion of the Land Failed, The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions"
(Columbia University Press)

Mcgee titles copy

Rutgers geologists return from successful expedition to the southern Argentine margin

crew ThomasThompsonProfessor Jim Wright and four graduate students sailed on a research cruise aboard the RV Thomas Thompson, leaving from Montevideo, Uruguay on September 11th and returning on October 31st. Aaron Watters (Ph.D.), Mark Yu (Ph.D.), Tim Shamus (M.S.), and alumnus Alex Adams (MS, 2019) joined researchers and students from Texas A&M and the College of Charleston to explore the southern Argentine margin. On this 51-day cruise, the research team collected high-resolution seismic lines, multibeam bathymetry data, and a suite of cores from the southern Argentine margin. Over 4000 km (2135 nM) of high-resolution seismic data allowed the team to see the margin’s geologic architecture. One of the aims of the investigation was to image locations where sediments and deep ocean currents interact, forming large sediment drifts. Sediments are swept to the deepest parts of the continental margin (>4000 m) through a series of canyons where strong bottom water currents have sculpted the sediments producing sedimentary deposits over 2 km thick over the past 14 million years. A second sediment drift is developing in water depths between 2200 and 2800 m and appears to be a younger drift deposit. The research team also collected sixty-two cores from water depths spanning 750 to 4500 m, recovering >380 m of sediments. Eighteen jumbo piston cores (up to 14 m) recovered sediments that encompass the most recent glacial to interglacial cycles. Older sediments exposed on the margin were also recovered using a gravity core within a 20 ft steel core barrel known as Big Bertha. Shore-based biostratigraphic analysis will be conducted on these sediments. The research team will work on the data and cores collected over the next 4 to 5 years and will support a variety of graduate and undergraduate research projects.

Professor Nathan Yee explores the possibility of life on Mars and beyond

Nathan Yee, a Rutgers University–New Brunswick professor of geomicrobiology and geochemistry and a co-investigator at Rutgers ENIGMA, a NASA-funded research team focused on discovering how proteins evolved to become the catalysts of life on Earth. Yee co-created and teaches Rutgers’ first course on astrobiology, an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand whether life arose elsewhere and whether we can detect it. read more here

EPS undergraduate studies Martian soil at NASA

Sophie Benaroya is an undergraduate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and a Rutgers Honors College senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.  Her recent work at the Lunar and Planetary Institute of NASA can be found here

Rutgers geologists and oceanographers return from Pacific Ocean coring expedition

threeopleReturning from JOIDES Resolution Expedition 379T, the science team has sought to study the oceanographic and hydrologic history of the northern margin of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the South American continent. The aim was to collect six 100 meters long sediment cores from ocean water depths of 829-3858 m near the Chilean margin (36-46°S) to understand variability of the Patagonian icefields. The next step in the research will be to evaluate rapid (100 to 1000 year) changes in ocean water chemistry, composition, and temperature that will not only help reconstruct climate over the last 200,000 years but also inform us about how Earth will respond to a warmer than present climate. Rutgers postdoc Samantha Bova and professor Yair Rosenthal served as co-chief scientists, and were joined by Hailey Riechelson (graduate student, Rutgers), Mark Yu (graduate student, Rutgers), Vincent Clementi (graduate student, Rutgers), Anya Hess (graduate student, Rutgers), Stanley Ko (graduate student, Rutgers), William Biggs (undergraduate student, Rutgers), and Jim Wright (professor, Rutgers). More info at: 

Professor Gross to become NASA Deputy Curator of Apollo Moon samples and reflects to USA Today and National Geographic on the significance of the 50-year anniversary of the Moon landing

nasa positionNASA has offered Professor Juliane Gross an 18 month IPA (Intergovernmental Personnel Act) position to help open the Apollo Moon samples that were sealed 50 years ago. She will be the new "Deputy Apollo Sample Curator" at NASA JSC in Houston and will work in curation next to Dr. Ryan Zeigler (Apollo Sample Curator and the Branch Chief of the Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office) to oversee the preparations to open the samples and assist in the preliminarily examination, as well as assist in the curation of all other Apollo samples. As well as working in the Apollo lab, Professor Gross will be conducting experiments at NASA JSC, which also will allow Rutgers students a prestigious opportunity to help conduct research a NASA facility. Additionally, Professor Gross recently was interviewed for the special "50 years ago - One Giant Leap" magazine, jointly published by National Geographic and USA Today. In the article "Rocks unlocked", she is quoted together with NASA civil servant Sarah Noble about the importance of the samples collected during the Apollo mission and how study of lunar basalt rocks can help understand the origins of Earth. For further reading, check out his link:

EPS at the forefront of astrobiology with ~$6M NASA grant

rutgers nanomachines sqHow did life commence on the early Earth, and where else might it have developed in our universe? These are the fundamental questions being addressed by a team of researchers spanning the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and others here at Rutgers University. The science team, entitled "ENIGMA" for Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors is exploring these questions with support from a highly competitive ~$6M grant from the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

ENIGMA is led by Principal Investigator Professor Paul Falkowski, and EPS Professors Nathan Yee and Juliane Gross are Co-Investigators.

This NAI team will explore catalysis of electron transfer reactions by prebiotic peptides to microbial ancestral enzymes to modern nanomachines, integrated over four and a half billion years of Earth’s changing geosphere. Theme 1 focuses on the synthesis and function of the earliest peptides capable of moving electrons on Earth and other planetary bodies. Theme 2 focuses on the evolutionary history of “motifs” in extant protein structures. Theme 3 focuses on how proteins and the geosphere co-evolved through geologic time.

For more information and to learn about opportunities to get involved, check out the ENIGMA webpage at

Jiacan Yuan predicts weather extremes with global warming (click for story)

Jiacan Yuan epswebCongratulations to EPS Assistant Research Professor Jiacan Yuan on her new publication "Response of subtropical stationary waves and hydrological extremes to climate warming in boreal summer" in the Journal of Climate. Yuan and coauthors (including Professor and Director of EOAS Robert Kopp) studied subtropical stationary waves in northern summers using CMIP5 climate models in various climate scenarios. These waves consist of high pressure systems over the North Atlantic and North Pacific which lead to more dry weather, and low pressure systems over Eurasia and North America that lead to more wet weather. The study suggests that the intensity of subtropical stationary waves increases in response to global warming. The intensification will partially explain the increase in heavy rainfalls over south and Southeast Asia, and extremely dry weathers over United States and Mexico in projections of future climate.

Click here to learn more:

Tikoo explores origins of mysterious "lunar swirls"

Tikoo SwirlsRecently published in JGR-Planets is a new joint University of California, Berkeley (Dr. Doug Hemingway) and Rutgers University (Prof. Sonia Tikoo) study that explores the origins of lunar swirls. Lunar swirls are enigmatic bright and dark patterns on the lunar surface that that resemble clouds or squiggles. The geometry of the optical anomalies associated with swirls resemble the predicted morphologies of magnetic field lines emanating from a subsurface geological source body. Indeed, most swirls are also co-located with strong localized magnetic fields within the lunar crust, suggesting that the magnetic fields play a role in producing the swirl markings, either by solar wind standoff or electromagnetic sorting of fine grains within the lunar regolith. In their paper, Hemingway and Tikoo describe how the magnetic sources of lunar swirl source bodies should ideally be narrow and shallow - a morphology consistent with magmatic dikes or buried lava tubes in the lunar subsurface.

To learn more, read the full Rutgers Today story here.

Kopp discusses climate change, release of National Climate Assessment

Kopp discusses climate change articleEPS Professor Robert Kopp ( was a lead author of volume 1 of the Fourth US National Climate Assessment (, which was released in 2017 and focused on the physical science of climate change. Volume 2 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (, focused on human and ecological impacts of and responses to climate change, was released in November 2018, on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Bob was interviewed by many outlets following the second volume’s release, including by WHYY’s Radio Times and WNYC’s Science Friday. He was also profiled in a column in E&E News.