The Earth and Planetary Sciences department at UC Davis offers interdisciplinary curricula in geochemistry. Tools involve the use of stable isotope and trace element mass spectrometry to address problems in aqueous, marine and environmental geochemistry, and studies applied to sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous systems. Our students are encouraged to design individual academic programs involving both empirical and theoretical approaches. Opportunities exist for students to participate in international field research programs on land and throughout the ocean basins.

The department has outstanding facilities to support geochemical research. In house light stable isotope ratio mass spectrometers (IRMS) include Fisons Optima and Finnigan MAT 251 mass spectrometers with automated capabilities for analyzing carbon and oxygen isotope ratios on very small carbonate samples, carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios on organic matter, and oxygen and hydrogen isotope ratios on waters. A third continuous flow IsoPrime IRMS is available for sulfur, carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses. Off line isotopic separation facilities include vacuum lines for carbonates, organic carbon, SCO2 in water, hydrogen and oxygen in silicates, and sulfur in sulfides and sulfates. Additional departmental equipment includes: a cathodoluminescence microscope, an epi-fluorescence reflected light microscope, and petrographic microscopes; cooled CCD camera with video and digital image capture systems for use with the microscopes; and a pH-stat system for mineral precipitation/dissolution experiments at constant pH. The department also houses a fully automated CAMECA electron microprobe, and the Davis campus has recently installed a state of the art multi-collector ICP-MS (Nu Plasma HR) and two quadrupole ICP-MS (Agilent Technologies 7500a and 7500c) and a laser ablation system (New Wave Research UP-213) for trace element and radiogenic isotope  measurements.


Bill CaseyWilliam Casey
Distinguished Professor | 530-752-3211

Interest is in the reactions between water, rock and minerals. Many weathering phenomena involve reactions with water on mineral surfaces, something which can be mimicked in the laboratory by studying the aqueous chemistry of metal aquo clusters by heteronuclear NMR and MS. Other interests include crystal growth, general cluster chemistry, bio-inorganic chemistry, and chemistry from an environmental aspect.

Kari CooperKari Cooper
Professor | 530-754-8826

Isotope geochemistry of volcanic rocks; dynamics of magma reservoir systems including magma storage, crystallization/differentiation, and interaction with wallrocks, with emphasis on crystal ages from uranium-series disequilibria measured in minerals and coexisting liquids; origin and distribution of chemical heterogeneity in the mantle with emphasis on stable-isotope tracers of recycled crustal material, including oxygen isotope variations in fresh MORB and lithium isotopic composition of altered oceanic crust. Current and recent projects include timing of magma mixing and assimilation of wallrocks beneath Icelandic volcanoes; magma storage and differentiation timescales at Mount St Helens; crystal and magma residence times at Kilauea and Mauna Loa, Hawaii; oxygen-isotope records of crustal recycling in the upper mantle beneath the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Australian-Antarctic Discordance; timescales and mechanisms of hydrothermal alteration of oceanic crust using U-series disequilibria and lithium isotopic composition.

Tessa HillTessa Hill
Professor | 530-875-1910

Research areas include marine micropaleontology, geological oceanography, and paleoceanography utilizing geochemistry of marine sediment and coral records. Tessa is also involved in interdisciplinary research to investigate the impacts of ocean acidification on coastal California environments. Research in her laboratory includes

  • Culturing of key species in the laboratory under controlled environmental conditions
  • Monitoring modern pH variability on the Northern California coast using pH sensors and oceanographic transects
  • Reconstructing climate variability utilizing geochemical proxies in foraminifera, corals, and other carbonates
  • Investigating coastal environments to understand potential for carbon storage

Chip LesherCharles Lesher
Professor | 530-752-9779

Experimental igneous petrology and geochemistry; phase equilibria and kinetics of silicate systems at elevated pressure and temperature; physical, transport and thermodynamic properties of silicate melts. Recent projects include (a) Laboratory: low to high pressure phase equilibria studies of basaltic systems; trace element partitioning; chemical and self diffusion studies of silicate melts; solution properties of silicate liquids from thermal diffusion. (b) Field: magmatic evolution of the North Atlantic Ocean basin and the evolution of the Iceland hot spot; petrologic studies of early Tertiary volcanic and plutonic rocks of East Greenland.

Isabel MontanezIsabel Montañez
Distinguished Professor | 530-754-7823

Research interests are in the sedimentary record of coupled physical and chemical variation in paleo-oceans, global biogeochemical cycling in marine and terrestrial records, and carbonate fluid-rock interaction in sedimentary basins using stratigraphy, petrography and geochemistry, including stable and radiogenic isotopes and trace elements. Research in the laboratory broadly focuses on development of quantitative paleoclimate proxies, and their application to intervals of time characterized by major and/or abrupt climate change including past periods of icehouse-to-greenhouse transitions through to the last deglaciation.

Sujoy MukhopadhyaySujoy Mukhopadhyay
Professor | 530-752-4711

Early terrestrial atmospheres, magma oceans and the early volatile history of Earth, chemical evolution of the mantle-crust-atmosphere system, application of surface exposure dating to understanding land surface evolution, novel techniques for reconstructing mineral dust emission from continents and climatic effects of mineral dust, sediment mass accumulation rates from extraterrestrial helium-3.

Howie SperoHoward Spero
Distinguished Professor | 530-752-3307

Research focuses on the biological and environmental parameters that affect the stable isotope and trace metal geochemistry of the shells of recent and fossil organisms; marine micropaleontology, paleoclimatology, and paleoceanography. An ongoing multi-year field research program involving graduate and undergraduate students has been studying living planktonic foraminifera in the Southern California Borderland and the Caribbean. The results of this study are being used to interpret fossil foraminifera stable isotope data from Indian and Atlantic Ocean deep sea cores in order to reconstruct paleoenvironmental sea surface temperatures, nutrient levels and CO2 concentrations during the Pleistocene.

Dawn SumnerDawn Sumner
Professor | 530-752-5353

Sumner’s geochemical research includes understanding how modern and ancient microbial communities interact with their geochemical environments. Her lab group studies modern microbial communities in Antarctic lakes that are shaped by their environment and can create intense geochemical gradients.  For example, photosynthesis by cyanobacteria in Lake Fryxell creates "oxygen oases” under anoxic waters that are models for ecosystems on early Earth when life first evolved.  Sumner’s lab group investigates geochemical traces of these types of communities in Archean microbialites.

Qing-zhu YinQing-zhu Yin
Professor | 530-752-0934

Using extinct radioactivity and general isotopic anomalies in the early solar system recorded in primitive meteorites as a tool to study the time scales and site of nucleosynthesis, the time of formation of the solar system and planetary differentiation. Isotope and trace element geochemistry with applications to crust-mantle evolution. Heavy metal stable isotope fractionation in low temperature environments on planetary surfaces or in biological systems using newly emerging high precision mass spectrometry techniques. The development of associated experimental techniques involving high precision mass spectrometry and ultra-clean sample processing in Class-100 clean laboratories for isotope analyses.

Researchers and Emeriti

Gordon MooreGordon Moore
Assistant Adjunct Professor | 530-752-5829

Experimental, igneous and volcanic petrology. Research involves using high pressure and temperature apparatus to investigate the nature of volcanic eruptions and their igneous products.

Rob ZierenbergRobert A. Zierenberg
Professor Emeritus | 530-752-1863

Aqueous geochemistry; stable isotope geochemistry; economic geology. Research has focused on water/rock interaction in active and ancient hydrothermal systems, including the "black smokers" on the mid-ocean ridges. Research topics include the geology and geochemistry of sulfide deposits and hydrothermal alteration in seafloor hydrothermal systems and on-land analogs.