Department News 2020-2021

Earth and Physical Sciences Building

UC Davis Earth and Planetary Sciences Graduate Program

Following on the previous change in our department name, the graduate program in Geology has now also changed its name to the Earth and Planetary Sciences Graduate Program.  From research on ocean acidification to the deep mantle water cycle, from the tectonics of the Caucuses Mountains to the tectonics on Enceladus, from experiments extracting the ages of cooling magma crystals to extracting the origins of complex life from biomarker genetics, this new name better reflects the wide range of research questions pursued by our faculty and graduate students.

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UC Davis Earth and Planetary Sciences programs rank high nationally and in the world.

Quacquarelli Symonds, considered one of the most influential international university rankings providers, ranked several UC Davis Earth and Planetary Sciences programs within the top 20 nationwide: earth and marine sciences - 17th, geology - 18th and geophysics tied for 18th. Worldwide, geophysics tied for 29th, earth and marine sciences - 30th, geology - 31st.

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Sarah Stewart | Connections with Evan Dawson

From Connections, NPR Rochester: Astrophysicist Adam Frank says that science has united us during this very difficult year. Writing for, Frank argues, "It is no overstatement to say that science saved our lives and our hope for the future. And it did so by overcoming all the denialists who attack its validity, dismiss its honesty and power, and repeatedly call for its funding to be cut." The NSF Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures is highlighted in this January 28th Connections podcast episode. Sarah Stewart is a guest, along with Rip Collins (Director of the Center) and Adam Frank.

Bilinski Fellowship at Bodega Marine Lab | Hannah Kempf

Hannah Kempf is one of ten recipients of the UC Davis Bilinski fellowship at Bodega Marine Lab for 2020-2021. Bilinski fellowships are awarded to outstanding doctoral students whose selected projects, based at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, exhibit innovation, collaboration, and are a key component of the student’s final dissertation. Hannah is interested in how shellfish respond to climate change. At BML, her project will investigate how traditional ecological knowledge can help buffer shellfish against ocean acidification. To do so she will collaborate with Native scholars, and use genomics and shell structure tools.

Give Day | Earth and Planetary Sciences Student Support Challenge

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences has a matching Challenge opportunity due to the generosity of Margie and Tom Latham. 10 donations of any size will unlock these donor funds. The Earth and Planetary Sciences Student Support Challenge supports graduate and undergraduate students in earth and planetary sciences with the following priorities: graduate student summer stipends, undergraduate research experiences, graduate student equipment/technology needs, and maintenance of teaching equipment in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. The Challenge ends on April 17th at 5:00PM.

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Tessa Hill | Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Tessa Hill has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The world’s largest general scientific society, the AAAS elevates members to the rank of fellow in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Her AAAS citation reads: for her outstanding contributions to research, teaching and outreach related to processes in the past and present oceans based on geochemistry and paleobiology.

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Isabel Montañez and Qing-zhu Yin | Class of 2020 AGU Fellows

Isabel Montañez and Qing-Zhu Yin are among the newly minted class of AGU Fellows. The Fellows program was established in 1962 and recognizes AGU members who have made exceptional contributions to Earth and space science through a breakthrough, discovery, or innovation in their field. Fellows act as external experts, capable of advising government agencies and other organizations outside the sciences upon request. AGU has elected fewer than 0.1% of members to join this prestigious group of individuals.

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Isabel Montañez | Deep Past is Key to Predicting Future Climate, Scientists Say

From UC Davis: An international team of climate scientists, including Professor Isabel Montañez at the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, suggests that researchers using numerical models to predict future climate change should include simulations of past climates in their evaluation and statement of their model performance. The report is published this week in the journal Science.

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Tessa Hill | Unfold Podcast, Episode 6: Oceans Under a Changing Climate

From UC Davis: Oceans have always done us a favor by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But, increasingly, greenhouse gases are warming the ocean and changing its chemistry. All of this is putting marine species and ecosystems at risk, threatening food security and the livelihoods of people along its shores. In this episode of Unfold, we take a deep dive into the ocean to examine the effects of climate change. Dr. Tessa Hill is featured in this episode.

Cathy BusbyCathy Busby | 2020 MGPV Distinguished Geologic Career Award

Cathy Busby, Professor Emerita, has been awarded the 2020 Distinguished Geological Career Award from the MGPV (Mineralogy, Geochemistry, Petrology, and Volcanology) Division of the Geological Society of America. This award goes to an individual who, throughout his/her career, has made distinguished contributions in one or more of the following fields of research: mineralogy, geochemistry, petrology, volcanology, with emphasis on multidisciplinary, field-based contributions. The MGPV Distinguished Geological Career Award emphasizes a geologic and multidisciplinary approach.

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Isabel Montañez | 2021 Francis J. Pettijohn Medal for Sedimentology

Dr. Isabel Montañez will be awarded the 2021 Francis J. Pettijohn Medal for Sedimentology from the Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM)! This award is given in recognition of Excellence in Sedimentology. Nominees for the medal are persons who have a significant record of outstanding contributions in sedimentary geology, including all aspects of sedimentology and stratigraphy. This also follows two other recent, prestigious awards to Isabel: The GSA Sloss Award in 2018, and the Jean Baptiste Lamarck Medal from the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in 2019.

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Tessa Hill | For Red Abalone, Resisting Ocean Acidification Starts With Mom

From UC Davis: Study Identifies Traits of Climate-Resilient Red Abalone, With Implications for Farmed Abalone. Red abalone mothers from California’s North Coast give their offspring an energy boost when they’re born that helps them better withstand ocean acidification compared to their captive, farmed counterparts, according to a study from the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. Tessa Hill is a co-author on the study.

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Jeff Mount | How California Became Ground Zero for Climate Disasters

From the NYTimes: The engineering and land management that enabled the state’s tremendous growth have left it more vulnerable to climate shocks — and those shocks are getting worse. The state’s size and geographic diversity expose it to an unusually wide range of extreme climate events. And its large population means that when disasters do strike, they are very likely to affect large numbers of people.

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Sarah Stewart | A New Creation Story for the Earth and Moon

Thursday, November 12, 2020 - 6:30pm to 7:30pm (ET). An online lecture by Sarah Stewart, professor and MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Stewart will talk about the accidental discovery of a new type of astronomical object, called a synestia, that may save the idea of a giant impact and forever change the way you think about the birth of our planet. Hosted by Carnegie Science. For online event details, please visit Carnegie Science Events.

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Qing-zhu Yin photo portrait

Curtis Williams and Qing-zhu Yin  | Meteorites Show Transport of Material in Early Solar System

From UC Davis: New studies of a rare type of meteorite show that material from close to the sun reached the outer solar system even as the planet Jupiter cleared a gap in the disk of dust and gas from which the planets formed. The results, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, add to an emerging understanding of how our solar system formed and how planets form around other stars. The consensus theory on how planets form is that they accrete from a disk of dust and gas that rotates around a new-formed star.

Evidence for the composition of this protoplanetary disk in our own solar system comes from chondrites, a type of meteorite made up of smaller particles, or chondrules, that collected together like a cosmic dust bunny. “If we understand transport, we can understand the properties of the disk and infer how the planets were built,” said Qing-zhu Yin, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Davis, and co-author on the paper. Yin, UC Davis research scientist Curtis Williams, and their collaborators carried out a detailed study of isotopes from 30 meteorites. They confirmed that they fell into two distinct groups: the noncarbonaceous chondrites as well as other, more common types of meteorite; and the carbonaceous meteorites.

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Ryosuke Motani | Ichthyosaur’s Last Meal Is Evidence of Triassic Megapredation

From UC Davis: When a specimen of the ichthyosaur Guizhouichthyosaurus was discovered in Guizhou province, China, in 2010, researchers noticed a large bulge of other bones within the animal’s abdomen. On examination, they identified the smaller bones as belonging to another marine reptile, Xinpusaurus xingyiensis, which belonged to a group called thalattosaurs. Xinpusaurus was more lizardlike in appearance than an ichthyosaur, with four paddling limbs. “We have never found articulated remains of a large reptile in the stomach of gigantic predators from the age of dinosaurs, such as marine reptiles and dinosaurs,” said Ryosuke Motani, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Davis, and co-author on the paper. “We always guessed from tooth shape and jaw design that these predators must have fed on large prey but now we have direct evidence that they did.” The fossil is described in a paper published Aug. 20 in the journal iScience. Read more at Reuters | CNN  | National Geographic | AFP

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Sarah Stewart | Understanding Matter at Atom-Crushing Densities

From UC Davis: University of California, Davis will be part of a new National Science Foundation (NSF) Physics Frontier Center focusing on understanding the physics and astrophysical implications of matter under pressures so high that the structure of individual atoms is disrupted. The Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures (CMAP) will be funded with $12.96 million from the NSF. It will be hosted at the University of Rochester in collaboration with researchers at UC Davis, MIT, Princeton, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Buffalo and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The Physics Frontiers Centers (PFC) are university-based centers funded by the NSF to enable transformational advances in the most promising research areas.  “This collaboration is focused on developing a new area of physics focused on the properties of matter under extreme pressures” said Sarah T. Stewart, professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis and co-principal investigator on the project. “Most of the work is motivated by the diversity of the interiors of planets, to understand their formation and evolution.”

Brunton and mapUC Davis Geology Graduate Program | GRE Scores Permanently Dropped

The Geology Graduate program has permanently dropped GRE scores from the required application materials. Starting August 2020, students applying to the Masters and PhD Programs in Geology will no longer be asked to submit GRE scores. This change is in response to strong evidence that GRE scores do not predict the success of students in graduate school and the recognition that this requirement is one barrier to increasing diversity of graduate students in the program.