Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar

Wednesday May 13, 2015 4:00 PM

Plant waxes as environmental proxies in the tropics

Speaker: Sarah J. Feakins, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California
Location: South Mudd 365

Plant waxes perform multiple functions for living plants and through their remarkable resiliency they leave a rich sedimentary legacy for biogeochemical interpretation. In the past decade, I've studied the isotopic signatures of these compounds in sedimentary archives around the world, and now find it is time to answer hard questions about these biomarkers in challenging tropical environments. How well do plant biomarkers work as paleoenvironmental proxies in the tropical context of high biodiversity, and how are these biomarkers exported from source to sink? My talk will take you on a picturesque journey through from the tropical montane forests of the Andes, down into lowland Amazonia, via the Madre De Dios River within Peru. Through ambitious sampling campaigns in remote environments, my collaborators and I have acquired unprecedented sample sets across steep topographic, environmental and ecological gradients. In my lab at USC, my group has analyzed the leaf wax molecules in Andean and Amazonian forests and found they capture elevation-specific isotopic signatures. We analyzed the same biomarkers in fluvial transport to determine spatial and temporal integration processes, and the downstream propagation of those signals. I offer answers from this Andes-Amazon transect of plants, soils and river sediments, as well as general perspectives on biomarker approaches to reconstructing paleoenvironment, paleoaltimetry and carbon cycling.

Series Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar

Contact: Kathy Young at 626-395-8732 katyoung@gps.caltech.edu