Past News Stories


image of Dr. Rajdeep Dasgupta

Earth Science professor Dasgupta named Packard fellow
Dr. Rajdeep Dasgupta, an assistant professor of Earth Science at Rice, has been awarded a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, one of 17 named to the prestigious honor this year by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The five-year award will support his research into the physical and chemical processes of planets, with an emphasis on the role of melting in the chemical evolution and the dynamics of Earth.

Read more:


image of Jeniffer Masy

Earth Science student earns Outstanding Student Paper Award from AGU
Jeniffer Masy, a graduate student in seismology, was awarded an Outstanding Student Paper Award for a work presented to the American Geophysical Union (AGU) at the Fall 2009 meeting in San Francisco. Ms. Masy's work, titled "Seismic anisotropy and mantle flow beneath western Venezuela", co-authored with advisors Drs. Fenglin Niu and Alan Levander, interprets measurements of shear wave splitting from SKS and SKKS data recorded by the national seismic network of Venezuela and a linear broadband PASSCAL/Rice seismic array across the Merida Andes. The linear array, in place as a second phase of the passive seismic component of the BOLIVAR project (Broadband Onshore-offshore Lithospheric Investigation of Venezuela and the Antilles arc Region) has been installed to better understand the complicated regional tectonics in western Venezuela.

Read the paper: Seismic anisotropy and mantle flow beneath western Venezuela


image of Dr. Carrie Masiello

A river flipped: humans trump nature on Texas river
Rice study: Human activity eclipses Brazos River's native carbon cycle
A new study by geochemists at Rice University finds that damming and other human activity has completely obscured the natural carbon dioxide cycle in Texas' longest river, the Brazos.

"The natural factors that influence carbon dioxide cycling in the Brazos are fairly obvious, and we expected the radiocarbon signature of the river to reflect those influences," said study co-author Caroline Masiello, assistant professor of Earth science at Rice. "But it looks like whatever the natural process was in the Brazos, in terms of sources and sinks of carbon dioxide, it has been completely overprinted by human activities."

The study, which is available online in the journal Biogeochemistry, is the first to document such an overwhelming influence of human activity on carbon dioxide in a major river.

The full story:


image of Dr. Andre Droxler

Core constituency
Rice scientist looks deep beneath Great Barrier Reef for climate clues
André Droxler, a professor of Earth science who specializes in ocean sedimentology and past climate, was one of 28 researchers from nine countries who gathered in Bremen, Germany in July, for an "onshore science party" to study a set of cores drilled from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Dr. Droxler was in Bremen when long-buried coral arrived for weeks of intense study by the researchers of Expedition 325, part of an extensive survey of the globe's undersea structure and climate history by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP).

The new samples excite scientists "because cores are excellent recorders of sea level," he said. "Corals live in very specific water depths—and not just one species, but an assemblage of species." So certain species at certain depths along the cores are both a time stamp and measure of sea level when the coral lived. Carbon-14 and thorium dating refined the timeline, he said.

Read more:

Additional quotes from Dr. Droxler:


image of Dr. John Anderson

Local coastal impacts underestimated from sea-level rise
Most studies indicate that sea levels will rise over the next century due to melting glaciers, more ice breaking off the Antarctic ice sheet and thermal expansion—and there is great variation in how much scientists estimate seas will rise. But that's not even the most important question, according to a new study. Instead, researchers should be looking at relative sea-level rise—how much rising seas will affect individual regions. And when you break it down by region, the study suggests, the outlook isn't promising.

One of the regions likely to be most affected by even a small rise in sea levels is the Gulf Coast of the United States, reported John Anderson, a geologist at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues in a recent issue of EOS. When it comes to relative sea-level rise, even if the rise is just a couple of millimeters—at the lower end of the projected sea-level rise over the next century—the Mississippi Delta is in danger, Anderson says.

The article:


In Memoriam

Dr. Donald Baker

We are sad to report that Don Baker, a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science, passed away on July 18, 2010. Dr. Baker was a professor of geology at Rice from 1966-1988 and served as the department chairman of what was then the Geology Department from 1977-1980.


image of Dr. John Anderson

Booms, Berms Offer Imperfect Solutions to Oil Spill's Advance in Gulf
The arrival of the Atlantic hurricane season poses new concerns as the encroaching oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig continues to arrive onshore despite the government's deployment of about 3 million feet of containment boom. 'If it's widespread enough, there's no way to keep it away,' said John Anderson, a professor of coastal geology and oceanography at Rice University in Houston. 'We don't have enough booms to stretch from Louisiana to south Florida.'

The recent start of hurricane season only increases the odds of more oil reaching land. 'If we have a tropical storm that really starts to break the oil up, we would have to ... prioritize, putting booms in one area but not another,' Anderson said. 'This is a very serious catastrophe, and I don't think even professionals have grasped the sheer magnitude of this event.'

Read the entire article:


image of Dr. Gerald Dickens

Trouble at the Bottom of the Ocean
Methane hydrate threatens more than the oil-spill cleanup
Naturally occurring methane hydrates, found in the sea-floor sediments of all oceans where suitable temperature and pressure conditions permit, are posing a difficult problem in the containment of oil spilling from the Deepwater Horizon Well in the Gulf of Mexico. These hydrates pose some serious risks beyond the havoc they've wreaked on containment efforts, and some experts, including Rice University's marine geologist Gerald Dickens, fear that any dissociation, or melting, of a hydrate deposit caused by the heat of drilling or of pumping hot oil could have dire consequences.

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image of Dr. Helge Gonnermann

Experts weigh in on impact of volcano eruption:
The volcano Eyjafjallajokull, in Iceland, has been erupting since March, and spewing ash some 20,000 to 30,000 feet into the air. The ash can even be seen from space. Unlike other volcanoes, it is covered by a glacier, so it creating a lot of steam too.

Scientists are unsure if this is aiding in the upward movements of massive amounts of ash, but we do know that all of that ash is spreading over Europe. The ash is being carried by strong westerly winds in the upper parts of the atmosphere. Over the past thousand years, the volcano has erupted three times, with this being the fourth. Rice University Earth Science Professor, Helge Gonnermann, was asked how long it could continue.

"Typically these eruptions lasted for about a year, with different stages, waxing and waning. Maybe not all the time spewing ash this high in the atmosphere, but it is hard to predict," said Gonnermann.

The KIAH News interview can be heard here:,0,3377431.story


image of Fanwei Zeng

Buried shells in Houston are no treasure:
Rice study finds early roadbeds leach greenhouse gas into rivers
Fan-Wei Zeng saw seashells, but not by the seashore. In fact, they were quite far away, and they were skewing the Rice University graduate student's study of the environmental impact of Houston's rivers. Zeng noticed the shells in the roadbeds of Texas. Builders put them there as far back as the mid-19th century because the materials were plentiful and cheap.
Her studies of the shells have added a small piece to the global puzzle of how human enterprise has altered the natural cycle of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a major role in global warming. Her results were reported recently in the online journal Biogeochemistry...

Read more about this discovery here:


image of Dr. Dale Sawyer

Rice scientist: Chile quake much larger than Haiti's
The recent earthquake in Chile, the result of a subduction zone event, was one of the strongest quakes since the 2004 Sumatran quake in Indonesia. Dale Sawyer, professor of Earth Science, is interviewed on the 8.8 magnitude earthquake by the Houston Chronicle. "This was hundreds of times larger than the Haiti earthquake in terms of the amount of energy released," Sawyer said. "The amount of energy released does not necessarily correspond to how many people die or how many buildings are damaged."

The full story can be read here: