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Geobiology is an interdisciplinary field of scientific research that explores interactions between the biosphere and the lithosphere and/or the atmosphere.

Research in geobiology at the Geophysical Laboratory includes both experimental and observational studies. Biological cycling of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur are key processes profoundly affecting Earth’s environment and history. Scientists at the Laboratory have been studying modern ecosystems with an eye to understanding how similar ecosystems and environments operated during the past. Our emphasis relies heavily on the use of stable isotopes to trace elements through biochemical cycles along with biochemical measurements of community function and composition. By understanding how these parameters work in modern ecosystems, we are then able to interpret paleoclimate, paleoecology, and paleooceanography. Our studies take us to the far reaches of the globe with long-term studies in the Australian deserts (1994-2007), tropical mangrove forest ecosystems (1999-2008), and cold, dry Arctic regions (2004-2008). The strengths of these long-term studies include an in depth understanding of how biology differs on landscape and continental scales, which provides information on current global change in addition to its value in interpreting past climate and environmental changes.

Astrobiology is the understanding how biologically relevant elements might be distributed in a landscape that had extinct or very cold adapted, slow-growing extant found on the surface of Mars.


Geophysical Laboratory scientists and collaborators have conducted a continental scale monitoring of the stable isotope ecology of plants adapted to fire and drought in Australia, focused on how important mangrove trees survive in high stress environments, and are conducting two major studies with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and other univerisites to track the migration patterns of birds.

Current studies include the investigation of the role of viruses in the ecology of communities inhabiting rocks, or endolithic communities and halotolerant microbes living at high pressure, and continued inquiry into microbial viability at high pressures using diamond anvil cells. The challenge is how to interrogate quantitatively these volumetrically tiny worlds where microorganisms clearly exhibit evidence of viability with unknown biochemical modifications.

Geobiology News


Washington, D.C., 16 February 2016— The Geophysical Laboratory’s Dina Bower and Andrew Steele weigh in on whether microstructures found in 3.46 billion-year-old samples of a silica-rich rock called chert found in Western Australia are the planet’s oldest fossils. The purported fossils have been a heated scientific controversy for many years. The team asserts that at least a portion of the microstructures are actually pseudo-fossils.

Advances in Matter under Extreme Conditions is a retrospective report of the successes of HPCAT over the past 10 years.

Washington, D.C., 6 August 2012 -- NASA’s rover Curiosity, the size of a small car, touched down in a Martian crater early Monday. Geophysical Laboratory scientists are contributing to the mission.