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The field of geochemistry involves study of the chemical composition of the Earth and other planets, chemical processes and reactions that govern the composition of rocks, water, and soils, and the cycles of matter and energy that transport the Earth's chemical components in time and space, and their interaction with the hydrosphere and the atmosphere.

Chemical compositions of asteroids can be studied from Earth by analyzing the spectra of sunlight reflected from their surfaces. When recovered on Earth, oxygen isotopes represent the single most decisive measurement in determining the parental or family groupings of meteorites.

Understanding the early evolution of the solar system and possible origins of life involve establishing whether one can identify chemical signatures of the complex succession of reactions encoded in the chemical structure of the meteoritic organic materials.

At the Geophysical Laboratory the contributions to our understanding of physics and chemistry of mass and energy transfer processes are experimental determination of properties of rock-forming materials and how to apply the property information to characterize rock-forming processes at the pressures and temperatures in the crust, the mantle, and the core of the Earth and terrestrial planets.

Stable isotope geochemistry has proved to be a powerful research tool to study water-rock interactions, climate conditions hundreds of millions years ago, and as tracers of biological reactions that manifest themselves in organic and inorganic materials.

Geochemistry News


Washington, D.C., 28 April 2016—New work from a research team led by the Geophysical Laboratory's Anat Shahar contains some unexpected findings about iron chemistry under high-pressure conditions, such as those likely found in the Earth’s core, where iron predominates and creates our planet’s life-shielding magnetic field. Their results could shed light on Earth’s early days when the core was formed through a process called differentiation.

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.

Washington, D.C., 28 April 2015—The high-resolution mass spectrometer “Panorama” built by Nu Instruments, Ltd. was installed in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, UCLA in March. Panorama was paid for with funds from the Deep Carbon Observatory, University of California Los Angeles, US National Science Foundation, US Department of Energy, Shell Projects and Technologies, Emerging Technologies Group, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The Geophysical Laboratory's Doug Rumble is a co-investigator of the project.

Washington, D.C., 27 October 2014—In a new paper in Nature Geoscience, the Geophysical Laboratory’s Sami Mikhail and Dimitri Sverjensky outline a compelling model for nitrogen accumulation in Earth’s atmosphere, suggesting subduction, and subsequent degassing at arc volcanoes, is key.