Current Research Areas


The Roles of Fire in the Earth System

Our group is interested in how fire influences the global cycling of carbon and nutrients on land and in aquatic systems on contemporary and geological timescales.We study modern fires and their influence on the biogeochemistry of modern ecosystems with the goal of developing analytical methods and proxies that help us understand the important feedbacks between fire and other properties of the Earth System through time.
Zack Valdez (Baylor PhD student) and Morgan Gallager (Rice University Post-doc) survey the switchgrass field trial at Kellogg Biological Station, Hickory Corners, MI.

Biogeochemistry and Sustainability of Biomass Cropping and Biofuel Production Systems

We are studying the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in switchgrass agroecosystems on various different soil types (Alfisol, Inceptisol, Entisol) under a range of fertilizer regimes and harvesting frequencies. Our approach uses nuclear magnetic resonance and near infrared spectroscopy as tools for screening the biochemical composition of biomass and will also evaluate and develop molecular proxies for soil organic matter recalcitrance. The research has implications for greenhouse gas management and the biofuel/agriculture industries.

USDA project Collaborators:
Dr. Carrie Masiello (Professor, Rice University, Houston, TX)
Dr. Morgan Gallagher (post-doc, Rice University & Kellogg Biological Station, Hickory Corners, MI)

Baylor Student Investigators:
Zachary Valdez (PhD candidate)

Land-use Impacts on River Carbon Export

We are studying how the quantity and molecular composition of riverine organic matter are influenced by land-use (e.g. agriculture, urban, undeveloped), bedrock composition, and climate.
Project Collaborators:
Dr. Carrie Masiello (Professor, Rice University, Houston, TX)
Dr. Tibisay Perez (Professor, Venezuela Institute of Scientific Investigation. Caracas, Venezuela)

Baylor Student Investigators:

Creighton Meyers (B.S. Thesis)

Kerogen Preservation Mechanisms: Implications for Ancient Biogeochemical Cycles and the Recycling of Ancient Carbon Through Weathering

Much of the Texas coastal plain and Blackland prairie region have soils that are forming upon marine mudstones of Cretaceous age. Because of the fine clay particles comprising these sediments, and the relatively high biological productivity of the Cretaceous sea, these mudstones have a relatively high concentration (often > 1 weight %) of ancient organic carbon (kerogen). We are in the early stages of research on the mechanism(s), rate, and fate of kerogen transformation and loss during weathering and soil formation.

Baylor Student Investigators:
Todd Longbottom (PhD candidate)
Cong Jin & Andrew Flynn (class project in Biogeochemistry)

Mechanisms of Natural Organic Matter Interaction with Engineered Nanoparticles

It is widely recognized that NOM plays important roles in the fate and transport of organics and metals. However, the mechanisms and implications of nanoparticle interactions with natural organic matter are largely unknown. We are using molecular spectroscopy to study the interactions between humic and fulvic acids and the organic capping ligands on the nanoparticle surface. We work with collaborators with expertise in surface adsorption phenomena, and granular media filtration theory.

NSF project collaborators:
Boris Lau - University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Desmond Lawler - University of Texas, Austin
Bill Hockaday demostrating the pyrolysis of municipal waste for engineers at the city of Austin water utilities

Pyrolysis of Biological Matter and Biochar Carbon Sequestration

Our group works closely with the Rice University Biochar Group ( to study a climate mitigation strategy that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere by converting biological material into charcoal (biochar). Topics of interest include carbon cycling, pyrolysis technologies, and the affects of biochar on water quality, and agronomy.

Video about ongoing research in the Baylor Geology Department