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Research Interests

The research interests in the Sperling Lab are Earth history and the evolution of life, and the interactions between the biosphere and the geosphere. As such this research can generally be considered paleontology, insofar as paleontology encompasses all aspects of the history of life.

Consequently, we define our research agenda by the questions we are interested in, rather than the tools used. This research incorporates multiple lines of evidence, and multiple tools, to investigate questions in the history of life. These lines of evidence include fossil data, molecular phylogenetics, sedimentary geochemistry, and ecological and physiological data from modern organisms. Ultimately, the goal is to link environmental change with organismal and ecological response through the lens of physiology.

Information on the Sedimentary Geochemistry and Paleoenvironments Project (SGP) can be found here:



In collaboration with Stanford colleague Jon Payne and University of Washinton colleagues Curtis Deutsch and Justin Penn, Erik Sperling published a new paper in the journal Science investigating the causes of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. The paper uses a physiological model (the Metabolic Index) to explore how the synergistic effects of warming and marine oxygen depletion could have driven the extinction.

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, we have published a paper in PNAS that uses detailed investigations of iron mineralogy and rock magnetics to understand redox conditions in the 1.1 billion year old Paleolake Nonesuch. These approaches offer a novel alternative to understanding deep-time redox geochemistry, especially in situations such as ancient lakes where techniques such as iron speciation do not have appropriate modern calibrations. The paper by Slotznick et al.

Historical Geobiology lab members recently attended the 26th annual SPODDS (Stanford Program on Deepwater Depositional Systems) workshop and field conference in the Ventura, CA area. Students were able to visit and learn about outcrops of the Miocene Monterey Formation, perhaps the type unit for using oceanographic principles to understand the stratigraphic record, and Cretaceous turbiditic fore-arc fill of the Great Valley Group.