The Berkeley Geochronology Center (BGC) is a unique place. It is the only institution in the world that is wholly dedicated to deciphering the history of the Earth and our nearby planetary neighbors. The vast history encompassed by this mission requires diverse tools, and BGC thus houses a singular array of techniques and expertise to place important events into timescales ranging from relatively recent times, i.e., thousands of years ago, to that of the early stages of our Solar System billions of years ago.
Much of our work is focused on fundamental scientific questions such as what caused mass extinctions in the past, when and why massive volcanism occurred on Earth, and what was the history of bombardment of the Earth (and our nearby neighbors like the Moon) by extraterrestrial objects. Better understanding of these phenomena and their possible interrelationships relies to large extent on establishing their timing. Much of our work is also focused on issues relevant to societal concerns such as volcanic and seismic hazards, and global climate change.
Rock Magnetism & Paleomagnetism
Studies focus on the course, timing, and causes of the evolution of humans and their ancestors, principally over the past five million years, in Africa, Indonesia, Europe, and Asia. Additionally, studies include the development of improved laboratory equipment and procedures specific to this time-range and the relevant geological environments. Research in this area generally involves collaboration with anthropologists and archeologists at other institutions and, as such, represents a special case of “collaborative research.”
Studies aim to determine the history of Earth’s climate in terms of quantifiable variables such as oceanic and atmospheric temperatures and precipitation. Included in this area are inquiries into the causes and magnitudes of past climate change, which are critical to establishing a baseline for inference of anthropogenic effects.
Studies of extraterrestrial bodies are conducted on samples returned from Earth’s moon by astronauts, and as meteorites. Such studies are aimed at deciphering the evolution of other planets and planetary bodies, including their suitability for life and their record of interactions such as asteroid impacts.
Research is aimed at refining knowledge of Earth’s ancient magnetic field, including its inception and evolution. Fossil magnetism is applied to dating and determining past motions of the continents.
Studies are aimed at understanding deformation of Earth’s crust at various spatial and temporal scales, ranging from long-term plate motions to seismic events. Understanding slip rates on major faults, and their implications for seismic risk assessment, are an important component of this research area.
Research focuses on the calibration of the 4.6 billion-year calendar of history of the Earth and Solar System. The geological time scale is based on significant transitions such as evolutionary changes or reversals in polarity of Earth’s magnetic field. These in turn are useful measures of time if their absolute ages can be determined. Research includes laboratory measurements, fieldwork, and theoretical studies aimed at maximizing both accuracy and precision.
Did volcanoes contribute to the demise of the dinosaurs?
CNN – February 21, 2019
The American Scholar – September 4, 2018
Strongest evidence of early humans butchering animals discovered in North Africa
Science – November 29, 2018
Earth's orbital changes have influenced climate, life forms for at least 215 million years
Science Daily – May 7, 2018
Scientists discover evidence of early human innovation, pushing back evolutionary timeline
Technology.org – March 21, 2018
8,200 years ago, California's forecast was 150 years of rain
Popular Science – May 3, 2017
Geologists use radioactive clock to document longest earthquake record
Technology.org – June 28, 2017
Study Proposes Asteroid and Volcanic Eruptions Both Caused Dinosaur Extinction
Time – October 7, 2015
Volcanoes may have helped asteroid kill dinosaurs
SFGate – May 2, 2015