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Mountains with valley and clouds

Triple oxygen isotopic systematics of meteoric hydrothermal systems and implications for paleoaltimetry

We are using the triple isotopes of oxygen of hydrothermally altered rocks to determine the isotope composition of meteoric waters that interacted with the Idaho Batholith in the Eocene.  This approach allows us to reconstruct the paleoelevation of the crystalline core on the Rocky Moutains. It also allows us to understand hydrogen isotope exchange mechanisms when we compare the triple oxygen isotope analysis with paired hydrogen and oxygen isotopes of water bearing minerals (Chamberlain et al., in review).

Black and white image of mountains and landscape

Warm and cold wet states in the western United States

The remnants of expansive lake systems that previously covered the western United States are clear evidence that the region now known as the "desert west" has not always been so deserted. During past intervals of both warmer-than-modern and colder-than-modern conditions large lakes covered much of the west. We are evaluating the climatic conditions that provide enough water to support lakes in such opposing climate states. See our work in Geology comparing lake dynamics of the Last Glacial Maximum and Mid-Pliocene (Ibarra et al., 2018).


Neogene grassland expansion and climatic evolution

Transition to grass-dominated landscapes during the Neogene dramatically changed the recycling of water vapor, ushering in the modern hydrologic regime. We are examining the relationship between changes in vegetation cover and concurrent climate change. See our most recent papers in Earth and Planetary Science Letters (Mix et al., 2013) and Global Biogeochemical Cycles (Chamberlain et al., 2014).

Colored diagram of results

Terrestrial climate of the Cretaceous “hot-house” from the Songliao Basin, northeast China

Because of the need to understand the links and feedbacks of the carbon cycle during times of global greenhouse we are examining the Cretaceous climate record preserved in lake sediments in northern China.  Along with our long-term collaborator, Professor Stephan Graham (Dept. Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford) we are using the stable isotopes of ostracod valves from drill cores in the Songliao basin to reconstruct climate records.

Green hills with river running through them

Reconstructing Central Asian climate during the Cenozoic

We are working to understand the interplay between tectonics and 60 million years of climate change on our planet's largest continent. Our field work is concentrated in Mongolia and in eastern Kazakhstan, where we are collecting paleosol and lake sediments for stable isotopic analysis. Our goal is to understand how uplift of the northern Central Asian mountain ranges--such as the Hangay, Sayan, and Altai Mountains--along with global climate change during the Cenozoic has impacted the climate and ecosystems of Central Asia. Recent work has been published in the American Journal of Science (Caves et al., 2014), Earth and Planetary Science Letters (Caves et al., 2015), Geology (Caves et al., 2016), and in GSA Today (Caves et al., 2017).

Man taking photos of landscape

The Cenozoic climate record of Western North America

We are developing long-term climate records from the stable isotopes of paleosols, paleolake sediments, and weathered ashes in an effort to understand how climate and tectonics are linked in the North America Cordillera.