Josef Werne

Professor, Director of Graduate Studies


Josef Werne
505 SRCC
4107 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260



Dr. Werne received his PhD in Geological Sciences at Northwestern University in 2000 with an emphasis in Biogeochemistry. He was a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research from 2000-2002 and on the faculty of the Large Lakes Observatory and Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry (Assistant/Associate Professor) at the University of Minnesota Duluth before joining the Department in 2012. Dr. Werne spent a year in Perth, Australia as a Gledden Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the University of Western Australia, as well as a visiting scientist in the Western Australia Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre at Curtin University (2009-2010).

  • Research
  • Publications
  • Laboratory Members
  • Teaching

We use a combination of organic and stable isotopic biogeochemical techniques to investigate the biogeochemical record of environmental change preserved in aquatic sedimentary systems - especially lake and ocean sediments.  Specific organic compounds called biomarkers, or molecular fossils, can be traced to the organism that produced them.  Thus, from looking at organic remains in sediments, we can identify variations in the surrounding vegetation (trees and grasses), the aquatic phytoplanktonic community, as well as the micobial community (bacteria and archaea) that have occurred in the past, and use this information to understand global climate and environmental change. Current projects include sulfur isotope biogeochemistry in sulfidic lakes in the USA and Canada considered modern analogs of the Precambrian ocean, development of Pleistocene paleoclimate reconstructions and their link with human societies in southwestern North America (New Mexico, Arizona, Mexico), western South America (Chile, Peru) and East Africa (Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia), and the development of molecular isotopic proxies for past temperature and hydrology.

Research Areas

Johnson, T.C., J.P. Werne, E.T. Brown, A. *Abbott, M. *Berke, B. Steinman, J. *Halbur, S. *Contreras, S. Grosshuesch, A. Deino, R.P. Lyons, C.A. Scholz, S. Schouten, J. Sinninghe Damsté (in review) The Mid-Pleistocene Transition in Southern East Africa: Potential Impact on Early Human Migration. Submitted to Nature 11/15.

*O’Beirne, M., J.P. Werne, R. Hecky, T. Johnson, S. Katsev, E. Reavie (in review) Anthropogenic climate change has altered primary productivity in Lake Superior. Submitted to Nature Geoscience 5/16.

*Kruger, B.R., J.P. Werne, D.K. Branstrator, T.R. Hrabik, Y. Chikaraishi, N. Ohkouchi, E.C. Minor (2016) Organic matter transfer in Lake Superior’s food web: Insights from bulk and molecular stable isotope and radiocarbon analyses. Limnology & Oceanography, v. 61 pp. 149-164.

*Contreras, S., J.P. Werne, E.T. Brown, R.S. Anderson, P.J. Fawcett (accepted pending revision) A leaf wax carbon isotope record of vegetation change and climate variability in southwestern North America during mid-Pleistocene glacial cycles. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Raven, M.R., A.L. Sessions, J.F. Adkins, T.W. Lyons, J.P. Werne (2015) Sulfur isotopic composition of individual organic compounds from Cariaco Basin sediments. Organic Geochemistry. v. 80 pp. 53-59.

O’Beirne*, M.D., L.J. Strzok, J.P. Werne, T.C. Johnson, R.E. Hecky (2015) Anthropogenic influences on the sedimentary geochemical record in western Lake Superior (1800-present). Journal of Great Lakes Research. v. 41 pp. 20-29.

Cisneros-Dozal, L.M., Y. Huang, J. Heikoop, P. Fawcett, J. Fessenden, R. Anderson, P. Meyers, T. Larson, G. Perkins, J. Toney, J.P. Werne, F. Goff, G. WoldeGabriel, C. Allen, M. Berke* (2014) Quantifying monsoon strength during the mid-Pleistocene in the southwestern United States. Quaternary Science Reviews. v. 103 pp. 81-90.

Berke, M.A., T.C. Johnson, J.P. Werne, D. Livingston, K. Grice, S. Schouten, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté (2014) Characterization of the last deglacial transition in tropical East Africa: Insights from Lake Albert, Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. v. 409 pp. 1-8.

Zigah, P., E.C. Minor, H.A. Abdulla, J.P. Werne, P.G. Hatcher (2014) An investigation of size-fractionated organic matter from Lake Superior and a tributary stream using radiocarbon, stable isotopes and NMR. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. v. 127, pp. 264-284.

Liu, Xiuju, S.M. Colman, E.T. Brown, A.C.G. Henderson, J.P. Werne, J.A. Holmes (2014) Multi-proxy Evidence from Lake Qinghai for the Deglacial Climate History of the Northeastern Tibetan Plateau. Journal of Paleolimnology, v. 51, pp. 223-240.

Schouten, S. and 68 others (2013) An interlaboratory study of TEX86 and BIT analysis of sediments, extracts, and standard mixtures. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. v. 14, pp. 5263-5285.

Brown, E.T., J.P. Werne, S. Lozano-Garcia, M. Caballero-Miranda, B. Ortega-Guerrero, E. Cabral Cano, B. L. Valero Garces, A. Schwalb (2013) Scientific drilling in the Basin of Mexico to evaluate climate history, hydrological resources, and seismic and volcanic hazards. Scientific Drilling v. 14, pp. 72-75.

Berke, M.A., T.C. Johnson, J.P. Werne, K. Grice, S. Schouten, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté (2012) Molecular records of climate variability and vegetation response since the Late Pleistocene in the Lake Victoria basin, East Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews v. 55, pp. 59-74.

Zigah, P.K., E.C. Minor, J.P. Werne, S. Leigh McCallister (2012) An isotopic (Δ14C, δ13C, and δ15N) investigation of zooplankton allochthony vs. autochthony in Lake Superior and across a size-gradient of aquatic systems. Biogeosciences v. 9, pp. 3663-3678.

Berke, M.A., T.C. Johnson, J.P. Werne, S. Schouten, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté (2012) A mid-Holocene thermal maximum at the end of the African Humid Period. Earth & Planetary Science Letters v. 351-351, pp. 95-104.

Woltering, M., J.P. Werne, J.L. Kish*, R. Hicks, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté, S. Schouten (2012) Vertical and temporal variability of Crenarchaeota in Lake Superior and the implications for the application of the TEX86 temperature proxy. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta v. 87, pp. 136-153.

Zigah, P.K., E.C. Minor, J.P. Werne (2012) Radiocarbon and stable-isotope geochemistry of organic and inorganic carbon in Lake Superior. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. V. 26, GB1023, doi:10.1029/2011GB004132

Konecky, B., J.M. Russell, T.C. Johnson, E.T. Brown, M.A. Berke, J.P. Werne, Y. Huang (2011) Atmospheric circulation patterns during late Pleistocene climate changes at Lake Malawi, Africa. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. v. 312, pp 318-326.

Weijers, J., B. Bernhardt, F. Peterse, J.P. Werne, J.A.J. Dungait, S. Schouten, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté (2011) Absence of seasonal patterns in MBT-CBT indices in mid-latitude soils. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. v. 75, pp. 3179-3190.

Zigah, P.K., E.C. Minor, J.P. Werne, S.L. McCallister (2011) Radiocarbon and stable-carbon isotopic insights into provenance and cycling of carbon in Lake Superior. Limnology & Oceanography. v. 56, pp. 867-886.

Fawcett, P., J.P. Werne, R. Anderson, J. Heikoop, E. Brown, M. Berke, S. Smith, F. Goff, L. Hurley, M. Cisneros-Dozal, S. Schouten, J. Sinninghe Damsté, Y. Huang, J. Toney, J. Fessenden, G. WoldeGabriel, V. Atudorei, J. Geissman, C. Allen (2011) Extended Megadroughts in the Southwestern United States during Pleistocene Interglacials. Nature. v. 470, pp. 518-521.

Powers*, L., J.P. Werne, I. Castañeda, T.C. Johnson, E.C. Hopmans, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté, S. Schouten (2011) Organic Geochemical Records of Environmental Variability in Lake Malawi During the Last 700 Years, Part I: The TEX86 Temperature Record. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. v. 303, pp. 133-139.

Castañeda*, I., Werne, J.P., Johnson, T., Oberem, L. (2011) Organic Geochemical Records from Lake Malawi (East Africa) of the last 700 years, part II: Biomarker Evidence for Recent Changes in Primary Productivity. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. v. 303, pp. 140-154.

Woltering, M., Werne, J.P., Johnson, T., S. Schouten, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté (2011) Late Pleistocene temperature history of southeast Africa: A TEX86 temperature record from Lake Malawi Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. v. 303 p. 93-102.

Li, X.N., W. Gilhooly, A. Zerkle, T. Lyons, J. Farquhar, J.P. Werne, R. Varela, M. Scranton (2010) Stable sulfur isotopes in the water column of the Cariaco Basin. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 74, pp. 6764-6778.

Blaga, Cornelia I., G.-J. Reichart, S. Schouten, A.F. Lotter, J.P. Werne, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté (2010) Branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers in lake sediments: Can they be used as temperature and pH proxies? Organic Geochemistry, v. 41, pp. 1225-1234.

Powers*, L., J.P. Werne, A.J. Vanderwoude, J.S. Sinninghe Damsté, E.C. Hopmans, S. Schouten (2010) Applicability and calibration of the TEX86 paleothermometer in lakes. Organic Geochemistry, v. 41, pp. 404-413.

GEOL 1030 The Atmosphere, Oceans, & Climate

Warming of the climate system is now evident from observations of increases in surface air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of glaciers and ice caps, and shrinking Arctic sea ice extent. Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures is very likely due to the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations associated with human activities (e.g., agriculture, industry, and land-use changes). Nonetheless, considerable debate surrounds the establishment of greenhouse gas emission limits, and informed government, corporate, and individual action to mitigate the extent and impact of warming has been limited. Improving our knowledge of the Earth's climate system and past climate changes is therefore a matter of urgency. This course will examine the atmospheric and oceanic interactions that determine the nature of the global climate system. Specifically, the course will explore the origin, evolution, and structure of the Earth's oceans and atmosphere, radiative and non-radiative components of the Earth's energy balance, global, synoptic, and mesoscale atmospheric circulation patterns, and surface and deep ocean currents. The course will also consider records of past climate, evidence for recent warming, climate change projections, and climate change policy.

Offered every fall term. Lecture 2 hours; recitation 1 hour. 

GEOL 2501 Organic Geochemistry

Production and chemical composition of natural organic matter (OM), diagenesis and catagenesis of OM, petroleum formation, molecular isotopic indicators of cliimate and biogeochemical processes. 

Offered alternate years typically in spring term. Lecture 3 hours.

GEOL 3901 Aquatic & Sedimentary Geochemistry 

This course will examine the chemistry and geochemistry of modern and ancient aquatic and sedimentary systems, including oceans and freshwaters. Students will gain an understanding of the biogeochemical processes occurring in aquatic systems, and the geochemical signatures they leave in the sedimentary record

Offered alternate years typically in spring term. Lecture 3 hours.

GEOL 3931 Topics in Paleoenvironmental Analysis

This course will provide students with a review of recent advances in the field of paleoenvironmental analysis. Scheduled course meetings will consist of brief lectures and/or student presentations addressing specific paleoenvironmental indicators and discussion of significant developments in the use of the environmental archive. The pace and depth of material covered will be determined by interest level and time needed for comprehensive treatment of techniques.

Offered every fall and spring term. Lecture/discussion.

GEOL 3952 Topics in Geobiology & Biogeochemistry

This course will provide students with a review of recent advances in the fields of geobiology & biogeochemistry. Scheduled course meetings will consist of brief lectures and/or student presentations addressing specific aspects of geobiology & biogeochemistry and discussion of significant developments in the field. The pace and depth of material covered will be determined by interest level and time needed for comprehensive treatment of topics.

Offered every fall and spring term. Lecture/discussion.