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Tim K. Lowenstein


Professor of Geology

PhD, 1983

The Johns Hopkins

Office:  Science 1, Room 259
Telephone:  (607) 777-4254

Email address:


Article from Science:
Science 29 September 2006:
Vol. 313. no. 5795, p. 1928
DOI: 10.1126/science.1129555
Elevated Eocene Atmospheric CO2 and Its Subsequent Decline
Full Text


Research Interests: 

Tim Lowenstein has more than 25 years of experience in sedimentology and low temperature geochemistry applied to chemical sediments.  Lowenstein's current interests include the chemistry of ancient seawater, paleolimnology, paleoclimatology and global change, geobiology, long-term survival of microorganisms and DNA, and the deposition of oil shales in saline lakes. Lowenstein is an author of more than 90 peer-reviewed papers and 120 conference presentations, and has served as associate editor for the journals Geology, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, and Journal of Sedimentary Research. He was awarded the Israel C. Russell Award in Limnogeology from the Geological Society of America in 2012, and is a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, Society of Economic Geologists, and the Geological Society of America. Lowenstein has received more than 2.8 million dollars in external grant funding.


Recent Activity:

Chemistry of Ancient Seawater
Fluid inclusions in halite have documented that the major-ion composition of seawater (Mg2+, Ca2+, K+, Na+, SO42-, Cl-, and HCO3-) has varied over the Phanerozoic Eon. These changes are recorded in the mineralogy of inorganic marine carbonates (calcite versus aragonite seas) and marine evaporite sequences (MgSO4 versus KCl types). There is growing evidence that fluctuations in the major ion chemistry of seawater, in particular the Mg2+/Ca2+ ratio, also influenced the mineralogy of shell building organisms, particularly during the time mineralized skeletons first evolved. Many causes for long-term variations in the major ion chemistry of seawater have been advanced, including fluctuations in the discharge of hydrothermal waters from the global midocean ridge system, changes in volcanic activity and weathering on land, and variations in the amount of dolomite formed in the oceans. Documenting the timing and rates at which seawater changed chemically in the past, and how those changes influenced the evolution of life on Earth, are subjects of great interest to the Earth science community, especially as we watch accelerated chemical changes in Earth's oceans today.

One relatively unexplored area of research is the salinity and major ion chemistry of ancient unevaporated seawater trapped in fluid inclusions in marine calcites. The salinity of ancient seawater may be obtained from the freezing point depression of aqueous fluid inclusions. One further step is to determine the major ion composition of unevaporated samples of ancient seawater preserved as primary fluid inclusions in low-magnesium calcite. Such analyses may further define the chemical evolution of Phanerozoic seawater.


Paleoclimate Studies from Coring Lake Magadi, Kenya
With funding from NSF and ICDP, this project explores the influence of climate change on human evolution. The HSPDP (Hominin Sites & Paleolakes Drilling Project) mission "is to collect sediment drill cores for paleoclimate & paleoenvironmental analysis in proximity to some of the world's most important fossil hominin and artifact sites. The objective of this research effort is to provide a detailed, continuous and high resolution environmental context for human evolution for the areas where our early ancestors are known to have lived." ( The Southern Kenya drilling team will have Tim Lowenstein (Binghamton University), Robin Renaut (University of Saskatchewan) and Bernie Owen (Hong Kong Baptist University) as the lead scientists. The Lake Magadi Basin is adjacent to key archaeological sites that document the technological transition into the Middle Stone Age (0.7-0.0 Ma). Drilling will commence in the summer of 2014. The project was featured in the August 2, 2013, issue of Science magazine.

Microorganism Communities, Some Alive, Trapped in Halite and Gypsum

Fluid inclusions in modern and ancient buried halite from Death Valley and Saline Valley, California, contain an ecosystem of "salt-loving" (halophilic) prokaryotes and eukaryotes, some of which are alive. Prokaryotes may survive inside fluid inclusions for tens of thousands of years using carbon and other metabolites supplied by the trapped microbial community, most notably the single celled alga Dunaliella, an important primary producer in hypersaline systems. Deeper understanding of long term survival of prokaryotes in fluid inclusions will complement studies that further explore microbial life on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system where materials that potentially harbor microorganisms are millions and even billions of years old.
The goal of the research is to obtain data on the distribution, survival, and diversity of microorganism communities and biomaterials that have been in the subsurface for periods of thousands to hundreds of millions of years. Current projects are focused on Searles Lake, California and modern and Messinian gypsum from Italy.

Paleoenvironments, Ancient Atmospheric CO2, and Brine evolution, Eocene Green River Formation
The Eocene Green River Formation of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, consists of lacustrine deposits with vast reserves of oil shale (organic rich carbonate mudstones) and the world's largest body of sodium carbonate evaporites that accumulated together 51.3 to 49.6 million years ago.
Current research goals are to: (1) Test whether the principal saline minerals in the Green River Formation, for example, nahcolite (NaHCO3) in the Piceance Creek Basin and trona (NaHCO3•Na2CO3•2H2O) in the Green River Basin, have a primary sedimentary or subsurface diagenetic origin and to determine what controls their distribution; (2) Develop depositional models for the evaporites and oil shales that include water depths, temperatures, and major ion chemistries; (3) Calculate atmospheric CO2 concentrations from the equilibrium assemblage of sodium carbonate minerals, which has paleoclimate significance because the early Eocene was the longest prolonged warm period of the last 65 million years; (4) Study paleospring deposits to determine water sources (springs versus lake) and their influence on hydrologic budgets, saline lake chemistry, paleoenvironments, and preservation of organic matter in the Green River Formation lakes.


Graduate Students:

Emma McNulty, PhD candidate (expected 2015)

Kennie Leet, PhD candidate (expected 2018)

José Morales-Collazo, PhD candidate (expected 2018)


Recent graduate students:

BRIAN SCHUBERT (Ph.D., 2008) Long term survival of prokaryotes in subsurface halite, Death Valley, California. Awarded 2008 Graduate School Excellence in Research Award.

KATHRYN GRAGG (M.S., 2008) Preservation of Microorganisms within Halite Fluid Inclusions from the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

LICHUN MA (Post Doctoral Fellow, 2009-2010, China Agricultural University, Beijing): Paleoclimate studies, Lop Nor Basin, western China, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, and Lake Kitagata, Uganda.

DEIDRE LACLAIR (Ph.D., in progress) Evolution of paleoenvironments and paleoclimates, Eocene Green River Formation, Colorado and Wyoming.

ELLIOT JAGNIECKI (Ph.D., 2014) Experimental studies of sodium carbonate minerals and Eocene atmospheric CO2; Carbonate Tufas and Stromatolites in the Wilkins Peak Member of the Green River Formation, Wyoming.

YAICHA WINTERS (Ph.D., 2014) Long-term survival strategies of halophilic archaea in fluid inclusions in halite: Nutrients, Starvation Survival and Miniaturization. Laser Raman Spectroscopy of Microorganisms in Fluid Inclusions in Halite.

JOHN MURPHY (M.S., 2014) Origin of laminated lacustrine carbonates- Eocene Green River Formation, Piceance Creek Basin, CO, and Greater Green River Basin, WY: detrital, chemical precipitates or diagenetic?

SARAH FEINER (M.S., 2014): Long term survival of microorganisms and DNA in modern and ancient gypsum.

LAUREN DOLGINKO (M.S., 2014): Hydrothermal/Volcanogenic Activity Recorded in the chemical composition of fluid inclusions in halite, Searles Lake and Bristol Dry Lake, California.

MICHAEL N. TIMOFEEFF (Post Doctoral Fellow, 2003-2013): Chemistry of ancient seawater, long-term preservation of prokaryotes in fluid inclusions, dating of fluid inclusions using Rb-Sr systematics

JIUYI WANG (Post Doctoral Fellow, 2014-  ): details of research forthcoming



GEOL 113 - The Dynamic Earth
GEOL 213 - The Rock Record and Earth History
GEOL 115 - Global Change: A Geologic Perspective
GEOL 371X - Field Methods in Geoscience
GEOL 470/570 - Geochemistry
GEOL 478/678 - Chemical Sediments
GEOL 479/679 - Diagenesis
GEOL 677 - Fluid Inclusion Geochemistry
GEOL 609C - Geochemistry of Natural Waters
GEOL 609P - Climate and Paleoclimate
GEOL 609 - Evidence for Ancient Microbial Life
GEOL 609S - The Chemistry of Ancient Seawater



  • Petroleum Research Fund- American Chemical Society, 2003-2006, Secular variations in the chemistry of ancient seawater and the origin of CaCl2-rich basinal brines and fluid inclusions in diagenetic minerals.
  • National Science Foundation-Earth Sciences Program, 2004-2006, Antiquity of life in salt deposits? A Rb-Sr age-dating study, Collaboration with Juske Horita and Lee Riciputi, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • National Science Foundation Biogeosciences Program, 2004-2007, Preservation and long-term bacterial survival in Quaternary age salts from Death Valley, Chile, and Bolivia, (Collaboration with Matthew Parker, Department of Biology, Binghamton University and Russell Vreeland & William Rosenzweig, Department of Biological Sciences, West Chester University).
  • National Science Foundation, Earth Sciences Program, 2005-2007, Upgrading of Binghamton University Geoscience Microscopy/Fluid Inclusion Laboratory.


Recent Publications:

  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., LI, J., BROWN, C.B., ROBERTS, S.M., KU, T.-L., LUO, S., and YANG, W., 1999, 200 k.y. Paleoclimate Record from Death Valley Salt Core: Geology, v. 27, p. 3-6.
  • YANG, W., KROUSE, H.R., SPENCER, R.J., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., HUTCHEON, I.E., KU, T.-L., LI, J., ROBERTS, S.M., and BROWN, C.B., 1999, A 200,000-year record of change in oxygen isotope composition of sulfate in a saline sediment core, Death Valley, California: Quaternary Research, v. 51, p. 148-157.
  • TIMOFEEFF, M., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and BLACKBURN, W.H., 2000, ESEM X-Ray EDS: An Improved Technique for Major Element Chemical Analysis of Fluid Inclusions: Chemical Geology, v. 164, p. 171-182.
  • BAKER, P.A., RIGSBY, C.A., SELTZER, G.O., FRITZ, S.C., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., BACHER, N.P., and VELIZ, Y., 2001, Tropical climate changes at millennial and orbital timescales in the Bolivian Altiplano. Nature, v. 409, p. 698-701.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., BRENNAN, S.T., HARDIE, L.A., and DEMICCO, R.V., 2001, Oscillations in Phanerozoic Seawater Chemistry: Evidence from Fluid Inclusions. SCIENCE, v. 294, p. 1086-1088.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and BRENNAN, S.T., 2001, Fluid Inclusions in Paleolimnological Studies of Chemical Sediments, In: Last, W.M. and Smol, J.P., editors, Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments: Physical and Geochemical Methods (Volume 2). Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, p. 189-216.
  • BOBST, A.L., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., JORDAN. T.E., GODFREY, L.V., KU, T.-L., and LUO, S., 2001, A 106 ka Paleoclimate Record from drill core of the Salar de Atacama, Northern Chile: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 173, p. 21-42.
  • TIMOFEEFF, M.N., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., BRENNAN, S.T., DEMICCO, R.V., ZIMMERMANN, H., HORITA, J., and von BORSTEL, L.E., 2001, EvaluatingSeawater Chemistry from Fluid Inclusions in Halite: Examples from Modern Marine and Nonmarine Environments: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 65, p. 2293-2300.
  • BRENNAN, S.T., and LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2002, The major-ion composition of Silurian seawater. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 66, p. 2683-2700.
  • JORDAN, T.E., MUNOZ, N., HEIN, M., LOWENSTEIN, T., GODFREY, L., and YU, J., 2002, Active faulting and folding without topographic expression in an evaporite basin, Chile. Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 114, p. 1406-1421.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2002, Pleistocene Lakes and Paleoclimates (0 to 200 Ka) in Death Valley, California: Smithsonian Contributions to the Earth Sciences Number 33: “Great Basin Aquatic Systems History (R. Hershler, D.B. Madsen, and D.R. Currey, Eds.), Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., p. 109-120.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., HEIN, M.C., BOBST, A.L., JORDAN, T.E., KU, T.-L., and LUO, S., 2003, An assessment of stratigraphic completeness in climate-sensitive closed-basin lake sediments: Salar de Atacama, Chile. Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 73, p. 91-104.
  • GODFREY, L.V., JORDAN, T.E., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and ALONSO, R.L., 2003, Stable isotope constraints on the transport of water to the Andes between 22º S and 26º S during the last glacial cycle: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 194, p. 299-317.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., HARDIE, L.A., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., and DEMICCO, R.V., 2003, Secular Variation in Seawater Chemistry and the Origin of Calcium Chloride Basinal Brines. Geology, v. 31, p. 857-860.
  • DEMICCO, R.V., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and HARDIE, L.A., 2003, Atmospheric pCO2 since 60 Ma from Records of Seawater, pH, Calcium, and Primary Carbonate Mineralogy. Geology, v. 31 p. 793-796.
  • FRITZ, S.C., BAKER, P.A., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., SELTZER, G.O., RIGSBY, C.A., DWYER, G.S., TAPIA, P.M., ARNOLD, K.K., KU, T.-L., and LUO, S., 2004, Hydrologic Variation During the Last 170,000 Years in the South American tropics, Quaternary Research, v. 61, p. 95-104
  • BRENNAN, S.T., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and HORITA, J., 2004, Seawater Chemistry and the Advent of Biocalcification. Geology, v. 32, p. 473-476.
  • HARDIE, L.A., and LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2004, Did the Mediterranean Sea Dry Out During the Miocene? A Reassessment of the Evaporite Evidence from DSDP Legs 13 and 42A Cores. Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 74, p. 453-461.
  • SATTERFIELD, C.L., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., VREELAND, R.H., ROSENZWEIG, W.D, and POWERS, D.W., 2005, New Evidence for 250 Ma age of halotolerant bacterium from a Permian salt crystal. Geology, v. 33.
  • SATTERFIELD, C.L., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., VREELAND, R.H., and ROSENZWEIG, W.D., 2005, Paleobrine Temperatures, Chemistries, and Paleoenvironments of Silurian Salina Formation F-1 Salt, Michigan Basin, U.S.A., from Petrography and Fluid Inclusions in Halite. Journal of Sedimentary Research.
  • FORESTER, R.M., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and SPENCER, R.J., in revision, An Ostracode Based Limnologic History of Death Valley. Geological Society of America Bulletin.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., KOVALEVYCH, V.M., and HORITA, J., 2005, The major-ion composition of Permian Seawater. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 69, p. 1701-1719.
  • TIMOFEEFF, M.N., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., SILVA, M.A.M., and HARRIS, N.B., 2006, Secular variations in the major-ion chemistry of seawater: Evidence from fluid inclusions in Cretaceous halites. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 70, p. 1977-1994.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and DEMICCO, R.V., 2006, Elevated Eocene atmospheric CO2 and its subsequent decline. Science, v. 313, p. 1928.
  • VREELAND, R.H., JONES, J., MONSON, A., ROSENZWEIG, W.D, LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M., SATTERFIELD, C., CHO, B.C., PARK, J.S., WALLACE, A., and GRANT, W.D., 2007, Isolation of live Cretaceous (121-112 million years old) halophilic Archaea from primary salt crystals. Geomicrobiology Journal, v. 24, p. 275-282.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2008, Ancient Microorganisms in Salt, McGraw Hill 2008 Yearbook of Science & Technology, p. 13-15.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K. & TIMOFEEFF, M.N., 2008, Secular variations in seawater chemistry as a control on the chemistry of basinal brines: test of the hypothesis. Geofluids, v. 8, p. 77-92.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K. and RISACHER, F, 2009, Closed basin brine evolution and the influence of Ca-Cl inflow waters: Death Valley and Bristol Dry Lake California, Qaidam Basin, China, and Salar de Atacama, Chile, Aquatic Geochemistry, v. 15, p. 71-94.
  • SCHUBERT, B.A., LOWENSTEIN, T.K. and TIMOFEEFF, M.N., 2009, Microscopic identification of prokaryotes in modern and ancient halite, Saline Valley and Death Valley, California. Astrobiology, v. 9, p. 467-482.
  • SCHUBERT, B.A., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., and PARKER, M.A., 2009, How do prokaryotes survive in fluid inclusions in halite for 30,000 years?: Geology, v. 37, p 1059-1062.
  • STOCKTON, A.M., CHIESL, T.N., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., AMASHEKULI, X., GRUNTHANER, F., and MATHIES, R.A., 2009, Analysis of organic biomarkers in challenging samples by microchip capillary electrophoresis using the Mars Organic Analyzer, Astrobiology, v. 9, p. 823-831.
  • PARK, J.S., VREELAND, R.H., CHO, B.C., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., and ROSENZWEIG, W.D., 2009, Haloarchaeal diversity at 23, 121, and 419 MYA salts: Geobiology, v. 7, p. 515-523.
  • SCHUBERT, B.A., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., POLLE, J.E.W., and LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2010, Dunaliella cells in fluid inclusions in halite: Significance for long-term survival of prokaryotes: Geomicrobiology Journal, v. 27, No. 1 p. 61-75.
  • SCHUBERT, B.A., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., and PARKER, M.A., 2010, Halophilic Archaea cultured from ancient halite, Death Valley, California: Environmental Microbiology, v. 12, No. 2, p. 440-454.
  • MA, L., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., LI, B., JIANG, P., LIU,C., ZHONG, J., SHENG, J., QUI, H, and WU, H., 2010, Hydrochemical characteristics and brine evolution paths of Lop Nor Basin, Xinjiang Province, Western China. Applied Geochemistry, v. 25, p.1770-1782.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., SCHUBERT, B.A., 2011, Microbial communities in fluid inclusions and long-term survival in halite. GSA (Geological Society of America) TODAY, v. 21, no 1, p. 4-9.
  • MA, L., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., RUSSELL, J.M., 2011, Brine Evolution Model and Mineralogy of Chemical Sediments in Volcanic Crater, Lake Kitagata, Uganda. Aquatic Geochemistry, v. 17, p.129-140.
  • GRAMAIN, A, CHONG DIAZ, G., DEMERGASSO, C., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and McGENITY, T.J., 2011, Archaeal diversity along a subterranean salt core from the Salar Grande (Chile). Environmental Microbiology, v. 13, p. 2105-2121.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2011, Bacteria back from the brink. Earth Magazine, v. 56, p. 36-45.
  • SANKARANARAYANAN, K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., SPATHIS, R., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., LUM, J.K., 2011, Ancient microbes from halite fluid inclusions: Optimized surface sterilization and DNA extraction. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20683. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020683.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and HÖNISCH, B., 2012, The use of Mg/Ca as a seawater temperature proxy, In, Reconstructing Earth's Deep-Time Climate- The State of the Art in 2012, Paleontological Society Short Course, November 3, 2012. The Paleontological Society Papers, Volume 18, Linda Ivany and Brian Huber (eds.), p. 85-100.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., 2012, Microorganisms in Evaporites: Review of Modern Geomicrobiology. Ed. R. H. Vreeland, Advances in Understanding the Biology of Halophilic Microorganisms, DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-5539, Springer Science+Business Media, Dordrecht, p. 117-139.
  • JAGNIECKI, EA.., JENKINS, D.M., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and CARROLL, A.R., 2013, Experimental study of shortite (Na2Ca2(CO3)3) formation and application to the burial history of the Wilkins Peak Member, Green River Basin, Wyoming, USA. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 115, p. 31-45.
  • BRENNAN, S.T., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and CENDÓN, D.I., 2013, The major-ion composition of Cenozoic seawater: the past 36 million years from fluid inclusions in marine halite. American Journal of Science, v. 313, p. 713-775.
  • GODFREY, L.V., CHAN, L.-H., ALONSO, R.N., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., McDONOUGH, W.F., HOUSTON, J., LI, J., BOBST, A., and JORDAN, T.E., 2013, The role of climate in the accumulation of lithium-rich brine in the Central Andes. Applied Geochemistry, v. 38, p. 92-102.
  • WINTERS, Y.D., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and TIMOFEEFF, M.N., 2013, Identification of carotenoids in ancient salt from Death Valley, Saline Valley, and Searles Lake, California using laser Raman spectroscopy. Astrobiology, v. 13, Number 11, p. 1065-1080.
  • LOWENSTEIN, T.K., KENDALL, B., and ANBAR, A., 2013, The Geologic History of Seawater, In: Treatise on Geochemistry, 2nd Edition.
  • SPEAR, N., HOLLAND, H.D., GARCIA-VEIGAS, J., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., GIEGENGACK, R., and PETERS, H., in press, Evidence from fluid inclusions extends the record of seawater chemistry by ~300 million years from ~544 Ma to 840-830 Ma. Geology.
  • JAGNIECKI, E.A., and LOWENSTEIN, T.K., in revision, Evaporites of the Green River Formation, Bridger and Piceance Creek Basins: Deposition, Diagenesis, Paleobrine Chemistry, and Eocene atmospheric CO2, Eds. A.R. Carroll and M.E. Smith, Stratigraphy and Limnogeology of the Eocene Green River Formation, Springer, Dordrecht.
  • NATALICCHIO, M., DELA PIERRE, F., LUGLI, S., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., FEINER, S.J., FERRANDO, S., MANZI, V., ROVERI, M., and CLARI, P., in press, Did the Late Miocene (Messinian) gypsum precipitate from evaporated marine brines? Insights from the Piedmont Basin (Italy). Geology.
  • SANKARANARAYANAN, K., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., TIMOFEEFF, M.N., SCHUBERT, B. A., and LUM, J.K. (in review) Characterization of Ancient DNA Supports Long-Term Survival of Haloarchaea. Astrobiology
  • HOLT, N.M., GARCIA-VEIGAS, J., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., GILES, P.S., and WILLIAMS-STROUD, S., in review, The Major-Ion Composition of Carboniferous Seawater. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.
  • WINTERS, Y.D., LOWENSTEIN, T.K., and TIMOFEEFF, M.N., in prep., Starvation-survival in haloarchaea Extremophiles.

Last Updated: 6/1/17