RESEARCH: from macro-scale tectonics to molecular fossils
Major areas of research interests include:
Growth history and driving forces of Tibetan Plateau
Asian monsoons and Westerlies
Martian analog studies
My research career began with a research project on the northern Tibetan Plateau that includes the intermountain Qaidam Basin, the foreland basin of Hexi Corridor, the Qilian Shan fold-thrust-belt, and the left-lateral strike-slip Altyn Tagh fault. To understand the growth history and the climatic impact of the northern Tibetan Plateau, I used an integrated approach (basin analysis, U-Th/He thermochronology, and carbonate stable oxygen and carbon isotopes).
My interests in biogeochemistry processes (biosynthesis processes and isotope effects) trace back to my first postdoctoral training in Pagani’s lab at Yale. I was recruited by Mark Brandon who encouraged me to investigate the use of leaf wax isotopes in tectonics. I sincerely thank him for this great opportunity to broaden my vision in research. I started with the compound-specific isotope analysis on n-alkanes and biomarker analysis. I have developed an approach that used the leaf wax n-alkane hydrogen isotopes and microbial tetraethers to quantify the paleo-elevation of Qaidam Basin and the paleo-relief between the Qilian Shan and the bounding basins (Qaidam Basin and Hexi Corridor) (see details in my publications: Zhuang et al., 2014 EPSL and Zhuang et al., 2019 GRL).
I have used a proxy (isoprenoid GDGT) to constrain the upwelling history in the western Arabian Sea by reconstructing the sea surface temperatures at Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Sites 722B and 730A in the core cell of upwelling areas in the western Arabian Sea.
My group has used the leaf wax n-alkane hydrogen and carbon isotopes, biomarkers, along with the climatic modeling to understand the evolution of Asian summer monsoons and the interactions with the Westerlies on Myr- and Kyr-scales, and the Eocene-Oligocene Transition in Asia and North America (see Hou et al., 2020 GSA Bulletin; Wu et al., 2021 EPSL for details).
The n-alkane and GDGT skills that my group has used comprise a tiny portion of organic matters preserved in sediments and sedimentary rocks (see diagram below). I am very interested in other organic molecules. I am spending time and effort to expand knowledge in biogeochemistry via a top-down way to revolutionize my research vision, tracing from the preservation of organic matters in lithosphere to biosphere where the organic matters are synthesized and finally to the substrates that are supplied from the atmosphere and hydrosphere.