Indiana University Bloomington

Simon Brassell

Simon C. Brassell

Professor of Geological Sciences

Biogeochemistry and Molecular Organic Geochemistry

Office:   MSBII 404
Phone:   812-855-3786
Email:   simon@indiana.edu

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., 1980, Organic Geochemistry, University of Bristol, U.K.
  • B.Sc., 1976, Chemistry & Geology (Class I), University of Bristol, U.K.

Research Interests

Determination, assessment, and interpretation of molecular and isotopic characteristics of organic matter to identify biogeochemical processes associated with carbon cycling in modern and ancient natural systems.

Activities focused on the exploration and application of biomarkers, and their isotopic signatures, as environmental, paleoclimatic, stratigraphic and geochemical tools to better understand:

  • Environmental and climatic signals recorded in the temporal and spatial variations of the molecular and isotopic characteristics of sedimentary organic matter.
  • The capacity of molecular and isotopic signals to reflect controls on primary production and factors that affect the survival of organic matter in sediments, particularly microbial processes.
  • The evolutionary progression of life through time, especially biosynthetic responses preserved in the biogeochemical carbon cycle that are related to global perturbations of the ocean and atmosphere.
  • Depositional controls on the formation of petroleum source rocks and influences on the generation, composition, and biodegradation of petroleums, and the fate of hydrocarbons in the environment

Courses Taught

Undergraduate classes:

  • G131: “Oceans and Our Global Environment.” An introductory course for non-science majors incorporating on–line web–based exercises in an interdisciplinary exploration of controls on oceanographic processes with an emphasis on the climatic and environmental importance of Earth’s oceans.
  • G104: “Evolution of the Earth.” An introductory science course focused on the 5–billion years of Earth history employing a deductive approach to build understanding the significance of rocks and fossils and reconstructing the origins of mountains, continents, and ocean basins.
  • C105: “Records of Global Climate Change.” An introductory science course that examines evidence for climate change in Earth’s past, explores the present-day climate trends, and assesses predictions of future change and its consequences for society and the environment.
  • G302: “Development of the Global Environment.” An exploration of Earth history focused on its development, its atmosphere, oceans and continents, the evolution of life, catastrophic events and climate change.

Graduate classes in aspects of biogeochemistry, supplemented by training in analytical techniques and seminars in topical areas of interdisciplinary research:

  • G587: “Organic Geochemistry.” A comprehensive exploration of measurement and applications of molecular and isotopic characteristics of organic matter focused on principles and processes, coupled with topical readings from recent literature.
Graduate seminars in aspects of biogeochemistry:
  • G690: “Organic Geochemical Stratigraphy.” Examination of temporal changes in biogeochemical records and the causes of their variability through exploration and evaluation of records from marine and lacustrine settings, and from modern and ancient systems.
  • G690: “Petroleum Geochemistry” Examination of the chemistry of petroleum, with a focus on the origins and fate of molecular constituents, especially controls on their occurrence and abundance and assessment of their applications in petroleum geoscience.
  • G690: "Paleoclimatology" Exploration of the principles and application of tools used to measure, assess, interpret, and explain patterns and processes of climate change throughout Earth history.

Recent Research Projects

Projects representative of opportunities for research, including collaborative activities, which are, or have been, supported by NSF, JOI/USSSP and other funding agencies:

  • Evolution of temperature controls on alkenone biosynthesis: did variations in alkenone unsaturation, the basis for the paleotemperature proxy UK37, developed in calcareous nannoplankton as a biological response to global cooling during the Paleogene?
  • Cretaceous biogeochemistry examining stratigraphic variations in molecular and isotopic (13C,
    2H, 15N) characteristics of organic matter to explore depositional conditions and biotic responses during oceanic anoxic events.
  • Molecular diversity in the sedimentary record: an assessment of compositional variations in biomarkers as a measure of biocomplexity through geological time.

Other current and exploratory projects include several collaborative ventures with colleagues at Indiana University, Lisa Pratt, Arndt Schimmelmann, and Peter Sauer, and their students and post-docs.

Representative Publications

Brassell S.C. (2014) Climatic influences on the Paleogene evolution of alkenones. Paleoceanography. 29. DOI

Furmann, A. Mastalerz, M., Brassell, S.C., Schimmelmann, A., Picardal F. (2013) Extractability of biomarkers from high- and low-vitrinite coals and its effect on the porosity of coal. Int. J. Coal Geol. 107, 141-151. DOI

Gao L., Brassell S.C., Mastalerz M., Schimmelmann A. (2013) Microbial degradation of sedimentary organic matter associated with shale gas and coalbed methane in Eastern Illinois Basin (Indiana), USA. Int. J. Coal Geol. 107, 152-164. DOI

Furmann A., Schimmelmann A., Brassell S.C., Mastalerz, M., Picardal F. (2013) Chemical compound classes supporting microbial methanogenesis in coal. Chem. Geol. 339, 226-241. DOI

Cheshire M., Bish D.L., Brassell S.C. (2012) Organic geochemical composition of the Georgia kaolins: Insights into formation and diagenetic conditions. Clays & Clay Min. 60, 420-439. DOI

Wang R., Zhang S., Brassell S., Wang J., Lu Z., Ming Q., Wang X., Bian L. (2012) Molecular carbon isotope variations in core samples taken at the Permian-Triassic boundary layers in southern China. Int. J. Earth Sci. 101, 1397-1406. DOI

Jaraula C.M.B., Brassell S.C., Morgan-Kiss R.M., Doran P.T., Kenig F. (2010) Origin and tentative identification of tri to pentaunsaturated ketones in sediments of Lake Fryxell, East Antarctica. Org. Geochem. 41, 386-397. DOI

Finkelstein D.B., Brassell S.C., Pratt L.M. (2010) Microbial biosynthesis of wax esters during desiccation: Adaptation for colonization of the earliest terrestrial environments? Geology 38, 247-250. DOI

Brassell S.C. (2009) Steryl ethers in a Valanginian claystone: molecular evidence for cooler waters in the central Pacific during the Early Cretaceous? Palaeogeog., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol., 282, 45-57. DOI

Wang R.L., Zhang S.C., Brassell S.C., Tomasi D., Scarpitta S.C., Zhang G., Sheng G.Y., Wang S.M., Fu J.M. (2008) Geochemical signals and paleoclimate changes in a 16,000 14C year sedimentary record from Lake Gucheng, eastern China. In Geochemistry Research Advances, (ed. Stefánsson O.) pp. 143-161. Nova Science.

Villinski J.C., Hayes J.M., Brassell S.C., Riggert V.L., Dunbar R.B. (2008) Sedimentary sterols as biogeochemical indicators in the Southern Ocean. Org. Geochem. 39, 567-588. DOI

Harvey M.C., Brassell S.C., Belcher C.M., Montanari, A. (2008) Combustion of fossil organic matter at the K/P boundary. Geology 36, 355-358. DOI

Walker R., Mastalerz M., Brassell S., Elswick E., Hower J., Schimmelmann A. (2007) Chemistry of thermally altered high volatile bituminous coals from southern Indiana. Int. J. Coal Geology. 71, 2-14. DOI

Finkelstein D.B., Pratt L.M., Brassell S.C. (2006) Can biomass burning produce a globally significant carbon-isotope excursion in the sedimentary record? Earth & Planetary Sci. Lett. 250, 501-510. DOI

Dumitrescu M., Brassell S.C. (2006) Compositional and isotopic characteristics of organic matter for the Early Aptian oceanic anoxic event at Shatsky Rise, ODP Leg 198. Palaeogeog., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol. 235, 168-191. DOI

Dumitrescu M., Brassell S.C., Schouten S., Hopmans E., Sinninghe-Damsté J.S. (2006) Instability in tropical sea surface temperatures during the Early Aptian. Geology 34, 833-836. DOI

Finkelstein D.B., Pratt L.M., Brassell S.C., Curtin, T.M. (2005) Wildfires and seasonal aridity recorded in Late Cretaceous strata from southeastern Arizona. Sedimentology, 52, 587-599. DOI

Dumitrescu M., Brassell S.C. (2005) Biogeochemical assessment of sources of organic matter and paleo-productivity during the Early Aptian oceanic anoxic event at Shatsky Rise, ODP Leg 198. Org. Geochem. 36, 1002-1022. DOI

Recent Published Abstracts

Colcord D., Cadieux S.B., Brassell S.C., Casteneda I.S., Pratt L.M., White J.R. (2014) Assessment of GDGTs as paleotemperature proxies in a series of lacustrine sediments from southwestern Greenland. GDGT-Based Proxies Mtg., Texel, the Netherlands.

Colcord D., Cadieux S.B., Brassell S.C., Casteneda I.S., Pratt L.M., White J.R. (2013) Assessment of GDGTs as paleotemperature proxies in a series of lacustrine sediments from southwestern Greenland. Amer. Geophys. Union Fall Mtg., San Francisco, CA. Abstract PP33E-05.

Brassell S.C. (2013) Significance of tocopherols during Cretaceous OAE. Amer. Geophys. Union Fall Mtg., San Francisco, CA. Abstract PP33B-1922.

Brassell S.C. (2013) Climatic influences on the evolution of alkenones. 26th Intl. Mtg. Org. Geochem., Tenerife, Spain.

Brassell S.C. (2013) Climatic influences on molecular evolution. Packard Fellows 25th Year Reunion, Denver, CO.

Brassell S.C. (2013) Significance of tocopherols in immature sediments deposited during Cretaceous OAE. IODP Workshop: Exploring the Cretaceous Greenhouse through Scientific Drilling, London, UK.

Brassell S.C. (2012) A temporal limit on the alkenone paleotemperature proxy. Amer. Geophys. Union Fall Mtg., San Francisco, CA. Abstract PP43B-2041.

Brassell S.C. (2012) Biogeochemical palaeotemperature proxies in the Southern Ocean: a review of their potential and proven utility. 34th Int. Geol. Congress, Brisbane, Australia.

Brassell S.C. (2012) Proxies for redox conditions during early Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event 1A. Gordon Conf. Org. Geochem., Plymouth, NH.

Brassell S.C. (2012) Proxies for redox conditions during early Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event 1A. Eur. Union Geosci. Mtg., Vienna, Austria.

Brassell S.C. (2011) Variations in paleotemperatures and paleoenvironmental proxies associated with OAE1a. Amer. Geophys. Union Fall Mtg., San Francisco, CA. Abstract PP21C-1807.

Brassell S.C. (2011) Palaeotemperatures and palaeo-environmental changes during OAE 1a at Shatsky Rise. 25th Intl. Mtg. Org. Geochem., Interlaken, Switzerland.

Furmann A., Schimmelmann A., Brassell S.C., Mastalerz M., Picardal F. (2011) Chemical compound classes supporting microbial methanogenesis in coal. Int. Conf. Gas Geochem., San Diego, CA.

Furmann A., Picardal F., Schimmelmann A., Brassell S.C., Mastalerz M. (2011) Chemical compound classes supporting microbial methanogenesis in coal. 21st V.M. Goldschmidt Conf., Prague, Czech Republic.

Brassell S.C. (2010) Biomarkers as paleoenvironmental proxies. Amer. Geophys. Union Fall Mtg., San Francisco, CA. Abstract PP42A-01.

Brassell S.C. (2010) Biogeochemical records of marine redox conditions. Geol. Soc. Amer. Ann. Mtg., Denver, CO.

Brassell S.C. (2010) Origin of steroidal ketones in Cretaceous marine sediments. Gordon Conf. Org. Geochem., Plymouth, NH.

Awards and Honors

Royal Society University Research Fellowship

David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science & Engineering

Fellow, Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany

Best Paper Award for 2006 from the Organic Geochemistry Division, Geochemical Society.

Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards and Trustees Teaching Awards

Service

Roles on major committees within the Department and University, and aspects of professional service:

  • Department: Current Standing Committee: Graduate Studies; Previously Department Chair (2007-11), Director of Graduate Studies (1996-2003), and Member of Policy (5-time) and Faculty Search (9-time) Committees.
  • University: Former Member of Bloomington Faculty Council (2003-5), College Policy Committee (2006-7), IU Bloomington General Education Committee (2006-8), Advisory Council and Steering Committee for SOTL (Scholarship of Teaching & Learning; 2003-10), and Search Committees for Deans/Directors (4-time)
  • Professional: Former Review panelist for NSF, NASA programs; Previously Associate Editor for Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta and Organic Geochemistry. Former member, Council of the European Association of Organic Geochemists.

Laboratory Facilities

The Biogeochemical Laboratories are well equipped for investigations of the molecular and isotopic compositions of organic matter. The analytical instrumentation includes:

  • Molecular mass spectrometer: Varian 4000 for biomarker analysis.
  • Isotopic mass spectrometers: A Delta Plus XP with multiple peripherals including Costech elemental analyzer, for continuous flow analysis of 2H, 13C, 15N and 18O.
  • Gas chromatographs for biomarker analyses.
  • Accelerated solvent extractor (ASE-200) for automated extractions of sedimentary biomarkers.
  • Analytical geochemistry laboratories in Multidisciplinary Science Building II (completed 2009).