Melissa A. Berke Associate Professor

Organic Biogeochemistry and Paleoclimatology
Melissa A. Berke

Research Interests:

One of the primary motivations of my research is to investigate past climate variability and associated global ecosystem change, using organic geochemical biomarkers to measure and quantify change through time. I am interested in questions that involve the intersection of the biological, geological, and chemical realms as recorded in the well-preserved, high-resolution archives of the sedimentary record. More specifically, I am driven towards investigations which utilize compound specific isotopes as valuable tools able to constrain environmental change and drivers over a wide-range of spatial and temporal scales. This research begins in the field, with sampled sediments, soils, or other materials, and moves to the laboratory, where careful extraction using organic solvents uncovers the chemical signals of past life. Beyond the application of these biomarkers, some of my current work is aimed at bridging a critical gap between usage and mechanistic understanding of these proxies. For example, I have been determining what potential physiological information is recorded by plants beyond environmental conditions in leaf wax isotope ratios, and then looking at transport and incorporation of these leaf waxes into the geologic record.



  • Clare Booth Luce Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Notre Dame, IN 2013-Present
  • Concurrent in Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, IN 2015-Present
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, Global Change and Sustainability Center, University of Utah 2011-2013
  • US Geological Survey, Eastern Earth Surface Processes Team 2003-2006
  • Ph.D, University of Minnesota 2011
  • M.S., Department of Earth Sciences, University of California Riverside 2003
  • B.S., Department of Geology, Oberlin College 2000


Recent Papers:

  • Berke, M.A., Tipple, B.J., Hambach, B., and Ehleringer, J.R., 2015. Life-form specific gradients in compound specific δ2H of modern leaf waxes along a North American Monsoonal transect. Oecologia, doi:10.1007/s00442-015-3432-1.
  • Cisneros-Dozal, L.M., Huang, Y., Heikoop, J.M., Fawcett, P. J., Fessenden, J., Anderson, R. S., Meyers, P.A., Larson, T., Perkins, G., Toney, J., Werne, J.P., Goff, F., WoldeGabriel, G., Allen, C.D., and Berke, M.A., 2014. Significant reduction in monsoonal precipitation during Pleistocene interglacials in southwestern US. Quaternary Science Reviews, v.103, p. 81-90.
  • Tipple, B.J., Berke, M.A., Hambach, B., Roden, J., and Ehleringer, J.R., 2014. Predicting leaf wax n-alkane 2H/1H ratios: controlled water source and humidity experiments with hydroponically grown trees confirm predictions of Craig-Gordon model. Plant, Cell & Environment, doi:10.1111/pce.12457.
  • Berke, M.A., Johnson, T.C., Werne, J.P., Grice, K., Livingstone, D., Schouten, S., and Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., 2014. The characterization of the Younger Dryas in tropical Africa: Insights from Lake Albert, East Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 409, p. 1-8.
  • Tipple, B.J., Berke, M.A., Doman, C., Khachaturyan, S., and Ehleringer, J.R., 2013. Leaf wax and sedimentary n-alkane 2H/1H ratios reflect the environment during leaf expansion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, v. 110, p. 2659-2664.