Earth and Environmental Sciences
Title: Associate Professor
Education: PhD, University of California Irvine
210 Hutchison Hall
Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627
Phone: (585) 273-4572
Office Hours: By appointment
Chemical Oceanography, Isotope geochemistry, Analytical chemistry
I am a chemical oceanographer who focuses on isotope biogeochemistry to elucidate methane dynamics within the oceanic system as well as across other earth systems. I am driven to conduct this research by a desire to quantify feedbacks associated with global climate change. The oceanic methane system is not only the largest global methane reservoir, but one of the largest global carbon reservoirs. In addition, the oceanic methane system is a dynamic, metastable, and relatively unexplored reservoir that has the potential for large and explosive feedbacks with climate due to the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas. My research strives to quantify sources, sinks and fluxes of oceanic methane using analytical chemistry measurements with particular emphasis on stable and radiocarbon isotopes. These measurements are then used in regional geochemical models to quantify methane’s biogeochemical dynamics. In past projects, these techniques were used to study methane geochemistry in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaskan Arctic, Bering Sea, Cariaco Basin, Black Sea, and Southern California Bight to determine 1) whether methane was formed by biological, abiological (e.g. serpentization) or thermogenic processes, 2) what the present-day fluxes of methane are from sediments, methane clathrate hydrates, permafrost, hydrocarbon seeps, vents and mud volcanoes, and 3) how quickly methane is being produced and/or consumed by indigenous microorganisms thus enhancing and/or limiting its atmospheric release. Overall, the long term goal of my laboratory is to study the mechanisms controlling the dynamics of the oceanic methane system especially with respect to climate change.
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Project
The tragic events that took place on April 20, 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico took the lives of 11 people and initiated the release of oil and natural gas into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Analyses by BP and academic scientists confirmed that natural gas, specifically methane, was the most abundant molecular component released from this disaster. My research normally studies the natural release of methane from the ocean floor, thus investigating this anthropogenic disaster was a natural extension of the current capabilities in my laboratory. I began this project with apprehension since this incident began with the loss of human life and my research normally focuses on how the planet naturally functions outside of such large, direct anthropogenic influences. Nonetheless, our goal was to make a little lemonade out of the lemons handed to us and learn something about the behavior of rapid hydrocarbon emissions in deep water in both natural as well as anthropogenic releases. More specifically, we used this situation as a natural laboratory to study the rapid (and relatively short term in a geologic sense) release of methane and its subsequent global biogeochemical cycling. There have been many natural large and rapid releases of methane from the sea floor in the history of the planet and this event is giving us a better understanding on how these natural events functioned in the past and a better predictability on how they might cycle in the future global system.
Courses Offered (subject to change)
- EES 212 / 412 A Climate Change Perspective to Chemical Oceanography, Syllabus
- EES 261 / 461 Stable Isotope Geochemistry: Fractionation Equations and Models, Syllabus
- Du, M. and J.D. Kessler (2012). "Assessment of the Spatial and Temporal Variability of Bulk Hydrocarbon Respiration Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill." Environmental Science & Technology, doi: 10.1021/es301363k.
- Ryerson, T.B., R. Camilli, J.D. Kessler, E.B. Kujawinski, C.M. Reddy, D.L. Valentine, E. Atlas, D.R. Blake, J. de Gouw, S. Meinardi, D.D. Parrish, J. Peischl, J.S. Seewald, and C. Warneke (2012). “Chemical data quantify Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1110564109.
- Hu, L., S.A. Yvon-Lewis, J.D. Kessler, I.R. MacDonald (2012). "Methane fluxes to the atmosphere from deepwater hydrocarbon seeps in the northern Gulf of Mexico." J. Geophys. Res., 117 (C1), C01009, doi:10.1029/2011JC007208.
- Kessler, J.D., D.L. Valentine, M.C. Redmond, M. Du, E.W. Chan, S.D. Mendes, E.W. Quiroz, C.J. Villanueva, S.S. Shusta, L.M. Werra, S.A. Yvon-Lewis, T.C. Weber (2011). "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico." Science, 331, 312-315, doi:10.1126/science.1199697. (Abstract, Full Text, Reprint)
- Kessler, J. D., Valentine, D. L., Redmond, M. C., and Du, M. R. (2011) Response to Comment on "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico". Science, 332, doi:10.1126/science.1203428.
- Pasche, N., Schmid, M., Vazquez, F., Schubert, C. J., Wuest, A., Kessler, J. D., Pack, M. A., Reeburgh, W. S., and Burgmann, H. (2011) Methane sources and sinks in Lake Kivu. J Geophys Res-Biogeo, 116, G03006, doi:10.1029/2011JG001690.
- S.A. Yvon-Lewis, L. Hu, J.D. Kessler (2011). "Methane flux to the atmosphere from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster." Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L01602, doi: 10.1029/2010GL045928.
- Valentine, D.L., J.D. Kessler, M.C. Redmond, S.D. Mendes, M.B. Heintz, C. Farwell, L. Hu, F.S. Kinnaman, S.A. Yvon-Lewis, M. Du, E.W. Chan, F. Garcia-Tigreros, C.J. Villanueva (2010). "Propane respiration jump-starts microbial response to a deep oil spill."Science, 330, 208-211, doi:10.1126/science.1196830.
- Crowe, S.A., S. Katsev, K. Leslie, A. Sturm, C. Magen, S. Nomosatryo, M.A. Pack, J.D. Kessler, W.S. Reeburgh, J.A. Roberts, L. Gonzalez, G. Douglas Haffner, A. Mucci, B. Sundby, D.A. Fowle (2010). "The methane cycle in ferruginous Lake Matano." Geobiology, doi: 10.1111/j.1472-4669.2010.00257.x.
- Kessler, J.D., W.S. Reeburgh, D.L. Valentine, F.S. Kinnaman, E.T. Peltzer, P.G. Brewer, J. Southon, and S.C. Tyler (2008). “A survey of methane isotope abundance (14 13C, 2H) from five nearshore marine basins that reveals unusual radiocarbon levels in subsurface waters.”Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, C12021, doi:10.1029/2008JC004822.
Research & Student Opportunities
Research in my laboratory focuses on oceanic methane isotope biogeochemistry investigations. Our projects are heavily rooted in analytical chemistry, while also being very multidisciplinary drawing from the fields of chemistry, geology, biology, physics, mathematics, and engineering. I am always interesting in talking with intelligent, enthusiastic, and hardworking students about the possibility of joining our team. I encourage prospective Master’s of Science and Ph.D. students to contact me directly before submitting an application to our graduate program. I also strongly encourage interested undergraduates to contact me about conducting independent research in my laboratory.