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Ying Cui

Associate Professor, Earth and Environmental Studies

Ph.D. in Geosciences and Biogeochemistry, Penn State
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I received a PhD in Geosciences and Biogeochemistry from Penn State in 2014. I'm a geochemist using Earth system model to investigate changes in climate and the geochemistry of ocean and land. Specifically, I'm interested in time intervals in the geologic past when the rate of greenhouse gas release is faster than the background rate, for example, mass extinction events and extreme global warming events. My primary tools are stable isotopes of carbon (bulk carbonate, organic matter, and compound specific), oxygen (tree ring and cellulose), and nitrogen (bulk organic matter) and Earth system model of intermediate complexity equipped with the cycles of these elements. I'm also interested in uncertainty quantification using a variety of statistical approaches to investigate the changes in temperature in response to a doubling of pCO2 (known as climate sensitivity).


Time intervals in the geologic past when the rate of greenhouse gas release is faster than the background rate, for example, mass extinction events and extreme global warming events.


Office Hours


9:00 am - 11:00 am
By appointment via email
9:00 am - 10:00 am
By appointment via email


9:00 am - 11:00 am
By appointment via email
10:00 am - 11:00 am
By appointment via email


Research Projects

Quantifying the carbon emission and sequestration rate after a large CO2 pulse from the Siberian Traps volcanism

The end-Permian mass extinction event (EPME) resulted in the loss of more than 90% of marine and 70% of land species. During the EPME (252 million years ago), one of the largest known volcanic events, the Siberian Trap (ST) volcanism, occurred and released massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The impact of this volcanic event on the EPME and the subsequent recovery of life remains poorly understood. Therefore, it is critical to develop a better understanding of the dynamic climate and biogeochemistry of the end-Permian Earth. This project will use Earth system modeling to explore the CO2 emission rates from ST volcanism, weathering and the long-term buildup of greenhouse gases in the Early Triassic. This project will include the training of underrepresented students at Montclair State University and develop summer outreach programs to educate the general public at Yale University. New knowledge from this research will be integrated into educational and outreach activities.

To better understand the mechanisms of the EPME and subsequent recovery, the project aims to produce new tropical ocean lithium and boron isotopic records spanning the one million year interval across the EPME and to improve quantitative understanding of the extent to which boron isotopes reflect pH changes and lithium isotopes reflect weathering intensity. These geochemical proxies will provide new insights into carbon emission and sequestration rates following the large pulse of CO2 emission associated with ST volcanism. The project will increase understanding of tropical paleoclimate history, including the role of extreme carbon emission and sequestration on the fate of ecosystem demise and recovery. The project team will also develop new modeling tools needed to produce reliable quantitative biogeochemical records spanning the EPME for model-data comparison.

Probing Causal Links Among Volcanism, Dust, and Carbon Burial in the Permian - a Harbinger of the Future?

Humanity has undertaken an unintentional experiment on Earth’s climate system, causing atmospheric carbon to increase to levels never before experienced by humans. The climate system is now responding in palpable ways, and the triggering of positive feedbacks will accelerate changes, posing large risks to the biosphere in general and human populations in particular. Increasing concerns of potential runaway effects have spurred talk of intentional geoengineering to stabilize Earth’s temperatures, and its large ice sheets. A commonly discussed approach is solar radiation management (SRM), the intentional injection of atmospheric aerosols to mimic the planetary shading induced naturally by explosive volcanism. However, the unintended consequences of such action remain unknown, and could initiate even larger disruptions of the biosphere. This project targets an interval of Earth history analogous to today— a time with large continental ice sheets and abundant atmospheric dust followed by “greenhouse” warming— to explore how Earth’s climate and biospheric systems responded to sustained explosive volcanism. This research will test a number of hypotheses centered on the idea that frequent, explosive volcanism over the equatorial Pangean supercontinent ~300 million years ago increased delivery of micronutrients (e.g. iron) from atmospheric dust, leading to enhanced plant growth and development of widespread anoxia in marine ecosystems. Recent research documents large accumulations of dust deposits ~300 Mya, a remarkably elevated but enigmatic micronutrient content of these dusts, and abundant explosive volcanism, especially at equatorial latitudes. The confluence of volcanism, atmospheric dustiness, and nutrient reactivity is posited to have greatly affected Earth’s carbon cycle, and thus climate and biosphere. If society embarks upon intentional geoengineering, it is imperative to learn from Earth’s past to understand potential future consequences. In addition to shedding light on behavior of the climate system through publication and dissemination of results, this project will help prepare several students and early-career researchers for the STEM workforce, enhancing the nation’s capabilities in science and education.

This work explores novel aspects of climate-system behavior in two ways: 1— the role of repeated, high-frequency explosive volcanism in affecting Earth’s climate directly, and 2— linkages that tie explosive volcanism to enhanced nutrient release from mineral dusts and consequent ecosystem fertilization that affects the carbon cycle. To test this, field and laboratory work will be done on a well-exposed section of volcanic rocks representative of a vast center of volcanism in paleoequatorial Pangea; data will be collected on volcanic recurrence intervals and sulfur loading, and on the nutrient richness of coeval mineral dusts. These data will enable modeling of how this volcanism affected climate by both 1— direct “shading” of the planet, and 2— altering atmospheric acidity, stimulating micronutrient content of dust and thus fertilizing marine ecosystems. OU Geosciences and Science Education faculty will prepare and deliver long-term professional development for Oklahoma teachers, to increase climate science literacy amongst secondary school students.