Sarah Feakins

Professor of Earth Sciences
Sarah Feakins
Pronouns She / Her / Hers Email Office ZHS 223F Office Phone (213) 740-7168

Research & Practice Areas

Paleoclimate and Paleoecology.
Organic Geochemistry and Isotope Biogeochemistry, Climate Science, Geobiology



Dr. Sarah Feakins is a Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California. Sarah has over fifteen years’ experience conducting research on climate and ecosystems, and leads a laboratory and team of researchers at USC. Her recent work has tested the drought response of wheat crops, and surveyed the diversity of tropical forest ecosystems – all in terms of the waxy coating on the surface of the leaf. She uses this knowledge of modern plants, and the remarkable preservation of plant waxes, to document changes in ecosystems over geological time. Prior work has reported on the expansion of grasslands in Africa and the revegetation of Antarctica during a prior warming event that witnessed retreat of the ice sheet about 15 million years ago. She is a popular instructor for large audiences of non-science majors, as well as specialty topics at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level. She frequently gives invited lectures on her research at institutions around the world. She has spoken on public radio in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand; she has appeared on television and is frequently quoted in the news media on topics ranging from past climate and human evolution to California’s water. Sarah obtained a first class undergraduate degree in Geography at the University of Oxford, and her doctorate from Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. She was a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Global and Climate Change Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. She has authored over 80 peer reviewed papers and book chapters. She is Editor of paleoclimate at Geophysical Research Letters. Her research has been funded by the American Chemical Society, the Women in Science and Engineering Program and the National Science Foundation.


  • Ph.D. Geology, Columbia University, 2006
  • B.A. Geography, University of Oxford, 2001
    • NOAA Global and Climate Change Postdoctoral Fellow, California Institute of Technology, 07/2006-08/2008
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    I use biogeochemical analytical approaches to answer intriguing questions about climatic and ecological change over tens of millions of years of Earth History. I am particularly motivated to study warm periods in the past that provide analogs for the future.

    Organic geochemical and compound-specific isotopic approaches provide new tools for high resolution studies into past ecosystem and climate states. Current projects include compound-specific carbon isotopic reconstruction of paleovegetation and development and application of hydrogen isotopic proxies for paleohydrology. We seek to better understand past climate-vegetation interactions, to reconstruct past droughts, pluvials and shifts in climate regimes around the world.

    Research Specialties

    Paleoclimate and Paleoecology.
    Organic Geochemistry and Isotope Biogeochemistry, Climate Science, Geobiology

    • American Academy of Arts and Sciences Leshner Leadership Institute Fellow, 2018-2019
    • Ocean Discovery Lecturer, 2018-2019
  • Editorships and Editorial Boards

    • Editor, Geophysical Research Letters, 01/2022 –
    • Associate Editor, Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 01/2021 – 12/2021
    • Associate Editor, Geophysical Research Letters, 01/2019 – 12/2021
    • Associate Editor, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2016 – 2021
    • Editorial Board, Quaternary Science Reviews, 2018 – 2019
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