Home > Profiles > Melissa Berke

Melissa Berke

Melissa Berke

Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

Assistant Professor
College of Engineering

Email: Melissa.Berke.1@nd.edu

Phone: 574-631-4857

Office: 164 Fitzpatrick Hall


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


Postdoctoral Researcher, Global Change and Sustainability Center, University of Utah (2011-2013)

US Geological Survey, Eastern Earth Surface Processes Team (2003-2006)

Recent Select Papers

Tipple, B.J., Berke, M.A., Doman, C., Khachaturyan, S., and Ehleringer, J.R.,  Leaf wax and sedimentary n-alkane 2H/1H ratios reflect the environment during leaf expansion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2013.

Berke, M.A., Johnson, T.C., Werne, J.P., Grice, K., Schouten, S., and Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., Molecular records of climate variability and vegetation response since the Late Pleistocene in the Lake Victoria basin, East Africa, Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 55, p. 59-74, 2012.

Berke, M.A., Johnson, T.C., Werne, J.P., Schouten, S., and Sinninghe Damsté, J.S.,  A mid-Holocene thermal maximum at the end of the African Humid Period, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 351-352, p. 95-104, 2012.

Konecky, B., Russell, J.M., Johnson, T.C., Brown, E.T., Berke, M.A., Werne, J.P., and Huang, Y.,  Atmospheric circulation patterns during late Pleistocene climate changes at Lake Malawi, Africa. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 312, p. 318–326, 2011.

Fawcett, P. J., Werne, J.P., Anderson, R.S., Heikoop, J., Brown, E.T., Berke, M.A., Smith, S., Fraser, G. Hurley, L., Cisneros-Dozal, M., Schouten, S., Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., Huang, Y., Toney, J.,     Fessenden, J., WoldeGabriel, G., Atudorei, V., Geissman, J.W., and Allen, C.D., Extended megadroughts in the southwestern United States during Pleistocene interglacials. Nature, v. 470, p. 518-521, 2011.



New research opportunities for graduate students 

Now accepting graduate student applications for funded PhD and MS projects in biogeochemistry and paleoclimatology. Contact me (mberke@nd.edu) for more details.

PhD OPPS Fall 2020

Summary of Activities/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 geologic 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.


Students Complete Well in Sangmélima, Cameroon

February 14, 2017

Every time Claire Nauman fills her water bottle, she thinks of Sangmélima and the connections she made there. Until December, her thoughts were bittersweet. She watched abundant, clean water fill her nalgene and thought of all the residents of Sangmélima, Cameroon and the black dots of coliform colonies that appeared on the easy gels she and her classmates ran on the community’s drinking water the previous March. But since January she has reason to celebrate while filling her water bottle, because the residents of Sangmélima now have access to clean drinking water.

Predicting the Future of Climate Change

February 9, 2017

Notre Dame faculty Jason McLachlan and Melissa Berke study the past to predict climate change.

Clues in Ancient Mud Hold Answers to Climate Change

September 1, 2016

From the depths of Lake Malawi in southeast Africa, Assistant Professor Melissa Berke has helped uncover evidence that offers new insights into a long-held theory about Africa’s climate history.