Jane Willenbring joined Stanford as an Associate Professor in the summer of 2020. Jane is a geologist who solves problems related to the Earth surface. Her research is primarily done to understand the evolution of the Earth’s surface - especially how landscapes are affected by tectonics, climate change, and life. She and her research group use geochemical techniques, high-resolution topographic data, field observations, and, when possible, couple these data to landscape evolution numerical models and ice sheet models. The geochemical tools she uses and develops often include cosmogenic nuclide systems, which provide powerful, novel methods to constrain rates of erosion and mineral weathering. Jane has also started to organize citizen science campaigns and apply basic science principles to problems of human health with an ultimate broader impact goal of cleaning up urban areas and environments impacted by agriculture. She received her B.Sc. with honors from the North Dakota State University where she was a McNair Scholar and in the NDSU scholars program. She holds a Masters degree from Boston University. Her Ph.D. is in Earth Science from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada where she was a Killam Scholar. She was a Synthesis Postdoctoral Fellow through the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics at the Saint Anthony Falls Lab at the University of Minnesota, and an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow and then subsequently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Helmholz GFZ Potsdam, Germany. Jane was previously an Associate Professor in the Geosciences Research Division and Thomas and Evelyn Page Chancellor's Endowed Faculty Fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego where she was the director of the Scripps Cosmogenic Isotope Laboratory (SCI-Lab). She was also a tenure-track professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She will be a Stanford University Gabilan Faculty Fellow in 2021-2023. She is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and was the inaugural recipient of the Marguerite T. Williams award from the American Geophysical Union.

Academic Appointments

Honors & Awards

  • Gabilan Faculty Fellow, Stanford University (2021-2023)
  • AGU Presidential Citation, American Geophysical Union (2020)
  • Marguerite T. Williams Award, American Geophysical Union (2020)
  • Thomas and Evelyn Page Chancellor's Endowed Faculty Fellow, University of California San Diego (2019-2020)
  • Fellow, Geological Society of America (2018-present)
  • University of California San Diego Diversity Award, University of California San Diego (2017)
  • Antarctica Service Medal, United States Armed Forces (2016)
  • Career Award, US National Science Foundation (2015)
  • Distinguished Lecturer, Association of Women Geoscientists (2015)
  • Blaustein Visiting Professorship, Stanford University (2013)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow, AvH Foundation (2007-2009)
  • TRiO Merit Award, U.S. Dept. of Education TRiO Program (2007)
  • Helen Shull P.E.O. Scholar Award, Philanthropic Educational Organization (2003-2004)
  • Killam Laureate, Izaak Walton Killam Foundation (2002-2005)
  • Ronald E. McNair Scholar, U.S. Dept. of Education TRiO Program (1996-1999)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Lifetime Member, SACNAS (2019 - Present)
  • Lifetime Member, Earth Science Women's Network (2014 - Present)
  • Lifetime member, Association of Women Geoscientists (2011 - Present)
  • Lifetime Member, American Geophysical Union (2003 - Present)
  • Member and Fellow, Geological Society of America (1997 - Present)

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Chemical and physical drivers of beryllium retention in two soil endmembers. The Science of the total environment Boschi, V. n., Willenbring, J. K. 2020; 754: 141591


    Meteoric 10Be and 7Be produced in the atmosphere from high-energy spallation reactions are deposited onto the Earth's surface through wet and dry deposition and are sorbed onto the surfaces of particles. On land, the sorbed concentrations scale with the residence time of sediments in a landscape-offset by slow (10Be) and fast (7Be) radioactive decay. Additionally, the amount of native 9Be, leached from minerals, correlates with the chemical weathering of soils. However, previous work has shown that chemical and physical properties of soils and river sediments affects sorption of beryllium. Therefore, the magnitude of sorbed beryllium concentrations may be more representative of the sorption capacity of the system rather than its erosional or weathering history. Although previous work has examined the physical and chemical properties of soil that influence beryllium sorption, these studies either lack consensus or exclude potentially important variables. In this work, we provide a thorough examination of variables previously reported to have influence on beryllium chemistry as well as new variables such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur concentrations in order to determine which factors best predict beryllium sorption. We selected two soil endmembers with differing compositions, separated them into different size fractions, and characterized the surface area, cation exchange capacity (CEC), mineralogy, sulfur, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations. We determined that the inverse percent abundance of quartz and the CEC best predict beryllium sorption potential in these soils. By deriving a model that relates these two variables to the percent sorbed beryllium, we were able to predict the sorption capacity of our system and reduced the error in sorbed beryllium amounts due to differences in soil properties by about 42%. From these results, we provide insight as to why there is inconsistency in the literature with regards to the physio-chemical controls on the environmental behavior of beryllium.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.141591

    View details for PubMedID 32916480

  • Siderophore-mediated iron removal from chrysotile: Implications for asbestos toxicity reduction and bioremediation. Journal of hazardous materials Mohanty, S. K., Gonneau, C. n., Salamatipour, A. n., Pietrofesa, R. A., Casper, B. n., Christofidou-Solomidou, M. n., Willenbring, J. K. 2018; 341: 290–96


    Asbestos fibers are highly toxic (Group 1 carcinogen) due to their high aspect ratio, durability, and the presence of iron. In nature, plants, fungi, and microorganisms release exudates, which can alter the physical and chemical properties of soil minerals including asbestos minerals. We examined whether exudates from bacteria and fungi at environmentally relevant concentrations can alter chrysotile, the most widely used asbestos mineral, and lower its toxicity. We monitored the release of iron from chrysotile in the presence of organic acid ligands and iron-specific siderophores derived from bacteria and fungi and measured any change in fiber toxicity toward peritoneal macrophages harvested from mice. Both fungal and bacterial siderophores increased the removal of iron from asbestos fibers. In contrast, organic acid ligands at environmentally relevant concentrations neither released iron from fibers nor helped in siderophore-mediated iron removal. Removal of plant-available or exchangeable iron did not diminish iron dissolution by both types of siderophores, which indicates that siderophores can effectively remove structural iron from chrysotile fibers. Removal of iron by siderophore lowered the fiber toxicity; fungal siderophore appears to be more effective than bacterial siderophore in lowering the toxicity. These results indicate that prolonged exposure to siderophores, not organic acids, in the soil environment decreases asbestos fiber toxicity and possibly lowers the health risks. Thus, bioremediation should be explored as a viable strategy to manage asbestos-contaminated sites such as Brownfield sites, which are currently left untreated despite dangers to surrounding communities.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2017.07.033

    View details for PubMedID 28797944

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5771417

  • Framework for assessment and phytoremediation of asbestos-contaminated sites. Environmental science and pollution research international Gonneau, C. n., Miller, K. n., Mohanty, S. K., Xu, R. n., Hwang, W. T., Willenbring, J. K., Casper, B. B. 2017; 24 (33): 25912–22


    We examine the feasibility of phytoremediation as an alternative strategy to limit the exposure of asbestos in site with asbestos-containing materials. We collected soils from four locations from two sites-one with naturally occurring asbestos, and another, a superfund site, where asbestos-containing materials were disposed over decades-and performed ecotoxicology tests. We also performed two experiments with crop cultivar and two grasses from serpentine ecotype and cultivar to determined best choice for phytoremediation. Asbestos concentrations in different size fractions of soils varied by orders of magnitude. However, different asbestos concentrations had little effect on germination and root growth. Presence of co-contaminants such as heavy metals and lack of nutrients affected plant growth to different extents, indicating that several of these limiting factors should be considered instead of the primary contaminant of concern. Crop cultivar survived on asbestos-contaminated soil. Grasses from serpentine ecotype did not show higher biomass than the cultivar. Overall, these results showed that soil conditions play a critical role in screening different crop species for phytoremediation and that asbestos concentration has limited to no effect on plant growth. Our study provided a framework for phytoremediation of asbestos-contaminated sites to limit long-term asbestos exposure.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s11356-017-0177-x

    View details for PubMedID 28940054

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5769457

  • Differential elemental uptake in three pseudo-metallophyte C4 grasses in situ in the eastern USA. Plant and soil Gonneau, C. n., Mohanty, S. K., Dietterich, L. H., Hwang, W. T., Willenbring, J. K., Casper, B. B. 2017; 416 (1-2): 149–63


    Elemental uptake in serpentine floras in eastern North America is largely unknown. The objective of this study was to determine major and trace element concentrations in soil and leaves of three native pseudo-metallophyte C4 grasses in situ at five sites with three very different soil types, including three serpentine sites, in eastern USA.Pseudo-total and extractible concentrations of 15 elements were measured and correlated from the soils and leaves of three species at the five sites.Element concentrations in soils of pseudo-metallophytes varied up to five orders of magnitude. Soils from metalliferous sites exhibited higher concentrations of their characteristic elements than non-metalliferous. In metallicolous populations, elemental concentrations depended on the element. Concentrations of major elements (Ca, Mg, K) in leaves were lower than typical toxicity thresholds, whereas concentrations of Zn were higher.In grasses, species can maintain relatively low metal concentrations in their leaves even when soil concentrations are richer. However, in highly Zn-contaminated soil, we found evidence of a threshold concentration above which Zn uptake increases drastically. Finally, absence of main characteristics of serpentine soil at one site indicated the importance of soil survey and restoration to maintain serpentinophytes communities and avoid soil encroachment.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s11104-017-3198-9

    View details for PubMedID 28845059

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5568086

  • Asbestos Fiber Preparation Methods Affect Fiber Toxicity. Environmental science & technology letters Salamatipour, A. n., Mohanty, S. K., Pietrofesa, R. A., Vann, D. R., Christofidou-Solomidou, M. n., Willenbring, J. K. 2016; 3 (7): 270–74


    To measure the toxic potential of asbestos fibers-a known cause of asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma-asbestos minerals are generally first ground down to small fibers, but it is unknown whether the grinding condition itself changes the fiber toxicity. To evaluate this, we ground chrysotile ore with or without water for 5-30 min and quantified asbestos-induced reactive oxygen species generation in elicited murine peritoneal macrophages as an indicator of fiber toxicity. The toxicity of dry-ground fibers was higher than the toxicity of wet-ground fibers. Grinding with or without water did not materially alter the mineralogical properties. However, dry-ground fibers contained at least 7 times more iron than wet-ground fibers. These results indicate that grinding methods significantly affect the surface concentration of iron, resulting in changes in fiber-induced reactive oxygen species generation or toxicity. Therefore, fiber preparation conditions should be accounted for when comparing the toxicity of asbestos fibers between reported studies.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00174

    View details for PubMedID 27540559

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4985249

  • Extreme decay of meteoric beryllium-10 as a proxy for persistent aridity. Scientific reports Valletta, R. D., Willenbring, J. K., Lewis, A. R., Ashworth, A. C., Caffee, M. n. 2015; 5: 17813


    The modern Antarctic Dry Valleys are locked in a hyper-arid, polar climate that enables the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) to remain stable, frozen to underlying bedrock. The duration of these dry, cold conditions is a critical prerequisite when modeling the long-term mass balance of the EAIS during past warm climates and is best examined using terrestrial paleoclimatic proxies. Unfortunately, deposits containing such proxies are extremely rare and often difficult to date. Here, we apply a unique dating approach to tundra deposits using concentrations of meteoric beryllium-10 ((10)Be) adhered to paleolake sediments from the Friis Hills, central Dry Valleys. We show that lake sediments were emplaced between 14-17.5 My and have remained untouched by meteoric waters since that time. Our results support the notion that the onset of Dry Valleys aridification occurred ~14 My, precluding the possibility of EAIS collapse during Pliocene warming events. Lake fossils indicate that >14 My ago the Dry Valleys hosted a moist tundra that flourished in elevated atmospheric CO2 (>400 ppm). Thus, Dry Valleys tundra deposits record regional climatic transitions that affect EAIS mass balance, and, in a global paleoclimatic context, these deposits demonstrate how warming induced by 400 ppm CO2 manifests at high latitudes.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/srep17813

    View details for PubMedID 26647733

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4673429

  • In Situ Liquid Cell Observations of Asbestos Fiber Diffusion in Water. Environmental science & technology Wu, L. n., Ortiz, C. n., Xu, Y. n., Willenbring, J. n., Jerolmack, D. n. 2015; 49 (22): 13340–49


    We present real-time observations of the diffusion of individual asbestos fibers in water. We first scaled up a technique for fluorescent tagging and imaging of chrysotile asbestos fibers and prepared samples with a distribution of fiber lengths ranging from 1 to 20 μm. Experiments were then conducted by placing a 20, 100, or 150 ppm solution of these fibers in a liquid cell mounted on a spinning-disk confocal microscope. Using automated elliptical-particle detection methods, we determined the translation and rotation and two-dimensional (2D) trajectories of thousands of diffusing chrysotile fibers. We find that fiber diffusion is size-dependent and in reasonable agreement with theoretical predictions for the Brownian motion of rods. This agreement is remarkable given that experiments involved non-idealized particles at environmentally relevant concentrations in a confined cell, in which particle-particle and particle-wall interactions might be expected to cause deviations from theory. Experiments also confirmed that highly elongated chrysotile fibers exhibit anisotropic diffusion at short time scales, a predicted effect that may have consequences for aggregate formation and transport of asbestos in confined spaces. The examined fibers vary greatly in their lengths and were prepared from natural chrysotile. Our findings thus indicate that the diffusion rates of a wide range of natural colloidal particles can be predicted from theory, so long as the particle aspect ratio is properly taken into account. This is an important first step for understanding aggregate formation and transport of non-spherical contaminant particles, in the environment and in vivo.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.est.5b03839

    View details for PubMedID 26461183

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4747642