Stephen Pekar

Paleoceanography, paleoclimatology and Antarctic glacial history
Science Building - Room D204
Phone: 718-997-3305

Dr. Pekar's Research Page

Research Interests: 

Stephen Pekar is a geology professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queens College, which is part of the City University of New York.  He focuses on research on past climate and oceanographic changes during times (16- 45 million years ago) when carbon dioxide was as high as what is predicted for the 21st century (450-1000 ppm). With CO2 rising rapidly today due to fossil fuel use and changes in land use (e.g., cutting down forest, etc.), humanity has started an uncontrolled experiment that is like putting our climate on a “hot plate”.  With greenhouse gases rising to levels not seen in tens of millions or years, exploring these past time intervals for him is like “Looking Back to Our Future”. His current research projects can be broadly divided into two groups: 1) Unlocking the climatic and cryospheric history of Antarctica over the past 65 million years and 2) Paleoceanographic and climatic changes during the Cenozoic.  To tackle these problems, he develops sedimentological, microfossil, and geochemical records obtained from sedimentary cores that were taken from near-shore to the deep-sea. These are used to extract past climatic, oceanographic, and global sea-level signals at the decadal- to million-year scale. His research has taken him on expeditions around the world, including four to Antarctica, one of which he was the project leader.



Figure: This is a map showing the locations of where samples were taken for research I and my students have carried out.  Stars mean I was part of the expedition that took the samples, circles represents where samples were taken in previous expeditions. 

About Dr. Pekar:

Steve Pekar is a Queens native, growing up in the Rockaways and attending Queens College, first as a 20th century music composition major before receiving a BA in Education. He received his Ph.D. in Geology from Rutgers University and was a research post doctoral scientist at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University for three years, before becoming a professor at Queens College.  He thinks of scientists as detectives, trying to collect clues to unravel mysteries and puzzles about our planet. For him, geologists are also like time travelers; detectives who go back in time to recreate distant long lost worlds that are so different from our modern world that they would rival any sci fi thriller in terms of their uniqueness and unfamiliar to what we know today.  In addition, he tries to decipher time intervals when greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide) was higher than today. He is enthralled with exploring, and learning about new places and ideas.  Dr. Pekar has traveled to nearly 60 countries in all “eight” continents, working in six countries—ranging from archeology in France, grape picking in Germany, movie extra in China, to house pianist in a restaurant in Israel.

Dr. Pekar’s Outreach efforts:

Dr. Pekar is strongly dedicated to promoting science education as well as illustrating the beauty and excitement of science both for his students and general public.  In this regard, he is committed to promoting science specifically focusing on climate change and how his research in past climate change can help us understand present changes and better predict future climate changes. Here is a selected list of some of Dr. Pekar’s outreach efforts 

Current Focus Areas: 

Paleoceanographic, paleoclimatic and tectonic changes on the newly named eighth continent of the world, Zealandia – I have three projects ranging from the late Miocene to the Oligocene (6-34 Ma) from the recently completed IODP expedition 371 that drilled near and on the continent of Zealandia.

The Greenhouse world (> 34 million years ago) climate and glacial history –Active and recently completed projects used sequence stratigraphy and paleoceanographic deep sea proxy records such as stable isotope and elemental ratio geochemistry.

The start of the Icehouse World, the Oligocene Epoch (34-23 million years ago) – Recent projects include multi channel seismic data from near Antarctica, geochemical studies (i.e., stable isotopes, elemental ratios, Ar-Ar provenance records) from sites proximal to Antarctica; provenance studies of ice rafted debris from sites near Antarctica to understand paleoceanographic and glacial ice-volume changes.

The Middle Miocene climate, oceanographic changes and how they relate to tectonic changes – I have four projects related to the evolution of climate and oceanography during the various Miocene events.  

Media and educational outreach efforts - Dr. Pekar is strongly dedicated to promoting science education as well as illustrating the beauty and excitement of science both for his students and general public.  Click to see some of the outreach efforts Dr. Pekar has done in promoting information about climate change and interest in science in general.

Teaching Philosophy and Interests

My teaching objectives are based on my training and experience as a primary, secondary, and university level educator, the needs of the students, and my own interest in the earth sciences. In instructing introductory geology students, I have three main objectives:

  • To spark students' curiosity and excitement about the world around them. For most students, an introductory geology course is their first experience in learning and exploring science. This provides me as an educator with the opportunity
  • To motivate students to look beyond their immediate surroundings (to teach what is outside the four walls), with the result that they become more interested, concerned, and amazed at the diversity of biological and physical environments on and within the planet. I do this by creating a positive, student-centered environment in the class (as well as outside the class, e.g., field trips).
  • To teach at an introductory level the methodologies of modern contemporary science. This is critical in ensuring that the populace has a basic understanding of science in deciding public policy.
  • To integrate up to date science and societally relevant topics into the curriculum (bringing geology "to life"). I hope to show students that entering the field of geology can be a rewarding experience, which can contribute to society.

For upper level undergraduate classes, such as stratigraphy, I have two main goals.

  • To promote and encourage the use of the scientific method and the method of the multiple working hypotheses.
  • To frame any geology course using a larger multi disciplinary approach to the earth sciences. This gives them a broader perspective and experience of the wide array of geological applications that can serve them in their future careers.

Courses Taught:

Undergraduate Classes

Physical Geology (GEOL101)
Historical Geology (GEOL102)
Sedimentation and Stratigraphy (GEOL213)
Stratigraphy and Paleoenvironments (GEOL313)
Earth and Materials II (GEOL202)
Volcanoes and Earthquakes (GEOL16)
Planet Earth: Resources (and hazards) for the 21st Century (GEOL099)

Graduate Classes

Earth History and the Fossil Record (GEOL502)
Advanced Principals in Historical Geology (GEOL702)Stratigraphy (GEOL742)

Current Research Students

Ben Kwiatkowski (PhD candidate) Evaluating the paleoceanographic change and early constriction of the Central Seaway during the Late Miocene (12-9 Ma)

Alex Andronokides (Undergraduate student): Developing stable isotope and elemental ratio records from IODP Site U1508 for the for the Late Miocene (10.5-8.5 Ma)

Yumee Han (Undergraduate student): Developing stable isotope and elemental ratio records from ODP Site 1168 for the Early Miocene (18-16 Ma)

Ashley Iervolino (Undergraduate student): Developing stable isotope and elemental ratio records from IODP Site U1508 for the Late Miocene (8.5-7.0 Ma)

Lexi Kenis (Undergraduate student): Developing stable isotopes and elemental ratio records from IODP Site U1510 for the Early to Middle Miocene (18-13 Ma)

Flanna Kimmick (Undergraduate student): Developing stable isotope and elemental ratio records from Southern Ocean Site 690 for the lower Oligocene (30-33.5 Ma)

Recently student graduates that have completed research projects in my lab

Victor A. (2017): undergraduate student, now a PhD student at Rutgers University

Anna T. (2017): undergraduate student, now a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin

Dan Hauptvogel (2015): completed his PhD and is now an Assistant professor at the University of Houston.

Natasha P. (2015): undergraduate student, now a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin

Matthew DeCesare (2014): MA at Queens College, now the Laboratory Research Manager in the Department of Geosciences at Auburn University


Hauptvogel, D.W., Pekar, S.F., Pincay, V., 2017, Evidence for a heavily glaciated Antarctica during the late Oligocene “warming” (27.8–24.5 Ma): Stable isotope records from ODP Site 690, Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 32: 384-396. DOI: 10.1002/2016PA002972

Pekar, S.F., Speece, M.A., Wilson, G.S., Sunwall, D.S., Tinto, K.J., 2013, The Offshore New

Harbour Project: deciphering the Middle Miocene through Late Eocene seismic stratigraphy of

Offshore New Harbour, western Ross Sea, Antarctica, In Hambrey, M.J., Barker, P.F., Barrett,

P.J., Bowman, V., Davies, B., Smellie, J.L., and Tranter, M., (eds), Antarctic

Palaeoenvironments and Earth-Surface Processes, Geological Society London, Special

Publications 381, p. 199-214, doi 10.1144/SP381.2.

Wilson, G.S., Pekar, S.F., Naish, T.R., Passchier, S., and DeConto, R., 2009, Oligocene-Miocene boundary: Antarctic climate response to orbital forcing: In Florindo, F., and Siegert, M., Antarctic Climate Evolution/Antarctic History, Elsevier B.V.

Pekar, S.F., 2008, When did the icehouse cometh?: in News and Views in Nature, 455:602-603.

Pekar, S.F., Christie-Blick, N., 2008, Resolving apparent conflicts between oceanographic and Antarctic climate records and evidence for a decrease in pCO2 during the Oligocene through early Miocene (34-16 Ma): Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 260: 41-49.

Christie-Blick, N., Pekar, S.F., Madof, A.S., 2007, Is there a role for sequence stratigraphy in chronostratigraphy?: Stratigraphy, 4: 131 - 143.

Pekar, S. F., DeConto, R.M., 2006, High-resolution ice-volume estimates for the Early Miocene: Evidence for a dynamic ice sheet in Antarctica, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 231: 101-109.

Pekar, S.F., DeConto, R.M., Harwood, D.M., 2006, Resolving a late Oligocene conundrum: deep-sea warming versus Antarctic glaciation: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 231: 29-40.

Pekar, S. F., Hucks, A., Fuller, M., and Li, S., 2005, Glacioeustatic changes in the early and middle Eocene (51-42 Ma) greenhouse world based on shallow-water stratigraphy from ODP Leg 189 Site 1171 and oxygen isotope records: Geological Society of America Bulletin, 117: 1081-1093.

Pekar, S. F., Christie-Blick, N., Kominz, M. A., and Miller, K. G., 2002, Calibrating eustasy to oxygen isotopes for the early icehouse world of the Oligocene: Geology, 30:903-906.

Kominz, M. A., and Pekar, S. F., 2001, Oligocene eustasy from two-dimensional sequence stratigraphic backstripping: Geological Society of America Bulletin, 113:291-304.

Pekar, S. F., Christie-Blick, N., Kominz, M. A., and Miller, K. G., 2001, Evaluating the stratigraphic response to eustasy from Oligocene strata in New Jersey: Geology, 29:55-58.

Pekar, S. F. and Kominz, M.A., 2001, Two-dimensional paleoslope modeling: a new method for estimating water depths for benthic foraminiferal biofacies and paleo shelf margins: Journal of Sedimentary Research, 71:608-620.


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