Table of Contents

Brian Kelley

Assistant Professor | Penn State Geosciences


Research Interests

Marine Science

Earth System Evolution

Paleoclimate, Paleobiology, and Paleoceanography

Stratigraphy and Sedimentology


My research projects range from marine science in the modern to the co-evolution of Earth environment and life on geologic time scales. I generally focus on tropical marine environments—and reefs, in particular—because they are genetically linked to tectonic, climatic, biologic, and chemical conditions in the oceans. These connections make them exceptional archives of Earth system processes and key indicators of global environmental health. Work in my lab combines field, laboratory, and analytical approaches to projects involving sedimentology, geochemistry, geochronology, paleobiology, and quantitative analysis. In short, my research program is guided by interesting questions, rather than the tools we use to answer them.

Student Opportunities

I have opportunities for students in 2022-2023 academic year. Please read through my research interests and consider applying. Interested students can contact me at brian.kelley [at]



How does environmental change influence the spatial and temporal distribution of marine biodiversity?

To better understand the environmental influences on marine animal abundance and diversity, I study the evolution of reefs and other tropical marine benthic communities across intervals of global change. Reefs are among the most complex and biodiverse ecosystems, and they have excellent fossil and stratigraphic records because they construct massive frameworks of limestone. Reefs are also ecologically fragile, however, and they are vulnerable to changes in environmental conditions. These vulnerabilities make reefs early indicators of declining global marine ecosystem health. Ongoing research projects in my lab investigate the controls on the absence of diverse reefs for millions of years following the end-Permian extinction, the pattern and timing of their recovery in the early Mesozoic, and the environmental conditions leading to the advent of modern-style reef ecosystems and scleractinian corals during the Middle Triassic. The oceanographic and Earth system controls influencing Triassic reefs are analogous to the threats facing modern reefs, making them important models for understanding the future health of biodiverse marine ecosystems.

How do tectonic, climatic, chemical, and biological systems evolve to influence patterns of marine sedimentation?

To improve the understanding of controls on patterns of carbonate sedimentation, I study depositional systems that span intervals of environmental change. These intervals provide an opportunity to more directly link environmental mechanisms with resulting sedimentary architecture. Ongoing research projects in my lab investigate the oceanic controls that influenced the distribution, stratigraphic architecture, and variability of carbonate platforms across the Paleozoic to Mesozoic transition. This interval is characterized by changes in ocean chemistry and biology that impacted global patterns of carbonate sedimentation.

Current Lab Members

Kate Grosswiler, PhD student

Garrett Shepherd, MSc student

Sunday Siomades, BSc student

Olivia Adams, BSc student


I believe that students learn best when they are challenged to grow and develop in a supportive and encouraging environment. I try to teach and learn in the field with students as much as possible because the rocks themselves are often the best teachers. Earth science is constantly evolving, however, and advances in computational technology, data availability, and laboratory techniques have made programming and analytical skills increasingly important. My ultimate goal is to help my students develop and master a broad range of skills that will make them competitive in modern job markets.

Current and upcoming classes:

GEOSC 097: Gold Rush: Geology and History Along the Oregon and California Trails

The influence of geology on the gold rush, westward expansion, and immigration in the 19th century.

GEOSC 210: Geoscience Data Analytics

A gentle introduction to the organization, analysis, and presentation of geoscience data. In Excel and Python. No previous programming experience required.

GEOSC 397: Earth Science Problem Solving

A gentle introduction to quantitative problem solving and simple modeling for the mathematically anxious. Emphasis on solving real-world environmental and Earth science problems using simple mathematical approaches.

GEOSC 440: Marine Geology

History of ocean exploration, origin and evolution of the ocean, geology of the seafloor, and relevant aspects of oceanography.

GEOSC 470W: Introduction to Field Geology

Introduction to field observation and interpretation skills with an emphasis on stratigraphy and sedimentology. Weekly field trips with occasional classroom exercises during inclement weather. The theme of the course is investigating Paleozoic Earth system evolution through the sedimentary history of central Pennsylvania.

GEOSC 597: Oceanography Seminar

Weekly reading seminar on the past, present, and future of the oceans. Diverse and evolving topics. Includes discussion on all aspects of physical, chemical, and biological oceanography.


[22] Kelley, B.M., Yu, M., Lehrmann, D.J., Altiner, D., Jost, A.B., Li, X., Payne, J.L. Pattern and timing of Triassic reef development: prolonged assembly of complex marine ecosystems following the end-Permian extinction, in preparation.

[21] Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Yu, M., Lau, K.V., Minzoni, M., Enos, P., Li, X., and Payne, J.L., Influence of benthic ecosystem evolution on the occurrence of automicritic carbonate slopes: the Xiliang margin of the the Great Bank of Guizhou, south China, in preparation.

[20] Li, X., Lehrmann, D.J., Yu, M., Luczaj, J., Cantrell, D.L., Minzoni, M., Kelley, B.M., and Payne, J.L., Overprinting of reflux and burial brine dolomitization: a case study of massive dolomite from the Great Bank of Guizhou, south China, in revision.

[19] Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Yu, M., Lau, K.V., Minzoni, M., Enos, P., Li, X., and Payne, J.L., Role of platform to basin relief in carbonate platform evolution: the Great Bank of Guizhou, south China, in revision.

[18] Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Yu, M., Minzoni, M., Enos, P., Li, X., and Payne, J.L., Stratigraphic evolution of the Permian to Triassic Great Bank of Guizhou, SEPM/IAS, in press.

[17] Altiner, D., Payne, J.L., Özkan-Altiner, S., Lehrmann, D.J., Kelley, B.M., Summers, M.L., and Yu, M., (2021) Triassic foraminifera from the Great Bank of Guizhou, Nanpanjiang Basin, south China: taxonomic account, biostratigraphy, and implications for recovery from end-Permian extinction, Journal of Paleontology, p. 1–53.

[16] Li, X., Trower, E.J., Lehrmann, D.J.,Minzoni, M., Kelley, B.M., Schaal, E.K., Altiner, D., Yu, M., and Payne, J.L. (2021) Implications of giant ooids for the carbonate chemistry of Early Triassic seawater. Geology, v. 49.

[15] Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Yu, M., Jost, A.B., Lau, K.V., Meyer, K.M., Altiner, D., Minzoni, M., Schaal, E.K., and Payne, J.L. (2020) Controls on carbonate platform architecture and reef recovery across the Paleozoic to Mesozoic transition: A high-resolution analysis of the Great Bank of Guizhou. Sedimentology, v. 67, p. 3119-3151.

[14] Fullmer, S., Al Qassab, H., Buono, A., Gao, B., Kelley, B.M., and Moore, P.J., (2019), Carbonate pore-system influence on hydrocarbon displacement and potential recovery, In McNeill, D.F., Harris, P. (Mitch), Rankey, E.C., and Hsieh, J.C.C., eds., Carbonate Pore Systems: New Developments and Case Studies: v. 112. SEPM, Tulsa, Oklahoma, p. 268-284.

[13] Lau, K.V., Maher, K., Brown, S.T., Jost, A.B., Altiner, D., DePaolo, D.J., Eisenhauer, A., Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Paytan, A. and Yu, M. (2017) The influence of seawater carbonate chemistry, mineralogy, and diagenesis on calcium isotope variations in Lower-Middle Triassic carbonate rocks. Chemical Geology, v. 471, p. 13-37.

[12] Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Yu, M., Minzoni, M., Enos, P., Li, X., Lau, K.V., and Payne, J.L. (2017) The Late Permian to Late Triassic Great Bank of Guizhou: An isolated carbonate platform in the Nanpanjiang Basin of Guizhou Province, China. AAPG Bulletin, v. 101, p. 553-562.

[11] Lehrmann, D.J., Bentz, J.M., Wood, T., Goers, A., Dhillon, R., Akin, S., Li, X., Payne, J.L., Kelley, B.M., Meyer, K.M. and Schaal, E.K. (2016) Reply: Permian-Triassic microbialite and dissolution surface environmental controls on the genesis of marine microbialites and dissolution surface associated with the end-Permian mass extinction: new sections and observations from the Nanpanjiang Basin, South China. Palaios, v. 31, p. 118-121.

[10] Lau, K.V., Maher, K., Altiner, D., Kelley, B.M., Lehrmann, D.J., Silva-Tamayo, J.C., Weaver, K.L., Yu, M., & Payne, J.L. (2016) Marine anoxia and delayed Earth system recovery after the end-Permian extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, v. 113, p. 2360-2365.

[9] Lehrmann, D.J., Bentz, J.M., Wood, T., Goers, A., Dhillon, R., Akin, S., Li, X., Payne, J.L., Kelley, B.M., Meyer, K.M. and Schaal, E.K. (2015) Environmental controls on the genesis of marine microbialites and dissolution surface associated with the end-Permian mass extinction: new sections and observations from the Nanpanjiang Basin, South China. Palaios, v. 30, p. 529-552.

[8] Lehrmann, D.J., Chaikin, D.H., Enos, P., Minzoni, M., Payne, J.L., Yu, M., Goers, A., Wood, T., Richter, P., Kelley, B.M., Li, X., Qin, Y., Liu, L. and Lu, G. (2015) Patterns of basin fill in Triassic turbidites of the Nanpanjiang basin: implications for regional tectonics and impacts on carbonate platform evolution. Basin Research, v. 27, p. 587-612.

[7] Minzoni, M., Lehrmann, D.J., Payne, J.L., Enos, P., Yu, M., Wei, J., Kelley, B.M., Li, X., Schaal, E. and Meyer, K. (2014) Triassic tank: Platform margin and slope architecture in space and time, Nanpanjiang Basin, south China. In: Deposits, Architecture, and Controls of Carbonate Margin, Slope, and Basinal Settings: SEPM, Special Publication (Eds T. Playton, P. Harris and K. Verwer), v. 105, p. 84-113.

[6] Lehrmann, D.J., Minzoni, M., Li, X., Yu, M., Payne, J.L., Kelley, B.M., Schaal, E.K., and Enos, P. (2012) Lower Triassic oolites of the Nanpanjiang Basin, south China: controls on facies architecture, giant ooids, diagenesis and implications for hydrocarbon reservoirs: AAPG Bulletin, v. 96, p. 1389-1414.

[5] Li, X., Yu, M., Lehrmann, D.J., Payne, J.L., Kelley, B.M., and Minzoni, M. (2012) Factors controlling carbonate platform asymmetry: Preliminary results from the Great Bank of Guizhou, an isolated Permian–Triassic platform in the Nanpanjiang basin, south China: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 315-316, p. 158-171.

[4] Li, X., Yu, M., Payne, J.L, and Kelley, B.M. (2011) Comparison on rock and chemical strata of Lower Triassic series, the Great Bank of Guizhou, south China: Guizhou Geology, v. 28, p. 161-166.

[3] Meyer, K.M., Yu, M., Jost, A.B., Kelley, B.M., and Payne, J.L. (2011) δ13C evidence that high primary productivity delayed recovery from end-Permian mass extinction: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 302, p. 378-384.

[2] Feldmann, R.M., Schweitzer, C.E., Maxwell, P.A., and Kelley, B.M. (2008) Fossil isopod and decapod crustaceans from the Kowai Formation (Pliocene) near Makikihi, South Canterbury, New Zealand: New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics, v. 51, p. 43-58.

[1] Crawford, R.S., Feldmann, R.M., Waugh, D.A., Kelley, B.M., and Allen, J.G. (2006) Decapod crustaceans from the Maastrichtian Fox Hills Formation: Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, v. 47, p. 3-28.

Author: Brian Kelley

Created: 2022-01-23 Sun 16:31