The highest priority of the Institute is to pursue process-oriented research into fundamental issues of the evolution of the Earth's crust and the biosphere in the geological past. The Institute is part of the University center of excellence (UNCE) Center for Geosphere Dynamics and has established a vigorous international collaboration. Great emphasis is also placed on presenting research results in highly ranked international journals (see Publications) and on the active involvement of both undergraduate and graduate students in research projects.
Research at the Institute of Geology and Palaeontology is implemented by three teams and encompasses Continental Tectonics, Sedimentary Geology and Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeontology.
Continental Tectonics Group [ctg.cuni.cz]
The Continental Tectonics Group examines a wide range of topics including mechanisms of magma transport and deformation in the Earth's crust, volcanic processes, tectonometamorphic development of active continental margins and collisional orogens, dynamics of accretionary wedges, and rock magnetism and the magnetic fabric of geological bodies. A joint research programme with the Czech Technical University in Prague concentrates on the modelling of geological processes, such as rotation of crystals in magma, cooling of magma bodies, caldera collapse, and basin development. A characteristic feature of our research is a combination of modern field Geology and advanced analytical methods, especially anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS), electron back-scattered diffraction (EBSD), computer-aided image analysis, U–Pb Geochronology, Petrology, and Geochemistry.
Contact: Jiří Žák
Sedimentary Geology and Palaeoclimatology Group
The Sedimentary Geology and Paleoclimatology Group concentrates on the development of sedimentary basins and sedimentary processes, as well as on Palaeogeography and Stratigraphy with a special emphasis on Late Palaeozoic and Cenozoic basins in the Bohemian Massif. To characterise sedimentary processes and environments, we use modern methods, including analysis of facial architecture, Sequence Stratigraphy, and high-resolution stratigraphic correlation integrated with U–Pb Geochronology. Other research targets include sediment provenance and Geochemistry, which are used as a proxy for interpretation of palaeoclimatic changes.
Contact: Stanislav Opluštil
Palaeontology and Palaeobiology Group
The Palaeontology and Paleobiology Group embraces a broad spectrum, ranging from Micropalaeontology and Palaeozoology (including Vertebrate Palaeontology) to Palaeobotany. Our main goal is to understand the evolution of life on planet Earth as a prerequisite for understanding the current state of the biosphere and for predicting its development in the future. A key element of our research are interdisciplinary studies dealing with Biostratigraphy, Palaeoecology, Taphonomy, analysis of evolutionary changes from fossil assemblages, functional morphology, analysis of biomineralisation and ultramicrostructures of fossil organisms, mass extinctions, and climate changes from palaeopopulation analysis. Our synthetic studies also examine interactions of biological, chemical, and physical processes in the fossil record and connect Palaeontology with Geochemistry, Eventostratigraphy, Climatology, Sequence Stratigraphy, and Geobiology.
Contact: Martin Košťák
Due to the great diversity of palaeontology, this team is divided into several subgroups, which, however, very often cooperate with other paleontological subgroups within the synthesis.
Current sponsored research projects
Our oldest ancestors as living organisms: 3D virtual anatomy of early vertebrate fossils
The origin of jaws leading to a radical morphological transformation of the head are among the most important events in vertebrate evolution. The rebuilding of the vertebrate head from a jawless to a jawed architecture resulted in emergence of new anatomical features, the origins of which can be traced back to our last common ancestors and further along the evolutionary lineage leading up to us, humans. A detailed anatomical examination of basal jawed vertebrates from the Lower Palaeozoic can provide crucial information for unravelling the chain of character state transitions. The project will focus on a unique collection of early vertebrate fossils (acanthothoracids) from the Devonian of the Prague Basin. The previously acquired large dataset obtained through cutting-edge data acquisition – synchrotron microtomography – will maximise the informative potential and scientific value of the studied fossils. The subsequent analysis of virtually visualised 3D anatomical structures, ranging in scale from whole-body morphology down to histology with single-cell resolution, will provide a whole new approach to palaeontology, where fossil material can readily substitute biological samples.
[2023-2025, funded by P JAC project CZ.02.01.01/00/22_010/0002902 MSCA Fellowships CZ – CU; V. Vaškaninová – fellow, P. Kraft – mentor]
Detrital zircon geochronology as a tool for interpreting terrane provenance
Detrital zircon U–Pb geochronology has been widely used, in many cases as the only available method, to interpret provenance of crustal fragments (terranes) displaced from the site of their origin and incorporated into younger orogenic belts. However, analysis of zircon age spectra may carry a significant bias that may result in large uncertainties in paleogeographic reconstrutions and geodynamic models. The project examines the validity of using detrital zircon ages as paleogeographic indicators through the use of advanced statistical methods such as multi-dimensional scaling (MDS), which, in turn, will be tested against independent constraints from Hf–Nd isotope geochemistry and paleomagnetism. Based on the example of the Avalonian–Cadomian terranes, now dispersed within the Caledonian, Variscan, and Alpine–Carpathian–Balkans orogenic belts, the project is directed towards derivation of a general model of how detrital zircon ages potentially record terrane displacements along or away of continental margins.
[2023–2025, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 23-06708S to J. Žák]
Seagrass/seaweed meadows – overlooked Phanerozoic ecosystems: their identification in the fossil record using organic geochemistry proxies
Seagrass/seaweed meadows are key contributors to the production and accumulation of organic matter in the shelf areas. Since seagrasses/seaweeds are not well predisposed for fossilization, the primary aim of this project is to use a set of organic geochemistry proxies to identify them in the fossil record. Although there are some studies focused on the biogeochemistry of modern seagrass meadows, they have never been tested for the application on pre-Quaternary ecosystems. We plan to employ a simple set of various organic geochemical proxies: determination of thermal maturity of samples, a simple biomarker study and subsequent interpretations using chromatographic analyses of extracts. The presence and distribution of lipid tracers together with the presence of pentacyclic triterpenoids, are useful for understanding of paleo-ecosystems. Aliphatic hydrocarbons are good as recorders of organic matter. Other biomarkers can be used to interpret the depositional conditions such as paleo-salinity, redox conditions.
[2023–2025, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 23-05217S to K. Holcová]
Metabasites of the Jizerské hory (Jizera Mountain) type as a trans-cultural link between Central European Prehistoric communities
Compared to siliceous rock, the non-siliceous rock of European prehistory has received little attention to date. And yet, the materials of polished tools represent a pan-European topic fostering international discussion. The core of the project focuses on the Early and Middle Neolithic environment in central Europe (5500/5400–4500/4300 cal BC, i.e., the Linear pottery culture /LBK/ and the Stroked Pottery culture /SBK/ in the traditional terminology). And yet, the subject also permits a retrospective look into the period of the Upper Mesolithic (c. 6000–5400 cal BC) and the continuity of use of a key material – metabasites of the Jizerské hory type. A methodology of accurate non-destructive mineralogical and geochemical analysis has already been developed for the needs of the project, and attention was paid to this method in recent years. The results of a number of analyses can be compared to existing ethnographic distribution models. The project’s subject offers possibilities for international multidisciplinary cooperation.
[2023–2025, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 23-05334S to P. Burgert, V. Kachlík]
Towards integrated stratigraphy of the Late Paleozoic in eastern equatorial Pangea
The project aims to establish orbitally-tuned and radioisotopically calibrated cyclostratigraphiesin selected Late PaleozoicVariscan basins further integrated with climatic and biotic recordsand correlated in a high resolution to the type areas of marine-based global stages.We plan a robust testing of Late Paleozoic sedimentary successions by a combination ofmethods of sedimentary geology, isotopic geochronology and bio-, litho- and cyclostratigraphyto (1) identify patterns of depositional cyclicity, (2) their duration and (3) origin in varioustectonic and paleogeographic settings of the Upper Silesian Basin, continental basins of theBohemian Massif and the Ruhr and Amasra basins of the former eastern tropical Pangea. Theresults will provide a powerful tool for establishment of a high-resolution orbitally-tuned andradioisotopically (TIMS) calibrated basin stratigraphies. A detailed correlation among the basinsof the north Variscan foreland and its interior will be addressed. The foreland basins will becorrelated (cycle-by-cycle) with orbitally-tuned section of the Donets Basin to refine correlationof West European regional stages to marine-based global stages. Integration of climatic signalfrom geochemical research of paleosols and analysis of fossil record will allow high resolutionreconstruction of climatic and related biotic dynamics.
[2022–2024, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 22-11661K to S. Opluštil]
The Langhian Mediterranean–Paratethys enigma: hydrography based on Nd isotopes proxy on foraminifera revealing changes in paleoceanography
The closure of the Indian–Mediterranean gateway during the Langhian is related with crucial Neogene climatic changes such as the Monterey event, which affected the whole Mediterranean area that spread across several continents. The Mediterranean–Paratethys marine system representing the junction between two oceans is the key area, which experienced important paleoceanographical changes linked with the above mentioned events. The main goal of this project is to provide a global model of oceanographic interactions within the Mediterranean–Paratethys marine system based on innovative geochemical proxies on foraminifera such as high-precision 143Nd/144Nd analyses together with foraminiferal elemental ratios: Mg/Ca, V/Ca, Li/Ca, B/Ca, Ba/Ca and stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen. These geochemical proxies jointly with classical paleoecological and sedimentological approaches should elucidate the origin and evolution of the Mediterranean–Paratethys hydrography in relation to adjacent oceans as well as assess the influences of the global climatic changes and the role of local source variations.
[2020–2022, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 20-05872S to K. Holcová]
The Urals: a unique natural laboratory of crustal growth and supercontinent assembly
The bilateral Czech–Russian project (in collaboration with the Moscow State University) is focused on global plate-tectonic reconstruction of mechanisms and time scales of the Pangea supercontinent amalgamation in Late Palezoic on the basis of a detailed correlation and synthesis of geodynamic evolution of the European Variscides and Uralides and their postcollisional reactivation. Due to the relative scarcity of modern geologic data, most of the field and analytical work will be pursued in the Urals, where three E–W transects across the orogen will be thoroughly documented in terms of structure /tectonics, magmatism, high-precision geochronology (using LA-ICP-MS and TIMS), paleomagnetism, and biostratigraphy. This complex multidisciplinary approach will allow to decipher the evolution of the Uralides in a great detail, including paleotopography and marine transgression–regression cycles. The new data will be merged with the existing data from the Bohemian Massif and European Variscides and integrated into a global-scale synthetic geodynamic model.
[2020–2022, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 20-05011J to J. Žák]
Leading edge instrumental methods in high resolution global Jurassic–Cretaceous boundary correlations
The conceptual approach of proposed research comprises acquisition and evaluation of new geochemical data for the global definition of the Jurassic–Cretaceous boundary in marine environment, their integration with high-resolution magnetostratigraphy, biostratigraphy and sedimentology, and correlation of new and previously studied sections in the multi-proxy mode. The integrated-stratigraphy database will be created. Classic key-sections, such as Kurovice (Czech Republic) and Brodno (Slovakia) will be supplemented by new sections: Snežnica (Slovakia), Rettenbacher (Austria), Silesian Unit (Goleszow, Poland) and Golubac (Serbia). The research will be carried out in cooperation with the International Subcommission on Cretaceous Stratigraphy. Aims of project: acquisition of new geochemical data by integrated high-resolution multi-proxy research and reconstruction of palaeoenvironmental changes on the Jurassic–Cretaceous transition.
[2020–2022, supported Czech Science Foundation project No.20-10035S to P. Pruner, co-PI M. Košťák]
Cherts and carbonates as geochemical proxies of paleoenvironmental conditions and Ocean Plate Stratigraphy
Cherts and carbonates represent widespread members of Ocean Plate Stratigraphy (OPS) from the Archean to present. Their composition reflects different conditions during their deposition, which can be potentially linked to the contrasting and temporally changing processes that occurred on moving oceanic plates. Additionally, they also provide unique insights into the compositional variations in seawater chemistry and temperature as well as redox conditions of their depositional environment. The project is a multi-technique study combining tectonic, structural, and stratigraphic observations with elemental and isotopic (Hf–Nd–Mo–Si–C–O) data to reveal the origin and nature of chert and carbonate successions in ancient OPS sections and test whether they can be used as geochemical proxies for the variable processes occurring on oceanic plates. The project will also contribute to our understanding of paleoenvironmental conditions during the late Proterozoic–Cambrian with implications for global events preceding and synchronous with the Great Cambrian Explosion of life.
[2020–2022, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 20-13644S to L. Ackerman, co-PI J.Žák]
Benthic pterobranchs: undervalued indicators of paleoenvironment
Pterobranch hemichordates are very abundant in the Lower Paleozoic marine sediments.Their fossil record documents that they flourished for more than a hundred million years. Planktic forms, belonging to Graptoloidea, attract attention because of their stratigraphic significance as index fossils. On the other hand, sessile benthic colonial pterobranchs are insufficiently studied taxa despite their potential for broad applications in paleoenvironmental and paleoecologic models, which play a significant role for paleogeographic reconstructions of temperate as well as tropic paleoareas. A study of various diversity, disparity, evolutionary, functional morphologic, taphonomic and paleoecologic aspects is an essential basis for wide-ranging applications of this group in paleobiologic and geologic models. The project is designed for such model studies of selected primary sessile pterobranchs based on selected taxa from different regions, particularly from the Prague Basin (Barrandian).
[2019–2021, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 19-06856S to P. Kraft]
How precisely can we reconstruct Carboniferous tropical forests?
The project is a multi-methodical study of the Carboniferous wetland tropical forest from the view point of its diversity, spatial and temporal heterogeneity, ecological characteristics of plant taxa, their relationship among species of the ecosystem including animal–plant interactions. The study will profit from unique fossil record from superb localities in the Czech Republic and north China, where the wetland tropical forest was buried in situ by volcanic ash (“Carboniferous Pompeii”). Plants are preserved in place of their growth and mode of preservation allows combination of external morphology with anatomy resulting in improvement of whole plant reconstruction as well as of understanding to their physiology and growth strategy, which, in turn, improves our understanding of role of plant species within the ecosystem. Combination with mesofossil and palynological (both dispersed and in situ) studies will provide additional information on diversity of the Carboniferous forest and statistical evaluation of data will enable to generalise obtained results. As a result, we will provide a detailed reconstruction of autecology and synecological characteristics and “behaviour” within the Carboniferous tropical coal forest ecosystem, its structure, diversity and spatiotemporal variability in relationship to environmental changes.
[2019–2021, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 19-06728S to S. Opluštil]
Late Archean granites: markers of modern-style plate tectonics?
This multidisciplinary project addresses the issue of petrogenesis, emplacement processes, and tectonic setting of Late Archean (ca. 2.9–2.6 Ga) granites in the Bienville subprovince, NE Canada. In particular, the project concentrates on analysis of fabric and architecture of selected plutons, numerical modelling of associated crustal strains, determining high-precision radiometric age using laser ablation ICP-MS and ID-TIMS and geochemical composition including trace elements and Rb–Sr, Sm–Nd, and Hf isotopes. The obtained data will be used to interpret the thermal and mechanical conditions in the host rock during emplacement, durations, tempos, and spatial and temporal patterns of plutonism. These interpretations will serve as a basis for a general discussion and testing the hypothesis whether the Late Archean granites record plume-dominated vertical tectonics or whether they record modern-style motions of lithospheric plates.
[2019–2021, supported Czech Science Foundation project No. 19-08066S to J. Žák]