credit: Halleema Allam
  • Assistant Professor, Geology & Geophysics
(801) 587-8846


  • BS, Environmental Science, California Lutheran University. Project: Light/Dark adaptation of octopus retinal physiology
  • PhD, Earth Sciences, University of Southern California. Project: Benthic and pelagic marine ecology following the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction

Research Summary

I study marine ecological transitions over large spatial and temporal scales. Marine invertebrates influence habitat development and structure, as well as regional to global marine chemistry and climate feed-backs. I examine the sedimentary and fossil record of mass extinctions, critical transitions in biogeography, and small scale animal-environment interactions.


Kathleen Ritterbush grew up enjoying the great outdoors of California and the American West, and completed a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Science at California Lutheran University in 2006. She spent a 6-month hiatus sophomore year, as well as two post-graduate years, leading adventure science education field programs for non-profit organizations. She developed new curriculum and field programming for ship, island, and mountain-based education centers, and worked extensively with at-risk urban youth and with demographics underrepresented in science and engineering careers. Ritterbush began a PhD at the University of Southern California in 2008, with adviser David Bottjer. Her field work initially focused in west central Nevada, examining the marine fossil record of Jurassic aftermath from the end-Triassic mass extinction. Discovery of widespread siliceous sponge deposits led her next to work on contemporaneous marine deposits in the central Peruvian Andes, collaborating with Silvia Rosas of the Catholic Pontifical University of Peru in Lima. The combined results of both field sites revealed that sea sponges dramatically expanded their habitats across Pangea’s shoreline in the two million years following the mass extinction. This exciting result formed the basis of a million dollar “Earth/Life Transitions” grant awarded by the National Science Foundation to a team of researchers at USC, led by Frank Corsetti, and including geochemists Will Berelson and Josh West in addition to paleontologists Ritterbush and Bottjer. Ritterbush led field work in Nevada and Peru for the team and assisted in training new graduate students. Meanwhile, in December 2013 she moved to the University of Chicago to research statistics of global biogeography and extinction risk of fossil life, advised by Michael Foote (U Chicago) and Arnie Miller (U Cincinnati), funded by their NASA Exobiology grant. After presenting research results across the country, in Europe, and South America, Ritterbush joined the faculty of the Geology and Geophysics Department at the University of Utah in July, 2015. She is currently establishing a microscopy lab and recruiting masters and PhD students to begin field work in summer or fall, 2016.