EXPEDITIONS

A little about the science that I do...

I work towards understanding how past climate extremes influenced the evolution of life on Earth. The ultimate aim is to use knowledge of the past to understand the human impact on Earth processes and how we can better integrate with nature to conserve the natural world.

Rocks are like an encyclopaedia recording the entire 4.5 billion year history of the Earth. Layer upon layer of information held within rocks can be used to reconstruct the evolution of life on our planet and how the climate and oceans have transformed over time.  My research has used a number of different geochemical methods to unravel the information held within rocks, from dating techniques using radioactive elements to tell the time a rock was deposited, to studying chemical elements within ancient ocean and lake sediments to understand the evolving chemistry of Earth’s aquatic systems.

Below are some brief insights into some of the current and past projects that I have worked on as a PhD student at Durham University and a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and McGill Universities. Please feel free to contact me for more detailed information, a full list of publications or a copy of my CV. 

 
Clues in ancient lakes: The sediment deposited in lakes holds vital information about climate and life living on the continents in the past. My PhD work looked at lakes in the USA that existed 50 million years ago during a Greenhouse Earth when tropical temperatures sometimes reached the poles! I have also studied 1 billion year old lakes that contain some of the earliest eukaryotes and discovered that these primitive organisms evolved in lakes that contained no oxygen in the water column. 

Clues in ancient lakes:
The sediment deposited in lakes holds vital information about climate and life living on the continents in the past. My PhD work looked at lakes in the USA that existed 50 million years ago during a Greenhouse Earth when tropical temperatures sometimes reached the poles! I have also studied 1 billion year old lakes that contain some of the earliest eukaryotes and discovered that these primitive organisms evolved in lakes that contained no oxygen in the water column. 

Snowball Earth: A ‘Snowball Earth’ is when the entire globe is completely covered in ice, potentially even across the equator! There have been a few times in Earth’s history, during the Precambrian before the rise of complex life, when we think a ‘Snowball Earth’ occurred. The evidence for this is found in the rock record and I work with fellow scientists to understand the causes and consequences of these events and how life could have survived in this extreme environment. 

Snowball Earth:
A ‘Snowball Earth’ is when the entire globe is completely covered in ice, potentially even across the equator! There have been a few times in Earth’s history, during the Precambrian before the rise of complex life, when we think a ‘Snowball Earth’ occurred. The evidence for this is found in the rock record and I work with fellow scientists to understand the causes and consequences of these events and how life could have survived in this extreme environment. 

The rise of atmospheric oxygen: Life giving oxygen that we rely on today only appeared in the Earth’s atmosphere 2.4 billion years ago. I study rocks from this time period to understand how oxygen levels in the atmosphere rose in order to deduce when the planet was able to support more complex forms of life than just single-celled bacteria and algae. I have been using geochemistry to understand more clearly the exact timing and nature of the so called ‘Great Oxidation Event’ and its relationship to early forms of life. 

The rise of atmospheric oxygen:
Life giving oxygen that we rely on today only appeared in the Earth’s atmosphere 2.4 billion years ago. I study rocks from this time period to understand how oxygen levels in the atmosphere rose in order to deduce when the planet was able to support more complex forms of life than just single-celled bacteria and algae. I have been using geochemistry to understand more clearly the exact timing and nature of the so called ‘Great Oxidation Event’ and its relationship to early forms of life. 

Borneo’s fragile coral reefs: The coral triangle off the coast of eastern Borneo has the highest marine biodiversity of anywhere on the planet, but there is strong evidence for human and climate-induced deterioration of the reefs here. I am involved in a project studying carbonate sedimentation and seawater chemistry on these reefs. We will assess the growth rates and health of the reefs as well as the impact of human pollutants and climate change.

Borneo’s fragile coral reefs:
The coral triangle off the coast of eastern Borneo has the highest marine biodiversity of anywhere on the planet, but there is strong evidence for human and climate-induced deterioration of the reefs here. I am involved in a project studying carbonate sedimentation and seawater chemistry on these reefs. We will assess the growth rates and health of the reefs as well as the impact of human pollutants and climate change.

Ancient volcanoes in France: During my undergraduate and masters degrees, I spent several months studying the geology of the Puy de Sancy stratovolcano in the Massif Central of France. This area has a number of dormant volcanoes dating from Pleistocene times. My research involved understanding why these volcanoes erupted in the middle of a tectonic plate and I also spent time helping with volcano education programs in the local area. 

Ancient volcanoes in France:
During my undergraduate and masters degrees, I spent several months studying the geology of the Puy de Sancy stratovolcano in the Massif Central of France. This area has a number of dormant volcanoes dating from Pleistocene times. My research involved understanding why these volcanoes erupted in the middle of a tectonic plate and I also spent time helping with volcano education programs in the local area. 


 

These projects have been carried out in collaboration with fellow scientists at a number of universities and organisations including; Durham University; Harvard University; McGill University, Montreal; Leeds University; Newcastle University; University of California, Riverside; Curtin University, Perth; Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand; and the USGS, Denver. For more information please contact me.