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Dr Jonathan Dean: Stable Isotope Apprentice – January 2014

Jonathan Dean has recently joined NIGL for 2 years as an Isotope Apprentice, and will be working on a variety of projects in the Stable Isotope Group. He was previously based in the School of Geography, University of Nottingham, where his PhD research focused on oxygen isotope analysis of carbonates and diatoms and uranium-thorium dating of lake sediments from Nar Gölü in central Turkey.

  Dr Jonathan Dean

Professor Melanie Leng to join major science review panel – October 2013

Melanie will join the NERC Peer Review College (NERC PRC) as a Core Panel Member from 1st January 2014. The Core panel members have lead responsibility for attending moderating Panel meetings to ensure consistency within and between different Panel areas and funding schemes.

  Professor Melanie Leng

Dr Sarah Bennett: Stable Isotope Research Geochemist – May 2013

Sarah joins NIGL to carry out research in areas of hydrochemistry, pollution studies and surficial and solid earth geochemistry. Sarah’s previous research focussed on the chemistry and biology of deep-sea hydrothermal systems. She joins us from California where she carried out two post docs, one in microbiology at the University of Southern California and one in geochemistry at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She carried out her PhD research at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

  Dr Sarah Bennett

Dr Andrea Snelling: Isotope Apprentice – 2013

Andrea Snelling joins NIGL as an isotope apprentice to work on stable isotope analysis and mass spectrometry on a variety of projects.

  Dr Andrea Snelling

Dr Nick Roberts: new appointment - BGS-NIGL ICP-MS Laboratory Manager and Scientist - October 2012

Nick manages the BGS-NIGL ICP-MS laboratory, which houses the Attom and Spectro sector-field mass-spectrometers. Nick is involved in developing laser ablation methodologies, for both isotopic and elemental analysis of a range of solid materials; this will include the development of collaborative research between the BGS and NIGL. Since finishing his PhD at the University of Leicester in 2010, Nick has been working in the PIMS facility at NIGL, primarily focussing on LA-ICP-MS U-Th-Pb geochronology.

  Dr Nick Roberts

UK Ex Comm member appointed to ICDP - September 2012

In April this year the BGS invested in membership of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) on behalf of the Earth science sector to build national capability for the UK geoscience community. Subsequently, Prof Melanie Leng (Leicester/BGS) has been appointed to the Executive Committee (EC) of ICDP to represent the UK membership.

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  Melanie Lang

Quaternary Science Reviews - August 2012

Congratulations to Prof Melanie Leng who has been re-appointed to the Advisory Board of the international multidisciplinary research and review journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

QSR is one of the top Quaternary journals with an impact factor of 3.973.

  Quaternary Science reviews

Melanie Leng: reappointed Honorary Professor – August 2012

Mel has been reappointed as an Honorary Professor in the School of Geography, The University of Nottingham, for a further three years from 1/8/12. The appointment is on the basis of Mel being a distinguished practitioner in the field of isotopes in environmental change research and is aimed at strengthening links between the BGS and the university.

  Melanie Leng

Melanie Leng appointed as Professor of Isotope Geosciences - December 2011

Mel has been appointed as a Professor in the Department of Geology, University of Leicester. She will be increasing the already successful application of stable isotope geochemistry to the department’s teaching and research portfolio, and will be contributing to the vibrant Crustal Processes research group. She will continue to manage the Stable Isotope Group at NIGL, and aims to strengthen links between BGS and the university sector.

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  Melanie Leng

Associate Editor for G3 (Geophysics, Geochemistry, Geosystems) - December 2011

Congratulations to Melanie Leng who has become an Associate Editor for G-cubed for 2 years (2012–14). She will be co-handling papers for the theme "Development of Isotopic Proxies for Paleoenvironmental Interpretation: A Carbon Perspective (DIPPI-C)".

  Melanie Leng

NERC's Peer Review College - September 2011

Congratulations to Dr Tim Heaton and Dr Jane Evans who have been nominated to sit on the NERC Peer Review College from September 2011 to September 2014.

  NERC logo

Jane Evans appointed Special Associate Professor - June 2010

Congratulations to Jane Evans who has been appointed Special Associate Professor in the School of Humanities at the University of Nottingham. The appointment is on the basis of Jane being a distinguished practitioner in the field of isotopes in archaeological science and is aimed at strengthening links between BGS and the university.

  Dr Jane Evans

Silicon Editorial Board appointment for Prof Melanie Leng – February 2009

Congratulations to Melanie Leng on her appointment to the Editorial Advisory Board of Silicon. The appointment is to run for two years. Silicon is an international, interdisciplinary journal solely devoted to the most important element of the 21st Century. Silicon’s coverage is unique in presenting all areas of silicon research and development across all disciplines. Silicon is a quarterly journal publishing the very latest cutting edge research in materials chemistry, materials physics, materials biology, materials engineering and environmental science.

  Silicon magazine cover

Professor Sarah Metcalfe awarded Visiting Research Associate – November 2008

Sarah Metcalfe (School of Geography, Nottingham University) has been awarded a VRA at NIGL/BGS. Sarah will be spending her time at NIGL working with Melanie Leng on improved understanding of controls on isotopic composition of Mexican lake systems to develop their use to reconstruct changes in the Mexican monsoon. This will also be tied in with their mutual interest in comparing the tropical Americas with the near East and the balance between mid-latitude and tropical climate systems over time.

  Professor Sarah Metcalfe

Congratulations to Professor Parrish

Randy Parrish has accepted the position of European Editor of Precambrian Research from September 2007:
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  Precambrian research

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PhD's awarded

March 2014 – Congratulations to Hayley Manners on the successful defence of her thesis: A Multi-Proxy Study of the Palaeocene - Eocene Thermal Maximum in Northern Spain.

At the boundary between the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs (ca. 56 Ma) a significant global warming event, termed the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), occurred. Records of this event are characterised by a negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE) which has been associated with the release of thousands of petagrams of isotopically light carbon into the ocean-atmosphere system, initiating changes in the carbon cycle, the climate system, ocean chemistry and the marine and continental ecosystems. The amount of isotopically light carbon that was required to cause the event, its source and the rapidity of its release are, however, are still debated. This study uses δ13CTOC, δ13Cn-alkane, δ13<CCARB and palynological data to evaluate the PETM CIE in terms of the magnitude of the CIE in both continental and marine settings, rapidity of release and drawdown of carbon, and mobilisation of different organic matter (OM) pools as a response to the climate change. The sections studied span a continental to marine transect in northern Spain. This represents the first organic geochemical study of these PETM sections, one of the first comparisons of CIE magnitude between continental and marine sections within the same sediment routing system, and one of the first comparisons of the same OM proxies within different depositional


environments. The data suggest that different OM pools were mobilised in response to the PETM, with reworking of older material, soil residence times, and contemporaneous vegetation all contributing. CIE profile shapes predominantly suggest a rapid onset and recovery from the event. The magnitude of the CIE was also assessed. The current resolution of the data suggests that the differences between continental and marine CIE magnitudes could be minimal within a single sediment routing system, perhaps establishing a realistic CIE magnitude for the PETM, for use in future modelling scenarios.

Hayley Manners

Hayley’s main supervisor was Dr Stephen Grimes (Plymouth) and Prof Melanie Leng at BGS.

March 2014 – Congratulations to Jonathan Dean who gained his PhD entitled: Stable Isotope Analysis and U-Th Dating of Late Glacial and Holocene Lacustrine Sediments from Central Turkey.

Water is a politically sensitive resource in the Near East and water stress is increasing. It is therefore vital that there is a strong understanding of past hydrological variability, so that the drivers of change can be better understood, and so that the links between the palaeoclimate and archaeological records in this key region in the development of human civilisation can be investigated. To be of most use, this requires high resolution records and a good understanding of palaeoseasonality. A sediment sequence spanning ~14,000 years was retrieved from Nar Gölü, a lake in central Turkey. My thesis focussed in particular on oxygen isotope analysis of carbonates and comparing δ18Ocarbonate and δ18Odiatom data in order to examine palaeoseasonality. Due to the high resolution δ18Ocarbonate data, it was possible to show that the rapidity of the Younger Dryas to Holocene transition at Nar Gölü was similar to that seen in North Atlantic records and that centennial scale arid events in the Holocene seem to occur at the time of cold periods in the North Atlantic. Taken together, this suggests a strong teleconnection between the two regions. However, the longer duration of the aridity peaks ~9,300 and ~8,200 years BP at Nar Gölü, compared with the more


discrete cooling events at this time in the North Atlantic, suggest that there are additional controls on Near East hydroclimate. There is a multi-millennial scale trend of increasing δ18Ocarbonate values from the early to late Holocene. This ‘Mid Holocene Transition’ has previously been identified in the Near East, however here it is demonstrated that water balance and not a shift in the seasonality of precipitation was the primary cause. Finally, for the first time, the stability of Near East climate in the early Holocene is robustly demonstrated, suggesting that this could have been a key enabler of the development of agriculture at this time.

Jon was supervised at University of Nottingham by Dr Matthew Jones and Prof Sarah Metcalfe, at NIGL he was supported by Dr Stephen Noble and Prof Melanie Leng

Jon Dean

December 2013 – congratulations to Sven Könitzer who was granted a doctorate for his PhD research entitled: Primary biological controls on UK Lower Namurian shale gas prospectivity: A step towards understanding a major potential UK unconventional gas resource.

Sven’s research is the first to analyse the abundance and type of organic matter preserved in deeper-water mudstones deposited in a Late Mississippian UK basin alongside a detailed sedimentological study to determine the key depositional processes and the palaeoenvironment. This study is a key step in understanding where, and why, organic matter is concentrated in fine-grained sedimentary rocks. Mudstones of this age, deposited across central and northern England, are known oil and gas source rocks and are currently the focus of attention for onshore shale gas exploration. Shale gas is formed from organic matter present during maturation and is mostly retained in the same rock formation.


Sven Könitzer

Sven was supervised by Prof Sarah Davies (Leicester) and Prof Mike Stephenson, Prof Melanie Leng, and Dr Chris Vane at the BGS

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December 2012 - Congratulations to Katie Egan, who has recently defended her Ph.D. entitled: New insights into Cenozoic silicon cycling in the Southern Ocean: refined application of silicon isotope ratios in biogenic opal".

The marine silicon and carbon cycles are intrinsically linked by a unique group of primary producers; the diatoms. Diatoms play a significant role in carbon export, making them a critical component of the global biological carbon pump with the power to affect climatic change. In this thesis, the silicon isotope composition (δ30Si) preserved in diatom opal is used together with the δ30Si of sponge opal, a powerful new proxy for deepwater silicic acid concentration, to document the Cenozoic Silicon cycle, shedding light on its role in carbon cycling and global climatic change. This study has developed a novel size-separation methodology to produce the first core top calibration of diatom δ30Si. This calibration demonstrates that diatom &delta30Si exhibits a strong negative correlation with surface water silicic acid concentration, supportive of its application as a proxy for silicic acid utilisation. The refined method is used to produce a diatom δ30Si record, for the first time combined with sponge δ30Si, to gain insight into the Southern Ocean silicon cycle over one of the largest Cenozoic


climatic shifts; the onset of Antarctic glaciation (~33.7Ma). The two proxy records yield the first geochemical footprint which demonstrates the coincident proliferation of diatoms with the onset of Antarctic circumpolar flow as a precursor event to the Eocene-Oligocene boundary.

Katie Egan

Katie was supervised by Ros Rickerby at the University of Oxford and Melanie Leng at NIGL

November 2012 - Congratulations to Helen Cockerton, who has recently defended her Ph.D. entitled: "Late-glacial and Holocene variations in the Si cycle in the Nile Basin: multi-isotope evidence from modern waters and lake sediments".

Until recently the continental Si cycle at Quaternary (decadal to million-year) time scales has been largely neglected. Emphasis was placed on silicate-rock weathering and resulting CO2 drawdown on geological time scales, rather than on shorter-term biogenic processes occurring along the land-ocean continuum. The ability of some terrestrial plants (e.g. tropical rainforest trees, savanna and wetland grasses, Papyrus) and aquatic organisms (e.g. diatoms in lakes, rivers and swamps) to take up, store and recycle significant amounts of Si is increasingly being recognised, although their impact on the continental Si cycle and Si export to the oceans under different climatic regimes remains unquantified. The main aim of this thesis was to reconstruct spatial and temporal patterns of Si cycling in the Nile Basin during the last 15,000 years.Seasonal variations in hydrology and Si cycling in the Nile Basin were investigated using stable isotope (H, O, and Si) compositions of surface waters, as a basis for interpreting lacustrine diatom sequences. Si- and O-isotope analysis of diatom silica in cores from Lakes Victoria and Edward, in the headwaters of the White Nile, were employed to reconstruct changes in biotic Si cycling and palaeohydrology, respectively. The relative abundances of lipid biomarkers (hydrocarbon-fraction) permitted major changes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to be tracked. During drier conditions (e.g. the last glacial and late Holocene) (high δ18Odiatom), Si cycling was greatly reduced.


Diminished biomass, reduced biotic weathering, a declining soil stock of amorphous silica (ASi) and decreased run-off in the catchment resulted in biological demand for Si (high δ30Sidiatom). In contrast, enhanced monsoon rainfall (low δ18Odiatom) during the early to mid-Holocene enabled the proliferation of vegetation in the catchment, which in turn accelerated silicate-rock weathering and the mobilisation of DSi in surface runoff, providing a plentiful supply of Si (low δ30Sidiatom). Both the modern waters and palaeo-records indicate that the riverine flux of Si to the oceans on glacial \ interglacial time scales was not constant; resulting in important implications for the marine Si budget and consequently the global C cycle.

Helen Cockerton

Helen was based at the University of Swansea

April 2012 - Congratulations to Holly Miller who recently passed her PhD entitled "The Origins of Nomadic Pastoralism in the Southern Levant: stable isotope, chipped stone and architectural analysis of archaeological evidence".

Herded sheep and goats were introduced to the steppic region of Eastern Jordan late in the seventh millennium cal BC. The evidence for initial pastoral activities in this arid area, some 500 years after domestic caprines are known to have been kept at large village sites in the neighbouring and more hospitable Mediterranean regions, suggests that these early herding groups began to develop a lifeway that pastoral nomads continue to live in some regions of the world today.

13C/12C and 15N/14N ratios from the bone collagen of animal remains from Mediterranean sites, where C4 plants were less common and water availability was greater, was compared to those of the steppic sites, where C4 vegetation was abundant and water scarce. The results of this study were used to pinpoint the foraging range of the herded animals, suggesting the regions in which they, and their accompanying herders, spent lengths of time. It was determined that differences in the isotopic ratios of animals from two sites in the arid region signify different herding strategies used to bring animals to the area. Animals from one site have indications of a diet that included Mediterranean vegetation, suggesting that their herders had more frequent contact with village groups. At the second site, animal diets, and thus movements, were restricted to the steppe, suggesting the development of a lifestyle based around frequent mobility within the arid regions, and allowing the rejection of a theory that stated early Neolithic Southern Levantine herding was village based.

In combination with chipped stone and architectural analysis, the results of the stable isotope study have allowed an investigation of the social and economic behaviours and practices of the communities that initially saw the potential of the Southern Levantine steppe as an area for pastoral activities.


Holly Miller

Liverpool supervisors- Drs Jessica Pearson and Douglas Baird, NIGL- Dr Angela Lamb and Mrs Carolyn Chenery

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A full list of publications can be found in the NIGL Annual Reports. This section highlights some of our high-impact papers as they go to press. A full list of NERC staff publications and outputs can be found in the NERC Open Research Archive (NORA)

Journal of Sedimentary Research – March 2014

Deep-water mudstones from ancient epicontinental settings are significant repositories for organic matter, but the detailed temporal variations of, and controls on, the abundance and type of organic matter (OM) is little studied. Using micro-petrographic and geochemical data from late Mississippian mudstones of the Widmerpool Gulf, UK, the processes that delivered fine-grained sediment to this basin during a glacioeustatic sea-level cycle are interpreted from detailed lithofacies analysis. Seven primary lithofacies are identified from core, which show specific and systematic variations in total organic carbon (TOC) content and bulk carbon isotope composition of organic material (δ13Corg). During sea-level highstands, thin-bedded carbonate-bearing mudstones are the dominant facies deposited, contain up to 6.6% TOC (average 4.6±1.3%), and have mean δ13Corg of &nda28.5±0.9‰. During phases of lower sea level, thin-bedded silt-bearing clay-rich mudstones with up to 4.1% TOC (average 2.3±0.8%; mean δ13Corg: –28.2±1.0‰) were interbedded with more organic-lean graded silt-bearing mudstones and sand-bearing silt-rich mudstones (average TOC: 1.7±0.6%) derived from turbidity currents. The latter (mean δ13Corg: –26.2±0.7‰) are closely linked to significant proportions of terrestrial plant material, while some rare plant debris- and sand-bearing mudstones produced from debris flows have more than 7.0% TOC and δ≥–26.0‰.


Journal of Sedimentary Research

The δ13C values of wood fragments ranged from –27.1‰ to –24.0‰ and therefore the δ13Corg is interpreted as a function of the ratio of marine and terrestrial organic matter. More negative values in the carbonate-bearing and the clay-rich mudstones indicate marine planktonic algae whereas the least negative values reflect greater contribution of terrestrial plant material. The data suggest that the marine conditions prevailed and supported marine planktonic algae throughout different sea-level stages. Marine OM was delivered to the sea floor by continuous hemipelagic settling whereas terrestrial OM was delivered by sediment density flows. Variations in bioproductivity and dilution by siliciclastics influenced the burial rate of marine OM. Organic-rich mudstones preserved in these marine basins are potential hydrocarbon source rocks, especially as unconventional (shale gas) reservoirs. Detailed microtextural and compositional analysis coupled with rigorous geochemical parameters as used in this study are important for the understanding of the source-rock potential of basinal mudstones, and of fine-grained organic-rich sediments in general.

Konitzer, S.F., Davies, S.J., Stephensin, M.H., Leng, M.J. 2014. Depositional Controls On Mudstone Lithofacies In A Basinal Setting: Implications for the Delivery of Sedimentary Organic Matter. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 84, 198-214.

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Climate of the Past – February 2014

The 74 (75) ka Toba eruption in Sumatra, Indonesia, is considered to be one of the largest volcanic events during the Quaternary. Tephra from the Toba eruption has been found in many terrestrial and marine sedimentary deposits, and acidity peaks related to the eruption have been used to synchronize ice core records from Greenland and Antarctica. Seismic profiles and sedimentological data from Lake Prespa on the Balkan Peninsula, SE Europe, indicate a lake level lowstand at 73.6 ± 7.7 ka based on ESR dating of shells. Tephrostratigraphy, radiocarbon dating and tuning of the total organic carbon content with the NGRIP isotope record, corroborate that the lake level lowstand was a short-term event superimposed on the general cooling trend at the end of MIS 5, most likely at the onset of the Greenland Stadial GS-20. Acknowledging that tectonic events or karst


Climate of the past

processes could have triggered this lake level lowstand, the chronological correspondence between the lowstand and the Toba eruption is intriguing. Therefore a Toba-driven short-term shift to aridity in the Balkan region, leading to lake level changes and triggering spatial expansion events in one of the lake's most abundant benthic species, the carino mussel Dreissena presbensis, cannot be excluded.

Citation: Wagner, B., Leng, M. J., Wilke, T., Böhm, A., Panagiotopoulos, K., Vogel, H., Lacey, J. H., Zanchetta, G., and Sulpizio, R.: Distinct lake level lowstand in Lake Prespa (SE Europe) at the time of the 74 (75) ka Toba eruption, Clim. Past, 10, 261-267, doi:10.5194/cp-10-261-2014, 2014.

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Geobiology – January 2014

Iron (Fe) oxidizing bacteria have the potential to produce morphologically unique structures that may be used as biosignatures in geological deposits. One particular example is Mariprofundus ferrooxydans, which produces extracellular twisted ribbon-like stalks consisting of ferrihydrite, co-located with organic and inorganic elements. It is currently thought that M. ferrooxydans excrete and co-precipitate polysaccharides and Fe simultaneously, however the cellular production of these polysaccharides has yet to be confirmed. Here, we report on a time series study that used scanning



transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) and C 1s and Ca 2p near-edge X-ray adsorption fine structure (NEXAFS) spectroscopy to investigate production of polysaccharides over the growth cycle of M. ferrooxydans.

Sarah A. Bennett, Brandy M. Toner, Roman Barco and Katrina J. Edwards. 2014. Carbon adsorption by Fe oxyhydroxide stalks produced by a lithotrophic iron-oxidizing bacteria. Geobiology DOI:10.1111/gbi.12074

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Quaternary Science Reviews – October 2013

The Limfjord region of northern Jutland, Denmark, supports a rich archaeological record dating back to the Mesolithic, which documents long-term change in human practices and utilisation of marine resources since approximately 7500 BP. The presence and availability of marine resources in the Limfjord is sensitively regulated by environmental parameters such as salinity, sedimentary regime, nutrient status and primary productivity, but long-term changes in these parameters are currently poorly understood. In this study a multiproxy approach (including sedimentary parameters, diatoms, molluscs, foraminifera, sedimentary pigments, C and O stable isotopes and plant macrofossils) has been adopted to assess environmental change over the period ca 7500–1500 cal yrs BP at Kilen, a coastal fjord (before AD 1856) situated in the Western Limfjord. A diatom-based salinity transfer function based on a pan-Baltic training set has been applied to the fossil diatom dataset for quantitative assessment of salinity change over the study period. This study demonstrates that large-scale shifts in salinity are a common feature of the Limfjord's long-term history and are driven by the level of connection with the North Sea and the Skagerrak respectively,


Quaternary Science Review

which in turn is likely driven by the complex interplay between climate, sea-level change, current velocity and rates of erosion/sedimentary accretion. Three shifts in state at Kilen are identified over the study period: a deep, periodically stratified fjord with medium–high salinity (and high productivity) between ca 7500–5000 BP, followed by a gradual transition to a shallow benthic system with more oceanic conditions (i.e. higher salinity, lower productivity, slower sedimentary accumulation rate and poorer fossil preservation) after ca 5000 BP and no stratification after ca 4400 BP, and lastly, within this shallow phase, an abrupt shift to brackish conditions around 2000 BP. Environmental–societal interactions are discussed on the basis of the data presented in this study and current environmental hypotheses for cultural change are challenged.

Jonathan P. Lewis, David B. Ryves, Peter Rasmussen Karen L. Knudsen, Kaj S. Petersen, Jesper Olsen, Melanie J. Leng, Peter Kristensen, Suzanne McGowan, Bente Philippsen. 2013. Environmental change in the Limfjord, Denmark (ca 7500–1500 cal yrs BP): a multiproxy study. Quaternary Science Reviews, 78, 126–140.

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Palaeo3 – October 2013

The Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, δ18O and δ13C compositions are given for well-preserved specimens of ten belemnite species/genera from three stratigraphic intervals. The data help assess the use of these proxies for palaeo-oceanography. Samples are from Dorset, UK (Pliensbachian; 5 species); Cambridgeshire, UK (Callovian; 1 species); and the Vocontian Basin, SE France (Valanginian; 4 genera). In none of these belemnite populations (at species or genera level) does Mg/Ca correlate with δ18O. Neither do values of δ18O correlate with Mg/Ca along a microsampled radial profile across a single specimen of



Cylindroteuthis puzosiana (Callovian). The use of Mg/Ca is therefore considered to be unreliable as a palaeo-temperature indicator for these belemnite species and genera.

Q. Li, J.M. McArthur, P. Doyle, N. Janssen, M.J. Leng, W. Müller, S. Reboulet. 2013. Evaluating Mg/Ca in belemnite calcite as a palaeo-proxy. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 388, 98-108.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – July 2013

The spread of farming from western Asia to Europe had profound long-term social and ecological impacts, but identification of the specific nature of Neolithic land management practices and the dietary contribution of early crops has been problematic. Here, we present previously undescribed stable isotope determinations of charred cereals and pulses from 13 Neolithic sites across Europe (dating ca. 5900–2400 cal B.C.), which show that early farmers used livestock manure and water management to enhance crop yields. Intensive manuring inextricably linked plant cultivation and animal herding and contributed to the remarkable resilience of these combined practices across diverse climatic zones. Critically, our findings suggest that commonly


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

applied paleodietary interpretations of human and herbivore δ15N values have systematically underestimated the contribution of crop-derived protein to early farmer diets.

Amy Bogaard, Rebecca Fraser, Tim H. E. Heaton, Michael Wallace, Petra Vaiglova, Michael Charles, Glynis Jones, Richard P. Evershed, Amy K. Styring, Niels H. Andersen, Rose-Marie Arbogast, László Bartosiewicz, Armelle Gardeisen, Marie Kanstrup, Ursula Maier, Elena Marinova, Lazar Ninov, Marguerita Schäfer, and Elisabeth Stephan. 2013. Crop manuring and intensive land management by Europe’s first farmers. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1305918110.

Global and Planetary Change – July 2013

Long (multi-millennial), continuous lake pollen records have provided insights into terrestrial ecosystem responses to orbital- and sub-orbital-scale climate forcing. By comparison, the potential of diatoms and stable isotopes to provide additional insights into limnetic response over comparable timescales has not been explored to the same extent, particularly in the Mediterranean region, even though such proxies are known to respond sensitively and rapidly to environmental change. Here we present a 19,000-year multiproxy record of limnetic change in the Ioannina basin, NW Greece, spanning the penultimate interglacial–glacial transition and the early penultimate glacial (c. 189–170 ka BP). The diatom record, the first from this interval in Southern Europe, reveals that lake conditions changed in concert with muted millennial-scale climate oscillations thought to originate in the North Atlantic, demonstrating clearly the sensitivity of diatoms to sub-orbital climate variability. Diatom and isotope-inferred changes in lake conditions coincided with the MIS 7/6 transition, whilst the new δ18O record suggests


Global and Planetary Change

increased moisture availability in SE Europe during MIS 6.5, adding support for a Mediterranean-wide increase in precipitation. Comparison with pollen data from the same sequence demonstrates that lake and terrestrial ecosystems co-varied, with no delay in forest expansion in response to climate change during this interval. Substantial changes in lake conditions contrast with subdued changes in catchment vegetation during an 8000 year-long cold interval in the early penultimate glacial. This may reflect differences in limnetic and terrestrial thresholds of response to environmental change, and perhaps also the influence of site specific factors in modulating terrestrial ecosystem response.

Wilson, Graham, Frogley, M., Roucoux, K., Jones, T., Leng, M., Lawson, I. and Hughes, P. (2013) Limnetic and terrestrial responses to climate change during the onset of the penultimate glacial stage in NW Greece. Global and Planetary Change, 107. pp. 213-225.

Journal of Paleolimnology – May 2013

Isotope geochemistry is an essential part of environmental and climate change research and over the last few decades has contributed significantly to our understanding of a huge array of environmental problems, not least in palaeolimnology and limnogeology. Here we describe some of the recent developments in the use of stable isotopes in palaeo-lake research. These are: better preparation, analysis, and interpretation of biogenic silica oxygen and silicon isotopes; extraction and characterisation of specific compounds such as leaf waxes and algal lipids for isotope analysis; determining the excess of 13C-18O bonds in


Journal of Paleolimnology

clumped isotopes; and the measurement of multiple isotope ratios in chironomid chitin. These advances have exciting prospects and it will be interesting to see how these techniques develop further and consequently offer a real advancement in our science over the next decade.

Leng, M.J. and Henderson, A.C.G. 2013. Recent advances in isotopes as palaeolimnological proxies. Journal of Paleolimnology, 49, 481-496.

Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, 2nd Edition – April 2013

The second revised edition of the Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, provides both students and professionals with an up-to-date reference work on this important and highly varied area of research. There are lots of new articles, and many of the articles that appeared in the first edition have been updated to reflect advances in knowledge since 2006, when the original articles were written.

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Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science

This new edition includes an update of:

Leng, M.J., Barker, P.A., Swann, G.E.A., Snelling, A.M. 2013. δ18O Records. In: Elias, S.A. (ed). The Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science, vol. 1, pp.481-488. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Paleoceanography – April 2013

The development of a permanent, stable ice sheet in East Antarctica happened during the middle Miocene, about 14 million years (Myr) ago. The middle Miocene therefore represents one of the distinct phases of rapid change in the transition from the “greenhouse” of the early Eocene to the “icehouse” of the present day. Carbonate carbon isotope records of the period immediately following the main stage of ice sheet development reveal a major perturbation in the carbon system, represented by the positive δ13C excursion known as carbon maximum 6 (“CM6”), which has traditionally been interpreted as reflecting increased burial of organic matter and atmospheric pCO2 drawdown. More recently, it has been suggested that the δ13C excursion records a negative feedback resulting from the reduction of silicate weathering and an increase in atmospheric pCO2.



Here we present high-resolution multi-proxy (alkenone carbon and foraminiferal boron isotope) records of atmospheric carbon dioxide and sea surface temperature across CM6. Similar to previously published records spanning this interval, our records document a world of generally low (~300 ppm) atmospheric pCO2 at a time generally accepted to be much warmer than today. Crucially, they also reveal a pCO2 decrease with associated cooling, which demonstrates that the carbon burial hypothesis for CM6 is feasible and could have acted as a positive feedback on global cooling.

Badger M, Lear C, Pancost R, Foster G, Bailey T, Leng M, Abels H. 2013. CO2 drawdown following the middle Miocene expansion of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Paleoceanography 28, 42–53.

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Nature Geoscience – April 2013

Over the past 50 years, warming of the Antarctic Peninsula has been accompanied by accelerating glacier mass loss and the retreat and collapse of ice shelves. A key driver of ice loss is summer melting; however, it is not usually possible to specifically reconstruct the summer conditions that are critical for determining ice melt in Antarctic. Here we reconstruct changes in ice-melt intensity and mean temperature on the northern Antarctic Peninsula since AD 1000 based on the identification of visible melt layers in the James Ross Island ice core and local mean annual temperature estimates from the deuterium content of the ice. During the past millennium, the coolest conditions and lowest melt occurred from about AD 1410 to 1460, when mean temperature was 1.6°C lower than that of 1981–2000. Since the late 1400s, there has been a nearly tenfold increase in melt intensity from 0.5 to 4.9%.


Nature Geoscience

The warming has occurred in progressive phases since about AD 1460, but intensification of melt is nonlinear, and has largely occurred since the mid-twentieth century. Summer melting is now at a level that is unprecedented over the past 1,000 years. We conclude that ice on the Antarctic Peninsula is now particularly susceptible to rapid increases in melting and loss in response to relatively small increases in mean temperature.

Nerilie J. Abram, Robert Mulvaney, Eric W. Wolff, Jack Triest, Sepp Kipfstuhl, Luke D. Trusel, Françoise Vimeux, Louise Fleet & Carol Arrowsmith. 2013. Acceleration of snow melt in an Antarctic Peninsula ice core during the twentieth century. Nature Geoscience. Online.

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Quaternary Science Reviews – April 2013

The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth, but its palaeoenvironmental history south of 63° latitude is relatively poorly documented, relying principally on the marine geological record and short ice cores. In this paper, we present evidence of late-Quaternary environmental change from the Marguerite Bay region combining data from lake sediment records on Horseshoe Island and Pourquoi-Pas Island, and raised beaches at Horseshoe Island, Pourquoi-Pas Island and Calmette Bay. Lake sediments were radiocarbon dated and analysed using a combination of sedimentological, geochemical and microfossil methods. Raised beaches were surveyed and analysed for changes in clast composition, size and roundness. Results suggest a non-erosive glacial regime could have existed on Horseshoe Island from 35,780 (38,650–33,380) or 32,910 (34,630–31,370) cal yr BP onwards.


Quaternary Science Reviews

There is radiocarbon and macrofossil evidence for possible local deglaciation events at 28,830 (29,370–28,320) cal yr BP, immediately post-dating Antarctic Isotopic Maximum 4, and 21,110 (21,510–20,730 interpolated) cal yr BP coinciding with, or immediately post-dating, Antarctic Isotopic Maximum 2. The Holocene deglaciation of Horseshoe Island commenced from 10,610 (11,000–10,300) cal yr BP at the same time as the early Holocene temperature maximum recorded in Antarctic ice cores.

Late Quaternary environmental changes in Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula,inferred from lake sediments and raised beaches. (2013) Dominic A. Hodgson; Stephen J. Roberts; James A. Smith; Elie Verleyen; Mieke Sterken; Minke Labarqueb; Koen Sabbe; Wim Vyverman; Claire S. Allen; Melanie J. Leng; Charlotte Bryant. Quaternary Science Reviews 68: 216–236.

Journal of Climate “ The Freshwater System West of the Antarctic Peninsula ” – April 2013

Climate change west of the Antarctic Peninsula is the most rapid of anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, with associated changes in the rates and distributions of freshwater inputs to the ocean. Here, results from the first comprehensive survey of oxygen isotopes in seawater in this region are used to quantify spatial patterns of meteoric water (glacial discharge and precipitation) separately from sea ice melt. High levels of meteoric water are found close to the coast, due to orographic effects on precipitation and strong glacial discharge. Concentrations decrease offshore, driving significant southward geostrophic flows (up to ~30 cm s−1).


Journal of Climate

These produce high meteoric water concentrations at the southern end of the sampling grid, where collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf may also have contributed. As the regional freshwater system evolves, the continuing isotope monitoring described here will elucidate the ongoing impacts on climate and the ecosystem.

Michael P. Meredith, Hugh J. Venables, and Andrew Clarke, Hugh W. Ducklow and Matthew Erickson, Melanie J. Leng, Jan T. M. Lenaerts and Michiel R. van den Broek. 2013. The Freshwater System West of the Antarctic Peninsula: Spatial and Temporal Changes. Journal of Climate, 26, p. 1669-1684.

Special issue of the journal “Quaternary Science Reviews: Isotopes and Lakes” edited by Prof Melanie Leng – March 2013

Isotope geochemistry is increasingly an essential part of environmental and climate change research and now routinely contributes to our understanding of many critical environmental problems, which span the whole of Earth system science and not least in palaeolimnology and limnogeology. The International Association of Limnogeology organises an international conference every four years. The fifth International Limnogeology Congress, ILIC V, was held in Konstanz, Germany, from August 31st - September 3rd, 2011. During this congress we identified several papers where isotope methodologies were used in a particularly novel way, or provided an ‘added value’ data set.


Quaternary Science Reviews

Many of these are brought together in this volume as a series of state-of-the-art papers dealing with various aspects of isotopes in lake sediment archives. These papers are themed under isotopes in contemporary processes, isotopes in diatom silica from lake sediments, isotopes in organic materials in lake sediments, and isotopes in carbonates from lake sediments. The journal editors of this volume are Prof Melanie J. Leng (British Geological Survey and University of Leicester), Prof Phillip A. Barker (Lancaster University) and Prof Antje Schwalb (Universität Braunschweig,Germany).

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Palaeo3 – March 2013

The Early Jurassic Epoch was a predominantly greenhouse phase of Earth history, but a comprehensive understanding of its climate dynamics is hampered by a lack of high resolution multi-proxy environmental records. Here we report a geologically brief (approximately several hundred thousand years) negative carbon isotope excursion in both marine and terrestrial materials, recognised for the first time for the Late Sinemurian Substage (Early Jurassic, ~194 Ma) of eastern England. The Late Sinemurian carbon isotope excursion,



which is termed the S-CIE, is accompanied by peaks in the abundance of various pollen grains...

Riding, J.B., Leng, M.J., Kender, S., Hasselbo, S.P., Feist-Burkhardt, S. 2013. Isotopic and palynological evidence for a new Early Jurassic environmental perturbation. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 374, 16-27.

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Elements – February 2013

The current issue of Elements Magazine is entitled ‘100 years of Isotope Geochronology’ and is co-edited by Dr Dan Condon (NIGL) and includes a several papers co-authored by Dan Condon and Matt Horstwood.

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters – January 2013

Understanding the response of the Antarctic ice sheets during the rapid climatic change that accompanied the last deglaciation has implications for establishing the susceptibility of these regions to future 21st Century warming. A unique diatom δ18O record derived from a high-resolution deglacial seasonally laminated core section off the west Antarctica Peninsula is presented. By extracting and analysing single species samples from individual laminae, season-specific isotope records were separately generated to show


Earth and Planetary Science Letters

changes in glacial discharge (comprised of both glacial and iceberg sourced meltwater) to the coastal margin during spring and summer months...

Swann, G.E.A., Pike, J., Snelling, A.M., Leng, M.J., Williams, M.C. 2013. Seasonally resolved diatom δ18O records from the West Antarctica Peneinsula over the last deglaciation. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 364, 12-23.

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Journal of Quaternary Science – January 2013

This paper describes a multi-proxy palaeoecological investigation of lake sediments undertaken in conjunction with an archaeological survey of the Upper Sangro Valley in the Abruzzo National Park, Central Italy. The data show how cultural factors had a profound effect on this mountainous region which, in this case, outweighed the effects of climatic fluctuations which are known to have occurred locally and across the wider region. These findings have positive implications for the


Journal of Quaternary Science

conservation of top predators which require large wooded ranges.

Brown, A.G., Hatton, J., Selby, K.A., Leng, M.J., Christie, N. 2013. Multi-proxy study of Holocene environmental change and human activity in the Central Apennine Mountains, Italy. Journal of Quaternary Science, 28, 71-82.

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Nature Geoscience – January 2013

The Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet is the most northerly of the Antarctic ice sheets and the most vulnerable to climate warming. In light of recent instrumental records of warming along the Antarctic Peninsula, there has been much debate about what has influenced rising temperatures along the west Antarctica Peninsula (WAP) during the Holocene, with terrestrial and oceanic proxies often suggesting different, sometimes opposing, mean conditions. Here, we present a Holocene glacial (terrestrial ice) melt water record derived from marine δ18Odiatom from Palmer Deep, west Antarctic Peninsula. Our results provide a unique opportunity to assess atmospheric versus oceanic influence on melting along the WAP. We demonstrate that since approximately 5.0 ka the increasing occurrence of La Niña, as recorded in the lower latitude Pacific, and increasing summer insolation at 60ºS have had a stronger influence on glacial melt water inflow to the WAP margin than oceanic processes driven by the southern westerly winds.


An Antarctic diatom skeleton

Pike, J., Swann, G.A.E., Leng, M.J., Snelling, A. 2013. Glacial discharge along the west Antarctic Penninsula during the Holocene. Nature Geoscience. Online.

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Terra Nova – February 2013

The late Mesoproterozoic Sveconorwegian orogen in southwest Baltica is traditionally interpreted as the eastward continuation of the Grenville orogen in Canada, resulting from collision with Amazonia, forming a central part in the assembly of the Rodinia supercontinent. We challenge this conventional view based on results from recent work in southwest Norway demonstrating voluminous subduction–related magmatism in the period 1050–1020 Ma, followed by geographically restricted high–T/medium–P metamorphism between 1035 and 970 Ma, succeeded by ferroan magmatism over large parts of south Norway in the period 990–920 Ma.


Terra Nova

This magmatic and metamorphic evolution may be better understood as reflecting a long–lived accretionary margin, undergoing periodic compression and extension, than continent–continent collision. This study has implications for Grenville–Sveconorwegian correlations, comparisons with modern continental margins, Rodinia reconstructions and how we recognize geodynamic settings in ancient orogens.

Slagstad, T., Roberts, N.M.W., Marker, M., Røhr, T., Schiellerup, H. 2013. A Non-Collisional, Accretionary Sveconorwegian Orogen. Terra Nova 25, 30-37.

Precambrian Research – January 2013

We present a study of the position, nature and geochronology of the eastern margin of the Tanzania Craton near Mpwapwa, which yields new constraints on Archaean to Neoproterozoic orogenesis of central Tanzania. The eastern margin of the Tanzania Craton is a ca. 1960 Ma top-to-the-NW ductile thrust zone. Orthogneisses of the eastern part of craton were dated by U–Pb zircon at ca. 2.7 Ga. High grade paragneisses to the east (Mpwapwa Group) are also Archaean (>ca. 2.6 Ga) and thus do not belong to the Usagaran belt, but to the “Western Granulite” of the East African Orogen. Charnockites in the south have been dated at 2701 ± 21 Ma and point to a third Archaean assemblage. A post-Usagaran granite dated at 1873 ± 31 Ma shows Neoproterozoic metamorphic zircon rims that grew during the East African orogenic event.


Precambrian Research

A sliver of southern tonalitic orthogneiss, entrained in the craton margin shear zone, is an igneous rock of probable early Palaeoproterozoic or Archaean age (>ca. 2300 Ma) with a strong metamorphic overprint at ca. 1960 Ma (zircon), confirmed by a metamorphic titanite age of ca. 1990 Ma, this is believed to date the initial phase of craton-margin shearing and juxtaposition of the Archaean crustal blocks.

Thomas, R.J., Roberts, N.M.W., Jacobs, J., Bushi, A.M., Horstwood, M.S.A., Mruma, A. 2013. Structural and geochronological constraints on the evolution of the eastern margin of the Tanzania Craton in the Mpwapwa area, central Tanzania. Precambrian Research 224, 671-689.

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta - November 2012

Despite a growing body of work that uses diatom δ30Si to reconstruct past changes in silicic acid utilisation, few studies have focused on calibrating core top data with modern oceanographic conditions. In this study, a microfiltration technique is used to divide Southern Ocean core top silica into narrow size ranges, separating components such as radiolaria, sponge spicules and clay minerals from diatoms. Silicon isotope analysis of these components demonstrates that inclusion of small amounts of non-diatom material can significantly offset the measured from the true diatom δ30Si. Once the correct size fraction is selected (generally 2–20 μm), diatom δ30Si shows a strong negative correlation with surface water silicic acid concentration (R2°=°0.92), highly supportive of the qualitative use of diatom δ30Si as a proxy for silicic acid utilisation. The core top diatom δ30Si matches well with mixed layer filtered diatom δ30Si from published in situ studies,


Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

suggesting little to no effect of either dissolution on export through the water column, or early diagenesis, on diatom δ30Si in sediments from the Southern Ocean. However, the core top diatom δ30Si shows a poor fit to simple Rayleigh or steady state models of the Southern Ocean when a single source term is used. The data can instead be described by these models only when variations in the initial conditions of upwelled silicic acid concentration and δ30Si are taken into account, a caveat which may introduce some error into quantitative reconstructions of past silicic acid utilisation from diatom δ30Si.

Egan, K., Rickaby, R.E.M., Leng, M.J., Hendry, K.R., Hermoso, M., Sloane, H.J., Bostock, H., Halliday, A.N. 2012. Silicon isotopes as a proxy for silicic acid utilisation: a Southern Ocean core top calibration. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 96, 174-192.

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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems - September 2012

This study summarizes organic carbon isotope (δ13C) and total organic carbon (TOC) data from a series of tests undertaken to provide an appropriate methodology for pre-analysis treatment of mudstones from an Upper Carboniferous sedimentary succession, in order to develop a consistent preparation procedure. The main treatments involved removing both inorganic carbonate and hydrocarbons (which might be extraneous) before δ13C and TOC analysis. Overall we show that the most accurate assessment of bulk organic carbon isotopes and concentration in these samples can be achieved through decarbonating the material prior to measurement via the 'rinse method'. However, our results support recent findings that pre-analysis acid treatments can cause variable and unpredictable errors in δ13C and TOC values.


Earth &Planetary Science Letters

We believe that, despite these uncertainties, the findings presented here can be applied to paleoenvironmental studies on organic matter contained within sedimentary rocks over a range of geological ages and compositions.

Könitzer, S.F., Leng, M.J., Davies, S.J., Stephenson, M.H. 2012. An assessment of geochemical preparation methods prior to organic carbon concentration and carbon isotope ratio analyses of fine-grained sedimentary rocks. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 13, 12pp.0.

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters - September 2012

Highlights: We identify the carbon isotope excursion from the North Sea in exceptional detail. We document changes to ocean stratification well before atmospheric carbon release.Precursor stratification may be associated with the trigger for carbon release. Increased precipitation and runoff likely occurred along with carbon release. We document a rapid change to regional vegetation during carbon release.


Earth &Planetary Science Letters

Kender, S., Stephenson, M.H., Riding, J.B., Leng, M.J., Knox, R.O'B., Peck, V.L., Kendrick, C.P., Ellis, M.A., Vane, C.H., Jamieson, R. 2012. Marine and terrestrial environmental changes in NW Europe preceding carbon release at the Paleocene-Eocene transition. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 353-354, 108–120.

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Nature - September 2012

Rapid warming over the past 50 years on the Antarctic Peninsula is associated with the collapse of a number of ice shelves and accelerating glacier mass loss. In contrast, warming has been comparatively modest over West Antarctica and significant changes have not been observed over most of East Antarctica, suggesting that the ice-core palaeoclimate records available from these areas may not be representative of the climate history of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here we show that the Antarctic Peninsula experienced an early-Holocene warm period followed by stable temperatures, from about 9,200 to 2,500 years ago, that were similar to modern-day levels. Our temperature estimates are based on an ice-core record of deuterium variations from James Ross Island, off the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. We find that the late-Holocene development of ice shelves near James Ross Island was coincident with pronounced cooling from 2,500 to 600years ago. This cooling was part of a millennial-scale climate excursion with opposing anomalies on the eastern and western sides of the Antarctic Peninsula. Although warming of the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula began around 600 years ago, the high rate of warming over the past century is unusual (but not unprecedented) in the context of natural climate variability over the past two millennia.


Ice Core Camp © Nerilie Abram

The connection shown here between past temperature and ice-shelf stability suggests that warming for several centuries rendered ice shelves on the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula vulnerable to collapse. Continued warming to temperatures that now exceed the stable conditions of most of the Holocene epoch is likely to cause ice-shelf instability to encroach farther southward along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Mulvany, R., Abram, N.J., Hindmarsh, R.C.A., Arrowsmith, C., Fleet, L., Triest, J., Sime, L.C., Alemany, O., Foord, S. 2012. Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice-shelf history. Letter to NATURE.

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Journal of Quaternary Science - August 2012

Here we present Holocene organic C, N, S, C-isotope and macrofossil data from a small freshwater lake near Sisimiut in southwest Greenland. The lake was formed c. 11 cal. ka BP following retreat of the ice sheet margin and is located above the marine limit in this area. The data suggest a complex deglaciation history of interactions between the lake and its catchment, reflecting glacial retreat and post-glacial hydrological flushing probably due to periodic melting of local remnant glacial ice and firn areas between 11 and 8.5 cal. ka BP. After 8.5 cal. ka BP, soil development and associated vegetation processes began to exert a greater control on terrestrial-aquatic carbon cycling. By 5.5 cal. ka BP, in the early Neoglacial cooling, the sediment record indicates a change in catchment-lake interactions with consistent δ13C while C/N exhibits greater variability. The period after 5.5 cal. ka BP is also characterised by higher organic C accumulation in the lake.


Journal of Quaternary Science

These changes are most likely the result of increasing contribution (and burial of) terrestrial organic matter as a result of enhanced soil instability, as indicated by an increase in various macrofossil remains. The impact of glacial retreat and relatively subdued mid- to late-Holocene climate variation at the coast is in marked contrast to the greater environmental variability seen in inland lakes closer to the present-day ice sheet margin.

Leng, M.J., Wagner, B., Anderson, N.J., Bennike, O., Woodley, E., Kemp, S.J. 2012. Deglaciation and catchment ontogeny in coastal southwest Greenland: implications for terrestrial and aquatic carbon cycling. Journal of Quaternary Science, 27, 575-584.

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Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology - August 2012

A stratigraphically and temporally ordered sequence of channel calcretes preserved along the Wadi Dana, Southern Jordan, records the Quaternary evolution of the formation and infilling of rock-cut channels and their subsequent incision in a tectonically subsiding basin. It is currently unknown under what palaeoenvironmental conditions these non-pedogenic (alpha) calcretes formed. Stable isotope analyses have been used to investigate whether any past topographical, hydrological, vegetational, diagenetic, temporal and/or climatologic signatures can be identified from the channel calcretes.


Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology

McLaren, S.J., Leng, M.J., Knowles, T., Bradley, A.V. 2012. Evidence of past environmental conditions during the development of a calcretised Wadi System in Southern Jordan using stable isotopes. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 348-349, 1-12.

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The Holocene - August 2012

The mid-Holocene East Asian Monsoon history was reconstructed using bulk organic carbon isotopes and concentration data from the Pearl River estuary, southern China. The data are indicators of changes in monsoonal precipitation strength, e.g. sediments buried during a period of high precipitation exhibit a high proportion of terrigenous sediments, and have low δ13C and high C/N, and vice versa. Results suggest a general decreasing trend in monsoonal precipitation from 6650–2215 cal yr BP due to the weakening insolation over northern hemisphere most likely related to the current precession circle. Superimposed on this trend are apparent dry-wet oscillations at centennial to millennial timescales most likely in response to solar activity.


The Holocene

Yu, F., Zong, Y., Lloyd, J.M., Leng, M.J., Switzer, A.D., Yim, W, W-S., Huang, G. 2012. Mid-Holocene variability of the East Asian monsoon based on bulk organic δ13C and C/N records from the Pearl River estuary, southern China. The Holocene, 22, 705–715.

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Quaternary Science Reviews - May 2012

Boreal ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change, and severe ecological impacts in the near future are virtually certain to occur. We undertook a multiproxy study on an alpine lake at the modern tree-line in boreal, southern Siberia. Steppe and tundra biomes were extensive in eastern Sayan landscapes during the early Holocene. We conclude that lakes in continental, boreal regions undergo different models of lake ontogeny than oceanic boreal regions. Unlike other regions discussed, climate is a more important driver of ecosystem change than catchment changes. We also demonstrate that the start of the period coincident with the onset of the Little Ice Age resulted in important thresholds crossed in catchment vegetation and aquatic communities.


Quaternary Science Reviews

Mackay, A.W., Bezrukova, E.V., Leng, M.J., Meaney, M., Nunes, A., Piotrowska, N., Self, A., Shchetnikov, A., Shilland, E., Tarasov, P., Wang, L., White, D. 2012. Aquatic ecosystem responses to Holocene climate change and biome development in boreal, central Asia. Quaternary Science Reviews, 41, 119-131.

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Science — 238U/235U Systematics in Terrestrial Uranium Bearing Minerals — 30th March 2012

Minerals, such as zircon, naturally capture uranium when they form, which in turn undergoes a chain of radioactive decays to other elements, ending with lead. Dating of zircon and other minerals underpins much if what we know about geological time. This new research has shown that, by more accurately measuring the relative amount of the uranium isotopes 238U and 235U, we now have a better understanding of how much time has passed since a mineral or rock has formed. We have measured, for the first time, 238U/235U in a suite of U-bearing minerals, including 45 zircon samples typical of those dated to quantify geological time in a wide range of rock types. A major impact of this work is an 'average zircon' 238U/235U to replace the 'consensus value' of 137.88, the accuracy of which could not be verified. Using this new value will decrease all previous zircon uranium-lead (U-Pb) age determinations, by up to 700,000 years for samples that are about 4.4 billion years old — the age of the Earth's oldest minerals.


<sup>238</sup>U/<sup>235</sup>U Systematics in Terrestrial Uranium Bearing Minerals

The new 238U/235U ratio will allow geologists to place more accurate limits on the exact timing of a broad range of geological processes, from the initial formation of our planet, continents and economic mineral deposits, to past evolutionary events and climate changes. In addition to the implications for U-Pb zircon geochronology, this study provides insight into uranium isotopic fractionation processes at magmatic temperatures, the possible role of weathering to driving changes of 238U/235U in seawater, and comparison of the terrestrial 238U/235U database to extra-terrestrial meteorite samples.

Hiess, J., Condon, D.J., McLean, N., and Noble, S.R. 2012. 238U/235U Systematics in Terrestrial Uranium Bearing Minerals. Science, 335, 1610-1613

Also see Science Perspective article by Claudine Stirling - Keeping Time with Earth's Heaviest Element. Science, 335, 1585-1586

Gondwana Research - May 2012

The volume of Earth's continental crust depends on the rate of addition of continental crust from the mantle compared to the rate of continental loss back to the mantle, which at present is roughly balanced. Models for the growth rate of continental crust vary, with isotope data suggesting various episodes of increased growth rate throughout Earth's history; these episodes have been correlated with the supercontinent cycle, but may be a consequence of preferential preservation of continental crust during these cycles. The global balance between addition and loss of continental crust is controlled by: 1) the extent of internal orogens versus exterior orogens, with the latter favouring continental addition, and 2) the balance between exterior orogens in retreating mode versus those in advancing mode, with the latter favouring continental loss. A greater balance of continental addition versus loss should exist during supercontinent break-up, due to a high magmatic flux in retreating accretionary orogens, whereas the amalgamation of supercontinents should involve increased continental loss due to increased sediment subduction and tectonic erosion. Zircon U-Pb and Hf isotopes provide insight to models of crustal growth rate since they sample the continental crust at their time of formation. Using the distribution of data within εHf(t)-time space of a global zircon database, it is demonstrated that the data are in accord with the concept of increased continental loss during supercontinent amalgamation.


Gondwana Research - May 2012

Periods featuring increased continental addition relative to continental loss, and hence increased continental crust growth rate, occur at ~ 1.7–1.2 Ga, ~ 0.85–0.75 Ga, and ~ 0.45–0.35 Ga, and follow the formation of the Columbia (Nuna), Rodinia and Gondwana supercontinents respectively. Distinct increases in continental loss compared to continental addition, i.e. decreased continental growth rate, occur at c. 1.0–0.9 Ga, and ~ 0.6–0.55 Ga, correlating with the periods of Rodinia and Gondwana amalgamation respectively. Formation of Pangea by introversion rather than extroversion, means that continental addition in exterior orogens was concurrent with continental loss in interior orogens; a similar process may have been responsible for formation of the Columbia supercontinent. Peaks in the compilation of U-Pb zircon ages correlate with the timing of supercontinent amalgamation, and are likely to be a consequence of preferential preservation of continental crust during this part of the supercontinent cycle.

Roberts, N. M. W., 2012. Increased loss of continental crust during supercontinent amalgamation. Gondwana Research 21, 994-1000.

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology - February 2012

We aim to reconstruct the climatic and environmental conditions in the Valsequillo Basin during the deposition of the Valsequillo gravels between c. 40 000 and 8000 years ago, when large mega-fauna and potentially humans occupied the basin. Fossil freshwater (Fossaria sp. and Sphaeriidae (Family)) and terrestrial (Polygyra couloni, Holospira sp. and Cerionidae (Family)) snail shells from sections within the Barranca Caulapan were collected for oxygen and carbon stable isotope analysis. Oxygen and carbon isotopes in terrestrial and freshwater snail shells relate to local climatic parameters and environmental conditions prevailing during the lifetime of the snail. Whole shell isotope analysis showed that c. 35 000 years ago climate in the Valsequillo Basin was similar to the present day. Between c. 35 000 and 20 000 BP conditions became increasingly dry, after which conditions became wetter again, although this record is truncated. Intra-shell isotopic analyses show that the amount of precipitation varied seasonally during the late Pleistocene. If people did reach this part of the Americas in the late Pleistocene they would have experienced changing long-term and seasonal climatic conditions and would have had to adapt their life strategies accordingly.


Snail shell

Stevens, R.E., Metcalfe, S.E., Leng, M.J., Lamb, A.L., Sloane, H.J., Naranjo, E., Gonzalez, S. 2012. Reconstruction of late Pleistocene climate in the Valsequillo Basin (Central Mexico) through isotopic analysis of terrestrial and freshwater snails. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 319-320, 16-27.

Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry - February 2012

Stable isotope analysis of cellulose is an increasingly important aspect of ecological and palaeoenvironmental research. Since these techniques are very costly, any methodological development which can provide simultaneous measurement of stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios in cellulose deserves further exploration. A large number (3074) of tree-ring a-cellulose samples were used to compare the stable carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) produced by high-temperature (1400 °C) pyrolysis/gas chromatography (GC)/isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) with those produced by combustion GC/IRMS. Although the two data sets are very strongly correlated, the pyrolysis results display reduced variance and are strongly biased towards the mean. The low carbon isotope ratios of tree-ring cellulose during the last century, reflecting anthropogenic disturbance of atmospheric carbon dioxide, are thus overestimated. The likely explanation is that a proportion of the oxygen atoms are bonding with residual carbon in the reaction chamber to form carbon monoxide. The 'pyrolysis adjustment', proposed here, is based on combusting a stratified sub-sample of the pyrolysis results, across the full range of carbon isotope ratios, and using the paired results to define a regression equation that can be used to adjust all the pyrolysis measurements. In this study, subsamples of 30 combustion measurements produced adjusted chronologies statistically indistinguishable from those produced by combusting every sample.


Elemental Analysers using high temperature (1400 °C) pyrolysis (left) and lower temperature (1000 °C) combustion (right)

This methodology allows simultaneous measurement of the stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen using high-temperature pyrolysis, reducing the amount of sample required and the analytical costs of measuring them separately.

Woodley, E.J., Loader, N.J., McCarroll, D., Young, G.H.F, Robertson, I, Heaton, T.H.E., Gagen, M.H. and Warham, J.O. 2012. High-temperature pyrolysis/gas chromatography/isotope ratio mass spectrometry: simultaneous measurement of the stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon in cellulose. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 26, 109-114.

Terra Nova - February 2012

A shell of Gigantoproductus okensis shows twenty growth lines with marked changes of fabric, indicating periodical reduction of growth rates caused by environmental perturbations. The number of growth lines suggests a lifespan of 20 years in agreement with the survival rates of extant brachiopods, and with spiral deviation analysis. Geochemical analyses across the growth profile show a heterogeneous distribution of stable isotopes and trace elements. It is possible to distinguish primary from altered carbonate, and to interpret the isotopic data. The oxygen isotope signal in the unaltered parts is periodical and annual, with oscillation of 1.1 per mille. The higher values are at the growth lines (winter), and therefore most likely related to monsoon circulation during the Visean. The annual periodicity seems also present in the altered part of the shell, suggesting that diagenesis could have reset the primary values, but preserved their cyclicity.


Section through <em>Gigantoproductus okensis</em>

Angiolini, L., Stephenson, M., Leng, M.J., Jadoul, F., Millward, D., Aldridge, A., Andrews, J., Chenery, S., Williams, G. 2012. Heterogeneity, cyclicity and diagenesis in a Mississippian brachiopod shell of palaeoequatorial Britain. Terra Nova, 24, 16-26.

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta - February 2012

This paper presents a significantly simplified method for in-situ U-Th-He dating removing the need to know any absolute concentrations. This is done by calculating the normalised U, Th, and He concentrations of a conventionally dated calibration standard from its measured Th/U ratio and known U-Th-He age, and scaling these concentrations to the raw U, Th, and He signals of the sample. The Th/U ratio of the standard can be determined from its measured 208Pb/206Pb ratio, removing the need to use NIST glass as a reference material. We introduce an LA-ICP-MS-based method to correct for variable ablation depths between the standard and the unknown, using the strength of the ablated 29Si signal. Finally, we propose a pseudo-depth profile method to assess the effects of compositional zoning on the accuracy of in-situ U-Th-He data.


Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta - February 2012

The effectiveness of the proposed method has been demonstrated on three samples of gem-quality Sri Lanka zircon, which yield ages that are in agreement with previously published conventional U-Th-He measurements.

Vermeesch, P., Sherlock, S. C., Roberts, N. M. W., Carter, A., 2012. A simple method for in-situ U-Th-He dating. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 79, 140-147.

Chemical Geology - February 2012

Stable carbon isotope time-series (δ13C) from tree-rings are capable of providing valuable palaeoclimatic information, but analysis of individual tree-rings is time consuming and expensive. Pooling material from several tree-rings prior to isotopic analysis reduces costs, but does not allow the magnitude of uncertainty in the mean δ13C chronology to be calculated unless the pool is broken and each tree-ring measured individually at regular intervals. Here we use a comparison of pooled and mean individual (the arithmetic mean of isotopic data from tree series measured individually) δ13C records between AD 1650 and 2007, comprising cores from 21 Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) trees growing in the western Highlands of Scotland. The aim is to determine whether the true error structure of the time series is better captured by using the overall mean error estimate for the entire time series or by linear interpolation between the equally spaced measurements.


Chemical Geology - February 2012

We conclude that where autocorrelation exists within the error structure of a chronology, annual estimates of 95% confidence intervals, developed through linear interpolation at 5-year or 10-year intervals, are preferable to using the overall mean uncertainty. The method outlined increases the viability of pooled δ13C records for palaeoclimatic research by retaining error structure whilst reducing analytical time and costs. The method is applied here using tree-ring data, but could theoretically be applied to any well-replicated time-series.

Woodley, E. J., Loader, N. J., McCarroll, D., Young, G. H. F., Robertson, I., Heaton, T. H. E., Gagen, M. J., 2012. Estimating uncertainty in pooled stable isotope time-series from tree-rings. Chemical Geology 294-295, 243-248.

Journal of Hydrology - January 2012

Levels of nitrate in Malta's groundwater are amongst the highest in Europe (median concentrations of 14 mg NO3-N L-1 in the main sea-level aquifer, and 37 mg NO3-N L-1 in the younger groundwaters of the perched aquifers). As part of a Rural Development Programme for Malta, the British Geological Survey was contracted to investigate the source/s of this nitrate, with specific emphasis on a combined 15N/14N and 18O/16O study. In addition to analysing a wide variety of groundwater samples, a special feature of the study was a determined effort to measure, rather than assume (as is common in many studies) the 15N/14N and 18O/16O compositions of the major potential sources of nitrate: fertilizers, septic and sewage wastes, animal manures, and soils. The data allowed the former two sources to be ruled out and, whilst some direct leaching of manure-derived nitrate could not be discounted, the data suggested that soil nitrification is the major source of nitrate in the groundwaters. Malta has a very long history of cultivation, during which time the soils may have developed high 15N/14N values reflecting greater mobility of nitrogen in soils with low C/N ratios.


Marsa sewage works

The 15N/14N and 18O/16O values of nitrate in the groundwaters suggest that it is derived by microbial nitrification of organic N in these soils, with virtually no reduction in nitrate levels by denitrification.

Heaton, T.H.E., Stuart, M.E., Sapiano, M. and Micallef Sultana, M. 2012. An isotope study of the sources of nitrate in Malta's groundwater. Jounal of Hydrology, 414-415, 244-254.

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NIGL research in the Media

March 2014 - Geoblog on the new mass spectrometer at the BGS

The British Geological Survey (BGS) took delivery of a new mass spectrometer this month. This instrument, acquired with joint funding from the University of Nottingham, will provide the UK’s environmental geoscience community access to one of the most precise research equipment for use in environmental research. Melanie Leng tells us more...


Prof Mel Leng with the new mass spectrometer

February 2014 - Ancient Climate Secrets by Jonathan Dean

Jonathan Dean started working as a Stable Isotope Apprentice in NIGL this January after he finished his PhD research at the University of Nottingham. Here he tells us a little bit about his research into how lake sediments are revealing secrets of past climates...


Standing on the rock on which the first peace treaty in human history was signed between the Hittites and the Egyptians

February 2014 - Have Volcanic Super-Eruptions Impacted on the Course of Human History? By Prof Melanie Leng

Today Melanie Leng, an isotope geochemist and palaeoclimatologist at the BGS, tells us about the Toba super volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia, which has erupted on many occasions over geological time...


The ancient Toba caldera (a basin left by the volcano after eruption) from space is now occupied by a huge lake (©NASA)

January 2014 – BGS GeoBlog - The Quaternary Research Associations 50th Anniversary Conference by Prof Melanie Leng

The new year traditionally brings with it not only resolutions, gym memberships and fad diets but for our scientists a round of exciting geological conferences...


The audience at the QRA’s Quaternary Revolutions meeting (©Tim Lane)

January 2014 - Using “proxy” data to tell us about past climate change by Melanie Leng

One of the highlights of 2013 was publication of our research, in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey and various UK Universities, on past climates along the Antarctic Peninsula, here Professor Melanie Leng tells us how climate change from 11,000 years ago to the last few decades has affected the Antarctic from 'proxy data'…


Prof Melanie Leng with Dr Robert Mulvany (British Antarctic Survey) examining ice from the Antarctic Peninsula

November 2013 - The Thrill to Drill (over the next 10 years) by Prof Melanie Leng

Last week the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) Science Conference was held in the historic Telegrafenberg in Potsdam, Germany. The aim of the conference was to debate and map ICDP’s way forward over the next 5 – 10 years and develop a science plan for continental deep drilling. Here Melanie Leng gives us a brief overview:


The 160 participants of the ICDP Science Conference

July 2013 – BBC on-line article - Neolithic farmers used manure on crops.....
by Melissa Hogenboom, Science reporter, BBC News

September 2013 – The TW:eed core arrives at the National Core Repository in Keyworth..... by Dr Andrea Snelling

Andrea Snelling has just joined the TW:eed team. Her speciality within TW:eed is to use stable isotope composition of the rocks to help interpret palaeoenvironment around the time of tetrapod evolution...


Professor Sarah Davies, Dr Andrea Snelling and Dr Carys Bennett examining the Tweed Basin core

September 2013 – Stepping out of my comfort zone into soil science..... by Dr Sarah Bennett

On my arrival at Lancaster train station, the tell-tale sign of a poster tube bobbing along in the distance indicated I was in the right place...


Me [Nick Roberts] on top of Åreskutan, Sweden

September 2013 – Drilling an ancient orogen..... by Nick Roberts

The UK has recently become a member of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP)...


Me [Nick Roberts] on top of Åreskutan, Sweden

September 2013 – QRA Post Graduate Symposium blog..... by Mel Leng

In the last week of August the Quaternary Research Association held their annual post graduate symposium. The symposium, held at the University of Southampton, was a meeting arranged by- and for only PhD and MSc students studying climate and environmental change over the last 2.6 million years...


Students attending the Quaternary Research Association annual post graduate symposium

August 2013 – Reflections on the first year of my PhD..... by Jack Lacey

As a PhD student of the British Geological Survey and University of Leicester Jack aims to use lake sediments to reconstruct N Hemisphere/Mediterranean climate change over the past 2 million years...


Mel in Japan

July 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - The International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) funding process – part 2..... by Melanie Leng

The UK became a member of the ICDP in 2012, this enables us (UK geoscientists) to apply for funding for deep scientific drilling projects, as well as having representatives on the three committees that oversee ICDP funding allocations. Melanie Leng sits on the Executive Committee and here explains her first experience of the panel which met in Sendai, Japan, last week...


Mel in Japan

June 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Flights and Funding for ICDP - part 1..... by Melanie Leng

9 hours ago I touched down in Tokyo, Japan. I'm on my way to Sendai to represent the UK geoscience community on the ICDP Executive Committee. Here I fill you in on what I have learned so far about the ICDP funding process...


The drill tool showing bit and core catcher

June 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Spot the Geologist - the start of my PhD..... by Leah Nolan

Leah starts her PhD research, in Geology at Leicester University and in association with the BGS, in October. Here she describes her first field visit to the picturesque Lathkill Dale in the Peak District where famous Lower Carboniferous limestones out crop...


The drill tool showing bit and core catcher

May 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Lake Ohrid borehole hits 568m by Jack Lacey

I arrived in Macedonia just over a week ago and travelled to Lake Ohrid in the south west of the Former Yugoslavian Republic…


The drill tool showing bit and core catcher

April 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Being an apprentice at NIGL by Dr Jonathan Lewis

I began my isotope apprenticeship with NERC Isotopes GeosciencesLaboratory (part of the British Geological Survey) in September 2011…


The drilling barge on Lake Ohrid preparing to collect 500m of sediment!

April 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Lake Ohrid deep drilling, first hole success!! by Mel Leng

Jack Lacey, a BGS-University of Leicester PhD student, wrote a blog about the Lake Ohrid project project back in March…


The drilling barge on Lake Ohrid preparing to collect 500m of sediment!

April 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Final steps of our South Georgia expedition by Mel Leng

I am back on board the Polarstern after an amazing few weeks on South Georgia. Today we visited the old whaling station of Grytviken next to the British Antarctic Survey’s research base at King Edward Point…


The ANT-XXIX/4 cruise “terrestrial” team

April 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Sightseeing in South Georgia by Melanie Leng

II have finally arrived on the Falkland Islands after an epic field trip to South Georgia. We have been dropped off by the Polarstern and this is the final step before we leave for the UK in a few days…


South Georgia Seals

April 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - The End of the South Georgia expedition

A BGS blog by Melanie Leng: We are almost at the end of our expedition to South Georgia. Worsening weather around the South Sandwich Islands has meant that the Polarstern has had to abandon some of it’s seabed surveying…


South Georgia Seals

March 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - My first sight of South Georgia by Melanie Leng

A BGS blog by Melanie Leng: After 6 days of sailing on the Polarstern we saw our first glimpse of the island of South Georgia today rising through the fog…


South Georgia Seals

March 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Analysis fit for a King - Richard III gets the NIGL treatment

On February 4th 2013, the University of Leicester announced that the human remains uncovered beneath a Leicester car park in August last year are ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ those of King Richard III…


The skull of King Richard III

March 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Preparing for an expedition to South Georgia

A BGS blog by Melanie Leng: In a few days I'll be following in the footsteps of James Cook (1775) and Ernest Shackleton (1916) and embarking on an adventure in the South Atlantic. I'm bound for fieldwork on South Georgia, a remote and inhospitable island with no permanent inhabitants, approximately 200km SE of the Falkland Islands…


Mel Leng

March 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Drilling through 3 million years of Earth’s history in the Mediterranean by PhD student Jack Lacey

Meet Jack….a PhD student from University of Leicester looking into 3 million years of the Earths history. His BGS/NIGL sponsored PhD is part of a multi-million dollar campaign to investigate the evolution and climate of Lake Ohrid through the drilling and recovery of a 750 meter-long sediment core. Amazingly that's the length of 90 double decker buses or 37 cricket pitches!! Here Jack introduces the project and explains what he'll be up to over the next few months (and years)…


Jack Lacey

March 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Can clam shells explain the demise of a civilisation?

A BGS blog by Melanie Leng: Clam shells used for food, jewellery and in the wall covering of shelters found at the world famous Çatalhöyük UNESCO archaeological site in Central Turkey between 8-9,000 years ago give a unique insight into the demise of a short lived civilisation…


An Antarctic diatom skeleton

WalesOnline (Western Mail) – Evidence of continued climate change for thousands of years – January 2013

As Wales continues to endure freezing temperatures after a year of extreme weather a study by a Welsh university has revealed continued patterns of climate change over the past 12,000 years… Read more: Wales Online


Antarctic icebergs melting

January 2013 – BGS GeoBlog - Tiny fossils reveal evidence for climate change and melting of Antarctica

A BGS blog by Melanie Leng: The Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet is one of the most rapidly warming areas of the planet. This is causing concern as it contains enough water to raise global sea levels by 5m. By analysing the chemistry of microscopic marine algae that lived in the ocean surrounding Antarctica, scientists have created a record of the amount of melting of the ice sheet that stretches back 12,000 years. This window through time has already unlocked hidden patterns in our past climate…


An Antarctic diatom skeleton

January 2013 - News on the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program by Prof Melanie Leng



Autumn 2012 – Planet Earth – Adjusting the Atomic Clock

Planet Earth Online

The Autumn 2012 edition of Planet Earth reports on a systematic flaw uncovered in a key assumption of U-Pb dating and how this affects some of the key dates in the history of the Earth.


Planet Earth Online

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Grants & Awards

February 2014: International Drilling Panel for Professor Melanie Leng

Dr Chris VaneMelanie Leng has been nominated to represent the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) on the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP)/European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) outreach task force.

Working together, the ICDP and IODP have organised an outreach task force to facilitate joint outreach activities that might include conference booths/sessions and town hall meetings etc., which develops on from the combined 'Scientific Drilling' journal.

The task force will have a remit to develop new outreach tools and strategies for the long-term. Please contact Melanie if you are interested drilling outreach.
Follow ICDP on Twitter: @icdpDrilling and Mel: @MelJLeng

August 2013: Top spot for Quaternary Science Reviews article on isotopes in climate change research

Quaternary Science ReviewA review article on the use of isotope geochemistry in lake sediments as a means of understanding past climates remains one of the top down loaded articles in, the environmental change journal, Quaternary Science Reviews. The paper by Professor Melanie Leng (BGS/University of Leicester) and Professor Jim Marshall (University of Liverpool) has been consistently one of the journal’s most down loaded articles since its publication in 2004. As a reward for it’s popularity the journal have made the article open access till 31st October 2013. The paper has been cited over 350 times (Google Scholar).

The full article reference: Leng, M.J. and Marshall, J.D. 2004. Palaeoclimate interpretation of stable isotope data from lake sediment archives. Quaternary Science Reviews, 23, 811-831.

July 2013: NERC £1.2 m grant: Climatic change and human evolution

Lake sedimentThe Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has approved a grant of £1.2 m to a UK team including researchers at the British Geological Survey (BGS) to investigate the influence of past climatic changes on human evolution in Africa.

In November 2013, working with partners from Germany, the US, and Ethiopia, the team will drill a 400 m-deep sediment core from Chew Bahir, an ancient lake basin in south Ethiopia, close to some of the world's most famous human fossil sites.

Over the next three years, the cores will yield a high-resolution record of changes in rainfall, temperature and vegetation spanning at least the last 500 000 years, a period that covers the evolution of our species, Homo sapiens, and dispersal of our distant ancestors from Africa into Asia and Europe.

Until now, there have been no such long environmental records from the African centre of human origins, so ideas about how climatic change may have influenced the emergence and dispersal of modern humans have remained largely speculative. By placing the fossil and archaeological data against a detailed record of regional climatic variation, and by modelling the likely effects of changing local environments on ancient human populations, the project will develop the first rigorous tests of hypotheses about how climate drove the genetic and cultural evolution of our species, and our eventual spread to every part of the globe.

The Chew Bahir project is part of the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project, a multi-national research effort to obtain core records of climatic change from five key palaeoanthropological sites in east Africa, covering the last four million years of human evolution.

The UK part of the project is headed by Professor Henry Lamb (Aberystwyth University) who leads a strong research team, including Professor Melanie Leng (BGS/University of Leicester) as well as scientists from Bangor, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, and St Andrews universities.

The research is also supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (USA), the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme.

Cores, from Kenya and Chew Bahir will be analysed initially at the US National Lake Core laboratories (LacCore) at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Samples for dating, microfossil, and geochemical/isotope analysis will then be studied at the team's specialist laboratories (including the BGS stable isotope laboratory) in the UK and Cologne, Germany.

June 2012: NERC Small grant: Climate, disease, and lake sediments

Lake sedimentThere are concerns that in the future changes in climate might increase the spread of diseases and threaten human health. A new NERC-funded project involving Plymouth, Birmingham and Nottingham Universities along with the NERC Isotope Geosciences is examining the changes in climate that took place at the same time as the Plague of Justinian. The team will use evidence of past climate preserved in lake muds. The muds at the bottom of Nar lake in central Turkey are annually-banded, similar to tree rings, which offers the chance to reconstruct year-by-year variations in climate. Sediment core samples from Nar show that the onset of the plague coincided with a very large switch from a drier to a wetter climate. The wetter climate would have increased the numbers of rats and other rodents which carry fleas, which in turn carry the plague bacterium. In order to test this idea more rigorously, they will measuring climatic indicators in the cores for each individual annual layer during the critical time period around the start and end of the plague, then using the chemistry of the lake sediment layers to reconstruct how fast the climate changed and whether there was any lag between this and spread of the disease. The cores will also tell them, indirectly, about the consequences of the plague for rural agriculture, via the different types of pollen that are preserved.

The project is being led by Prof Neil Roberts (University of Plymouth) in collaboration with Dr Warren Eastwood (Birmingham), Dr Matt Jones and Jonathan Dean (Nottingham) as well as Prof Melanie Leng (BGS).

At the BGS please contact Prof Melanie Leng for further information.

June 2012: NERC Consortium grant: The Mid-Palaeozoic Biotic Crisis - Setting the Trajectory of Tetrapod Evolution

This recently funded NERC grant will shed light on a key stage in the evolution of life on Earth. The advent onto land of limbed vertebrates (tetrapods) was an event that shaped the future evolution of the planet, including the appearance of humans. The process began about 360 million years ago, during the late Palaeozoic, in the early part of the Carboniferous Period. Within the 20 million years that followed, limbed vertebrates evolved from their essentially aquatic and fish-like Devonian predecessors into fully terrestrial forms, radiating into a wide range of body forms that occupied diverse habitats and ecological niches. We will use stratigraphical, sedimentological, palynological, geochemical and isotopic data to establish the conditions of deposition that preserved the fossils, the environments in which the organisms lived and died, and the precise times at which they did so.

This project is headed by Jenny Clack (Cambridge) in collaboration with Nick Fraser and colleagues (NHM), Dave Millward and Tim Kearsey (BGS), John Marshall (Southampton), Sarah Davies and Cary Bennett (Leicester) and Melanie Leng (BGS/Leicester).


Late Devonian Tetrapod Early Carboniferous Tetrapod

February 2012: NERC Standard grant: Silicon isotope records of recent environmental change and anthropogenic pollution from Lake Baikal, Siberia

NIGL have secured a NERC Standard Grant in collaboration with other scientists at Nottingham University and University College London to investigate the impact of recent environmental change and anthropogenic pollution on Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Lake Baikal is the world's oldest lake in south eastern Siberia that began to form over 20 million years ago. A key feature of Lake Baikal is the high degree of biodiversity with over 2,500 flora and fauna, the majority of which are endemic. Such high levels of endemicity have led to the lake being cited as the "most outstanding example of a freshwater ecosystem" and resulted in the site being designated a World Heritage Site in 1996. Industrial development and changes in catchment land-use since the 1950's, however, pose real and serious threats to the stability of the lake's ecosystem with pollution entering the lake from major conurbations, industrial centres, mining and agricultural practises.


Lake Baikal, Siberia

This project will develop the application of silicon isotope measurements in Lake Baikal to provide information on changes in biogenic nutrient utilisation in association with forcings such as: global warming, increases in water temperatures, ice cover and ice thickness.

Further information from Matt Horstwood and Melanie Leng

October 2011: AHRC grant "Dama International: fallow deer (Dama dama dama) and European society 4000 BC - AD 1600"

Congratulations to Dr Naomi Sykes (Nottingham University), Dr Jane Evans (NIGL) and Prof Alan Hoelzel (Durham):

Visit any stately home and you will find a herd of European fallow deer (Dama dama dama). These elegant animals are one of natural history's puzzles because, despite their name, they are not of European origin: they are native to Turkey from where people have gradually transported them around the globe. The distribution of fallow deer is thus a direct record of human population movements, trade and ideology with the potential to provide cultural evidence of the highest quality and relevance for a range of disciplines and audiences. There are many publications devoted to fallow deer but these largely recycle 'received wisdom'. In fact, astonishingly little is known about fallow deer; their history is obfuscated by ambiguous linguistic, textual, iconographic and archaeological evidence. To rectify this situation we carried out a pilot study, The Fallow Deer Project, whose results have challenged established theories about the species' history and provided new insights into Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman society. It also highlighted the scarcity of scientific work on fallow deer and demonstrated how a new dataset will enable us to explore some of the highest-profile issues in European archaeology: e.g. the nature and spread of the Neolithic in the eastern Mediterranean and the structure and worldview of societies in the Bronze Age Aegean, Iron Age Greece and Gaul, and the Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Norman Empires.


Fallow Deer from WikiPedia

To realise this potential, our transdisciplinary team will employ methods proven by our pilot study - e.g. the integration of archaeology, history, geography and anthropology with genetics, stable isotope analysis and osteological research - to answer the following questions:

  1. Were fallow deer domesticated?
  2. Under what circumstances were fallow deer established across Europe?
  3. Did the collapse of the Roman Empire cause extirpation of fallow deer?
  4. Did the Normans reintroduce fallow deer via Islamic influence?
  5. 5) How do human-Dama relationships reveal worldview?

May 2011: Congratulations to Matt Horstwood for his contribution to the most cited article 2005 to 2010 in Chemical Geology:

Thomas F.D. Mason, Dominik J. Weiss, John B. Chapman, Jamie J. Wilkinson, Svetlana G. Tessalina, Baruch Spiro, Matthew S.A. Horstwood, John Spratt, Barry J. Coles. Zn and Cu isotopic variability in the Alexandrinka volcanic-hosted massive sulphide (VHMS) ore deposit, Urals, Russia Original Research Article. Chemical Geology, Volume 221, Issues 3-4, 5 October 2005, Pages 170-187.


Matt Horstwood

January 2011: NERC Small Grant

The oxygen isotope composition of phosphate: a potential tool in UK freshwater studies?

High concentrations of phosphate are a primary cause of 'eutrophication' in water: an over-enrichment in nutrients leading to excessive growth of algae, which can be very damaging to the aquatic environment. Many rivers in the UK, and other parts of the world suffer from this problem because phosphate-rich waters from sewage works or from farming activities are pumped or drain into the rivers. Dealing with this problem involves knowing where the phosphate comes from, and understanding what happens to it when it gets into the river.

Sewage works © Michael Trolove

The project is headed by Tim Heaton (NIGL), with Daren Gooddy and Dan Lapworth (BGS), and Roland Bol and Steve Granger (Rothamsted Research).


The phosphate ion contains oxygen atoms which can be of different isotope types: oxygen of atomic mass 18 and oxygen of atomic mass 16 (both are naturally-occurring, non-radioactive isotopes). Preliminary studies have shown that the proportions of these two isotopes differ depending on where the phosphate came from (e.g. sewage compared with agricultural fertilizer), and that changes in the proportion of the two isotopes indicate the way in which the phosphate is being used in the water. However, this preliminary work has been mainly done in saline waters in estuaries and coastal areas, and we want to see if it might work in fresh water environments in the UK.

The plan is therefore two-fold:

  1. to analyse the proportions of oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 in phosphate from a small number of sewage and agricultural effluents, to see if they differ. If they do, we may be able to use such measurements to determine where phosphate pollution is coming from
  2. to see if the proportions of oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 in phosphate coming from a point-source (e.g. the outfall of a sewage works) change as the phosphate is carried downstream. If they do, we may be able to use such measurements to determine the phosphorus demand or 'limitation' of the system — an important factor in controlling eutrophication.

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Conferences and courses

A workshop on: The Nitrogen cycle and the Anthropocene

There are several types of temporal record (ice cores, sediments, tree rings) which show a reduction in 15N/14N ratios during the 'Anthropocene', a period in which there has been a substantial increase in the amount of reactive nitrogen in the earth’s nitrogen cycle. These changes are thought to be mainly due to the industrial synthesis and application of fertilizers, other changes in farming, and the combustion of fossil fuels. However, there does not seem to be any general agreement on the mechanism/s which cause this change in 15N/14N ratios, or indeed whether the changes in different records are related.

The workshop will therefore aim to promote discussion around: 15N depletion in organic matter in recent lake sediments; the lag between 15N in recent ice cores and lake sediments; recent 15N changes in modern plants/trees and soils; changing sources of N in glaciers and ice cores; and on how changes in source inputs to the atmosphere, and/or changes in its chemistry


Nitrogen Cycle Workshop 2014.jpg

processes during the past few hundred years might have resulted in a decrease in 15N/14N of deposited N? We have invited three guest speakers: Dr Tim Heaton (BGS), Professor Eric Wolff (Cambridge), and Dr Jan Kaiser(UEA), and welcome other suggestions.

Informal posters will also be encouraged as there will be time to discuss particular case studies.

The meeting will be a one day event, to be held at the British Geological Survey in Keyworth, provisionally booked for Wednesday 29th October 2014. Contact Prof Melanie Leng for more information or register an interest in attending.

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© NERC 2014. This site is hosted by the British Geological Survey but responsibility for the content of the site lies with NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (NIGL) not with the British Geological Survey. Questions, suggestions or comments regarding the contents of this site should be directed to Professor Randall R Parrish.