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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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