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Department of Geography


Christine Lane BSc MSc PhD

Professor of Geography (1993) and Fellow of Corpus Christi College

Christine is a Geochronologist and Quaternary Geographer researching the mechanisms, timing and environmental impacts of past climatic change and explosive volcanism. Head of The Cambridge Tephra Laboratory.



  • 2019 – present, Professorial Fellow and Director of Studies in Geography, Corpus Christi College
  • 2016 – present, Professor of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • 2014 – 2016, Lecturer in Quaternary Environmental Change, Geography, University of Manchester
  • 2012 – 2015 Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, University of Oxford / University of Manchester
  • 2009 – 2012 Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford


  • PhD Archaeological Science: University of Oxford
  • MSc Quaternary Science: Royal Holloway University of London
  • BSc Geology: Cardiff, University of Wales.


Through my research I contribute to a better understanding of the driving mechanisms, spatial complexity and environmental impacts of climate variability, as well as the timing and impacts of explosive volcanic eruptions, on historic and prehistoric timescales. My primary expertise lies in tephrochronology. I have worked widely across Europe and Africa using far-travelled volcanic ash (tephra) layers as isochrons to align archives and test the pacing of regional climatic and environmental transitions, and frequency of volcanic events.

In particular, I am interested in the role of changing climates and environments on hominin evolution and dispersal during the Late Pleistocene, and on historical societies in more recent times. By using tephra layers to directly connect archaeological archives to the palaeoenvironmental record, precise correlations between climatic changes and human histories can be made.

Much of my current research focuses on building Late Quaternary tephrostratigraphies for volcanic regions of the East African Rift. Through the characterisation and correlation of visible and non-visible (crypto-) tephra layers in lake sediment archives, detailed stratified tephra records are contributing both to dating and correlation of important tropical palaeoclimate archives and to a better understanding of past volcanism and hazard in an understudied region.

Selected current and recent research projects

Reconstructing the impact of the Youngest Toba Tuff volcanic eruption by geochemical analysis in Lake Chala

NERC Isotope Facility Grant – studentship support. PI with PhD student Jinheum Park, July 2023. 

This project aims to reconstruct the climatic and environmental impact of the ~74 ka BP YTT super eruption as registered in Lake Chala (Tanzania/Kenya). We aim to see whether, and if so, how, the climate of the Lake Chala area was affected by the YTT eruption and how the lake ecosystem responded to this change, with as high temporal resolution as possible. The results will contribute to better understanding of the spatiotemporal pattern of the YTT impact in eastern Africa, which is a key region in understanding the evolution and dispersal of early modern humans.

Uniting Geological and Cultural Volcanic Knowledges (workshop funding)

NERC Cross-disciplinary research for discovery science award. Co-PI with Dr Amy Donovan and Dr Lilijana Janik, 2022-23.

Detailing volcanic histories from outcrops or sediment records informs petrological and geochemical studies, and feeds chronological data into palaeoclimate and archaeological research. Crucially, volcanic histories underpin assessments of volcanic hazard. However, for many volcanic systems, the record of past eruption frequency, magnitude and impacts remains incomplete. Conventional solutions seek further scientific data or modelling approaches to gradually extend volcanic chronologies but fail to explore the meaning for those dependent upon volcanic livelihoods. Cultural (artefactual, archival, oral) sources offer alternative qualitative data on volcanic histories that may exceed scientific records, and valuable information about the impacts, responses and meanings of volcanoes and their eruptions. Furthermore, vulnerability to volcanic hazards depends not just on physical processes but also socio-cultural factors including human behaviours and beliefs. We argue that too often geological narratives of hazard overshadow the experience of those inhabiting volcanic landscapes and seek to augment traditional discovery science approaches through uniting knowledges preserved within geological and cultural archives.

Lake Tanganyika: A World-Class Scientific Drilling Target

International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme support. Co-PI (chronology lead).

Lake Tanganyika (LT) in East Africa is the one of the oldest, largest and deepest lakes found anywhere on Earth and provides a truly outstanding opportunity to transform our understanding of processes controlling tropical climate, biological diversification, and Earth surface processes in rift basins. Sediments have been forming on LT’s floor continuously for more than 8 million years, capturing a high-fidelity record of precipitation, temperature, ecology, vegetation, and atmospheric dynamics. An international science team, supported by the International Continental Drilling Project (ICDP), is aiming to obtain long, drill-core records from LT spanning the late Miocene-present, to understand the coupled climatic, geological, environmental, and biologic evolution of what is today a critical hydrological, ecological and economic resource in tropical Africa.

Multi-chronometer Dating of Climate and Ecological Change within Africa’s oldest lake (MuDClock).

Isaac Newton Trust Grant. PI . May 2021 – August 2022.

Dating and correlating tephra layers preserved in the Lake Tanganyika ICDP drill cores (see above) will be critical to building a robust chronology and assessing the tempo of long term, natural climatic and ecological variability within Lake Tanganyika and it’s vast catchment. Understanding recent, as well as palaeo-, rates of change, will help to understanding of the lake ecosystem’s sensitivity in the face of future climate and land-use change. MuDClock is a pump-priming grant to demonstrate the presence of tephra layers within existing sediment cores and explore tephra correlations to cores from Lake Malawi.

Improved Dating of Modern Human Evolution in the Middle–Late Pleistocene, East Africa

NERC Isotope Facility Grant. CoPI with N. Blegen, D. Mark (SUERC) 2019 – ongoing.

Dating Middle-Late Pleistocene archaeological and environmental sequences in equatorial East Africa is key to understanding modern human evolution, as well as subsequent dispersals of our species across and out of Africa. This project will use Ar-dating to provide age estimates for 21 key tephra layers correlated between archaeological and palaeoenvironment sequences across central and southern Kenya, to generate a chronostratigraphic framework within which the timing of human behavioural and biological evolution may be robustly evaluated alongside records of past climate change.

Volcanic tie-lines between records of past climates and early modern humans in Ethiopia

Cambridge Africa ALBORADA Research Fund. Co-PI with A. Asrat (Addis Ababa), 2019 – 2021.

Using volcanic ash layers sampled in the field and in sediment cores, to establish precise temporal tie-lines linking some of the most important early modern human sites in Northeast Africa to nearby records of past climate change. This project will provide both improved age constraints and essential local environmental context for our species’ first appearance in eastern Africa.

INTegration of Ice core, MArine and TErrestrial records (INTIMATE)

From 2014-2019 I was Chair of the international INTIMATE research initiative; one of the leading bodies in palaeoclimate research. INTIMATE aims to reconstruct past abrupt and extreme climate changes over the last glacial cycle, through the precise INTegration of Ice-core, MArine, and TErrestrial records, on their own independent timescales. The combined data is used in climate models to better understand the mechanisms and impact of change, thereby reducing the uncertainty of future prediction.

Testing the ‘megadrought’ hypothesis: the timing, cause and impacts of climate change in equatorial Africa (DeepCHALLA-UK)

NERC standard grant. PI. 2017-2021

Research into the timing, cause and impacts of tropical megadrought events recorded in the sediments of East African Lake Challa, a 90 m deep crater lake on the flank of Kilimanjaro. Lake Challa contains an exceptional sedimentary record, with the proven potential to reconstruct past hydroclimate at high chronological precision and with dating accuracy not previously achieved in the tropics.

DeepCHALLA: two glacial-interglacial cycles (>250,000 years) of climate and ecosystem dynamics on the East African equator.

International Continental Scientific Drilling Project. Collaborator (PI: D. Verschuren, Ghent). 2014 – on-going.

The wider ICDP project on Lake Challa will study tropical hydroclimate and ecosystem development throughout the full ~250,000 year sediment record. Visible and non-visible tephra layers will be characterised and dated throughout the core, contributing to a high precision chronology and a first continuous tephrostratigraphic archive for the region.

Supervision of Doctoral and Masters Students

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students and MPhil in Holocene Climate students. Please look at my current and recent research interests, my current graduate students and the titles of my past PhD students’ theses and MPhil students’ dissertations, then get in touch with me with your ideas about research topics that I may be able to supervise.

Each Autumn I welcome applicants to apply for the PhD projects associated with the Cambridge Climate Life and Earth (C-CLEAR) NERC Doctoral Training Programme (open competition). Applications for 2024 are now closed, but see these examples of projects I recently advertised:

I also welcome early discussions with strong candidates with proposal ideas for MPhil or PhD research around the following broader topics: Quaternary tephrochronologies in East Africa; Archaeological applications of tephrochronology; Resolving records of abrupt climate change; Tephra records of volcanic impacts and/or hazard.

If you are interested in applying for PhD study in any of these areas, for 2025, please check back on our Postgraduate Admissions pages later in the year, when details of funding opportunities and the application procedure should be announced.

PhD students

Natlie Deng, University of Cambridge. 2023 – on-going.

Tephra connections between environmental change and human prehistory in Ethiopia

Co-supervisors: C. Oppenheimer, C. Vidal.

Jinheum Park, University of Cambridge. 2021 – on-going.

Long-range impacts of the Youngest Toba Tuff eruption, 74,000 years ago

Co-supervisors: C. Oppenheimer, C. Vidal.

Hannah Wynton, University of Cambridge. 2019 – on-going.

Explosive volcanism in the Kenyan Rift: a tephrostratigraphic perspective.

Co-supervisor: C. Oppenheimer.

Amy McGuire, University of Cambridge. 2016 – 2020.

The Quaternary climate of the eastern Mediterranean: Insights into changes in climate and environment and their impact on human populations.

Co-supervisor: Harriet Allen

Sebastian Gibson, University of Cambridge. 2011 – 2019.

The Pleistocene History of the Birmingham District.

Lead supervisor: Phil Gibbard

Simon Price, University of Cambridge. 2014 – 2018.

Geological and geotechnical properties of Quaternary sediments in the English South Midlands.

Lead supervisor: Phil Gibbard

Catherine Martin-Jones, University of Aberystwyth. 2012 – 2016.

Towards a Quaternary tephrostratigraphy of Ethiopia.

Co-supervisors: H. Lamb and N. Pearce.

Cassian Bramham-Law, University of Oxford. 2009 – 2013.

The role of lacustrine systems and the reoccupation of the North European Plain following the Last Glacial Maximum.

Co-supervisor: N. Barton.

Masters students

Sophie Vineberg, MPhil Polar Studies, University of Cambridge: 2017 – 2018.

The first detection of Holocene cryptotephra deposits in lacustrine sediments from southeast Greenland.

Charlotte Hipkiss, University of Manchester: 2016 – 2018.

Holocene cryptotephrochronology of the Mohos peat sequence, NE Romania.

Amy McGuire, University of Manchester: 2014 – 2015.

Exploring the potential of cryptotephra layers for dating archaeological sites in Africa.


[Publications will be loaded from the University’s publications database…]

External activities

  • Steering Committee member, INTegration of Ice-core, MArine, and TErrestrial records (INTIMATE) network (2014-2019 as Chair).
  • Member of the Hominin Sites and Palaeolakes Drilling Project.
  • Lead Guest Editor on the 2017 International Focus Group on Tephrochronology (INTAV) Special Issue in Quaternary Geochronology (vol 40).