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Christine Lane BSc MSc PhD

Christine Lane BSc MSc PhD

Professor of Geography (1993)

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.

Biography

Career

  • 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

Qualifications

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

Research

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-traveled 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 research projects

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. January 2021 – January 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. PIs C. Lane, 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. PIs C. Lane and A. Asrat (Addis Ababa) 2019 - ongoing.

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 C. Lane. 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. 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.

A 500,000 year environmental record from Chew Bahir, south Ethiopia: testing hypotheses of climate-driven human evolution, innovation, and dispersal.

NERC standard grant. PI: H. Lamb. 2014-2017. Researcher Co-Investigator.

The youngest site within the wider Hominin Sites Palaeolake Drilling Project, Chew Bahir lies between the Ethiopian and Omo-Turkana Rifts and will provide a detailed record palaeoclimate for the Middle - Late Pleistocene. Far-travelled ashes preserved within the ~300 metre record will help us to date and correlate the palaeolake sediments.

Into and out of the Younger Dryas at Haemelsee, Northern Germany

A collaborative research project between early career and experienced researchers from across Europe, that came out of the first EU COST funded INTIMATE Example training school in 2013. PI: S. Engels (Birkbeck), C. Lane, D. Sachse (GFZ Potsdam).

The sediments at Haemelsee record in detail the local to regional environmental responses to that palaeoclimate and palaeohydrological changes that occurred during the last Glacial to Interglacial Transition. Using a multi-proxy technique we aim to make precise regional comparisons of the timing and sequence of change at the onset and termination of the Younger Dryas Stadial.

Graduate supervision

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.

I am specifically seeking applicants for PhD projects associated with the Cambridge Climate Life and Earth (C-CLEAR) NERC Doctoral Training Programme (open competition - funding limited to UK/EU students):

I welcome applications for PhD research and I am currently advertising three projects (as co-supervisor) through the :

  • CE223: Do extra-terrestrial impacts offer global stratigraphical markers? (Supervisors: Victoria Peck, British Antarctic Survey; Christine Lane, Geography; Iris Buisman, Earth Sciences)
  • CE228: Climate and societal impacts of Icelandic volcanism (Supervisors: Anja Schmidt, Ulf Buentgen, Clive Oppenheimer, Christine Lane, Geography)
  • SE127: Long-range impacts of the Youngest Toba Tuff eruption, 74,000 years ago (Supervisors: Christine Lane, Celine Vidal, Clive Oppenheimer, Geography)

Follow the links to read about the projects on the DTP web page, where potential applicants can also find full details on other projects and how to apply

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, I would be happy to hear from you. Please also check details on our Graduate Admissions pages for funding opportunities and the application procedure.

PhD students

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

Explosive volcanism in the Kenyan Rift: a tephrostratigraphic perspective.

Co-supervisors: C. Oppenheimer, F. Muscitiello.

Amy McGuire, University of Cambridge. 2016 - on-going.

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

Co-supervisor: Harriet Allen

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

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External activities

  • INTegration of Ice-core, MArine, and TErrestrial records (INTIMATE) network (2014-2019 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).