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Past climate dynamics

By studying past climate dynamics, researchers in the Department of Geography are contributing to debates over the driving mechanisms and spatial complexity of climate change, including climate change impacts on global environments and human populations. Understanding the pacing and propagation of past climate change, through geochronological approaches, is central to our research. The Department is home to state-of-the-art tephrochronology and dendrochronology research laboratories, with active research projects investigating past climate and environmental dynamics all over the world.

Research projects

Research projects currently being undertaken on this theme include:

SOUTHSPHERE: Past behavior of the Southern Ocean's atmosphere and cryosphere

SOUTHSPHERE: Past behavior of the Southern Ocean's atmosphere and cryosphere

The SOUTHSPHERE project explores the past dynamics of the Southern Hemisphere's westerly winds, to inform our understanding of recent and future changes in this globally significant atmospheric pattern.

Improving Late Glacial European tree-ring chronologies for accurate climate archive dating – Consolidation and extension of the Swiss-German pine chronology back to 14,000 BP

Improving Late Glacial European tree-ring chronologies for accurate climate archive dating – Consolidation and extension of the Swiss-German pine chronology back to 14,000 BP

Annually resolved and absolutely dated tree-ring chronologies are important paleo-environmental proxy archives, because they can cover several thousands of years and robust master chronologies are available for many different regions around the globe. Moreover, the unique dating accuracy has a strong impact on many fields of application, including paleoclimatology and paleoecology, but also archaeology and radiocarbon dating. Here, we strive to a) consolidate and b) extend the worldwide longest continuous tree-ring width chronology from Hohenheim/Zurich, which currently reaches back to 12,500 before present (BP).

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

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

Early career and experienced researchers from across the INTegrating Ice core MArine and TErrestrial environments (INTIMATE) scientific network collected cores from Lake Haemelsee in 2013 and have since worked together within more than twelve laboratories to carry out a multi-proxy investigation of the record.

2000 years of Paleoclimatology and -ecology from oak stable isotopes in the Czech Republic - the PALEO project

2000 years of Paleoclimatology and -ecology from oak stable isotopes in the Czech Republic - the PALEO project

Annually resolved and absolutely dated chronologies of tree-ring width and maximum latewood density represent the backbone of high-resolution paleoclimatology and -ecology. Previous studies focused on the reconstruction of summer temperature variability over the past several hundred to thousand years. Extending our paleo-perspective over the entire Common Era (CE), and improving our understanding of ecosystem and societal most relevant hydroclimatic fluctuations, is a timely need to support and even validate model simulations, and constrain the uncertainty of future climate predictions. Joining forces toward the aggregation of composite tree-ring chronologies, exploration of additional tree-ring parameters, and application of novel reconstruction methods, are of upmost international importance.

Testing the 'megadrought' hypothesis: the timing, cause and impacts of climate change in equatorial Africa

Testing the 'megadrought' hypothesis: the timing, cause and impacts of climate change in equatorial Africa

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.

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

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

The Chew Bahir project aims to provide a long, continuous and highly-resolved palaeoenvironmental record from south Ethiopia that will facilitate tests of hypotheses linking human physical and cultural evolution to environmental variation, by reconstructing climatic and ecological change across critical intervals of the last half-million years of human evolutionary history. Chew Bahir palaeolake lies between the Ethiopian and Omo-Turkana Rifts, ideally placed to explore whether past periods of strong environmental variability, or sudden climatic changes, influenced biological and cultural transitions in East African hominin populations.

Extra-terrestrial evaluation of global-scale tree-ring dating in the first millennium CE

Extra-terrestrial evaluation of global-scale tree-ring dating in the first millennium CE

Tree ring-based temperature reconstructions, representing the backbone of high-resolution palaeoclimatology, provide useful long-term perspectives on climate change. To objectively investigate the so-called 'missing ring' hypothesis, the COSMIC initiative will, for the first time ever, compile a global collection of wood samples from around 35 millennial-long tree-ring chronologies that comprise different material from living trees as well as historical timbers from roof and wall structures in old buildings and subfossil remains preserved in peat bogs, mires, lakes and glacial moraines.

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

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

The Quaternary period, the last 2.58 million years of the Earth’s history, is marked by a number of shifts in climate on a range of temporal and spatial scales. Some, such as glacial-interglacial cycles, occur over tens of thousands of years and are marked by dramatic variations in global ice volume. Others, such as Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles, demonstrate abrupt changes on far shorter, often sub-millennial time scales. Whilst the latter are found frequently in both the polar ice core records and the northern hemisphere marine record, very few terrestrial studies have been shown to record a notable vegetation response to these environmental changes. This study aims to identify the nature and timing of terrestrial ecosystem responses to these sub-millenial changes in climate at Lake Ioannina, North West Greece, and the potential impacts of these changes on early human populations.

Earlier projects