Miller PhD thesis 2014

March 26, 2014

Miller, C.S. (2014) 520,000 years of environmental change in West Africa. PhD Thesis, Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University.

Lottie 2014

CSM (2014)


Global temperatures are predicted to rise by 2–2.5°C by 2065, profoundly affecting the Earth’s environment. The response of ecosystems to past climate fluctuations can inform on how systems will respond in the future. This thesis focuses on Quaternary environmental changes in West Africa, a region important because of its high ecological value and role in the global carbon cycle.

In 2004, the International Continental Drilling Program recovered c. 291m of sediments spanning the last c. 1 Myr from Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana). Pollen, charcoal and nitrogen isotopes (d15N) were analysed from the most recent c. 150m (c. 520 kyr). The latitudinal position and long duration of this core makes it unique for understanding West African monsoon dynamics and vegetation change.

To aid characterisation of the Bosumtwi pollen succession, an atlas of present-day pollen was constructed for 364 pollen and spore taxa.

The pollen record from Bosumtwi reveals dynamic vegetation change over the last c. 520 kyr, characterized by eleven biome shifts between savannah and forest. Savannah vegetation is dominated by Poaceae (>55%) associated with Cyperaceae, Chenopodiaceae-Amaranthaceae and Caryophyllaceae. Forest vegetation is palynologically diverse, but broadly characterised by Moraceae, Celtis, Uapaca, Macaranga and Trema. Low d15N values correspond to forest expansion and these are driven by high lake levels. The timescale indicates that the six periods of forest expansion correspond to global interglacial periods. The record indicates that the wettest climate occurred during the Holocene, and the driest during Marine Isotope Stage 7.

The vegetation and d15N records show a strong response to glacial-interglacial variability between c. 520–320 kyr and 130–0 kyr. Between c. 320–130 kyr there is a weaker response to glacial-interglacial cycles probably related to high eccentricity during the peak of the 400-kyr component of eccentricity, with high eccentricity resulting in greater seasonality and ultimately drier conditions.

Supervisors: Dr. William Gosling, Dr. Angela Coe (both The Open University) and Dr. Tim Shanahan (University of Texas at Austin)

Examined by: Prof. Henry Lamb (University of Aberystwyth) and Dr. Pallavi Anand (The Open University).

To borrow a copy from The Open University Library click here.

Continue Reading

Numerical Analysis of Biological and Environmental Data

June 8, 2012

Particpants on the Numerical Analysis course 2012

Particpants on the Numerical Analysis course 2012: Lottie Miller, Guiomar Sanchez, Maria Rubio, John Douglass and Sonia Jaehnig (left-right). Photo courtesy of Manuela Milan.

Last month I attended the Numerical Analysis of Biological and Environmental Data course at University College London (UCL) in order to decipher which techniques of multivariate data analysis would be useful to apply to my data from Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana). The course was led by Dr Gavin Simpson (UCL) and Prof. John Birks (University of Bergen), both of whom are well experienced in quantitative palaeoecology.

The course provided an introduction to the methods, guidance as to when to use the techniques and then outlined the assumptions, limitations and strengths of the various methods. The need to fully understand the techniques applied before attempting to critically evaluate the results was also strongly emphasised.

The course consisted of lectures covering measures of dispersion, cluster analysis, dendrograms, regression analysis, tree models, gradient analysis, transfer functions, time series and hypothesis testing. Afternoon practical computer classes involved using R, C2 and CANOCO to implement the various techniques covered in the lectures.

Overall the course was a great introduction to statistical analysis which I would certainly recommend for anybody working with complex and noisy datasets. In the next few days I will be using my newly learnt R skills to run indirect gradient analysis such as PCA, CA, DCA and NMDSCAL to search for environmental gradients within my data.

Numerical Analysis of Biological and Environmental Data training couse is an annual event and was held at UCL, on 14-25th May 2012. For more information about the course see Gavin’s website or read his blog From the bottom of the heap.

Nitrogen isotopes in lake sediments

February 28, 2012

As a component of my doctoral research, I am examining nitrogen (N) isotopes within sediments obtained from Lake Bosumtwi (West Africa). Below I review and comment on the key uses and limitations of using N isotopes to interpret past environmental change with particular reference to lake sediments. Discussion is based on the key text by Talbot (2001).

Talbot, M.R. 2001. Nitrogen isotopes in palaeolimnology. Tracking environmental change using lake sediments. Volume 2. Physical and geochemical methods (ed. by W.M. Last and J.P. Smol), pp. 401-439. Kluwer Academic Press, Dordrecht.

NOTE: This text is avaliable to Open University students as an ebook via the library

Continue Reading

Blog at