Shining a light on fossil sunshine

December 15, 2016
WDG

Dr. Phil Jardine

Dr. Phil Jardine

An international team of scientists have reconstructed the longest ever record of past sunshine using pollen trapped in lake sediments collected in Ghana, Africa. The study published today in Scientific Reports enables us to understand past changes in solar input to the global system over the past 140,000 years. Previously we have had to rely upon computer models to mathematically determine past solar inputs to the Earth. “This work really is a first; being able to peer back in time to understand how the Sun has driven our global system over many of thousands of years is a very exciting prospect” said joint-lead author Dr. Phillip Jardine of The Open University.

The Sun is a key component of our natural environment, driving a multitude of processes at Earth’s surface, from photosynthesis generating energy within plants, through to global-scale circulation patterns in our oceans and atmosphere. Understanding more about how the Sun has behaved in the past, and the influence this had on Earth’s environment, will help scientists predict future climate change.

Dr. Jardine used a technique pioneered by one of his co-authors, Dr. Wesley Fraser of Oxford Brookes University, to determine past changes in solar input, specifically changes in ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Plants protect themselves from the harmful nature of ultraviolet radiation by incorporating a number of specific chemical compounds into their tissues that absorb and dissipate the energy of UV radiation. Pollen grains of flowering plants are also provided protection by these UV-absorbing chemicals, thus act as a long-term recorder of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Pollen grains are readily trapped in lake sediments, where they can be preserved for millions of years. By extracting material from Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, the pollen that was released by flowering plants thousands of years ago can be separated from the lake sediment and chemically analysed for UV-absorbing chemical compounds. It is this chemical signature within the ancient pollen grains that provides us with information about past levels of solar ultraviolet radiation.

“What we present here is a new opportunity to explore how the Earth has changed” said Dr. William Gosling (University of Amsterdam). “I am particularly excited about this because it will means that we can gain a better understanding of why vegetation changed in the past, and consequently this will allow us to anticipate better what the likely impacts of projected future climate change will be.”

This study is available now at www.nature.com/articles/srep39269

Jardine PE, Fraser WT, Lomax BH, Sephton MA, Shanahan TM, Miller CS & Gosling WD (2016) Pollen and spores as biological recorders of past ultraviolet irradiance. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep39269

PDRA: Past environmental and climate change in West Africa

March 29, 2013
WDG

Full time Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Temporary contract for 36 months, £27,854 – £36,298
Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, Faculty of Science, The Open University

Closing date : 25/04/2013

The PDRA project will descover more about past vegetation and climate change in Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana)

The PDRA project will descover more about past vegetation and climate change in Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana)

We are seeking a PDRA to study past climate and vegetation change in tropical West Africa as part of the NERC-funded “500,000 years of solar irradiance, climate and vegetation changes” project. You will join a multidisciplinary collaborative research team and will work with an international network of project partners. The project will utilise cutting-edge organic geochemical techniques to generate the longest continuous record of fossil pollen chemistry change. The study will build upon previous research into the sediments recovered from Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana). The data generated will shed new light on the role of climate in driving vegetation change in the tropics.

You will already hold a PhD, or be near to completing your PhD, in a relevant scientific discipline with a background in the Earth or Environmental sciences. You must have substantial experience of organic geochemistry or tropical palynology, with well-developed self-management skills and the ability to prioritise effectively.

The PDRA will work with an associated PhD student looking at modern pollen-vegetation relationships in the same region.

The PDRA will work with an associated PhD student looking at modern pollen-vegetation relationships in the same region.

Co-Investigators:
Dr Barry Lomax (University of Nottingham)
Dr Wesley Fraser (Oxford Brookes University)

Project partners:
Prof . Yadvinder Malhi (University of Oxford)
Prof. Mark Sephton (Imperial College London)
Dr Tim Shanahan (University of Texas, Austin)
Dr Stephen Abu-Bredu (Forestry Research Institute of Ghana)

For further particulars click here.
For information on how to apply click here visit The Open University jobs web site.

Associated PhD project.

The PDRA will be part of an international team; partners based at University of Nottingham, Oxford Brooks University, Imperial College London, Oxford University, University of Texas at Austin and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana

The PDRA will be part of an international team; partners based at University of Nottingham, Oxford Brooks University, Imperial College London, Oxford University, University of Texas at Austin and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana

Funded PhD studentship: Tropical vegetation, environment and climate

March 21, 2013
WDG

William Gosling

William Gosling pollen trapping in west Africa. A studentship on the new grant will investigate modern pollen-vegeation relationships

Fully funded NERC PhD studentship tied to 500,000 years of solar irradiance, climate and vegetation changes project.
To start October 2013 now avaliable with the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group.

Title: Tropical vegetation, environment and climate: The present is the key to the past

Supervisors:
William D. Gosling (The Open University),
Wesley Fraser (Oxford Brookes University),
Barry Lomax (University of Nottingham),
Mark Sephton (Imperial College London) &
Yadvinder Malhi (University of Oxford)

  • Investigate the dynamics of modern tropical forest and savannah ecosystems
  • Training in micro fossil and organic geochemical analysis
  • Develop a comprehensive understanding of modern pollen-vegetation relationships
  • Field work in Ghana, in conjunction with Forestry Research Institute of Ghana
Making pollen traps on field work in Ghana

Making pollen traps on field work in Ghana

Understanding how vegetation responded to past climate change requires the development of well constrained relationships between living floras, environment and climate. This project will help constrain the great uncertainty which exists as to how tropical ecosystems are represented in the fossil record by examining the relationship between modern vegetation and the pollen it produces. The project will analyse modern pollen rain using a combination of traditional microscopic analysis [1] and cutting edge geochemical techniques [2]. We anticipate that the findings will provide new insight into past vegetation and climatic change.

For further information on the project and how to apply see the full advert: NERC PhD advert. Prior to applying please check eligibility for NERC funding by clicking here.

Closing date: 25th April, interviews will be held at The Open University during May.

To find out more about the department, research environment and student life at The Open Univerity visit the Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, the Centre for Earth, Planetry, Space & Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) and OU RocSoc web pages.

Work as part of a larger research team in the UK and abroad.

Work as part of a larger research team in the UK and abroad.

References:

[1] Gosling, W.D., et al., Differentiation between Neotropical rainforest, dry forest, and savannah ecosystems by their modern pollen spectra and implications for the fossil pollen record. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 2009. 153(1-2): p. 70-85.
[2] Lomax, B.H., et al., Plant spore walls as a record of long-term changes in Ultraviolet-B radiation. Nature Geoscience, 2008. 1(9): p. 592-596.

500,000 years of solar irradiance, climate and vegetation changes

February 20, 2013
WDG

William Gosling

William Gosling pollen trapping in west Africa. A studentship on the new grant will investigate modern pollen-vegeation relationships from tropical West Africa.

I am delighted to be able to report that the PCRG has recently obtained a NERC standard grant to investigate 500,000 years of solar irradiance, climate and vegetation changes” (NE/K005294/1).

Investigators on the project are:

Supported by project partners:

Much thanks to the many people who have supported and helped us in the development of this proposal. Now time to do some fun science…

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PCRG July

August 3, 2012
WDG

MKHalf-2012

PCRG members taking part in the Milton Keynes NSPCC Half Marathon, 8 July (left to right: Charlotte Miller, Wesley Fraser and William Gosling)

I have been really excited with the increase in the number of posts and various contributions to this blog over the last month or so. So thanks to everyone who has contributed. The excellent content allows me to focus on just a few research and teaching events which have not been previously covered.

1) Welcome to Wesley Fraser who has joined us officilally as a visiting postdoc for a few months. We hope to develop a paper and another grant submission looking at pollen/spore chemistry during this time; for further details see “Do plants wear sunblock” post.

2) Well done to Frazer and Hayley for performing well in their end of year 1 mini-vivas. Both projects are progressing well and we are all looking forward to field work at the end of the month. Hopefully most of the prepartation and equipment are now in place…

3) Potential for more exiting collaborations was also developed at two meetings. The first, at the Natural History Museum and, in conjunction with long term collaborator Steve Brooks was with old friends Mick Frogley (Sussex) and Alex Chepstow-Lusty. Both Mick and Alex taught me when I was at Cambridge and it would be super exiting to develop a new collaboration with them looking at Chironomids in Andean lakes. The second was at the Univesity of Nottingham as I took part in a UK Tropical Peatlands meeting which brought together ecologists and palaeoecologists from Nottingham, Leeds, Leicester and The OU. The aim of the meeting was to coordinate papers and grant applications.

4) At the end of July beginning of August I taught on the “Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils in the field” topic for the new Practical Science, Earth & Environment (SXG288) module which The OU now offers. Longridge Towers School (no children around this time of year) provided the perfect base for investigating the sedimentary geology of the region. The small group of students had the opportunity to make field observations and test hypotheses related to past environmental change. Everyone was very excited to find numerous fossils and interesting sedimentary structres and had fun trying to work out what they all meant! Congratulations to Angela Coe for putting together this great event.

PCRG June

July 2, 2012
WDG

I have been engaged with two major activities during June: 1) submission of a research proposal to NERC, and 2) excitement of my first online teaching module going live to students, Cyprus activity, within Practical science: Earth and environment module (SXG288). Other members of the group have been writing up methods chapters (Natalie), number crunching and submitting abstract to the International Paleolimnology Symposium (Lottie), and submitting first year probation reports (Hayley and Frazer).

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