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Palaeoceanography and Palaeoclimate

About our research

Learn more about the way we carry out our research and the climate change questions we focus on.

How does life originate, proliferate, and dissipate?

We use the microfossil record to study the link between environmental change and evolutionary processes. This helps us understand the ways in which environmental change shapes the formation of new species, origination and extinction.

We study foraminifera, nannofossils, ostracods, palynomorphs and silicofossils to provide evidence of organismal responses to mass extinction events. 

Key research questions

  • Can ecological function help reboot Earth system processes in the aftermath of massive biodiversity loss?
  • How does environmental change set the limits to life on Earth?
  • Can morphology reveal how climate amplifies or dampen the impacts of abrupt, transitional and ongoing climatic perturbations to species’ distributions?
  • To what extent does improved regional sampling strengthen or challenge hypotheses of the origination of marine vertebrates?
  • Does developmental plasticity inhibit or facilitate speciation?


We put together transdisciplinary research teams that combine computer vision, Earth system modelling, geochemistry, phylogenetic comparative methods, micro-tomography, stratigraphy and systematics.

We build the largest empirical datasets of their type. We couple these with novel environmental reconstructions. We develop analytical tools and integrated modelling approaches to shed light on the regulators of biodiversity.

What does a 3 to 5°C warmer world look like?

We study past climate states, including intervals of strong greenhouse gas forcing. This helps us to understand the way the Earth system works and put human-driven change into context.

We know that humans have increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere because we can measure the concentration in the atmosphere today and we can measure it for the past. 

Key research questions

  • By how much must we restrict carbon dioxide emissions to prevent warming from reaching 3 to 5°C?
  • Which periods of sudden warming in the geological past reveal most about current anthropogenic warming?
  • Which past climate states in the geological past most resemble a future warmed world?


We use geological archives to reconstruct different past climate states, and the transitions between them. We use climate models to generate simulations of past conditions, and use this information  to simulate future climate change.

Where will climate change be most acute?

Humans will experience global change regionally. We want to understand how warming globally will lead to different outcomes in different parts of the world. We use samples from the continents and oceans, together with climate models, to study the regional expressions of temperature, precipitation and ice cover response to global change. 

Key research questions

  • How will rainfall climate respond to global warming? Climate models predict that the overall response will be to make wet regions become wetter and dry regions become drier but there are big uncertainties. What does the palaeo record say?  
  • How will polar ice sheets respond to global warming? We want to know when and why the poles first became glaciated and understand the stability of ice sheets, sea ice cover and sea level under contrasting global conditions.
  • How is climate change linked between the poles and the lower latitudes? We see unmistakable geological evidence of closely correlated change across-latitudes in seemingly distantly related components of the climate system. What are the causes and implications of these interconnections?


Data from marine drill cores provide a way to study past intervals of CO2-fueled warmth. We are fingerprinting sediments on the continents and measuring their accumulation in the ocean to understand past swings in continental aridity/humidity. We use marine sediments to track past changes in ocean temperature and circulation, continental ice volume and global sea level. 

How fast does climate change?

Earth’s surface and interior processes change on time scales ranging from hundreds to millions of years. Successive layers of sea floor- and lake bed- sediments, are long undisturbed records of environmental change. We take on the challenge of converting layer-depth into layer-age to determine the stratigraphy or chronology of events.

Key research questions

  • How does Earth's climate respond to astronomical forcing in different climate states? How stable are different climate states and how fast are the transitions between them?
  • How do the annual seasonal cycle and inter-annual and decadal modes of climate variability respond to millennial, astronomical and greenhouse gas change? Can we untangle the anthropogenic signal from natural variability in climate records of the last three hundred years?
  • What causes the strength and direction of Earth’s magnetic field to change? Can we determine change in field intensity sufficiently precisely to use it, alongside field reversal events, to understand the Earth’s geodynamo and make a step-change in stratigraphy?


We are studying cores taken from thick deposits in lakes and oceans where the sediment layers were deposited at unusually high rates. We are working with laminated sediments and corals to study seasonal to decadal variability over centuries to millennia.

We have composited data sets together to build an astronomically dated record of Earth’s climate and its predictability over the last 66 million years.