Palaeobiology and palaeoenvironments
Palaeobiology and palaeoenvironments has been well-known at Birmingham since the work of Lapworth around the beginning of the 20th century and today is linked with a number of groups in the UK, Europe and the USA.
Today, our work includes high-profile work in early vertebrate palaeobiology, seed plant evolution and phylogeny, and Cenozoic palaeoclimates and vegetation history.
We are interested in community change, including extinction and radiation events, and reconstruct depositional environments from both faunal and geochemical lines of evidence, with internationally regarded excellence in specific taxa such as trilobites and ostracodes, supported by the resources of the Lapworth Museum and the stable isotope laboratory. A highlight of the geochemical work has been the development of new isotopic approaches to support global “Snowball” glaciation in the Proterozoic, work featured in NERC’s 2009 annual report. A long-term programme of work on Turkish palaeoenvironments is integrated with archaeological data and highlights our expertise in lake sediments. Find out more about paleobiology and paleoenvironments research.
Palaeoclimate and Palaeoenvironments
A focus on Quaternary Palaeoclimate and Palaeoenvironments includes a number of strands and is underpinned by strong physical sciences research.
Since 2003, Birmingham has been known as a centre of excellence of the cave precipitates known as speleothems, supported by significant external funding and linked to collaborators worldwide. Currently NERC supports a series of collaborative projects on speleothems and cave processes record including two projects led from Birmingham on palaeoclimates and on colloidal element transport. Rainfall in the last 1000 years in Ethiopia is being reconstructed from speleothems and integrated with a modelling approach assessing consistency with appropriately downscaled General Circulation Model simulations.
The climate modelling (Martin Widmann) forms part of a larger body of work developing novel methods for integration of modelling and proxy records for palaeoclimate.
Subsurface structure and properties
Research in this area includes a range of work on the evolution of rifted margins
(Tim Reston) with a current focus on an international collaborative project involving 3-D seismic profiling of the Iberian margin with major NERC support. The work has important implications for the role of deeply ingressing water, through serpentinization, in guiding the structural history of margins.
Fundamental research on spatial and temporal scales of mantle convection, currently extensively supported by the Irish government, focuses on Cenozoic evolution of the north Atlantic and links to global climate via both modulation of deep-water flow around Iceland and uplift-associated dissocation of gas hydrate. The development of techniques for detecting and quantifying gas hydrates and emissions of methane has been a key aspect of shallow geophysical investigations on continental slopes over the past two decades, including major participation in European programmes as well as NERC support.
Prize-winning research on igneous emplacement mechanisms (Carl Stevenson) integrates study of field relationships and magnetic fabrics, and has broadened to make novel uses of 3-D seismic information.
Fluvial sediment dynamics (Greg Sambrook Smith) covers two areas, each of which is supported by a NERC grant. A long-term cooperative programme of study of important braided rivers is currently focused on understanding the behaviour of one of the world’s largest examples, the Rio Parana (above left), based on field studies including ground-penetrating radar as well as a range of modelling approaches. Flow-exchange dynamics across the surface of gravel beds are being studied using a combined theoretical-experimental approach.