Organic Geochemistry

Organic Chemistry HeaderOur groups research focuses on the source, structure, and distribution of organic carbon compounds (biomarkers) from oceans, lakes, sedimentary rocks and even atmospheric aerosols. We develop biomarker proxies of environmental parameters (e.g. terrestrial and sea-surface temperatures, relative humidity, C3/C4 plant distribution, wetland extent) and use these to answer questions about past climatic and environmental changes.

Academic staff

James BendleDr James Bendle

James is a palaeoclimatologist, specialising in molecular organic geochemistry (e.g. molecular climatology). His research is focused on Cenozoic and Holocene climate evolution, high-resolution palaeoclimatology and biomarker proxy development.


Dr Thomas Dunkley JonesDr Tom Dunkley Jones

Tom is a micropalaeontologist and palaeoceanographer specialising in the study of fossil coccolithophore algae. His research interests include the interpretation and use of coccolithophore biomarkers for ancient atmospheric pCO2 reconstruction and the calibration of organic biomarker proxies for sea surface temperature reconstructions.


Dr Matt O’Callaghan

Matt’s is an entomologist interested in the impacts of changing climate on ecosystem functioning.  He uses mass spectrometry methodologies to investigate resource selection and transfer processes across terrestrial and aquatic ecotones.  As Experimental Officer, he is responsible for the management and day to day running of the GEMS facility.  Prior to this role, he was Senior Lecturer (Ecology) at the University of South Wales and Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham (NERC –DriStream).

Postdoctoral researchers

Dr. Kweku Afrifa Yamoahyamoah-kweku-afrifa

Kweku is an organic geochemist interested in biomarker proxy development and its subsequent application to (1) elucidate paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental conditions during the Quaternary Period, (2) decipher the link between climate variability and ecosystem dynamics, and (3) explore the impacts of climate fluctuations on ancient civilizations.

Research students and assistants

Amy Thorpethorpe-amy

Amy’s PhD research aims to characterise the relationship between 3-hydroxy fatty acids (3-OH-FAs), the species of bacteria that produce them, and the climate. The structure and distribution of 3-OH-FAs in terrestrial ecosystems varies with the climate as a consequence of the physiological response of bacteria to temperature and pH. These fatty acids can therefore act as biomarkers of environmental conditions. Working with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, she is using molecular and bioinformatic approaches to investigate the diversity of the bacterial community in soils and couple this with 3-OH-FA distributions and environmental factors. An improved understanding of the ecological responses of the bacterial community responsible for the correlation between 3-OH-FAs and the environment is required to enable development of the use of these biomarkers in the reconstruction of paleoclimates.

Alice HardmanAlice Hardman

Alice’s PhD research is in palaeoclimatology and organic geochemistry. In particular, working with 3-hydroxy fatty acids (3-OH FAs), which are sourced from Gram-negative soil bacteria. 3-OH FA biochemistry is influenced by environmental conditions, such as soil temperature and pH. Therefore 3-OH FAs have potential as a novel terrestrial palaeoclimate biomarker. This PhD research will involve a continental calibration of 3-OH FAs in the USA, by extracting such fatty acids from surface soil and lake sediment samples from US soil and lake transects. The results will develop the current understanding of the physiological response of Gram-negative bacteria to their external environment, and will contribute to the application of 3-OH FAs as a terrestrial palaeoclimate biomarker.

ulrike-baranowski2Ulrike Baranowski

Ulrike’s research is focused on palaeoclimate and environmental reconstructions of extreme warmth during the Early Eocene Climate Optimum (EECO). Based on planktonic foraminifera and organic biomarker geochemistry she is generating new sea surface temperature proxy data from a site with exceptionally preserved calcareous microfossils from the Rockall Trough, NE Atlantic.



Kate NewtonKate Ashley (née Newton) (PhD, 2014-2020)

Kate's doctoral research involved working with organic geochemistry, and sedimentological and physical property datasets to reconstruct the Holocene record of East Antarctic Ice Sheet dynamics.

Dr Yvette Eley (Post-doctoral researcher, 2016-2019)

Dr Yvette Eley

Yvette is an organic geochemist who focused on reconstructing climate and hydrology during the Cenozoic, the development of new biomarker-based proxies for palaeoclimatology, geobiology and exobiology, and the application of organic molecular and isotopic techniques to modern ecology and conservation. Yvette now works as a  Specialist Advisor for Natural Resources Wales.

Federike WittkoppFederike Wittkopp (PhD, 2013-2017)

Frederike’s doctoral research focused on the evolution and variation of the Asian Monsoon since the Neogene and how the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau uplift influenced the Monsoon. For this, she analyzed marine sediment cores from the Japan Sea (IODP 127,128 and 346) for biomarkers, which were used to reconstruct past temperatures and palaeoenvironments.


Jingjing LiuJingjing Liu (CSC PhD visitor from Shanghai; August-Nov. 2017)

Jingjing is currently completing her PhD at Tongji University, Shanghai, China. She works on the evolution of seawater conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific over the past 8-Myr, including cold tongue development, water column structure and the relationship between sea surface temperature and global atmospheric pCO2.


Heiko MoossenHeiko Moossen (PDRA; 2012-2016)

Heiko is a chemist specialising in organic geochemistry. He uses stable isotope signatures, to better understand Earth's bio and geosphere, and their interactions. He is particularly interested in biomarkers, geochemical fossils that are ubiquitous in numerous Earth's archives, e.g. sediment cores.


Canfa WangCanfa Wang (2 year CSC visitor from Wuhan CUG; 2013-2015)

Canfa is currently working at the State Key Laboratory of Biogeology and Environmental Geology, China University of Geoscience, Wuhan, China. His research interest is to develop new environmental proxies based on biomarkers and their isotopes and to apply those proxies in different geological archives for palaeoclimate reconstruction.


Bella DuncanDr Bella Duncan (visiting PhD) from ARC, UVic Wellington (2014)

Bella’s research focuses on applying molecular fossils known as biomarkers to reconstruct the climate and environment in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean during periods of global warmth and elevated atmospheric CO2 in the geological past. In particular, her focus is on the Oligocene and Miocene epochs (34-5 million years ago), during which Antarctica was still vegetated, and significant ice volume and sea level variability occurred under global temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels projected to occur in the coming centuries.

Current workplace - Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. 


Helen MacKay (visiting PhD from Newcastle; 2014)




Current organic geochemistry facilities include:

Dedicated apparatus and work-spaces for molecular organic geochemical extraction and work-up. Samples are extracted and separated into compound class fractions: e.g. hydrocarbons, aromatic hydrocarbons, aldehydes/ketones and alcohol/sterols using standard organic geochemical methods.

Analytical Equipment:

  • GC-FID (Agilent 7693A GC with autosampler). Gas chromatography with Flame Ionisation Detection used for quantification of lipid biomarkers.
  • GC-MS (Agilent 5977A MS / 7890b GC with autosampler) Gas chromatography – mass spectrometry is used to identify lipid biomarkers.
  • GC-IRMS (Isoprime100/IsoprimeGC5 with Agilent 7890A GC with autosampler). Gas chromatography – isotope ratio mass spectrometry is used to determine compound-specific d13C and d2H isotopic values.