New TPR paper: Impact of mid- to late Holocene precipitation changes on vegetation across lowland tropical South America: a paleo-data synthesis

By Richard Smith

Hello, and happy new year! In this blog post I’d like to briefly tell you about my first paper that was accepted and published in the journal Quaternary Research in late 2017.  It’s entitled “Impact of mid- to late Holocene precipitation changes on vegetation across lowland tropical South America: a paleo-data synthesis” and can be found here.

In late 2016, Frank was approached by Mark Bush who wanted to prepare a collection of papers for a ‘special issue’ to honour the lives of two prominent palaeoecologists, Prof. Paul Colinvaux (1930-2016) and Prof. Daniel Livingstone (1927-2016).  Both Paul and Daniel were leading figures in tropical palaeoecology, with Paul focusing predominantly on tropical South America and Daniel in tropical Africa.  Throughout their careers, they were at the forefront of much of the breakthroughs in tropical palaeoecology, as well as inspiring and training many graduate students to create an international legacy of palaeoecologists. More can be read about their amazing careers in Mark Bush and Will Gosling’s tribute article: “In search of the ice age tropics, a tribute to Prof. Daniel Livingstone and Prof. Paul Colinvaux”. 

(a) Dan Livingstone (photo courtesy of Duke University). (b) Paul Colinvaux at El Junco Crater Lake, Galapagos Islands (photo courtesy of Miriam Steinitz-Kannan). [From Bush & Gosling, 2018]

Given the focus as Paul and Daniel’s careers, the special issue was to focus on South American and Africa palaeoecology.  Frank suggested that I take this opportunity to write a paper to submit to this special issue on some work I had completed previously, synthesising existing palaeoecological data from across tropical South America from the mid-Holocene to the present. So that is what I did! Continue reading

Antarctic temperatures, tropical research: Presenting at the QRA postgraduate conference

Between the 2nd and 4th of September, Heather and I attended the 2015 QRA Postgraduate Symposium at the University of Cambridge. As this was a conference only for PhD students, we saw this as a great opportunity to go and present for the first time in a relaxed environment and in front of a friendly crowd!

On the first day we had a guided tour of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) headquarters. These headquarters contain research facilities, laboratories, mapping facilities, geological stores and offices that support the research activities that BAS carry out in Antartica. We saw their marine biological research aquarium, where marine creatures are kept and studied after being bought back from Antartica. The logistics of transporting these creatures made getting samples back from the Amazon seem easy! We visited their mapping department, who produce bespoke maps for the Antarctic region. The researchers on field visits are dependent on these maps, especially the pilots of the aircraft that transport people and equipment across the region to various research stations and outposts. We then nearly froze to death after visiting one of their ice core laboratories! Finally, we saw their geology store where they have thousands of rocks and fossils. Overall, it was fascinating to see the work being carried out in a different field of research to our own – though I think I’m glad of getting to work in the 30-40˚C heat of the Amazon rather than the -20˚C of Antartica! In the evening, we had an ice breaker at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. It was quite novel to be eating and drinking wine in the company of some dinosaur skeletons.

The second day saw the start of the main conference. The conference was split into 5 sessions: 1. Ice Cores/Antartica, 2. Ocean Circulation, 3. Palaeoclimate reconstruction of UK/Ireland, 4. Palaeoclimate reconstruction of Eurasia, and 5. Palaeoclimate reconstructions of equatorial regions. We heard some really interesting talks on a wide range of topics such as reconstructing ocean circulations over 1.5 million years, reconstructing postglacial landscapes, looking at climatic impact of anthropogenic land use change, and many more! Mine and Heather’s talks were in the last session, so we had to wait till late afternoon on the second day. Although our projects are quite similar, I felt we successfully gave two complimentary presentations (and I don’t think the audience were too bored after hearing about the Amazon twice in a row!). Heather also got 2nd place in the ‘best presentation’ prize which was great!


Richard Smith

Richard at the conference talking about future climate predictions


Heather Plumpton

Heather talking at the conference about her sites in the Bolivian Amazon

Overall, it was a great conference to attend. It was the first time we had presented at a conference and the relaxed atmosphere made the whole experience much less stressful than it could have been. Everybody was very friendly and it’s always nice to hear about the interesting research that people are doing.


By Richard Smith

NERC SCENARIO DTP First Conference

My PhD is one of the projects in the first cohort of the NERC funded ‘SCENARIO‘ doctoral training partnership. On Tuesday 9th June, I attended the first SCENARIO DTP conference at the University of Surrey.  The conference was a chance for the existing SCENARIO students and their supervisors to discuss their progress from their first year, and also to meet some of the new students that are starting in September.  The conference was focused around three themes that reflect aspects of many of SCENARIO’s projects, each of which had a guest speaker that gave a talk on the importance of the research area and the challenges we face.

The first theme focused on “Fine-scale simulations”.  Professor Peter Clark gave a talk in which he gave an overview to the scientific challenges and opportunities that arise from the recent step changes in simulation capability for atmosphere and ocean flows.  The second theme focused on “Components of the Earth System”.  Professor Sandy Harrison talked about the need for a multi-component, multi-scale, multi-disciplinary approach to Earth System modelling and the challenges that this brings.  The third theme focused on “Remote sensing and satellite applications for environmental science”, with Dr Christine Chiu giving an overview as to the wealth of data that new satellite instruments are providing and how that data can be used.  As well as these three talks, we also split into three workshop groups and discussed the three research themes.  We talked about hot topics within each research theme and ideas for what future research is needed.

Throughout the day, posters from the first year SCENARIO students were on display (mine can be seen below).  This was a great way to see what research the other students have been doing and facilitated a lot of discussion between the students and supervisors.  Everyone was very enthusiastic about each other’s projects which encouraged us to speak confidently about our research area.  This also gave the new students to engage with the existing students and ask question about the life of a Reading PhD SCENARIO student.

Overall it was a great day that helped put our research projects in context of the challenges and opportunities that we face in Earth system science.

Richard Smith