Our group is interested in the manifold processes affecting sediments on our Earth’s surface, and how sediments interact with the atmosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere. In particular, we aim to understand and quantify the nature of land surface change in response to climatic and other drivers, and to understand the thresholds and causes of those changes. We are also involved in investigating the interactions between people and their environments, focusing on abrupt environmental changes (including hazards) that may influence behavioral changes by people, and vice versa on instances where people may overwhelmingly contribute to a breach of environmental thresholds, leading to landscape instability.

Our group is particularly interested in applying these research directions to loess piedmont and desert margin regions at risk of desertification. To investigate these questions, we combine the geochronological method of luminescence (and other trapped-charge) dating with sedimentological, geomorphological and geochemical approaches. In addition, we are increasingly integrating remote sensing and climate trajectory models into our research. We actively engage with complementary scientific disciplines (atmospheric sciences and meteorology, archaeology, physics, paleoecology, and biogeochemistry).

We are currently undertaking, and initiating, active research in the following themes and regions:

Quantitative reconstruction of past climates in Central Asian loess deposits, making use of the following methods

  1. Stable isotope (C, O) geochemistry in biogenic carbonates (pedogenic carbonates, calcitic root cells, molluscs, earthworm calcite granules)
  2. Biogeochemistry of bacterial lipids and plant waxes (BrGDGTs, n-alkanes)
  3. Weathering and palaeotemperature using elemental analysis
  4. Cosmogenic 10Be and environmental magnetism for palaeoprecipitation reconstruction
  5. Particle size analysis, colorimetry, environmental magnetism, micromorphology, stratigraphy
  6. Luminescence and palaeomagnetic dating and age modelling


Spatial variability in long-term dust accumulation across continental scales, using

    1. Geochronology, age modelling, and calculation of sedimentation rates
    2. Climate reanalysis and Lagrangian trajectory analysis


Morphologic variability in desert dune fields on large scales, using

    1. Remote sensing and GIS
    2. Machine learning and semi-automated mapping algorithms


Hydroclimatic variability on dryland margins, using

    1. Sedimentological facies analysis and micromorphology, combined with stratigraphy
    2. Geomorphology and digital elevation models
    3. Geochronological frameworks based on luminescence dating


Interaction between humans and dryland environments

Particularly with respect to chronological frameworks for human occupation and dispersal, combined with sedimentology and geomorphology

Investigation of trapped-charge in quartz and feldspar as potential provenance tools, using

    1. Luminescence characteristics (OSL, TL, IRSL sensitivity)
    2. Electron spin resonance


Our research is currently funded by the Max Planck Society and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

We are happy to discuss the supervision of B.Sc. and M.Sc. projects in these or related topics! We are also happy to discuss potential postdoc projects and funding. Please contact Kathryn Fitzsimmons for more information.

Other projects

Developing new proxies for aeolian sediment provenance based on trapped-charge techniques

Funding: Max Planck Society independent research group. Collaboration with A Timar-Gabor (Babes-Bolyai University Romania)

A 2 million year record of Central Asian rainfall based on 10Be in loess

Funding: Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Association with D Fink (ANSTO Sydney), T Fujioka (CENIEH Burgos), G Scardia (UNESP Brazil)

Terrestrial system response to North Atlantic climate oscillations in Rhineland loess deposits during the last full glacial cycle

Funding: DFG Sachbeihilfe with P Fischer, A Vött (JGU Mainz)