NERC Advanced Research Fellow and Lecturer in Geology, University of Hull

I began my NERC Advanced Research Fellowship here in GEES in August 2013, following a year and a half working at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromso where I was a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellow. Broadly speaking, my research looks at the record of environmental change during Earth’s greatest mass extinction events. Whilst in Norway I worked on the causes and consequences of climate change associated with the Middle Permian (c. 260 million years ago) and end Permian (c. 250 Myr) catastrophes in Spitsbergen (then, as now, in the “Boreal Realm” of high northerly latitudes). I spent three fantastic summers (2011-2013, see my Youtube videos) in the field in Spitsbergen collecting data and samples for palaeontological, sedimentological and geochemical analysis (my main “tools”). My new, five year project, will expand the Boreal mass extinction theme as I look at the three largest ecological events between the Middle Permian and Jurassic in Spitsbergen (again!), Arctic Canada, and far-east Russia (Vladivostok / Magadan areas). Thus my fieldwork allows me to avoid the excess summer heat which seems to be a perennial feature of the East Riding. Before moving to Norway and then Hull, I spent 15 years down the M62 at Leeds, where I studied Environmental Geology (2000), and completed a PhD on Devonian mass extinctions (2004). I went on to teach Geological Sciences at Leeds and travelled the world many times as part of my post doc from 2006-2010. Now, I help deliver several modules on our BSc Geology with Physical Geography programme, and say to any budding geologists that the best thing about the job is getting paid to travel and research the geology of some of the world’s weirdest destinations. It’s also nice to share my research with anybody that cares to listen!

I have worked on 4 of the "Big 5" extinctions (all except the end Cretaceous, which is too big a field and far too young an event for me!). For the past few years I have extensively studied one event that doesn’t belong to the exclusive “Big 5” club: the Middle Permian mass extinction. From 2006 I examined the relationship between Middle Permian marine extinctions and contemporaneous large scale volcanism in southern China, thus establishing the first direct link between these two phenomena (see e.g. the Wignall et al., 2009 paper in Science on my “Publications” tab). The volcanism-extinction link is profound in many extinction scenarios, and it has become a focus of my research in recent years. But I want to know how volcanism in one region (South China in the case of the Middle Permian) can affect ecosystems on a global scale – and so I began my latest research interest: the record of mass extinctions in the Boreal Realm (high northerly latitudes). My new 5 year NERC project will involve a major study of climate / environmental change and its effects on high latitude ecosystems during the Permian-to-Jurassic. This will involve fieldwork in regions that were in the Boreal Realm at that time (and still are!), namely Spitsbergen, Arctic Canada (Ellesmere Island) and the Russian far east. We know so little about the fate of life in these areas, since most of our knowledge of extinctions comes from low latitude settings. One of my goals in the next few years is to establish whether there exists a latitudinal bias to extinction risk, i.e. does living in high latitudes make things more or less likely to suffer extinction due to environmental change? To that end, my research will not only be of interest to the mass extinction community, but I hope also to provide data that can influence the debate on modern environmental change. You can see what I've been doing from my “Publications” tab, which I will endeavour to keep updated.

I'm also a keen gold panner... as well as panning my wedding ring, I have developed this interest into research that links sedimentology to the study of placer gold, particularly in the Yukon. I am yet to make my fortune, although did stake a mine out there in 2009 (since lost in a bitter feud over 6 feet of pine forest...).

Experience

  • –present
    Lecturer in Geology, University of Hull