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Environmental change

Research on environmental change in the School focuses on the mechanisms, rates and trajectories of past, present and future environmental change at regional to global scales, and on the implications for the biosphere and society. 

The Environmental Change Research Group (ECRG) comprises physical and environmental geographers with complementary research interests in:

  • ecology and palaeoecology
  • palaeoceanography
  • palaeoclimatology and climate change
  • geomorphology
  • glaciology and geochronology
  • the societal impacts of environmental change
  • resource management.

Collectively, the group engages a global canvas that extends from tropical rainforests to arctic glaciers, and over timescales spanning the past million years to the future.

Current research interests

Current research includes:

  • reconstructing Holocene environmental change and landscape evolution in a wide range of terrestrial and offshore shelf environments. 
  • monitoring and modelling glacier and ice-sheet behaviour, including calving processes, ice and ocean interactions, surge glacier dynamics and glacier response to climate change. St Andrews Glaciology
  • analysing the dynamics of past glaciers and ice sheets, and their relation to atmospheric and oceanic circulation
  • investigation of the palaeoceanography, palaeoecology, climate change, environmental archaeology, land-use change and socio-ecological systems in the North Atlantic region (Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland)  
  • reconstructing vegetational and climatic changes in the Mediterranean region over multiple glacial-interglacial cycles
  • analysing tropical peatland processes through palaeoecological reconstruction and peatland characterization. Tropical Wetlands Consortium 
  • ecosystem resilience and early warning signals of thresholds and transitions to alternative states in Earth systems
  • assessing the ecological, societal and economic impacts of past, present and future environmental changes and their implications for conservation, resource management and communities.

Approaches and techniques

The ECRG’s research incorporates diverse approaches and techniques supported by an extensive range of laboratory and field equipment, including:

  • geochronology (tephrochronology, radiocarbon dating, cosmogenic isotopes)
  • the use of proxy palaeoenvironmental indicators (subfossil pollen assemblages, benthic foraminifera)
  • geophysics
  • sedimentology
  • geomorphology
  • stable isotope geochemistry
  • numerical modelling.

Research activities

Although the focus for research activity is the Environmental Change Research Group, which is convened within the School, it welcomes participation by colleagues from other Schools within the University.

Founded in 1990 to promote presentation and discussion of research problems, initiatives and results, it includes in its activities:

  • sharing of technical skills and research experience, opening the way to internal collaborative research and expanding the scope of individual research agendas
  • dscussion of strategy, appointments and infrastructural support
  • dissemination of funding opportunities and discussion of grant applications, research management and knowledge exchange
  • interfacing with SAGES, the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society

Strategic priorities of ECRG include:

  • expanding research capacity in the fields of quaternary palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, Holocene environmental change, and environmental management to strengthen and diversify their research portfolio in these areas
  • exploiting their central position as a key research link between the Earth sciences, human geography and sustainable development to develop joint research and funding initiatives
  • augmenting and improving their research infrastructure in line with the analytical requirements of present staff and future appointees
  • expanding their thriving postgraduate and postdoctoral research community.