The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Emma Pearson

Principal Research Associate



BSc Environmental Geography (UCL)

MSc Quaternary Science (UCL/RHUL) Thesis Validating diatom-hydrological and hydrochemical transfer functions in Lake Hora, Ethiopia

NERC funded PhD (Newcastle University) Thesis Lipid biomarkers in Spanish saline lake sediments: indicators of source inputs and environmental change

Area of Expertise

Palaeoclimate reconstruction, Quaternary and Holocene environmental change, organic geochemistry, biomarkers, lake sediments.

Roles and Responsibilities

Chair of the Newcastle University Expeditions Committee (2010 - )

Chair of Geography's Sonia Stonehouse Expedition Fund Committee (2008 - )

Faculty research representative on the University Research Strategy Group (2009 - 2018)

Member of the Quaternary Research Association Executive Committee (2014 - 2017)


American Geophysical Union (AGU), European Geosciences Union (EGU), International Paleolimnology Association (IPA), European Association of Organic Geochemists (EAOG), British Organic Geochemical Society (BOGS), Quaternary Research Association (QRA)

Google Scholar


Research Interests

Palaeoclimate reconstruction, Quaternary and Holocene environmental change, organic geochemistry, biomarkers, lake sediments.

My research focuses on the use of lipid biomarkers, especially glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) and compound specific isotopes (leaf wax δC and δD), for reconstructing Quaternary environmental and climatic change from a range of locations worldwide. Ongoing projects focus on Ethiopia, Antarctica and Japan.

Research Projects

Quantifying past temperatures from Antarctic lake sediments: Links to wind strength and CO2 degassing of the Southern Ocean during the last deglaciation. PI Dr Steve Roberts (British Antarctic Survey). Funded by NERC LSMSF grant (2018 - present)

A 500,000 year environmental record from Chew Bahir, south Ethiopia: testing hypotheses of climate-driven human evolution, innovation and dispersal. PI Prof. Henry Lamb (Aberystwyth University). Funded by NERC (2014 - present).

This project is part of a programme of research aimed at understanding the long-term dynamics of environmental change in eastern Africa and its relationship to the emergence, development and impact of human cultures in the region. It is part of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme’s (ICDP) Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP) and involves researchers from the UK, USA, Germany and Ethiopia. 

Greenland fjord calving and ice melt history (POEM). PI Thorbjoern Joest Andersen (University of Copenhagen). Funded by the University of Copenhagen (2014-2016).

Reconstructing Holocene palaeoclimate in the South Pacific from terrestrial sediment archives. With Prof. David Sear, Prof. Peter Langdon, Prof. Ian Croudace and PhD student Jonathan Hassall (University of Southampton). Funded by NERC PhD studentship and NERC LSMSF grant for compound specific biomarker analyses (2013-2017).

Climatic controls on species-specific leaf wax hydrogen and carbon isotopes in subtropical Australia. PI Dr Andrew Henderson (Newcastle University). Funded by Newcastle University Faculty Research Fund and NERC LSMSF grant (2012-2017).

Arctic lake carbon processing and terrestrial vegetation transitions (LAC-VEG): PI Dr Suzanne McGowan and PhD student Mark Stevenson (Nottingham University). Funded by EU-INTERACT and NERC / ESRC PhD studentship (2012-2016).

This project uses geochemical analyses of sediment cores  to reconstruct Holocene catchment vegetation changes and infer periods of past lake autotrophy/heterotrophy. Vegetation changes influence soil carbon  and nutrient cycling, but the extent to which they change the storage or release of carbon at a landscape scale, and the role that lakes play as carbon processing focal points is currently not well understood. Our work focuses on lakes from Disko Island, West Greenland. 

Reconstructing Holocene climate change across the Polar Frontal Zone (PFZ): With Dr Steve Roberts and Dr Dominic Hodgson (British Antarctic Survey), Dr Steve Juggins and PhD student Louise Taylor (Newcastle University). Funded by NERC PhD studentship (2011-2015).

This project examines variations in the movement of the PFZ and changes in the strength, intensity and position of the Southern Hemisphere westerly wind circulation over the Holocene. Geochemical, sedimentological, isotopic and biomarker techniques are being applied to reconstruct changes in temperature, precipitation and nutrient flux using lake sediments from the Antarctic Peninsula, sub-Antarctic islands and East Antarctica.

Quantitative reconstructions of past climate and relative sea level change on the South Shetland Islands: (PI Dr Stephen Roberts, British Antarctic Survey). 2011 Fieldwork season funded by NERC / BAS Collaborative Gearing Scheme grant and the European Science Foundation IMCOAST Project. Fieldwork carried out in collaboration with the Instituto Antárctico Argentino (IAA) and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). 

Lake sediment, water and catchment samples were collected from the Potter Peninsula on King George Island, South Shetland Islands to examine inorganic and organic geochemistry, and climate-driven biogeochemical changes over the last 2000 years. On-going work contributes to the ESF-funded IMCOAST project.

Deciphering timings and rates of abrupt climate changes over the Lateglacial-Holocene period: The Lake Suigetsu biomarker record: PI, with CoI Prof. Takeshi Nakagawa (Newcastle University). Funded by NERC (2009-2010). 

This project examines the Late Glacial-Holocene biomarker record of Lake Suigetsu, Japan, with a focus on deciphering timings and rates of climate change across the Younger Dryas and Holocene boundaries. The Lake Suigetsu sediments are also being examined for evidence of the “8.2ka event”. Biomarkers are being used to provide information on changes in source inputs and processes occurring within the lake and catchment while compound specific isotope analysis (δD) is being used to provide information on past hydrological conditions. Fourier Transform Near Infra Red Spectroscopy (FT-NIRS) is being used to reconstruct high resolution changes in sediment total organic content (TOC). 

Development of glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) as temperature indicators in lake sediments. PI. Funded by Newcastle University Faculty Research Fund (2007-2008).

This project focuses on the calibration of GDGT biomarkers as temperature indicators in lakes and includes lakes from Scandinavia, Europe, Japan, Central and South America, East Africa and Antarctica.



Postgraduate Supervision

Palaeolimnology, development and application of biomarkers to reconstruct past vegetation, environments and climate (including lacustrine alkenone and GDGT temperature calibration, leaf wax δC and δD), Quaternary and Holocene environmental change, timings and rates of abrupt climate changes.

Charlotte Rex 2019-2023 (PhD NERC IAPETUS2 based at SUERC) High resolution palaeoenvironmental reconstruction from Lake Suigetsu, Japan.

Alice Anstee 2019-2020 (MRes) Developing a new approach to reconstructing high precision records of environmental change in travertine sequences inTurkey.

Bianca Cavazzin 2015-2019 (PhD NERC IAPETUS based at Glasgow) Paleotemperature change in the drought-prone Canadian Prairies.

Jonathan Hassall 2013-2017 (PhD NERC based at Southampton) Reconstructing Holocene palaeoclimate in the South Pacific from lake sediment archives.

Mark Stevenson 2012-2016 (PhD ESRC/NERC based at Nottingham) Arctic lake carbon processing and terrestrial vegetation transitions

Louise Foster 2011-2015 (PhD NERC joint with British Antarctic Survey) Reconstructing Mid-Late Holocene Climate and Environmental Change in Antarctica using Glycerol Dialkyl Glycerol Tetraethers (GDGTs) and Pigments in Lake Sediments