The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Helen Mackay

Teaching Fellow (Physical Geography)



I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2011 with a B.Sc. (Joint Hons) in Environmental Chemistry and Geography. In 2010 I completed summer placement with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) Radiocarbon Laboratories. During this placement I analysed the stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic values from archaeological bones and teeth samples to compare dietary habits in different locations.

My PhD was completed in 2015 within the Palaeoenvironmental Laboratories at the University of Southampton under the supervision of  Dr. Paul Hughes and Prof. Pete Langdon. The primary aim of my thesis was to characterise the relationship between late Holocene peatland hydrological conditions and carbon accumulation rates across a climate gradient in eastern North America. The cross-disciplinary project combined palaeoecology (plant macrofossil and testate amoebae), geochronology (tephra, radiocarbon and Bayesian statistics) and organic geochemistry (n-alkanes, carbon isotopes and GDGT's).

I joined Newcastle University as a Research Assistant working with Andy Henderson on the AHRC-funded Celtic Connections and Crannogs project. My role was to investigate human disturbance associated with crannog construction and use on Scottish and Irish lakes using  geochemical techniques (see Research tab for more details).

I have been employed as a Physical Geography Teaching Fellow since 2017.  

Education and employment summary

2017-2019: Physical Geography Teaching Fellow

2015-2017: Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Newcastle University

2011-2015: PhD in Geography, University of Southampton

Title: 'Testing peatland carbon responses to late Holocene environmental change in eastern North America'

2007-2011: B.Sc. first class joint honours in Geography and Environmental Chemistry, University of Glasgow

Professional membership

Quaternary Research Association (QRA)

Royal Geographical Society (RGS)

International Paleolimnology Association (IPA)

American Geophysical Union (AGU)


Twitter - @HelenMackay_

Google Scholar research profile

Celtic Crannogs project - website and twitter (@celticcrannogs)


Research project

'Celtic Connections and Crannogs: a study of lake settlements across the Irish Sea'

With Andy Henderson at Newcastle University, funded by AHRC.

Around 3000 years ago communities in Scotland and Ireland started building islands called 'crannogs' in lakes and mires, a practise that in places continued into the Medieval Period. A key question is why and how these sites fit into the emerging Celtic landscapes we still see today.

Together with colleagues from the University of SouthamptonPlymouth UniversityQueen's University, Belfast and AOC Archaeology Group, we aim to characterise and compare the timings of crannog construction and use across Scotland and Ireland. The project also aims to establish the function of the crannogs and assess the environmental impact of crannog-related activities on the small lakes in which they were built.

The Newcastle University crannog team will use geochemical tools (biogenic silica, carbon isotopes and a range of biomarkers) to identify and characterise periods of human disturbance evident within the lake sediments. The geochemical data will complement the palaeoecological, archaeological and molecular results being generated at the other partner institutions.

For more information visit the project website here.

General research interests

  • Biogeochemistry of modern and past environments
  • Human-environment interactions
  • Palaeoclimatology
  • Carbon and nutrient cycling within environmental systems 


Undergraduate Teaching

Stage 1:

GEO1005: Environmental Issues

GEO1019: Physical Geography Field Course

GEO1020: Introduction to Physical Geography

GEO1096: Geographical Skills

Stage 2:

GEO2037: Ireland Fieldtrip

GEO2043: Key Methods for Human Geography

GEO2127: Doing Physical Geography Research: Theory and Practice

GEO2136: Global Environmental Change

GEO2228: Biogeography

ARA2004: Environmental Archaeology 

Stage 3:

GEO3126: Global Change in the Anthropocene

GEO3128: Polar Environments

GEO3147: Palaeoclimates