Dr Chris Brierley
Department of Geography
University College London
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7679 0571
I am interested in how the climate evolved in the past and will do so going into the future. Like the climate, my career path has steadily evolved since its start in physics (BSc, Durham, 2002). I then studied coupled climate modelling (PhD in Meteorology, University of Reading, 2007), which combines physical oceanography with atmospheric physics. A post-doc in the Geology & Geophysics department at Yale exposed me to the true scale of Earth history.
I have been at UCL Geography since 2011, when I was brought in to launch two MSc programmes: in Climate Change and Environmental Modelling. I still convene both programmes, so contact me about admissions.
Two most recent publications
Brierley and Fedorov (2016), Comparing the impacts of Miocene–Pliocene changes in inter-ocean gateways on climate: Central American Seaway, Bering Strait, and Indonesia, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 444, 116-130, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2016.03.010
Evans, Brierley, Raymo, Erez and Müller (2016), Planktic foraminifera shell chemistry response to seawater chemistry: Pliocene–Pleistocene seawater Mg/Ca, temperature and sea level change, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 438, 139-148, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2016.01.013
Publications with over 100 citations (in Google Scholar)
Fedorov, Brierley, Lawrence, Liu, Dekens and Ravelo (2013), Patterns and mechanisms of early Pliocene warmth, Nature 496, 43–49, doi:10.1038/nature12003.
Fedorov, Brierley and Emanuel (2010), Tropical cyclones and permanent El Nino in the early Pliocene epoch, Nature 463, 1066–1070, doi:10.1038/nature08831.
Brierley, Fedorov, Lui, Herbert, Lawrence and LaRiviere (2009), Greatly Expanded Tropical Warm Pool and Weakened Hadley Circulation in the Early Pliocene, Science 323, 1714–1718, doi:10.1126/science.1167625.
Click here for my full list of Publications
Click here for a list of my Presentations
The Earth is heading to a climate state not seen in the history of our species. The climate models we use to make projections of that state contain considerable uncertainty. I try to understand, reduce and quantify this uncertainty. Identifying why climate has changed in the past can help us understand the range of its future changes. This is especially true of past warm periods and my particular choice is the Pliocene (around 5-3 million years ago when CO2 levels were last at their present, elevated ones).
- Uncertainty in Future Climate Projections
- Characterising the uncertainty in ocean models from physical parameters (Collins et al., 2007; Brierley et al., 2010)
- I am working with colleagues in UCL Statistical Sciences to develop improved techniques for uncertainty quantification of climate models (the ReCoVER project)
- Using emergent, observational constraints on future projections (Ho et al., 2015, is the first attempt to apply this approach with hydrological models)
- Climate of the Pliocene
- A vast pool of warm water encompassed the majority of the tropical ocean in this period (Fedorov et al., 2013). resulting in a weak atmospheric circulation (Brierley et al., 2009)
- Mechanisms behind this warm pool could involve tropical cyclone feedbacks (Fedorov et al., 2010), rather than inter-ocean gateways (Brierley & Fedorov, 2016)
- I reviewed both the relevant chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change and the plans for next stage of the Pliocene Model Intercomparison Project
- Past Climate Variability
- Early human-climate interactions
- Pastoralism in northern Africa during the mid-Holocene
- The impact of the native American depopulation to the global carbon cycle
- East African climate changes over the Plio-Pleistocene and their consequences for Human evolution (Maslin et al., 2014)
- Hurricanes and Climate Change (reserved for student researchers)
- Joon Koh (MSc, 2013) performed the first study comparing cyclone formation in both past and future climate projections (Koh & Brierley, 2015)
- Joshua Studholme (BSc, 2013) objectively identified instances of cyclones exiting the tropics (Studholme et al., 2015)
- Mark Muetzelfeldt (MSc, 2013) developed a machine-learning hurricane-tracking algorithm for model simulations
Climate change is a global problem that needs to urgent action to safeguard our future. My research just really diagnoses the problem we face, rather than providing a part of the solution. I see that the biggest contribution I can make is through using my expertise to educate others and raise awareness of the issue. This has led me engage with the public through a series of conventional science education activities. The most substantial of these have been teaching at geography 'A' level revision courses and a short course at the Royal Institution that ran in both 2013 and 2014. I have also helped the Royal Meteorological Society produce school resources about past climates.
I aim to be generous with my time to field scientific questions be they from large institutions (such as the BBC or the UK Government) or individuals. This has led me to fielding media enquiries (mainly to print journalists, but I have appeared on the national news).
As well as personally talking about climate science, I've been thinking about the best way that dialogue should take place. Firstly, where possible it should actually be a bespoke dialogue rather than an information-deficit barrage of facts. This has lead me to be involved with a policy commission based at UCL. We have given evidence to Parliament and authored a cross-disciplinary report on the topic. This work has been folded into a training workshop for PhD students at the London NERC DTP.
- GEOG1002 Environmental Systems and Processes (1st yr undergrad)
- GEOGG120 Models in Environmental Science (masters level)
- GEOGG130 Climate Dynamics (masters level)
- GEOGG134 Climate Modelling (masters level)
- Introduction to Earth System Science (PhD training)
- Environmental Modelling (PhD training)
- GEOG1006 Ideas in Geography (1st yr undergrad)
- GEOG2020 Hydroclimatology (2nd yr undergrad)
- GEOG3037 Climatology (3rd yr undergrad)
- GEOGG133 Past Climates (masters level)
- Yale G&G 402/602 Introduction to Paleoclimates
- Yale G&G 523/323 Theory of Climate
- Yale G&G 535/335 Physical Oceanography
- Yale G&G 702 Physical Science of Global Climate Change
- Alexander Koch, "Pre-Columbian agriculture and markers of the Anthropocene" [Funded through the London NERC DTP, with Simon Lewis as second supervisor]
- Damian Oyarzun Velaquez, "Climate change and air-quality in the Atacama Desert" [Funded through CONICYT, with Neil Rose as second supervisor]
- Maryam Ilyas, "Sparse, fitted empirical orthogonal functions for climate reconstruction" (supervised by Serge Guillas in UCL Statistical Science)
- Emma Gale, "Projecting the risks of extreme rainfall events in Southeast Asia" (supervised by Mark Saunders in UCL Space & Climate Physics)
- Adrian Matei, "The role of bubbles in atmosphere-ocean gas exchange" (supervised by Helen Czerski in UCL Mechanical Engineering)