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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Academic Staff  /  Chris Brierley

Dr Chris Brierley

1.jpgDepartment of Geography

University College London
North-West Wing
Gower Street

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7679 0571

OrCID: 0000-0002-9195-6731

ResearcherID: A-8417-2009
Google Scholar


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 was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2016, which was rebranded as Associate Professor in 2018. I am still in charge of the MSc Climate Change. and am involved in the London NERC DTP. I was the Department's inaugural Careers & Academic Support Tutor from 2017-2019.

Two most recent publications

Barnes, Chandler and Brierley (2019). New approaches to postprocessing of multi-model ensemble. Q. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc., in press, doi:10.1002/qj.36.32.

Koch, Brierley, Lewis and Maslin (2019). Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492. Quatern. Sci. Rev. 207, 13-36, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.12.004

Publications with over 200 citations (in Google Scholar)

Fedorov, Brierley, Lawrence, Liu, Dekens and Ravelo (2013), Patterns and mechanisms of early Pliocene warmth, Nature 496, 43–49, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.12.004.

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.

Please also check out the PMIP Var Data website that I maintain.

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 Climate Observations and Projections
    • I am working with colleagues in UCL Statistical Sciences to develop improved techniques for uncertainty quantification of climate observations (Ilyas et al., 2017)
    • Using emergent, observational constraints on future projections (Ho et al., 2015, is the first attempt to apply this approach with hydrological models)
    • Characterising the uncertainty in ocean models from physical parameters (Collins et al., 2007; Brierley et al., 2010

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 award-winning, 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.

Current offering

  • GEOG1002 Environmental Systems and Processes (1st yr undergrad)
  • GEOG3075 Professional Geography (3rd 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)

Previous contributions

  • 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

Primary Supervisor

  • Damian Oyarzun Valenzuela, "Climate change and air-quality in the Atacama Desert" [Funded through CONICYT, with Neil Rose as second supervisor]
  • Anni Zhao, "Pliocene climate and SST gradients"
  • Zhiyi Jiang, Hurricanes and Climate Change

Second Supervisor

  • Clair Barnes, "Statistical post-processing of weather forecasts" (supervsided by Richard Chandler in UCL Statistics)
Lab Alumni
  • Alexander Koch, Former PhD-student. "Pre-Columbian agriculture and markers of the Anthropocene" [Funded through the London NERC DTP, with Simon Lewis as second supervisor]
  • Sabela Regueiro Sanfiz, Former Postdoc Speleothems and South American climate
  • Maryam Ilyas, "Sparse, fitted empirical orthogonal functions for climate reconstruction" (supervised by Serge Guillas in UCL Statistical Science)