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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Research Students  /  Poppy Harding

Poppy Harding



Environmental Change Research Centre
Department of Geography 
University College London
Pearson Building
Gower Street


Primary: Professor Anson Mackay (UCL)
Secondary: Professor Jonathan Holmes (UCL)


Current Research

PhD Title: Ecosystem Responses to Abrupt Climatic Change in Southern Siberia during the Late Quaternary.

The Late Quaternary Period (~ 30 ky years – where ky signifies thousands of years) is characterised by climatic changes over a range of timescales including long-term glacial-interglacial cycles that operate over tens of thousands of years to abrupt climatic forcing taking place over thousands to hundreds of years. Many archives including ice cores, marine and terrestrial records detail the superposition of these abrupt changes over the pattern of long term trends. Despite this, many important regions require further study to understand the expression and ecosystem impacts of these events, which is often due to the limited number of well dated records, with suitable proxies. This is especially important as patterns of past climatic and environmental change are often used to test how well we understand climate change and are thus able to predict the future. In this context Siberia is one of the critical regions, due to climatic changes of 2-5°C being expected over the next 50 years, and recent warming is already causing significant changes including alterations in Siberian High strength, reduced snow-cover and permafrost which limits albedo and releases methane.

Understanding the past relationships between abrupt climatic changes and Siberian environments provides a key opportunity for understanding an important part of the past environmental record. It is also critical for informing studies of current and future climatic and environmental changes in the world’s most continental region. This is essential, as many climatic shifts are thought to be driven by changes in oceanic regions and the impact of these shifts is also most studied in these areas. It is not certain, however, how far these abrupt climate changes impact across different parts of the globe, and especially across major continents.  Siberia offers a key continental region to examine these changes away from the oceanic influences. In addition, Siberia is an important region for studying the past dispersal of human species around Eurasia, with evidence for new species and of ancient humans and the interbreeding of different human species found in recent archaeological studies. Palaeoenvironmental reconstructions in the region are essential for providing environmental context for these early human dispersals and interactions as environment is known to play a critical role in the evolution.

Despite the many reasons to undertake research in this key region, most Siberian records are currently analysed at a low temporal and spatial resolution, with a focus on Lake Baikal, meaning regional variability of abrupt change is poorly understood, while limited site distribution prevents clear understanding of the patterns and forcing of local ecosystem change.

This Ph.D. project aims to reconstruct southern Siberian environments to understand ecosystem responses to abrupt climatic forcing during the Late Quaternary. This will be achieved following several objectives which are outlined below:

  1. Production of a detailed diatom palaeohydrological/palaeoecological reconstruction, supplemented by oxygen isotope analyses, alongside detailed radiocarbon dating and high precision age modelling from Lake Baunt, a high-resolution record in south-central Siberia.
  2. Consideration of the results against collaborators palaeodata which include palynology and geochemical isotopes.
  3. Consideration of the results through comparison with published Siberian records including Lake Baikal, and global archives including Hulu Cave stalagmites and Greenland ice cores to analyse regional sensitivity to abrupt climatic forcing and their expression in continental regions.


Academic Qualifications

2014-Present – University College London
Ph.D. Ecosystem Responses to Abrupt Late Quaternary Climatic Change in Southern Siberia

Funded by the National Environments Research Council through the London NERC DTP.

2012-2013 – Royal Holloway, University of London
MSc Quaternary Science

2009-2012 – Royal Holloway, University of London
BSc Geography


2013-2014 – Royal Holloway, University of London.
Research Assistant in Tephrochronology in the Department of Geography.

Grants and Awards

'Abrupt hydrological variability during the Holocene at the forest – steppe ecotone' - IP-1725-0517. Grant awarded by NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities Steering Committee - June 2017.

'Late Pleistocene records of palaeoproductivity and silica utilization in southern Siberia' - IP-1678-1116. Grant awarded by NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities Steering Committee - December 2016.

Mead Travel Fund - 2016

14CHRONO Centre Radiocarbon Dating Award – 2016

Find a Masters Earth & Environmental Sciences Masters Scholarship – 2012

Royal Holloway University of London Scholarship (1 of 5) from the Department of Geography for Masters study – 2012

Royal Holloway University of London Russell Prize for Undergraduate Dissertation Proposal from the Department of Geography – 2011



Peer Reviewed Journal Articles:

Blockley, S., Pellegrini, M., Colonese, A. C., Lo Ventro, D., Albert, P. G., Brauer, A., Di Giuseppe, Z., Evans, A., Harding, P., Lee-Thorp, J., Lincoln, P., Martini, F., Pollard, M., Smith, V., Donahue, R. (2017). Dating human occupation and adaptation in the southern European last glacial refuge: The chronostratigraphy of Grotta del Romito (Italy). Quaternary Science Reviews. In press - corrected proof available online:

Blockley, S., Brauer, A., Davies, S., Hardiman, M., Harding, P., Lane, C., MacLeod, A., Matthews, I., Pyne-O’Donnell, S., Rasmussen, O. S., Wulf, S., Zanchetta, G. (2014). Tephrochronology and the Extended INTIMATE (INtegration of Ice-core, Marine and TErrestrial records) Event Stratigraphy 8-128 Ka B2k. Quaternary Science Reviews 106, 88-100.

Conference Presentations:

- Oral Presentations

Quaternary Research Association Postgraduate Symposium September 2017

European Geosciences Union conference April 2017

Perspectives on Environmental Change DTP conference September 2016

- Poster Presentations

INTIMATE Tephrochronology Meeting (Pisa) April 2014

INTIMATE Meeting (Zaragoza) June 2014

European Geosciences Union 2015

QRA Postgraduate Symposium September 2015

QRA ADM January 2016

Invited Talks:

'Siberian Ecosystem Responses to Abrupt Climate Change. Lessons from Lake Records Over the Late Quaternary' - Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society - December 2016.

'Lacustrine ecosystem responses to abrupt Late Quaternary climatic change in Siberia' - Climate and Chronology Series - RLAHA, University of Oxford - November 2016.

Impact, Outreach and Other Research

Outreach & Impact

When it rains it pours, however I have a passion for outreach so even the downpour at the end of the QRA ADM January 2016 Outreach Day while we packed away our stands couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm left as a result of talking to members of the public about my research. This event gave me the opportunity to explain the research I am undertaking for my PhD and additionally allows the public a superb opportunity to ask about why research being undertaken in remote regions of Siberia is relevant for them.

Additionally to this event I have also previously been involved in Science Open Days at Royal Holloway, University of London, (2014, 2016) assisting to run a range of activities including looking at hominin stone tool evolution and also running my own activity on the use of diatoms for palaeoclimatic research.

Additionally to outreach opportunities the impact of my research is also being increased through being presented at several academic conferences (see publications) and additionally at public events including at the Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society in December 2016.

Other Research

Additionally to my Ph.D. research I have a broad Quaternary interest, and am a member of the Quaternary Research Association. I also have an avid interest in chronology, particularly tephrochronology, and I am involved with ongoing work in Poland creating tephro-chronologies for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions which are being developed to provide context for archaeological sites in the Wojnovo region.