Some of the exciting work going on at BECS:

Alkenones as a Proxy for Lake Temperature

Alkenones logo
EUlogoNERC LogoAlkenones are globally abundant hydrocarbon lipids produced by haptophyte algae. Haptophytes produce large quantities of alkenones seasonally, not only in the oceans, but also in lakes. These lipids are utilised for reconstructing past surface ocean temperatures; however, the diversity of alkenone producers in lakes makes equivalent lake surface temperature reconstructions challenging. BECS research focuses on proxy development for using alkenones in lakes and better understanding how the organisms relate to the lipids that they produce.

Ongoing research in alkenone paleothermometry includes projects in:

Northern Great Plains of the U.S. & Canada
northern great plains

Hokkaido, Japan
hollaido japan


Lake District and Scotland, UKLake district and Scotland


Hydrologic and ecosystem change in the Sierra Nevada of Southern Spain

In September 2013, Dr. Jaime L. Toney participated in an expedition to high elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada of Southern Spain with colleagues from the University of Granada, Spain and Northern Arizona University, U.S. to collect and analyse samples from lakes located at >3,000m elevation. Two long sediment cores were collected from a lake, Laguna de la Mosca and a peat bog, Borreguil de Caldera. The sediment core from Laguna de la Mosca extends 2-meters into the lake sediment and is the longest core ever recovered from this high elevation in the region. Preliminary radiocarbon dates suggest that the record extends back just over 8,200 years of climate history. The core from Borreguil de Caldera is 56-centimeters long and covers the last 4,000 years of climate history. Initial biomarker and pollen analyses are underway from these cores to determine how hydrology has changed in the past and how the ecosystem responded.

You can find out more at:

Glacial/interglacial terrestrial climate from long-term terrestrial archives: Stoneman Lake, Arizona

Students from Northern Arizona University, US, assisting in the drilling process

Students from Northern Arizona University, US, assisting in the drilling process

Long, continuous records of past climate change over millions of years typically come from marine and polar archives, such as ocean sediments and polar ice cores. These records extend our knowledge about how the Earth system and climate have changed over 100s of thousands to millions of years and have identified major changes in ocean circulation and glacial/interglacial conditions, which today serve as analogues to understand periods of extreme climate change, e.g., >4°C warming at glacial/interglacial transitions (see Hansen and Sato, 2012).  Relatively few archives from terrestrial environments exist that can provide similar longevity and resolution; however, a 73-m, lacustrine sediment drill-core has recently been collected from Stoneman Lake, Arizona, U.S. This record extends back over ~13 full glacial/interglacial cycles and is the focus of a large international collaboration to better understand drought occurrence during the warm and arid interglacial periods in the Southwest U.S

Astrobiology: Molecular Signatures of Life in Mars Analogue Environments


space agency logoBECS is pleased to collaborate with Dr. Vernon Phoenix, University of Glasgow, and use molecular fossils to detect signatures of life in a unique Mars analogue – the Chilean Altiplano! The Chilean Altiplano offers the key elements that are essential to the search for evidence of life on Mars. Like the Martian surface, water in the surface soils of the Chilean Altiplano is trapped in solid form due to subzero temperatures, however, can become liquid due to intense solar radiation during the day. This combined mix of cold, high insolation flux and liquid-water-unstable conditions offers an excellent analogue to explore the preservation of molecular signs of life. We currently have three PhD students (see BECS Members) working on this exciting UK Space Agency-funded research with an aim to provide critical information on preservation and distribution of molecular signs of life that will inform sampling strategies and underpin data interpretation for ExoMars 2018.

methane emissions

Methane Emissions from Modern Peatlands

Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas and the largest natural source of CH4 to the atmosphere is peatlands. BECS is currently developing terrestrial biomarkers that can be used to test how CH4 emissions changed during warm climates of the past, such as during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP, 950 to 1250 AD) or the Eocene greenhouse (55 million years ago).


The Eocene Greenhouse (~55 million years ago)

eoceneThe early Eocene, 55 to 43 million years ago (Ma), is a potential an analogue for the Earth’s climate response to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Models project that early Eocene pCO2 concentrations (~1,000ppmv to >2,000ppmv) could be reached by as early as 2300 AD if left unabated. Recently, global climate models (GCMs) have reproduced the high surface temperatures (i.e. annual average ≅ 29°C) and reduced equator-to-pole temperature gradients of the early Eocene (see Huber and Caballero, 2011); however, the global carbon dynamics remain unconstrained by both GCMs and pCO2 proxies.

I am analysing terrestrial biomarkers from the early Eocene section of core 1356A from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 318 to understand the role of an ice-free Antarctica in the global carbon cycle in this greenhouse world. (Image from:

There are a number of Ongoing Projects at BECS. If you would like to collaborate, please contact us.