Quaternary geology and Paleoclimate

Land temperature changes in South Africa during the last glacial cycle as backdrop for human cognitive evolution

This Master's project was assigned to Alfred Skeidsvoll who started his Master's program in Earth Sciences, UiB, in the fall semester 2023. The Master's project is given by the research group Quaternary geology and paleo climate.

Cave along rocky coast with waves along the shoreline
Ole Unhammer

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Project description

Background: Stalagmites are one of the most important natural archives to reconstruct past climate: they can be accurately and precisely dated by radiometric methods, their presence in caves shelters them from potential degradation, and cave temperature usually reflects the mean annual air temperature. The classic approach for reconstructing climate has been the variability of oxygen isotopes in the calcite, which reflects a combination of rainfall/rainwater sources and temperature. Several new methodological developments now allow to extract other key climatological parameters such as temperature, hydrology, and vegetation. One of these new methods is the Fluid Inclusion Water Isotope thermometry which relies on the direct analysis of remnants of fossil drip-water trapped in inclusions in the calcite. 

This project is connected to the SapienCE Center of Excellence that seeks to better understand the link between human evolution in South Africa and climate. Several stalagmites covering the timeframe ~50-90 thousand years ago, a key period that saw significant cultural and cognitive changes in early humans, have been collected in caves close to key archeological sites and will be used in this project. Two previous master students have demonstrated the applicability of the methods on these samples. The candidate will be part of the dynamic speleothem research group at GEO, will work with state-of-the-art infrastructure at FARLAB and will be encouraged to take part in the SapienCE research center activities.

Research questions:
How did temperature vary in South Africa between 90-50 ka?
Can the temperature record be connected to the archeological record?

Proposed course plan during the master's degree (60 ECTS):
GEOV222 (10P)
GEOV228 (10P)
GEOV300 (5P)

GEOV302 (10P) 
GEOV331 (5P) or GEOV324 (5P) in the fall
GEOV342 (10P) or GEOV241 (10P)
Plus 10P depending on your interests

Labwork ~ 6 months; While not strictly necessary for this project, participation in fieldwork in South Africa might be possible, depending on logistical constraints