Creating a tephrochronological framework for linking climate, environmental change and human colonisation of the South Pacific.

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Anna Bourne

School of Geography, QMUL

Anna Bourne's Profile Picture

Project Description:

The archipelagos of Polynesia in the South Pacific were the last habitable places on earth colonised by humans. However, the timing of this colonisation has been poorly resolved across many islands, with dates varying by up to 1000 years, precluding understanding of the interplay between human, ecological and climate impacts on these pristine ecosystems. The late colonisation of many Pacific islands makes them, theoretically, the ideal location to study natural environments prior to, and subsequent to the arrival of humans, but conversely there is a paucity of palaeoenvironmental research. Very little high quality palaeoenvironmental data spanning this period exists for the South Pacific. In order to begin to answer questions about the interplay between prehistoric human migration, the climate and environment, archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records need to be well dated and independently synchronised, something which is not currently possible.

The region has been volcanically active over the Holocene and this project will use tephrochronology to produce a framework of
isochronous marker horizons that can be used to connect disparate archives and, where independent age-estimates for an eruption exist, to contribute additional chronological information. This project will produce the first tephrochronological framework for South Pacific islands. There is scope to work on cores from different island groups and also the potential to include other chronological and palaeoenvironmental techniques alongside the tephra work.

Policy Impact of Research:

The project will refine South Pacific volcanic histories, thus aiding future volcanic hazard awareness in the region. By assessing the timing and impact of human colonisation and its relation to past environmental change, this project also serves to examine the impact of eruptions on humans and ecosystems, helping to inform us about the impact of future climate changes and volcanic eruptions on these islands.

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