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Dr. Stephen Roberts - Profile

Research Interests

I am a Research Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Cambridge, studying past environmental change in Antarctica and on the Sub-Antarctic islands.


My current research focuses on undertaking fieldwork and producing scientific data and publications for multi-disciplinary projects reconstructing past environments on the Antarctic Peninsula, the sub Antarctic Islands, East Antarctica and South America. I work in the BAS Chemistry and Past Climate Group which is using lake, marine and ice core records to understand past climate and relative sea level change for the last 20,000 years. Sediments laid down in lakes provide detailed record of past environmental and past climate change of regional and global importance. The research we undertake contributes towards the aims of the Polar Science for Planet Earth (PSPE) strategic science framework at the BAS. It forms part of the government-funded Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) environmental science strategy for the UK, which recognises that the Antarctic and Arctic are key components of the Earth system. We use a wide-range of high resolution and state-of-the-art techniques, working closely with colleagues in the UK and Europe. In particular, we have long-standing collaborations with the University of Ghent, Belgium and the Universities of Durham and Newcastle. Our overriding aim is to produce records of past environmental and past climate change from Antarctica, and place them more securely in a global context. To achieve this, we regularly contribute to international research programs, some of which were used in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of the likely causes, future progression and possible impact of global climate change.


Since joining BAS in 2004, I have led or played a leading role in 8 international field campaigns to Antarctica and Chile; published over 20 papers; successfully supervised/co-supervised or played a leading support role for 11 PhD students (2 UK/9 international); represented the BAS at more than 20 international and national scientific meetings and workshops. In the last ten years, I have been part of research teams which have studied: 1) the patterns and rates of past ice shelf loss and relative sea level change in Antarctica; 2) the mechanisms of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula and in South America over the last 12,000 years; 3) former and present-day subglacial lake systems on the Antarctic Peninsula and in East Antarctica; 4) possible causes of twentieth century glacier retreat on South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. I am currently lead-scientist for an associate project in the four-year European PolarCLIMATE IMCOAST project (, which involves researchers from 9 European and 3 South American countries. This multi-disciplinary project is investigating the influence three key ‘warm’ periods of the Holocene have had on the sedimentology and biogeochemistry of lake sediments on King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula.


Summary of current research projects


Forcings, feedbacks and phasings in the Earth System along a Pole-Equator-Pole (CACH-PEP) transect; Holocene climate variability, ecosystem and relative sea level change in coastal East and Maritime Antarctica/sub Antarctic (including PAGES Antarctica 2k: investigating the past 2000 years of climate change in Antarctica as preserved in lake and marine archives).


Chilean Lake Transect: past environmental change in lake sediments.


Deglaciation, ice-sheet thickness, climate change & microbial activity in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica during the Late Quaternary.


Impact of climate induced glacier melt on marine coastal systems in the West Antarctic Peninsula region (including IMCOAST AP6: Quantification of melt water induced erosion and sediment deposition: Inter-calibration with terrestrial archives on Fildes Peninsula and Potter Peninsula, King George Island).





1) CACHE-PEP & HOLANT (2005-)

Project title: Climate And Chemistry (CACHE): forcings, feedbacks & phasings in the Earth System Pole-Equator-Pole (PEP) & Holocene climate variability and ecosystem change in coastal East and Maritime Antarctica

Project Leaders: Dr. Dominic Hodgson, BAS; Prof. Wim Vyverman, University of Ghent

Funding: BAS core programme; BELSPO-ANTAR6; Bilateral BAS-Ghent Collaboration

Aims: CACHE-PEP is studying high resolution lake, marine and ice core records of palaeoclimate and relative sea level change for the last 20,000 years from several sites in the Antarctic Peninsula and southern South America. We undertake a range of analyses, working closely with colleagues at the University of Ghent, Belgium as part of the HOLANT project. The aim of this project is to link records of Antarctic palaeoclimate change more securely into their global context. This research contributes to the PAGES palaeoclimate reconstruction research program, which is assimilating palaeoenvironmental change data for along a latitudinal transect from the North to South Pole through North and South America. Data from PAGES programs were used in the last IPCC assessment of the likely causes, future progression and impacts of global climate change.


2) CHILT (2008-2012)

Project title: Chilean Lake Transect

Project Leader: Prof. Marc de Batist, University of Ghent

Funding: FWO Vlaanderen/University of Ghent/Bilateral BAS-Ghent Collaboration

Aims: The CHILT project is reconstructing Late-Glacial and Holocene climate variations recorded in lake sediment records along a N-S transect through the south-western part of South America, from the Chilean Lake District (39°S) in the north to Patagonia (53°S) in the south. The specific aims are to: i) Better document the mode and timing of retreat of the Patagonian Ice Sheet by means of a series of detailed reflection seismic studies and a multi-proxy analysis of long sediment cores from lakes that have adequately recorded the deglaciation; ii) Reduce uncertainties associated with Late-Glacial climate fluctuations by producing three well-dated, high-resolution reconstructions of temperature and precipitation for the period of ~9.0-16.0 ka, based on quantitative multi-proxy analysis of sediment cores from lakes along a latitudinal transect.


3) DELQUA & BELDIVA (2008-2013)

Project title: Late Quaternary deglaciation, ice-sheet thickness, climate change & microbial activity in Sør Rondane Mountains and Schirmacher Oasis Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica

Project Leaders: Dr Elie Verleyen, University of Ghent; Prof. Annicke Wilmotte, University of Liege

Funding: BELSPO/InBev-Baillet Latour Fund/ BAS-Ghent-Liege

Aims: The DELAQUA project aims to unravel the climate and environmental history of the Sør Rondane Mountains, East Antarctica based on an extensive survey and exploration of various landforms and natural climate archives (e.g. lakes, moraines, lacustrine paleoshorelines) using a combined geomorphological and paleolimnological approach. It aims to: (i) provide important background information which can be used  test ice-sheet models and a framework for the assessment of recently observed climate anomalies; (ii) identify glacial refugia; (iii) study the evolutionary, biodiversity and biogeographical patterns in Antarctic biological communities. Specifically, the project will tackle the following research questions: i) What is the timing of deglaciation in different parts of the Sør Rondane region and what was the former ice thickness during the LGM? ii) How did climate vary during the late Quaternary in Sør Rondane and what was the effect of these climate anomalies on Antarctic lacustrine biota? The BELDIVA project is sampling habitats in an area of 200 km around the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Base (PES), Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica to study microorganism biodiversity. The specific objectives are: i) Conduct an exploratory field campaign in an area of c. 50 km around Utsteinen during the Austral summer of 2008/9 and 2009/10; ii) Develop a relational database and integrate this with national and international data repository centres; iii) Select potentially interesting sites and habitats based on an in-depth analysis of satellite and LIDAR images, and aerial pictures in an area of 200 km; iv) Verify the distribution of bacterial and cyanobacterial taxa and study the diversity of algae, lichens and microarthropods (Arthropoda, Hexapoda, Collembola) of the family Isotomidae; v) Obtain/describe pristine areas/assess their significance; (vi) Define new areas of special protection.


4) IMCOAST / IMCOAST AP6 (2010-2013)


Project title: Impact of climate induced glacier melt on marine coastal systems in the West Antarctic Peninsula region



IMCOAST AP6: Analysis and quantification of melt water induced erosion: Inter-calibration with terrestrial archives on Fildes Peninsula and Potter Peninsula, King George Island.

Project leader: Prof. Doris Abele, AWI, Bremerhaven

AP6 Project leader: Dr. Stephen Roberts, BAS

Funding: ESF-EPC PolarCLIMATE Programme

Aims: IMCOAST is a 3-year, €1.65 m ESF-funded project that will investigate areas of King-George Island (KGI) using an integrated, and novel high-resolution approach. The coastline and the islands of the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) are key areas most visibly affected by recent glacial retreat and melting as the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) has warmed rapidly in recent decades. IMCOAST aims to investigate the long term trends of sub-glacial and land run-off dynamics, by: i) studying physico-hydrographical, sedimentological, geochemical and biological proxies for past, ongoing and future climate related changes; (ii) investigating land ice masses and sedimentary run-off dynamics and their effects on coastal benthic and pelagic ecosystems in the King George Island coastal area. The project is multidisciplinary, involving glaciologists, geochemists, geologists and biologists from 9 European and 3 South American institutions and builds on IPY-34 clicOPEN (climate change in coastal areas of AP).

IMCOAST AP6: This AP will: (i) use the nature of, and rates of change in, biological, sedimentological, geochemical parameters from modern and past lake sediments on Fildes Peninsula and Potter Peninsula on King George Island (KGI) to quantify the nature, timing and rate of melt water induced erosion into lacustrine and marine environments on KGI; (ii) determine the influence three key ‘warm’ periods (early Holocene ‘optimum’, the mid-Holocene warm period and recent rapid regional (RRR) warm period) have had on the sedimentology and bio-geochemistry of lake sediments on KGI. This project builds on Holocene climate and relative sea-level change work undertaken by BAS in 2005-2010 as part of CACHE-PEP and GRADES–QWAD research programs.


Fieldwork summary


2011/12: IMCOAST: Lake coring Potter Cove/Jubany-Dallmann Laboratory King George Island

2009/10: UGDELQUA: Sør Rondane limnological/geophysical surveying, geomorphological mapping/sampling

2008/9: CACHE-PEP: Lake coring/geomorphological mapping, Prince Olaf Harbour, South Georgia; BELDIVA: Sør Rondane mountains: limnological surveying, geomorphological mapping/sampling

2007/8: CHILT Southern Chile/Chilean Patagonia & Chilean Lake district, limnological and lake coring

2006/7: CACHE-PEP/GRADES-QWAD/HOLANT lake coring for PC transect and RSL work;  HOLANT/CHILT Southern Chile/Chilean Patagonia, limnological and lake coring

2005/6: CACHE-PEP: Lake coring/geomorphological mapping Annenkov Island, South Georgia; CACHE-PEP: Trinity Peninsula and Beak Island


2000: Mapping/sampling Thorsmork Ignimbrite, S Iceland

1999: Peat coring, palaeolake and tephra sampling, NW Peninsula Iceland

1998: Glaciological/sedimentological/palaeolake/tephra sampling, S, N and NW Iceland