Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

Long-Term Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship Technologies

Academic Profile

Trapnell Research Fellow in African Environments

Sallie Burrough is a Quaternary Scientist with a research focus on African drylands and landscape/ecosystem responses to climate variability over long timescales. She also has a particular interest in examining the impact of past environmental change on human occupation and landscape use in central Southern Africa over the last 200,000 years.

She currently holds the post of Trapnell Fellow in African Environments with the Environmental Change Institute, taking up a National Geographic Global Exploration Award to undertake new research on long-term environmental change in the remote Makgadikgadi salt pans in northern Botswana. She is also deputy director of the Oxford Luminescence Dating Laboratory and leads a number of projects which seek to improve the accuracy and applicability of Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) in research on long-term environmental change.

Current Research

Megalake records of Kalahari climate change: testing the asymmetry of African Humid Periods

The Makgadigadki saltpans, located in Botswana in the middle Kalahari, occupy a basin once filled by one of Africa’s largest lakes. Evidence suggests that the lake has come and gone on several occasions during the last 200 thousand years. This research examines the potential of sediment cores, drilled from the lake bed, to reconstruct rainfall patterns and ecosystem responses in central Southern Africa, a region which lacks good records on past climate conditions. The overarching aim of the project is to test theories of long-term climate dynamics on the African continent.

Financial support from National Geographic, the Trapnell Fund & the Fell Fund. The project is in collaboration with the Botswana Geological Survey and researchers at the University of Arizona.

Landscape archaeology of the Kalahari: How did major hydrological shifts affect Stone Age environmental use in the late Quaternary?

This research aims to systematically investigate the Stone Age archaeology of the Makgadikgadi basin and its relationship to the landscape evolution of the Okavango-Makgadikgadi system. Over the course of three years we hope to classify, characterise and date the abundant lithic artefact scatters associated with the megalake system; use geochemical data and a database of silcrete outcrop geochemistry to investigate the source location of the tools; and determine whether and how the prevailing palaeoenvironmental conditions impacted human use of the landscape.

Financial support from the Leverhulme Trust. The project is in collaboration with researchers at the University of Botswana, the University of Brighton and the University of Oslo.

The Influence of lake and wetland climate feedbacks on African hydroclimate

The project seeks to improve the robustness of future climate projections for Africa through better representation of surface hydrology in the latest state-of-the-art UK Earth System Model. The idea is to produce an ESM that can dynamically form lakes and wetlands over Africa and which interacts with the wider climate system. We will test (1) whether surface hydrology feedbacks are critical amplifying factors of hydroclimate change, (2) whether feedbacks add complex spatial patterning and are therefore important for regional climate predictions, (3) how these feedbacks modify the inertia of the climate system to external forcing and (4) whether their inclusion can improve the representation of hydroclimate interannual variability.

Financial support from The Leverhulme Trust. This is a collaborative research project between researchers at the University of Reading and the University of Oxford.

Floods and droughts of the upper Zambezi Valley, Zambia

This research seeks to understand long-term environmental change in Zambia’s remote western province of Barotseland. We use fossil pollen, charcoal analyses and landscape dynamics to unpick the relationship between ecosystem change and landscape instability, identifying environmental extremes and baselines relevant for human populations past and present.

Financial support from the Leverhulme Trust and the John Fell Fund.

Landscape dynamics in the Kalahari

Using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating we are able to determine the timing of past sediment dynamics. By dating landforms such as shorelines, flood deposits and dunes we can examine the stability and sensitivity of landscapes to past climate change. Projects include both the development of better OSL dating methodologies and their application in dryland systems in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

Funding sources include the QRA and the RGS.

Selected Publications