Shanidar Cave


Research Group

Leading research with global reach

Environment is a key research area within the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

Our research looks at some of the important issues affecting life on Earth today, but also looks back into the past.

Our expertise

Our expertise lies in these six key areas. 

Ecology, conservation and biodiversity

We are united by a fascination in the natural world; this inspires our research ranging from curiosity driven ‘why’ questions to a very practical engagement with applied approaches to conservation and management. We are currently working on:

  • Spatio-temporal patterns
  • Environmental change
  • Conservation planning
  • Community ecology
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Micro-bacteria in Chinese lakes
  • Rare succulents in South Africa
  • Deep sea ecosystems in the North East Atlantic Ocean

Climate change

Much of our research addresses climate change and its impacts on organisms, environments and people, in the past, present and future. Currently, our research includes studies of:

  • Applied climatology
  • Climate projections
  • Climate change and storminess
  • Peat-based palaeoclimate reconstruction
  • Climate effects on British coastal environments
  • Neanderthals in Iraq
  • Greenland ice sheets and Greenlandic ice caps
  • Rainforests in Mexico and Borneo
  • Ecomorphology and theoretical models of Quaternary mammals to interpret predator-prey relationships and responses to climate change
  • International climate negotiations
  • The North-South divide in climate politics

Environments, palaeoenvironments and landscape change

Our work explores changing environments and landscapes on a range of temporal scales, from the present day to the deep past. It includes:

  • Drainage basin evolution in Spain
  • Past coastal environments and sea-level change around the Atlantic, North Sea and Mediterranean basin
  • Peatland ecosystems
  • Marine biochemistry
  • Ancient environments in deep-sea canyons
  • Taphonomic investigations of fungal spores and pollen
  • The environments of early humans in the Mediterranean countries, Iraq, Jordan, East Africa, Mexico and Guatemala
  • Extinction of megafauna in Mexico and the UK
  • Megafloods in Libya

We use a wide variety of indicators including sedimentology, geochemistry (organic and inorganic), foraminifera, pollen, diatoms, molluscs, volcanic ash, human and animal bone diagenesis and taphonomy.

Water, sediment and soil science

We build on core strengths in fluvial geomorphology, sediment geochemistry and hydrology and blending these skills across engineering and social sciences to address the key water-related challenges for a changing environment. We have ongoing projects ranging from micro-scale to drainage basin-scale using cutting-edge field, laboratory and modelling approaches to investigate with field sites in North America, Europe and the Middle East through a range of anthropogenic impact from pristine to industrial. Projects include:

  • Catchment management
  • Hydrological modelling
  • Water quality
  • Pollution ecology
  • The impact of dams and weirs on river systems
  • Movement of groundwater in fluvial sediments


We are developing ways of understanding how people interact with the natural and urban environment, with a focus on land, water, energy, biodiversity and cities. We are exploring alternative approaches to development and to natural resources management for a sustainable future. We also work on sustainable consumption and the impacts of cultural globalisation. Projects also include indigenous societies in the modern world and sustainable long-term rainforest use by indigenous groups.


We are developing non-invasive geophysical detection methods for locating buried objects and forensic palynological methods.


Our research matters. We work with stakeholders including the Environment Agency, Natural England, Natural Environment Research Council, Kurdistan Regional Government, Police Service of Northern Ireland, German Archaeological Institute, Dumbarton Oaks, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Junta de Andalucía, Medina Azahara Archaeological Monument, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Mexico; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Geofísica, Mexico; and the National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED), Mexico.


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Current projects

We have a range of projects with many partners in the UK and internationally. Here are some examples:

ENTRUST: Energy system transition through stakeholder activation, education and skills development

(with University College Cork, LGI Consulting, Rete Europea dell’Innovazione s.r.l., Integrated Environmental Solutions Ltd., Enerbyte Smart Energy Solutions SL, Stam s.r.l.).
This Horizon 2020 project will provide a comprehensive mapping of Europe’s energy system (key actors and their intersections, technologies, markets, policies and innovations) and an in-depth understanding of how human behaviour around energy is shaped by both technological systems and socio-demographic factors (in particular gender, age and socio-economic status). A key goal of ENTRUST is to enable individuals to overcome barriers of gender, age and socio-economic status to become active participants in their own energy transitions.

FRAGSUS: Fragility and Sustainability in restricted island environments: Adaptation, Culture Change and Collapse in prehistory

(with Queen’s University Belfast, University of Cambridge, University of Malta, Plymouth University). This ERC-funded project explores the sustainable environmental and social relationships of Europe’s first civilisation, which flourished for more than 2000 years in resource-poor Malta.


Visit the FRAGSUS website

The long-term environmental impacts of the Mount Polley tailings spill, British Columbia, Canada

Dr Patrick Byrne and collaborators from UK and Canadian institutions have been awarded an NERC Urgency grant to investigate the environmental impacts of a mine tailings dam breach in British Columbia, Canada. On 4th August 2014, the tailings dam failure at Mount Polley gold and copper mine released approximately 25 million m3 of liquid and solid waste into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnal Lake. The volume of the tailings released caused Hazeltine Creek channel to expand from 2m to over 150m in width and Polley Lake water level to rise by 1.5m. The tailings contain a potentially toxic mixture of contaminants that may pose a serious and long-term threat to the environment and to the livelihoods of First Nation communities. The research project will seek to answer key questions related to the geochemical stability of the tailings and the impacts of the spill and clean-up operations on longer-term recovery of terrestrial and aquatic environments.

How resilient were Neanderthals and modern humans in southwest Asia to climate change? Reinvestigating Shanidar Cave

(with University of Cambridge, Birkbeck London, Kurdistan Regional Government). This Leverhulme-funded project reinvestigates and re-evaluates the Shanidar Neanderthal site with its controversial ‘burials’. Climate records from the cave will allow us to better understand the climatic relationships of Neanderthals and of the first modern humans in the Zagros Mountains of Iraq.

New approaches to integrated prospection at the Caliphal palace of Madinat al-Zahra, Cordoba

(with German Archaeological Institute). The vast palace complex of Madinat al-Zahra - the Shining City - was founded in 936CE as a monumental statement to the power and prestige of the first Caliph of Cordoba. Ruined and abandoned in less than 100 years, it lay largely untouched for 1000 years. Recent excavations have revealed part of the central palace complex but the majority of the palace awaits excavation. David Jordan has been invited to lead a team who will map the buried remains close to the heart of the palace, including both the military parade ground and a suite of magnificent buildings. The survey will investigate the structure of the palace and advance the non-destructive geophysical and remote-sensing methods used to investigate such buried remains.

Impact of volcanic eruptions on early humans and megafauna populations in Mexico and Guatemala

This research developed for the last 15 years and ongoing is studying the relationship between climate change, large volcanic eruptions in Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene early human and megafaunal sites in Central Mexico, Chiapas and Guatemala. Supported by NERC, UNAM, Instituto de Geofísica and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and CENAPRED (Mexico).

Ecosystem functioning and biodiscovery at Whittard Canyon

Dr Kostas Kiriakoulakis is a CI in a series of deep sea research surveys funded by the Irish Science Technology and Innovation Programme. Dr Kostas Kiriakoulakis has participated in two of these surveys thus far, each costing in excess of 400K Euros. The surveys are multidisciplinary combining research on ecosystem functioning (biophysical interactions), biodiscovery and sedimentology/geology of the Whittard Canyon, one of the largest underwater catchments in the European Margin. The main driver for the research is the need for an Ecosystem-based approach on the sustainable management of the European Margin that currently is targeted for mineral, fossil fuel and biomedical exploitation. There are currently two LJMU postgraduate students working on the functioning of cold water corals and the sediment and material transport from the Whittard Canyon.

Predator-prey relationships and the impact of climate change on diversity dynamics in Quaternary mammals

(with Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, L'Università degli studi Roma Tre, Università degli Studi di Firenze, University of Bangor). The work uses ecomorphology and modelling of European and East African mammal communities and will be expanded to work in the United States and Brazil.


Contact us

We undertake research throughout the UK and internationally. Please contact us if you are interested in working with us:

Jason Kirby - or
Chris Hunt -