Reconstruction of the climatic and environmental history of polar regions by lake sediments

Research of the working group “Quaternary Geology” at the University of Cologne

Climate change is having a particularly strong impact on the polar regions. Large-scale changes in the polar regions also affect the lower latitudes due to feedback mechanisms in the Earth system. This applies to sea level rise as a consequence of the melting of polar ice masses, as well as to the carbon and heat budgets. To predict future developments, it is important to learn from Earth’s history. How did the polar regions respond to different natural influences in the geologic past, and what impact did the changes have on other regions of the planet? We focus our research on the history of polar land masses. In particular, we use the age and composition of deposits at the bottom of lakes in currently unglaciated regions to reconstruct the environmental history along with the prerequisite climatic changes. Our working areas are located in Greenland, in the Russian Arctic, and in Antarctica.

Research questions

  • Was the climatic development in the younger Earth history uniform in the entire Arctic, or did  regional differences occur?
  • How fast and in which manner did vegetation and permafrost react on the climatic changes in the Arctic?
  • How stable or instable did the ice sheet of East Antarctica behave against changes in the climatic and oceanographic settings?
  • Which are the reasons for regional differences in the glaciation history in currently ice-free regions along the East Antarctic coast?


  • Exploration of the sedimentary infill of lakes by sediment echo-sounding
  • Coring of the  sedimentary infill of lakes by different coring devices
  • Dating of the sediment cores via volcanic ashes and palaeomagnetic
  • Sedimentological, geochemical and palaeoecological analyses of the sediment cores

Responsible person

Prof. Dr. Martin Melles, Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, University of Cologne

Projects we participate in

PLOT – Palaeolimnological Transect (German Research Ministry BMBF – collaborative project, funding 2013-2021)

EASI – East Antarctic Ice Sheet Instability (Expeditions EASI-1, -2, and -3 until 2024 with R.V. Polarstern in East Antarctica)

Several smaller Projects in Greenland (terminated funding by German Research Foundation DFG)