• Yvette Eley

    Postdoctoral Fellow interested in palaeoclimate, palaeoecology and geobiology: what can the past tell us about Earth's future?


    (you can also follow me on Twitter @yvette.eley for more science musings)

    In January 2019, my colleague Tom and I travelled to Ethiopia as part of a project I received funding for from the Europlanet Consortium. The Europlanet Consortium formed in 2013, emerging from the collaboration between scientists involved in the Cassini-Huygens mission. I was lucky enough to...
    Every year, scientists volunteer to give talks to the public in pubs across the UK, for an event called Pint of Science If you've never been to one of these events, check out the website and see if something interesting in happening near you! This year, for the first time, I volunteered to go...
    So sometimes Twitter is a wonderful thing. I've long been fascinated by lemurs, I mean, what's not to love? They are unique to Madagascar, and they are sadly among the most endangered vertebrates on Earth. I've not had the opportunity to see if my research could contribute anything to lemur...
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  • About Me

    I'm an organic geochemist, interested in how Earth's climates have evolved over millions of years, and how past climate change has impacted on ecosystems. I am also passionate about using the same methods in modern ecology and geobiology!

    I use a range of methods to investigate the past:


    Lipid biomarkers:


    These are basically chemical compounds from living tissue (plant, animal or microbe!) that are preserved in rocks and sediments and offer us chemical clues about past environmental conditions.


    Stable isotopes:


    In the nucleus of an atom of an element, there are protons and neutrons. The number of protons tell you which element you are dealing with, while the combined protons and neutrons give you the atomic mass of the element. The actual number of neutrons, however, can vary between 'isotopes' of the same element - they have the same number of protons (so it's the same element) but the different number of neutrons gives them a different mass. These isotopes with different masses have different physical and chemical properties, meaning they behave differently in physical or biological reactions (plants fixing carbon dioxide, for example).....so, when we measure the ratio of stable isotopes of an element in, for example, a leaf or human hair, or a snail shell, we can get a lot of information about physical and biological processes from this.





    My research background:

    2018 to date: PDRA on the NERC funded project Reducing Greenhouse Climate Proxy Uncertainty at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham


    2016 to 2018: Postdoctoral Fellow in the Hren Lab, Center for Integrative Geosciences, University of Connecticut USA


    2015-2016: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Early Pottery Research Group, BioArCh, University of York UK


    2015: Research Technician, QUEST, University of Reading


    2014/15: PhD in Organic Geochemistry, University of East Anglia, UK


    2010: Instrument Technician (Stable isotopes and trace elements), Chemical Analytical Facility, University of Reading UK


    2010: BSc in Environmental Science, University of Reading UK


    2008-10: Research Assistant, Geochemistry and Stable Isotopes, University of Reading UK


    2007: Certificate in Natural Sciences, Open University UK



  • Projects

    What am I working on right now?


    1) Reconstructing terrestrial climates in North America during the Cenozoic


    2) Using stable isotopes to trace diet and migration in Zimbabwe's lions AND Madagascar's lemurs


    3) Using lipids from modern plants to calibrate chemical traces of vegetation in ancient rocks


    4) Reconstructing CO2 levels in the atmosphere during the early Eocene


    5) Using machine learning to calibrate uncertainty associated with reconstructing past climate from organic proxies


    6) What can chemical traces of modern microbes tell us about life on Mars?


  • Publications

    While all my publications can be found here, these are some highlights.....

    Reconstructing vapor pressure deficit from leaf wax lipid molecular distributions

    Yvette Eley, Michael Hren, Nature Scientific Reports (2018)


    In this paper we develop a new organic molecular proxy for reconstructing the vapour pressure deficit of the atmosphere, and use this to identify an increase in moisture availability during the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum in Spain

    Investigating the carbon isotope composition and leaf wax n-alkane concentration of C3 and C4 plants in Stiffkey saltmarsh, Norfolk, UK

    Yvette Eley, Lorna Dawson, Nikolai Pedentchouk.

    Organic Geochemistry 96 (2016) 28-42.

    We used modern plants from a UK saltmarsh to investigate whether single compounds in the waxy coating of leaves of plants responded the same way to the bulk leaf tissue to changes in the environment during two growing seasons - key message is not all of them did! Looks like the biochemistry of the plants is pretty important here.....

    Ancient lipids document continuity in the use of early hunter-gatherer pottery through 9,000 years of Japanese prehistory

    Alexandre Lucquin, Kevin Gibbs, Junzo Uchiyama, Hayley Saul, Mayumi Ajimoto, Yvette Eley, Anita Radini, Carl Heron, Shinya Shoda, Yastami Nishida, Jasmine Lundry, Peter Jordan, Sven Isaksson, Oliver Craig

    PNAS 113 (15) (2016) 3991-3996.

    Why did early hunter gatherers in Japan develop pottery? Why did the use expand? Did this relate to huge changes in climate around 12,000 years ago? We explored this issue by extracting fats from ancient 'Jomon' pottery from Japan, and found that pottery over a 9,000 year period had a remarkably consistent use - the processing of fish!!

    Understanding 2H/1H systematics of leaf wax n-alkanes in coastal plants at Stiffkey saltmarsh, Norfolk UK

    Yvette Eley, Lorna Dawson, Stuart Black, Julian Andrews, Nikolai Pedentchouk

    Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 128 (2014) 13-28.

    Remember those leaf wax lipids I mentioned? Their hydrogen isotope composition is often thought to reflect the isotope composition of source water, however in our study here we show that plant biochemistry is often an important, and poorly understood, parameter influencing these values......

    First molecular and isotopic evidence of millet processing in prehistoric pottery vessels

    Carl Heron, Shinya Shoda, Adria Breu Barcons, Janusz Czebreszuk, Yvette Eley, Marise Gorton, Wiebke Kirleis, Jutta Kniesel, Alexandre Lucquin, Johannes Muller, Yastami Nishida, Joon-ho Son, Oliver Craig

    Nature Scientific Reports (2016) vol. 6

    In this paper we identify the oldest example of millet processing so far in ancient pottery, identifying a lipid that is characteristic of this important cereal crop in Bronze Age pottery from Korea and northern Europe

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