Our Science

NEIF supports research across NERC remit, particularly in the areas of biogeochemistry, archaeology, palaeoclimatology, environmental change, solid Earth processes, natural hazards, human-landscape interactions, evolution of life, ecology, pollution, the hydrological cycle, applied minerals, and energy research.

Environmental and life sciences

We focus on the environment, in particular climate change with increasing importance on the Anthropocene and modern calibration period. We trace modern pollution and the hydrological cycle with enhanced emphasis on human impact on the environment, resource security, and environment and health.

Important applications include:

  • Understanding the interaction between groundwater, carbon dioxide and methane in potential CCS lithologies
  • Nutrient and pollution cycling
  • Investigating the effect of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide on carbon cycling in soils, lakes, and oceans
  • Developing methodologies around the use of biogenic silica in environmental change
  • Biogeochemical cycling of phosphate and nitrates

We use animal tissues as biological tracers to identify and distinguish nutrient sources, indicating habitat use, and to provenance material. We quantify food webs and, for continuously–grown tissues, we can acquire high–resolution temporal profiles. These techniques are also widely applicable to archaeological material and the facility offers a wide range of applications within science–based archaeology.

In applied minerals research, we use genetic modelling to inform exploration and exploitation, through to processing and remediation. We address the fundamental ore genetic models for next generation commodity production, revealing and explaining the Earth's resources and supporting their sustainable use for the net zero carbon future. We also investigate how major Earth processes have evolved since Deep Time, including the emergence of complex life, volcanic eruptions, and major tectonic events.

Geochronology and Earth sciences

We apply radiocarbon as a chronometer and a tracer in the Earth system, using this isotope as an immensely powerful tool to probe Earth's environment and human history over the past 50,000 years. This includes understanding our modern environment and climate by pinpointing the source, age and amount of carbon in different parts of the global carbon cycle. Our methodological development programme includes advances in sampling systems for remote and challenging environments, and methods to isolate specific fractions in samples.

Important applications include:

  • Identifying how a warming world impacts carbon storage and turnover in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments
  • Understanding the timing, nature, and causes of major millennial climate shifts; dating key cultural changes in human prehistory
  • Providing a chronology for phylogenetic analyses of animal populations over the last 50,000 years
  • Separating cause and effect when examining human–environment interactions in the recent and distant past.

We use geochronology in a breadth of geoscience and environmental applications, ranging from the chronology of planet formation to using isotope tracers and chronology to inform other fluid–rock interaction topics, including radioactive waste and unconventional hydrocarbons. We apply geochronology to understand planetary evolution, fluid–rock interaction, recent environmental change, landscape evolution, mineralisation, and to constrain records of 'Earth System' evolution. We have strategic partnerships with both UK and US (EARTHTCHEM, GeoDeepDive and Macrostrat) and China (the Geobiodiversity Database) data groups, developing geochronology and isotope functionality within these systems, and their federation, as well as developing a data portal and new tools.