Discussion article about a new vegetation proxy in speleothems and cave drip water published

Quest members from Mainz have published an article about the analysis of lignin oxidation products as vegetation proxies in speleothem and cave drip water samples in the discussion part of Biogeosciences. They developed a sensitive method to analyse the lignin composition of organic traces contained in speleothems. Lignin is a main constituent of woody plants and its composition contains information about the type of vegetation. This method offers new possibilities to reconstruct the vegetation of past millenia since it combines the advantages of lignin analysis as a highly specific vegetation biomarker with the benefits of speleothems as unique terrestrial climate archives.

Further reading:

Long Night of Science 2018

QUEST participated last year at the Long Night of Science – and it was a big success! This year we repeated and intensified our activities for the Long Night of Science in Potsdam and Berlin, and it was GREAT! As part of the “Climate Time Machine” exhibition Sebastian, Ola, and Norbert presented how we use stalagmites as palaeoclimate archives. To be better visible, we built a life-sized speleologist (cave researcher) and let him climb the stairways in the Michelson building (the main PIK building). We presented all the typical cave research stuff, caving gear, data loggers, surveying instruments, photographs of caves and active cave research, and selected stalagmite samples from our QUEST project. We received large interest, from interested researchers, parents and kids alike. The whole event was great fun and it was amazing to see that we can enthuse young pupils for our science. Science is much more than just numbers and computer models – and in our case really muddy, adventurous, and sportive.
Long Night of Science 2018

Long Night of Science 2018


Meet QUEST at EGU 2018

With the EGU General Assembly coming up next month, we have rounded up the first-author presentations from the people involved in QUEST. Most of the action takes place during Thursday and Friday (barring David Hodell’s presentation on Tuesday) and in Hall X5 and Room F2. Be sure to note this down in your calendar for the EGU week!

The topics are many, interesting, and diverse — they are sure to spark off interesting discussions and debate. Share this post with your colleagues and spread the word!

CL 1.11

Novel and quantitative methods for continental palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.

Orals: Thu, 12 Apr, 10:30–12:00 / Room 0.14
Posters: Attendance Thu, 12 Apr, 17:30–19:00 / Hall X5

13780Towards a quantitative proxy of cave dripwater hydrology
Adam Hartland, Beth Fox, Sebastian Breitenbach
Poster, X5.251
12744Local and distant Pacific climate signals in cave hydrochemistry: Waipuna cave, New Zealand
Cinthya Nava, Adam Hartland, Bethany Fox, Sebastian Breitenbach
Poster, X5.250
979335,000 years of hydrological variability in northern New Zealand from speleothem magnetism
Bethany Fox, Ioan Lascu, Sebastian Breitenbach, Adam Hartland
Poster, X5.246
9046Tracing past shifts of the boundary between maritime and continental climate over Central Europe
Sebastian Breitenbach, Norbert Marwan
Poster, X5.245
15956Is this an event? - Detecting abrupt changes in palaeoclimate records
Bedartha Goswami, Sebastian Breitenbach, Norbert Marwan
Poster, X5.244

NP 2.4

New model and data-based approaches to study climate behavior

Orals: Fri, 13 Apr, 08:30–12:00 / Room M1
Posters: Attendance Fri, 13 Apr, 13:30–15:00 / Hall X4

6190Detecting abrupt transitions during the Late Quaternary in southern Ethiopia using Recurrence Quantification Analyses
Hauke Krämer, Norbert Marwan
Oral, Room M1
15457Identifying sudden dynamical shifts in time series with uncertainties
Bedartha Goswami, Sebastian Breitenbach, Norbert Marwan
Poster, X4.277

 CL 1.17

The speleothem archive: understanding processes and interpreting Quaternary climate change

Orals: Thu, 12 Apr, 13:30–17:00 / Room 0.14
Posters:  Attendance Thu, 12 Apr, 17:30–19:00 / Hall X5

16111Application of lignin analysis to flowstone, stalagmite and drip water samples – potentials of a new proxy
Inken Heidke, Denis Scholz, Thorsten Hoffmann
Poster, X5.286


Tackling past hydrological cycles – from local and regional to global scales (co-organized)

Orals: Fri, 13 Apr, 08:30–10:00 / Room F2
Posters:  Attendance Fri, 13 Apr, 17:30–19:00 / Hall X5

19020Last Glacial Period hydrology of Lake Peten Itza (Guatemala) constrained with triple oxygen and hydrogen isotopes
Thomas Bauska, David Hodell
Oral,Room F2

CL 1.31

Climate response to orbital forcing (including Milutin Milankovic Medal Lecture)

Orals: Tue, 10 Apr, 13:30–17:00 / Room F2
Posters:  Attendance Tue, 10 Apr, 17:30–19:00 / Hall X5

3858Integrating suborbital climate variability with classical Milanković theory
David Hodell
Oral, Room F2

Novel numerical method to analyse multivariate proxy records

Members of the QUEST team have published a new approach for analysing multivariate proxy records with recurrence networks. The idea is to first consider each proxy separately as a recurrence network, then combine them as layers of a multiplex network, and derive a similarity measure from this resulting multiplex recurrence network. This approach can be used to reveal periods of converging dynamics or very disperse variability, as demonstrated on an example of palaeo vegetation development during the last 16 ka in East Asia.

Multiplex recurrence network

Multiplex recurrence network

Further reading:

New study on short time series published

The “inner composition alignment approach” (IOTA) has been suggested in the past for detecting interdependencies between short time series. QUEST members have now published a new study with a modification of this approach (called mIOTA). The new extension overcomes the drawbacks that IOTA is unable to distinguish between positive and negative correlations, and that the null distribution for IOTA is biased towards higher values. Although the new method cannot detect the direction of the interdependencies (unlike IOTA), it outperforms standard tools for detecting interdependencies (Pearson correlation, Spearman correlation, Kendall’s τ). The method is used to derive econo-climatic networks of interdependencies between economic indicators and climatic variability for Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia including India.

Further reading:

Important step forward to recurrence analysis of data with uncertainties

In a new publication we propose a novel approach for analysing data with uncertainties, which is typical, e.g., in palaeoclimate observations. A time series of single values is replaced by a time series of probabilities; the binary matrix representation of recurrences is then replaced by  a matrix of probability values, which represent that a recurrence at a certain time appears. This approach is the base for a novel transition test, applying concepts from recurrence and complex network analysis. We demonstrate the potentials on examples from present-day climate (ENSO), palaeoclimate (Indian summer monsoon), and stock markets.

probability series

Time series of probability distributions of proxy values, allowing for uncertainty analysis.

Open access: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02456-6

EGU 2018 Session SC1.10/CL6.06/GM12.4/SSP2.20

We´d like to invite everybody interested in innovative and quantitative methods for continental palaeoenvironmental reconstructions to attend our short course (details below) at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union, 8-13 April 2018.

Age Models and geochronology: An introductory course to different age-depth modelling approaches (co-organized)

Convener: Carole Nehme 
Co-Conveners: Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach , Michael Dietze , Annegret Larsen 

In an era of science that uses numerical models to better understand physical processes occurring on Earth, there is an increasing demand for robust empirical datasets to constrain these simulations. Generating robust datasets, especially data sets that express stratigraphic positions of sedimentary deposits as ages, often involves the use of multiple, independent geochronological techniques (e.g. different kinds of radioisotopic dating, magneto-, bio-, cyclostratigraphy and sedimentologic relationships along the succesion). The integration of these different kinds of geochronological information often poses challenges.

Age-depth models are the ultimate result of the integration of different geochronological techniques, and range from linear interpolation to more complex Bayesian techniques. Invited speakers Christian Zeeden and David De Vleeschouwer will share their experience in several modelling concepts and their application in a range of paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic records. The Short Course will provide an introduction to the field of (Bayesian) age-depth models and will highlight the assumptions, benefits and limitations of different model approaches. It will prepare the participants from CL, GM and SSP divisions for independent application of suitable age-depth models to their data.


We hope you will enjoy this short course.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Hope to see you in Vienna and

Merry Christmas!
Seb, Carole, Michael and Annegret

Short course page at the EGU website:

EGU 2018 Session CL1.11

We´d like to invite everybody interested in innovative and quantitative methods for continental palaeoenvironmental reconstructions to submit abstracts for our session (details below) at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union, 8-13 April 2018.

Novel and quantitative methods for continental palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.

Convener: Jessica Oster 
Co-Conveners: Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach , Bethany Fox , Adam Hartland

In recent decades, quantitative methods have become increasingly important in the field of palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstruction, due to the need for comparison between different records and to provide boundary conditions for computational modelling. Continental environmental archives (e.g. speleothems, lake sediments, ice, or land snails) are often highly temporally resolved (subdecadal to seasonal) and may provide more direct information about atmospheric processes than marine archives. The wide variety of archive types available on land also allows for intercomparison and ground-truthing of results from different techniques and different proxies, and multi-proxy reconstructions from the same archive can disentangle local and supra-regional environmental conditions.

This session aims to highlight recent advances in the use of innovative and quantitative proxies to reconstruct past environmental change on land. We welcome studies of any continental archive, including but not limited to carbonates (caves, paleosols, snails), sediments (lakes, rivers, alluvial fans), ice, and biological proxies (tree rings, fossil assemblages, plant biomarkers). We particularly encourage studies involving the calibration of physical and chemical proxies that incorporate modern transfer functions, forward modeling and/or geochemical modeling to predict proxy signals, and quantitative estimates of past temperature and precipitation amounts. We also welcome reconstructions of temperature and hydrologic variability over large spatial scales, including paleoclimate data assimilation studies. This session will provide a forum for discussing recent innovations and future directions in the development of terrestrial palaeoenvironmental proxies on seasonal to multi-millennial timescales.

We hope you will enjoy this session.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Hope to see you in Vienna and

Merry Christmas!
Seb, Beth, Jessica and Adam

Session page at the EGU website:

A very active southern hemisphere team!

At the end of November, Beth and Cinthya had a very fruitful time while participating at the annual conference 2017 of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand, presenting preliminary findings of speleothem magnetism and cave monitoring in and around Waipuna cave.

In the meantime, Adam, Inken, and Cinthya had an intense work in the field visiting Waipuna cave to carry out the SH summer monitoring collecting water samples from the drip points and taking measurements of the physicochemical properties. Additionally, the team installed the first sampling device for the analysis of cave organic aerosols, with the objective of characterizing the cave´s response to external conditions. After, 5 field trips and a lot of hours of intense work underground, the team returned home tired but very happy, with many samples and a bunch of data ready to be analyzed at the Waikato University, University of St Andrews, and Johannes Gutenberg-Universität laboratories. Now, all of us are looking forward to the next adventure.

Sampling in the Waipuna cave