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Katherine Selby
Director of the School of Natural Sciences; Senior Lecturer in Quaternary Science and Physical Geography



Katherine joined the Department of Environment and Geography in 2007, moving from the School of Geography at the University of Southampton. She undertook her PhD at Coventry University investigating Late Quaternary sea-level changes on the Isle of Skye, Scotland and post-doctoral research at the University of Exeter examining lacustrine environments in central Ireland. Since then she has also held a lectureship at Bournemouth University.  Katherine was  Deputy Head of the Department of Environment and Geography from 2015-2018 and Deputy Director of the School of Natural Sciences from 2018-2020.  Katherine is currently the Director of the School of Natural Sciences.  


Director of the School of Natural Sciences University of York
Deputy Director of the School of Natural Sciences  University of York
Deputy Head of Department University of York
Senior Lecturer University of York
Lecturer University of York
PhD Coventry University
BSc (Hons) Manchester University 



Katherine has three broad research interests. These are:

  1. Reconstruction of past sea level changes
  2. Environmental reconstruction of coastal areas and how these may have influenced cultural development
  3. Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction using pollen and diatom analyses.


1.  The Churchill Barriers: A Large-Scale, Open-Air Marine Laboratory

Churchill Barrier, Orkney

This project examines the effects of the Churchill Barriers (Orkney, Scotland) on all aspects of the physical environment; pollution i.e. eutrophication, ecology and sediment transport pathways. The Churchill Barriers effectively provide an open air laboratory in which to measure recent environmental change, both direct and indirect and, because the date of emplacement of the barriers is known, will overcome the all too common problem of chronology in geologically very young contexts. This area of research will have applications for managed realignment, the creation of artificial lagoons and fish farms, for example, and as such will receive much attention in the coming years.

2.  Late Holocene sea level change and mangrove dynamics along the East African coastline

Mangrove area in Zanzibar (photo P. Punwong)

This project investigates past evidence for sea level and coastal changes along the east African coastline.  In particular, mangrove areas are utilised as they have a specific relationship with salinity gradients.  Sediment cores are extracted in the field and pollen and diatom analyses undertaken.  Using this knowledge and the salinity preference of the taxa, sea level changes can be reconstructed.

3.  Establishing recent North Amreican relative sea level changes and saltmarsh accretion rates (joint with Dr H. Roe, Queens University, Belfast).

Big River Marsh, Newfoundland (photo A Wright)

This research seeks to reconstruct sea level change over the past 1000 years using high resolution radiocarbon dating and pollen and foraminiferal analyses. Historical records exist for this area and therefore changes recorded in the pollen records, for example, the decline in horse chestnut, can be compared with this information and independent timelines established. These can then be compared with radiocarbon dates. With this information and by creating age depth models it is possible to state information on the rates of sea level change.

4.  Coastal changes and their effects on cultural development and settlement patterns

Investigations at Point of Sleat, Skye, integrating environmental reconstruction and archaeology (photo R. James)

Under this broad theme there are several specific research projects that are ongoing along NW Scotland and in East Africa. The fundamental aim is to examine in an holistic way, changes that have occurred physically and anthropogenically in coastal areas with the objectives are trying to establish drivers of these changes and their interactions.

5.  Diatomite; its deposition, degradation and dating potential (joint with Dr Kirsty Penkman, University of York)

Diatomite seen under x1000 magnification

This research has two main objectives; firstly to investigate diatomite - its formation, composition, deposition and rates of accumulation; and secondly to investigate the potential of diatom protein for dating. Diatomite is a sedimentary rock that has formed from the remains of diatoms (microscopic algae made of silica), may be of freshwater or marine origin, and is often dominated by a single species. It is lightweight, porous and has a high commercial value as a result of its physical and chemical properties. At present, although the commercial values of diatomite are recognised and exploited, only a handful of studies have attempted to understand the spatial and temporal characteristics of the deposits. The project is timely as reserves of diatomite continue to be mined without an in depth understanding of the conditions and controls on deposition. It is vitally important to understand the ecology and sedimentary context of diatom deposition if we are to use them in future climatic reconstructions.


2009-2010 Research Priming Fund, University of York P.I. £9964 Scotland after the ice: environmental and anthropogenic interactions
1999-ongoing National Aerobiology Unit, Worcester P.I. £12000 Prediction of daily pollen levels in Yorkshire
2007-2008 Research Priming Fund, University of York P.I. £6096 Diatoms: deposition, degradation and dating
Adventure in Research Grant University of Southampton
P.I. £29800
The Churchill Barriers: An Open-Air Marine Laboratory
PhD Studentship
P.I. £40000
The Churchill Barriers: A Large-Scale Open-Air Marine Laboratory
2001-ongoing Research Palynologist 
Analysis of relative sea level changes and accretion rates from saltmarshes during the last 1000 years on the eastern seaboard of North America. (with Dr H. Roe)
2005 The Environment Agency £4500 An investigation into possible contaminants within Christchurch Harbour
£825 Holocene baseline conditions and environmental change of the Culm River, E Devon: Diatoms and fluvial palaeoenvironmental indicators
QRA Quaternary Conference Fund




2007 – 2008: Dr Erika Sternberg ‘The Churchill Barriers: An Open-Air Marine Laboratory.’


2008 - present: Paramita Punwong 'Late Holocene sea level change and mangrove dynamics along the East African coastline'

2006 - present: Michelle Robinson (PhD student) ‘The Churchill Barriers: A Large-Scale, Open-Air Marine Laboratory.’

Selby, Katherine

Contact details

Dr Katherine Selby
Director of the School of Natural Sciences
Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
YO10 5NG

Tel: 01904 324784



  • Year 1
  • Physical Geography
  • Envirnmeontal Geography Research


  • Current Research in Environmental Geography
  • Current Research in Environmental Science
  • Current Research in Environment, Economics and Ecology.