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Roland Gehrels
Professor and Head of Department



I am a Quaternary geologist and a physical geographer who specialises in sea-level studies. I was appointed as a Chair in Physical Geography in June 2013. Prior to coming to York I was at Plymouth University for almost 18 years, starting as a lecturer and going through several promotions until I was awarded a Chair in 2007. At Plymouth I was a member of the Quaternary Environments Research Group and headed a small research cluster in sea-level studies. I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Durham with Ian Shennan. My PhD at the University of Maine (USA) investigated Holocene sea-level changes in the Gulf of Maine and was supervised by Dan Belknap and Joe Kelley. My first endeavours in sea-level studies were in collaboration with the late Orson van de Plassche at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam where I completed an MSc in Applied Quaternary Geology.



I started my career as a Holocene sea-level scientist, but in the past two decades my efforts have focused primarily on coupling geological field evidence with tide-gauge observations to reconstruct historical sea-level changes. My main achievement is the reconstruction of the acceleration of sea-level rise during the first decades of the 20th century in sites around the North Atlantic and the Southwest Pacific. This work has led to the realisation that recent rapid sea-level changes occur on a global scale and are linked to global warming. More recently I have been involved with applying sea-level reconstruction methods developed for Holocene intertidal sediments to earlier interglacial sequences, with direct implications for understanding the dynamics of ice sheets. Over the last couple of years I have focused both on fingerprinting the sources of recent sea-level rise and investigating the links between sea-level rise and blue carbon storage in intertidal environments. An example of the latter is the C-SIDE project, which is the first large-scale empirical study of saltmarsh carbon storage, accretion rates, their drivers, and the long-term stability/resilience of these stores.


  • Carbon storage in intertidal environments (C-SIDE), NERC Standard Grant with the University of St Andrews (lead PI), Bangor University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the University of Leeds. PDRA: Glenn Havelock. 
  • EXtreme upper TAil of SEA level rise: constraints from geological records (ExTaSea). European Commission Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship for Fiona Hibbert. 
  • Recent sea-level changes in New Zealand, with PDRA Ed Garrett, Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Dan King, Rewi Newnham (Victoria University of Wellington), Bruce Hayward (Geomarine Research), and others. Funded by the New Zealand SeaRise Programme.
  • Influence of sea-level rise on carbon sequestration with York PhD student Lucy McMahon, Kelly Redeker (York) and Rob Mills (York). NERC ACCE DTP studentship.
  • Early Holocene sea-level changes in Scotland and the Falkland Islands with York PhD student Graham Rush, Mark Bateman (Sheffield), Grant Bigg (Sheffield) and others. NERC ACCE DTP studentship.
  • Recent sea-level changes in New Zealand, with PDRA Ed Garrett, Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Dan King, Rewi Newnham (Victoria), Bruce Hayward (Geomarine Research), and others. Funded by the New Zealand SeaRise Programme.
  • Fingerprinting the sources of recent sea-level rise using coral micro-atolls, with Paul Kench (Simon Fraser University, Canada), Emma Ryan (Auckland) and others.
  • Sea-level records from freshwater coastal peat deposits. With former PhD student Geoff Richards (NTU, Singapore) and Bill Anderson (Appalachian State University, USA) NERC ACCE DTP studentship
  • Assessing coastal flood risk under mean and extreme sea levels derived from sedimentary archives. Led by PhD student Greg Rushby (Sheffield), with Mark Bateman (Sheffield). NERC ACCE DTP studentship.
  • The submerged prehistoric pile-dwelling settlement in Zambratija, Croatia. Led by PhD student Katarina Jerbić (Flinders University, Australia), with Jonathan Benjamin (Flinders)


Contact details

Professor Roland Gehrels
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
YO10 5NG

Tel: 01904 324376
Fax: 01904 322998

External activities




  • Dynamic Earth 
  • Environmental Geography Research
  • Coastal Environments


  • Reconstructing Environmental Change
  • IPCC Science
  • Current Research in Environmental Geography
  • Ocean & Coastal Science