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Sophie Williams
PhD student



Sophie is a PhD researcher interested in reconstructing palaeoclimates and palaeoenvironments, specifically those within the Quaternary period, using sedimentary archives and recent dating methodologies. Before starting her PhD in 2017, Sophie undertook a MSc at the University of Bristol in Palaeobiology, and a BSc in Physical Geography at the University of Leeds. 

Sophie currently reconstructs sea level in Australia using microfossils (foraminifera) preserved within sediment cores taken from salt marshes, having undertaken fieldwork campaigns in 2018 and 2019. Sophie is moving into the final stages of her PhD project, which will involve establishing chronologies using lead isotopes (Pb 206/207 and Pb 208/207), radionuclide (Pb 210), radiocarbon and ITRAX-XRF. 

Sophie is also actively involved in public engagement and outreach, and has lead several conferences including the Quaternary Research Association 2019 Postgraduate Conference. Sophie also has written for the Past Global Changes (PAGES) magazine and in January 2020 she joined the editorial board of the journal Lithosphere re-launched by GeoScienceWorld. 

To read more about Sophie and her work you can visit her personal website: or visit her twitter @sophielwill_


  • PhD Environmental Geography (ongoing)
    2017 - present, University of York
  • MSc Palaeobiology (Distinction)
    2016 - 2017, University of Bristol 
  • BSc (Hons) Physical Geography (First)
    2013 - 2016, University of Leeds



Description of PhD

Title: Historical sea-level changes in Australia: Testing the Arctic Ice Melt Hypothesis
Supervisors: Professor Roland Gehrels (University of York), Professor Patrick Moss (University of Queensland), Dr Andrew Sole (University of Sheffield), Dr Sönke Dagendorf (University of Siegen)
Funding: ACCE DTP, NERC.

This project will seek to reconstruct sea level in southeast Australia over the last ca. 500 years to test the Arctic Ice Melt Hypothesis: the theory that before anthropogenic influence, melting from the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic glaciers was responsible for a rapid rise in sea level during the 19th and 20th century that departed from the Holocene trend. Because melting ice causes gravitational perturbations, each melting event leaves behind specific sea-level "fingerprints" which can be tracked across space and time. The gravitational changes result in a non-uniform distribution of sea-level with large relative sea-level drops closest to the melt source and sea-level rise thousands of kilometres away in the mid-latitudes. Therefore, Australia is an ideal location in which to observe this change.

The main aims of the project are to:

  1. Take sediment cores from salt-marshes in Southeastern Australia, specifically, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales. 
  2. Analyse the cores and extract microfossils which are to be used as a proxy for sea-level change. 
  3. Use a variety of dating methodologies including stable isotopes and radiocarbon dating to establish a chronology for each core. 
  4. Compare findings to historical changes and models of Arctic glacier and the Greenland ice sheet melt to test the hypothesis.

Contact details

Sophie Williams
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
YO10 5NG



Selected publications

Williams, S, Garrett, E, Moss, P, Bartlett, R and Gehrels, R. 2021. Development of a Training Set of Contemporary Salt-Marsh Foraminifera for Late Holocene Sea-Level Reconstructions in southeastern Australia. Open Quaternary, 7: 4, pp. 1–29. DOI:
Boyden, P.T. and Williams, S.L. (2019). Big data: Challenges and solutions of archiving over 130,000 years of sea-level change. 
Past Global Changes Magazine (PAGES).