Determining dryland landscape sensitivity to natural and human disturbances using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) techniques, Nebraska Sandhills

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Academic Profile

Catherine is a NERC-funded doctoral student on the DTP in Environmental Research, and is based in the Oxford Luminescence Dating laboratory at the School of Geography and the Environment. She holds a BA (Hons) Geography from the University of Oxford and a MSc Quaternary Science (Distinction) from Royal Holloway, University of London. Catherine's earlier research focused on palaeoenvironmental multi-proxy analysis, undertaking specialist modules in: Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating, Stable Isotopes, Pollen, Tephrostratigraphy, and Human Evolution.

Catherine's DPhil research focuses on developing luminescence methods for the application of dating young sediments and improving our understanding of landscape sensitivities in dryland environments. Alongside her DPhil, Catherine has taught the sand dune dynamics tutorial to FHS undergraduates on the Desert Landscapes and Dynamics course.

Awards and funding
  • 2015-2018 - Graduate Scholarship, Jesus College (Oxford)
  • 2015 - Elsevier Travel Award at University of Oxford DTP Student Conference
  • 2014-2018 - Natural Environmental Research Council DTP studentship
  • 2009-2011 - Undergraduate Exhibitioner, Jesus College (Oxford)

Current Research

For her doctoral research, Catherine is interested in identifying the impact of disturbance factors on different spatial and temporal scales of surface landscape instability in semi-arid environments.

Two billion people living in drylands are affected by land degradation. Sediment erosion by wind and water removes fertile soil and destabilises landscapes. Vegetation disturbance is a key driver of dryland erosion caused by both natural and human forcings: drought, fire, land use, grazing pressure. A quantified understanding of vegetation cover sensitivities and resultant surface change to forcing factors is needed if the vegetation and landscape response to future climate change and human pressure are to be better predicted. Through the use of luminescence dating, archival sources and modelling techniques, Catherine's DPhil seeks to determine how the environment has recorded and retained sedimentary evidence of natural and anthropogenic disturbances over the last two hundred years.

Focusing on the Nebraska Sandhills, she uses generalised linear modelling of secondary disturbance datasets coupled with a high-resolution luminescence-derived record of environmental response to test the relationships between forcing factors and landscape stability. Catherine's research aims to: i) identify thresholds and lags in surface stability, ii) suggest the level of change required to leave a signature in the environment and iii) bridge the gap between ecological thresholds and sediment movement.

Catherine Buckland collecting surface sediment samples for OSL dating from a dune crest in the Nebraska Sandhills, USA

Figure 1 (above): Catherine Buckland collecting surface sediment samples for OSL dating from a dune crest in the Nebraska Sandhills, USA.

Current Teaching