UCL Earth Sciences


Dr Jesse R. Zondervan

Geospatial Analysis, Surface Processes, Transdisciplinary Science, Emerging Tech

Research Fellow in Earth Surface Processes  

Dr Jesse Zondervan



Research FellowK. Lonsdale Building 

Courses Taught:

non-teaching appointment

Research Interest:

Carbon Cycle
Environmental Microbiology
Rock Mechanics

Email Address:

Telephone Number:


Research Summary

My work focuses on interactions between physical, chemical, and biological processes on the Earth’s surface. The Earth’s surface is the interface of multiple Earth systems: the lithosphere, the biosphere, the atmosphere, and the hydrosphere. I’m interested in how these spheres interact to shape the environment in which we live.

I have started working on understanding the role of microbes in the environment, how they could help reverse desertification and increase the resilience of dryland environments. This is sometimes referred to as “terraforming” Earth. I approach this aim using integrated fieldwork and digital analysis, including DNA sequencing, geospatial analysis, machine learning and high-performance computing.

I was first trained in geology and surface processes, and I have experience across disciplines such as ecology and archaeology.

Recently, I identified patterns of mountain erosion and landscape reorganisation caused by the geometry of rock strength properties. This has implications for understanding the dynamics of physical and chemical processes, and the evolution of species in the most active regions of the Earth’s surface.

I have also quantified the control of rock strength on the speed at which landscapes respond to active faulting. This allows us to calibrate numerical models aimed at decoding tectonic activity and earthquake risk from topography.

Research interests:

•    Synthetic biology approaches against desertification
•    Surface processes controlling mountain landscape evolution
•    Properties of rock (e.g. lithology, rock strength, chemistry) in relation to surface processes
•    Quaternary climate, the carbon cycle and its impact on human evolution and cultures
•    Development and application of novel dating approaches

My main focus at UCL is on improving our models of long-term changes in Mountain surface processes, mainly through the use of fieldwork, experiments and topographic analysis. In addition, I am now working on modelling global carbon dioxide emissions from the erosion and weathering of organic-rich rock, which is a major component of the geological carbon cycle that has not been properly quantified yet. I am also contributing to modelling studies of human-environment interactions in South America.


In a series of articles about science, I delve into the future of geoscience applications in relation to the rise of globalisation and emerging technologies: