UCL Department of Geography


Jonathan Holmes

I am a  Professor of Physical Geography. I joined UCL in 2000 as Reader in Environmental Change. My research and teaching are focused on the reconstruction of past climate and environment, mainly using lake sediments, with emphasis on the late Pleistocene and Holocene. I have worked in China, India, West and Southern Africa, and the Northern Neotropics as well as in the UK and continental Europe.

More about Professor Holmes

I am a physical geographer, educated at Honley High School, West Yorkshire, and Hertford College, University of Oxford. Following my BA in Geography, I remained at Oxford for doctoral research, working on Pliocene and Quaternary environmental change in Kashmir, in association with the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad. From 1988 to 2000 I was Lecturer/Senior Lecturer and the Reader in Physical Geography at Kingston University. I then came to UCL in 2000 as Reader in Environmental Change. I was promoted to Professor of Physical Geography in 2008. 

Since my DPhil, I have focused my research on the geochemistry and micropalaeontology of lake sediments for the reconstruction of late Pleistocene and Holocene climate and environment. The main ‘tools of my trade’ are ostracods (calcite-shelled aquatic microcrustaceans), stable isotopes and trace elements. I also investigate the stable isotope composition of modern waters (primarily lake water and precipitation), mainly to aid the interpretation of palaeo-records. 

I am the academic director of UCL’s Bloomsbury Environmental Isotope Facility (BEIF) and was a Visiting Professor at the Center for Arid Environment and Paleoclimate Research (CAEP), Lanzhou University, People’s Republic of China from 2003 to 2008. I maintain strong links with academics in China and am currently re-establishing my links with those in India. 

I am currently Associate Editor (Earth Sciences) of the Journal ‘Science Bulletin’ and from 2008-2015 was Associate editor of ‘ The Journal of Paleolimnology’. I have been a member of the UKRI NERC Peer Review College since 2009 and was a Member of the NERC Radiocarbon Steering Committee from 2003 to 2007. In 2020-2021, I was a member of the  International Evaluation Working Group of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ITPCAS). I am a regular peer-reviewer for academic journals and have received several citations for outstanding reviewing.

I have extensive experience in research supervision and management (supervised/co-supervised 22 PhD students to successful completion, 9 as a primary supervisor and 13 as co-supervisor, and managed 3 postdoctoral researchers) and PhD examination (over 30 doctoral theses examined, in the UK and overseas). I have been an external examiner for two taught master's programmes (Oxford and Liverpool) and undergraduate degrees at three universities (Bristol, Royal Holloway and Cambridge). 

At UCL, I teach climate and environmental change at undergraduate and postgraduate taught levels as well as being an academic and personal tutor to numerous students each year. I also supervise undergraduate and postgraduate-taught dissertations in my broad fields of interest. I have been deputy chair of the Undergraduate Board of Examiners in UCL Geography from 2009-2012 and from 2018-2021 and was chair of the board from 2012-2015. I was awarded a Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy in 2019 and am a Qualified ARENA assessor for Higher Education Academy applications at UCL.


I teach on the following modules:



To view Professor Holmes's publications, please visit UCL Profiles:
Research Interests

My research concerns the reconstruction and understanding of late Pleistocene and Holocene environments, human–climate interactions and data–model comparisons and falls into four major themes, as follows:

  1. Climate variability in low-latitude (Northern Neotropics, North and West Africa, Western China)
  2. Rapid climate change events across Europe 
  3. Methodological developments in the application of carbonate isotope and geochemical analyses to palaeoclimate reconstruction
  4. Stable-isotope composition of modern waters to support the interpretation of palaeoclimatic records

I have expertise in palaeolimnology; taxonomy and palaeoecology of non-marine Ostracoda; stable-isotope and trace-element analyses of lake-sediment carbonates and modern waters; data synthesis and data-model comparison. 


Outreach activities with schools, colleges and the public

I regularly take part in various outreach activities with school groups from upper-level primary to 6th form. I was organizer of a Southwark Schools ‘Gifted and Talented’ event on environmental microscopy and organizer of, and participant in, OPAL (OPen Air Laboratories)-based aquatic ecology fieldwork with 90 Year 6 children. I regularly give lectures on climate change to various local 6th forms. I have worked with the wider public in the London Science Museum’s ‘Antenna Live’ gallery public engagement event on Sensing the Oceans and its  'Lates' Event on Climate Change

Royal Society Partnership Grant

Detecting changes in local ponds was an exciting project at a junior school in Surrey in which I was the university partner. The project, which ran from 2012 to 2014, was funded by a partnership grant from the Royal Society and was designed to give school children the opportunity to take part in a genuine scientific research project. The grant has provided money for lab and field equipment in the school.


I contributed to the BBC World Service Science in Action programme in connection with the drying of the Sahara (May 2008). This work, which was a ‘Perspective’ piece that I wrote for Science, also attracted media attention from the New York Times and various popular science publications. I was interviewed for BBC Breakfast TV in connection with the IPCC 4th assessment (2007), and BBC Lunchtime news (2007) in connection with the finding that 2006 was the hottest year for Britain on record and on the European heatwave (2017). I acted as a consultant for the BBC Science and History Programme ‘Superstorm’ and shot video footage in Western China’s drylands in 2006.


I managed the production of, and contributed to, Water Resources and Sustainable Development in North West China: A Case Study of the Minqin Basin a bilingual (English – Mandarin) information brochure for water managers and local government officials in Gansu Province, P. R. China, published in 2002 and was invited participant in UK-Nigeria Bilateral Forum on environmental change, hosted in London in 2000 by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and attended by a small group of British and Nigerian government ministers, NGO representatives and academics.

Research Grants, Prizes and Awards
  • 2023 UCL RCIF (January 2023 round) Picarro L2140-I water-isotope analyser for triple-isotope (18O, 17O and 16O) measurements for hydroclimatic and palaeoclimatic research Total award £188,232 (PI)
  • 2022 UCL-IIT Delhi partnership fund ‘Exploring the spatiotemporal patterns of water stable-isotope across Indo-Gangetic plains to understand the regional hydroclimate Total award £5000 (PI)
  • 2021 UCL-Wits partnership fund ‘Exploring the use of stable isotopes to link water security in Lesotho to regional climate patterns’ (co-investigator) Total award £5000 (Internal) (co-I)
  • 2019 UCL RCIF (July 2019 round) Picarro L2130-i Analyzer for state-of-the-art palaeoclimatic, environmental, palaeoenvironmental and archaeological research. Total award £131,604 (Internal) (PI)
  • 2019 UCL RCIF (July 2019 round) Nu Perspective IS mass spectrometer and carb sample preparation unit for state-of-the-art palaeoclimatic, environmental, palaeoenvironmental and archaeological research. Total award £168,849 (PI)
  • 2018-2019 NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (IP-1811-0618 and IP-1851-1118) Project title Lacustrine oxygen-isotopes as tracers of NW European climate change (18O, D and 13Cdeterminations, Total £58,000) (PI)
  • 2016-2017 NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (IP‐1671‐1116 and IP-1717-0517) Project title Investigating the ecological impacts of late Holocene salinity change in coastal lakes & wetlands using palaeolimnology (18O, and Ddeterminations, Total £55,700) (PI)
  • 2013-2015 NERC standard grant (NE/K00610X/1) Project title Climate variability over the circum-Caribbean region during the past 1200 years from oxygen-isotope analyses of lake sediments (Total £120,137) (PI)
  • 2012 Royal Society Partnership Grant. Project title Detecting Change in Local Ponds (Royal Society, total £2631) (External) (PI)