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Plotting the globe:

Climate and Environmental History

Research on paleoclimate and paleoenvironments contributes to answering fundamental questions about the functioning of Earth’s climate system, “natural” disturbance regimes in ecosystems, and the role of humans in changing the environment, and has important applications in designing conservation and land-management plans. Unraveling the past history of world environments also improves our knowledge of future global change. The University of Tennessee Department of Geography has a strong program of research involving the reconstruction of past environmental conditions—climate, vegetation, fire, ecosystem disturbances, and human activity—from natural archives that include tree rings, soils, and lake sediments. Two faculty members (Sally Horn and Yingkui Li) and their students are active in paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental research funded by the National Science Foundation and a variety of other agencies. The department has world-class laboratories for the study of tree rings (under the direction of Sally Horn) and for cosmogenic nuclide dating and analyses of pollen, charcoal, and other proxy indicators in sediments and soils (Laboratory of Paleoenvironmental Research, directed by Horn and Li). Adjunct faculty member Chad Lane (University of North Carolina Wilmington) brings expertise in isotope geochemistry, and serves on several student committees. The University of Tennessee’s Initiative for Quaternary Paleoclimate Research, currently directed by Horn, is housed in Geography (, and faculty collaborate with colleagues in Earth and Planetary Sciences, Anthropology, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in studies of past climate and environment from natural archives.