Project highlights

  • Unravel Mid-Holocene to Last Millennium ocean climate history from the remote Eparses Islands (Scattered Islands) and SW Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean, with cutting edge coral core geochemistry spanning several decades per time slice 
  • Undertake innovative climate and geochemical proxy data analysis and develop paleoclimate reconstructions of temperature, hydroclimate and nutrient dynamics for the southern Mozambique Channel  
  • Bring the palaeoclimate data from past warm and cold stages into context with anthropogenic climate change and compare with SW Madagascar coral records 
  • Develop marine climate records to build a climate change timeline to link with coastal archaeological research on oral histories of climate responses in SW Madagascar  


Coastal communities around the world are critically vulnerable to both natural and anthropogenic climate change threats (IPCC, 2021, Teh, et al., 2013). Nearly half a billion people, especially those living in marginalized and under-resourced areas, are living with the acute impacts of climate change (Lazrus, 2012). As global climate change intensifies, the study of human adaptation and response to climate and other disturbances has become ever more critical. Therefore, understanding the role of seasonally changing ocean climate on nearshore marine and terrestrial ecosystems and coastal communities is of paramount to develop deeper insights into climate resilience of vulnerable coastal communities.  

Extensive archaeological and anthropological research in southwest Madagascar and elsewhere has revealed that human memory of past spatial and temporal variations in climate and appropriate responses to these changes are collectively built through generations of empirical observation and stored as Indigenous knowledge, for instance in the form of oral histories (Fitzhugh et al., 2011). Such oral histories can extend 1000 years and have shown how communities were shaped by responses to climate shocks in the past (Edinborough et al., 2017; Douglass and Rasolondrainy, 2021).  

Our study will focus on the development of climate change and variability geochemical proxy time series from coral cores for ocean climate change (temperature, hydroclimate, nutrients) in the southern Mozambique Channel spanning the Last Millennium and make use of continuous time series of the past 300+ years (Zinke eta l., 2014, 2022). Our study region is of exceptional importance as its vigorous ocean climate variability is sustaining highly productive and valuable fishing grounds off- and nearshore for coastal fishing communities in SW Madagascar (e.g. Tuna; Chassot et al., 2019; Fig. 1). 

Diagram illustrating social memory of past climate change, with a line indicating climate and circles indicating time-scales of social memory.

Figure 1 Illustration of social memory of past climate change and response across short (A: around 30 years or an individual’s lifetime), medium (B: 1-2 centuries or within living memory) and long (C: over 2 centuries or beyond living memory) time scales. Response to current and future conditions is shaped by the time scale of social memory and future conditions include a range of uncertainty (gray shading. Modified after Douglass and Quintana Morales (pers. Comms.).  


University of Leicester


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Organisms and Ecosystems


Project investigator

Prof. Jens Zinke, University of Leicester, [email protected] 


Co-I: Dr. Arnoud Boom, University of Leicester, [email protected] 

Collaborators and partners:  

Dr. Kristina Douglass, Columbia University 

Dr. Tanambelo Rasolondrainy, CeDRATOM, University of Toliara, Madagascar 

George Manahira, Director MAP, Andavadoaka, Madagascar 

Dr. Mireille Guillaume, MNHN Paris, France, [email protected] 

Prof. Miriam Pfeiffer, Kiel University, Germany; [email protected] 

Prof. Henrich Bruggemann, University of La Reunion, France; [email protected] 

Dr. Alan Foreman, Max Planck Institute, Mainz, Germany; [email protected] 

How to apply


We have drilled living massive Porites corals and Last Millenium/Holocene boulders from storm deposits during a research cruise in the southern Mozambique Channel with the vessel Marion Dufresne II in April 2019. Absolute chronologies were already established for the fossil corals from U/Th dating at the University of Oxford. In 2023, we drilled several modern coral cores from Andavadoaka (SW Madagascar) where a team of coastal archaeologists is working with us on establishing a climate change timeline and oral histories of 20th century climate resilience. This project involves international collaboration with the University of La Reunion, the Natural History Museum in Paris, the University of Tulear (Madagascar) and the Morombe Archaeological Projects team of Columbia University (US) and Andavadoaka (Madagascar).  

Proxies for sea surface temperature and salinity will be obtained at the University of Leicester by trace element (Sr/Ca etc., ICP-MS; Zinke et al., 2022) and isotope (δ18O, δ13C) analyses, while nutrient cycling (skeletal bound organic δ15N; Wang et al., 2015) will be done at Max-Planck in Mainz (Germany) and Leicester. All sampling will provide monthly-resolved reconstructions.  

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2 – provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.  

The student will become proficient in experimental design and protocols, in use of sophisticated analytical equipment including inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry, stable isotopes, XRD, X-ray and SEM-scanning (mostly at the University of Leicester). This combination of innovative methods and state-of-the-art analytical equipment will provide you with a truly unique set of skills that will be attractive to both industrial and academic employers. Furthermore, our project enables unique transdisciplinary research with a diverse set of research disciplines.  

Partners and collaboration

The coral core samples for the project have already been collected and most samples have been shipped to Leicester. The project does not rely on fieldwork, but 1 field trip is planned with our archaeology team. All analyses planned for this project can be done at our laboratories at the University of Leicester (UoL) and through an established collaboration with Max-Planck in Mainz and University of Kiel (Germany). Our international collaborations are already established, and all members of the team have already started working on this joint transdisciplinary project.  

Further details

Further details on how to contact the supervisor for this project and how to apply for this project can be found here: 

For any enquiries related to this project please contact Prof. Jens Zinke ([email protected]) or Dr. Arnoud Boom ([email protected]).

To apply to this project: 

  • You must include a CENTA studentship application form, downloadable from: CENTA Studentship Application Form 2024. 
  • You must include a CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three) who can comment on your academic abilities. 
  • Please submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the “Apply for NERC CENTA Studentship” button.  Your CV can uploaded to the Experience section of the online form, the CENTA application form 2024 can be uploaded to the Personal Statement section of the online form.  Please quote CENTA 2024-L23-CENTA2-SGGE10-ZINK when completing the application form. 

Applications must be submitted by 23:59 GMT on Wednesday 10th January 2024. 

Possible timeline

Year 1

Get acquainted with the research methods and corals as climate archives through intensive literature study. Determine the sampling strategy for the cores based on CT/X-ray. Use of milling machine to obtain powders from the cores. Check core parts for diagenesis with XRD and SEM plus thin sections. Perform test measurements in stable isotope and ICP-MS labs before starting with real samples. Commence analysis of first real samples end of year 1. Organise 1 field trip for fossil collection and water sampling to characterize present-day seawater values of nitrogen isotopes, Sr/Ca and δ18O for calibration of geochemical signatures.

Year 2

Continue the sampling and geochemical data acquisition on selected dates. Collect orbital paramters for past climate stages and compare with present instrumental climate data and perform initial correlation/regression analysisGet acquainted with data analysis toolkits (R, Matlab, Python, knmi climate explorer). Aim for first presentation of initial data at national or international conference mid-end year 2.

Year 3

Application of data analysis toolkits to entire dataset. Interpretation of geochemical data and working out climate and environmental drivers at regional and global scale. Synthesis of data for key time slices and teaming up with archaeology team to link oral histories with physical climate change data. Peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations will be part of the schedule from year 2 onwards, including the opportunity to present at international meetings.

Further reading

Chassot et al. (2019) Rev Fish Biol Fisheries, doi:10.1007/s11160-019-09569-9 

Douglass, K., & Rasolondrainy, T. V. R. (2021) American Journal of Human Biology, e23557. 

Edinborough, K. et al. (2017) PNAS 114 (47), 12436-12441. 

Fitzhugh, B. et al. (2011) In R. Whallon, W. Lovis, & R. Hitchcock (Eds.), Information and Its Role in Hunter-gatherer Band Adaptations, 85–115 

IPCC report – Physical evidence for climate change (2021) 

Lazrus, H. (2012Annual Review of Anthropology, 41(1), 285-301 

Teh, L.S. et al. (2013) PLoS ONE, 8(6), e65397 

Wang, X.T. et al. (2015) Geoch, Cosmoc. Acta, 148, 179-190 

Zinke, J., et al. (2014a) Sci. Reports, 4, 4393 

Zinke et al. (2019) Biogeosciences, 16, 695-712 

Zinke et al. (2022) Climate of the Past 18, 1453-1474