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Dr Becky Briant

Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography

BA Geography (Cambridge)
MSc Quaternary Science (Royal Holloway)
PhD Quaternary River Systems (Cambridge)

Profile

  • Becky is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography with a specific focus on Quaternary Science. She works on Quaternary river activity, modelling and dating techniques. She is the Secretary of the Fluvial Archives Group (FLAG) and a workgroup leader in the newly-formed FACSIMILE (Field And Computer SIMulation in Landscape Evolution) network.
  • She joined Birkbeck in 2008, having held lectureships previously at Queen Mary, University of London and at Kings College, London since 2003. Prior to this, I was an English Heritage funded PDRA in 2003 and did a PhD in Cambridge 1998-2002.

Research interests

  • I am an expert in both Quaternary sediment dating methods (OSL, radiocarbon) and integrating geological data with numerical modelling. I am particularly involved in three research areas, with four different teams.
    1. In the Solent Region I am recognised as the key worker in the history of the river system. I work with Dr Martin Bates (Lampeter Archaeology), Dr Francis Wenban-Smith (Southampton Archaeology) and Dr Jean-Luc Schwenninger (Research Laboratory for Archaeology and History of Art, Oxford). We have been funded twice by English Heritage between 2003 and 2007 and ran a Quaternary Research Association (QRA) Field Meeting to the region in 2009 which attracted double the number of participants than most such meetings. I also work with others in an AHRC-funded project in this region (2009-2013) based around two paired Collaborative Doctoral Awards, co-supervised by Drs Rob Hosfield (Reading Archaeology), Nick Ashton (British Museum) and Simon Lewis and Sven Lukas (Geography, Queen Mary, University of London).
    2. I am currently investigating the interface between numerical computer modelling and geological records with Professor John Wainwright in the Geography Department at Durham (2010 Natural England ALSF grant, £20,000). Numerical modelling of landscapes is crucial for improving our understanding of how they work and the processes operating within them. This is because it helps us to scale up from small-scale processes (days or weeks) to deposition and erosion of sediments and changing landforms over hundreds to thousands of years. However, it is crucial to evaluate model output against the geological record to prove the robustness of model projections. Our main aim is to see if a model can reproduce the patterns and timing of deposition of sediments within a river catchment over the last 135,000 years, both a longer timescale and higher resolution than most previous studies. This process has enabled us to better see the limitations of both model specification and evaluation data. At present we are running repeat experiments including key landscape processes associated with seasonally-frozen ground. Results from initial runs demonstrated that these were essential to reproduce the geological patterns observed. Due to my prominent conference presentations I am also involved in a wider European network of researchers. The FACSMILE network (Field And Computer SIMulation In Landscape Evolution) was initiated during a workshop in the Netherlands in December 2013 and I lead one of the two workgroups taking this work forward.
    3. I am at the cutting-edge of investigating radiocarbon pretreatments on plant material, which is both important and timely. I published a key paper on radiocarbon dating in 2009 and presented at the INQUA (International Union of Quaternary Research) XVIII Congress in Bern in July 2011. Radiocarbon dating has a theoretical limit of c. 50,000 years. However, ‘old’ radiocarbon samples contain very small amounts of radioactive carbon, making them susceptible to contamination and error. Briant and Bateman (2009) found a systematic offset between optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on sand grains and radiocarbon ages on plant material beyond 35,000 radiocarbon years ago, attributed to contamination in the radiocarbon samples. I am now working on improving the pretreatments of plant material in this time period and therefore the robustness of the ages determined. This focuses on three river channel-fills within a single sedimentary sequence and has involved the sieving of over a hundred kg of sediment to extract sufficient plant material for testing multiple pretreatments. This laboratory work was supported by £3700 from Birkbeck. Funding for pilot experiments on the first channel fill (£3400) has been secured from the NERC Facility Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit where I am working in collaboration with Dr Fiona Brock. A further £9600 has recently (December 2014) been secured to work on the other two channel fills from the NERC Radiocarbon Facility steering committee.  http://www.bbk.ac.uk/news/radiocarbon-dating-of-macrofossil-seeds

    Teaching

    • I am the Programme Director of:
      • MSc Climate Change Management
    • I teach the following modules:
      • Climate Change (Master's Level)
      • Landscape Change: Past and Future (Year 3/4 undergraduate level)

    PhD/MPhil Supervision

    • I am currently supervising the following student:
      • Marzhan Tleubayeva 'Analysis of sustainable development in transitional economies: case studies of Kazakhstan and Russia' (co-supervised with Dr Sian Sullivan)
    • I am interested in supervising in the areas of Quaternary river behaviour and dating techniques.

    Publications

    • Journal Articles
      • Langford, H.E., Boreham, S., Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Horne, D.J., Schreve, D.C., Whittaker, J.E., Whitehouse, N.J. (2014). Middle to Late Pleistocene palaeoecological reconstructions and palaeotemperature estimates for cold/cool stage deposits at Whittlesey, eastern England. Quaternary International, 341, 6-26.
      • Thomas, M., Sullivan, S. and Briant, B. (2013) Sustainability and development in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern European countries. International Journal of Sustainable Human Development, 1(4), 163-176.
      • Roberts, G.P., Meschis, M., Houghton, S., Underwood, C., Briant, R.M. (2013). The implications of revised Quaternary palaeoshoreline chronologies for the rates of active extension and uplift in the upper plate of subduction zones. Quaternary Science Reviews 78, 169-187.
      • Mann, S., Briant, R.M. and Gibin, M. (2014). Spatial determinants of local government action on climate change: an analysis of local authorities in England. Local Environment 19(8), 837-867 DOI:10.1080/13549839.2013.798633
      • Briant. R.M., Bates, M.R., Boreham, S., Coope, G.R., Field, M.H., Wenban-Smith, F.F. ad Whittaker, J.E. (2013). Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction from a decalcified interglacial sequence in the former Solent river system at St Leonard's Farm, Hampshire, England. Quaternary Newsletter 130, 23-40.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Schwenninger, J-L. & Wenban-Smith, F.F., 2012. Terrace reconstruction and long profile projection: a case study from the Solent river system near Southampton, England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123 438–449.
      • Briant, R.M., Keen, D.H., Kilfeather, A.A., Parfitt, S., Penkman, K.E.H., Preece, R.C., Roe, H.M., Schwenninger, J-L, Wenban-Smith, F.F. 2012. Integrated chronological control on an archaeologically significant Pleistocene river terrace sequence: the Thames-Medway, eastern Essex, England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123, 87–108. doi:10.1016/j.pgeola.2011.07.008.
      • Roe, H.M., Penkman, K.E.H., Preece, R.C., Briant, R.M., Wenban-Smith, F.F., 2011. Evolution of the Thames estuary during MIS 9: insights from the Shoeburyness area, Essex.Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 122, 397-418.
      • Bates, M.R., Briant, R.M., Rhodes, E.J., Schwenninger, J-L. & Whittaker, J.E. 2010. A new chronological framework for Middle and Upper Pleistocene landscape evolution in the Sussex/Hampshire Coastal Corridor. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 121, 369-392.
      • Briant, R.M. & Bateman, M.D., 2009. Luminescence dating indicates radiocarbon age under-estimation in Late Pleistocene fluvial deposits from eastern England. Journal of Quaternary Science 24, 916-927. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.1258.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R. & Gibbard, P.L. 2008. Limits to resolving catastrophic events in the Quaternary fluvial record: a case study from the Nene valley, Northamptonshire, UK. In: Gallagher, K., Jones, S.J. & Wainwright, J. (eds) Landscape Evolution: Denudation, Climate and Tectonics Over Different Time and Space Scales.Geological Society, London, Special Publications 296, 79-104.
      • Bates, M.R., Bates, C.R. & Briant, R.M. 2007. Bridging the Gap: a terrestrial view of shallow marine sequences and the importance of the transition zone. Journal of Archaeological Science.34, 1537-1551.
      • Gao, C., Boreham, S., Gibbard, P.L., Preece, R.C. & Briant, R.M. 2007. Fluvial response to rapid climate change during the Devensian (Weichselian) Lateglacial in the River Great Ouse, southern England, UK. Sedimentary Geology 202, 193-210.
      • Langford, H.E., Bateman, M.D., Penkman, K.E.H., Boreham, S., Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R. and Keen, D.H. 2007. Age-estimate evidence for Middle-Late Pleistocene aggradation of River Nene 1st Terrace deposits at Whittlesey, eastern England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 118, 238-300.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Schwenninger, J-L & Wenban-Smith, F.F. 2006a. A long optically-stimulated luminescence dated Middle to Late Pleistocene fluvial sequence from the western Solent Basin, southern England. Journal of Quaternary Science 21, 507-523.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Boreham, S., Wenban-Smith, F.F. & Whittaker, J. 2006b. Re-investigation of interglacial sediments at Stone Point, Lepe Country Park, Hampshire.Quaternary Newsletter 108, 43-51.
      • Briant, R.M., Bateman, M.D., Coope, G.R. & Gibbard, P.L. 2005. Climatic control on Quaternary fluvial sedimentology: a Fenland Basin river in England. Sedimentology 52, 1397-1424.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Preece, R.C. and Gibbard, P.L. 2004a. The Upper Pleistocene deposits at Deeping St James, Lincolnshire: evidence for Early Devensian fluvial sedimentation. Quaternaire 15, 5-15.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Preece, R.C., Keen, D.H., Boreham, S., Griffiths, H.I., Seddon, M.B. and Gibbard, P.L. 2004b. Fluvial response to Late Devensian aridity, Baston, Lincolnshire, England. Journal of Quaternary Science, 19, 479-495.
      • Van Huissteden, J. (Ko), Gibbard, P.L., and Briant, R.M., 2001. Periglacial fluvial systems in northwest Europe during Marine Isotope Stages 4 and 3. Quaternary International, 79,75-88.
      • Briant, R.M., Rose, J., Branch, N.P. and Lee, J.A., 1999. 'Pre-glacial' Quaternary sediments from Trimingham, North Norfolk, England. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Norfolk, 49, 15-47.
    • Books
      • Briant, R. M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. 2009. The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guilde, Quaternary Research Association, London
      • Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds) 2004a. Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association
    • Book Chapters
      • Bates, M.R. and Briant, R.M., 2009. Quaternary sediments of the Sussex/Hampshire Coastal Corridor. In:Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 21-41.
      • Briant, R.M., Wenban-Smith, F.F. and Schwenninger, J-L, 2009b. Solent river gravels at Barton on Sea, Hampshire SZ 230 930. In: Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 161-170.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Boreham, S., Cameron, N.G., Coope, G.R., Field, M.H., Keen, D.H., Simons, R.M.J., Schwenninger, J-L, Wenban-Smith, F.F. and Whittaker, J.E., 2009c. Gravels and interglacial sediments at Stone Point Site of Special Scientific Interest, Lepe Country Park, Hampshire. In: Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches.Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 171-188.
      • Briant, R.M., and Schwenninger, J-L, 2009. Solent river gravels at Badminston Farm, Hampshire SU 463 019. In:Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 189-197.
      • Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. 2004b. Post-Anglian Pleistocene deposits of the Peterborough area and the Pleistocene history of the Fen Basin. In: Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds). Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p.22-35.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R. and Bateman, M.D. 2004c. Pode Hole Quarry, Thorney (TF261033 - TF265033): Early Devensian sands and gravels. In: Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds). Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p.130-144.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Bateman, M.D. and Griffiths, H.I. 2004d. Eye Quarry (TF273023 - TF240021): Early Devensian sands and gravels. In: Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds). Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p.116-129.
      • Briant, R.M., Rose, J., Branch, N.P. 2000. Trimingham (TG 277391 - TG274393): Pre-glacial coastal sands, gravels and organic muds. In: Lewis, S.G., Whiteman, C.A., and Preece, R.C. (eds): The Quaternary of Norfolk and Suffolk Field Guide, p. 85-90. Quaternary Research Association, London
    • Other Written Output

    Highlights

    • I have published the longest OSL-dated terrace sequence in Europe (Briant et al., 2006) and undertaken pioneering work in the comparison of OSL and radiocarbon dating on plant macrofossils (Briant and Bateman, 2009).

    Contact details

    Email: b.briant@bbk.ac.uk
    Tel:
    + 44 (0)20 3073 8444