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Dr Stefan Engels

Lecturer in Physical Geography

BSc/MSc Utrecht University (The Netherlands)

PhD VU University Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

*PhD topics and funding opportunities for 2018 - see Teaching section*


  • Stefan is a Lecturer in Physical Geography with a background in Palaeoecology and Quaternary Geology.
  • After completing his MSc and PhD programmes in The Netherlands, Stefan moved to Stockholm (Sweden) and Fredericton (Canada) to carry out postdoctoral research projects.
  • He subsequently returned to The Netherlands where he held a 5-year combined research/lectureship post at the University of Amsterdam, before moving to a PDRA position at the University of Nottingham. Stefan joined Birkbeck in October 2017.

Research interests

  • My research interests include: Palaeoecology; Quantitative climate reconstructions; Trends in biodiversity; Chironomids (non-biting midges); Pollen, biomarkers and vegetation change
  • My research focusses on the reconstruction of past changes in the environment by using biological indicators stored in lake sedimentary archives. He is an expert on abrupt climatic and environmental change across the last glacial/interglacial cycle, and the use of insect remains and pollen as indicators of past ecosystem change.


  • I teach the following modules: Introduction to Environmental Science; Environment, Economy and Society in Europe
  • I also contribute to Environmental Science for Environmental Management, Introduction to Natural Environments and to various field trips.
  • I am currently (co-)supervising the following students: Anna Plikk (Stockholm University, SWE) and Andreas Laug (Braunschweig University, GER). I am interested in supervising in the areas of palaeoecology, chironomid research, proxy development human impact, and abrupt climatic and environmental change.
  • PhD / MPhil supervision - 2018 PhD topics and funding
  • Students with an offer from Birkbeck by the closing date of 10th March 2018 can apply for fully funded MPhil/PhD Postgraduate Research Scholarships from the School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy - details here:
  • A specific project proposed for 2018 entry is:
  • Effects of eutrophication on the invertebrate communities of shallow lakes in the UK: a palaeoecological perspective
  • Primary supervisor:
    • Dr Stefan Engels
  • Co-supervisors:
    • Professor Helen Bennion (UCL)
  • Freshwater ecosystems such as lakes have suffered major losses in biodiversity in recent decades as a result of a range of factors including eutrophication, acidification and airborne pollution. Shallow lakes in the UK have been dramatically affected, and many have seen a loss of (submerged) aquatic macrophytes and a decline in their fish stock. Even though the invertebrate community of a lake plays a vital role in a lake’s foodweb, little is known about recent changes in biodiversity and composition of this group. This is partly the result of the fact that there are only few monitoring studies available to provide reliable data on trends in insect abundance and diversity across the last few decades.
  • Palaeoecological research allows to reconstruct natural ecosystem variability of polluted systems such as lakes, and analysis of subfossil insect remains can inform us on potential trends in biodiversity, biomass and faunal composition of lakes. This project will focus on the application of chironomid analysis to a selection of sediment records retrieved from lakes in the UK. The student will use material available at laboratories in the UK (e.g. UCL) as well as visit sites of special interest to collect new material for study. The results will provide vital new information on how an important but understudied ecological group has responded to external pressures, which will be of interest to people in academia as well as in nature conservation and restoration.


  • Journal articles
    • Engels S, Fong LSRZ, Chen Q, Leng MJ, McGowan S, Idris M, Rose NL, Ruslan MS, Taylor D, Yang H (2018) Historical atmospheric pollution trends in Southeast Asia inferred from lake sediment records. Environmental Pollution 235: 907-917
    • Engels S, van Oostrom R, Cerli C, Dungait JAJ, Jansen B, van Aken JM, van Geel B, Visser PM (2018) Natural and anthropogenic forcing of Holocene lake ecosystem development at Lake Uddelermeer (The Netherlands). Journal of Paleolimnology 59: 329-347
    • van den Bos V, Engels S, Bohncke SJP, Cerli C, Jansen B, Kalbitz K, Peterse F, Renssen H, Sachse D (2018) Late Holocene changes in vegetation and atmospheric circulation at Lake Uddelermeer (The Netherlands) reconstructed using lipid biomarkers and compound specific δD analysis. Journal of Quaternary Science 33: 100-111
    • Helmens KF, Katrantsiotis C, Salonen JS, Shala S, Bos JAA, Engels S, Kuosmanen N, Luoto TP, Väliranta M, Luoto M, Ojala A, Risberg J, Weckström J (2018) Warm summers and rich biotic communities during N-Hemisphere deglaciation. Global and Planetary Change 167: 61-73
    • Jones G, Lane CS, Brauer A, Davies SM, De Bruijn R, Engels S, Haliuc A, Hoek WZ, Merkt J, Sachse D, Turner F, Wagner-Cremer F (2018) The Lateglacial to early Holocene tephrochronological record from Lake Hämelsee, Germany: a key site within the European tephra framework. Boreas 47: 28-40
    • Rach O, Engels S, Kahmen A, Brauer A, Martín-Puertas C, van Geel B, Sachse D (2017) Hydrological and ecological changes in western Europe between 3200 and 2000 cal years BP from lipid biomarker δD values in Lake Meerfelder Maar sediments. Quaternary Science Reviews 172: 44-54
    • Engels S, Brauer A, Buddelmeijer N, Martin-Puertas C, Rach O, Sachse D, van Geel B (2016) Subdecadal-scale vegetation responses to a previously unknown late-Allerød climate fluctuation and Younger Dryas cooling at Lake Meerfelder Maar (Germany). Journal of Quaternary Science 31: 741-752
    • Engels S, Bakker MAJ, Bohncke SJP, Cerli C, Hoek WZ, Jansen B, Peters T, Renssen H, Sachse D, van Aken JM, van den Bos V, van Geel B, van Oostrom R, Winkels T, Wolma M (2016) Centennial-scale lake-level lowstand at Lake Uddelermeer (The Netherlands) indicates changes in moisture source region prior to the 2.8-kyr event. The Holocene 26: 1075-1091
    • Salonen JS, Vester AJ, Engels S, Soininen J, Trachsel M, Luoto M (2016) Calibrating aquatic microfossil proxies with regression-tree ensembles: cross-validation with modern chironomid and diatom data. The Holocene 26: 1040-1048
    • Engels S, van Geel B, Buddelmeijer N, Brauer A (2015) High-resolution palynological evidence for vegetation response to the Laacher See eruption from the varved record of Meerfelder Maar (Germany) and other central European records. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 221: 160-170
    • Helmens K, Salonen JS, Plikk A, Engels S, Väliranta M, Kylander M, Brendryen J, Renssen H (2015) Major cooling intersecting peak Eemian interglacial warmth in northern Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews 122: 293-299
    • Moreno A, Svensson A, Brooks SJ, Connors S, Engels S, Fletcher W, Genty D, Heiri O, Labuhn I, Persiou A, Peyron O, Sadori L, Valero-Garcés B, Wulf S, Zanchetta G, and data contributors (2014) A compilation of Western European terrestrial records 60-8 ka BP: towards an understanding of latitudinal climatic gradients. Quaternary Science Reviews 106: 167-185
    • van Geel B, Heijnis H, Charman DJ, Thompson G, Engels S (2014) Bog burst in the eastern Netherlands triggered by the 850 BC climate event. The Holocene 24 (11): 1465-1477
    • Engels S, Self AE, Luoto TP, Brooks SJ, Helmens KF (2014) A comparison of three Eurasian chironomid–climate calibration datasets on a W–E continentality gradient and the implications for quantitative temperature reconstructions. Journal of Paleolimnology 51:529–547
    • van den Bos V, Brinkkemper O, Bull ID, Engels S, Hakbijl T, Schepers M, van Dinter M, van Reenen G, van Geel B (2014) Roman impact on the landscape near castellum Fectio, The Netherlands. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 23: 277–298
    • van Geel B, Engels S, Martin-Puertas C, Brauer A (2013) Ascospores of the parasitic fungus Kretzschmaria deusta as rainstorm indicators during a late Holocene beech forest phase around lake Meerfelder Maar, Germany. Journal of Paleolimnology 50: 33-40
    • de Boer EJ, Hooghiemstra H, Florens FBV, Baider C, Engels S, Dakos V, Blaauw M, Bennett KD (2013) Rapid succession of plant associations on the small ocean island of Mauritius at the onset of the Holocene. Quaternary Science Reviews 68: 114-125
    • Engels S, Cwynar LC, Shuman BN, Rees ABH (2012) Chironomid-based water depth reconstructions: an independent evaluation of site-specific and local inference models. Journal of Paleolimnology 48: 693-709
    • Engels S, van Geel B (2012) The effects of changing solar activity on climate: contributions from palaeoclimatological studies. Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate 2: A09
    • Cwynar LC, Rees ABH, Pedersen CR, Engels S (2012) Depth distribution of chironomids and an evaluation of site-specific and regional lake-depth inference models from the southern Yukon: a good model gone bad. Journal of Paleolimnology 48: 517-533
    • Bos JAA, Verbruggen F, Engels S, Crombé P (2012) The influence of environmental changes on local and regional vegetation patterns at Rieme (NW Belgium): implications for Final Palaeolithic habitation. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 22:17-38
    • Helmens KF, Väliranta M, Engels S, Shala S (2012) Large shifts in vegetation and climate during the Early Glacial (MIS 5d-c) inferred from multi-proxy evidence at Sokli (Northern Finland). Quaternary Science Reviews 41: 22-38
    • Van Meerbeeck CJ, Renssen H, Roche DM, Wohlfarth B, Bohncke SJP, Bos JAA, Engels S, Helmens KF, Sánchez-Goñi M-F, Svensson A, Vandenberghe J (2011) The nature of MIS 3 stadial-interstadial transitions in Europe: new insights from model-data comparisons. Quaternary Science Reviews 30: 3618-3637
    • Engels S, Cwynar LC (2011) Changes in fossil chironomid remains along a depth gradient: evidence for common faunal breakpoints within lakes. Hydrobiologia 665: 15-38
    • Wohlfarth B, Alexanderson H, Ampel L, Bennike O, Engels S, Johnsen T, Lundqvist J, Martins M, Reimer P (2011) Pilgrimstad revisited – multi-proxy reconstructions of Early/Middle Weichselian climate and environment at a key site in central Sweden. Boreas 40: 211-230
    • Engels S, Helmens KF, Väliranta M, Brooks SJ, Birks HJB (2010) Early Weichselian (MIS-5d and 5c) temperatures and environmental changes as recorded by chironomids and macroremains at Sokli (northern Fennoscandia). Boreas 39: 689-704
    • Helmens KF, Engels S (2010) Ice-free conditions during early Marine Isotope Stage 3: lacustrine records from eastern Fennoscandia. Boreas 39: 399-409
    • Väliranta M, Birks HH, Helmens K, Engels S, Piirainen M (2009) Early Weichselian interstadial (MIS 5c) summer temperatures were higher than today in northern Fennoscandia. Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (9-10): 777-782
    • Engels S, Bohncke SJP, Bos JAA,  Heiri O, Vandenberghe J, Wallinga J (2008) Environmental inferences and chironomid-based temperature reconstructions from fragmentary records of the Weichselian Early Glacial and Pleniglacial of the Niederlausitz area (eastern Germany). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 260 (3-4): 405-416
    • Engels S, Bohncke SJP, Heiri O, Schaber K, Sirocko F (2008) The lacustrine sediment record of Oberwinkler Maar (Eifel, Germany): chironomid-based inferences of environmental changes during Oxygen Isotope Stage-3. Boreas 37: 414-425
    • Engels S, Bohncke SJP, Bos JAA, Brooks SJ, Heiri O, Helmens KF (2008) Chironomid-based palaeotemperature estimates for northeast Finland during Oxygen Isotope Stage 3. Journal of Paleolimnology 40 (1): 49-61
    • Engels S, Bohncke SJP, Heiri O, Nyman M (2008) Intraregional variability in chironomid-inferred temperature estimates and the influence of river inundations on lacustrine chironomid assemblages. Journal of Paleolimnology 40 (1): 129-142
    • Bohncke SJP, Bos JAA, Engels S, Heiri O and Kasse C (2008) Rapid climatic events as recorded in Middle Weichselian thermokarst lake sediments. Quaternary Science Reviews 27 (1-2): 162-174
    • Helmens KF, Bos JAA, Engels S, Van Meerbeeck CJ, Bohncke SJP, Renssen H, Heiri O, Brooks SJ, Seppä H, Birks HJB and Wohlfarth B (2007)  Present-day temperatures in northern Scandinavia during the Last Glaciation. Geology 35 (11): 987-990
    • Heiri O, Cremer H, Engels S, Hoek W, Peeters W, Lotter AF (2007) Late-Glacial summer temperatures in the Northwest European lowlands: a new chironomid record from Hijkermeer, the Netherlands. Quaternary Science Reviews 26 (19-21): 2420-2437
  • Other publications
    • Van der Linden M, Kooistra LI, Engels S (2012) Non-pollen palynomorphs as relevant indicators in palaeoecology and archaeobotany. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 186, 1
    • Engels S, Helmens KF (2009) Holocene environmental changes and climate development in Greenland. SKB reports, Stockholm, Sweden. 41pp.
    • Engels S (2008) Exploring early- and mid-Weichselian climate variability in Europe by applying chironomids as a proxy. VU University Amsterdam, PhD-thesis. 160pp.

Contact details:

Room 102

Department of Geography

32 Tavistock Sq.

London, WC1H 9EZ


Tel: 020 3073 8457


Twitter: @stefan.engels79