Durham University

Department of Geography: Quaternary Environmental Change (QEC)


Research is supported by a state-of-the-art suite of facilities which are amongst the best available in any UK Geography Department. Individual laboratories are equipped to deal with wet and dry sediment analysis, an air-conditioned laboratory for high precision chemical and other analyses, a geotechnical laboratory, a microfossil preparation laboratory and a sediment biomarker laboratory. An enhanced range of test facilities for examining the physical and geochemical properties of sediments are all available, including ICPMS, Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy, Gas chromotagraphs (one with FID-TCD, one with ECD), GC-Mass spectrometer, HPLC (with diode array detector and autocollecter), two Coulter Laser Particle Granulometer, Particle Shape analyser, Gamma Ray Spectrometer, scanning UV-visible spectrometer, Dionex DX500 ion chromatographs, TOC analyser, elemental (C,H,N,S,O) analyser with MS, Climatic Cabinet, a Geotek multi-core sensor, a range of Nikon binocular microscopes with dedicated camera attachments. Other facilities available on campus include X-Ray fluorescence, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and thin section preparation. Equipment is located in research laboratories that include the following:

  • Sample Preparation - permitting the efficient transfer, temporary storage and preliminary work to be completed on materials returned from the field
  • Environmental & Geotechnics -  for examining the stress-strain characteristics of rocks & sediments and the simulation of weathering environments using the full range of geotechnical apparatus, including computer-controlled environmental cabinet, stress-path and vibration-loading facilities
  • Physical Research - for the examination of soft sediments, including the biostratigraphic interpretation of cores and analysis of two- and three-phase particle systems
  • Pollen, Diatom and Foraminiferal Preparation - where assemblages are extracted and slides prepared for use in environmental reconstruction and interpretation
  • Analytical Research - providing a controlled environment for the high-resolution geochemical analysis of water and sediment, using a range of specialist techniques, including ion-chromatography
  • Environmental Radioactivity - permitting chronological reconstruction using tracers found in sediments such as Cs-137 and Pb-210.Two well detectors and one LOAX detector
  • Sediment Biomarker laboratory - with GC and HPLC analytical facilities, -80ºC freeze-driers
  • Remote Sensing/GIS laboratory - containing a suite of high-specification PCs and Sun workstations dedicated to Remote Sensing and GIS applications
  • Two dedicated microscope rooms- palaeoecological and petrological microscopes, some with camera and video attachments

Field research is supported by a range of survey and sampling apparatus, data loggers, digital cameras and  camcorders, two Leica TC1010 total station laser levels and supporting software for data analysis and mapping and two Differential GPS systems. We maintain multiple sets of various types of coring, water quality and field sampling equipment and four vehicles are available for fieldwork, along with a Departmental boat and several inflatables.

Research activities are supported by sixteen technical and support staff including a Departmental Superintendent, three digital cartographers, photographer and print room staff providing a full service for the preparation of graphic work, plus six laboratory technicians and four computing staff.