Carbon dioxide emissions by rock-derived organic carbon oxidation (ROC-CO2)

The ROC-CO2 project (Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by Rock-derived Organic Carbon oxidation) aims to quantify the rates and controls on the CO2 release by chemical weathering of organic carbon in sedimentary rocks, which is a major component of the geological carbon cycle (see for further information).

We know that erosion is a major control on this flux: erosion increases the delivery of rocks to the near-surface weathering zone where they can be oxidised.

However, we don't know enough about where high erosion rates impinge on sedimentary rocks. Nor whether the inherent rock-mass properties of shales mean that these landscapes are naturally prone to very high rates of CO2 release by rock weathering.

To address this issue, as a postdoc on the project I combine quantitative geomorphology methods with lithological maps and geochemical datasets. We use topographic analysis and erosion models with empirically-based models of oxidative weathering rates to assess regional- to global-scale patterns in the modern-day CO2 release by rock organic carbon oxidation.

PhD Project: Lithological and climatic controls on fluvial landscape evolution of a post-orogenic dryland mountain belt

Work on fluvial landscape evolution in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains, with a focus on geomorphology, lithological strength and palaeoclimate. In particular, I have used river terraces and OSL dating techniques to understand river response to climatically forced erosion and lithological resistance in a post-orogenic mountain belt.

Innovative geochronology

Geological and archaeological material can be dated over a timespan of years to millions of years using the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) technique. The technique is well established and is used in over 400 laboratories around the world.

I have worked with the Nordic Centre for Luminescence Research (NCLR) at DTU Risø, developer and manufacturer of OSL instruments, to apply innovative techniques and protocols to date fluvial sediments often found in mountainous settings. I also apply rock exposure dating using new techniques pioneered at this laboratory.


This project has so far been awarded five awards and grants to support extending work. Supporters are the Quaternary Research Association, the British Society for Geomorphology, the International Association for Sedimentologists and the Geological Remote Sensing Group.

The project, Quantifying landscape response to tectonics and climate using river terraces in the Atlas Mountains, central Morocco includes updates such as publications on ResearchGate.

My PhD is part of an ongoing effort to understand landscape evolution in the High Atlas Mountains by Dr Martin Stokes, Prof Anne Mather and Dr Sarah Boulton:

Long term landscape evolution of the Moroccan High Atlas

Zondervan J.R., Stokes M., Boulton S.J., Telfer M.W., Mather A.E. Rock strength and structural controls on fluvial erodibility: implications for drainage divide mobility in a collisional mountain belt. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2020. [link]

Lego artwork by Stacey Philips inspired by my research on Saharan landscape evolution

MSci Project: Investigating landscape response to active faulting:

I worked with Dr. Alex Whittaker, Dr. Rebecca Bell, Stephen Watkins and Sam Brooke at Imperial. I'm trained as a geologist and my background is in erosion and sedimentation, fluvial geomorphology, structural geology, climate and tectonics. My MSci project Investigating landscape response to active faulting, Southern Gulf of Corinth, Central Greece is what got me interested in the PhD project.

This dissertation was awarded the BSRG Award for Undergraduate Sedimentology.

Zondervan J.R., Whittaker A.C., Bell R.E., Watkins S.E., Brooke S.A.S., Hann M.G. New constraints on bedrock erodibility and landscape response times upstream of an active fault. Geomorphology, 2020. [link]

More research

Population dynamics and environment in South America

Another active project I contribute to is one with Dr Crystal McMichael and Dr Suzette Flantua at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

Collecting a complete radiocarbon database and using spatial statistical analysis and modelling to determine the interaction between environment and population dynamics.

Palynology of Lake George

I've also done a project with Dr. Janelle Stevenson and Professor Brad Pillans at the Australian National University (ANU) on the palynology of Lake George, which hosts the longest paleoenvironmental record in Australia. Feel free to check my report Palynology of Lake George -A review of palynology, Lake George and regional & global Quaternary comparisons and the start of palynological analysis of a new Lake George core.

Preserved fossil coral heads as indicators of Holocene high sea level

I'm still waiting for some paleoreef samples to be dated at the Australian National University, as I collected these on an undergraduate project with Dr Bradley Opdyke. This research, Preserved fossil coral heads as indicators of Holocene high sea level on One Tree Island goes into sea level records and isostatic adjustment models.