Meet the team

Meet the scientists who contribute to the SPECIAL research group.

We are based in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading.


Prof. Sandy P. Harrison

Professor in Global Palaeoclimates and Biogeochemical Cycles


Sandy is a palaeoclimate diagnostician, using large-scale palaeoenvironmental data syntheses and various types of process-based models to study the interaction of climate and the terrestrial biosphere in the geologic past and the present day. The goal of her work is to use the mechanistic understanding of interactions developed under radically different climate of the past to improve our ability to predict the likely trajectory of future climate and environmental changes. As Co-Chair of the Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project (PMIP) and as joint leader of the PMIP Data Working Group, she is committed to promoting the analysis and evaluation of the climate and earth-system models used for future projections. Sandy is a Co-Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, where she is actively promoting the use of palaeodata to explore the controls on fire regimes and for model evaluation. She is also leading a new international consortium (LEMONTREE) to build a next-generation model of the terrestrial biosphere and its interactions with the carbon cycle, water cycle and climate.

Email     Orcid     Research Gate    Twitter

Esmeralda Cruz Silva

PhD Candidate

Esmeralda works with late Quaternary databases of pollen records at mid-latitudes. She uses this data to produce vegetation maps as a source of information about spatial dynamics of plant communities and climate through time.

Currently her PhD work is centred at reconstructing spatio-temporal changes of vegetation and climate in the Mediterranean region using Holocene pollen data from the EMBSeCBIO database, the European Pollen Database (EPD), the African Pollen Database (APD) and the Modern Pollen Data for Climate Reconstructions (SMPDS). As part of her research, she both developed from the literature and by SPECIAL group members to assess their robustness.

Email   Orcid




Olivia Haas

PhD Candidate

Olivia is a PhD student in the Life Sciences Department at Imperial College,  part of the latest QMEE (Quantitative Methods in Ecology and Evolution) cohort and a member of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. Her primary interest is exploring the impact of CO2 on fire regimes and ecosystems in rapid warming events (notably the Dansgaard-Oeschger events). As part of her PhD, she is working towards building a global fire model that, coupled with a dynamic global vegetation model would allow for improved simulations and predictions of the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 on the global fire regime and associated impacts on ecosystems. Notably, she is interested in exploring the potential for ecosystem shifts driven by fire disturbances.





Mengmeng Liu

PhD Candidate

Mengmeng focuses on Earth system feedback. Her previous master’s work was developing a more rigorous theory for palaeoclimate reconstruction, which showed that WA-PLS is a special case of the theory when taxa tolerances are all equal and this new theory has greatly reduced the compression bias in WA-PLS. This would help with the current PhD project by providing a clearer past.

Her current work is to explore the potential relationships between SST (sea surface temperature), CO2 and dust. When you look back into the data of SST, CO2 concentration and dust between glacial and interglacial periods gained from the ice core, you would find a very similar trend in the changes of SST and CO2 concentration, and some key changes were often related to the abrupt increase of dust, so there might be some potential relationships between them. This would hopefully reveal the potential hidden rules of Earth system feedback and provide some very useful information for the feedback today.

Email   Orcid    Research Gate



Giulia Mengoli

PhD Candidate

Giulia works at developing mathematical models to predict vegetation response to climate change. With a background in ecology and eco-physiological processes, she has a strong interest in how plant interact with their environment – and vice versa – and how these interactions can be translated into mathematical models and have an impact on the atmospheric composition.

She is currently involved in a PhD project at the Imperial College London, that is carried out in collaboration with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) and the University of Reading. Her PhD work involves the deployment of a new ecosystem model that combines satellite observations with eco-evolutionary optimality theory to predict canopy-level conductance and improve medium-range weather forecasting.




Luke Sweeney

PhD Candidate

Luke’s research is focussed on investigating the effects of anthropogenic land-use change on fire regimes during the pre-industrial era, against the context of climate-driven changes. His work involves the analysis of charcoal-based records of paleofires, pollen-based information on changes in land cover, and archaeological data on population changes and land use during the Holocene, as well as analysis of existing climate and fire-enabled vegetation model simulations.

Luke will be working as part of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. As part of this PhD project, he is also hoping to design and implement new experiments with a fire-enabled vegetation model to test the impact of changing climate and LULC on fire regimes in the past.




Mark Turner

PhD Candidate

Mark examines rapid climate change and its effect on vegetation using pollen accumulations in lake sediments. He examines modern pollen assemblages and uses the relationships between pollen and climate to infer changes in climate variables through time.

His current work focuses on the last glacial (~20,000 years ago to ~120,000 years ago). During this time, there are at least 20 periods of rapid temperature increases (Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles) with similar rates of change to what the world is currently experiencing. Pollen assemblages in lake sediments reflect these changes, and the modern pollen-climate relationships may be used to quantitatively reconstruct climate changes during these events. This work helps in answering questions about the fate of vegetation under current and future climate change.

Email     Orcid


Yicheng Shen

PHD Candidates

Yicheng has graduated as a MRes student studying ecosystems and environmental change at Imperial College London. She is interested in the relationships between fire, vegetation, climate and human beings in the past time and also at present day. In her master’s project, she built a present-day GLM fire model to explore fire relationships and developed a novel method of palaeofire reconstructions.

Yicheng works as a research assistant in the SPECIAL group as part of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. Currently, she is focusing on the development of a new method to derive quantitative fire-vegetation relationships using pollen and modern charcoal with the help of Tolerance-Weighted Averaging Partial Least-Squares with sampling frequency correction (fxTWA-PLS) and a present-day GLM fire model. She has tested this approach using the Iberian Peninsula as a case study. This new method opens up the possibility of reconstructing changes in fire regimes quantitatively from pollen records, which are far more extensive than charcoal records. She will expand the study region and investigate palaeofire relationships using the reconstructed fire data in the future study.

Email                  Orcid               Research Gate


Theo Keeping

PHD Candidates

Theodore Keeping is a PhD student at University of Reading working under the supervision of Professors Sandy Harrison and Ted Shepherd at the University of Reading and Professor Colin Prentice at Imperial University.

Theodore’s work focusses on developing a fine resolution probabilistic model of wildfire likelihood, behaviour and impact across landscapes, with the goal of developing a probabilistic fire hazard model that can be integrated into current Dynamic Global Vegetation Models.

Email         Orcid

Wenyao Gan

PHD Candidate

Wenyao Gan is a PhD student working under the supervision of Sandy Harrison and Pier Luigi Vidale at the University of Reading. Wenyao’s work will focus on implementing eco-evolutional optimality formulation of photosynthesis and primary production, dark respiration and stomatal behaviour within the JULES land surface model. Wenyao will also be comparing the model performance of the new formulations against existing version of JULES




Email      Orcid 


Georgina Tang

Research Assistant

Minxue Tang (Georgina Tang) is a Research Assistant at the University of Reading under the supervision of Professor Sandy Harrison at the University of Reading and Professor Colin Prentice at Imperial College London. Georgina’s current work focuses on analysing past records of tree migration in response to climate changes using data sets, developing and testing a predictive model of tree migration, and implementing tree dynamics and migration in the framework of the P (optimality-based) model.


Email      Orcid

Jierong Zhao

Research Assistant

Jierong Zhao serves as a research assistant specialising in speleothem modelling. Her work is dedicated to elucidating evidence-based changes observed in speleothem records over time and exploring it related variations in climate forcing. With a bachelor’s degree in political economy from King’s College London and a MRes degree in Ecosystem and Environmental Change from Imperial College London, she employs an eco-evolutionary optimality principle to investigate terrestrial cycle functions under different CO2 levels within the realm of paleo-climate simulation.


Support Staff


Stacey Stacey                                                                  Mary-Ann Egbudom

Project Administration Officer                                                                        Scientific Programmer and Database Manager

Image preview