Professor Wolfgang Müller

Personal profile

Research Profile

Using isotope analysis as a versatile toolkit, my research focuses on the close interplay between applications and the methodological developments necessary to achieve these goals. Over the years, my emphasis has been on spatially-resolved isotope and element ratio analysis, initially using conventional microsampling and more recently based on laser-ablation and/or SIMS. Good examples illustrating this interaction between application & methodology include 1) my earlier work on dating deformation, where we constrained for the first time directly duration and rates of shear zone activity (Science 2000), 2) the subsequent shift towards biominerals, including the multi-isotope tracing approach leading to the ‘Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman’ (Science 2003) or 3) the development of in-situ Hf isotope analysis including non-radiogenic ratios applied to the oldest minerals formed on Earth, the Jack Hills zircons (Science 2005).

Following the establishment of my SRIF3-funded custom-designed laser-ablation ICPMS laboratory at RHUL in 2008, my group and I have been focusing on the extraction of palaeoenvironmental proxies from a variety of archives at very high time-resolution, from (sub)seasonal to even daily. Owing to the strongly seasonal climate on Earth, the overarching hypothesis is that shifts in seasonality are likely to have contributed to both climate transitions or changed ecological behaviour including faunal extinctions, hence the necessity of sub-annual time resolution.

We are utilizing fast growing (0.1-10s mm/yr) biominerals such as corals, molluscs, large benthic foraminifera or teeth, besides ice cores and speleothems as archives of sub-seasonal environmental change. Applications include diverse areas in palaeoclimate research, both deep-time and at glacial-interglacial time-scales, palaeoecology and anthropology/archaeology. Deep-time palaeoclimate work includes the development and application of large-benthic foraminifera as a viable new tool especially for the Paleogene (Evans et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), as well as Miocene corals and giant clams (Griffiths et al. 2013, Warter et al., 2015). Glacial-interglacial research especially utilizes our newly-developed cryo-cell UV-LA-ICPMS methodology to analyze dust in frozen ice at unprecedented spatial/time resolution to establish the speed of natural climate change in deep Greenland ice (Müller et al., 2011; Della Lunga et al., 2014 & forthcoming). Work using teeth focuses on various projects including human and faunal (e.g. mammoth) samples ranging in age from the Pleistocene to modern. Using a combination of spatially-resolved isotope proxies (Sr, O, Ca) in combination with trace element ratios and enamel histology we can reconstruct past life histories at unprecedented resolution (Alt et al., 2013, 2014; Müller & Anczkiewicz, Müller et al. forthcoming). Finally, following on from my PhD research, applications in tectonics include dating brittle deformation using U-Pb applied to calcite slickenfibres (Rittner 2013), laser-cut Rb-Sr microsampling (Egli et al., forthcoming) and U-Pb dating and Hf-isotope systematics of (detrital) zircons (Lambert-Smith et al., forthcoming; Harrison et al., 2005; Müller et al., forthcoming). All this research is highly collaborative and benefits enormously from collaborations with many UK institutions as well as those abroad. It is underpinned by method development work (Müller et al. 2009, 2011), and we were invited to host an international conference on Laser-Ablation at RHUL, namely the 2014 European Workshop on Laser Ablation (EWLA2014) with ~170 participants. Most recently we obtained NERC funding for a new triple-quad ICPMS (Agilent 8800 installed in Aug. 2015), which will open up an array of new applications via uniquely controlled reaction cell analysis. Over the years, our research has been funded via a healthy mix of NERC, Leverhulme, EU, RHUL and industry-funded grants.

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