Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Habilitation à diriger des recherches

Continental and Marine Environmental changes in Europe induced by Global Climate variability and Regional Paleogeography Changes

Abstract : My PhD and post-doctorate researches have focused on paleoclimatic, paleogeographical and paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the Mediterranean Basin and its adjacent seas (i.e. the residual former Paratethys) since 11 Ma. During this time-interval the Mediterranean marine and continental environments were affected by significant paleogeographic changes, forced by global climate and sea-level variability, plate tectonics and regional uplift of Alps s.l. and Carpathians. Two main important events characterize this period: the isolation and evolution of Paratethys and the almost complete desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea, an event known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis. I selected this region because it is very rich in long and continuous sediment archives, which document: (1) climate evolution of the Northern Hemisphere during the Late Cenozoic with respect to vegetation changes, and (2) progressive evolution of initially marine environments towards brackish and freshwater ones. The brackish to fresh environments had a profound effect on the marine organisms (especially dinoflagellates) that responded to the stress by developing a large variety of cyst morphologies, often described as new genera and/or species. Methods. The comparative analysis of pollen grains and dinoflagellate cysts from the same samples is rarely performed for such a long time-interval because it needs a deep knowledge in taxonomy and ecology of the both complementary proxies. I reached this parallel expertise, having the benefit of training in (1) botanical identification of pollen grains from the tropical to boreal zones and their ecological significance by Dr. J.-P. Suc, (2) taxonomy and ecology of dinoflagellate cysts by Pr. M. J. Head. To achieve an understanding of the primary factor inducing morphological variations of dinoflagellate cysts, I developed a biological approach (culturing and growing of present-day living dinoflagellates and inducing stress on microcultures experimentations) under supervision of Pr. J. Lewis (Westminster University, London, UK) and Drs. D. Anderson and D. Kulis (WHOI, USA) during my postdoc appointments. The simultaneous work on living and fossil (using biometry and associated statistical analyses) dinoflagellate cysts has allowed me to initiate the development of a transfer function, widely valid and able for the modelling of the physical parameters of sea-surface waters (salinity, temperature, nutrient contents). Such analyses were performed at high- to very high-chronological resolution, as resulting from the following approach: (1) independently established age-model, based on classical biostratigraphy or radiocarbon ages (for recent sediments), completed by magnetostratigraphy for deposits prior to Mid–Quaternary; (2) comprehensive counting of pollen grains (150 per sample, Pinus or any overabundant taxon excepted) and dinoflagellate cysts (200-300 per sample); (3) interpreting the resulting data with respect to ecological requirements. High- to very high-resolution analyses provides results directly comparable with classical oxygen isotope curves. These signals can therefore also be tuned to the frequency of eccentricity, obliquity and precession cycles. Although palynological proxies can be considered as standard, my integrated approach hoists them at the level of the most competitive methods. Another aspect consists in its present-day background, based on many surface samples from the Mediterranean, Marmara and Black seas, taken during several cruises and sampling parties at IFREMER-Brest and WHOI. To develop parallel analyses of pollen grains and dinoflagellate cysts offers additional considerable interests, such as (1) continuous records of climatic changes and sea-level variations independently from sediment types, and (2) quantifications (using transfer functions) of climate for both continental and marine (to brackish) realms as well as of physical oceanic parameters (SST, SSS, nutrient content etc.).

Results and research in progress
Using pollen grains analysis, I developed investigations on vegetation dynamics and paleoclimate reconstructions for the whole Mediterranean region and Western Europe extended to the Late Cenozoic (Jiménez-Moreno et al., 2007; Fauquette et al., 2006). Thanks to the high-chronologic resolution:
a. I established the response of regional vegetation to eccentricity forcing in SW Romania (Dacic Basin) and Black Sea (DSDP Site380) whatever the sediment types (Popescu, 2001, 2006; Popescu et al., 2006a);
b. I was the first to demonstrate the precession forcing on regional vegetation (Popescu et al., 2006b) through the Lupoaia pollen record (SW Romania);
c. in the frame of two PhD theses that I co-supervise, pollen grain and dinoflagellate cyst records from DSDP Site 380 (7 - 4 Ma) were completed from 4 Ma to Present in order to evidence the impact of glacial-interglacial cycles over the regional vegetation and to reconstruct the climate variability for the last 7 Ma;
d. I was the first to demonstrate the solar cycles forcing (Hale and Gleissberg cycles) on the regional vegetation (through the “Thermophilous trees / Artemisia” ratio) since the Last Glacial Maximum were evidenced in cored sediments from the Black and Marmara seas (unpublished data), that is a unique outcome.
Using the biometric approach on the dinoflagellate cysts in association with statistical analyses, I demonstrated that fluctuations in salinity are partially responsible for modifying size, shape and ornamentation of the cysts, providing the first reliable paleoecological and paloebiogeographic reconstructions of the brackish Paratethyan basins (Popescu et al., palynology , in press).
Simultaneously, I performed experimental cultures on a living-dinoflagellate species (Scrippsiella trifida): suggested relationships between cyst morphological variations and stress under controlled salinity are confirmed by the preliminary results, while reproduction rate seems also modified (unpublished data).
The multi-proxy (palynology, sedimentology and geochemistry) study on the Aral Sea, done by the first PhD student that I co-supervised, allowed not only the reconstruction of the regional paleoclimate and paleoenvironments, but also permitted to understand the atmosphere dynamics of the last 2 ka over the high latitudes (Sorrel et al., 2006, 2007).
Hence, my palynological and biological expertise offers an exclusive tool for establishing a continuous high resolution chronology, paleoclimatic, paleobiogeographic and paleoenvironmental reconstructions. This is particularly important for the basins impacted by important environmental changes, such as the Mediterranean and Black seas, the sediments of the latter being precisely dated for the first time by this approach.

I do no want to close this Introduction Section without addressing my largest acknowledgements to those who supported my researches and expressed their interest in my project, providing personal grants and/or financial assistance for achieving my researches, and especially the PhD and master – graduation students that I appreciated so much to co-supervise.
Document type :
Habilitation à diriger des recherches
Complete list of metadatas
Contributor : Speranta - Maria Popescu <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 5, 2009 - 9:41:09 PM
Last modification on : Monday, October 19, 2020 - 10:54:36 AM


  • HAL Id : tel-00350116, version 1



Speranta - Maria Popescu. Continental and Marine Environmental changes in Europe induced by Global Climate variability and Regional Paleogeography Changes. Earth Sciences. Université Claude Bernard - Lyon I, 2008. ⟨tel-00350116⟩



Record views


Files downloads