Stephen J. Burns

stable isotopes
sediment diagenesis
234 Morrill Science Center
(413) 545-0142
PhD 1987 Duke University
Research Interests: 

I joined the Geosciences Department at UMass in January, 2001 after 11 years at the University of Bern in Switzerland. I was an undergrad at Rice University, and went on to do an M.S. at the University of North Carolina studying carbonate sedimentology and a Ph.D. at Duke University on dolomite geochemistry.

My recent research is focused on developing records of climate change on the continents. While the broad outline of climate variation over the past several million years is fairly well known, the causes of climate change on various time scales are not. Also, climate on the continents is much more spatially variable than in the oceans. Thus, my research is aimed at producing quantitative estimates of climate change from continental areas at high enough resolution to be able to determine the driving forces behind climate variability at various timescales.

The main archives of climate information that I am interested in is speleothems, the family name for cave deposits such as stalagmites and stalactites. Speleothems faithfully record changes in the climate signal contained in oxygen isotope ratios of rainfall. Carbon isotope ratios of speleothem calcite and trace element compositions can provide additional paleoenvironmental information. I like to think of them as underground ice cores. The great majority of my speleothem-based research has been in the tropics.  In previous projects in Oman and Yemen we have produced records of changes in precipitation that extend back over several hundred thousand years. For the most recent climate period, the Holocene, these records are up to annual in resolution. Similar work in Brazil and the Peruvian Andes demonstrates strong asymmetry between the Northern and Southern hemisphere tropical rainfall on timescale ranging from orbital to millennial.

I have three current research projects that use speleothems to investigate climate variability.  First, in the Yucatan region of Mexico, Martin Medina (Amherst Collge) and I are speleothems to study the patterns and causes of claimte variability at the edge of the NH tropics.  One focus of this work is the relationship between climate and Mayan cultural evolution.  Second, Laurie Godfrey (Dept. of Anthropology, UMAss) and I are studying the climate and environmental history of Madagascar and the relationship between climate and the disappearance of Madagascar's megafauna.  Finally, David McGee IMIT) and I are in the early stages of investigating climate change in Southeast Asia using speleothems from caves in Vietnam.


Recent publications:

Shakun, J.D., Burns S.J., Clark, P.U., Cheng, H., and Edwards, R.L., 2011. Milankovitch-paced Termination II in a Nevada speleothem? Geophysical Research Letters, v. 38, L18701, doi:10.1029/2011GL048560.

Kanner, L.C., Burns, S.J., Cheng, H., and Edwards, R.L., 2012. High-Latitude forcing of the South American Summer Monsoon during the Last Glacial. Science, v. 335, p. 570-573, DOI: 10.1126/science.1213397.

Vuille, M., Burns, S.J., Taylor, B.L., Cruz, F.W., Bird B.W., Abbott, M.B., Kanner L.C., Cheng, H., and Novello, V.F., 2012. A review of the South American Monsoon history as recorded in stable isotopic proxies over the past two millennia. Climate of the Past, v. 8, p. 1309-1321.

Polyak, V.J., Asmerom, Y., Burns, S.J., and Lachniet, M.S., 2012. Climatic backdrop to the terminal Pleistocene extinction of North American mammals. Geology, v. 40, p. 1023-1026, doi:10.1130/G33226.1

Novello V.F, Cruz, F.W., Karmann, I., Burns, S.J., Stríkis, N.M., Vuille, M., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Santos, R.V., Frigo, E. and Barreto, E.A.S., 2013. Multidecadal climate variability in Brazils Nordeste during the last 3000 years based on speleothem isotope records. Geophysical Research Letters. V. 39, L23706, doi:10.1029/2012GL053936.

Van Rampelbergh, M., Fleitmann, D., Verheyden, S, Cheng H., Edwards R.L., De Geest, P., De Vleeschouwer, D., Burns, S.J., Albert Matter, A., Claeys, P., and Keppens, E., 2013. Mid- to Late Holocene Indian Ocean Monsoon variability recorded in four speleothems from Socotra Island, Yemen. Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 65, p. 129-142.

Kanner, L.C., Burns, S.J., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L. and Vuille, M.,  2013. High-resolution variability of the South American summer monsoon over the last seven millennia: insights from a speleothem record from the central Peruvian Andes. Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 75, p. 1-10.

Lundeen, Z., Brunelle, A, Burns, S.J., Polyak, V. and Asmerom, Y., 2013. A Speleothem record of Holocene paleoclimate from the northern Wasatch Mountains, Southeast Idaho, USA. Quaternary International, v. 310, p. 83-95.

Asmerom, Y., Polyak, V.J., Rasmussen, J., Burns, S.J. and Lachniet, M.S., 2013. Multi-decadal to multi-century scale collapses of Northern Hemisphere monsoons over the past millennium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 110, p. 9651-9656.

Burns, S.J., Kanner, L.C., Cheng, H., and Edwards, R.L., 2015.  A tropical speleothem record of glacial inception, the South American Summer Monsoon from 125 to 115 ka. Climate of the Past, v. 11, p. 931-938.

Hurley, J.V., Vuille, M., Hardy, D.R., Burns, S.J., and Thompson, L.G., 2015.  Cold air incursions, 18O variability, and monsoon dynamics associated with snow days at Quelccaya Ice Cap, Peru. Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, 120, doi:10.1002/2015JD023323.

Medina-Elizalde, M., Burns, S.J., Polanco-Martinez, J., Lases-Hernández, F., Beach, T., Chuan-Chou, S. and Hao-Cheng, W., 2015. High-resolution speleothem record of precipitation from the Yucatan Peninsula spanning the Maya Preclassic Period. Global Planetary Change, in press.

Burns, S.J., Godfrey, L.R., Faina, P., McGee, D., Hardt, B.,Ranivoharimanana, L., and Jeannot, R., 2016. Rapid human-induced landscape transformation in Madagascar at the end of the first millennium of the Common Era. Quaternary Science Reviews v. 134, p. 92-99.