Bruce Railsback
Professor, Department of Geology, University of Georgia
Area of specialization: Paleoclimatology

Research Interests:

Last updated 13 August 2015


Past climate change recorded in the petrography and geochemistry of stalagmites has been the main area of my recent research.  My work has combined the petrography of stalagmites (the distribution of spelean carbonate minerals, non-carbonate detrital minerals, crystal fabrics, layering, and critical surfaces) with geochemistry (C and O stable isotope analysis and trace-element geochemistry) to understand stalagmites as records of past climate. 

      Much of this work has been done in collaboration with Dr. George A. Brook of the UGA Geography Department, and it has focused on stalagmites from southern Africa, the southwestern United States, China, India, and Belize.  This work has been supported by NOAA and NSF and was the subject of M.S. thesis work by Margaret Rafter and Hillary Sletten.  Ph.D. student Ny Riavo Gilbertinie Voarintsoa has now joined this effort too.

      More recent collaboration has been with Juan Ramon Vidal-Romani and his colleagues at the University of La Coruna in northwestern Spain and with Fuyuan Liang of Western Illinois University.  That work has focused on stalagmites from northwestern Spain, and it has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology.  UGA undergraduates Rachel Sellers and Katelynn Garrett have completed a senior thesis on one of the Spanish stalagmites.

      In addition to those ongoing efforts. M.S. student James Baldini's thesis focused on relationships between drip rates and speleothem morphologies, and Joe Elkins's Ph.D. work investigated ways to extract more meaningful carbon isotopic compositions from speleothems. Italian doctoral student Gulglielmo Angelo Caddeo's visit in 2009-2010 also continues to bear fruit in terms of process-oriented, rather than paleoclimatological, research on the geochemistry of speleothems.

Publications relevant to this area of research include the following:

Railsback, L.B., Brook, G.A., Ellwood, B.B., Liang, F., Cheng, H., and Edwards, R.L., 2015. A record of wet glacial stages and dry interglacial stages over the last 560 kyr from a standing massive stalagmite in Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico, USA. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, in press.

Liang, F., Brook, G.A., Kotlia, B.S., Railsback, L.B., Hardt, B., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., and Kandasamy, S., 2015. Panigarh cave stalagmite evidence of climate change in the Indian Central Himalaya since AD 1256: monsoon breaks and winter southern jet depressions. Quaternary Science Reviews 124, 145-161.

Caddeo, G.A., Railsback, L.B., De Waele, J., and Frau, F. 2015. Stable isotope data as constraints on models for the origin of coralloid and massive speleothems: the interplay of substrate, water supply, degassing, and evaporation. Sedimentary Geology 318, 130-141.

Railsback, L.B., Xiao, H., Liang, F., Akers, P.D., Brook, G.A., Dennis, W.M., Lanier, T.E., Cheng, H., and Edwards, R.L., 2014, A stalagmite record of abrupt climate change and possible Westerlies-derived atmospheric precipitation during the Penultimate Glacial Maximum in northern China: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 393, 30-44.

Railsback, L.B., Akers, P.D., Wang, L., Holdridge, G.A., and Voarintsoa, N.R., 2013, Layer-bounding surfaces in stalagmites as keys to better paleoclimatological histories and chronologies. International Journal of Speleology 42, 167-180.

Caddeo, Guglielmo Angelo, De Waele, Jo, Frau, Franco, and Railsback, L. Bruce, 2013, Contrasting genesis and environmental significance of aragonite inferred from minor and trace element variation in speleothems: Memorie dell'Istituto Italiano di Speleologia s. II, 28, 157-175.

Sletten, H.R., Railsback, L.B., Liang, F., Brook, G.A., Marais, E., Hardt, B.F., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., 2013, A petrographic and geochemical record of climate change over the last 4600 years from a northern Namibia stalagmite, with evidence of abruptly wetter climate at the beginning of southern Africa's Iron Age. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 376, 149-162.

Caddeo, Guglielmo Angelo, De Waele, Jo, Frau, Franco, and Railsback, L. Bruce., 2011, Trace-element and stable isotope data from a flowstone in a natural cave of the mining district of SW Sardinia (Italy): evidence for Zn-induced aragonite precipitation in comparatively wet climatic conditions: International Journal of Speleology, v. 40, p. 181-190.

Railsback, L. Bruce, Fuyuan Liang, Juan Ramon Vidal Romani, Aurora Grandal d'Anglade, Marcos Vaqueiro Rodriguez, Luisa Santos Fidalgo, Daniel Fernandez Mosquera, Hai Cheng, and R. Lawrence Edwards, 2011, A stalagmite record of Holocene long-term climate change and shorter-term environmental shifts from the Serra do Courel of northwestern Spain: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 305, p. 172-184.

Brook, George A., Scott, Louis, Railsback, L. Bruce, and Goddard, Ethan A., 2010, A 35 ka pollen and isotope record of environmental change along the southern margin of the Kalahari from a stalagmite and animal dung deposits in Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa: Journal of Arid Environments, v. 74, p. 870-884.

James W. Webster, George A. Brook, L. Bruce Railsback, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, Clark Alexander, and Philip P. Reeder, 2007, Stalagmite evidence from Belize indicating significant droughts at the time of Preclassic Abandonment, the Maya Hiatus, and the Classic Maya Collapse: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.v. 250, p. 1-17.

Brook, George A., Ellwood, Brooks B., Railsback, L. Bruce, and Cowart, J.B., 2006, A 164 ka record of environmental change in the American Southwest from a Carlsbad Cavern speleothem: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 237, p. 483-507.

Elkins, Joe T., and Railsback, L. Bruce, 2006, Evaluation of the effect of oven roasting at 340°C, bleach, 30% H2O2, and distilled/deionized water on the δ13C value of speleothem carbonate: Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, v. 68, p. 137-143.

Baldini, J.U.L., F. McDermott, F., Baker, A., Baldini, L.M., Mattey, D.P. and Railsback, L. Bruce, 2005, Biomass effects on stalagmite growth and isotope ratios: A 20th century analogue from Wiltshire, England: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 240, p. 486-494.

Sheen, Shaw-wen, Brook, George A., Railsback, L. Bruce, and Thill, Jean-Claude, 2003, Stalagmite annual layer thickness as a proxy for ENSO and rainfall: Evidence from Drotsky's Cave, Botswana, in Desertification in the Third Millennium (eds. A.S. Alsharhan, W.W. Wood, A. Goudie, K.W. Glennie and E.M. Abdellatif), A.A. Balkema, p. 27-44.

Railsback, L. Bruce, Dabous, Adel A., Osmond, J.K., and Fleisher, C.J., 2002, Petrographic and geochemical screening of speleothems for U-series dating: an example from recrystallized speleothems from Wadi Sannur Cavern, Egypt: Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, v. 64, p. 108-116.

Railsback, L. Bruce, Brook, G.A., and Webster, J.W., 1999, Petrology and paleoenvironmental significance of detrital sand and silt in a stalagmite from Drotsky's Cave, Botswana: Physical Geography, v. 20, p. 331-347.

Brook, George A., Rafter, M.A., Railsback, L. Bruce, Sheen, Shaw-Wen, and Lundberg, Joyce, 1999, A high-resolution proxy record of rainfall and ENSO since A.D. 1550 from layering in stalagmites from Anjohibe Cave, Madagascar: The Holocene, v. 9, p. 695-705.

Railsback, L. Bruce, Sheen, Shaw-Wen, Rafter, Margaret A., Brook, George A. and Kelloes, Catherine, 1997, Replacement of aragonite by aragonite in carbonate diagenesis: Criteria for its recognition in speleothems from Botswana and Madagascar: Speleochronos, No. 8, p. 3-11.

Brook, G.A., Railsback, L.B., Cooke, J., Chen, J., and Culp, R.A., 1995, Precipitation data from annual growth layers in speleothems: some preliminary results from Drotsky's Cave in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana: Studia Carsologica, v. 6, p. 65-80.

Railsback, L. Bruce, Brook, George A., Chen, Jian, Kalin, Robert, and Fleisher, Christopher J., 1994, Environmental controls on the petrology of a Late Holocene speleothem from Botswana with annual layers of aragonite and calcite: Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. A64, p. 147-155.

There is additionally a more complete list of Railsback's publications

Interested students should note that the list of possible areas of graduate study shown on the UGA Department of Geology's graduate application form does not include paleoclimatology.

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