Alastair CunninghamDr Alastair Cunningham

Room:   41.G04
Phone:   +61 2 4221 5386

  • Research Fellow

Professional profile

I am a quaternary geochronologist, working mainly in the development of Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating and its application to problems of palaeoclimate and archaeology. I am currently based at the Centre for Archaeological Science.

  • BSc Geography (Plymouth, UK)
  • MSc Quaternary Science (London, UK)
  • PhD (Delft, the Netherlands)

Research interests
  • Statistical treatment of OSL data, especially for fluvial sediment

Fluvial sediment can contain useful information on recent environmental change and human impacts. Reading this archive requires a good chronology, for which Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) could be revolutionary. However, fluvial sediment is not ideal for OSL dating, because the mineral grains used for dating need to have been exposed to sunlight prior to their deposition. I use signal analysis and computational statistics to extend the boundaries of OSL dating, aiming to create an accurate and precise dating method for young fluvial sediment.

Relevant publications:

Cunningham, A.C., Wallinga, J. (2012). Realizing the potential of fluvial archives using robust OSL chronologies. Quaternary Geochronology 12, 98-106.

Cunningham, A.C., Wallinga, J., Minderhoud, P.S.J. (2011) Expectations of scatter in equivalent-dose distributions when using multi-grain aliquots for OSL dating. Geochronometria 38, 424-431

Cunningham, A.C., Wallinga, J. (2010) Selection of integration time intervals for quartz OSL decay curves. Quaternary Geochronology 5, 657-666.

  • Modelling the radiation dose to grains in natural sediment

Mineral grains in natural sediment receive a radiation dose from their surroundings, and this dose is used to estimate their age through OSL. Adjacent grains may receive different radiation doses, because of the heterogeneous distribution of radionuclides in the sediment. By quantifying this process, we will be able to account for it better in the dating calculations, leading to improved precision of OSL ages. I tackle this issue using radiation transport software and innovative experimental methods.

Relevant publications:

Cunningham, A.C., DeVries, D.J., Schaart, D.R. (2012). Experimental and computational simulation of beta-dose heterogeneity in sediment. Radiation Measurements 47, 1060-1067

Cunningham, A.C., Bakker, M.A.J., van Heteren, S., van der Valk, B., van der Spek, A.J.F., Schaart, D.R., Wallinga, J. (2011) Extracting storm-surge data from coastal dunes for improved assessment of flood risk. Geology 39, 1063-1066

  • Quaternary environmental change in southern Africa

Southern Africa has been in key region in understanding human evolution, but has a relatively poor record of environmental change. I am interested in reconciling the sparse records of palaeoclimate change in southern Africa, with potential driving mechanisms of global climate change during the Quaternary.

Last reviewed: 9 March, 2016