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Academic Staff

Professor Paul Pearson

Prof Pearson graduated with a BA in Geology from Oxford in 1987 before completing a PhD at Cambridge in 1990 on the evolution of Eocene planktonic foraminifera. He then spent several years as a Research Fellow in Cambridge funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, following which, he was based at Bristol University as a Royal Society Research Fellow. He joined the School in January 2003.

Prof Pearson is interested in extracting climatic information from deep sea cores and sediments. He specializes in evolutionary and geochemical studies of planktonic foraminifera, and what they tell us about the long history of climate change on Earth. He has helped develop new proxies for determining past seawater pH and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and hence the history of the greenhouse effect. His studies range from the Cretaceous period to Recent.

Prof Pearson has sailed on several occasions with the Ocean Drilling Program. Over the last few years, he has been co-ordinating geological exploration and drilling programmes in coastal Tanzania and Java (Indonesia) where excellently preserved samples have been obtained, providing new insights into the history of tropical climate.

He is also interested in the history of science and archaeology.

Current Research Projects:

Abrupt Ocean Acidification Events
  • Principal Investigators: Paul N. Pearson (Cardiff University) and Gavin Foster (Southampton University).
  • Funding Source: NERC / DEFRA Ocean Acidification Programme
  • Funding Period: December 2010 – November 2013
  • Total funding to Cardiff: £316,797

Summary: The project focuses on abrupt ocean acidification events in earth’s past. It will investigate a variety of geological records from the deep sea and the margins of the oceans. Unique among these is a newly recovered borehole through marine sediments in Tanzania. Preliminary work revealed the presence of a highly expanded (thick) record of the onset of the Paleocene / Eocene thermal maximum (‘PETM’) event with very well-preserved planktonic microfossils that is suitable for new geochemical and biological studies

Descent Into the Icehouse
  • Principal Investigators: Gavin Foster (Southampton University) and Paul N. Pearson (Cardiff University)
  • Funding Source: NERC Programme, Life and the Planet
  • Funding Period: March 2011- February 2014
  • Total funding to Cardiff: £389, 286

Summary: Studying the global cooling trend of the Eocene, atmospheric CO2 levels and ocean biota.

Comparing land-based and deep sea rock and fossil records of microplankton to test bias in diversity patterns through time.
  • Principal Investigators: Andrew Smith (Natural Hiustory Museum), Paul N. Pearson (Cardiff University) and Jeremy Young (UCL)
  • Funding source: NERC standard grant
  • Funding period: August 2008-January 2011
  • Total funding to Cardiff: £14,599

Summary: This project compares the available sediment record in the deep sea and continental areas around the North Atlantic with diversity patterns in calcareous nannoplankton and planktonic foraminifera to assess possible biases in the rock record on recorded diversity.

Macroevolution in planktonic foraminifera
  • Principal Investigators: Andy Purvis (Imperial College, London)
  • Co-Investigators: Paul Pearson
  • Funding Source: NERC Standard Grant
  • Funding Period: October 2007 - September 2010
  • Reference: NE/EO18165/1
  • Total funding to Cardiff: £86,319 plus Tied PhD Studentship

Summary: This project aims to provide a detailed understanding of how ecology and environmental change have shaped the evolution and biodiversity of planktonic foraminifera over the last 65 million years.

GLOW tropical temperature history during Paleogene global warming events
  • Principal Investigators: Paul Pearson
  • Funding Source: NERC IODP Standard Grant
  • Funding Period: October 2007 - September 2010
  • Reference: NE/F523293/1
  • Total funding to Cardiff: £84,558

Summary: This project is the UK component of a European consortium, approved through the ESF/Eurocores programme, to investigate Paleogene sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean. Part of the project will be a site survey cruise on RV Pelagia in the waters off Tanzania and Mozambique to investigate suitable drilling sites for an Integrated Ocean Drilling Program initiative that is currently in the pre-proposal stage.

Climate Change, hydrography, and the paradox of plankton extinctions
  • Principal Investigators: Paul Pearson
  • Co-Investigators: Phil Sexton
  • Funding Source: EEC Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship
  • Funding Period: November 2006 - November 2009
  • Reference: MOIF-CT-2006-40177
  • Total funding to Cardiff: £190,057

Summary: This funding supports Dr Phil Sexton in a Marie Curie Outgoing Research Fellowship, based in Cardiff, with two years as visitor to Scripps Oceanographic Institution in California. The aim is to investiage natural processes of extinction in planktonic oganisms.

Research Funding


NERC Standard Grant NE/F019688/1. 1/08/08-31/01/11. Smith, A., Pearson, P.N. and Young, J. Comparing land-based and deep sea rock and fossil records of microplankton to test bias in diversity patterns through time. £14,559 to Cardiff.


Purvis, A. (Imperial College) and Pearson, P.N. Macroevolution in planktonic foraminifera. NERC grant NE/E018165/1. 01/10/07-30/09/10, £86,319 (Cardiff component)

Pearson, P.N.. NERC UK-IODP grant NE/F523293/1. GLOW Tropical temperature history during Palaeogene global warming events. 01/05/07 - 30/04/10, £82,305


Pearson, P.N.. European Union MOIF-CT-2006-40177 International Outgoing Fellowship. Climate change, hydrography and the paradox of plankton extinctions. 18/11/06-17/11/09. E277,456, £190,057

Lear, C.H. and Pearson, P.N. NERC Standard Grant NE/D008654/1. An integrated study of the middle Miocene Climate Transition. £90,969


Pearson, PN. NERC grant NE/C514523. Eocene - Oligocene climate change in Indonesia. 01/01/06-31/12/06. £30,788.


Pearson, P.N. NERC standard grant NE/B503225/1. Palaeoclimatic study of cored intervals of major environmental change, Tanzania. £208,063 01/10/04-30/09/06


Pearson, PN. NERC standard grant NE/X509345/1. Double proxy investigation of Cretaceous and Paleogene CO2 levels, Tanzania. £259,552 01/10/02-30/09/05