Professor Mark Williams

Anthropocene, biosphere, evolution, life

Mark WilliamsProfessor of Palaeobiology

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 3642 




That's me!


That's me in the picture on the northern part of James Ross Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. Over three decades my career has taken me from the tropics to the polar regions, visiting more than 50 countries and working in all terranes from the deserts of Arabia to the jungles of South East Asia. Using this experience I teach the history of life on Earth through the media of fossils, climate change and ocean evolution. My teaching is also strongly focussed on the Anthropocene - the geological epoch of time characterised by humans, and to finding solutions to humanity's current unsustainable relationship with the rest of nature.

Surviving environmental change:

You can read about how we need to design mutualistic cities of the near future here:

Or listen to me talking about how we have fundamentally changed the patterns of life on Earth

Or even watch me talking about human impacts on life during the Anthropocene:

Some recent invited talks:

American Historical Association, New York, plenary session, January 2020 - The geological Anthropocene is real.

International Symposium on the Anthropocene, National Folk Museum, Seoul, December 2019 - A profoundly human-modified biosphere and its implications for well-being.

Conference on Pan-Pacific Anthropocene, Taipei, plenary talk, May 2019 - The Anthropocene.

Congresso Futura, Santiago, Chile, invited talk, January 2019 - How humans reconfigured the biosphere in the Anthropocene.

New Scientist Live, London Excel, September 2018 - Skeletons: The frame of life.

Popular Science Books I have written (with my friend Jan Zalasiewicz)

  • Forthcoming, a book about the wonder of life on Earth called 'Triumphant life'
  • Skeletons: the frame of life (hardcover 2018) Oxford University Press
  • Ocean worlds (hardcover 2014, paperback 2017) Oxford University Press
  • The Goldilocks planet (hardcover 2012, paperback 2013) Oxford University Press

Books and edited volumes

  • Adeney Thomas, J, Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J. 2020. The Anthropocene: a multidisciplinary approach. Polity Books.
  • Wallis, S., Oji, T., Williams, M., Cho, M. 2019. The Palaeozoic evolution of the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Thematic set of papers for the journal Island Arc.
  • Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C., Williams, M., Summerhayes, C. 2019. The Anthropocene as a geological time unit. Cambridge University Press.
  • Williams, M., Hill, T., Boomer, I., Wilkinson, I. 2017. The archaeological and forensic applications of microfossils. The Micropalaeontological Society Special Publications. Geological Society Publishing House, Bath.
  • Waters, C., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Ellis, M., Snelling, A. 2014. A stratigraphical basis for the Anthropocene. Special Publication of the Geological Society, London, 395.
  • Williams, M., Zalaziewicz, J., Haywood, A. & Ellis, M. (eds). 2011. The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time. Thematic set of 13 papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, Series A, 369.
  • Salzmann, U., Williams, M., Johnson, A.L.A., Kender, S. & Zalasiewicz, J. (eds) 2011. Pliocene climate and seasonality. Thematic set of 10 papers in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 309.
  • Rushton, A., Bruck, P., Molyneux, S., Williams, M. & Woodcock, N. 2011. A revised correlation of the Cambrian rocks in Britain and Ireland. Special Report of the Geological Society, London, 25, 62 pp.
  • Williams, M., A, Haywood, J. Gregory & D. Schmidt. 2007. Deep time perspectives on climate change. The Micropalaeontological Society, Special Publications. The Geological Society, London. 589 pp.

Some key Research papers

I have published over 200 research papers, but it would be a bit dull to list them all here. So here are a few snippets of the more interesting ones.

On the Anthropocene:

  • Williams, M., Edgeworth, M., Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2019. Underground metro systems: a durable geological proxy of rapid urban population growth and energy consumption during the Anthropocene. In Benjamin, C. et al. (eds), The Routledge Companion to Big History. Routledge.
  • Bennett, C.E., Thomas, R., Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Edgeworth, M., Miller, H., Coles, B., Foster, A., Burton, E.J., Marume, U. 2018. The broiler chicken as a signal of a human reconfigured biosphere. Royal Society Open Science. http://10.1098/rsps.180325.
  • Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C., Himson, S., Summerhayes, C., Barnosky, A., Leinfelder, R. 2018. The palaeontological record of the Anthropocene. Geology Today, 34, 188-193.
  • Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C. 2017. The Anthropocene: a geological perspective. In: Heikkurinen, P. (ed), Sustainability and peaceful coexistence for the Anthropocene. Routledge.
  • Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C.N., Edgeworth, M., Bennett, C., Barnosky, A.D., Ellis, E.C. et al. 2016. The Anthropocene: a conspicuous stratigraphical signal of anthropogenic changes in production and consumption across the biosphere. Earth's Future, 4, 34–53.
  • Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Davies, N., Mazzini, I., Goiran, J.-P. & Kane, S. 2015. Humans as the third evolutionary stage of biosphere engineering of rivers. Anthropocene, 7, 47-53,
  • Steffen, W., Å. Persson, L. Deutsch, M. Williams, J. Zalasiewicz, C. Folke, J. Rockström, C. Crumley, et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: From global change to planetary stewardship. Ambio. doi: 10.1007/s13280-011-0185-x
  • Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Crutzen, P. & Steffen, W. 2010. The new world of the Anthropocene. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010; 100225131929071 DOI: 10.1021/es903118j
  • Zalasiewicz, J.A., Williams, M. & 19 others. 2008. Are we now living in the Anthropocene? GSA Today, 18. 4-8.

On the evolution of life in the oceans:

  • Zhai, D., Williams, M., Siveter, D.J. et al. 2019. Variation in appendages in early Cambrian bradoriids reveals a wide range of body plans in stem-euarthropods. Communications Biology, (2019)2-329. https//
  • Cong, P., Harvey, T, Williams, M. et al. 2018. Naked chancelloriids from the lower Cambrian of China show evidence for calcarean sponge-type growth. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, 285, 20180296. Doi10.1098/rspb.2018.0296.
  • Cong, P-Y, Ma, X-Y, Williams, M., Siveter, David J., Siveter, Derek J., Gabbott, S.E., Zhai, D. et al. 2017. Host specific infestation in early Cambrian worms. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, 1465–1469.
  • Shen, C., Aldridge, R.A., Williams, M., Vandenbroucke, T.R.A., Zhang, X-G. 2013. The earliest chitinozoans discovered in the Cambrian Duyun fauna of China. Geology, 41, 191-194.
  • Williams, M., Vannier, J., Corbari, L. & Massabuau, J-C. 2011. Oxygen as a driver of early arthropod microbenthos evolution. PloS ONE 6(12), e28183. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028183
  • Stein, M, Peel, J., Siveter, D. & Williams, M. 2010. Isoxys (Arthropoda) with preserved soft anatomy from the Sirius Passet Lagerstaette, lower Cambrian of North Greenland. Lethaia, doi10.1111/j.1502-3931.2009.00189.x
  • Siveter, D.J., M. Williams & D. Waloszek. 2001. A phosphatocopid crustacean from the lower Cambrian of England. Science, 293, 479-481.

On climate change (past and near present):

  • Hearing, T., Harvey, T., Williams, M. et al. 2018. An early Cambrian greenhouse. Science Advances, 4, eaar5690.
  • Hillenbrand, C., Smith, J. A., Hodell, D.A., Greaves, M. J., Poole, C.R., Kender, S., Williams, M. et al. 2017. West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat driven by Holocene warm water incursions. Nature, 547 (7661), 43-48.
  • Clark, N., Williams, M., Hill, D., Quilty, P., Smellie, J., Zalasiewicz, J., Leng, M. & Ellis, M. 2013. Fossil proxies of near-shore surface temperatures and seasonality from the late Neogene Antarctic Shelf. Naturwissenschaften, DOI 10.1007/s00114-013-1075-9
  • Salzmann, U., Williams, M., Haywood, A., Kender, S., Johnson, A. & Zalasiewicz, J. 2011. The climate and environment of a Pliocene warm world. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology,309, 1-8.
  • Haywood, A., Ridgewell, A., Lunt, D., Hill, D., Pound, M., Dowsett, H., Dolan, A., Francis, J. & Williams, M. 2011. Are there pre-Quaternary geological analogues for a future greenhouse warming? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, Series A, 369, 933-956.
  • Vandenbroucke, T.R.A, Armstrong, H.A, Williams, M, et al. 2010. Polar front shift and atmospheric CO2 during the glacial maximum of the Early Paleozoic Icehouse. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi/10.1073/pnas.1003220107
  • Williams, M., Nelson, A.E.., Smellie, J.L., Leng, M.J., Johnson, A.L.A., Jarram, D.R., Haywood, A.M., Peck, V.L.., Zalasiewicz, J.A., Bennett, C. & Schöne, B.R., 2010. Sea ice extent and seasonality for the Early Pliocene northern Weddell Sea determined from fossil Austrochlamys bivalves. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 292: 306-318.
  • Vandenbroucke, T.R.A., Armstrong, H.A., Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J.A. & Sabbe, K. 2009. Ground truthing Late Ordovician climate models using the paleobiogeography of graptolites. Paleoceanography, 24, 4, doi:10.1029/2008PA001720, 2009
  • Williams, M., Haywood, A.M., Harper, E.M., Johnson, A., Knowles, T., Leng, M.J., Lunt, D., Okamura, B., Taylor, P. & Zalasiewicz, J.A. 2009. Pliocene climate and seasonality in North Atlantic shelf seas. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, Series A, doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0224.
  • Williams, M., Siveter, D.J., Ashworth, A., Wilby, P., Horne, D.J., Lewis, A.R. & Marchant, D. 2008. Exceptionally preserved lacustrine ostracods from the Middle Miocene of Antarctica: implications for high latitude palaeoenvironment at 77° south. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, Biological Sciences, doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0396.
  • A.M. Haywood, A.C. Ravelo, P. Dekens & M. Williams. 2005. Warmer tropics during the mid-Pliocene? Evidence from alkenone paleothermometry and a fully coupled ocean-atmosphere GCM. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 6 (3), doi: 1029/2004GC000799, 20 pp.

My research focuses on two themes:

  1. Understanding the rate and degree of current environmental change from a geological context. I am part of an international group of scientists developing the concept of the Anthropocene as an epoch of geological time characterised by humans. Where would the geological boundary of this epoch be placed – at the beginning of widespread use of agriculture, at the appearance of human pollutants in polar ice cores, or at the time of detonation of A-bombs in the mid 20th century?
  2. Understanding interactions between the biosphere and the evolution of the Earth System is a mainstay of my research and informs all of my work from the Cambrian to the Anthropocene. At present I am very much focussed on understanding human impacts on the biosphere.

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