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Dr. Matthias Sinnesael

Assistant Professor in Palaeoenvironments

Office: Museum Building, Office 1.12
Google Scholar ID:   Dr. Matthias Sinnesael
ORCID:   Dr. Matthias Sinnesael
Personal webpage:   Matthias Sinnesael


I am broadly interested in the fields of palaeonvironmental reconstruction, palaeoclimatology, stratigraphy, cyclostratigraphy & astrochronology and geochemistry. Below I give some examples of how these interests manifest themselves in various types of projects.

Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction

How did life and climate evolve through the Earth’s past? Today we can observe how, and at what speed, the environment around us is changing. Global climate change is already affecting our daily lives by changing temperature and precipitation patterns. In order to get a longer time perspective on such changes, and to gain more insight in boundary conditions that we cannot observe today, we have to study the environments of the past, also called palaeoenvironments. To do so, we use proxies that can inform us about changes that occurred in past palaeoenvironments and that are recorded in geological archives like sediments, peatbogs or fossils. I usually work with stable or radiogenic isotope ratios (e.g. carbon, oxygen or strontium), or elemental compositions (XRF or ICP-MS derived) of these archive materials. I am interested in rocks of all ages, but most commonly work with Palaeozoic sedimentary rocks that are about 540 to 250 million years old.

Integrated Stratigraphy - Cyclostratigraphy & Astrochronology

To understand how and when palaeoenvironmental changes occurred, we must be able to structure the relative occurrence of geological archives and determine their temporal dimensions. Ideally one tries to integrate various sources of stratigraphic information to do so, like looking at fossils (biostratigraphy), the magnetic reversal history of the Earth’s magnetic field (magnetostratigraphy) and the recording of past chemical compositions of the ocean (chemostratigraphy). Radioisotope geochronology based on the principles of radioactive decay (radiocarbon dating for example) is crucial in providing absolute ages for geological events. I am specialised in the fields of cyclostratigraphy and astrochronology. Cyclostratigraphy is the branch of stratigraphy relating to the sedimentary record of astronomically forced palaeoclimate change. Astrochronology pertains to the calibration of geologic time by the Earth’s astronomical parameters by means of cyclostratigraphy.

Numerical approaches in (cyclo-)stratigraphy

I have a special interest in the development of numerical approaches for integrated stratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy. By working with signal-processing engineers we explore how advanced time-series analysis techniques might be useful for geological applications. During my post-doc at Durham University (UK) I learned how to use Bayesian statistics to address the challenge of stratigraphic correlation and age-depth modelling. Another main interest is how geological data can be used to inform astronomical models and solutions of past Solar System dynamics (post-doc at the Observatoire de Paris, France).

Cyclostratigraphy Intercomparison Project

Community building. Different scientists might approach similar problems in different ways. The initial ‘Cyclostratigraphy Intercomparison Project’ (CIP) was motivated by a simple question: “What happens if we give the same problem to a range of colleagues, let them analyse the problem independently, and then join forces to learn from each other and improve things towards the future”. More information on the CIP project, and cyclostratigraphy in general (including lecture material, open-access figure repository, community newsletter, podcast-series featuring early career scientists and more) can be found on the following webpage:

International Ocean Discovery Programme Expedition 395: Reykjanes Mantle Convection and Climate

During the summer of 2023 I had the opportunity to sail as a stratigraphic correlator and physical properties specialist on the International Ocean Discovery Programme (IODP) Expedition 395: Reykjanes Mantle Convection and Climate. The goal of the expedition was to better understand the structure of the magmatic rocks around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and their interaction with the Icelandic mantle plume, as well as the palaeoceanographic and palaeoclimatological reconstructions of the North Atlantic Ocean over the last millions of years. I am especially interested in unravelling the stratigraphic architecture of these sediments; better understanding their composition and what they tell us about climatic changes as the development of ice-sheets in the Northern Hemisphere, past variations in the Gulfstream, or volcanic activity on Iceland to only name a few examples of things we can learn from these new records.

Students & Postdocs

If you are interested in joining the team for a student project, PhD or as a Post-Doc, feel free to reach out so that we can discuss suitable topics and funding opportunities. Components of a common project can contain aspects of fieldwork, labwork, data analysis & interpretation and presenting results. Typical projects would be situated in the fields of stratigraphy, palaeoclimate, geochemistry and time-series analyses, but own ideas are certainly welcomed.


(last updated 2024-03-05)

Laskar J., Farhat M., Lantink M.L., Auclair-Desrotour P., Boué G., and Sinnesael M. (2024): Did atmospheric thermal tides cause a daylength locking in the Precambrian? A review on recent results. Sedimentologika, accepted.

Huang H., Zhong, H., Ma C., Sinnesael M., Gao Y., Li Y., Hou M., and Wang C. (2024): A new method to evaluate the power ratio distributions of astronomical signals: A case study from Upper Cretaceous terrestrial sediments. Geological Society of America Bulletin, published online, DOI

Sinnesael M., Millard A.R., and Smith, M.R. (2024): A Bayesian astrochronology for the Cambrian first occurrence of trilobites in West Gondwana (Morocco). Geology, v. 52 (3), 205-209, DOI

Montanari, A., Farley, K., Coccioni, R., Sabatino, N., Bice, D., Yesko, M., Sinnesael, M., and de Winter N.J. (: Cosmogenic 3He anomaly K1 vs. the early Campanian isotopic event (ECE) as recorded in pelagic limestones of the Umbria-Marche succession (Italy). Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 136 (3-4), 1753-1767, DOI

Sinnesael M. (2023): Ordovician cyclostratigraphy and astrochronology. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 532, 63-78, DOI

de Graaff S.J., Percival L.M.E., Déhais T., de Winter N.J., Jansen M.N., Kaskes P., Smit J., Sinnesael M., Vellekoop J., Sato H., Ishikawa A., Spassov S., Claeys P., and Goderis S. (2022): Geochemical records of the end-Triassic Crisis preserved in a deep marine section of the Budva Basin, Dinarides, Montenegro. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology v. 606, 111250, DOI

Vancoppenolle I., Vellekoop J., Doubrawa M., Kaskes P., Sinnesael M., Jagt J.W.M., Claeys P., and Speijer R.P. (2022): The benthic foraminiferal response to the mid-Maastrichtian event in the NW-European chalk sea of the Maastrichtian type area. Netherlands Journal of Geoscience, v. 101, E12, DOI

Sinnesael M., Loi A., Dabard M.P., Vandenbroucke T.R.A., and Claeys P. (2022): Cyclostratigraphy of the Middle to Upper Ordovician successions of the Armorican Massif (western France) using portable X-ray fluorescence. Geochronology, v. 4, 251-267, DOI

Vellekoop J., Kaskes P., Sinnesael M., Huygh J., Déhais T., Jagt J.W.M., Speijer R.P., and Claeys P. (2022): A new age model and chemostratigraphic framework for the Maastrichtian type area (southeastern Netherlands, northeastern Belgium). Newsletters on Stratigraphy, v. 55 (4), 479-501, DOI

Wouters S., Crucifix M., Sinnesael M., Da Silva A.-C., Zeeden C., Zivanovic M., Boulvain F., and De Vleeschouwer X. (2022): A decomposition approach to cyclostratigraphic signal processing. Earth-Science Reviews, v. 225, 103894, DOI

Sinnesael M., McLaughlin P.I., Desrochers A., Mauviel A., De Weirdt J., Claeys P., and Vandenbroucke T.R.A. (2021): Precession-driven climate cycles and timescale prior to the Hirnantian glacial maximum. Geology, v. 49 (11), 1295-1300, DOI

Nohl T., Steinbauer M.J., Sinnesael M., and Jarochowska E. (2021): Detecting initial aragonite and calcite variations in limestone marl alternations. Sedimentology, v. 68 (7), 3102-3115, DOI

Goderis S., Sato H., Ferrière L., Schmitz B., Burney D., Kaskes P., Vellekoop J., Wittmann A., Claeys P., de Graaff S.J., Déhais T., de Winter N.J., Elfman M., Feignon J.-G., Ishikawa A., Koeberl C., Kristiansson P., Neal C.R., Owens J.D., Schulz T., Sinnesael M., Vanhaecke F., Van Malderen S.J.M., Bralower T.J., Gulick S.P.S., Lowery C.M., Morgan J.V., Smit J., Whalen M.T., and the IODP-ICDP Expedition 364 Scientists (2021): Globally distributed iridium layer preserved within the Chicxulub impact structure. Science Advances, v. 7, eabe3647, DOI

Da Silva A.-C., Sinnesael M., Claeys P., Davies J.H.F.L., de Winter N.J., Percival L.M.E., Schaltegger U., and De Vleeschouwer D. (2020): Anchoring the Late Devonian mass extinction in absolute time by integrating climatic controls and radio isotopic dating. Scientific Reports, v. 10, 12940, DOI

de Winter N.J., Goderis S., Van Malderen S.J.M., Sinnesael M., Vansteenberge S., Snoeck C., Belza J., Vanhaecke F., and Claeys P. (2020): Subdaily‐Scale Chemical Variability in a Torreites Sanchezi Rudist Shell: Implications for Rudist Paleobiology and the Cretaceous Day-Night Cycle. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, v. 543, 109579, DOI

Mauviel A., Sinnesael M., and Desrochers A. (2020): The stratigraphic and geochemical imprints of Late Ordovician glaciation on far-field neritic carbonates, Anticosti Island, Eastern Canada. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 543, 109579, DOI

Vansteenberge S., de Winter N.J., Sinnesael M., Verheyden S., Goderis S., Van Malderen S.J.M., Vanhaecke F., and Claeys P. (2020): Reconstructing seasonality through stable isotope and trace element analysis of the Proserpine stalagmite, Han-sur-Lesse Cave, Belgium: indications for climate-driven changes during the last 400 years. Climate of the Past, v. 16, 141-160, DOI

Vansteenberge S., de Winter N.J., Sinnesael M., Xueqin Z., Verheyden S., and Claeys P. (2020): Benchtop μXRF as a tool for speleothem trace elemental analysis: Validation, limitations and application on an Eemian to early Weichselian (125–97 ka) stalagmite from Belgium. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 538, 109460, DOI

Sinnesael M., De Vleeschouwer D., Zeeden C., Batenburg S.J., Da Silva A.-C., de Winter N.J., Dinarès-Turell J., Drury A.J., Gambacorta G., Hilgen F., Hinnov L., Hudson A.J.L., Kemp D.B., Lantink M., Laurin J., Li M., Liebrand D., Ma C., Meyers S., Monkenbusch J., Montanari A., Nohl T., Pälike H., Pas D., Ruhl M., Thibault N., Vahlenkamp M., Valero L., Wouters S., Wu H., and Claeys P. (2019): The Cyclostratigraphy Intercomparison Project (CIP): consistency, merits and pitfalls. Earth-Science Reviews, v. 199, 102965, DOI

De Cort G., Mees F., Renaut R.W., Sinnesael M., Van der Meeren T., Goderis S., Keppens E., Mbuthia A., and Verschuren D. (2019): Late Holocene sedimentation and sodium carbonate deposition in the hypersaline alkaline lake Nasikie Engida, southern Kenya Rift Valley. Journal of Paleolimnology, v. 62(3), 279-300, DOI

Sinnesael M., Montanari A., Frontalini F., Coccioni R., Gattacceca J., Snoeck C., Wegner W., Koeberl C., Morgan L., de Winter N.J., DePaolo D., and Claeys, P. (2019): Multiproxy Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary event stratigraphy: an Umbria-Marche basin-wide perspective. Geological Society of America, Special Paper 542, 133-158, DOI

Sinnesael M., Zivanovic, M., De Vleeschouwer D., and Claeys P. (2018): Spectral Moments in Cyclostratigraphy: Advantages and Disadvantages Compared to more Classic Approaches. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, v. 33 (5), 493-510, DOI

Sinnesael M., de Winter N., Snoeck C., Montanari A., and Claeys P. (2018): An integrated pelagic carbonate multi-proxy study using portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF): Maastrichtian strata from the Bottaccione Gorge, Gubbio, Italy. Cretaceous Research, v. 91, 20-32, DOI

Pas D., Hinnov L., Day J.E., Kodama K., Sinnesael M., and Liu W. (2018): Cyclostratigraphic calibration of the Famennian stage (Late Devonian, Illinois Basin, USA). Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 488, 102-114, DOI

De Vleeschouwer D., da Silva A.-C., Sinnesael M., Chen D., Day J.E., Whalen M.T., Guo Z., and Claeys P. (2017): Timing and pacing of the Late Devonian mass extinction event regulated by eccentricity and obliquity. Nature Communications, v. 8, 2268, DOI

Montanari A., Farley K., Claeys P., De Vleeschouwer D., de Winter N.J., Vansteenberge S., Sinnesael M., and Koeberl C. (2017): Stratigraphic record of the asteroidal Veritas breakup in the Tortonian Monte dei Corvi section (Ancona, Italy). The Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 129 (9-10), 1357-1376, DOI

De Winter N.J.*, Sinnesael M.*, Makarona C., Vansteenberge S. and Claeys P. (2017): Trace element analyses of carbonates using portable and micro-X-ray fluorescence: Performance and optimization of measurement parameters and strategies. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectroscopy, v. 32 (6), 1211-1223, DOI *These authors contributed equally to this study.

Sinnesael M., Zivanovic M., De Vleeschouwer D., Claeys P., and Schoukens J. (2016): Astronomical component estimation (ACE v.1) by time-variant sinusoidal modeling. Geoscientific Model Development, v. 9, 3517-3531, DOI

Sinnesael M., De Vleeschouwer D., Coccioni R., Claeys P., Frontalini F., Jovane l., Savian J., and Montanari A. (2016): High-resolution multiproxy cyclostratigraphic analysis of environmental and climatic events across the K-Pg boundary in the classic pelagic succession of Gubbio (Italy). Geological Society of America, Special Paper 524, p. 115-137, DOI