Personnel at IGV
Smittenberg, Rienk
Senior Lecturer, Isotope organic geochemistry
Email: rienk.smittenberg[at]
Phone: +46 (0)8 16 47 60
Room: R305
About Me


General scientific interests:
– Organic geochemistry/biogeochemistry
– Soil science and the terrestrial organic carbon cycle
– Paleoclimatology
– Application of compound-specific stable carbon and hydrogen isotopes and radiocarbon
– Development of HPLC-MS methods for lipid biomarker analysis

Organic geochemistry is a technically driven field in which the analysis of organic compounds (type, amount, isotope content) present in organisms, soils, sediments and rocks can be used to answer a multitude of scientific questions. Besides the study of these natural compounds themselves and their degradation products themselves, this relates to biogeochemical processes, inorganic geochemistry, carbon cycling and transport, paleoceanography and climatology, evolution of life, archaeology, amongst others.

My research focuses at present on the following:
a) Generation and interpretation of paleoclimatic and paleo-environmental records using biomarkers and their isotopic composition. Notwithstanding the great strides that have been made over the last decades in the understanding of the earth's climate system, records are still limited in their spatial and temporal resolution. Lipid biomarker analysis from oceanic and lake sediment cores can provide unique information like sea or lake surface temperature, primary productivity and fluxes of terrigenous material that also contain a terrigenous climate signal. Compound-specific stable carbon and/or hydrogen isotopic contents can be of particulate value to gain insights in past atmospheric CO2 levels or ecosystem changes. Particularly hydrogen isotope analysis is a promising avenue by which the hydrological cycle can be reconstructed, as much as it is challenging from both a technical and a fundamental perspective.

Current projects:
–  Reconstruction of the South-East Asian hydro-climate using biomarkers and their hydrogen isotopic composition: method development and application. PhD student: Kweku Yamoah. Co-advised by Barbara Wohlfarth
–  Reconstructing of atmospheric circulation dynamics over Northern Europe and the North Atlantic sector from the end of the Last Glacial Maximum to the present. PhD student: Francesco Muschitiello. Co-advisor besides Barbara Wohlfarth

b). Carbon dynamics throughout the Holocene using compound-specific radiocarbon analysis.  Carbon stored in soils and peatlands is an important reservoir in the global carbon cycle. However, due to its complex and heterogeneous nature as well as the timescales involved, the accumulation, erosion, and mineralization rates of terrestrial carbon are hard to determine. Data to substantiate hypotheses about the global carbon cycle over centennial to millennial timescales are very limited, and depend mainly on studies that rely on inventories of biomass and active present-day soils and sediments, whose properties have likely changed over time. In short, there is a paucity of temporal records of carbon dynamics. A highly underutilized approach is that of combining radiocarbon analysis – especially of specific compounds – and the use of sedimentary archives, where a fraction of terrestrial material is preserved after erosion. In this way, the extent of pre-aging of carbon on the continents can be reconstructed through time. This approach, in combination with other efforts to understand present-day carbon dynamics, is part of a comprehensive research effort that aims to answer these two questions: a) how the terrigenous carbon pool has developed and evolved over time, and b) how and to what extent organic carbon is preserved and/or remineralized within soils and peats, and during and after transport to sedimentary basins.

Current projects:
–  Build-up and dynamics of soil organic carbon since the last deglaciation. PhD student: Axel Birkholz, ETH Zurich.

– Compound-specific radiocarbon dating of lake sediments. PhD student: Merle Gierga, ETH Zurich
both co-advised by Stefano Bernasconi and Irka Hajdas.

Other (past) projects
– Biosphere-Geosphere interactions: Linking climate change, weathering, soil formation and ecosystem evolution – BigLink 

– HPLC analysis and isolation of black carbon-derived molecules, so called benzene-carboxylic acids – BPCAs, upon digestion of soils, sediments or dissolved organic carbon, as a tool to gain more insight in the dynamics of this – rather large – pool of relatively inert organic Carbon.

Link to Publications


Department of Geological Sciences
Svante Arrhenius väg 8, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden | Phone: +46 (0)8 16 20 00 | Web administrator ines.jakobsson[at]
In case of emergency call (08) 16 22 16 or (08) 16 42 00