I currently lead the Max Planck Research Group for Terrestrial Palaeoclimates at MPIC in Mainz. I am a Quaternary earth scientist and geochronologist, specialising in luminescence dating and dryland environments. I am Privatdozentin at the University of Leipzig and maintain affiliated researcher status at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

Prior to arriving at MPIC, I led the luminescence dating laboratory at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig for 7 years, developing records of human-environmental interaction over long timescales on the desert margins of Australia, eastern Europe, Africa and Central Asia. During this time I was awarded the DFG Albert-Maucher-Prize for interdisciplinary geoscience research, as well as the Hans-Bobek-Prize for my Habilitation thesis (awarded at the University of Leipzig).

Prior to arriving in Germany, in my first postdoctoral position, I ran the luminescence laboratory in the Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, investigating the history of aridity and drought in Australia. I obtained my PhD in 2007 from the Australian National University on the history of aridity in the central Australian desert dunefields over the last 200,000 years, for which I was awarded the Director‘s Prize in Scientific Communication.

As an undergraduate I studied earth sciences and German language at the University of Melbourne, though I must admit I never expected my German to be so useful!

Education and positions held


  • 2016 – present
    • Max Planck Group Leader (Terrestrial Palaeoclimates), Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany
  • 2016 – present
    • Privatdozentin, Institute for Geography, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
  • 2016 – present
    • Affiliated Researcher, Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • 2010 – 2016
    • Junior Researcher, Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • 2007 – 2010
    • Postdoctoral Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


  • 2016
    • Habilitation, Institute for Geography, University of Leipzig
  • 2003 – 2007
    • PhD, Department of Earth and Marine Sciences, Australian National University
  • 1998 – 2002
    • BSc(Hons), University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • 1998 – 2001
    • Diploma in Modern Languages (German), University of Melbourne, Australia

Research Summary

The Quaternary is arguably one of the most significant epochs in Earth’s history. It has overseen substantial climatic and environmental changes, the evolution of humans, and their colonisation of most terrestrial landscapes. My research encompasses many aspects of this important time period, at different time and spatial scales.

My research aims to understand and quantify the nature of Quaternary land surface and environmental change, and the thresholds and causes of those changes. I also investigate the interactions between people and their environments over Quaternary timescales. I focus on abrupt environmental changes that may influence behavioural changes by people, and vice versa on instances where people overwhelmingly contribute to a breach of environmental thresholds, leading to landscape instability. To investigate these questions, we need well resolved, unambiguous palaeoenvironmental archives embedded within robust chronological frameworks.

With my group, I am working to develop new terrestrial proxy methods for the timing and variability of past change, in long sediment records deep in the continental zone, far from marine and ice core records. We combine the geochronological method of luminescence dating with geochemical, geomorphological, stratigraphic and sedimentological approaches. We are especially interested in generating the missing links in land-climate dynamics for wind-blown dust (loess) piedmonts and desert margin regions at risk of desertification.

Key publications

  • Fitzsimmons, K.E., Sprafke, T. Zielhofer, C., Guenter, C., Deom, J.-M., Sala, R., Iovita, R. (2018) Loess accumulation in the Tian Shan piedmont: implications for palaeoenvironmental change in arid Central Asia. Quaternary International 469A, 30-43. (26 citations)
  • Fitzsimmons, K.E., Hambach, U., Veres, D., Iovita, R. (2013) The Campanian Ignimbrite eruption: new data on volcanic ash dispersal and its potential impact on human evolution. PLOS ONE 8, e65839. (74 citations)
  • Fitzsimmons, K.E., Cohen, T.J., Hesse, P.P., Jansen, J., Nanson, G.C., May, J.-H., Barrows, T.T., Haberlah, D., Hilgers, A., Kelly, T., Larsen, J., Lomax, J., Treble, P. (2013) Late Quaternary palaeoenvironmental change in the Australian drylands: a synthesis. Quaternary Science Reviews 74, 78-96. (109 citations)
  • Fitzsimmons, K.E., Marković, S.B., Hambach, U. (2012) Pleistocene environmental dynamics recorded in the loess of the middle and lower Danube basin. Quaternary Science Reviews 41, 104-118. (121 citations)
  • Fitzsimmons, K.E., Rhodes, E., Magee, J., Barrows, T.T. (2007) The timing of linear dune activity in the Strzelecki and Tirari Deserts, Australia. Quaternary Science Reviews 26, 2598–2616. (129 citations)