Salary : c. £13,726 maintenance grant
FULLY FUNDED MSc BY RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY
Project title: The Flow Country peatlands: Studying the past to shape the future
Environmental Research Institute (ERI) / University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) (Thurso) & University of Stirling
Project Supervisors: Dr. Roxane Andersen (ERI/UHI), Dr. Richard Payne (U. Stirling) Collaborators: Dr. E. Tisdall (U. Stirling), Dr. A. Tyler (U. Stirling), Dr. D. Mauquoy (U. Aberdeen), Dr. A. Newton (U. Edinburgh)
Peatlands are globally-important ecosystems which sequester and store large quantities of carbon. The UK’s largest peatland area is the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland which alone contains carbon equivalent to the total emissions of Edinburgh for 100 years. However, considerable areas of peatland in the Flow Country have been severely damaged by drainage and afforestation with non-native conifers in the 1970s and 1980s, fragmenting the landscape and altering the natural carbon sink function of the peatlands. Climate change and pollution are more subtle threats which, although not unique to the Flow Country, could have profound consequences for peatland function. However, information on the long-term functioning and development of the peatlands is currently lacking, and particularly critical is the provision of data on long-term carbon accumulation. Flux tower measurements of Flow Country peatland carbon balance span less than five years, but the peatlands have been accumulating carbon for up to 10,000 years. How do the contemporary flux measurements fit into this longer-term context? Holocene carbon accumulation data is crucial to establishing the role of peatlands in the carbon cycle, how this has varied over time and the longer-term context to contemporary flux measurements. Such a long-term perspective can be provided by palaeoecological research and can give a quite different picture of peatland dynamics and response to environmental change from short-term studies.
The objective is to establish the long-term rate of carbon accumulation in Flow Country peatlands and the effect of afforestation. This project will combine data on carbon accumulation with chronology-building using radiocarbon dating and tephrochronology to understand how the Flow Country peatlands have developed over time and responded to a human disturbance and the implications of this knowledge for ecosystem management. This project will improve our knowledge of natural baselines such as peatland condition prior to afforestation and feed into policy development.
Conditions of application and funding: Applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a minimum of an upper second-class honours degree in a relevant discipline (Environmental Science; Ecology; Physical Geography etc.). Applicants with a previous taught MSc are also welcome. The student will be registered with UHI, but the project will involve splitting time between the Environmental Research Institute (part of UHI) in Thurso, northern Scotland, and the University of Stirling, central Scotland. Project work will include field work in northern Scotland, laboratory and microscopic analysis. A meticulous and thorough approach to laboratory work is required in the successful candidate. The position will be particularly suitable for those considering studying for a PhD in the future. Applications from students with previous experience in geochronology, palaeoecology and biogeochemistry are particularly welcome although full training in all techniques will be provided.
The position includes all tuition fees and a maintenance grant of c. £13,726 for one year.
Informal enquires should be directed to Dr Richard Payne (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dr Roxane Andersen (Roxane.Andersen@uhi.ac.uk).