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Late Quaternary palaeohydrological and palaeoecological reconstruction in southern Africa using leaf wax lipids

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 21, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The sub-tropics of Africa responded sensitively to Pleistocene glacial-interglacial climatic change, as evidenced by the formation of palaeo-lakes and the activity of now relict dune systems. However, the timing, precise climatic drivers and specific environmental responses to such global-scale forcings are far more difficult to decipher. This reflects long-standing problems concerning: a) a paucity of Pleistocene sedimentary archives, particularly in the most arid regions and b) the climatic ambiguity of existing proxy environmental evidence. In this respect, the analysis of the communal latrines of the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) has opened up a whole new suite of potential avenues for palaeoenvironmental research in Africa (Chase et al., 2012; Chase et al. 2017).

These stratified deposits of dried urine and faecal matter can be >70,000 years old, preserve remarkably high-resolution records (often centennial-scale and far better than most regional sedimentary archives) and host a diverse range of microfossil & geochemical proxies. In particular, they have been shown to preserve abundant plant biomarkers and animal dietary markers. Plant leaf waxes in particular are environmentally sensitive, both in terms of their composition (Carr et al., 2014) and their δ13C and δD stable isotope compositions (Herrmann et al., 2017). This project will focus largely on the use of compound-specific stable hydrogen (δD) isotope analyses of leaf waxes as a means to provide the first spatially extensive, systematically sampled terrestrial palaeohydrological archives from southern Africa. These data will provide critical new insights into hydro-climatic conditions and the synoptic-scale drivers of southern African palaeoclimate. Leaf wax δD data from marine archives adjacent to the continent (e.g. Collins et al., 2014) demonstrate the potential of this proxy, but hyrax middens will facilitate analyses at far higher temporal and spatial resolutions, allowing us to address more specific questions concerning the precise drivers of long-term hydrological change across southern Africa (e.g. Chase et al. 2017). The project will also focus on: 1) refining (via modern plant/water sampling) the use/interpetations of this method across the summer, winter and year-round rainfall regimes of southern Africa, 2) combining these analysis with leaf wax δ13C data to consider ecological change and resilance in savanna ecosystems and 3) intregration of these data with ongoing (isotope-enabled) climate model-data comparisons.

This project will combine field and laboratory methods. Building on our on-going work, you will work with our extensive archive of sampled / dated hyrax middens, and with contemporary plant materials, obtained (with appropriate sampling design) via new field sampling of soils/plants and our existing archive. The middens will provide the long, high resolution archives from which leaf wax (n-alkane) 13C and D records will be obtained. Interpretations of leaf wax compositions and isotopic signatures will be refined using the data from modern waxes (e.g. Herrmann et al, 2017), as obtained from your new water/plant/soil environmental sampling campaign. From this, the project will refine our understanding of contemporary climate-eco-physiological controls on leaf wax D across the varied rainfall regimes of southern Africa. The laboratory methods will include lipid biomarker extractions, GC/MS methods and stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry.

The supervisors, Carr and Boom have very strong track records in southern African palaeoecology, particularly the development of stable isotope/geochemical proxies. Carr has 18 years’ experience researching African palaeoclimate change. Boom directs the state-of-art Leicester isotope facility. The project is co-supervised Dr Brian Chase at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Montpellier, the leading international expert on hyrax middens and African palaeoclimate. The supervisors are part of the wider ERC HYRAX project which involves long-standing collaborations with colleagues in the UK, France, South Africa and Germany; the successful student will be integrated into this research community.

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject. The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable.

How to apply

Please refer to the CENTA Studentship application information on our website for details of how to apply.

As part of the application process you will need to:
• Complete a CENTA Funding form – to be uploaded to your PhD application
• Complete and submit your PhD application online. Indicate project CENTA2-GGE1- CARR in the funding section.
• Complete an online project selection form Apply for CENTA2-GGE1- CARR

Funding Notes

This studentship is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium. The award will provide tuition fees as the UK/EU rate and a stipend at the RCUK rates for a period of 3.5 years.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

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