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PhD in Geographical & Earth Sciences: Anthropogenic geodiversity – how can Scotland’s industrial waste legacy contribute to geodiversity and biodiversity?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J MacDonald
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Co-supervised by Professor Alistair Jump, University of Stirling

As recognised in Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter, geodiversity underpins biodiversity and faces pressures from human influence. However, human influence can also broaden geodiversity. While geodiversity is usually considered in terms of naturally-occurring rocks and soils, there are wholly anthropogenic substrates which can create new ecological niches and therefore support biodiversity.
There are a wide range of anthropogenic substrates which are to be found in Scotland which are similar in character to naturally-occurring rocks and soils. Steel slag is a waste product from steelmaking which is found at many locations, particularly in central Scotland e.g. at Ravenscraig. It was dumped in heaps and is generally found as gravel- or pebble-sized pieces, and therefore mimics naturally-occurring scree slopes. It can have high ecotoxic metal concentration though and therefore creates an ecological niche which may enhance biodiversity.

Scotland also has an extensive history of papermaking, again particularly in central Scotland e.g. near Penicuik. Historic papermaking produced large quantities of alkaline sludge which was dumped in ponds and subsequently dried to form powdery deposits. Cement- and lime-works also produced granular or powdery alkaline wastes – a substrate suited to alkaline-loving plants. Power station fly-ash and oil shale bings are other examples of industrial wastes found in the Scottish landscape which are artificial substrates that may support biodiversity and enhance geodiversity.

Scotland therefore possesses a range of artificial substrates as legacies of past industrial activity. To what extent do these artificial substrates contribute to geodiversity and the biodiversity it underpins?

The overall aim of this project is to characterise the extent and nature of various industrial wastes in Scotland and to evaluate their influence on biodiversity.

• To achieve this aim, the following specific objectives/research questions will be addressed:
• What is the extent of artificial substrates (steel slag, paper mill waste, cement-making waste etc) in Scotland?
• What are the physical and chemical characteristics of these substrates and how do they compare to natural substrates?
• What plant communities are found on these substrates and what is their importance for biodiversity?

A map/satellite imagery survey of sites with artificial substrates of industrial wastes will provide a summary of the extent of such sites in Central Scotland. Certain sites with different types of industrial wastes will then be selected to map the distribution of vegetation types. Vegetation maps will then be compared to the physical and chemical characteristics of the substrates. These parameters will be analysed using microscopy, XRD, ICP-OES/ICP-MS and other techniques. The composition of the artificial substrates and the plants present will be compared to non-industrial sites with natural substrates to determine the extent to which anthropogenic geodiversity enhances biodiversity.

Candidates are sought with the following qualities and backgrounds:

- A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience;
- In addition, candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline; &
- An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

Relevant disciplines include geoscience, environmental science, environmental chemistry, ecology, plant science, or similar. The successful candidate should have an interest in combining analytical chemistry methods with plant science to solve environmental pollution problems, and an aptitude for lab work.

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