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QUADRAT DTP: Dynamics of carbon capture in Scottish and Irish peatlands over the past centuries

Project Description

Peatlands store and potentially release large amounts of carbon, and thus it is essential to predict their role in future warming (e.g., Gallego-Sala et al., 2018; Ferretto et al. 2019). The aim of this project is to assess how much carbon has been stored in near-pristine and damaged bogs over the past 4-5 centuries. Relationships between carbon accumulation and the composition of the peat forming vegetation and local water table depths will be explored using plant macrofossil and testate amoebae analyses respectively. Four peat profiles in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be investigated at high resolution in order to produce highly detailed time series of carbon accumulation spanning the past ~500 years. Together with existing contemporary monitoring of fluxes of CO2 and CH4 from bogs by the James Hutton Institute, this will enable enhanced estimates of carbon fluxes within/from/to peatlands.

Robust chronologies are essential for reliable reconstructions of carbon accumulation within bogs. However, two of the most important techniques for dating natural archives severely affect reconstructions of carbon accumulation over the past centuries. Large changes in atmospheric 14C content over this period cause imprecise 14C chronologies, and current 210Pb-based chronologies are inflexible and incapable of incorporating other dates.

This project will combine 14C and 210Pb dates through a newly published Bayesian alternative, in order to produce enhanced, precise and more flexible chronologies with realistic uncertainty estimates. By combining high-resolution 14C and 210Pb data, we will for the first time be able to test whether 210Pb fluxes have remained constant over the past two centuries. If we find constant 210Pb fluxes, this will confirm a key assumption of 210Pb approaches, however, if not then many existing 210Pb-based chronologies are flawed. Thus this project could have implications for the role of peat bogs in carbon accumulation as well as for 210Pb-based studies across the world.

The student will be required to undertake fieldwork, laboratory analyses and coding. Candidates should display a strong computational aptitude, preferably with experience of the R programming language.


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geosciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Aquino Lopez, M.A., Blaauw, M., Christen, J.A., Sanderson, N., 2018. Bayesian analysis of 210Pb dating. Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics 23, 317-333.

Blaauw, M., Christen, J.A., Bennett, K.D. & Reimer, P.J. 2018. Double the dates and go for Bayes: Impacts of model choice, dating density and quality on chronologies. Quaternary Science Reviews 188, 58-66.

Gallego-Sala, AV., and 76 others, 2018. Latitudinal limits to the predicted increase of the peatland carbon sink with warming. Nature Climate Change, vol. 8, pp. 907-913.

Ferretto, A., Brooker, R., Aitkenhead, M., Matthews, R., Smith, P., 2019. Potential carbon loss from Scottish peatlands under climate change. Regional Environmental Change 19, 2101-2111.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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