QUADRAT DTP: Just how hot have peatlands burnt over decadal, centennial and millennial timescales?

   School of Geosciences

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  Dr D Mauquoy, Dr M Blaauw  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 42-month PhD project is part of the QUADRAT Doctoral Training Partnership.

The aims of this studentship are to i) investigate the possibility of a quantitative relationship between imposed heat fluxes and the Raman spectra of charcoal fragments produced as a result of this heating, based upon a series of cone calorimetry laboratory burning experiments of peat mesocosms, ii) reconstruct burning intensity changes through time using a series of peat profiles recovered from raised and blanket peatlands in the UK.

 Future climate change is predicted to strongly increase fire occurrence in peatland ecosystems, which is alarming as Northern peatlands are globally significant ecosystems in terms of carbon storage.

 The experimental part of this studentship will involve a series of burning experiments of modern plant taxa collected from peatlands in the UK, where you will simulate 'real' wildfire conditions by using a cone calorimeter housed at the University of Edinburgh (Hadden et al., 2013). This instrument comprises a cone heater which exposes the material to be combusted to controlled levels of irradiance, which is then ignited by sparks and consequently burned. The combustion gases produced pass through the heating cone and are collected by an exhaust duct system. In the exhaust duct, the gas flow is measured (O2, CO, and CO2) to calculate the quantity of heat release per unit time per unit area. The Raman band width ratios of the charcoal produced from the cone calorimetry burning experiments will then be measured. Raman spectroscopy, which to date has only been undertaken once on preserved charcoal fragments contained in peat archive records (Mauquoy et al., 2020), involves exposing charcoal fragments to particles which transmit light (photons) emitted from a laser. The final part of the experimental burning work will be to explore the relationship between imposed heat flux and the Raman band-width ratios.

You will collect a series of peat profiles from raised and blanket peat bogs across the UK. The Raman spectra of charcoal fragments preserved in these peat profiles will then be investigated to determine the former range of fire intensities through time (the last ~6000 years, using both 14C and 210Pb chronologies) based upon the results of the burning calibration experiments of the modern taxa. You will also explore the effects of fires on peatland carbon sequestration by measuring the bulk density, carbon content and macrofossil composition of the peat profiles.

The student will be mostly based in Aberdeen and will have regular contact with Dr. Mauquoy. Prof. Muirhead and Dr. Blaauw will provide training in Raman spectrometry and 14C dating respectively. The student will spend some time at Edinburgh University’s state-of-the-art BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering and Dr. Rory Hadden will introduce the student to the experimental cone calorimeter burning experiments. 

Candidate Background:

The student will be required to undertake fieldwork sampling peatlands in the UK, perform laboratory analyses (microscopy [light and SEM], select samples for 14C dating, plant macrofossil and macro-charcoal analyses). Experience with palaeoecological fieldwork and laboratory techniques would be an advantage, but training in plant macrofossil, cone calorimetry and Raman spectroscopy will be provided. Efficient time-management will be important given the range of planned analyses.

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

We encourage applications from all backgrounds and communities, and are committed to having a diverse, inclusive team.

Informal enquiries are encouraged, please contact Dr Dmitri Mauquoy ([Email Address Removed]) for further information.



  • Please visit this page for full application information: How To Apply – QUADRAT
  • Please send your completed application form, along with academic transcripts to [Email Address Removed]
  • Please ensure that two written references from your referees are submitted. It is your responsibility to ensure these are provided, as we will not request references on your behalf.
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.
  • If you require any additional assistance in submitting your application or have any queries about the application process, please don't hesitate to contact us at [Email Address Removed]
Biological Sciences (4) Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13) Forensic and Archaeological Sciences (16) Geography (17) Geology (18)

Funding Notes

This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the QUADRAT DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI NERC).
Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (£18,622 for the 23/24 academic year. Stipend rates for the 24/25 academic year have not been set yet)
• Tuition Fees
• Research and training costs
QUADRAT DTP does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.


• Hadden, R.M., Rein, G., Belcher, C.M. 2013. Study of the competing chemical reactions in the initiation and spread of smouldering combustion in peat. Proceedings of the Combustion Institute 34, 2547-2553.
• Mauquoy, D., Payne, R. J., Babeshko, K. V., Bartlett, R., Boomer, I., Bowey, H., Evans, C. D., Ring-Hrubesh, F., Muirhead, D., O’Callaghan, M., Piotrowska, N., Rush, G., Sloan, T., Smeaton, C., Tsyganov, A. N., Mazei, Y. A. 2020. Falkland Island peatland development processes and the pervasive presence of fire. Quaternary Science Reviews 240, 106391.
• Rein, G., Huang, X. 2021. Smouldering wildfires in peatlands, forests and the arctic: Challenges and perspectives. Environmental Science & Health 24, 100296.

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