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QUADRAT DTP: Quantifying carbon accumulation and loss in Russian Arctic peatlands

Project Description

Peatlands in Russia (and North America) are a major terrestrial carbon store and a natural sink for atmospheric CO2 during the Holocene (Charman et al., 2013, holding around 612 gigatonnes of carbon, which represents a larger stock than the worlds live vegetation. Persistence of this carbon store depends upon waterlogging, which may be threatened by rising atmospheric temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, anthropogenic disturbance, increases in the cover and height of shrub dominated communities and more frequent fires in high-latitude ecosystems (Young et al., 2017). ’Natural Experiments’ recorded in the peat layers make it possible to measure and date carbon accumulation rates during former periods of wetter/drier climatic conditions. Burning can be readily identified by counting the number of macrofossil charcoal fragments preserved in peat profile samples. The burning intensity of former fires can also be estimated using Raman spectroscopy (Muirhead et al., 2017). Changes in the balance between rainfall and evaporation drive changes in peatland surface wetness, which can be reconstructed on decadal, centennial and millennial timescales using the preserved remains of the former vegetation (plant macrofossils). Changes in the preserved microorganism assemblages (testate amoebae) can also be used to provide quantitative reconstructions of former water table depths, which in these ecosystems is dependent upon the atmospheric moisture balance (rainfall minus evaporation).


In order to understand the long-term interaction between carbon accumulation rates, fire intensity during burning, mire surface wetness and the types of plants growing in Russian Arctic peatlands, a multiproxy approach is essential. This level of research detail is still relatively rare, so this studentship will offer an exciting opportunity to sample and investigate the long-term carbon sequestration of Russian Arctic peatlands during previous periods of burning disturbance and climate change (on decadal, centennial and millennial timescales). Without robust chronologies the value of these environmental reconstructions will be limited, so a key part of this research will be directed towards Bayesian age/modelling techniques.


Training in plant macrofossil, testate amoebae and Raman spectroscopy will be provided. The successful candidate will also receive training in 14C and 210Pb Bayesian age/depth modelling techniques, in order to produce enhanced, precise and more flexible chronologies with realistic uncertainty estimates.


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 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.


Charman, DJ, Beilman, DW, Blaauw, M, Booth, RK, Brewer, S, Chambers, FM, Christen, JA, Gallego-Sala, A, Harrison, SP, Hughes, PDM, Jackson, ST, Korhola, A, Mauquoy, D, Mitchell, FJG, Prentice, IC, Van Der Linden, M, De Vleeschouwer, F, Yu, ZC, Alm, J, Bauer, IE, Corish, YMC, Garneau, M, Hohl, V, Huang, Y, Karofeld, E, Le Roux, G, Loisel, J, Moschen, R, Nichols, JE, Nieminen, TM, MacDonald, GM, Phadtare, NR, Rausch, N, Sillasoo, U, Swindles, GT, Tuittila, ES, Ukonmaanaho, L, Väliranta, M, Van Bellen, S, Van Geel, B, Vitt, DH & Zhao, Y. 2013. Climate-related changes in peatland carbon accumulation during the last millennium. Biogeosciences 10, 929-944.

Muirhead, D.K., Parnell, J., Spinks, S. and Bowden, S.A. 2017. Characterization of organic matter in the Torridonian using Raman spectroscopy. Geological Society Special Publications 448, 71-80.

Young, A.M., Higuera, P.E., Duffy, P.A. & Hu, F.S. 2017. Climatic thresholds shape northern high-latitude fire regimes and imply vulnerability to future climate change. Ecography 40, 606-617.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 13.40

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

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