QUADRAT DTP: Understanding the controls on cyanobacteria blooms in Northern Ireland lakes: a palaeolimnological perspective

   School of Natural and Built Environment

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  Prof Helen Roe, Dr V Louca  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.

OVERVIEW: The proliferation of harmful cyanobacteria algal blooms (cyanoHABs) is recognised as a global environmental problem threatening the quality of surface waters.  These can have devastating effects on aquatic biota, fisheries and human health via the contamination of drinking water supplies.  In spite of advances in cyanoHAB monitoring and detection, the specific mechanisms of toxic bloom proliferation remain poorly understood, although nutrient enrichment driven by land use change (e.g. agricultural intensification) and climate change are major contributory factors (Benayache et al., 2019).  As well as promoting algal growth via temperature change, climate change can significantly alter the runoff of nutrients into waterbodies, leading to cyanoHAB development.  Re-suspension of surficial, nutrient-rich sediments during heavy rains can have a similar effect, particularly in shallow lakes.  There is a pressing need to better understand these and other controls on cyanoHAB formation in light of future predicted climate change, and to consider how the combined effects of nutrients and climatic stressors will impact biotic communities in lakes and other sensitive water bodies. 

This project will use a combination of palaeolimnological (geochemistry, fossil pigments, microfossils), water quality monitoring and climate data to examine the controls on cyanoHAB development in a series of vulnerable lakes in Northern Ireland, UK.  Palaeolimnological approaches, which utilise the rich archive of environmental information preserved in sediment cores, have great potential for understanding the development and impacts of toxigenic cyanobacteria bloom events (Erratt et al., 2023), and can greatly extend the inferences that can be drawn from water quality monitoring data alone.  Sediment cores for ultra-high resolution (mm-scale) analysis will be collected from lakes with a known history of cyanoHAB proliferation.  The palaeolimnological work, which will focus especially on multiproxy records from the last ca. 50-300 years, will be supplemented by statistical and GIS analysis of physicochemical monitoring data and select landscape limnological variables in the study catchments (e.g. lake connectivity) to further elucidate the drivers of bloom events.  The results are likely to inform lake monitoring practices as well as future management and remedial efforts.    

TRAINING: The successful applicant will receive training in relevant analytical techniques (including diatoms and other microalgae, pigments, geochemistry, stable isotopes and geochronology), field sampling and statistical approaches from the supervisors in QUB and the wider advisory team.  Geochronological analysis will be undertaken in the QUB 14CHRONO Centre for Climate, the Environment and Chronology.  The student will visit the Global Water Institute, Ottawa to receive training in advanced geochemical and sedimentological techniques (e.g. cyanotoxin metabolite detection) under the guidance of external project supervisors Tim Patterson and David McMullin.  The student will join a vibrant and diverse interdisciplinary research community in QUB's School of Natural and Built Environment and will have the opportunity for regular interaction with biologists and environmental chemists in QUB, Aberdeen and beyond through the supervisors, external advisory team and the wider QUADRAT network. 

Candidate Background:

Prospective applicants should have a strong grounding in environmental or biological science, geochemistry, ecology/palaeoecology, physical geography or a related subject at undergraduate and/or Masters level and some experience in (geo)statistics or GIS. The following skills are desirable but not essential: prior experience in micro- or macrofossil analysis (e.g. diatoms; macrophytes); field sampling (e.g. core collection), geochemical or sedimentary analysis; data handling, geostatistics/R or GIS.

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 Professor Helen Roe 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) Chemistry (6) Environmental Sciences (13) 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.


Benayache, N. et al. (2019) An Overview of Cyanobacteria Harmful Algal Bloom (CyanoHAB) Issues in Freshwater Ecosystems. In: Limnology - Some New Aspects of Inland Water Ecology. DOI:10.5772/intechopen.84155
Erratt, K.J., Creed, I.F., Lobb, D.A., Smol, J.P., Trick, C.G. (2023). Climate change amplifies the risk of potentially toxigenic cyanobacteria. Global Change Biology, 29(18) https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16838
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