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Understanding the role of fire during a ancient hyperthermal - ELPHINSTONE SCHOLARSHIP

Project Description

Fire plays a major role in terrestrial ecosystems development, and is highly responsive to both global temperatures and atmospheric oxygen levels. Understanding the behaviour of fire through Earth history forms a critical part of our knowledge of Earth’s climate evolution. In particular, fire influences both the type and diversity of terrestrial vegetation, and forms a component of the Earth’s carbon cycle by mediating the storage and release of terrestrial carbon from/to the atmosphere.

This PhD project will assess the record of fire activity, climate change and ecosystems development across an important of interval of global warming in the Palaeocene (~65 million years ago): during an event known as the Dan-C2 hyperthermal. This event is marked in the geological record by fossil and geochemical evidence for a significant perturbation to the global carbon cycle, changes in terrestrial ecosystems, and climate warming.

Lake sediments laid down in the Boltysh impact crater in Ukraine record a uniquely high-resolution record of climate change and ecosystems evolution through the Dan-C2 hyperthermal event, as well as the underlying Cretaceous/Palaeogene boundary. What makes the Boltysh record so special is that it records palaeoenvironmental changes at a resolution approaching that of modern lake sediment records. Sediments were laid down at rates approaching 1 mm per year, meaning that we can resolve changes on decadal to centennial timescales.

We seek a motivated student to quantify fire activity in this record by analysing charcoal content and type through a sedimentary core drilled in the Boltysh impact crater. The student will assess the precise relationships between fire, vegetation change, and climate, and in doing so will help resolve the impact and response of fire within this ancient episode of global warming.

The successful student will become an expert in botanical palaeontology and palaeoclimatology, and learn specific skills in SEM imaging, microscopy, geochemistry and statistical data analysis. The student will work within a supportive and vibrant research team dedicated to resolving the causes and consequences of abrupt climate change through Earth history.

The successful candidate will have or expect to have a UK First Class Honours Degree (or equivalent) or a UK Honours Degree at 2.1 (or equivalent) in GEOLOGY, GEOSCIENCES OR EARTH SCIENCES, ALONG WITH an MSc Degree (or equivalent) at Commendation or Distinction.

Knowledge: ESSENTIAL - Geology, (botanic) palaeontology, ecology

Funding Notes

To be considered for the Elphinstone Scholarship (TUITION FEES ONLY) the applicant needs to have the equivalent to a 1st class Honours undergraduate degree or a 2.1 Honours undergraduate degree alongside a Masters with Commendation or Distinction. All offers issued will state that they are academic offers only and if you are awarded the Scholarship you will be advised separately.

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