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New digital tools for using palaeoenvironmental records to understand long-term human ecodynamics in Iceland.

  • Funded PhD Programme (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Programme (European/UK Students Only)

Profile Description

The colonisation of the north Atlantic islands by the Norse in the 9th and 10th centuries is one of the best case studies we have for examining and understanding the impact of human settlement on fragile ecosystems. In Iceland we can also examine the ecological and geomorphological impacts of volcanic activity: the frequent occurrence of volcanic ash (tephra) layers gives excellent chronological control for palaeoenvironmental records. Thanks to many years of palaeoenvironmental and archaeological research we have a good overall understanding of the impact of settlers on vegetation and soil stability in Iceland (e.g. Streeter et al., 2015 for a recent synthesis). However there is still much uncertainty about how spatially homogenous the impact was and there are areas in Iceland where we have little information.

Online databases are increasingly used to store and access an ever larger number of palaeoenvironmental and archaeological datasets. These databases are an excellent tool for conducting meta-analysis of change over larger spatial regions, but there can be issues with successfully integrating the wide range and variety of data contained within these (e.g. the level of chronological control can vary greatly between records). There is also a great deal of so called ‘long-tail' palaeoenvironmental data stored in ‘grey literature' (e.g. reports, or unpublished data in notebooks), which may be insignificant on its own (hence why it may not have been published), but collectively this data may be important for improving our wider understanding.

The project will draw on both the exciting developments in palaeoenvironmental databases for meta-analysis and classical palaeoenvioronmental approaches to better characterise the environmental impact of the arrival of humans on pristine natural systems, specifically in Iceland. The overall aims of the project are to (1) develop new approaches to synthesising and utilising palaeoenvrionmental data stored in existing data archives (2) use this to identify gaps in our understanding of palaeoenvironmental change in Iceland (3) target the collection of selective new datasets to address these gaps (4) attempt to utilise ‘long tail' data which is frequently not incorporated in meta-analysis (e.g. by digitising soil erosion records in field notebooks).

The project is part of a wider, interdisciplinary initiative called dataARC, which aims to integrate data across the natural, social and humanities with the goal of improving our understanding of human-environment interactions in the North Atlantic through the development of new digital tools (https://www.data-arc.org), and the project would also benefit from collaboration archaeologists and other specialists within NABO (http://www.nabohome.org). Research skills and training in data-synthesis, spatial analysis, GIS and tephrochronology will be provided, with opportunity for specialisation in other approaches (e.g. palynology). The project will involve fieldwork in Iceland and travel to dataARC meetings.

Streeter, R., Dugmore, A. J., Lawson, I. T., Erlendsson, E., & Edwards, K. J. (2015). The onset of the palaeoanthropocene in Iceland: Changes in complex natural systems. The Holocene, 25(10), 1662–1675. http://doi.org/10.1177/0959683615594468 

Please complete our online PhD Application and ensure that you do the following:
• Apply to the “School of Geography and Sustainable Development”.
• Apply to the programme “PhD Geography (Science)”.
• Note on the application that you are applying for University of St Andrews and additional funding from the National Science Foundation of America.
• Note that the title of the project is “New digital tools for using palaeoenvironmental records to understand long-term human ecodynamics in Iceland.”
• Name your principal supervisor Richard Streeter.
• Please upload a sample of academic writing (minimum of 500 words).

For informal enquiries, contact Dr Richard Streeter (). The deadline for applications is Friday 17 August 2018.

Funding Notes

Fully Funded (3.5 years) PhD project - University of St Andrews with additional funding from the National Science Foundation of America. Candidates receive an annual stipend in line with RC-UK rates, and payment of their (UK/EU) tuition fees. UK/EU students are eligible to apply for full funding. Overseas candidates can apply but would need to fund the difference.

Studentships are awarded on the basis of academic quality and research promise. Some experience and familiarity with palaeoenvironmental data desirable, and a familiarity and willingness to use digital tools, databases and basic modelling desirable. A willingness to conduct fieldwork in Iceland essential.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 36.50

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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