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QUADRAT DTP: Dynamics of carbon capture in Scottish and Irish peatlands over the past centuries

School of Natural and Built Environment | PHD

Applications are now CLOSED
Reference Number
Application Deadline
22 January 2020
Start Date
1 October 2020


Peatlands store and potentially release large amounts of carbon, and thus it is essential to predict their role in future warming (e.g., Gallego-Sala et al., 2018; Ferretto et al. 2019). The aim of this project is to assess how much carbon has been stored in near-pristine and damaged bogs over the past 4-5 centuries. Relationships between carbon accumulation and the composition of the peat forming vegetation and local water table depths will be explored using plant macrofossil and testate amoebae analyses respectively. Four peat profiles in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be investigated at high resolution in order to produce highly detailed time series of carbon accumulation spanning the past ~500 years. Together with existing contemporary monitoring of fluxes of CO2 and CH4 from bogs by the James Hutton Institute, this will enable enhanced estimates of carbon fluxes within/from/to peatlands. Robust chronologies are essential for reliable reconstructions of carbon accumulation within bogs. However, two of the most important techniques for dating natural archives severely affect reconstructions of carbon accumulation over the past centuries. Large changes in atmospheric 14C content over this period cause imprecise 14C chronologies, and current 210Pb-based chronologies are inflexible and incapable of incorporating other dates.

This project will combine 14C and 210Pb dates through a newly published Bayesian alternative, in order to produce enhanced, precise and more flexible chronologies with realistic uncertainty estimates. By combining high-resolution 14C and 210Pb data, we will for the first time be able to test whether 210Pb fluxes have remained constant over the past two centuries. If we find constant 210Pb fluxes, this will confirm a key assumption of 210Pb approaches, however, if not then many existing 210Pb-based chronologies are flawed. Thus this project could have implications for the role of peat bogs in carbon accumulation as well as for 210Pb-based studies across the world.

The student will be required to undertake fieldwork, laboratory analyses and coding. Candidates should display a strong computational aptitude, preferably with experience of the R programming language.

Aquino Lopez, M.A., Blaauw, M., Christen, J.A., Sanderson, N., 2018. Bayesian analysis of 210Pb dating. Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics 23, 317-333.

Blaauw, M., Christen, J.A., Bennett, K.D. & Reimer, P.J. 2018. Double the dates and go for Bayes: Impacts of model choice, dating density and quality on chronologies. Quaternary Science Reviews 188, 58-66.

Gallego-Sala, AV., and 76 others, 2018. Latitudinal limits to the predicted increase of the peatland carbon sink with warming. Nature Climate Change, vol. 8, pp. 907-913.

Ferretto, A., Brooker, R., Aitkenhead, M., Matthews, R., Smith, P., 2019. Potential carbon loss from Scottish peatlands under climate change. Regional Environmental Change 19, 2101-2111.

Funding Information

This project is in competition for funding.

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.

Project Summary
Dr Maarten Blaauw
Mode of Study

Full-time: 3.5 years

Funding Body
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Archaeology & Palaeoecology overview

The research undertaken within Archaeology & Palaeoecology largely falls under two interdisciplinary Research Clusters; Environmental Change & Resilience (ECR) for more environmentally-related projects, and Culture & Society (C&S) for more humanities-related Archaeology projects.

Projects involving Palaeoecology or Scientific Archaeology focus on themes such as long-term changes and resilience in ecosystems, humans, environments and climate, using approaches such as pollen analysis, tephra dating, dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating. Much of our research spans several disciplines – for example projects on the hydrogeology and restoration of bogs.

Research in the C&S cluster explores the material manifestations of culture through time and space. We combine innovative scientific methods with theoretically-informed analyses to understand past human experience, bringing together the humanities and the sciences.

The combination of environmental archaeology, and especially bio-archaeology, with more traditional approaches to the past, helps to differentiate Queen's from most other Archaeology departments and is seen as both a strength and stimulus to future developments. Thematically, we have identified eight areas of particular specialist interest and especially welcome applications from potential PhD students interested in these areas though projects are not limited to these themes:

Development of agriculture and the cultural landscape in Europe, Eurasia and its associated economic, chronological and environmental backdrop
Organisation of domestic and ritual space (including landscapes) from prehistory through the post-medieval period in the North Atlantic region
Populations and palaeodiet from Ireland to Eurasia
Refinement of chronologies from selected regions of the world, using the facilities of the 14CHRONO labs
Religion, society and material culture in the central and western Mediterranean
Settlement and economy of medieval and post-medieval Ireland; connections with the New World
Social and bio-archaeological approaches to death, involving the study of mortuary data from Ireland across Eurasia
The causes, timing and impacts of past climate change

Mode of study / duration
Registration is on a full-time or part-time basis, under the direction of a supervisory team appointed by the University. You will be expected to submit your thesis at the end of three years for a PhD (or part-time equivalent).

Archaeology & Palaeoecology Highlights
Career Development
  • Long-standing record of inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding the relationship between past humans and their environment.
World Class Facilities
  • World-leading centre in multiple dating techniques that help us understand past societal and environmental issues.
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Course content

Research Information

Associated Research
Members of the C&S and the ECR research clusters work closely to develop research that takes into consideration both the social and environmental context of human society (see also Geography and Palaeoecology: Environmental Change). Integrated within C&S is the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, a financially self-supporting excavation unit with an exceptional record of publication and a high media profile, reflecting a strong commitment to community engagement.
The cluster undertakes research in Ireland, Great Britain and abroad, in particular, the Mediterranean region, territories of the former Soviet Union, the North Atlantic, west Africa and North America, where both staff and research students undertake collaborative projects.
Students maintain their own research seminar series and attend the fortnightly seminars of the Archaeology and Palaeoecology research clusters, which routinely bring outstanding scholars from abroad as well as Great Britain and Ireland.
Being based in the recently built 14CHRONO Centre has expanded our research facilities and allowed us to extend our research agenda.
Facilities include an AMS 14C dating facility, an NEC accelerator mass spectrometer, cold storage for biological materials, drawing office, laboratories for post-excavation, human bone analysis, palynology, plant, snail and insect macrofossils, dendrochronology and animal bone analysis.
Current postgraduates come from Ireland, Great Britain, the USA, France, and the Netherlands.

Career Prospects

For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on Our advisors - in consultation with the School - will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.

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Learning Outcomes

Course structure


Entrance requirements

The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.

International Students

For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.

English Language Requirements

Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.5, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required (*taken within the last 2 years).

International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.

For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see:

If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be offering Academic English and Pre-sessional courses online only from June to September 2020.

  • Academic English: an intensive English language and study skills course for successful university study at degree level
  • Pre-sessional English: a short intensive academic English course for students starting a degree programme at Queen's University Belfast and who need to improve their English.

Tuition Fees

Northern Ireland (NI) £4,407
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) £4,407
Other (non-UK) EU £4,407
International £21,300

More information on postgraduate tuition fees.

Archaeology & Palaeoecology costs

There are no specific additional course costs associated with this programme.

Additional course costs

All Students

Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.

How do I fund my study?
1.PhD Opportunities

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2.Doctoral Training Centres at Queen's

Queen's has eight outstanding competitive Doctoral Training Centres, with each one providing funding for a number of PhD positions and most importantly a hub for carrying out world class research in key disciplines.

3.PhD loans

The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students, £10,000 for students in Scotland and up to £5,500 for Northern Ireland students.

4.International Scholarships

Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.

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How to Apply

Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

Find a supervisor

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To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.

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