Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

The supervisory team have significant cross-disciplinary experience of working with diverse data sets pertaining to the reconstructing of past environments and landscapes, and the interaction between these and past human communities. Dr Kate Britton’s research spans the Eemian to the post-medieval period, focusing on the interactions between humans, animals and the environment, and the use of isotope zooarchaeology in better understanding both faunal palaeoecology and past environments. Dr Maarten Blaauw brings specialisms in chronology-building and age-depth modelling and working with diverse palaeoecological datasets. Prof. Matteo Spagnolo is a specialist in glacial geomorphology, Quaternary climate change, GIS and geospatial analysis, and – along with Prof. Brice Rea – brings extensive research experience in glacial sedimentology, glacier-climate interactions and climate reconstructions. Caroline Wickham-Jones, a renowned specialist in the earliest archaeology of Scotland, will provide additional supervisory support and advice in hunter-gatherer archaeology.

Essential skills

  • should have a background in earth and environmental sciences (e.g., glaciology, palaeogeography, palaeoecology, environmental, climate reconstruction, etc.) and/or; Pleistocene archaeology and/or scientific archaeology,
  • should be familiar with and (ideally) have training in the integration of multi-proxy datasets.
  • While archaeological experience is not a requirement, an interest in archaeology and in the application of earth and environmental science to the understanding of the human past is essential.

Desirable skills

  • Experience with GIS approaches and/or computational modelling is desirable.


Artwork “Mesolithic Deeside” by  Jan Dunbar.


Kate Britton

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Kate Britton
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Maarten Blaauw

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Maarten Blaauw
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Matteo Spagnolo

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Matteo Spagnolo
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Brice Rea

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Brice Rea
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Additional Supervisor:

Caroline Wickham-Jones (University of Aberdeen, Archaeology)


This research involves design, development, installation and monitoring of a novel sustainable engineering structure for low-cost protection of coasts vulnerable to impacts of climate change. The concept proposed has potential to revolutionise coastal protection/management by combining a semi-rigid hard-engineering and soft-engineering approach (a flexible hard structure) low-cost to produce, maintain/replace, as well as being sustainable, with potential to be deployed easily anywhere along a coastline in developed and developing countries.

The research proposed is a proof-of-concept approach involving development and refinement of structural design, temporal monitoring (impact, flexibility, stresses, tethering, retention), and resilience to wave impact, currents, and wind.

A novel part of the research is the engineering structure ‘on-board’ sensors to allow data collection about the flexibility/rigidity, stresses/movement of the structure in-situ over time. This data will be supplemented with drone-based aerial monitoring/image acquisition to (a) monitor/model the spatial nature/context of the site environment(s) e.g. the coastal status from a temporal pre-installation baseline over time, and (b) monitor the engineering structure e.g. its spatial location and position over time. Aerial monitoring/modelling of study site(s)/engineering structure will provide a high-resolution 3D-model of relationships between the structure/environment over space/time. Inclusion of geospatial datasets/mathematical models of the coast e.g. sediment movement/wave-climate modelling will provide a more holistic context to support improved knowledge/understanding of the relationship(s) between climate change, local coastal dynamics, factors responsible for observed coastal change, and the impact of a coastal engineering structure.

This integrated approach will provide the basis for a better understanding/explanation of the effectiveness of the engineering structure for coastal protection over time. This will be enhanced through Implementation/testing of the engineering structure at multiple different locations with either similar or different environmental conditions helping to determine the generic effectiveness of this novel engineering structure.

Proposed Timetable

Months 1-6
University and QUADRAT inductions; identifying bodies of research and data sets to draw upon; determining data storage and analysis needs. Commence training in GIS and modelling. Undertaking literature review focused on earth and environmental science evidence, along with earliest archaeological evidence for human activity in Scotland and Ireland, and nature of post-glacial recolonization in other regions. Attend training courses.

Months 6-12
Literature review continues, training in GIS and modelling is consolidated, and data handling pipeline is finalised (culminating in first background and methodology chapters for review by supervisory team). Data collection formally begins. Attend training courses.

Months 12-18
This period will be spent collating the bulk of the data, undertaking preliminary analyses, and identifying any potential knowledge gaps (in discussion with supervisory team). Depending on student’s past experience and those knowledge gaps, training will be undertaken in specific methods (e.g., radiocarbon dating, isotope analysis, sedimentology, etc.).

Months 18-24
Ongoing analysis of multi-proxy datasets and GIS mapping/computational modelling to work towards time-slice reconstructions of landform and environment from LGM-terminal Pleistocene in Ireland and Scotland. Undertaking of (limited) primary data collection in specific regions, pertaining to either environmental conditions or human activity in the late Pleistocene. Presentation of result/model with supervisory team. Commence preliminary write up of results/analysis for discussion.

Months 24-30
Extended data analysis, produce synthesis of results and commence wider discussion of data/implications. Generate any remaining data required following preliminary analysis.

Months 30-42
Writing and editing.

While the above has been structured for a traditional thesis, the work could be easily adapted to being a PhD by papers (depending on the preferences and experience of the student).


  • biodiversity
  • earth-systems

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