Project Description

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

It is expected that suitable study sites will be identified at the outset of the project, and that most fieldwork will be completed within the first year of study. All necessary facilities are available at QUB or UAber.

Essential skills

  • Masters degree in palaeoenvironmental or related discipline; experience of laboratory work; experience of microscopy

Desired skills

  • Experience in any of the methods to be applied in this study

Photo by Gill Plunkett.


Gill Plunkett

Primary Supervisor:

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

Jo Smith

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Jo Smith
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Graeme Swindles

Additional Supervisor:

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


Bonsall, C., Macklin, M.G., Anderson, D.E. & Payton, R.W. 2002. Climate change and the adoption of agriculture in north-west Europe. European journal of Archaeology 5, 9-23.
Tipping, R. 2010 The case for climatic stress forcing choice in the adoption of agriculture in the British Isles. In B. Finlayson & G. Warren (eds), Landscapes in Transition, Oxbow, Oxford, 66-77.
Plunkett, G., Brown, D.M. & Swindles, G.T. 2020 Siccitas magna ultra modum: Examining the occurrence and societal impact of droughts in prehistoric Ireland. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 120C, 83–104.


Peatlands are a globally important store of carbon, and are under considerable threats from both land-use and climate change. Records of past carbon accumulation inform our understanding of peatland’s ability to sequester carbon under differing climate regimes. This study will focus on a period in which peatlands were exposed to a warmer/drier climate, and will investigate peatland responses to those changing conditions. Firstly, it will control for human impact (deforestation) as a driving mechanism for the observed changes. Secondly, it will establish the nature and timing of climate change using multiple proxies from the peat and subfossil bog wood. Thirdly, it will consider carbon accumulation, and how this responded to changing climate, including the effects of oak and pine expansion onto bogs. The study will include a range of bogs in Northern Ireland and Scotland, encompassing a region that shares a common climate regime, in order to test replicability of results or identify site-specific factors influencing peatland responses to climate change. The study will contribute to a stronger understanding of peatland processes and their role in carbon capture, and to improving dynamic simulation models of soil organic matter turnover in present day peats.

Proposed Supervision

The project will be supervised primarily by Dr Gill Plunkett (QUB) whose expertise lies in peatland palaeoenvironmental reconstructions and palynological investigations of past land-use and vegetation history. Co-supervision will be provided by Jo Smith (UAber), who specialises in soil organic matter modelling, and Prof. Graeme Swindles (QUB) who will advise on testate amoebae and C analysis, and their interpretation.

Proposed Timetable

Year 1
Literature review. Identification of study sites and fieldwork. Training in lab methods and analysis. Preliminary dating of sequences. Initial analyses of peat sequences. Draft literature review.
Year 2
Ongoing literature review. Completion of any remaining fieldwork. Data collection. Selection and analysis of bog wood samples. Work placement. Advanced drafts of site and methods chapters.
Year 3
Data analysis and modelling. Synthesis of data. Advanced drafts of results chapters. Work placement.
Year 4
 Thesis writing.


  • biodiversity
  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management


This is a CASE sponsored project in partnership with The Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute. Dr. Dario Fornara from AFBI will also contribute to the supervisory team.

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