PhD Studentship: Causes and Effects of Abrupt Climate Change on Tropical Biodiversity - Geography (NERC GW4+ DTP Funded)

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Main Supervisor: Dr. Dunia H. Urrego, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Richard D. Pancost, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Toby Penington Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Project description:

Our planet has experienced multiple events of rapid climate change during the past 100,000 years that are known to affect the whole globe. The propagation of these climate events between regions is however still controversial. Some research suggests that the oceans are the key driver transmitting the signal of abrupt climate events from temperate regions to the rest of the planet. Other research indicates that both the ocean and atmosphere propagate the signal from the tropics to the temperate regions. To disentangle this controversy we need to quantify the signature of abrupt climate events in the tropical regions and to integrate climate reconstructions from the land and from the ocean. This project will combine fieldwork observations, analysis of plant microfossils, biogeochemistry and statistical modelling to quantify the signature of two abrupt climate events in the American tropics.

Project Aims and Methods

The main aim of this project is to investigate land-sea climate correlations during two abrupt climate events. Sedimentary sequences will be used to reconstruct climate changes from the land and from the ocean between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago. Climate reconstructions from the ocean will be based on sea surface temperature estimates using the geochemical marker Uk37. Climate reconstructions from the land will be based on fossil-pollen and charcoal records. This project includes two field campaigns to South America when the student will perform biodiversity assessments in different biomes and collect soil/moss samples. The data collected in the field will be used to assess vegetation-pollen relationships and will inform the interpretation of palaeorecords. Phase relationships between oceanic and land changes will be constrained using Bayesian probability models.


The project is suitable for candidates with a first degree in the physical sciences and a desire to develop field, laboratory and modelling skills. For field trips, some knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is desirable but not required.

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2018 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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