PhD: The impacts of permafrost degradation on peatland biota and transport infrastructure in the Central Northwest Territories, Canada

Queen's University Belfast

Supervisors: Helen Roe and Tancredi Caruso, Queen’s University of Belfast

External co-supervisors: Stephen Wolfe (Geological Survey of Canada); Tim Patterson (Carleton University, Ottawa)

Rationale and Aims: High-latitude regions have experienced rapid warming in recent decades, which has stimulated dramatic changes in the physical and ecological systems of arctic and boreal regions.  Recent evidence suggests that permafrost has thawed in many areas in response to surface warming, causing significant local damage to transport and other infrastructure.  This project aims to develop novel, integrated methodologies to examine the character, timing and impacts of permafrost degradation in the Canadian subarctic (central Northwest Territories) over the last few hundred years, through the combined analysis of fossil remains of plants and other hydrologically sensitive micro-organisms preserved in sediment cores, and geotechnical, hydro-geological and geophysical analysis of sediments and the underlying geological substrata.  A subsidiary stand of the project will assess the vulnerability of regional road networks to future permafrost collapse via GIS.  Methods: The project will focus on dated sediments cores from the Great Slave region of the central Northwest Territories, including sites that lie within the zone of continuous permafrost, sites in the zone of discontinuous permafrost and controls. The sampling set will further include sites located along a major regional highway that has been impacted by permafrost collapse in the last 15-20 yrs.  Biological proxy analysis will consider evidence for successional changes that attest to permafrost collapse (e.g., changes in Sphagnum community structure), whilst geophysical approaches will explore the changing hydrology and surface elevational changes to the peatlands associated with ice-collapse.  State-of-the-art age-modelling and radiometric dating techniques will be applied to the cores. Interdisciplinarity: the project will be strongly interdisciplinary in focus, integrating techniques from palaeoecology, soil ecology, geophysics as well as GIS, and will be carried out in close liaison with the Canadian Geological Survey and other regional stakeholders.

This project has made a shortlist of projects that have been selected to receive a generous (£25,576 annual salary with fees waived) PhD scholarship funded under a European doctoral training programme – ‘SPaRK – a Horizon2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie training programme that supports interdisciplinary PhD students at Queen’s University Belfast.

This project is one of approx 25 to be shortlisted; 10 of which will be supported based on a candidate-driven selection process.  (i.e. the chances of success for a suitably qualified, well motivated student are high!)

These awards are aimed at International, early stage researchers from any country (note: UK students cannot apply); start date is January 2018.   Candidates must have a strong relevant undergraduate degree and preferably a Masters, and must prepare a short research proposal plus a 3 minute video as part of the application process.

For futher details of the SPaRK doctoral training programme, salary, eligibility and the applications process please see:

** The deadline is fast approaching: 11 August 2017 **

If you know of any interested candidates please ask them to get in touch directly at:

Dr Helen M. Roe
School of Natural and Built Environment
Queen’s University Belfast
Belfast, BT7 1NN
United Kingdom
tel: +44(0) 2890 975148



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