Project code



School of the Environment Geography and Geosciences

Start dates

February and October

Closing date

Applications accepted all year round

This 3-year self-funded PhD will be based in the School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences and will be supervised by Dr Sabine Wulf and Dr Mark Hardiman.

The work on this project will include:

  • establish a detailed tephrostratigraphic framework for the Holocene and Lateglacial periods from terrestrial records in central-southern England
  • identify intervals of abrupt climate change in these records and provide high-resolution multi-proxy data for these intervals
  • identify common tephras that can be used to establish detailed comparisons with high-resolution proxy records from continental Europe
  • better understand spatiotemporal lead/lag-phase relationships of environmental and vegetation responses during past abrupt climatic changes
  • test theories of tephra dispersal pattern across the British Isles

In light of current global warming, there is an increasing interest in understanding mechanisms and phasing between abrupt climate change and environmental responses. High-resolution terrestrial sediment records provide this type of information if analyzed by a similar multi-proxy approach, and if directly linked to other valuable records.

Common tephra (volcanic ash) layers are ideal for providing such isochrones to comparing palaeoclimate data on a regional to over-regional scale. First examples for data synchronizations exist from Lateglacial records across continental Europe, and reveal the idea of complex spatiotemporal lead/lag-phase relationships of environmental responses to abrupt climate changes.

The British Isles are located in a key climatic-transitional zone between the North Atlantic regions and dry continental Europe, and have received a fair amount of tephra fallout mainly from Icelandic and subordinately from Italian and North American explosive eruptions throughout the Lateglacial and Holocene periods.

Nevertheless, synchronisation of palaeoclimate data has not yet been undertaken, mainly because of the fact that British palaeoclimate records with well-established tephrochronologies either lack published high-resolution multi-proxy data for this time interval (e.g., Scotland, Ireland, Wales), or that tephrostratigraphies for longer records in southern England have not yet been established due to methodological limitations at the time of investigations. The recent advances of cryptotephra identification, however, are proposed to overcome these limitations.

During this 3-year PhD project, detailed cryptotephra studies will be obtained from several key sites in central-southern England to construct a detailed tephrostratigraphic framework for the Lateglacial and Holocene period in this region.

Tephra studies will be sought, and will be accompanied by high-resolution multi-proxy analysis for selected intervals of abrupt climate change, including, for example, XRF elemental scanning, charcoal and pollen analyses, to enable comparisons with published and evolving palaeoclimate data from continental Europe.

The successful candidate will receive training in peat and sediment coring, as well as laboratory techniques including sediment processing, LOI, and tephra glass shard identification, high and low-powered microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Electron Probe Microanalyses (EPMA), LA-ICP-MS, geochemical tephra data evaluation and age-depth modelling.

Training for high-resolution XRF scanning, charcoal and pollen analyses will also be undertaken in cooperation with department-based and external researchers.

Fees and funding

Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

Bench fees

Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.

Entry Requirements

  • You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university ( first or upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in geography or related subject area
  • In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications
  • English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0
  • We’d welcome applications from strong and independently working candidates
  • You should have previous knowledge of cryptotephra identification and motivation to refine current techniques

How to apply

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Geography (Physical and Human) PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.