Self-funded PhD opportunities

The methodology of paleo-environmental reconstruction

  • Application end date: Applications accepted all year round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: Department of Geography
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr L Cunningham

Research Project Code - GEOG1311015

The Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth has several positions for doctoral (PhD) research available for three years (full-time) for suitably qualified candidates to start in February or October 2016 (UK or EU students only). Applicants are invited to submit a research proposal in the area of past environmental change (including both past climate change and human impacts). 

Dr Laura Cunningham (see would welcome applications from students interested in the methodology of paleo-environmental reconstruction, particularly the creation, validation and use of diatom calibration models and infrared spectroscopy. 

Infrared spectroscopy is an analytical method whereby the reflectance of light from a surface is used to determine information about the sample. This method has been widely used within the pharmaceutical industry as cheap and effective method of quality assurance. Recently, this method has been applied to the analysis of lake sediments and calibration models developed which enable the amount of organic carbon, inorganic carbon, nitrogen and biogenic silica within the sediments to be determined. These variables can provide important information pertaining to the nutrient status, productivity and even climatic conditions of the water-body at the time the sediment was deposited. The advantages of this method, relative to more traditional analyses, are that it is quicker, cheaper and has a higher reproducibility of results. I am interested in further developing the calibrations models, as well as expanding the range of parameters that can be inferred as well as developing calibration models for marine sediments. 

Diatoms have often been used to reconstruct past conditions of lakes, including pH, climate, nutrient status and salinity. Such models typically rely on spatial calibration sets, however, some recent research suggests that reconstructions derived from such models do not always compare well to monitoring data. There is considerable scope to develop research plans examining this issue, and whether site specific calibration models may offer more accurate alternatives. Furthermore, such research could encompass detailed studies of how current change is preserved within sedimentary records, and the implications of this for paleo-environmental research. 
There is also potential to assess how microclimate variability influences the sensitivity of paleoclimate reconstructions in the Arctic (in collaboration with Dr Nick Pepin). 

Staff web pages also provide more information on individual research interests and the specific projects that staff members have recently undertaken The department also advertises research themes for Masters projects (MRes Science) – see the pdf for Geography under Course structure at 

Applicants for the PhD programme are expected to have a good first degree (minimum upper second class Honours degree or equivalent) and ideally a Masters (or equivalent) in a relevant subject area. Non-accredited research and skills training is available through the University-wide Graduate School. If you so wish, you may discuss your ideas informally with Dr Laura Cunningham (tel: 02392 842513: e-mail: ) or We will also be happy to answer any questions regarding the application process. 

How to apply:

To apply or make an enquiry, please visit postgraduate research: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Applications should use our standard application forms and follow the instructions given under the ‘Research Degrees’ heading on the following webpage:

When applying please note the project code - GEOG1311015

Alternatively you may receive a hard copy by contacting the Faculty of Science, Postgraduate Admissions Office, St. Michael's Building, White Swan Road, Portsmouth, PO1 2DT. Tel: +44 (0)23 9284 5550. 

Application Deadline: As appropriate 

Funding Notes:

Periodically, funded positions (including tuition and maintenance grant) become available, and when this is the case, it the funded positions will be advertised on this website. For other applications (welcome at any time) tuition fees will be payable for three years, full-time study (£3,996 per year – UK and EU students only).