PhD Opportunity at School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

PhD Opportunity at  School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

University of EdinburghThe University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland’s ancient universities. It is regarded as one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university. The University of Edinburgh is ranked 17th in the world by the 2013-14 and 2014-15 QS rankings.

Summary: Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, the United States Forest Service, and the WCS have agreed to fund and support a PhD studentship working in the Bateke landscape, Congo. The student will set up field experiments, vegetation plots, and use satellite image analysis to quantify the relationships between fire intensity/frequency, woody cover and aboveground biomass. The results will be immediately used by the WCS to promote better management of this area to enhance biodiversity and carbon storage, as well as driving forward basic scientific research in this understudied ecosystem.

Topic: Investigating the effect of fire dynamics on aboveground carbon storage in the Bateke landscape, Congo

  • Fully funded studentship for 3.5 years, funded jointly by the United States Forest Service and the University of Edinburgh School of GeoSciences.
  • Open to UK and EU applicants only.

Preferred Start Date: 1st January 2015

Project Background: The Bateke plateau is a savanna-covered plateau surrounded to the west, north and east by tropical rainforest. It is located principally in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), though also extends into Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This area is burned frequently, with most areas burning annually. Most burns are believed to be started anthropogenically, for reasons such as:

  • To clear vegetation around villages
  • To clear areas for agriculture
  • To encourage a flush of grass for grazing
  • To assist with hunting
  • Accidentally

Project Activities: This PhD project would experimentally test this idea using field experiments, historical satellite analyses, and potentially modelling approaches.

Funding: This is a well-funded project, support jointly by the US Forest Service and the University of Edinburgh, with logistical support provided by the WCS. The student would receive an annual tax-free stipend of approximately £14,000 a year, and all University fees would be paid. There is additional budget for research and fieldwork costs (£3000 per year), and furthermore the WCS has committed to providing logistical support in-country in Congo during field seasons. The student would be expected to do some teaching with the School of Geosciences each year, as a condition
of the 50 % School funding.

Research Training: The excellence of the PhD training environment offered by the School of GeoSciences has been recognised by award of the E3 (Edinburgh Earth and Environment) NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. A comprehensive training programme will be provided for the student comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. The student would receive specialist training in GIS and Remote Sensing, and other specialist techniques as required.

Requirements: An excellent BSc degree in Ecology, Biology, Environmental Science, Forestry, Physical Geography or a related discipline, or equivalent. An MSc in a field related to the subject of the PhD, particularly ecology or GIS/remote sensing, would be helpful, but is not required. Candidates should have strong quantitative skills, have significant experience of fieldwork, and enjoy working in remote and challenging environments. An ability to speak French is highly desirable; a candidate who does not speak French could still apply, but should be prepared to take an intensive French course over their first year of study to require a sufficient level of competence quickly. The position is open to UK and EU applicants only; applicants from outside the EU would need significant external funding.


  • Dr Edward Mitchard and Dr Casey Ryan, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh
    Dr Tim Rayden, Wildlife Conservation Society – Congo
  • Potential for further supervisor from the US Forest Service; certain supervisory input from within the USFS
    Primary supervisor email:


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