Melanie Kingsbury

PhD Research Student

MSc. Biology, Queen’s University Kingston, Canada (2010)
BSc. (hons) Biology/ Anthropology, Trent University Peterborough, Canada (1999)

Supervisors: Dr. Robert McCulloch, Dr. Eileen Tisdall, Dr. Andrew Dugmore

Start Date: 1st October 2013

3A124A Cottrell Building
Biological & Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Natural Sciences
University of Stirling
Stirling, Scotland, FK9 4LA

tel: +44 (0)1786 466542
fax: +(44) 1786 467843 

Research Project

Providing continuous environmental reconstruction of the early Holocene climate and landscape in the Scottish North Atlantic Islands through high resolution, quantitative analysis of pollen and diatoms.

The Northern Scottish Islands in the Atlantic Ocean are located in a unique transitional area between the Atlantic and the North Sea, on the edge of deep ocean and the European continental shelf, and are heavily influenced climatically by the North Atlantic current and the Shelf Edge Current (Bigelow et al. 2005).  The islands have been subjected to extreme shifts in climate over thousands of years as a result of changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation and thermohaline current which currently brings warm water from the tropics.  It has been predicted that these currents could change in the future due to melting seas ice and other climate forcing, which in turn will alter the present climate regime (Bigg 2003).  The majority of research into past climates in this region has been constrained to archaeological sites and can be discontinuous  due to the episodic nature of study sites (Bigelow et al. 2005) or at a low temporal resolution which would not detect changes over shorter time-scales (Nesje et al. 2004). 

I propose to examine lakes from Shetland and Orkney to provide the context of the overall changes that have occurred in this region during the early Holocene.  For this study, lakes will be sampled for pollen, diatoms, and a suite of geomorphological variables.  Pollen and diatoms have established sensitivities to different indicators and will be used in conjunction with other variables to explore the following questions: i) Provide more detail to the timing of events determined by pollen records by using different proxies, and to determine (if possible) what dominant environmental variables may be driving these responses; ii) Determine if changes correlate to sea ice cover, alterations of sea currents or storm events from published data; iii) Provide a continuous palaeoenvironmental record to reconstruct the changing physical and cultural landscape in the region.  The results will integrated into existing palaeoenvironmental records from other locales (Northern Scotland, Greenland, Iceland, The Faroe Islands, and Norway).

This project will provide high-resolution records of palaeoclimate and the changing landscape for the region, thus determining if localized events at occupation sites coincides with regional climate changes.  Having a better understanding on how the climate changed in the past at a higher resolution in the North Atlantic Ocean and the subsequent terrestrial response will aid in the development of models for predicting future events on a more regional scale.


Bigelow GF, Ferrante SM, Hall ST, et al. (2005) Researching Catastrophic Environmental Changes on Northern Coastlines: A Geoarchaeological Case Study from the Shetland Islands. Arctic Anthropol 42:88–102.

Bigg GR (2003) The Oceans and Climate, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Nesje A, Dahl SO, Bakke J (2004) Were abrupt Lateglacial and early-Holocene climatic changes in northwest Europe linked to freshwater outbursts to the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans? The Holocene 14:299–310.

Funding Acknowledgements

 3 year NSERC (National Science and Engineering Research Council) of Canada Postgraduate Scholarship.

© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
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