Research Experience Placements Scheme (REPS) at the University of Liverpool

The NERC Research Experience Placement (REPS) scheme aims to address both thematic skills gaps as well as demographic and diversity-related challenges in the environmental sciences by offering funding to support paid summer placements for undergraduate students, during which they will carry out research projects within the scope of the environmental sciences.

ACCE has two placements available for Summer 2022 at the University of Liverpool.

Placements will be paid (minimum £9.50 per hour), with £500 provided for research costs, and can be undertaken full- or part-time. There are no further funds available for relocation or living expenses and students must be resident in the UK during the placement. Successful students and supervisors will be required to complete a report on the outcome of the placement.

Eligibility criteria

Students must be:

  • Undertaking their first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters). Note that students in their final year who have already graduated, are not eligible.
  • Eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding – please see here for details of eligibility for PhD studentships.

Applications

The deadline for applications is 5.00pm on Friday 24th June 2022.

In order to be considered for a placement, please apply to the main supervisor providing the following:

  • A cover letter detailing your motivation to apply
  • A recent CV
  • A reference from your personal tutor/academic advisor
  • An interim transcript if available

Please also complete the online EDI form (this form is a recommended part of the application process, but contains ‘prefer not to say’ options for all questions asked).

Selection process

  • Applications are screened for eligibility
  • Supervisors nominate candidates for confirmation by the host organisation ACCE REP panel.

Candidates will be selected according to the following criteria:

  • Fit to project
  • Enthusiasm for environmental research
  • Potential interest in research career
  • Fit to identified skills gaps.

Successful candidates will be informed as soon as possible after the closing date.

Available Research Projects

There are two projects available for Summer 2022. Please see below for the descriptions.

If you have any questions about the project, please contact the main supervisor directly.

Project 1

Project Title: Investigating climate responses of seed dispersal using Pieter-the-seed-eater

Host Department: Geography and Planning, School of Environmental Sciences

Supervisor details: Dr Andrew Hacket-Pain (andrew.hacket-pain@liverpool.ac.uk)

Duration: 8 weeks

Project summary: Introduction
Trees must track changes in climate by spreading and migrating across landscapes. An individual tree’s contribution to a population’s migration depends on the number of seeds it produces, how effectively they are dispersed, and their chance of establishment on landing. In this project we will investigate variation in seed traits that are related to dispersal and establishment, with respect to climate. We will study populations where we know trees are producing more seeds in response to climate warming (Bogdziewicz et al., 2020), but where we do not know whether the crucial seed traits that control dispersal and establishment are also changing.

Objectives
O1: Quantify the degree of intraspecific variation in seed traits related to dispersal, germination, and establishment

O2: Test for differences in seed traits and dispersal ability associated with changes in seed production patterns of individual trees and local environmental conditions

Summary of proposed experimental work
The project will leverage an existing archive of beech seeds collected. Samples have been archived over 10 years, covering a period where we know that seed production patterns are changing rapidly in response to climate warming. For a random sample of 5 seeds per tree, for each of 10 years, the student will measure seed size, morphology and mass. Then, for the same seeds, the students will measure terminal velocity, a key trait determining dispersal potential in wind-dispersed species. Then they will be trained to develop a mixed model that tests whether key seed traits vary between individuals according to individual change in seed production patterns, controlling for potential effects of site and tree size. 

Research training for the student
The student will be trained by Dr Andrew Hacket-Pain in laboratory techniques associated with seed trait measurements (e.g., size, morphology and mass). Then they will be trained by Dr Pen Holland to calibrate “Pieter-the-seed-eater”, a Raspberry Pi-based device for measuring the terminal velocity of seeds (Wyse et al 2019). Under the supervision of Dr Andrew Hacket-Pain, they will then use Pieter to measure the terminal velocity of each seed, and relate this to the measured seed traits. The student will gain experience in Python programming through the use of Pieter, and R for modelling and data analysis/presentation. This project is intended to lead to a publication.

The studied populations will be visited during July-August as part of a separate project. While not directly related to this project, the student will have the opportunity to join this fieldwork to gain further training and experience in tree-ring sampling, working as part of a small research team including undergraduate and postgraduate researchers, and their ACCE PhD mentor.

References

Bogdziewicz… and Hacket-Pain (2020). Nature Plants, 6, 88-94

Wyse, Hulme and Holland (2019). Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 10, 1298-1307

Project 2

Project Title: Deriving the first depositional ages for sands beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and revealing the past ice-free environments

Host Department: Geography and Planning, School of Environmental Sciences

Supervisor details: Dr Rachel Smedley (rachel.smedley@liv.ac.uk)

Duration: 8 weeks

Introduction: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet stores a considerable volume of freshwater on land that would contribute to sea-level rise if rising temperatures led to ice melt. It is thought that the WAIS collapsed during past warm interglacial periods, causing global sea levels to rise by ~3.3 m (Bamber et al. 2009, Science). However, this is poorly constrained due a complete lack of geochronological evidence. The Berkner Island ice core provides a unique record of past climate and environmental change in the Weddell Sea region. A thick layer of quartz-rich, ice-soaked sand was recovered from ca. 948 m depth by the British Antarctica Survey (BAS) (Mulvaney) at the base of the Berkner Island ice core. This appears to be similar to quartz-rich ‘dune’ sands found in marine cores from the nearby Berkner Bank (Rex et al., 1970). The palaeoenvironmental significance of the marine sand deposits has never been fully realised, largely because they remain undated. Rex et al. (1970; p. 3471) summarised their potential importance as follows: “ … if datable material could be found in the shallow sediments of Berkner Bank, we might have our first evidence of the last time that Antarctica was sufficiently deglaciated to permit wave action along the coast …”. Therefore, if the depositional age of the sands can be determined, we can constrain the last time that West Antarctica was ice- free, and thus, address the uncertainty in whether the ice sheet collapsed during past warm interglacial periods, which will then allow us to account for past global sea-level rise. This project will perform luminescence dating and sedimentological analyses on sand extracted from the base of the Berkner Island ice core to establish its age and the mode of sediment deposition, which can provide new insights into the environmental context at this time.

Aim: To determine when West Antarctica was ice-free in the past and the prevailing environmental conditions at this time. Objectives: (1) Establish age constraints for the Berkner Island ice core basal sand using luminescence dating; (2) Perform sedimentological/geochemical analysis to determine depositional processes and provenance of the basal sand; (3) Provide key information on past ice sheet extent and thickness for palaeoclimate, ice sheet and glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) models for the Weddell Sea region.

Summary of proposed experimental work: Luminescence dating can determine the time that has elapsed since sand grains (quartz or K-feldspar) were last exposed to sunlight (see Smedley, 2018, Elements for a review). Environmental radiation accumulates a luminescence signal that is proportional to the time of exposure since the last exposure to light, known as the resetting (or bleaching) event. The total radiation dose received by sediments since bleaching can be measured in the laboratory to determine an equivalent dose value. Once the environmental dose rate during burial is evaluated from field and laboratory measurements, a luminescence age can be calculated as equivalent dose/environmental does rate. Preliminary luminescence measurements undertaken on the Berkner Island ice core and Berkner Bank sands that had been previously exposed to light revealed that that the sand grains were sufficiently sensitive for luminescence dating.

Sedimentological analyses will also be performed to understand the depositional events that the sand was deposited in. Preliminary grain size and bulk geochemical analysis of the Berkner Island Ice Core Sand showed it could have been deposited in a glacial and/or subaerial aeolian environment. Further detailed sedimentological, grain morphology analysis (e.g., optical and scanning-electron microscopy, SEM) of quartz grains and other minerals in the Berkner Island Ice Core sand deposit will be used.

Timeline: 8 weeks in total from 25th July 2022.

Research training: The student will be given the option to visit the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge to assist with sediment sampling and see the sediment core. They will also gain new skills in novel laboratory techniques and data analysis, in addition to data interpretation whilst collaborating with BAS scientists. This will allow them to gain networking and project management skills, in addition to the scientific skills.

References: Bamber et al. 2009. Science, 32,901-903. Rex et al., 1970. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 81,3465-3472. Smedley et al. 2018. Elements, 14,9-14.

%d bloggers like this: