Dr Philippa Ascough, MRSC, FSA(scot)

Role: Head of NRCF (East Kilbride) 

Dr Philippa Ascough

Contact details:

Email: philippa.ascough@glasgow.ac.uk

Tel: +44 (0)1355 270179 (direct dial) +44(0)1355 223332 (Reception)

Research interests

  • Global Environmental Change,
  • Pyrogenic carbon,
  • Human-Environment Interactions,
  • Marine and Freshwater reservoir effects


PA in Australia


PA in Iceland

My research has taken me from the lab to fieldwork in regions covering the Sub-Arctic to the tropics. In this I have applied both established and new techniques- for example I pioneered the application of hydropyrolysis (first applied by Colin Snape at Nottingham) in isolation of fire-derived or ‘Pyrogenic/ Black Carbon’ from environmental matrices. This work has led to ongoing projects investigating source-to-sink transfer of carbon between land and ocean, and tracing the enigmatic role of Black Carbon in air pollution (see below). I am always happy to hear from potential students, postdoctoral appointments, or collaborators.‌


BSc Environmental Archaeology (Edinburgh)

PhD Geoscience (Edinburgh)

Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Selected Publications

Ascough P.L, Bird M.I, Meredith W, Snape C, Tilston E, Apperley D, Bernabé A, Shen L. 2018. Dynamics of Charcoal Alteration in a Tropical Biome: A Biochar-Based Study. Frontiers in Earth Science.

Alves, E. Q., Macario, K., Ascough, P.,& Bronk Ramsey, C. (2018).The worldwide marine radiocarbon reservoir effect: Definitions, mechanisms, and prospects. Reviews of Geophysics, 56.https://doi.org/10.1002/2017RG000588 

Santín C, Doerr SH, Merino A, Bucheli TD, Bryant R,  Ascough P, Gao X, Masiello CA. 2017. Carbon sequestration potential and physicochemical properties differ between wildfire charcoals and slow-pyrolysis biochars. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 11233 doi:10.1038/s41598-017-10455-2

Bird M, McBeath AV, Ascough PL, Levchenko VA, Wurster CM, Munksgaard NC, Smernik RJ,  Williams A. 2017. Loss and gain of carbon during char degradation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 106, 80-89.

Sayle KL, Hamilton WD, Cook GT, Ascough PL, Gestsdóttir H, McGovern TH. 2016. Deciphering Diet and Monitoring Movement: Multiple Stable Isotope Analysis of the Viking Age Settlement at Hofstaðir, Lake Mývatn, Iceland. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 160 (1),126-36. doi:10.1002/ajpa.22939 

Meredith W, Ascough PL, Bird M I, Large DJ, Snape CE, Sun, Y, Tilston EL. 2012. Assessment of hydropyrolysis as a method for the quantification of black carbon using standard reference materials. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 97, 131-147. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2012.08.037.

Examples of current projects

Where on Earth is the fire-derived carbon stored?


This is a major project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation CHF 815,696 (£599,364), running 2018-2021 in collaboration with researchers at the University of Zurich. Fire-derived or pyrogenic carbon (PyC) is one of the largest reservoirs of carbon on Earth, yet is one of the most poorly understood. This is important because PyC is also one of the longest-lived forms of organic carbon on Earth, and therefore is a key part of the global carbon cycle.

Developing a new chemical link between composition, abundance and sources of black carbon in a major urban environment

This isa NERC-funded project (2017-2020) in collaboration with the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Air Monitors (<https://www.airmonitors.co.uk.  Air pollution is a persistent problem in the UK today, resulting in an estimated 40,000 deaths every year across the country. Pollution and its effects are greatest in our large urban centres, including cities such as London, Birmingham and Glasgow, where poor air quality has featured for over a century. PA_ChinaThis project focuses on one of the most poorly-understood fractions of air pollution, known as Black Carbon (BC). This material is the carbon-rich, highly condensed, particulate matter from biomass and fossil fuel burning, also known as soot, char and charcoal. Our lack of knowledge stems firstly from serious problems in reliably isolating, quantifying, and chemically investigating this major air pollutant. Secondly, there is a lack of systematic studies linking atmospheric BC dynamics with its deposition in environmental records such as soils. In this project, we will apply novel analytical techniques and approaches allowing us to reliably isolate BC on a secure chemical basis for the first time. In this way, we will probe the source, abundance and fate of contemporary and historic BC pollution across the city of Glasgow in aerosol and soil samples. The project outcomes will include an entirely new understanding of the lifecycle of urban BC over short, medium, and long timescales, which can be applied to air pollution mitigation measures.

PhD supervision

2016-                Juliet Sefton (University of Durham). Durham Studentship. ‘Using mangroves to reconstruct Holocene sea-level changes'

2016-               Magdelena Blantz (University of Highlands and Islands). EU Funding. ‘Seaweed as food and fodder in the North Atlantic Islands: past, present and future                              opportunities’.

2016-               Allan Cochrane, NERC, 'Environmental records of the Late-glacial / Inter-glacial transition in the Northern Isles

2015-             Angela Rawlings (University of Glasgow). Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Studentship. ‘Performing Geochronology and Sustainability along Scotland’s Western Seaboard: Deep Time and Sustainable Futures’

2014–              Jessica Bownes: (SUERC). AHRC. ‘Questions of Diet and Chronology in the Scottish Mesolithic-Neolithic transition’

2008–2011      Nicola Russell, (SUERC). NERC. ‘The Scottish Holocene Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect’


2018                                   Scientific committee, 23nd International Radiocarbon Conference

2017                                   Radiocarbon and Diet 2017 Scientific Advisory Committee 

2016 – Present                 Member of the Scottish Archaeology Research Framework 

2015 - Present                  Peer review panel, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland 

2015 – Present                 Review Editor, Frontiers in Earth Science

2014 - Present                  Expert Reviewer for the Australian National Research Council

Full publication list

  • Ascough P, Church M, Cook G. 2016. Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effects for the Mesolithic and Medieval Periods in the Western Isles of Scotland. Accepted for publication in Radiocarbon.
  • Tilston, E.L., Ascough, P.L., Garnett, M.H., and Bird, M.I. 2016. Quantifying charcoal degradation and negative priming of soil organic matter with a radiocarbon-dead tracer. Radiocarbon, (Accepted for Publication). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/RDC.2016.45
  • Ascough PL, Bird MI, Meredith W, Snape C. 2016. Dates and fates of pyrogenic carbon: using spectroscopy to understand a “missing” global carbon sink. Spectroscopy Europe 28 (2), 6-9.


  • Sayle KL, Hamilton WD, Cook GT, Ascough PL, Gestsdóttir H, McGovern TH. 2016. Deciphering Diet and Monitoring Movement: Multiple Stable Isotope Analysis of the Viking Age Settlement at Hofstaðir, Lake Mývatn, Iceland. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 160 (1),126-36.
  • Brewington S, Hicks M, Edwald Á, Einarsson Á, Anamthawat-Jónsson K, Cook G, Ascough P, Sayle KL, Arge SV, Church M, Bond J, Dockrill S, Friðriksson A, Hambrecht G, Juliusson AD, Hreinsson V, Hartman S, Smiarowski K, Harrison R, McGovern TH. 2015. Islands of change vs. islands of disaster: Managing pigs and birds in the Anthropocene of the North Atlantic. The Holocene 25, 1676-1684.
  • Shanks RP, Ascough PL, Dougans A, Gallacher P, Gulliver P, Rood DH, Xu S, Freeman SPTH. 2015. Performance of the rebuilt SUERC single-stage accelerator mass spectrometer. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, 361, 76-79
  • Saiz G, Bird M, Wurster C, Quesada C. A., Ascough P., Domingues T., Schrodt F., Schwarz M., Feldpausch T. R., Veenendaal E., Djagbletey G., Jacobsen G., Hien F., Compaore H., Diallo A., Lloyd J. 2015. The influence of C3 and C4 vegetation on soil organic matter dynamics in contrasting semi-natural tropical ecosystems. Biogeosciences 12, 5041-5059.
  • Washbourne C-L, Lopez-Capel E, Renforth P, Ascough PL, Manning DAC. 2015. Rapid removal of atmospheric CO2 by urban soils. Environmental Science and Technology.  49, 5434−5440, doi 10.1021/es505476d.
  • Russell N, Cook GT, Ascough PL, Scott EM. 2015. A period of calm in Scottish seas: A comprehensive study of ΔR values for the northern British Isles coast and the consequent implications for archaeology and oceanography. Quaternary Geochronology 30, 34-41
  • Cook GT, Ascough PL, Bonsall C, Hamilton WD, Russell N, Sayle KL, Bownes JM, Scott EM. 2015 Best Practice Methodology for 14C Calibration of Marine and Mixed Terrestrial/Marine Samples, Quaternary Geochronology 27, 164–171, doi: 10.1016/j.quageo.2015.02.024.
  • Ascough PL, Church MJ, Cook GT, Einarsson Á, McGovern TH, Dugmore AJ, Edwards KJ. 2014. Stable isotopic (δ13C and δ15N) characterization of key faunal resources from Norse period settlements in North Iceland. The Journal of the North Atlantic 7, 25-42.
  • Sayle K L, Cook GT, Ascough PL, Gestsdóttir H, Hamilton WD, McGovern TH. 2014.  Utilisation of δ13C, δ15N and δ34S analyses to understand 14C-dating anomalies within a Viking Age community in north-east Iceland. Radiocarbon 56 (2), 811-821.
  • Bird MI, Levchenko V, Ascough P, Meredith W, Wurster CM, Williams A, Tilston EL, Snape CE, Apperley D. (2014). The efficiency of charcoal decontamination for radiocarbon dating by three pre-treatments – ABOX, ABA and hypy. Quaternary Geochronology 22, 25–32.
  • Church MJ, Arge SV, Edwards KJ, Ascough PL, Bond JM, Cook GT, Dockrill SJ, Dugmore AJ, McGovern TH, Nesbitt C, Simpson IA. 2013. The Vikings were not the first colonizers of the Faroe Islands. Quaternary Science Reviews 77, 228–232.
  • Sayle K L, Cook GT, Ascough PL, Hastie H, Einarsson Á, Hicks MT, McGovern TH, Edwald A, Friðriksson A.  2013. Application of multi-isotope analysis to establish isotope baselines around Lake Mývatn, Iceland. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 120, 531-544.
  • Clark K.E., Hilton R. G., West A.J., Malhi Y., Grocke D.R., Bryant C.L., Ascough P.L., Robles A.C., New M. 2013. Source of particulate organic carbon eroded from the Peruvian Andes: Implications for carbon delivery to the Amazon River. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 14, 1644-1649.
  • Meredith W, Ascough PL, Bird MI, D.J. Large, Snape CE, Song J, Sun, Y, Tilston EL. 2013.  Direct evidence from hydropyrolysis for the retention of paraffinic structures in black carbon fractions isolated by acidified dichromate oxidation. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 103, 232-239.
  • Ascough PL. 2012. Marine Reservoir Effects: Problems and Prospects for Radiocarbon Dating. In: A. Campar Almeida, et al. (Eds.). Environmental Changes and Human Interaction Along the Western Atlantic Edge. Proceedings of International Portuguese Quaternary Association Meeting. Sersilito-Empresa Gráfica, Lda.
  • Meredith W, Ascough PL, Bird M I, Large DJ, Snape CE, Sun, Y, Tilston EL. 2012. Assessment of hydropyrolysis as a method for the quantification of black carbon using standard reference materials. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 97, 131-147. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2012.08.037.
  • Ascough PL, Church MJ, Cook GT, Dunbar E, Gestsdóttir H, McGovern TH, Dugmore AJ, Friðriksson A, Edwards KJ. 2012. Radiocarbon reservoir effects in human bone collagen from northern Iceland. Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (7), 2261-2271. doi:org/10.1016/j.jas.2012.02.012. 
  • Bird MI, Ascough PL. 2012. Isotopes in pyrogenic carbon: a review. Organic Geochemistry 42, 1529-1539.
  • Ascough PL, Bird M I, Francis SM, Thornton B, Midwood A, Scott AC, Apperley D. 2011. Variability in oxidative degradation of charcoal: influence of production variables and environmental exposure. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 75 (9), 2361-2378.
  • Ascough PL, Cook GT, Hastie H, Dunbar E, Church MJ, Einarsson Á, McGovern TH, Dugmore AJ. 2011. An Icelandic Freshwater Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect: Implications for lacustrine 14C chronologies. The Holocene 21 (7), 1073-1080.
  • Ascough PL, Bird M I, Francis SM, Lebl T. 2011. Alkali extraction of archaeological and geological charcoal: Evidence for diagenetic degradation and formation of humic acids. Journal of Archaeological Science 38, 69-78.
  • Russell N, Cook GT, Ascough P, Barrett JH, Dugmore A. 2011. Species specific Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect: A comparison of ΔR values between Patella vulgata (limpet) shell carbonate and Gadus morhua (Atlantic cod) bone collagen. Journal of Archaeological Science 38 (5), 1008-1015
  • Baker A, Gulliver P, Ascough P, Roe J, Bridgeman J. 2011. Assessing the effect of sterilization on the radiocarbon signature of freshwater dissolved organic carbon. Radiocarbon 53 (4) 659-667.
  • Russell N, Cook GT, Ascough PL, Scott EM, Dugmore AJ. 2011. Examining the inherent variability in ΔR:  New methods of presenting ΔR values and implications for MRE studies. Radiocarbon 53 (2), 277-288.
  • Ahad JME, Ganeshram RS, Bryant CL,Cisneros-Dozal M, Ascough PL, Fallick AE, Slater GF. 2011. Sources of n-alkanes in an organic-rich, urbanized estuary: Insights from molecular distributions and compound-specific isotopes. Marine Chemistry 126, 239-249.
  • Ascough P, Bird MI, Scott AE, Collinson ME, Cohen-Ofri I, Snape CE, le Manquais K. 2010. Charcoal reflectance measurements: Implications for structural characterization and assessment of diagenetic alteration. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37 (7), 1590-1599.
  • Ascough PL, Bird MI, Meredith W, Wood RE, Snape CE, Brock F, Higham TFG, Large DJ, Apperley DC. 2010. Hydropyrolysis: Implications for radiocarbon pre-treatment and characterization of Black Carbon. Radiocarbon 52 (3), 1336-1350.
  • Ascough PL, Cook GT, Church MJ, Dunbar E, Einarsson Á, McGovern TH, Dugmore AJ, Perdikaris S, Hastie H, Friðriksson A, Gestsdóttir H. 2010. Temporal and Spatial Variations in Freshwater 14C Reservoir Effects:  Lake Myvatn, Northern Iceland. Radiocarbon 52, 1098-1112.
  • Ascough P, Sturrock CJ, Bird MI. 2010. Investigation of growth responses in saprophytic fungi to charred biomass. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies, 46 (1), 64–77.
  • Bird MI, Charville-Mort PD, Ascough PL, Wood R, Higham T, Apperley D. 2010. Oxygen plasma ashing as a rapid, reagent-free pre-treatment for radiocarbon dating. Quaternary Geochronology 5, 435-442.
  • Wurster C, McFarlane D, Bird M, Ascough P, Beavan Athfield N. 2010. Stable isotopes from subfossil bat guano as a long-term environmental archive: insights from a Grand Canyon cave deposit. The Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 72 (2), 111-121.
  • Russell N, Cook GT, Ascough P, Dugmore A. 2010. Spatial variation in the MRE throughout the Scottish Post-Roman to Late Medieval period: North Sea values (500 – 1350BP). Radiocarbon 52, 1166-1181.
  • Naysmith P, Cook GT, Freeman SPHT, Scott E.M, Anderson R, Xu S, Dunbar E, Muir GKP, Dougans A, Wilcken K, Schnabel C, Russell N,  Ascough PL, Maden C. 2010. 14C AMS Measurements at SUERC: Improving QA Data from the 5 MV Tandem AMS and 250 kV SSAMS. Radiocarbon 52, 263-271.
  • Ascough P, Cook GT, Dugmore AJ. 2009. North Atlantic Marine 14C Reservoir Effects: implications for late-Holocene chronological studies. Quaternary Geochronology 4 (3), 171-180.
  • Ascough PL, Bird MI, Brock F, Higham TFG, Meredith W, Snape C, Vane CH. 2009. Hydropyrolysis as a new tool for radiocarbon pretreatment and the quantification of black carbon. Quaternary Geochronology 4 (2), 140-147.
  • Wurster CM., Bird MI, Bull I, Bryant C, Ascough P. 2009. A protocol for radiocarbon dating tropical sub-fossil cave guano. Radiocarbon 51 (3), 977-986.
  • Ascough P, Bird MI, Wormald P, Snape CE, Apperley D. 2008. Influence of pyrolysis variables and starting material on charcoal stable isotopic and molecular characteristics. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 72 (24), 6090-6102.
  • Bird MI, Ascough PL, Young IM, Wood CV. 2008. X-Ray Microtomographic Imaging of Charcoal. Journal of Archaeological Science. 35 (10), 2698-2706.  
  • Ascough PL, Cook GT, Church MJ, Dugmore AJ, McGovern TG, Dunbar E, Einarsson Á, Friðriksson A, Gestsdóttir H. 2007. Reservoirs and Radiocarbon: 14C dating problems in Myvatnssveit, Northern Iceland. Radiocarbon 49 (2) 947-961.
  • Ascough PL, Cook GT, Dugmore AJ, Scott EM. 2007. The North Atlantic Marine Reservoir Effect in the Early Holocene: Implications for Defining and Understanding MRE Values. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics B 259 (1) 438-447.
  • Church M, Dugmore AJ, Mairs KA, Millard AR, Cook GT, Sveinbjarnardóttir G, Ascough P, Roucoux KH. 2007. Charcoal production during the Norse and early medieval periods in Eyjafjallahreppur, southern Iceland. Radiocarbon 49 (2) 659-672.
  • Ascough P., Cook G., Church M. J., Dugmore A. J., Arge S. V. McGovern T. H. 2006. Variability in North Atlantic marine radiocarbon reservoir effects at c.1000 AD. The Holocene 16 (1), 131-136.
  • Ascough P, Cook G, Dugmore A. 2005. Methodological approaches to determining the marine radiocarbon reservoir effect. Progress in Physical Geography 29 (4), 523-547.
  • Ascough PL, Cook GT, Dugmore AJ, Scott EM, Freeman SPHT. 2005. Influence of mollusc species on marine ΔR determinations. Radiocarbon  47 (3), 433-440.
  • Ascough P, Cook G, Dugmore A, Barber J, Higney E, Scott M. 2004. Holocene variations in the Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect. Radiocarbon 46 (2), 611-620. 

Book chapters

Olsen J, Ascough P, Lougheed BC, Rasmussen P. In press. Radiocarbon dating in estuarine environments.  In Weckström, K., Saunders, K., Gell, P., Skilbeck, G. (eds) Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research: Application of Paleoenvironmental Techniques in Estuarine Studies. Springer.

Ascough PL. 2015. Peat: 14C dating. In WJ  Rink, J Thompson (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Scientific Dating Methods. Springer. DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-6326-5_166-1 (selected as the 2016 winner of the GSIS Mary B. Ansari Best Geoscience Reference Work Award)

McGovern, T. H., Perdikaris S, Mainland I, Ascough P, Ewens V, Einarsson A, Sidell J, Hambrecht G, Harrison R. 2009. Chapter 4: The archaeofauna. in: G. Lucas (ed) Hofstadir: Excavations of a Viking Age Feasting Hall in North Eastern Iceland, Institute of Archaeology Reykjavik Monograph 1, Reykjavik.