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Adventures in carbon neutral farming: mitigating potent greenhouse gas emissions from soils with rock dust

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  • Full or part time
    Prof D Beerling
    Dr U Skiba
    Dr M Val Martin
    Dr D Epihov
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Rationale and importance.
As Greta Thunberg reminds us, the world faces a climate emergency and addressing global climate change is one of the greatest and most urgent challenges facing humanity. The United Nations (2018) 1.5 Degree Global Warming Special Report concluded that avoiding ‘dangerous’ climate change means deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies is now an essential step alongside reducing carbon emissions. Land-based enhanced rock weathering (ERW), the process of applying ground silicate rock (e.g., basalt) to soils, is a prime UN-recognized CDR strategy potentially feasible at large-scale with managed croplands and forestry plantations [see Beerling et al. (2018) Nature Plants, 4, 138-147]

An exciting novel finding from ERW field trials conducted by the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation ( in the US Corn-belt over the past three years has been that addition of crushed basalt to soils reduces emission of nitrous oxide (N2O). This could represent an important climate mitigation co-benefit of ERW because N2O is a potent greenhouse gas, with ~300 times the warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year time horizon. We now need to understand urgently the generality of the response and effects on other greenhouse gas fluxes (CO2 and CH4) and atmospheric pollutants (nitrogen trace gas emissions).

Objectives. The project will investigate the exciting hypothesis that amending agricultural soils with basalt reduces soil N2O fluxes for a range of soils representing different UK land uses (arable, pasture, plantation forestry). The project will include assessing the responses of other important greenhouse gas fluxes (CO2, CH4) and soil nitrogen trace gas emissions (HONO, NO and NH3) to this treatment. The approach will involve undertaking bench-scale experimental work with planted soil mesocosms using established protocols and numerical modelling with approaches familiar to the team.

Up-scaling: In phase two of the project, the student will gain valuable experience and training in learning how to use experimental results to parameterize and calibrate the process-based biogeochemical model (DAYCENT). The overarching objective is to rigorously upscale our findings to predict how, if ERW were undertaken in the UK, it might affect GHG and trace gas emissions under current and future climate change scenarios.

Further details: The post would suit a highly motivated student with interests in climate change and ecosystem processes. They will gain excellent training in a range of cutting-edge transferrable skills in measuring and modelling greenhouse gas fluxes, and plant and soil sciences in the context of global change issues. The successful candidate will be embedded within vibrant research groups in the Leverhulme Research Centre, University of Sheffield, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Edinburgh, with outstanding facilities and expertise needed to support the project.
Informal enquires are welcome to Prof. David Beerling ([Email Address Removed]) and Prof. Ute Skiba ([Email Address Removed])

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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