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Arctic carbon under threat from climate extremes: how do extreme climatic events affect soil carbon and microbial communities?

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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Prof G Phoenix , Prof T Helgason , Dr J Bjerke No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Extreme climatic events can have far greater impacts on ecosystems than gradual climate change. This is particularly apparent in the Arctic, where widespread damage from extreme events is causing large-scale die-back to tundra ecosystems and driving the phenomena known as “Arctic Browning”. This die-back in tundra ecosystems caused by extreme climatic events is in stark contrast to the previous 30-year trend of increasing plant growth arising from gradual warming. While recent research on Arctic browning has focused on the very visible damage impacts seen above ground on plants, almost nothing is known of the impacts below ground on soil carbon and soil microbes. This is a major omission given arctic soils contain vast stores of carbon, and initial work suggests the release of this could be greatly affected by extreme climatic events, with consequences for feedback to climate.

This PhD will study the impacts of extreme climatic events on soil carbon cycling and fluxes in arctic ecosystems, with methods including measurements of soil carbon, assessment of CO2 fluxes using infra-red gas analysis, and C tracing techniques. It will also use state-of-the-art molecular ecology approaches (e.g. Illumina MiSeq, Nanopore, and associated bioinformatics) to determine changes in the biodiversity and functioning of the soil microbes that cycle carbon.
Based at the University of Sheffield, the project will include microbial molecular work at the University of York, with support from the University of York’s Technology Facility, and fieldwork in northern Norway where the student will benefit from working with scientists from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.

This PhD is an exciting opportunity for a student with interests in the effects of climate change to develop interdisciplinary approaches to science in a topic of major current importance in Arctic ecosystem research.

The PhD would, therefore, suit a motivated student interested in ecosystems, climate change and carbon cycling, with enthusiasm for a mix of lab and field work.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (at least £14,777 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 at the University of Sheffield the w/c 11th February 2019.


Background reference: Phoenix GK, Bjerke JW (2016) Arctic Browning: extreme events and trends reversing arctic greening. Global Change Biology 22, 2960-2962

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