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Blue carbon and ecosystem functioning in mangroves under pressure. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Barend van Maanen, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Christopher Vane, British Geological Survey
Dr Dunia Urrego, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Exeter University

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Mangrove forests provide a wealth of ecosystem services to the marine and terrestrial environments and to people. These forests are biodiversity hotspots and mangrove trees play a key role in the protection against natural hazards. Mangroves also store large amounts of carbon and are amongst the world’s most carbon-rich ecosystems. The carbon stored by mangroves is called Blue Carbon and may be crucial in counterbalancing anthropogenic CO2 emissions and mitigating climate change.

Human activities and climate change are posing serious threats and mangrove forests are in rapid decline worldwide. Despite the many benefits they provide, land-use change in coastal areas and sea level rise are leading to the degradation of mangroves with negative impacts on the ecosystem services they provide. Lack of understanding on the long-term evolution of mangrove ecosystems hinders the design and implementation of appropriate environmental management and as a result, essential ecosystem services are already being lost.

Project Aims and Methods

The aim of this PhD project is to determine what processes control mangrove carbon accumulation and investigate the impacts of human activities in a mangrove system under pressure: the Magdalena Delta in Colombia. The Magdalena delta is undergoing rapid change: the building of dams and dikes is changing sediment supply to the coastal system and increasing pressure from urban development is driving significant mangrove degradation. You will have the opportunity to collect sediment cores from strategically selected locations from this delta and use state-of-the-art tools to unravel how mangrove carbon storage is affected by ecosystem and landscape change.

The project can be developed to fit your interests. Possible objectives are:

- Reconstruct mangrove forest evolution by analysing fossil-pollen from the collected sediment sequences.

- Quantify carbon accumulation over the past ca. 1000 years and link trends to ecosystem evolution.

- Characterize organic matter composition and determine the origin of sequestered carbon.

- Evaluate spatial variations in carbon accumulation to elucidate effects of mangrove degradation.

- Simulate mangrove ecosystem evolution and carbon accumulation under future environmental-change scenarios.

In this project you can combine fieldwork observations, geomorphology, palaeoecology and biogeochemistry. Results from this project will be crucial to define mangrove restoration goals and develop sustainable management and conservation strategies.

CASE or Collaborative Partner

This project is carried out in close collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS). You will be able to visit BGS and become an active member of their organic geochemistry lab. While at BGS, you will have access to world-class analytical facilities and will be hosted by Dr Vane.


You will be based at the University of Exeter and part of your training will take place at the BGS in Keyworth. Training will include tropical palaeoecology, biogeochemistry, sedimentology and modelling. Fieldwork will provide opportunities to visit one of the most beautiful and valuable ecosystems in the world. Overall, this project enables you to conduct interdisciplinary research and to explore the role of tropical coastal wetlands in sequestering carbon.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.

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