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Carbon dynamics of pre-and post-fire moorlands in upland Britain

Project Description

Programme website:

Project Rationale:
Peatlands are critical terrestrial carbon (C) stores and may store up to 17% of the global soil carbon stock [1]. A large wildfire burned c. 6.5k ha of the Peak District this summer (Saddleworth Moor), with devastating consequences: destruction of local plant communities and carbon loss estimated at over half a million tonnes of CO2. Given the C-sink function of moorland ecosystems, and potentially more upland fires with ongoing climate change, it is important to understand the consequences of burning and, further, how to enhance restoration/recovery of the ecosystem. This project will complement/build on a funded NERC urgency study focused on the identification of microbial communities that contribute to C-cycling and their potential use in restoration. The aim is to estimate C-accumulation in unburned areas as a function of above- and below-ground community composition, and to assess the effects of burning on C-loss using direct measurements and dating techniques. Rates and spatial patterns of C accumulation and loss over the longer term (centuries) at this site can form the basis for broader estimations of the recent C-dynamics of UK peatlands and how these may change under scenarios of climate warming, particularly an increase in the severity and persistence of drought [2].

Work will use drone-based air photography to classify land cover qualities or burned and unburned areas, in conjunction with ground-truthing. Analyses of 20-40 short (50-cm) peat cores across the burned and unburned surfaces will use conventional macrofossil analysis and assess the effectiveness of DNA retrieved from the peat matrix to enhance identification of vascular plant and bryophyte components of the peat (important for highly decomposed peat). Peat carbon content will be calculated using bulk density and direct measurements of peat C via a Jena C/N analyser. Depending on the depth of peat burnt, we will use Spheroidal Carbonaceous Particle (SCP) analysis, 210Pb dating,14C dating and/or tephra chronostratigraphy to establish apparent accumulation rates over decades to centuries within different peatland communities and losses due to burning. This work will be aligned with local C-flux monitoring and microbial assays via the NERC project.
NB If part-time, the project would be modified to include a substantial element of monitoring of recovery and C fluxes of burned sites.

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at [SOGES]. Specific training will include, as necessary, peatland plant communities, general palaeoecological approaches to peatland studies and dating methods, the metabarcoding approach to DNA-based analyses of plant communities, drone-based aerial surveying and GIS analysis, biogeochemical analyses.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibility and how to apply


[1] Yu 2012. Biogeosciences 9:407

[2] Dai 2012. Nature Climate Change 3:52

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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