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Developing a simple, cost-effective way to assess peatland health on the molecular level

Project Description

Peatlands store twice the C stored in all Earth’s standing forests and thus have major significance in terms of climate change mitigation (1). Despite their acknowledged importance, peatlands have and continue to face threats from land use and climate change. Drainage and drought together have already switched 11% of the global peat bogs to sources rather than sinks of C and without intervention it is predicted that C losses could occur in 60% of the world’s peat bogs (2).

Multimillion £ investments have been made into restoration mainly via rewetting. Examination of fluxes or vegetation have been used to monitor these restoration methods. However, to assess whether the C-cycling process has been restored requires analysing the peat organic matter at the molecular level.

The Bell group is examining changes to peatlands on the molecular level using the most powerful techniques, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Mass Spectrometry (3). Our methods so far have required taking peat cores, which is an invasive intervention. The proposed PhD project builds on this research and aims to develop a simple, less invasive method for examining restoration of on the molecular level.

This project will develop a simple cost effective method for assessing the health of Sphagnum peatlands across UK, Canada and Sweden on a molecular level using high resolution techniques.

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills.

This studentship suits a candidate with background and aptitude for analytical chemistry and environmental science. While training in high resolution MS will be provided, experience working with 2D NMR spectroscopy is essential. Experience with programming such as R/Python is desirable.

Interested individuals must follow the "how to apply" link on the Geosciences E4 Doctoral Training Partnership web page:

Funding Notes

This project is eligible for the E4 Doctoral Training Partnership. The E4 projects are currently available for full NERC studentship funding which is competitive by interview and available only to UK citizens and to EU citizens who have worked or studied in the UK for the previous 3 years.


(1) R. Cris, S. Buckmaster, C. Bain and M. Reed, Global Peatland Restoration demonstrating SUCCESS, IUCN UK National Committee Peatland Programme Report, 2014

(2) N. Fenner and C. Freeman, Nature Geoscience, 4, 895-900, 2011

(3) N.G.A. Bell, Molecular metrics for assessing the status of peatlands, Soil Security Fellowship, 2016

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Chemistry?
(joint submission with University of St Andrews)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 43.30

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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