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Dynamic Landscapes, Changing Climate and Ecosystem Functioning: Modelling past losses, present extend and future potential of peatlands within the North York Moors National Park


Project Description

Soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration targets, such as the 4 per mille initiative, are a vital tool in mitigating against rising atmospheric CO2 levels. However, current SOC mitigation estimates are based on current SOC stocks and turnover rates. However, indications are that past losses due to management over thousands of years (e.g. peat for fuel, fire, drainage for agriculture) depleted SOC stocks, even leading to large-scale peatland losses, which so far is not considered by any model. Therefore, a revised potential SOC and peat accumulation map is required to compare SOC sequestration rates based on current vs. potential SOC stocks. This project has the potential of becoming a step-change in understanding the achievability of the 4 per mille challenge.
The student will mainly be based at the University of York and work within the Peatland-ES-UK team, assessing management impacts on upland peatlands together with various organisations, including water companies and restoration projects, and will be supported by a National Park Authority as CASE partner.

The student will conduct a range of field surveys and learn to use a wide range of GIS and survey techniques and portable C-flux analysers, to undertake the UK s first ever landscape-scale assessment of potential Holocene soil carbon stock losses. She/he will examine the relative importance of climate, management and soil environmental conditions in determining past SOC losses and peat re-creation potential. Whilst the focus will be the North York Moors, field work will be augmented by mesocosm studies in York/Liverpool. Deploying various remote sensing data together with ground surveys will allow comparing and up-scaling to national SOC map estimates. Additionally, the student will incorporate findings into an available peatland model, which will enable exploring management options and scenarios across UK uplands, exploring temporal and spatial climate and management scenarios.

This will be the first ever UK field-scale assessment to unravel the relationship between past management, peatland restoration and future SOC sequestration potential. The project will test/establish so far overlooked fundamentals around sustainable and resilient peatland habitat management.

The results of the project will directly inform ongoing peatland restoration projects, future management and preservation of one the UK s most important ecosystems, aimed at helping to mitigate against the effects of climate change.
There are ample opportunities for the student to learn new or extend existing skills (e.g. C++ coding, GIS analysis, field surveys, C-flux monitoring, spatial modelling) and becoming involved in international collaborations and policy work.

Funding Notes

This is a NERC ACCE DTP studentship fully funded for 3.5 years in the first instance, and students must complete their PhD in four years. The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. You can extend your funding period for up to 3 months by applying for an industrial placement.

References

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.

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