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Greenhouse gas emissions from human-impacted rivers – identifying ‘hotspots’ from source-to-sea, their drivers and stability.

Project Description

Inland freshwater systems are sources to the atmosphere of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and as such, their importance in global GHG budgets is increasingly recognised. Outgassing of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from these systems account for an estimated 3.9 Pg C yr-1 of the 5.1 Pg C yr-1 exported globally from the terrestrial environment to freshwaters (Drake et al., 2018), although considerable uncertainty about the accuracy of these estimated fluxes remains.

Human-impacted rivers have not yet received the same level of consideration as ‘pristine’ systems in aquatic GHG budgets, yet more people now live in urban areas than rural areas and 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050 (UN, 2018). Human activity modifies the dynamics of CO2, CH4 and N2O in the aquatic environment. Inputs from agriculture, waste water treatment works and landfill, amongst other sources may amplify GHG emissions, however we still lack crucial ‘bottom up’ understanding developed from field measurements of the magnitude of these emissions, and how they compare on a catchment scale to emissions from non-anthropogenic GHG sources.

This PhD programme will quantify concentrations and fluxes of GHGs across human-impacted catchments from source-to-sea, starting with the River Clyde in Scotland (Photos 1&2). Controls on the GHG loading profile will be explored using GIS catchment land cover analysis to develop a predictive model for catchment GHG emissions.

There will be an opportunity to collect further source to-sea GHG data and to test the application of the modelled relationships derived from the Clyde dataset in human impacted catchments on a global scale, drawing upon the supervisory team’s network of existing collaborators across China, India and Malaysia.

Training & skills:
This collaboration brings together an existing set of laboratory facilities and field methodologies which will be used to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from inland waters. The expertise of the supervisors and the unique breadth of facilities on offer at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh and at the University of Glasgow represent a world class research environment for the student.

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. Specific training will be provided in field sampling in aquatic systems in the UK and overseas, deployment and maintenance of insitu sensors, and in laboratory analysis of gas and water samples, with a focus on gas chromatography, isotope geochemistry, and flow injection carbon and nutrient analyses. The student will also receive training on statistical analysis and GIS, gaining expertise in software packages including Arc GIS and R. The student will be given comprehensive training in health and safety in the field which will include first aid and an accredited power boat training course.

 A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience – we welcome applications from those with non-traditional routes to PhD study;
 In addition, candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline; &
 An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

Application process:
Prospective students must provide/attach the following documentation/information to your application, which should be sent directly to the project supervisor Dr A Pickard:

a) Current CV.
b) A cover letter written by the prospective student, no greater than 2 sides in length, detailing their reasons for applying and why they have selected the project that they wish to conduct.
c) Two (or more) references, avoiding any references from any members of the supervisory team that are part of the research project that they wish to conduct.
d) Full transcripts of previous qualifications obtained to date.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of proposed topics that are in competition for funding from the NERC IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership View Website

Full studentships (fees and stipend) are only available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship. If you are a citizen of an EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award, and must be able to show at interview that you can support yourself for the duration of the studentship at the UKRI level.


Drake, T. W., P. A. Raymond, and R. G. M. Spencer. 2018. Terrestrial carbon inputs to inland waters: A current synthesis of estimates and uncertainty. Limnol. Oceanogr. Lett. 3: 132–142.

UN, 2018. Report accessed online at: tion/2018-revision-of-world-urbanizationprospects.html

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