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Is molecular composition key to protecting the World’s largest terrestrial carbon store?

School of Chemistry

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Dr Nicholle Bell , Prof M Graham No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Edinburgh United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Data Analysis Ecology Environmental Biology Statistics

About the Project

For more information on this specific project, applicant requirements and links to the E4 DTP application process, please visit:

Peatlands are organic matter rich soils that provide countless benefits and ecological services. They represent a major carbon store, containing twice as much carbon as the entire forest biomass on this planet. When fully functioning, peatlands remove carbon from the atmosphere, contributing to our efforts to reverse the effects of climate change. They are important to flood management and water filtration; over 70% of UK drinking water runs from upland peatland catchments. They act as a home for a diverse range of flora and fauna and represent an archive of our past.

Peatlands at the same time are fragile systems and as a result of human activities such as afforestation as well as climate change a large fraction of global peatlands are damaged; around 80% of UK’s peatlands alone are classified as damaged.

Rewetting of peatlands is a widespread method for their restoration. By raising the water table conditions for the return of peat forming vegetation are reintroduced. However, recent studies suggest that rewetting does not restore peatlands back to full health in terms of biodiversity, water dynamics and carbon sequestration capacity. In order to rationalize these findings we need to understand the process of peat formation and restoration at the molecular level.

The Bell group’s research focuses on the examination of peat organic matter on a molecular level using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry (FT ICR MS). These two techniques are classed as the most important for the characterization of the molecular composition of organic matter and we are the only UK School of Chemistry that is equipped with an 800 MHz NMR spectrometer and a 12T FT ICR mass spectrometer, providing a unique training opportunity.

This project aims to examine the molecular composition, alongside a variety of abiotic parameters, of peat samples from across the Northern Hemisphere.

If you would like to apply for this project, please get in touch: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This project is eligible for the E4 Doctoral Training Partnership. E4 projects are available for full NERC studentship funding, competitive by interview to UK, EU and International applicants.

For more information on funding, please see:
For more information on eligibility, please see:
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