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Measuring and modelling plant-driven soil carbon dynamics

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  • Full or part time
    Prof G Kirk
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

One of the most pressing problems in environmental science is the possibility of a feedback loop between atmospheric CO2 levels, global warming and soil carbon emissions. The land surface is currently a net sink for rising CO2 as vegetation grows faster, but as warming continues, soil microbes will turn over carbon faster, and it is predicted that the land will become a net source of CO2 at some point resulting in a feedback loop.

However understanding of the underlying processes is poor and they are poorly represented in models. This PhD will exploit a unique experimental facility at Cranfield – the Wolfson Field Laboratory – to study plant root-soil interactions affecting soil carbon turnover so as to develop better soil carbon models. The facility contains large soil monoliths linked to instruments for measuring carbon fluxes and their stable-isotope composition. The isotope composition allows partitioning of the fluxes between plant and soil sources, giving detailed datasets for modelling. We will exploit this data using model-data fusion techniques to develop and test new models of the underlying processes.

The studentship will be based in the Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute (CSAFI) at our main campus in Bedfordshire, with some time at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) near Aberdeen. CSAFI has 18 academics covering all aspects of soil science, currently with 20 post-doctoral researchers and 40 PhD students. We work closely with many other universities and research organizations in the UK and internationally, including, for this studentship, the JHI. We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate to learn experimental, theoretical and modelling aspects of soil science as part of our growing multi-disciplinary team.

Entry requirements - Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK honours degree at 2:1 in a natural or environmental science. Some experience in computer modelling would be advantageous.

Applications -

Please send your CV to Prof Guy Kirk: [Email Address Removed]
Deadline: 4 March 2016
Start date: As soon as possible

Funding Notes

The studentship is fully funded as part of the NERC Soils Training and Research Studentships (STARS) Centre for Doctoral Training (

Each student will be supported by a tax-free stipend (£14,057 in 2015/16), typically for 3.5 years, and full EU/UK fees. Further, all STARS students will have a Research and Training Grant to fund their research, conference attendance and networking and will be able to bid into a cohort development and mobility fund.

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