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Processing and fluxes of DOM in peat-pools and lochans

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Gilbert
    Dr Daniel Mayor
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Peatlands are the UKs largest carbon store, yet they have been largely degraded by poor land management. Combined with predicted increased likelihood of extreme weather events (e.g. droughts and wildfire) means that we now have a large pool of carbon vulnerable to loss through release of CO2/CH4 to the atmosphere, or erosion and transport as Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) into the aquatic continuum. The paradigm that fluvial networks simply transport terrestrial derived Dissolved Organic Matter (DOM) to the ocean is now firmly dismissed, with rivers and lakes now recognised as biogeochemical hotspots for the breakdown of DOC and the outgassing of CO2/CH4 to the atmosphere. Peat-pools and lochans are key zones for the aquatic processing of DOM in its journey through the catchment, yet little is known about DOM fluxes into and out of these systems or the drivers behind decomposition within them.

This PhD will address this knowledge gap, aiming to further our understanding of biogeochemical processing of peat-derived DOM as it enters the aquatic systems. Furthermore, quantifying the relative importance of photochemical reactions and biochemical degradation in the processing of DOM in peat-pools will aid our understanding of how they may respond to predicted increases of environmental stress such as drought and wildfires. Lastly, contextualising these rates and processes in the peat-pools of northern Scotland will begin to expand our knowledge of how important these aquatic systems are for the initial stages in degradation of peat-derived DOM.
The overarching aim of the proposed PhD project will be to quantify the fluxes of DOM into and from peatland pools and lochans and identify the dominant drivers involved in controlling DOM degradation.

This PhD will be grounded in field campaigns, comprising scheduled water sample collection and monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions to quantify mass DOM export from peatland pools and lochans. This will be supported by laboratory analysis and use of analytical instrumentation (e.g., GC, TOC, AQ2, ICP-OES), as well as an experimental component to elucidate the driving factors controlling the DOM decomposition and degradation. Particular focus is placed on understanding how these rates and processes change in response to peatland wildfires.

A final component of the PhD will be to assess the latitudinal spatial variability of DOM fluxes between various peatland pools, with field campaigns in the Falkland Islands and Norway. While the proposed work will look specifically at peatlands of Scotland, Norway, and the Falkland Islands, the habitats studied are typical of all temperate peatlands and will form an important understanding of the role peatland pools play in C processing.

The supervision team will be comprised of Dr Peter Gilbert (UHI), Dr Daniel Mayor (NOC), Dr Amy Pickard (CEH), and Dr Roxane Andersen (UHI), with further support on international field campaigns supported by Dr Richard Sanders (NORCE).

The student will be based at the Environmental Research Institute, Thurso, but there will also be opportunity for laboratory training and support within partner institutions. The student will gain training and experience in a range of both field and laboratory techniques (including ICP, TOC, GC, and nutrient analysis), as well as data processing and statistical modelling techniques. The student will be expected to lead and undertake several international field campaigns to meet the needs of the project and will be encouraged to take a primary role in publishing their research in academic journals and its presentation at international conferences.

Funding notes

Funded by NERC Studentships awarded to the SUPER Doctoral Training Partnership. The SUPER DTP partner Universities are St Andrews University, Aberdeen University, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Stirling University, University of Strathclyde and the University of the West of Scotland. Underpinning these research partners, providing additional training and projects are Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the James Hutton Institute, among a total of 40 stakeholder organisations including industry and government agencies and international collaborators.

The start date of this project is: 5th October 2020

The 3½ year studentships cover:
• Tuition fees each year (for 2019/20 this is currently £4,327 for full-time study)
• A maintenance grant each of around £15,000 per annum (for full-time study)
• Funding for research training
• Part-time study is an option, with a minimum of 50% of full-time effort being required.

Applicants should normally have, or be studying for:
• A postgraduate Master’s degree from a degree-awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent, or
• A first or upper second class honours degree from a degree awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent, or
• Other qualifications or experience that affords sufficient evidence of an applicant’s ability to work at the academic level associated with doctoral study.

Applicants who can demonstrate academic excellence through a degree in environmental science, or relative subject appropriate to the topic are encouraged to apply. A full clean driving licence is also required.

Additionally, we are also looking for someone with strong experience in:
• environmental data collection and organising/undertaking field campaigns,
• laboratory work and familiarity in running analytical instrumentation (e.g., GC or TOC),
• working with large data sets and statistical packages.

Project specific enquiries: please email [Email Address Removed]

General enquiries: Graduate School Office [Email Address Removed]

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