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QUADRAT DTP: Assessing the restoration of UK Carbon sinks using geophysics and microbiology

Project Description

Occupying just 3% of the Earth’s land surface, peatlands are our largest carbon store on land. Worldwide they store 550 gigatonnes of carbon, representing 42% of all soil carbon and exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types, including the world’s forests. They are places where people derive clean water and food, and can act as buffers for environmental disasters, such as flooding. They are also of global significance for biodiversity with the majority of peatland species and habitats rare, threatened or declining. Degradation of peatlands occurs due to aerobic ingression due to drainage/ overgrazing, this promotes sub surface microbial aerobic activity which allows degradation of the majority of soil organic matter. Urgent action worldwide is required to protect, sustainably manage and restore peatlands. This involves protecting them from degrading activities such as agricultural conversion and drainage, and restoring the waterlogged conditions required for peat formation to prevent the release of carbon stored in peat soil
Current restoration processes focus on blocking drains to raise the water back to pre-drainage levels but does not consider water table fluctuations or the effect this has on biogeochemical restoration mechanisms. There is an assumption that the restored peatland is the same physically as pre-restoration. This is often not the case, degraded peatlands undergo compression and compaction once drainage and drying is allowed. Once rewetted, a secondary macro-porosity (fracture-type flow) can occur that increases hydraulic conductivity which may affect the microbial processes and biogeochemistry of the restored area.
Here we consider which microbial and geophysical mechanisms should be considered to ensure the successful restoration of peatlands by monitoring actively accumulating, degrading and restored peatland locations. This PhD will provide novel cross disciplinary training in geophysical geo-electrical methods such as ERT, GPR and SP as well as microbial sampling and analysis such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, amplicon sequencing and shotgun metagenomics. Work will be carried out in the field (Garron Plateau) and in the lab comparing the geophysical & microbial ecology of active, degrading and restored peatlands to identify carbon sequestration mechanisms

The team providing training and supervision are
Dr Rory Doherty - Restoration and monitoring of peatlands
Dr Deepak Kumaresan - Microbial Ecology
Dr Jean Christophe Comte - Near Surface geophysics

The project will run in collaboration with stakeholders providing site access (Northern Ireland Water, Mourne Heritage Trust) Beyond the central training opportunities provided by the QUADRAT programme, the project will provide specific training in the areas of geophysical monitoring (Aberdeen), Microbial sampling and Analysis (QUB).
Further Reading


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geosciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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