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Soil carbon dynamics following Amazon Forest fires: quantifying the role of fire severity and charcoal, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Geography.

   Department of Geography

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  Dr K Jan Van Groenigen, Dr TR Feldpausch, Dr S Chadburn  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Project Background

Tropical forest soils play a key role in the global carbon cycle, with Amazonian soils containing around 70 Pg C in the upper 1 m alone – equivalent to the amount of C found in all the aboveground vegetation. Thus, it is essential to understand the mechanisms that control soil carbon dynamics in the Amazon, and to develop strategies to integrate soil carbon storage into land management. Increasing levels of wildfire, coupled with drought, threaten to cause substantial carbon emissions from Amazonian soils and vegetation. There are major knowledge gaps in understanding of post-fire C dynamics that this PhD will address. The effect of burning on soil carbon may vary with fire regime, with potential for more frequent burning to compound carbon loss from soil. On the other hand, charcoal formed during forest fires may play a key role in post-fire soil carbon dynamics, as it forms a recalcitrant carbon pool, which may improve soil fertility and reduce the negative impact of droughts on plant growth. Neither of these things have been robustly quantified. 

Project Aims and Methods

This project aims to determine the response of soil carbon stocks and soil respiration to fire regime, addition of carbon / charcoal to the soil and interannual climate variability. Long-term soil respiration measurements from experimental burn treatment plots, spanning wet/dry seasons and climate anomalies, will be used to disentangle the effects of post-fire carbon inputs and changes to soil temperature/moisture, and charcoal on soil carbon dynamics. Land surface models will be used to further explore the role of charcoal in soil carbon dynamics, and to extrapolate results to larger space and time scales. 

You will be part of a larger research project aiming to quantify the interaction between land-use change, droughts and forest fires on carbon dynamics across the Amazon. As such, there will be ample opportunities to link your results (derived from experimental plots) to measurements taken at a large range of locations across the Amazon. Results may also be linked to changes in aboveground carbon storage.

Candidate requirements

Although you will be trained in field techniques, previous fieldwork experience would be beneficial. Experience in data-analysis using R / Python would be essential.

Project partners 

Met Office will be a partner in this project, bringing expertise in modelling of soil carbon dynamics and upscaling of experimental results, and providing opportunities to learn about soil carbon modelling yourself.


You will receive training in data-analysis and various field techniques. This project will likely include fieldwork in Brazil and/or Peru, dependent on travel restrictions.

For further information and to submit an application please visit -

Funding Notes

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprise: A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 p.a. for 2022-23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates; Payment of university tuition fees; A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses; A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.


Almeida de Oliveira, E., Feldpausch, T. R., Schwantes Marimon, B., Morandi, P. S., Phillips, O. L., Bird, M., ... & Marimon-Junior, B. H. (2022). Soil pyrogenic carbon in southern Amazonia: interaction between soil, climate and above-ground biomass. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.
Feldpausch, T. R., Carvalho, L., Macario, K. D., Ascough, P. L., Flores, C. F., Coronado, E. N. H., ... & Staff, R. A. (2022). Forest fire history in Amazonia inferred from intensive soil charcoal sampling and radiocarbon dating. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.
Metcalfe, D. B., Rocha, W., Balch, J. K., Brando, P. M., Doughty, C. E., & Malhi, Y. (2018). Impacts of fire on sources of soil CO2 efflux in a dry Amazon rain forest. Global change biology, 24(8), 3629-3641.
Phillips, O. L., Aragão, L. E., Lewis, S. L., Fisher, J. B., Lloyd, J., López-González, G., ... & Torres-Lezama, A. (2009). Drought sensitivity of the Amazon rainforest. Science, 323(5919), 1344-1347.
Wardle, D. A., Nilsson, M. C., & Zackrisson, O. (2008). Fire-derived charcoal causes loss of forest humus. Science, 320(5876), 629-629.
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