Microorganisms are likely to play an increasingly important role in the Earth’s climate system (Falkowski et al., 2008 Science 320: 1034-1039) and are known to affect polar biogeochemical cycles. In particular, they play important roles in the generation and decomposition of climate active gases. However, current climate models do not take into account the response of microbial activity and their influence in biochemical cycles (Incorporating microbial processes into climate models, ASM report). To improve the predictive ability of climate models, it is important to understand the mechanisms by which microorganisms regulate terrestrial greenhouse gas flux and to determine whether changes in microbial processes will lead to net positive or negative feedbacks on greenhouse gas emissions (Singh et al., 2010 Nature Reviews Microbiology 8: 779). This contribution has been particularly overlooked for the polar regions, where the environment has traditionally been considered too harsh for significant microbial activity to occur. However, it is now clear that microbial presence is ubiquitous across the polar regions, and recent research points toward a potentially dynamic polar microbial community and with it, the possibility of significant microbial activity within the snowpack (Redeker et al., 2017 Journal of The Royal Society Interface 14: 20170729), even in the most remote locations (Pearce et al., 2009 FEMS Microbiology Ecology 69: 143-157). Whilst it is clear that photochemical activity in the atmosphere is primarily responsible for climate processes, it is now becoming clear that microorganisms may have a significant role to play and the extent of this role may be limited only by research activity in this area to date.
This project will link to Micro Arctic ITN (Horizon 2020), the Greenland Circumnavigation Expedition (GLACE) and the Svalbard Integrated arctic Earth Observation System (SIOS). The PhD student will gain experience of microbial ecology, Arctic fieldwork, flux measurements, modelling and laboratory based simulations.
Key Research Gaps and Questions:
1. To what extent do microorganisms contribute to the flux of climate active gases? 2. How will climate change affect this delicate balance? 3. How do we integrate these observations into current climate models?
Essential: Knowledge/experience of experimental microbiology and/or chemistry
These are (3.5 year) fully funded PhD studentship awards available for entry September 2019. Each award includes fees (Home/EU), an annual living allowance (£14,777) and a Research Training Support Grant (for travel, consumables, as required).