FindAPhD Weekly PhD Newsletter | JOIN NOW FindAPhD Weekly PhD Newsletter | JOIN NOW

Winter CO2 emissions from the terrestrial Arctic (Advert Reference: MRDF22/EE/ExEnv/RUTTER)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Assoc Prof Nick Rutter  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Winter soil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from seasonally snow-covered regions (47 million km2) are profoundly understudied and are frequently omitted from global carbon cycling budgets, due to measurement constraints and prior assumptions that their contributions are largely insignificant relative to other sources. However, recent syntheses of regional in-situ observations estimated winter season CO2 losses from Arctic and boreal soils (1,662 TgC per year) to be greater than the entire carbon uptake during an average growing season (-1,032 TgC per year). This suggests winter CO2 emissions from the terrestrial Arctic play a significant but poorly understood role in the global carbon cycle.

Soil temperatures represent a first-order control over microbial respiration rates and thus CO2 production in soils. During winter months, snow acts as an insulating layer over the ground, separating the relatively warm soil environment from cold winter air temperatures. Snow depth and density combine to control the thermal conductivity of this insulating layer. Arctic snow is not static. The magnitude and timing of seasonal changes in snow are therefore a dominant control on rates of soil respiration. Thick, low-density snowpacks effectively insulate the ground from very cold winter air temperatures, leading to warmer soils and increased potential rates and duration of soil respiration. Shallow, high density snowpacks allow greater heat loss from the ground to the atmosphere reducing soil respiration rates, shown to occur down to temperatures of -20°C. Consequently, snow density strongly impacts rates of gas exchange between snow-covered soils and the atmosphere.

Despite growing awareness of the importance of winter processes, few studies have examined the synergistic impacts of snowpack, vegetation and soil properties on the production and emissions of CO2 during winter months. This limits our ability to adequately incorporate winter emissions into earth system models (ESMs) and make future projections in a region warming more than twice as fast as the global annual average since the late twentieth century.

Project Description

Through detailed state-of-the-art Arctic field measurements and ESMs, you will evaluate the impact of warming of air and soil temperatures on the timing and extent of enhanced microbial decomposition of organic matter and release of CO2 at sub-zero winter temperatures. Processes controlling winter CO2 emissions under Arctic snow will be identified and their rates will be quantified, enabling them to be incorporated into future projections of Arctic carbon feedbacks. To address these research needs, in this studentship you will:

  1. Make your own field measurements of snowpack properties and soil-atmosphere carbon fluxes in Northern Canada (e.g. Trail Valley Creek, NWT; Cambridge Bay, NU) using state-of-the art techniques as part of experienced teams of field scientists.
  2. Develop and apply novel semi-automated field measurement techniques to identify patterns in CO2 within snowpacks in the forest-tundra ecotone.
  3. Evaluate a range of ESM parameterisations of snowpack and soil properties to improve simulations of winter CO2 emissions and quantify their impact on estimates of future winter CO2 emissions in scenarios to 2100AD.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Associate Professor Nick Rutter.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. MRDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Dutch, V. R., Rutter, N., Wake, L., Sandells, M., Derksen, C., Walker, B., Hould Gosselin, G., Sonnentag, O., Essery, R., Kelly, R., Marsh, P., and King, J.: Impact of measured and simulated tundra snowpack properties on heat transfer, The Cryosphere Discuss., in review, 2021.
Malle, J., Rutter, N., Webster, C., Mazzotti, G., Wake, L., & Jonas, T. (2021). Effect of forest canopy structure on wintertime Land Surface Albedo: Evaluating CLM5 simulations with in-situ measurements. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 126(9), [e2020JD034118].
Meloche, J., Royer, A., Langlois, A., Rutter, N., & Sasseville, V. (2021). Improvement of microwave emissivity parameterization of frozen Arctic soils using roughness measurements derived from photogrammetry. International Journal of Digital Earth, 14(10), 1380-1396.
Rutter, N., Sandells, M., Derksen, C., King, J., Toose, P., Wake, L., Watts, T., Essery, R., Roy, A., Royer, A., Marsh, P., Larsen, C., & Sturm, M. (2019). Effect of snow microstructure variability on Ku-band radar snow water equivalent retrievals. The Cryosphere, 13(11), 3045-3059.
Sandells, M., Essery, R., Rutter, N., Wake, L., Leppänen, L., & Lemmetyinen, J. (2017). Microstructure representation of snow in coupled snowpack and microwave emission models. The Cryosphere, 11(1), 229-246.
Abbott, B., Jones, J., Schuur, E., Chapin III, F. S., Bowden, W., Bret - Harte, M., Epstein, H., Flannigan, M., Harms, T., Hollingworth, T., Mack, M., McGuire, A., Natali, S., Rocha, A., Tank, S., Turetsky, M., Vonk, J., Wickland, K., Aiken, G., Mann, P., ... Welker, J. (2016). Biomass offsets little or none of permafrost carbon release from soils, streams, and wildfire: an expert assessment. Environmental Research Letters, 11(3).
Mann, P., Spencer, R., Hernes, P., Six, J., Aiken, G., Tank, S., McClelland, J., Butler, K., Dyda, R., & Holmes, R. (2016). Pan-arctic trends in terrestrial dissolved organic matter from optical measurements. Frontiers in Earth Science, 4, 25.
Search Suggestions
Search suggestions

Based on your current searches we recommend the following search filters.

PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs