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Agricultural hotspots of nitrous oxide in space and time: Guaranteed funding for 4 Year NERC Industrial CASE PhD

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  • Full or part time
    Dr N McNamara
    Dr S Toet
    Dr J Whitaker
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Why is this project important?
Currently nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), contributes 6% of global climate GHG forcing with 24% of this arising from agriculture. With the world population expanding towards 9 billion by 2050 there is a major concern that N2O emissions from fertilised agricultural soils could rise significantly. The challenge for agriculture is to develop management interventions which mitigate these emissions so contributing to climate mitigation targets. However, predicting N2O emissions remains a major scientific uncertainty limiting our ability to design effective mitigation strategies. This PhD project will be developed to answer the question:

Why do soil N2O emissions vary so unpredictably in space and time?
The PhD student will carry out novel research to identify how key drivers of N2O (climate and soil management) interact with localised physical, chemical and biological heterogeneity in soils. New, state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation will be used by the student to study N2O dynamics at high resolution in space and time. They will conduct laboratory and field experiments combining real-time N2O measurements with biogeochemical, isotopic and microbial analyses to unravel how climate and soil management interact to influence the microbial pathways which determine N2O emissions.

The student will be based in the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Lancaster, benefiting from interactions with PhD students and PDRA’s at the Lancaster Environment Centre (www.lancaster.ac.uk/lec). The student will have an opportunity to combine their research with on-going NERC projects including UGRASS (www.soilsecurity.org/u-grass) and ASSIST (assist.ceh.ac.uk). The student will also work with CASE Partner Dr Christian Davies at Shell, Texas, USA to put their measured data in a wider global context through modelling and upscaling initiatives.

What’s in it for you?
Professional and specific scientific training courses will be provided by CEH and University of York (see ACCE DTP). In addition training through research in plant-soil biogeochemistry, trace gas instrumentation, enzymology, microbial ecology and 13C and 15N stable isotope tracers (plus Data management-curation and statistics, presentations and publication skills). You will work with supervisors recognised as world-leading in soil biogeochemistry, plant-soil ecology and state-of-the art GHG and isotopic instrumentation. You will also have opportunities for research training with CASE partner Shell, Texas, USA.

Project supervisors: Dr Niall McNamara and Dr Jeanette Whitaker (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, www.ceh.ac.uk), Dr Christian Davies (Shell-CASE supervisor) and Dr Sylvia Toet (University of York).

Who should apply?
We encourage applications from UK, EU and international students with BSc/Masters degrees (2.1 or above or equivalent) in disciplines including environmental science, geography and ecology.

Application process: This PhD position is guaranteed funded and will commence in October 2017. We encourage informal enquiries so please email Dr Niall McNamara: [Email Address Removed]. To apply send a CV and a covering letter outlining your background and suitability for this project to [Email Address Removed]. Your application must also include details on two potential referees. Deadline for applications: 18th August 2017.

Funding Notes

This 4 year funded PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (https://acce.shef.ac.uk/). The stipend will be approximately £14,999 per annum. An additional stipend contribution of £1000 per annum will be added by CASE partner Shell. The University of York is the PhD awarding body.


Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, Elizabeth M. Baggs, Michael Dannenmann, Ralf Kiese and Sophie Zechmeister-Boltenstern. 2013. Nitrous oxide emissions from soils: how well do we understand the processes and their controls? Phil Trans R Soc B 368: 20130122.

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