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Understanding the uncertainty of plant-soil carbon and nutrient cycle predictions

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Davies
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The cycling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (C, N and P) between plants and soil is crucial to the sustainability of our society and our planet, playing key roles in climate regulation, food provision and water quality. These cycles are modified by human activity in multiple ways: by climate change; elevated nitrogen deposition from fossil fuel burning and agriculture; and land-use change. However, these multiple human drivers of plant-soil change, and the close biogeochemical links between plants and soil, means that the behaviours of plant-soil cycles are complex. Dynamic modelling is an essential tool in addressing this complexity and understanding ecosystem response to climate, nutrient cycle and land-use change. However, we do not understand the uncertainties that surround such models. Being able to quantify our confidence in future predictions of plant productivity, soil C, N and P stocks, greenhouse gas emissions, and dissolved losses, is a critical need for making robust decisions on adapting to climate change and managing our natural resources.

The aim of this studentship is to undertake an uncertainty analysis of current and future predictions of plant-soil C, N and P stocks and flows suitable for informing a broad range of stakeholders in land-management and policy-making such as DEFRA, the Environment Agency, Natural England and clean water industries.

In this PhD, we will explore the extent of input, parameter and structural uncertainties in plant-soil C, N and P models, utilizing the N14CP model, developed at LU and CEH, as an exemplar model. We will investigate the importance of the past in determining both contemporary ecosystem status and future response. For example, we will look at how past land use shapes current and future plant-soil behaviour by examining long term field experiments across the globe with the model. We will also attempt to understand uncertainties at national scales to inform national policy making. For example, we will utilize national datasets to help assess the role of observational spatial variation in model uncertainty.

Further Information: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/sci-tech/downloads/phd_252.pdf

Academic Requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 14 February 2016

Provisional Interview Date: [tbc] Week Beginning 29 February 2016

Start Date: October 2016

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/media/lancaster-university/content-assets/documents/lec/pg/LEC_Funded_PhD_Application_Form.docx) outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications, http://www.lec.lancs.ac.uk/postgraduate/pgresearch/apply-online.

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/media/lancaster-university/content-assets/documents/lec/pg/LEC_Funded_PhD_Reference_Form.docx) to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([email protected]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years or full studentships (International tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for International students for 3 years.


1. Tipping, E., et al. "N14C: A plant–soil nitrogen and carbon cycling model to simulate terrestrial ecosystem responses to atmospheric nitrogen deposition." Ecological Modelling 247 (2012): 11-26.
2. Beven, Keith. Environmental modelling: an uncertain future? CRC Press, 2010.
3. Sutton, Mark A., et al. Our Nutrient World: the challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), 2013.
4. An introduction to Soil Security: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApMqeK6qwYY
5. Understanding Carbon Nitrogen and Phosphorus cycles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c76x5yEkK_c

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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

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