NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: The Greenhouse Gas Balance of UK Agriculture: Developing an Affordable Measurement System for a Complex and Changing World

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Main supervisor: Dr Timothy Hill (Geography, University of Exeter)

Improving our understanding of the greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of UK agriculture is vital if we are to meet our commitments to combat climate change. As the current state-of-the art, eddy covariance (EC) has been fundamental to many of our key insights into GHG gas balance and key ecosystem processes.

However, a single EC system to measure carbon (C) fluxes can cost upwards of £20,000. Therefore, in stark contrast to scientific norms, EC measurements are rarely replicated. This severely limits EC and means: 1) the role of spatial variability is largely unknown, and; 2) there are many key ecosystems that are devoid of observations.

In this PhD you will address this key limitation of the EC by developing an inexpensive EC system to measure C and water fluxes. Not only will this development improve the quality of science, but it will also allow research in less-well developed countries, where current technology is simply too expensive to afford.

In this project you will build upon recent developments of an inexpensive EC system with the overall aim of addressing these major short comings of EC (Hill et al., In review). The EC system we have developed uses readily available off-the-shelf sensors and combines these with rapid prototyping from 3D-printing and open-source computer platforms (i.e. Arduino) to create an affordable EC system.

You will develop this prototype and benchmark the systems capabilities at the cutting edge Rothamsted research platform at North Wyke Devon. You will then deploy multiple systems to address critical research questions.

We know that apparently homogeneous ecosystems are in fact highly variable (Figure 1). You will explore the role that spatial heterogeneity plays in C and water fluxes at a number of key ecosystems:

  1. Rothamsted’s pasture experiment in North Wyke, Devon.
  2. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology's (CEH), Tadham Moor managed grassland on (fen) peat in Somerset.
  3. CEH's arable versus bioenergy experiment in Lincolnshire.

Each of these sites is currently under observation using a single conventional EC system per cover type. You will use the new measurement system to explore the degree to which intra-site spatial variability exists at the sites and to determine the key controls of this variability.

You will also deploy the inexpensive EC system you develop to assess the effect of different pastures in cattle grazed systems (Orr et al. 2016) on emissions. This will be achieved by deploying the newly developed system on the Rothamsted Farm Platform on 3 different pastures.

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 six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, 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. For further details about the programme please see

See please for more details on how to apply.

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South West England