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The effect of precipitation patterns on tropical peatland initiation, stability and growth. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Mathematics

University of Exeter - College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: From £15,609
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd October 2021
Closes: 10th January 2022
Reference: 4255

Project Background:

Tropical peatlands are globally important and potentially vulnerable carbon stores, but are understudied, sparsely measured and have rarely been modelled. Models are crucial to help understand how they might respond to future changes in climate and management. These peatlands can be extremely sensitive to variations in their water supply (rainfall and river flooding), but due to the lack of measurements and modelling studies, exactly how they respond is currently unknown.

Recently, evidence has started to emerge from the peatland model DigiBog that sub- and inter-annual patterns of rainfall as well as the total amount of rain can drastically affect tropical peatland functioning and even whether a peatland is able to exist in a certain location. 

A new dataset from across a range of tropical peatlands is currently being collected in the project TroPeaCC led by Prof. Gallego-Sala at Exeter; a large dataset has also been collected in the Congo basin on the NERC CongoPeat project, which Exeter researchers are part of. These new datasets provide a unique opportunity to develop the scientific understanding to underpin a realistic pan-tropical peatland model, as part of wider climate change modelling efforts.

Project Aims and Methods:

During this PhD project, you will use two complementary modelling techniques, a) a point or small-scale ecohydrological model (DigiBog) and b) a global land surface model, the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) to explore the impact of water supply and regime (in particular rainfall seasonality and intensity) on tropical peatland functioning. There are four main tasks:

  1. Analysing an inter-continental dataset of water table dynamics for six pristine peatland sites across the tropics (two each in S America, central Africa, and SE Asia) that will provide ground-breaking information on hydrological conditions in tropical peatlands. Other collaboration sites for which data may become available will be added to the overall dataset.
  2. Using the new datasets to test and parameterise new pan-tropical versions of DigiBog and JULES, with a focus on the dynamic interactions between peat, groundwater and rainfall.
  3. Using both models under a range of possible future climates to understand the vulnerability of tropical peatlands to climate change, including changes in rainfall amount and seasonality.
  4. Applying JULES to the global tropical peatland area to assess how carbon uptake or emissions from tropical peatlands affect the remaining carbon budget available to keep global warming below dangerous levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement.

You will have an opportunity to be involved in the design of the project, including bringing in your own ideas to influence the research direction. 

Candidate Requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree in maths, physics, engineering, environmental science, chemistry or geography, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Experience in data analysis and programming is desirable. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a relevant Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/.

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