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PhD Studentship: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2024 Entry - Understanding Pathways of Methane Production in Tropical Peatlands

University of Exeter - Department of Geography

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622 p.a. for 2023-24
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 3rd November 2023
Closes: 9th January 2024
Reference: 4959

About the Partnership

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 five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, 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.

Project Background

Tropical peatlands are the most carbon-dense ecosystems in the world and they store the equivalent of ~10 years of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions in their soils. Despite their importance, crucial questions remain about carbon cycling in tropical peatlands and improving understanding is critical as they are at high risk from both climate change and land use change. 

Under intact conditions tropical peatlands sequester carbon in their soils, but also emit methane through methane producing micro-organisms present in the waterlogged conditions. With the impacts of land use change, these dynamics shift. While tropical peatland research has primarily focused on carbon dioxide losses from drainage affected peatlands, there is a considerable gap in the knowledge around peatland based methane dynamics. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2 and, in order to understand the radiative forcing of peatland ecosystems, we need to understand methane emissions. The tropics are thought to be responsible for more than half of the global emissions of methane1. However, our understanding of methane production pathways is still in its infancy and this is a stumbling block for modelling efforts, which cannot be well calibrated nor evaluated without enough information on processes leading to these high emissions2. If we wish to understand current and future tropical methane emissions, then a deeper understanding of drivers and processes of methane production and release across the tropics are essential3. The research questions of this project will be developed around the need to fill this current knowledge gap, and according to the research interests of the successful student

Project Aims and Methods

The successful candidate will join a multi-disciplinary team of scientists to gain a deeper understanding methane production in tropical peatlands using the following approaches:

(1) Collection of tropical peat cores. This may involve field work in Colombia. (2) Quantification of changes in methane production and pathways through time using biomarkers and compound specific isotopes in these peat samples4,5. (3) DNA sequencing of the present day microbiome in order to determine the presence of different methanogenic archaea groups (4) Isotopic investigation of current methane emissions in the chosen study site(s).The student will be encouraged to be involved in the design of the project, including bringing in their own ideas in order to influence the direction of the research according to their interests.

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