PhD position: ‘Quantifying carbon accumulation and loss in afforested peatlands’

Institution: University of York

Department: Environment

Duration: 3 years

Apply by: Friday 16th October 2015

Peatbogs contain vast quantities of carbon. What happens to this carbon will determine our future climate: will it stay safely locked away in the peat or enter the atmosphere accelerating global climate change? Damaged peatbogs often release carbon and one of the most common ways we have damaged bogs is by draining them for forestry. However, we currently do not know how much carbon has been lost from afforested peat and whether this is compensated by carbon accumulation in the trees. We are recruiting a PhD student to address these questions as part of a new research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. 

The project focuses on the comparison of carbon stocks between open and afforested peatland, primarily in northern Scotland. The project will determine the total stock of carbon in peat and forest to calculate how this total changes with afforestation and subsequent restoration. The project is highly applied and combines palaeoecological techniques, particularly tephrochonology, with carbon accounting, modelling and remote sensing. The supervisory team will include experts in palaeoecology, forestry and restoration ecology based at four UK research institutes. The student will also work closely with a wider group of collaborators and stakeholders to ensure project results are communicated to policy-makers. 

The studentship will be based in the Environment Department at the University of York but will include a phase of intensive fieldwork based at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, northern Scotland. The duration of this phase is open to discussion with the appointed student but is likely to be six to nine months. The student will also spend shorter periods working with team members at the University of Aberdeen and at Forest Research near Edinburgh. While the project is UK-based there will also be opportunities for the student to gain field experience overseas, likely to include fieldwork in Russia in 2016. The student will have the opportunity to gain teaching experience if they wish. 

The student will receive training in all methods to be used in the project including elemental analysis, radiocarbon analysis, tephrochronology and statistics. The project is open to UK/EU students with at least a 2i degree  in Geography, Environmental Science or Biology (or a closely-related subject) and interests in palaeoecology, conservation, forestry, biogeochemistry or ecology. Students with previous experience in peatland ecosystems or knowledge of tephrochronology, and a masters degree in a related subject would make strong candidates for this project. 

For questions about the project or the application process, please contact Dr Richard Payne (


Fully funded PhD studentship:  The Environment Department at the University of York invites applications for a PhD studentship co-funded by the ESRC White Rose Doctoral Training Centre and the Environment Department to start in October 2016.

Suggested research topics and potential supervisors include the following:

Health and well-being effects of extreme weather events. Contact Dr Peter Howley.

Environmental policy and ecosystem services. Contact Dr Julia Touza-Montero.

Social dimensions of low carbon transitions. Contact Dr Karen Parkhill.

Environmental behaviour of the European Institutions since the onset of the financial and economic crisis. Contact Dr Charlie Burns.

Social protection measures to address food security. Contact Dr Samarthia Thankappan.

Applicants can also design their own research projects, but regardless of the topic you are encouraged to contact a member of staff in the Environment Department who can supervise your research.

More information, including eligibility and application details, is available on

Deadline for applications is 2 February 2016.

Keywords: Environmental Science; Ecology & Conservation; Geography; Political Science & International Studies; Social Work, Social Policy & Administration; Sociology

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