Fully-Funded PhD Studentships

1. The Environment Department is offering 10 projects as part of the NERC funded ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership.  Instructions on how to apply will be in each project description. For further information on the application process please email

Application Deadline: Tuesday 9th January 2018 at 23h59min

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2. The Environment Department is part of the ESRC funded White Rose DTP.  Applications are currently open for student-led proposals.  For further information on the application process please email .

Application Deadline: Wednesday 24th January 2018 at 17h00min

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3. Linking blanket bog management, habitat status and climate to peat chemistry, carbon storage and water quality (PhD in Environmental Science)

Andreas Heinemeyer (SEI); Kirsty Penkman (Chemistry); Tim Thom (Yorkshire Peat Partnership)

To discuss your suitability for this project please email:

Funding status
Approved by NERC

Application deadline
Sunday 7th January 2018 at 23h59min (interviews to be held end January/early February)

How to apply

  •  click on here to take you to the University's Online Application Service
  •   please select 'research' and then search for either the course: 'PhD in Environmental Geography' or 'PhD in Environmental Science'
  •   press the apply button on the right
  •   select '2018 October, Full Time' as your start date
  •   click on the Start application button
  •   register as a new user and then login to your account
  •   it is very important that you copy and paste the title of the project you are applying to and the names of the project supervisors. It is not necessary to include a research proposal (as the project is already defined).

Project description

UK blanket bogs provide crucial ecosystem services (ES), including >50% of drinking water and storing ~10 BT of carbon (C), and are generally assumed to be a net greenhouse gas (GHG) sink. Many bogs have suffered from nitrogen deposition causing widespread degradation, sometimes causing bare peat, with erosion causing considerable costs to water companies. Moreover, climate change and management by drainage and rotational burning on grouse moors and for sheep grazing has resulted in further degradation, with heather dominance linked to deterioration in water quality (WQ). About 80% of UK blanket bogs are now degraded and further threatened by climate change; restoration (costing 100s of millions of pounds) is now trying to reverse this trend and increase resilience to climate change.

Whilst success has been reported in respect to revegetation and rewetting, implications on WQ, C storage and methane fluxes affecting the GHG balance are less clear. A key uncertainty is the lack of process-level understanding affecting C storage and chemical products affecting water quality as dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and C fluxes (CO2 and methane). Specifically, climatic factors and vegetation composition have been linked to altered C cycling and DOC production. This in turn could affect water chemistry, colour and the associated water purification costs potentially required. Understanding climate and management impacts on the underpinning C cycle processes and the DOC quantity and quality is crucial in predicting climate and restoration impacts on ES.
This project builds on an extended (until 2021) and previously Defra-funded (2012-2017), replicated paired sub-catchment study (BD5104) assessing management effects on blanket bog vegetation and ES. The role of litter decomposition (e.g. heather vs sedge), soil organic matter stabilization via burning as charcoal and its effects on decomposition and WQ is still largely unknown, but a recent NERC-funded summer project at York suggested possible management, vegetation and charcoal impacts on peat chemical composition with impacts on decomposition and WQ. In collaboration with the Yorkshire Peat Partnership and Yorkshire Water, this project will therefore provide the essential chemical insights into the mechanisms and effects of management regimes on WQ.
This project will explore peat chemical properties of C input and decomposition processes in relation to habitat, vegetation, management and climate, developing an understanding of the impacts on C storage, C losses, DOC impacts on water quality (WQ) and methane emissions. This will provide a much needed process-level understanding to answer a key practitioner question: how favourable is a habitat, and which vegetation community is best in relation to C storage, DOC compounds affecting WQ, and GHG emissions?

Objectives: to determine the impacts of management, restoration and climate on the delivery of blanket bog ES via soil chemical processes affecting C storage, GHG fluxes and WQ. This will be achieved through combining in situ monitoring with mesocosm manipulation of field samples and undertaking detailed chemical analyses to track degradation pathways. The project aims to translate these insights into end-user relevant evidence, habitat surveys and restoration projects.

The Project: Sensors, analysers and data from the Defra study will be combined with complementary sites in mesocosm studies (drought and temperature) in addition to continuing and extending field trials (mown vs. burnt vs. unmanaged) and monitoring aspects (C fluxes and water quality) to other sites (vegetation and habitat spectrum). After optimisation of analytical methods, the student will test whether observed differences in habitat status, vegetation, C budgets and fluxes relate to changes in soil chemistry and identify and assess degradation of key compounds affecting WQ. The findings will answer the evidence needs around WQ and restoration by defining a measurable trajectory (and chemical indicator proxies) from degraded to favourable condition.

The novel aspects are to establish key soil chemical processes affecting WQ and C storage via the plant-soil system in relation to management and climate. We will combine state-of-the art chemical analyses (i.e. 13C NMR; py-GC/MS; FTIR spectroscopy, liquid chromatography) with C fluxes and WQ analyses, together with 13C labelling, 14C dating (NERC facility) of C fluxes and DOC to distinguish between recent and old C export via possible "priming" of older, recalcitrant C.

Funding notes
Fully funded for 4 years, studentships cover: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate, (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Studentships are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.
Requirements: At least a 2:1 honours degree, or equivalent. There are language requirements for international students.

Subject areas
Agronomy and soil science, Environmental Science, Climatology and Climate change, Ecology and Conservation, Microbiology, Botany / Plant Science, Agricultural chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Geography, Geochemistry, Analytical Chemistry

More information is in the attached document:

Heinemeyer iCase PhD advert 2017 (MS Word  , 26kb)

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