Revaluating long-term drivers of peatland carbon sequestration to inform peatland restoration policies

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Daniel Schillereff

Department of Geography, KCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Alice Milner

Department of Geography, RHUL

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Project Description:

Peatlands are a globally important ecosystem for biodiversity, hydrological cycling and carbon storage, but have suffered immense degradation through drainage and excavation over the last 200 years. Less than 20% of UK peatlands are judged to be in ‘Good’ condition, with many affected by continued drainage and high nutrient loading (from agricultural emissions, for example). A growing number of restoration projects are underway to promote peatland carbon sequestration as part of the UK’s Net Zero initiatives. The effectiveness of these schemes may be constrained, however, by persistent gaps in our understanding of the complex drivers of carbon cycling in peatlands. In particular, how the interactions between nutrients, vegetation, microbes and climate collectively accelerate or slow carbon sequestration, and the effects of anthropogenically enhanced nutrient input, remain poorly understood. This PhD project will directly address this research gap by integrating palaeoenvironmental data with contemporary monitoring at several UK peatlands. By establishing these long-term dynamics, this project will be able to explore how peatlands may respond to future shifts in nutrient input, such as from agricultural emissions or land-use change, and how carbon storage can be maximised. The findings will be directly applicable to peatland restoration policies in the UK and internationally, and you will have the opportunity of working closely with policy organisations. This project will involve heavy fieldwork and laboratory components as well as active policy engagement. The project would suit a student with an interest in palaeoenvironmental science, biogeochemistry, peatland restoration and Net Zero initiatives.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project has strong and direct policy implications because peatland restoration is a key component of the UK’s Net Zero planning. This project will provide important insight on the drivers of past and future carbon sequestration in UK peatlands. The student will benefit from the supervisory team’s existing networks, providing opportunities to collaborate with a range of stakeholders.

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