- Dr Sunitha Pangala (Lancaster Environment Centre, UK)
- Dr. Niall McNamara (Centre Ecology & Hydrology, UK)
- Dr. Alison Hoyt (Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Germany)
Tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia have sequestered carbon over thousands of years and are an important global carbon stock. In natural peat swamp forests, high water levels, warm temperature and availability of carbon make them a perfect environment for methane producing microorganisms to thrive and produce increased quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas know to contribute significantly to the global climate. Despite these ideal methane producing conditions, methane measurements from peat surfaces in tropical peatlands indicate that these ecosystems only release a fraction of methane compared to peatlands in other regions. Acidic conditions in peat and increased microbial methane oxidation by tree roots or within the peat surface have been suggested as possible theories to explain the low methane emissions from this region. In this project we will look at an alternative methane transport theory (figure 1) that may help explain the low methane emissions from the tropical peat surfaces. We propose that the observed low methane fluxes from the peat surface are the result of most methane being released via alternative pathways, namely 1) lateral transport into water courses and 2) tree transport to the atmosphere. Both these methane transport pathways have not been fully measured from any of the tropical peatland, which may have led to the earlier lower methane estimates.
In this study, we will develop a comprehensive understanding of the production, transport and emissions of methane from peat swamp forests in Borneo (Brunei and Indonesia) using field measurements and modelling approaches. We will first measure methane emissions from peat, tree stem and aquatic surfaces capturing spatial variability to quantify the role of lateral and tree transport against peat surface emissions. Second, we will measure the methane, dissolved organic carbon and dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations in peat profiles across the peat dome to capture trends in depths. Third, these two measurements will be complemented with measurements of carbon isotopic (stable and radioactive isotopes) composition to identify the source and mechanism of methane produced and transported. Finally, we will use an isotope-based approach to develop a model of methane transport and emissions which will allow us to capture the changes in methane cycling due to water table fluctuations for the first time in these systems of global importance.
What’s in it for you? The student will receive training in experimental design, planning and organising field campaigns and field sampling techniques as well as data analysis and interpretation and communicating research to a range of audiences. The student will receive specific scientific training in biogeochemical techniques (e.g. the use of portable greenhouse gas analysers and isotope-ratio mass spectrometers, chamber measurements, gas and water sample collection and analysis). The student will also be part of 4 field campaigns in peat swamp forests of Brunei and Indonesia and perform a range of carbon isotope tracer experiments to evaluate methane production, transport and emissions. Following field campaigns, the student will spend three months at Max Planck Institute and receive extensive training to develop and refine a methane transport and emission model.
Who should apply? Students who have a strong background in environmental science, with prior knowledge of plant-soil carbon cycling and willingness to work in challenging field sites are encouraged to apply. The student will join an established, well-resourced and vibrant team researching plant-soil ecology, biogeochemistry and ecosystem science at Lancaster Environment Centre, UK. The student will spend significant periods of time in some of the most beautiful ecosystems on the planet – tropical peat swamp forests of Borneo.
Enquiries: Please email Dr Sunitha Pangala @ email@example.com for further queries.
Studentship funding: Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 2019/20 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 4 years, funded by the Royal Society. Unfortunately, funding is not available for International (non-EU) students.
Deadline for applications: 30 January 2020
Provisional Interview Date: second/third week of Feb 2020
Start Date: April - October 2020 (early start is an option for interested students)
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- Gandois L, Teisserenc R, Cobba AR, Chieng HI, Lim LBL, Kamariah AS, Hoyt A, Harvey CF. 2014. Origin, composition, and transformation of dissolved organic matter in tropical peatlands. Geochemica et Cosmochimica Acta 137: 35-47.
- Hoyt A. 2017. Carbon Fluxes from Tropical Peatlands: Methane, Carbon Dioxide and Peatland Subsidence. PhD thesis.
- Pangala SR, Enrich-Prast A, Basso L, Peixoto RB, Bastviken D, Hornibrook ERC, Gatti L, Calazans LSB, Sakuragui CM, Marotto H, Basto WR, Malm O, Gloor E, Miller J, Gauci V. Large emissions from floodplain trees close the Amazon methane budget. Nature doi:10.1038/nature24639.
- Pangala SR, Hornibrook ERC, Gowing DJ, Gauci V. 2015. Tree contribution of trees to ecosystem methane emissions in temperate forested wetland. Global Change biology 21: 2642-2654.
- Pangala SR, Moore S, Hornibrook ERC, Gauci V. 2013. Trees are major conduits for methane egress from tropical forested wetlands. New Phytologist 197: 524-531.