Soil carbon feedbacks to 21st century climate change, Self funded PhD Geography Ref: 3200

About the Research Project


Iain Hartley, University of Exeter
Kees Jan van Groenigen, University of Exeter

Project Information
Soils store more carbon than all the world’s plants and the atmosphere combined. Therefore, a small percentage change in the amount of carbon in soils would have a big effect on CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the rate of climate change during the 21st century. It is thus critical that we understand how soil carbon storage is controlled, how it will respond to global change, and how it can be managed.

This project will test new paradigms in soil carbon science to investigate the extent to which properties of the soils themselves (texture, chemistry) versus environmental conditions (climate, vegetation type) control carbon storage. The project will also consider how these different variables interact. Novel experiments will be run using both natural soils and artificially constructed soils to develop fundamental understanding that will have major implications for predicting future rates of global warming and for managing the global carbon cycle to mitigate against climate change. It is expected that the research will take place mainly in the laboratory but there is also the potential for using natural climate gradients, different ecosystem types and agricultural managements to further test key hypotheses under field conditions. The project will also involve travelling to collect soils from contrasting environments. The importance of the subject means that there is considerable potential for developing high-impact publications. In addition, the results will have clear implications for managing the terrestrial carbon cycle, and will thus provide further opportunities in an applied science context.

The project is suitable for a highly-motivated candidate who is interested in developing understanding of how the terrestrial biosphere will respond to, and feedback on, future rates of climate change. Knowledge of the global carbon cycle, experience of running manipulative experiments and using hypothesis-testing statistics, are desirable.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Iain Hartley.

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Entry requirements

You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree from a UK university, or equivalent, in geography, environmental science, soil science or ecology.  Experience in soil carbon research is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, covering letter and two academic references. Your covering letter should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project.

You may also be asked to upload verified transcripts of your most academic qualification.

Please quote reference 3200 on your application and in any correspondence about this project.


Application deadline:24th September 2018
Value:This project is self-funded
Duration of award:Not applicable
Contact: PGR Enquiries