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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Climate, fire, and peat growth: carbon balance in the 21st century

Published: 1 March 2011

Fully funded NERC studentship

Supervisors Prof. Mary Edwards and Dr. Paul Hughes (PLUS) and Dr. Jadu Dash (GECEO)

Peatlands are an important Holocene carbon reservoir of north-temperate and boreal regions. Under most future warming scenarios peatlands remain net sinks for carbon, with enhanced production outweighing any drying trends, but fire can remove large quantities of carbon from peat instantaneously (Khury 1994). Studies of UK Holocene peat deposits indicate a history of burning (from charcoal remains). Historical/recent land management practices have also used fire a tool. In upland situations, fires may encroach on to blanket peats, which are a widespread peatland type in the UK. Whereas land managers have little control over the overall growth of peatlands, they have far more control over release of carbon from burning. Estimating vulnerability to fire and possible magnitude of losses is thus an important element of a 21st peatland management strategy.

The Holocene climate evolved through several stages that are recognized in palaeoenvironmental records and encompass both warm-dry and warm-wet climate periods. Carbon loss that might be expected under different climate regimes and the susceptibility of a range of peatland types to natural fires can be assessed from the dated stratigraphic record of the peat itself, particularly bog surface wetness estimates (Hughes et al 2006) and macro-charcoal. Past data can be used to inform simple correlative models of future peatland dynamics, and results can be up-scaled using remote sensing and modelled to provide assessments of the carbon balance under different 21st climate scenarios.

As actions of managers and the general public also influence fire occurrence, it would be informative to modify models based on expected human behaviour. Part of the work will be to gain an understanding of likely human effects on the fire regime and incorporate these into future projections of carbon dynamics.

Hughes, al. (2006) Quaternary Science Reviews, 25, 1208-1227.Kuhry, P. (1994) Journal of Ecology, 82, 899–910.

The closing date for applications is 1 April 2011.

Eligibility for this studentship is governed by the NERC – please see their website to check your eligibility BEFORE making an application:

For information on how to apply, follow these links  or contact Julie Drewitt, Graduate School Administrator on if you have any further queries.

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