Quantifying aquatic and gaseous carbon export from degraded peatlands: role in terrestrial carbon budgets and implications for national greenhouse gas inventory reporting


The export of Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) and evasion of carbon dioxide (CO2) from inland waters is increasingly being recognized as a key part of the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle. However, a major weakness in the carbon balance estimation of terrestrial ecosystems, such as peatlands, is the poor quantification of DOC and CO2 evasion fluxes associated with drainage waters. This has implications for conservation, land-use management and climate change mitigation. Whilst intact peatland systems typically sequester carbon, drainage modifies peatlands such that they act as a net C source due, primarily, to the degradation of organic peat soil. This results in peat settlement, the loss of peat-forming habitat and an increase in export of C as DOC in drainage waters. In addition to this, drainage waters are super-saturated in CO2 and methane (CH4) which rapidly evades back to the atmosphere resulting in an additional C loss. Thus, C losses in the drainage systems of peatland catchment areas are possibly an under-reported and significant source of C in countries with significant peat land cover, such as Ireland.

This PhD project aims therefore to quantify the magnitude of C losses in aquatic pathways from the range of peatland systems found across Ireland. To achieve this, representative catchments will be instrumented for hydrometric monitoring and analysis, and aquatic C fluxes will be measured using both field and laboratory based instrumentation. Upscaling of measured aquatic C fluxes will be achieved by deploying hydrological modelling approaches for ungauged catchments and will be informed by a concurrent doctoral project that will map peatland drain densities and characteristics using remote sensing technologies, as well as other research into land-atmosphere GHG fluxes.

Project team:

This doctoral research project will form part of SmartBog, a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ireland funded multi-disciplinary initiative that is assessing the impact of anthropogenic management of peatlands, through drainage and land use conversion, on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. This project will be a collaborative endeavour, combining academic and governmental departments, and will be jointly supervised by:

  • Dr Shane Regan: Senior Ecohydrologist, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Science and Biodiversity Unit, Dublin
  • Dr Matthew Saunders: Assistant Professor in Plant Ecophysiology, Trinity College Dublin
  • Professor Laurence Gill: Professor in Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin.

The prospective student will be based in the Environmental Engineering group in Trinity College Dublin.

Details of scholarship:

Applicants with a strong background in hydrology, hydrochemistry, environmental sciences / engineering, geosciences, or a related field and with demonstrated academic and research excellence, candidates with Masters level experience are encouraged to apply. The selected candidate will be awarded a PhD Scholarship comprising an annual stipend of €24,000. University fees are paid by the student from this stipend, which is tenable for 3 years.

Applications should include a cover letter, CV and contact details for two referees and should be sent to Prof Matthew Saunders (saundem@tcd.ie)

The closing date for applications is Monday 8th July 2019

This PhD position will start in Sept 2019.

Desired qualifications:

  • Minimum of a bachelor degree in environmental engineering, environmental science or geoscience.
  • Preferably a Master's degree specialising in hydrology, biogeochemistry or related disciplines.
  • Good technical skills in using equipment and instrumentation for environmental monitoring.
  • Good laboratory and field data collection and analysis skills.
  • Good skills in scientific programming.
  • Full clean EU driving licence.
  • Fluency in written and spoken English
  • Willingness to work as part of an interdisciplinary team.
  • Interest in global environmental issues.

posted: 11 June 2019     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.