Upland agricultural systems for sheep and beef enterprises cover approximately 141,000ha, or 14%, of agricultural land in Northern Ireland. While soil primary productivity and food production (£/ha) is higher for more intensive lowland farming, the other four soil functions (nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, water regulation and biodiversity) are more prominent in upland systems. However, upland farming on peatlands has provided modern challenges based on historical land management. Even with large stores, carbon sequestration and water regulation in the uplands can be impacted, for example, by (historical) land drainage on peatlands (Grand-Clement et al., 2013). Furthermore, extreme events can induce feedbacks between wetting and drying cycles and alter the carbon balance (Dhillon and Inamdar, 2013).

Previous upland research indicates that water table manipulation can offset fluvial carbon losses (restoration of drained areas), although there is some ambiguity on the scale of effectiveness (Wilson et al., 2011; Turner et al., 2013). However, drained water tables leave a higher vulnerability to moorland fires—feedbacks that can precipitate large episodic carbon losses (Clutterbuck and Yallop, 2010). Nevertheless, only a few integrated studies compare water regulation, and fluvial and atmospheric carbon fluxes (for example Renou-Wilson et al. (2014); Barry et al. (2016); and Nugent et al. (2018)), but not in the uplands.

Carbon flux in the uplands should be placed into context with expected emissions factors used in land use accounting, and with other agricultural sectors in Northern Ireland. For example, IPCC Tier 2 emission factors used in Northern Ireland agriculture are not generally based on domestic studies, and can be bluntly applied to land management units with inherent heterogeneity (Peter et al., 2016). At the scale of the hill farm, information is required to test expected gaseous emissions over different sub-environments (high moor, intake, deep peat, shallow peat, etc.). Additionally, exreme events such as droughts and floods can alter dissoved and particulate carbon dynamics (Shih et al., 2018) and this needs further understanding in Northern Ireland’s uplands. Such knowledge is important to upland agriculture as policy seeks to maximise soil functions as public goods, and which can be developed into results-based ecosystem payment schemes.

This proposal will investigate these knowledge gaps in the context of a 1,000ha hill farm research platform in Northern Ireland (in collaboration with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise).

The aim of the proposal is to assess hill farm water and gas dynamics to aid in the development of results-based ecosystems services schemes. The experimental objectives are to:

1.Provide an assessment of hill farm carbon fluxes (atmospheric—CO2, CH4; and fluvial—DOC, POC, DIC) as cotext to modelled emissions factors.

2.In upland water table mitigation experiments, investigate the trade-offs between water regulation, fluvial—DOC, POC, DIC, and atmospheric carbon fluxes—CO2, CH4.

3.Investigate the fine scale dynamics of fluvial carbon fluxes in extreme events.

Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • A demonstrable interest in the research area associated with the studentship

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,840 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

  • Candidates with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, who also satisfy a three year residency requirement in the UK prior to the start of the course for which a Studentship is held MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance.
  • Republic of Ireland (ROI) nationals who satisfy three years’ residency in the UK prior to the start of the course MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance (ROI nationals don’t need to have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme to qualify).
  • Other non-ROI EU applicants are ‘International’ are not eligible for this source of funding.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living

Recommended reading

Barry, C., Renou-Wilson, F., Wilson, D., Müller, C. and Foy, R., 2016. Magnitude, form and bioavailability of fluvial carbon exports from Irish organic soils under pasture. Aquatic Sciences, 78(3), pp.541-560.

Clutterbuck, B. and Yallop, A., 2010. Land management as a factor controlling dissolved organic carbon release from upland peat soils 2: Changes in DOC productivity over four decades. Science of The Total Environment, 408(24), pp.6179-6191.

Dhillon, G. and Inamdar, S., 2013. Storm event patterns of particulate organic carbon (POC) for large storms and differences with dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Biogeochemistry, 118(1-3), pp.61-81.

Grand-Clement, E., Anderson, K., Smith, D., Luscombe, D., Gatis, N., Ross, M. and Brazier, R., 2013. Evaluating ecosystem goods and services after restoration of marginal upland peatlands in South-West England. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50(2), pp.324-334.

Nugent, K., Strachan, I., Strack, M., Roulet, N. and Rochefort, L., 2018. Multi-year net ecosystem carbon balance of a restored peatland reveals a return to carbon sink. Global Change Biology, 24(12), pp.5751-5768.

Peter, C., Fiore, A., Hagemann, U., Nendel, C. and Xiloyannis, C., 2016. Improving the accounting of field emissions in the carbon footprint of agricultural products: a comparison of default IPCC methods with readily available medium-effort modeling approaches. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 21(6), pp.791-805.

Renou-Wilson, F., Barry, C., Müller, C. and Wilson, D., 2014. The impacts of drainage, nutrient status and management practice on the full carbon balance of grasslands on organic soils in a maritime temperate zone. Biogeosciences, 11(16), pp.4361-4379.

Shih, Y., Chen, P., Lee, L., Liao, C., Jien, S., Shiah, F., Lee, T., Hein, T., Zehetner, F., Chang, C. and Huang, J., 2018. Dynamic responses of DOC and DIC transport to different flow regimes in a subtropical small mountainous river. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 22(12), pp.6579-6590.

Turner, E., Worrall, F. and Burt, T., 2013. The effect of drain blocking on the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) budget of an upland peat catchment in the UK. Journal of Hydrology, 479, pp.169-179.

van Beek, C., Pleijter, M. and Kuikman, P., 2010. Nitrous oxide emissions from fertilized and unfertilized grasslands on peat soil. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems, 89(3), pp.453-461.

Wilson, L., Wilson, J., Holden, J., Johnstone, I., Armstrong, A. and Morris, M., 2011. Ditch blocking, water chemistry and organic carbon flux: Evidence that blanket bog restoration reduces erosion and fluvial carbon loss. Science of The Total Environment, 409(11), pp.2010-2018.

The Doctoral College at Ulster University