This is an exciting PhD opportunity combining novel field, analytical and remote sensing techniques to develop an evidence-based strategy for managing fenland peat. The aims of the project are to support the development of sustainable, climate resilient, net zero farming, and to identify alternative management trajectories for the UK lowland peatlands. It is a fully funded NERC - CENTA PhD Studentship for 3.5 years. CENTA is a consortium of Universities and research institutes that are working together to provide excellence in doctoral research training within the remit of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Successful home-fees-eligible candidates will receive an annual stipend, set at £15,609 for 2021/22, paid directly to the student in monthly increments, plus full university fees and a research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000.

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Project Highlights:
 
Development and application of novel remote sensing approaches for measuring and monitoring UK lowland peatlands
Identification of how management can improve sustainability of UK lowland peatlands
Opportunities for training and gaining experience in a combination of novel field, analytical and remote sensing technologies.
 
Overview
 
The Cambridgeshire Fens are a highly fragmented and extensively drained lowland peatland landscape. They cover 4,000 km2 and include large areas used for crop production and grazing, ditches and rivers, unproductive highly degraded peat, small reserves of deeper peat, and areas under active restoration. The Fens, like all UK lowland peatlands, have an important role in climate regulation, acting as both sources and sinks for GHGs. Intact peatlands are an important carbon store, but degraded peatlands now account for 3.5% of total UK GHG emissions. Conventional agricultural production in the Cambridgeshire Fens is worth £1.23 billion per year but is driving continued peat degradation. The highly fragmented nature of these peatlands requires decision-making to reduce risks and enhance climate resilience at a landscape scale.
 
Potential strategies to enhance resilience range from the adoption of more sustainable grazing, crop, soil and water management practices which will reduce the rates of peat erosion, to wetland crop production, and full restoration. While the benefits of peatland restoration are broadly understood, the merits of widespread adoption of more sustainable, regenerative agricultural practices, and the production of wetland crops on peat are less clear. Sustainable agricultural practices include reduced grazing, conservation (zero) tillage which reduces soil mechanical disturbance, winter cover-cropping (for example rye), and raising water tables, but there has been no systematic assessment of their costs/benefits. Paludiculture trials are ongoing in the region, and may ultimately have the potential to replace conventional agricultural production in some areas, although the economics of scaling operations remain to be clarified. Areas of deeper peat are generally considered to be priorities for restoration/conservation, although ongoing degradation and a lack of up-to-date peatland maps means the location of these areas is often anecdotal, and there are financial implications for farmers. 
 
Key to successful outcomes is the development of cost-effective tools for monitoring ongoing peat loss, and adopting a systematic approach to landscape management that can optimise continued agricultural productivity in suitable areas, while identifying areas appropriate for alternative management trajectories. Ultimately such tools are important in the context of schemes like the IUCN peatland code, which is currently being expanded to lowland peatlands in England and Wales, and due to the potential for trading peatland carbon credits in the near future.
 
 
Methodology
 
The aim of this project is to develop an evidence-based strategy for managing fenland peat to allow sustainable, climate resilient, net zero farming, and to identify alternative management trajectories for the region. The student will 1) assess the suitability of different remote sensing techniques such as Interferometric synthetic aperture radar, Lidar alongside with multisource and multitemporal data fusion techniques to measure peat wastage rates in the Cambridgeshire Fens. This will be validated using existing datasets (e.g., the Lowland Peat Survey) and fieldwork. Using outputs from 1, the student will 2) develop a landscape scale opportunity model, incorporating information on wastage, land use, and future climate impacts such as flood risk and use it to identify optimal management trajectories that enhance reduce wastage for different peatland areas. 3) assessment of trade-offs in terms of economic impacts and effects on wider ecosystem services from changes in peatland management, and incorporate into a tool for visualising impacts.
 
 
Partners and collaboration
 
The Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust, G’s growers will support the project including access to potential field sites, and sharing of available data and expertise on lowland peat restoration and management.
 
 
Possible timeline:
 
Year 1: Synthesise the scientific literature on management practices relevant to UK lowland peatlands, assessing impacts on production and wider-ecosystem services.
Year 2: Assess and validate the suitability of different remote sensing techniques (e.g. Lidar, inSAR with multisource and multitemporal data fusion) to measure peat wastage rates in the Cambridgeshire Fens. Carry out preliminary fieldwork. Prepare journal article, and attend relevant conferences such as the EGU.  
Year 3: will include 1) developing a landscape scale opportunity model, incorporating information on wastage, land use, and future climate impacts (e.g. flood risk) and use it to identify optimal management trajectories that enhance reduce wastage for different peatland areas and 2) assessing trade-offs in terms of economic impacts and effects on wider ecosystem services from changes in peatland management, and incorporate into a tool for visualising impacts.
 
 

At a glance

  • Application deadline07 Jan 2022
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date03 Oct 2022
  • Duration of award3 years full time - 6 years part-time
  • EligibilityUK, Rest of World, EU
  • Reference numberSWEE0165

Entry requirements

Applicants should have at least a 2:1 at UK BSc level or at least a pass at UK MSc level or equivalent in a related discipline. 

Funding

Sponsored by NERC through CENTA DTP, Cranfield University

The project is open to all applicants who meet the academic requirements (at least a 2:1 at UK BSc level or at least a pass at UK MSc level or equivalent). Please note the grant covers fee costs for a Home award. Unless you are eligible for such a Home award, you will need to consider how you will be able to meet any shortfall in funding for tuition fees, e.g. self-funded. Please contact the supervisors listed on the project for more information.

Diversity and Inclusion at Cranfield

At Cranfield, we value our diverse staff and student community and maintain a culture where everyone can work and study together harmoniously with dignity and respect. This is reflected in our University values of ambition, impact, respect and community. We welcome students and staff from all backgrounds from over 100 countries and support our staff and students to realise their full potential, from academic achievement to mental and physical wellbeing.

We are committed to progressing the diversity and inclusion agenda, for example; gender diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through our Athena SWAN Bronze award and action plan, we are members of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and Working Families, and sponsors of International Women in Engineering Day. We are also Disability Confident Level 1 Employers and members of the Business Disability Forum.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.


How to apply

For further information please contact: 

Email: a.khouakhi@cranfield.ac.uk 
 
Admissions
T: +44 (0)1234 758082
E: studyenvironment@cranfield.ac.uk
 
If you are eligible to apply for the PhD, please complete the online PhD application form stating the reference No. SWEE0165.