November 28, 2018

Soil microbes to mitigate climate change

Human populations are expected to increase by 50% to 9 billion by 2050 as climate change continues – together these changes will place unprecedented pressure on the Earth’s finite and fragile natural resources. There is growing social, economic and political concern about the impacts of climate and land use change on global biodiversity and the goods that the environment supplies. A key challenge is to manage terrestrial ecosystems sustainably whilst mitigating climate change. An immediate opportunity is to reverse global soil organic carbon (SOC) losses, and increase stocks by 0.4% per year, articulated as the proposed ‘4 per mille’ target (launched at COP21, 2015). This global initiative would halt the increase in atmospheric CO2 however, identifying land management strategies that could ‘lock up’ SOC is currently severely hampered by a lack of understanding of how SOC becomes stabilised. In particular recent evidence indicates that plant inputs into soils are not the primary constituents of stabilised SOC, but that carbon compounds produced by microbes form the majority (50-80%) of soil organic matter (SOM). Both abiotic and biotic pathways transform organic carbon inputs into stable SOC, but the mechanisms are highly uncertain (Liang et al 2017).

In this PhD the student will research the potential to manage soil microbial communities as a means to sequester atmospheric carbon to achieve the 0.4% target. A specific focus will be on improving understanding of the mineralbiological processes that govern carbon persistence in soils. The student will gain access to an experienced supervisory team and ‘state-of-the-art’ equipment and instruments (scanning spectroscopy, biogeochemical, isotopic) whilst being trained with specific and transferable skills. The student will also have opportunities to work closely with Shell (Houston, USA) to examine the potential for scaling and implementing soil microbe climate mitigation strategies.

UK students with BSc/ Masters degrees (2.1 or above) in disciplines including Environmental science, Biology, Geography, Natural Sciences or similar.

Please contact Dr Jeanette Whitaker with any questions. email: