PHD Project

October 12, 2022

The vulnerability of soil carbon to extreme rainfall

There is a growing imperative to reverse global soil carbon losses and increase soil carbon stocks. This action could contribute to climate change mitigation and improve food security. While efforts to increase soil carbon are focused on enhancing soil carbon stabilisation and persistence, soil carbon can also be subject to destabilisation and loss through physical disturbance of the soil (e.g. land management and climatic factors). Identifying land management strategies that can ‘lock up’ soil carbon therefore also requires an understanding of the vulnerability of soil carbon to destabilisation and loss.

Soil carbon from dead microbes and plant material becomes stabilised in soil through adsorption to soil minerals and protection in aggregates. We know that land management and soil properties influence the amount of carbon stabilized but we do not know how vulnerable soil carbon is to environmental perturbations such as extreme rainfall, which are projected to become more frequent under climate change.

In this PhD project the student will investigate the vulnerability of soil carbon to extreme rainfall and investigate the pathways by which carbon is destabilized and lost from soil. A specific focus will be on improving understanding of how the physical action of intense rainfall exposes soil carbon to decomposition, leaching or erosion and how the consequences of this vary between different soils depending on their chemical and biological properties.

The student will be supported by an experienced supervisory team across UKCEH and Lancaster Environment Centre and gain access to wider support from the £1.9M NERC “Locked Up” (Whitaker) and EU SOPLAS projects (Quinton). The student will have access to ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities and equipment (biogeochemical, isotopic, rainfall simulation, fluorescence tracing) whilst being trained with specific and transferable skills.

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

For more information please contact Jeanette Whitaker at