Project proposal details

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Project title
Predicting the vulnerability of soil carbon to global change in forest ecosystems
Contact name
Bonnie Waring
Project based at
Silwood Park (Imperial)
Project description
Soils contain more carbon than plants and the atmosphere combined; thus, changes in soil carbon formation and loss will be a major determinant of atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the coming century. However, because the soil carbon pool is highly spatially heterogeneous and has a very slow bulk turnover rate, it is extremely difficult to quantify meaningful changes over short (sub-decadal) timescales. This challenges efforts to predict how global change drivers like warming, altered rainfall, and nitrogen deposition will impact soil carbon loss. The aim of this project is to explore controls on a critical soil carbon pool, particulate organic matter (POM), that is expected to have acute vulnerability to disturbance and high sensitivity to environmental change. Unlike the majority of soil organic matter, which is stabilized by clay minerals, POM is freely available for microbial decomposition, and hence cycles relatively rapidly. Thus, shifts in patterns of POM cycling may presage changes in the decomposition of bulk soil organic matter.

The MS student will use a two-pronged approach to assess the role of POM in soil carbon dynamics under global change. First, he or she will employ laboratory methods to quantify POM in soils sampled from ecosystems spanning a range of soil types, forest types, climatic zones, and ambient nitrogen deposition levels. Second, a literature review will be conducted to explore correlations between POM pool sizes and bulk soil carbon turnover rates. Together these analyses will provide an important preview of how soils will respond to ongoing climate change drivers.
Date uploaded

Project proposal limitations

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Research project proposals are usually part of an active research programme. If supervisors have stated limitations to a proposal, then they are unlikely to have any flexibility. If you are very interested in the topic but have problems with the stated limitations, the supervisor may still be happy to talk to you about other options around the proposal, but you should not expect that any alternative arrangements can be made.

Available date limitations
Winter (January), Spring (April-May)
Suitable for
Ecology Evolution and Conservation, Ecological Applications, Ecosystem and Environmental Change MRes