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School of Geography

Estimating the carbon sink and greenhouse gas forcing role of China’s peatlands


Professor Joseph Holden, University of Leeds j.holden(at)
Junguo Liu, Southern University of Science and Technology

Project description

China has an estimated 137000 km2 of peatlands. Peatlands are important global carbon stores. However, this also makes them potentially large sources of carbon if they become degraded. Many peatlands in China are pristine, but others are degraded through land management interventions. It is not known whether, in total, China’s peatlands are currently a net sink or source of carbon. Furthermore, peatlands may also play an important role in greenhouse gas forcing. Some peatlands may act to reduce greenhouse gas forcing (global warming potential), whereas others, even if they are a net carbon sink, may still increase radiative forcing, particularly if they are emitting large quantities of methane.

This challenging project will compile data and use models to calculate the carbon fluxes for China’s peatlands and the greenhouse gas forcing role of these peatlands. Data on gaseous and fluvial fluxes of carbon will be collated and analysed. Data on the current condition of peatlands across China will be collated. Models will be used or developed based on wider process understanding of carbon cycling in peatlands and how they are impacted by degradation. These models will be applied to China and the spatially distributed datasets to calculate net carbon budgets and radiative forcing. The project will also

develop guidelines for priority data collection in the future to reduce uncertainties in the estimates. Depending on progress, the project may also attempt to estimate historic peatland carbon or radiative balances for China (e.g. say for 1900), and also to project future balances for peatlands (e.g. say for 2100) under different scenarios of climate change and land management. The work will be of great importance and may provide valuable data for the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) assessments.

The PhD degree would be awarded by the University of Leeds and therefore follow training provision and regulations at Leeds. However, the student would be supervised jointly by supervisors based in China and the UK. At Leeds the student would receive training in GIS skills, peatland hydrology and carbon cycling. The student would also become part of water@leeds, a major interdisciplinary research centre for water, which is seeking to grow to include 400 PhD students in water research. There would be generic and bespoke training offered across water@leeds and exposure to the wider network of opportunities including with industry and policy making audiences. The student would be expected to visit China for some periods of the PhD and study at Beijing Forestry University under the supervision of Professor Liu. Training on some of the available Chinese datasets will be provided. This PhD therefore offers an excellent opportunity for someone to experience training in two different countries. 

Student profile
A strong undergraduate degree in a relevant environmental science discipline.
A strong masters degree or equivalent.
Experience with GIS
Excellent numerical skills
Experience at using a numerical model would be desirable.
Students from any country may apply.
Funding will need to be found from a relevant funder who supports students from their country of origin.


Roige Peatland in the Tibetan plateau in China