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School of Geography

How will climate change affect organic matter exported from peat?

Supervisors: Dr. Catherine Moody, Prof. Pippa Chapman

Aim: to discover the impact of climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations on organic matter composition and processing, and the potential for positive climate feedbacks.
Peatlands cover only 2.8% of the Earth but store 50% of the global soil carbon pool and 10% of the world’s freshwater1. Peatland rivers are significant sources of fluvial carbon (as dissolved organic carbon (DOC), a component of organic matter) and concentrations in the northern hemisphere have doubled in the last 20 years2. Climate change has been cited as one of the possible reasons for the observed increase, and prolonged drought is known to increase DOC production from peat, but the effect of climate change on organic matter composition is unknown3. Temperature increase is likely to affect the rate of the processing of organic matter in water, and therefore the greenhouse gas emissions, further contributing to climate change. It is important to understand the relationship between climate and organic matter composition and processing to allow models of future climate change to include the potential for positive feedback as greenhouse gas emissions from water increase.
This project investigate the composition changes in organic matter under future climate change scenarios through lab and field experiments and analysis. Fieldwork will be conducted in the UK uplands, and the findings will be of international relevance.


1. Xu et al. 2018 PEATMAP: Refining estimates of global peatland distribution based on meta-analysis. Catena 160, 134-140
2. Evans et al. 2006 Alternative explanations for rising dissolved organic carbon export from organic soils. Global Change Biology 12, 2044-2053
3. Ritson et al. 2017 The effect of drought on dissolved organic carbon (DOC) release from peatland soil and vegetation sources. Biogeosciences 14, 2891-2902

Funding and application information

This project does not have direct funding attached  but applicants with their own funding are welcome to apply.  It is also suitable for a number of University Scholarships including the John Henry Garner Scholarship 2018 and a Leeds Doctoral Scholarships.  Information on funding options can be found here.  Before completing a scholarship application, please submit an application for PhD study as outlined here.