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Peatland hydrology: a global comparison using the PeatDataHub monitoring network

Prof. Joseph Holden (SoG), Dr Paul Morris (SoG), Dr Gabriella Lopez-Gonzalez (water@leeds)

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This PhD project seeks to use the new PeatDataHub platform ( to compile data from sites around the world in order to enable the successful student to interrogate datasets on water table and other hydrological properties to understand more about global peatland water-table dynamics. 

You will work with peatland scientists from around the world to help curate the datasets and lead the analysis of these datasets. PeatDataHub workshops have already brought together scientists from around the world who have agreed to be part of PeatDataHub and protocols for data sharing and co-authorship of papers are already in place. The project would have flexibility in terms of the types of approaches and questions that could be addressed. For example, the successful student may wish to examine peat properties, permeability, evapotranspiration or surface water discharge or to link hydrological data to carbon data, and perhaps to use the data to inform or develop models or examine recent climate change impacts. However, we envisage hydrological datasets being central to the project. The work will have a global focus and will be of relevance for understanding global carbon dynamics and peatland restoration targets.

The project will have a global focus and as such be likely to lead to papers submitted to top international journals. The supervisors of the project, in line with the spirit of the PeatDataHub network, would encourage the student to produce a thesis by publications (the research papers published in journals forming the main thesis chapters), which is an exciting route for PhD students at the University of Leeds. 

Peatlands are important carbon stores holding an equivalent to two thirds of the atmospheric store. Peatlands occur in tropical, temperate and high latitude locations. Sometimes they form over large land areas (e.g. James Bay Lowlands, Canada) while in other locations they form in smaller, more isolated pockets (e.g. valley bottoms in mountainous regions). Peatlands accumulate carbon by preserving dead plant material in a wet state which reduces oxidation so that net carbon loss is smaller than net accumulation. Therefore, the condition of a peatland is strongly controlled by its hydrological processes. While there are different types of peatland, ranging from fens (mainly groundwater fed) to bogs (mainly rainwater fed), the basic properties of extensive saturation are thought to be the same. Typically saturation state is measured by determining the depth of the water table, and water table is one of the most commonly measured parameters when scientists and practitioners want to monitor a peatland. However, water tables fluctuate throughout the year and can be spatially variable depending on the location within the peatland (at a micro or macro topographic scale) and also whether management is impacting the site. The availability of a large amount of data on peatland water-table dynamics means that if it were carefully pooled together from different sites, using clear data comparison protocols, we might be able to undertake some global assessments of the variation of water-table depth (spatially and temporally) for different types of peatland under different topographic, climatic or management influences. 

The student should have a background in a related subject such as physical geography, environmental science, earth science, hydrology / water management or ecology. The student should have excellent communication skills in order to work scientists around the world in compiling and curating data. They should be happy to work on a PhD project that will be largely desk-based. Good analytical, data presentation and GIS skills are desirable but suitable training will be provided during the PhD.

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Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Earth science
  • Earth system science
  • Ecology
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental science
  • Geography
  • Geoscience
  • Hydrology
  • Physical geography
  • Soil science
  • Water management