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CEH LogoThe Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) was co-funder of my PhD and my primary supervisor in Lancaster, Dr Niall McNamara, hosted me for the 4 years during that research. My work with CEH began at the beginning of my PhD in February 2011 and immediately I was introduced to the Brattleby fieldsite just outside Lincoln, UK. This was seen as CEH's flagship site for bioenergy crops as there are two Miscanthus plantations directly adjacent to SRC Willow plantations. A number of experiments have been carried out at the Brattleby site, most of which are associated to the Ecosystem Land Use Modelling & Soil Carbon GHG Flux (ELUM) and CarboBiocrop projects. When I started at CEH a previous PhD student's project was handed over to me at the Brattleby site. The project consisted of a comparison of trace gas emissions for the plantations as well as a track of soil C dynamics over 2 growing seasons. Consequently, I decided to retain some aspects of the project and continue measurements in the Miscanthus plantation throughout the duration of my PhD. Much of the success of this research is owed to Dr Niall McNamara at CEH Lancaster and his dedication and support over the four years.

      • PhD Research - From the legacy of another PhD student's experiment in a commercial Miscanthus plantation, I developed a few research questions with my supervisors and committed to an experimental framework that would help inform mechanistic systems models. The research focussed around the carbon cycle and aimed to quantify both 'pools' and 'fluxes' associated with carbon dynamics below a Miscanthus plantation. The primary function of bioenergy crops (e.g. Miscanthus) is to deliver an energy source that is more sustainable than fossil fuels, and therefore the main goal of my PhD was to determine how sustainable Miscanthus is. Using measurements designed to define the rates of change between carbon stocks, values were attributed to the boxes and arrows between atmosphere and groundwater in the figure below.Carbon dynamics Exploiting the unique isotopic signatures of the C4 (Miscanthus-derived) and C3 (pre-existing soil organic matter) carbon sources, we were able to trace newly sequestered carbon through the system and define rates of accumulation/loss. While this, and a direct life-cycle analysis comparison between Miscanthus and fossil fuels, were interesting parts of my thesis, they lacked novelty and a key aspect of my initial research question:

Do stable or labile forms of soil carbon see the greatest sequestration over time?

To answer this, I used a physicochemical soil fractionation technique that allowed measured fractions to be related to those simulated to represent pools in systems models. This generated interesting results and has allowed a greater insight into how accurate our current model simulations are for soil carbon stocks below crops like Miscanthus. Ultimately, the PhD has generated 4 articles that are in various stages of the peer-review process.

  • Peer-reviewed outputs (updated Aug'16):
    • Review paper about modelling Miscanthus - accepted by GCB Bioenergy in 2014. More info here.
    • Life-cycle analysis to compare Miscanthus with fossil fuel energy - accepted by GCB Bioenergy in 2016. More info here.
    • Soil carbon dynamics below a Miscanthus planation - accepted by BioEnergy Research in 2016. More info here.
    • Contributions of litter and root organic matter to stable soil carbon - in preparation for Global Change Biology.

In addition to my PhD work I tried to get involved with additional research where possible and have helped out with a number of experiments initiated by CEH:

  • Biochar Research - A fellow PhD student at CEH was researching the effect of biochar on the efflux of soil nitrous oxide emissions under the Miscanthus plantation at the Brattleby site. We teamed up to help each other out with fieldwork and labwork commitments and in the process I learnt about the application of biochar.
  • Peer-reviewed outputs:
    • Soil aeration effects on N2O after Biochar application - accepted by Soil Biology and Biochemistry in 2012. Article here.
    • Biochar effects on soil GHG emissions below Miscanthus - accepted by GCB Bioenergy in 2013. Article here.
    • Biochar suppresses N2O emissions in sandy soil - accepted by Soil Biology and Biochemistry in 2015. Article here.

  • ELUM Research - The Ecosystem Land Use Modelling project was a £3.3m research consortium of academic, governmental and industry partners that aimed to produce a framework for predicting the sustainability of bioenergy deployment across the UK, but with many of the outcomes also applicable internationally. Dr Niall McNamara at CEH Lancaster was the lead co-ordinator and my PhD related well to the ELUM project goals. Consequently, there were two ELUM work packages where I contributed to their research: physiocochemical fractionation (with Dr Saran Sohi) and ECOSSE model parameterisation (with Prof Pete Smith and Dr Marta Dondini).
  • Peer-reviewed outputs (full list here):
    • Research spotlight - The ELUM Project - accepted by Biofuels in 2013. Article here.
    • Modelling soil carbon change under Short Rotation Forestry - accepted by GCB Bioenergy in 2013. Article here.
    • Soil carbon change after LUC to Short Rotation Forestry - accepted by GCB Bioenergy in 2014. Article here.
    • Simulating soil carbon below Miscanthus and SRC willow with ECOSSE - accepted by GCB Bioenergy in 2015. Article here.

  • Brazilian Sugarcane Research - A Masters student (Caio Zani) from the University of São Paulo (CENA) came to CEH Lancaster for 6 months to work with Dr Niall McNamara, myself and Dr Aidan Keith. My interaction with this research was primarily to advise and guide Caio in modelling his sites using the DayCent model. Ultimately this research provided the bulk of the student's Masters thesis and two articles have been prepared for submission. Caio begins a PhD at Newcastle University in the UK in September 2016; I am a co-supervisor of his PhD studentship entitled "Predicting and mapping impacts of long term agricultural land management practices on soil organic carbon dynamics"
  • Peer-reviewed outputs (updated Aug'16):
    • Management effects on soil carbon stocks below sugarcane in Brazil - in review at Biomass and Bioenergy
    • Irrigation effects on soil carbon stocks from sugarcane stands in Brazil - in review at Science of the Total Environment.