'Hearing the full symphony': advancing our understanding of the carbon cycle through continuous monitoring of dissolved organic carbon export.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Geographical & Earth Sciences


This project will, through the development of a sensor to measure the concentration of organic carbon dissolved in water, reveal information on the export of carbon from terrestrial landscapes to aquatic environments. At present, this understanding, generally constructed from grab samples, lacks detail. Dependent on sampling frequency, important periods of carbon export may remain undetected. Capturing detail, through high frequency in-situ measurement, will inform the calculation of accurate budgets of dissolved organic carbon export and provide insight into how the environment controls loss of carbon from the landscape. Such insights will offer societal and scientific advances in many ways, ranging from calculating how long for a windfarm takes to payback carbon expended in construction (construction may impact on terrestrial storage of carbon, later reflected in aquatic export), to incorporating rigourous models of how much carbon is transferred by rivers from land to sea, into global carbon cycle models. Accompanying development of the sensor to quantify DOC export will be contemporaneous characterisation of DOC composition by application of Raman spectroscopy. Should this approach prove viable, if time permits (ultimately dependent on student progress) the doctoral training programme will also explore development of field deployable sensors for logging of in-situ Raman spectra. On the short-term timescale (of this studentship), the research programme proposed will further our understanding of several NERC fundamental research priorities, namely, 'What are the sources, sinks and transportation processes of C within the earth system?', 'How is the carbon cycle influenced and integrated by other major biogeochemical cycles?', and thus is appropriate for NERC's key strategic and scientific priorities. However as the research programme will require training and expertise development across disciplines (biogeochemistry, statistical modelling and electronics), and this will be intellectually challenging, the longer term return from such NERC training investment is an intellectually flexible individual, positioned to address future emerging, inter-disciplinary research challenges. Indeed this doctoral training programme develops six of the fifteen key skills recently indentified as critical skill gaps for the environment sector (ERFF Report Number, Most Wanted Skill Needs in the Environment Sector), namely expertise in modelling (of time series), data management, numeracy, multi-disciplinarity, fieldwork and freshwater science.


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