The role of lateral exchange in modulating the seaward flux of C, N, P.

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


All living organisms that make up life on Earth are made from a profusion of elements in the periodic table, including trace metals. However, in addition to oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H), the constituents of water, the three most important are Carbon (C), Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P). These have become known as the Macro-Nutrients. These macronutrients are in constant circulation between living organisms (microbes, plants, animals, us) and the environment (atmosphere, land, rivers, oceans). Until human intervention (circa post industrial revolution and even more so since WWII) these 'cycles' were largely in balance: plants took up CO2 and produced O2 and, in order to do so, took up limited amounts of N and P from the environment (soils, rivers) and, on death, this "sequestered" C,N,P was returned back to the Earth. The problem is that human or anthropogenic activity has put these key macro-nutrient cycles out of balance. For example, vast quantities of once fossilised carbon, taken out of the atmosphere before the age of the dinosaurs, are being burnt in our power stations and this has increased atmospheric CO2 by about 30 % in recent times. More alarmingly, perhaps, is that man's industrial efforts have more than doubled the amount of N available to fertilize plants, and vast amounts of P are also released through fertilizer applications and via sewage. As the population continues to grow, and the developing world catches up, and most likely overtakes, the western world, these imbalances in the macro-nutrient cycles are set to be exacerbated. Indeed, such is the impact of man's activity on Earth that some are calling this the 'Anthropocene': Geology's new age. The environmental and social problems associated with these imbalances are diverse and complex; most people would be familiar with the ideas behind global warming and CO2 but fewer may appreciate the links to methane and nitrous oxide or the potential health impacts of excess nitrate in our drinking water. These imbalances are not being ignored and indeed a great deal of science, policy and management has been expended to mitigate the impacts of these imbalances. However, despite our progress in the science underpinning this understanding over the last 30-40 years or so, too much of this science has been focused on the individual macro-nutrients e.g. N, and in isolated parts of the landscape e.g. rivers. To compound this even further, such knowledge and understanding has often been garnered using disparate, or sometimes even antiquated, techniques. Anthropogenic activity has spread this macro-nutrient pollution all over the landscape. Some of it is taken up by life, some is stored, but a good deal of it works its way through the landscape towards our already threatened seas. We need to understand what happens to the macronutrients as they move, or flux, through different parts of the landscape and such understanding can only come about by a truly integrated science programme which examines the fate of the macronutrients simultaneously in different parts of the landscape. Here we will for the first time make parallel measurements, using truly state-of-the-art technologies, of the cycling and flux of all three macronutrients on the land and in the rivers that that land drains and, most importantly, the movement of water that transports the macro-nutrients from the land to the rivers e.g. the hydrology. Moreover, we will compare these parallel measurements across land to river in different types of landscapes: clay, sandstone and chalk, subjected to different agricultural usage in order to understand how the cycling on the land is connected, via the movement of water, to that in the rivers.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit? This blue skies research will quantify the flux and dynamics of the lateral exchange of organic C through the Avon catchment & how this in turn modulates the scale of flux, & nature of N & P transformations, towards the coast. There are several end-users & beneficiaries in both private & public sectors e.g. Defra, Environment Agency (EA), CEFAS, Wessex Water, wastewater companies, Local Authorities, agricultural & farming sectors. Learning how catchment changes directly influence C,N,P cycles will enable these organisations to save resources by targeting their actions on those aspects of the nutrient cycles that have the greatest benefit. The project also benefits academics & the public.
How will they benefit? The project enhances quality of life, health & environment as follows:
1. Data on N & P transformations under perturbed C cycles will inform Defra's policies on the impact of nutrient pollution on the environment (e.g. Nitrates Directive, Water Framework Directive, National Emissions Ceilings Directive).
2. Data on the spatial & temporal scales of P, NH4+, NO3- transformations, the timescales for nutrient transport through the catchment & whether interactions with P increase DN will inform Defra's strategy on N2O emissions & the interactions between N2O & other forms of N (& P) enabling improved mitigation strategies to be developed for reducing both pollution & greenhouse gas emissions (Low C Transition Plan, Climate Change Act)
3. Data on air to soil exchange of CO2 (& CH4) under increased temperatures & perturbed C cycle in the catchment will inform Defra's policy on mitigating climate change by reducing CH4 emissions and improve environmental air quality.
4. Data on the lateral exchange of organic C through the catchment will also determe the potential cycles & sinks for C in other water bodies. For e.g., there is significant policy interest in Defra on C fluxes within water column to benthic sediments (e.g. Cefas) via the Marine Strategy Framework which manages sustainable marine resources.
5. Data on how elevated temperatures effects microbial diversity will inform how climate change impacts on microbial biodiversity.
6. Data on fecal indicator organisms (FIO) will inform FIO mitigation by improved agricultural management.
The project increases the effectiveness of public services & policy as follows:
1. Data generated will test & parameterise a model, which can be used by Defra's UKCIP to more accurately predict potential cycles & sinks for C under future climate scenarios, helping Local Authorities (e.g. Hampshire County Council) adapt to climate change.
2. The project gives added value to Defra's Demonstration Test Catchments (DTC) monitoring program with additional nutrient data from sites within the catchment not currently monitored by Defra and will give important information on how different agricultural management practices influence scale of flux of C,N, P cycling in the catchment.
3. Data on C, N & P flux through river food webs will inform Defra's policy on biodiversity & information on how diffuse pollution & N impacts biodiversity decline.
4. Data obtained will inform EA policy of Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, Habitats Directive & Marine Environment.
5.Data will inform policy on C sequestration & UK C inventories & help to meet the Government's goals for protecting & sustaining natural resources.
Production of trained staff: The project will produce 4 trained PhD students & 9 PDRAs with molecular, analytical, hydrology, ecology and modelling skills who can enter private/public sector marketplace.
Economic benefits: IP resulting from the project will foster industrial collaborators and enhance economic competitiveness of UK.
Timescales for benefits to be realized: The SAG set up in month 1 with representatives from stakeholders, regulators & policymakers (see pathways to impact) will inform the project throughout to ensure policy aims are


10 25 50
Description We have demonstrated some of the strong links between the local terrestrial environment, geology and base flow index on river chemistry. We have also shown the potential impact of climate change on the carbon balance and water quality of pasture systems in the South of England.
Exploitation Route We, in collaboration with other Consortium members, have assembled the outcomes for presentation to the user community - water companies, river authorities, land owners and a well-received project presentation was made to many stakeholders at the Royal Society in June 2016.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description Presentation made at Royal Society to a number of stakeholders, alerting them to the quite severe drought problems that may occur in pasture systems in non-chalk systems undert climate change.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description COST EU Short Term Scientific Mission
Amount € 1,600 (EUR)
Organisation Dystonia Europe 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2016 
End 04/2016
Description NERC Pump Priming
Amount £306,806 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P008690/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 07/2018
Description NERC Research Grant, Innovation
Amount £119,319 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P016774/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 02/2018
Description University of York Early Commercialisation Award
Amount £16,860 (GBP)
Organisation University of York 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 06/2016
Title SkyGas and SkyLine technologies 
Description Novel technique for monitoring ecosystems 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Increased monitoring of C fluxes in ecosystems 
Title Macronutrients climate data 
Description Stockdale, J. E.; Ineson, P. (2017). Hampshire Avon: soil temperature and water content data from three sub-catchments. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Data are available to the research Consortium, with publications in progress. 
Title Macronutrients trace gas flux database 
Description Stockdale, J. E.; Ineson, P. (2017). Hampshire Avon: trace gas fluxes from experimentally manipulated plots in three sub-catchments. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Data are available to the research Consortium, with publications in progress. 
Description Automated chamber equipment deployed in Swedish SITES 
Organisation National Taiwan University
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country Taiwan, Province of China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to place automated trace gas system developed under NERC funding onto a long term Swedish research site (SITES programme). The EU COST initiative provided a Short Term Scientific Mission grant to enable the exchange. The equipment will be managed locally and will be in place for ca. 1 year.
Collaborator Contribution Provided local accommodation, vehicle and driver, a team of 4 field workers during installation, contribution to travel and accommodation costs. They will maintain and monitor the equipment on a weekly basis, as part of their core measurment programme.
Impact Only just started, but confident that joint database (under SITES) and publications will result.
Start Year 2016
Description Collaborative construction of a SkyGas3D system over Swedish national research site 
Organisation University of Gothenburg
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Based on the success of the SkyGas development award in developing a working aerial ecosystem monitoring system, we were asked by the Swedish SITES initiative, we put forward collaborative proposals under the NERC International Opportunities Call 2016 and to the Swedish SITES programme. This has lead to an extremely successful collaborative programme of world-leading research and technical development based at the Skogaryd Lake site near Gothenburg, using 'roving eddy' approaches to quantify plot scale greenhouse gas emissions for the first time.
Collaborator Contribution The research has taken technology developed under previous NERC funding and employed it at one of Sweden's major long-term ecosystem monitoring sites, as part of the SITES initiative. The infrastructure provided by the Swedish collaborators has been 'second to none' and has included provision of electricity to the site, construction of four towers, provision of extremely expensive and cutting-edge greenhouse gas analytical equipment and local planning. Additionally, we have received excellent support by local staff (drivers, engineers, scientists) and free access to the accommodation and facilities at the field sites; indeed, several of our team trips to the site have been fully funded by the collaborators, including flight, local transport and hotel costs.
Impact The project is still on-going and has only produced presentations at scientific meetings, to date.
Start Year 2017
Description COST/NERC Summer School Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact International summer school on greenhouse gas measurements and data handling, co-funded by EU COST and NERC
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description EGU Display 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Attendance at the European Geophysical Union (EGU) Annual Meeting in Vienna. Displayed and demonstrated the equipment on a commercial footing, whilst also presenting research papers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018