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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities
Drone footage of a patchwork habitat including wet woodland in Norfolk.

Lead Supervisor: Emily Lines, Geography

Co-Supervisors: Alice Milner, Royal Holloway University of London and Andy Baird, University of Leeds

Brief summary: 
Using novel remote sensing and predictive modelling to understand the structure, function and future of temperate wet woodlands.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Globally, peatlands are one of the most important terrestrial carbon (C) stores, and one of the least understood types of peatland are wet woodlands, which form in temperate and boreal river valleys, including in the UK. These woodlands store C as peat and living biomass, both above and below ground, but the importance of these woodlands’ C storage or sequestration are unknown. To help answer these questions, this project will study wet woodlands, using the Norfolk Broads in the UK as a case study. Per unit area, the various types of peatland found in the Broads contain more carbon as peat than tropical forest biomass, but whether they will be a net carbon sink or source in future is poorly understood. This may depend on factors such as vegetation type (e.g. reedbed vs wet woodland), nutrient input and whether rates of peat accretion can keep pace with sea level rise, which this low-lying area is vulnerable to. Wet woodlands are often cut in these systems in favour of reedbeds, yet may be highly valuable for carbon storage, biodiversity and flood protection. Drone and other remote sensing technologies offer new opportunities to understand the carbon dynamics of wet woodlands.
Project summary : 
This project will study the carbon stocks and dynamics of wet woodland using new high resolution Terrestrial Laser Scanning and drone (UAV) surveys collected at the Broadland Ecohydrological Observatory (BEO), established in 2017. The value of wet woodland for carbon sequestration and storage, and as protection against sea level rise will be explored using freely available Earth Observation data and predictive modelling. The findings will lead to new recommendations on how mosaics of wetland ecosystems can be managed for resilience to current and future environmental change. The project is part of a larger long-term programme of work being undertaken at the BEO by researchers from multiple institutions and organisations. There is flexibility within the topic to tailor the research to the successful candidate’s main interests.
What will the student do?: 
The successful candidate will undertake multiple field surveys at the Broadland Ecohydrological Observatory, collecting ground, Terrestrial Laser Scanning, and drone LiDAR and photogrammetry data. They will develop new computational methods to extract ecologically-meaningful information about the structure of wet woodlands from these data, and integrate data from the BEO with Earth Observation data to understand wet woodland dynamics across the Broads using machine learning approaches, and predict the future of these ecosystems under climate change. There will be regular meetings between members of the team across the participating organisations. The successful candidate will be an important member of this vibrant research group and will be encouraged to present their research findings and contribute to wider project discussions. The research is highly relevant to a large number of wet woodlands around the world and the candidate will have the opportunity of engaging with the site managers and relevant government organisations to inform management and policy efforts.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Leifeld and Menichetti (2018). The underappreciated potential of peatlands in global climate change mitigation strategies. Nature Communications 9(1071).
Malhi et al. (2018). New perspectives on the ecology of tree structure and tree communities through terrestrial laser scanning. Interface Focus 8, 20170052.
Schuerch et al. (2018) Future response of global coastal wetlands to sea-level rise. Nature 561(231–234).
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Geography page.
Dr Emily Lines
Department of Geography Graduate Administrator