- A mix of data synthesis, field experimental research, and modelling in collaboration with on-going UKRI/industry projects regarding agricultural GHG mitigation thus offering significant training and career prospects.
- Access to state of the art field GHG instrumentation, modelling expertise, a network of commercial farms and industry expertise to maximise the scientific output.
- Opportunity to deliver research that has significant importance for UK government policy, national GHG inventories, industry and farming efforts to decarbonise whilst also producing fundamental research outputs regarding biogeochemical cycling in agricultural systems.
Cultivation of arable agricultural soil represents one of the main and most difficult sectors from which to reduce greenhouse emissions (GHG’s). There are major sources of nitrous oxide (N2O) emission to the atmosphere, due to the extensive application of nitrogen (N) fertilisers to crops whilst annual agricultural management such as tillage has resulted in decreases in large soil organic carbon (C). In 2018, global emissions from agriculture were 9.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (FAO, 2021). It is estimated that agriculture is responsible for 68% of the UK’s N2O emissions (Brown et al., 2023). These national and international emissions estimates are based on empirical functions (GHG emission factors-EF’s) that translate management data (e.g. N fertiliser application rate) into EF’s (e.g. 1% of N application becomes N2O (IPCC, 2019)). Over the last decade huge effort has gone into developing UK specific EF’s for agricultural soils encapsulating climate, land use and conventional land management. Whilst this represents a step change for our national GHG inventories, it does not capture the emerging themes around regenerative agriculture (e.g. min-till, cover crops, and animal grazing) or novel interventions such as using biochar or biofertiliser application to soils. Further, we do not know their true GHG mitigation potential relative to conventional agricultural practices. Reducing uncertainty is essential for the UK to transition to net zero GHG emissions by 2050. We also require urgent clarity on the potential of such innovations due to the increasing practice of monetising GHG reductions through carbon credit markets.
The overarching aim of this project is to generate and synthesise data to inform GHG emission factors and the GHG mitigation potential of selected novel agricultural practices. By doing this we will better define the efficacy of novel agricultural practices for arable soils. The work will be delivered through synthesis of existing data, new field observations and empirical modelling.
This research aligns with current and future field research being delivered by the research team. In particular we highlight the UKRI AgZero+ project (https://agzeroplus.org.uk/), an ambitious five-year research programme that comprises a network of innovative commercial farms transitioning towards net zero.
Figure 1: High resolution monitoring of GHG emissions testing multiple options for GHG mitigation in mineral arable soils planted with winter wheat.
This is a CENTA Flagship Project
This project is suitable for CASE funding
HostUK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
- Climate and Environmental Sustainability
- Organisms and Ecosystems
- Dynamic Earth
Dr Arezoo Taghizadeh Toosi, UKCEH ([email protected])
Dr Ryan M. Mushinski, The University of Warwick ([email protected].)
Prof Niall McNamara, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster ([email protected])
Dr Jessica Elias, Natural England CENTA2 L1/2 Supervisor ([email protected])
Dr Yuk Faat Wu, Advanced Bacterial Sciences (ABS) CASE Supervisor ([email protected])
We will synthesise existing data (meta-analysis) regarding regenerative and novel agricultural practices that can minimise GHG emissions from mineral agricultural soils. We focus on data relevant to our national context and for arable cropland. We anticipate variable data quality/quantity. For example, soil C capture under cover cropping is fairly well defined whilst huge uncertainty exists with regard to min-till systems and soil N2O. Following this review the student will narrow the direction of the work towards testing promising innovations or targeting areas of high uncertainty. For example, designing plot-scale experiments (e.g. N2O reduction with biofertilisers-CASE partnership) using robotic GHG sampling (Fig 1) and/or soil coring across a network of farms (paired-site approach) to follow C stock change after innovation (e.g. min-till). Finally, a statistical modelling approach using experimental and synthesised data will derive empirical functions to help inform GHG emission factors and crucially the GHG mitigation potentials of target innovations.
Training and skills
Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.
Training includes a wide range of GHG and soil characterisation techniques in the field and laboratory supported by the UKCEH and Warwick team. The lead supervisor is an expert in modelling of C and GHG’s and will provide training for this (and to CENTA cohort). Case Supervisor ABS (https://abs.eco/) are repurposing food waste streams into microbially enriched biofertilsers. A 3 month+ placement at ABS, Morecambe will support investigation of such innovations. UKCEH and Warwick offer a range of scientific and professional courses. Natural England offer a policy placement (yr3). Additional training and collaborative opportunities through linked projects will be possible.
Partners and collaboration
Dr Taghizadeh Toosi (UKCEH) has significant expertise in the measurement and modelling of biogeochemical processes (Taghizadeh-Toosi et al., 2014). Dr Mushinski leads the Environmental Processes Laboratory (Warwick), and has extensive experiences on biogeochemistry and soil N cycling (Mushinski et al., 2019). Professor McNamara leads the Plant-Soil Interactions Group (UKCEH) and he oversees projects aimed at mitigating agricultural GHG emissions (Davies et al., 2021). Dr Elias (L1/L2 Partner) is a Climate Change Senior Specialist at Natural England. Dr Wu (ABS: CASE partner) is developing microbially enriched biofertiliser products and has expertise relating to soil N2O emissions (Wu et al., 2021).
Further details on how to contact the supervisor for this project and how to apply for this project can be found here:
For any enquiries related to this project please contact Dr Arezoo Taghizadeh Toosi, ([email protected]).
The successful applicant would be registered at the University of Warwick.
To apply to this project:
- You must include a CENTA studentship application form, downloadable from: CENTA Studentship Application Form 2024.
- You must include a CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three) who can comment on your academic abilities.
- Please submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/lifesci/study/pgr/studentships/nerccenta/ Complete the online application form – selecting course code P-C1PB (Life Sciences PhD); from here you will be taken through to another screen where you can select your desired project. Please enter “NERC studentship” in the Finance section and add Nikki Glover, [email protected] as the scholarship contact. Please also complete the CENTA application form 2024 and submit via email to [email protected]. Please quote CENTA 2024-UKCEH4 when completing the application form.
Applications must be submitted by 23:59 GMT on Wednesday 10th January 2024.
CASE Supervisor Applied Bacterial Sciences: https://abs.eco/
L1/L2 Partner Natural England: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england
AgZero+ Project: https://agzeroplus.org.uk/
Systematic review of literature on innovative farming practices in relation to GHG emissions with specific relevance to UK arable soils (Chapter 1). Synthesise information to identify best opportunities for field based experimental and/or observational research. Identification of farms for delivering field research. 1.5 month placement at ABS, Lancaster. Devise statistical plan for Year 2 field studies. First draft of data synthesis paper.
Establishment of Field Experiment testing GHG mitigation potential of an innovation over one arable cropping cycle (ca. Oct-Sept e.g. winter wheat) (Chapter 2). Working across groups build skills in GHG analytical measurement and interpretation. Submission of Year 1 data synthesis paper.
Year 2-3: Wider cross farm study to assess viability of existing on-farm GHG innovations e.g. soil C survey under no-till with laboratory GHG potential study OR potential for follow on Field Experiment (Chapter 3). 1.5 month placement at ABS, Lancaster.
Development of site specific empirical modelling and analysis of all data. Interactions with wider project teams regarding innovative farming practices e.g. attending AgZero+ project meetings. Policy Placement with L1/L2 Partner Natural England.
Year 4: Thesis completion including discussion chapter 5. Paper writing. Interaction with wider linked projects and opportunities for co-authorships on position papers.
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