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Filling the emissions gap: Investigating the dynamic contribution of soil volatile organic compounds to temperate and tropical forest atmospheres

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) disrupt the chemical equilibrium of the atmosphere causing increased formation of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. The majority of these VOCs are known to originate from the world’s forests, but we cannot currently account for them all. Without knowledge of the precise sources, we cannot predict how they will respond to changes in climate and land cover.

In this highly multidisciplinary project, you will work with leading researchers from Lancaster, CEH, Kew Gardens and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) to explore, identify, categorise and quantify the emission rates of VOCs from a currently overlooked source: the forest rhizosphere (soils surrounding the roots, fungi and bacteria).

You will conduct fieldwork in a temperate forest, local to Lancaster, and at the STRI’s flagship field-site in a tropical forest in Panama. You will have the opportunity to undertake an internship at Kew Gardens where you will be introduced to DNA-based cutting-edge techniques (Next Generation Sequencing) and to molecular ecology of fungi. You will conduct experiments in the field and the laboratory to understand how each component of the rhizosphere contributes to VOC emissions and how these emissions change as environmental conditions change.

Finally, you will distil all of the knowledge of rhizosphere VOC emissions you have gained through your experimental work into the development of a “soils in silico” computer model to describe emission rates under a range of current and potential future global conditions.

This project will equip with highly transferrable skills applicable to a wide range of complex environmental research questions.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in Biology, Chemistry, Natural or Environmental Science, or a related discipline. Enthusiasm, independence, self-motivation, curiosity and the ability to communicate to a range of audiences would all be distinctly advantageous.

For further details please contact Kirsti Ashworth: