The effect of precipitation patterns on tropical peatland initiation, stability and growth. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Mathematics via FindAPhD

University of Exeter

Exeter, UK 🇬🇧

About the Project

Project details

Tropical peatlands are globally important and potentially vulnerable carbon stores, but are understudied, sparsely measured and have rarely been modelled. Models are crucial to help understand how they might respond to future changes in climate and management. These peatlands can be extremely sensitive to variations in their water supply (rainfall and river flooding), but due to the lack of measurements and modelling studies, exactly how they respond is currently unknown.

Recently, evidence has started to emerge from the peatland model DigiBog that sub- and inter-annual patterns of rainfall as well as the total amount of rain can drastically affect tropical peatland functioning and even whether a peatland is able to exist in a certain location. 

A new dataset from across a range of tropical peatlands is currently being collected in the project TroPeaCC led by Prof. Gallego-Sala at Exeter; a large dataset has also been collected in the Congo basin on the NERC CongoPeat project, which Exeter researchers are part of. These new datasets provide a unique opportunity to develop the scientific understanding to underpin a realistic pan-tropical peatland model, as part of wider climate change modelling efforts.

Project Aims and Methods:

During this PhD project, you will use two complementary modelling techniques, a) a point or small-scale ecohydrological model (DigiBog) and b) a global land surface model, the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) to explore the impact of water supply and regime (in particular rainfall seasonality and intensity) on tropical peatland functioning. There are four main tasks:

1. Analysing an inter-continental dataset of water table dynamics for six pristine peatland sites across the tropics (two each in S America, central Africa, and SE Asia) that will provide ground-breaking information on hydrological conditions in tropical peatlands. Other collaboration sites for which data may become available will be added to the overall dataset.

2. Using the new datasets to test and parameterise new pan-tropical versions of DigiBog and JULES, with a focus on the dynamic interactions between peat, groundwater and rainfall.

3. Using both models under a range of possible future climates to understand the vulnerability of tropical peatlands to climate change, including changes in rainfall amount and seasonality.

4. Applying JULES to the global tropical peatland area to assess how carbon uptake or emissions from tropical peatlands affect the remaining carbon budget available to keep global warming below dangerous levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement.

You will have an opportunity to be involved in the design of the project, including bringing in your own ideas to influence the research direction. 

Candidate Requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree in maths, physics, engineering, environmental science, chemistry or geography, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Experience in data analysis and programming is desirable. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a relevant Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

Project Partners; 

This project involves collaboration with both the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Met Office Hadley Centre, which are two major national research centres at the forefront of terrestrial/freshwater and climate science respectively. UKCEH will provide access to expertise in tropical meteorology and climate, including future projections of rainfall under climate change. 


During your PhD, you will be given the opportunity to develop high-level ecological modelling skills and advanced data analysis skills. You will also be supported in writing the results of your research in high impact journals. Dedicated office space and access to high performance computing facilities will be available. You will have the opportunity to work with teams of international scientists. If global circumstances allow, you will also have the opportunity to travel to a field site and to attend national and international conferences. 


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals. For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2022 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

How to apply

In order to formally apply for the PhD Project you will need to go to the following web page.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT on Friday 10th January 2022.

Interviews will be held between 28th February and 4th March 2022.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [email protected] or phone: 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) or +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers). Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2022 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,609 per annum for 2021-22.







IHE Delft Institute for Water Education - MSc in Water and Sustainable Development