PhD: Understanding the Resilience of Restored Peatlands to New Climate Extremes

The James Hutton Institute

Aberdeen, UK 🇬🇧

Salary: £17,668

Location: Aberdeen

 This is a permanent, full time vacancy that will close in 17 days at 23:59 BST.

The Vacancy

Project Title:   Understanding the Resilience of Restored Peatlands to New Climate Extremes

Supervisors: Dr. Thomas Parker (The James Hutton Institute), Dr. Rebekka Artz (The James Hutton Institute), Prof. Jens-Arne Subke (The University of Stirling) and Dr. Renée Kerkvliet-Hermans (The IUCN UK Peatland Programme).

Project description

Peatlands are a critically important carbon store: despite covering only 3% of the Earth’s surface, they contain 30% of the global soil carbon stock. At around 3 million hectares, the UK holds a disproportionately large amount of peatland. However, up to 80 % of this land has been degraded to some extent which has causing UK peatlands on average to switch from carbon ‘sinks’ to strong emitters of carbon. The Scottish government aims to restore 250,000 ha of peatlands by 2030, meaning that a significant portion of the Scottish landscapes will transition from a damaged or degraded state into a new ‘restored’ state. Peatland restoration addresses the raising the water table, revegetating of eroded areas, and slowing of water flow, leading to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and ultimately promoting carbon sequestration through of plant growth and inhibition of decomposition rates.

As well as undergoing these land-use changes, peatlands are also experiencing rapid climate change and are suffering from extreme weather events such as heat waves and droughts that will threaten their ability to sequester carbon. The interaction between peatland restoration and climate-driven impacts have so far not been researched, and the objective of this project is to understand impact of climate extremes on the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas balance of restored peatlands, compared to degraded and pristine sites. The student will use a combination of approaches, involving experiments in the field, pot experiments and controlled environment facilities to understand and predict how resilient peatlands of different restoration stages are to climate change.  

The project has the potential to address the following questions (although we encourage a flexible and student-led approach to identifying specific research foci):

1. What is the mid- to long-term greenhouse gas balance of restored peatlands and where is carbon deposited in these systems?

2. How quickly is carbon returned to the atmosphere from restored, degraded and pristine peatlands when under drought and temperature stress?

3. Does peatland restoration and management history impact soil microbial community activity and response to climate extremes, and what are likely impacts on carbon cycling?


The student will gain skills in ecosystem ecology, greenhouse gas exchange measurements, experimental design and a suite of associated analytical methods, including the use of stable isotopes in ecology. They will be embedded in the James Hutton Institute’s Peatland GHG and Hydrology team, meaning that they have connections to a wide range of peatland monitoring sites and will be connected to a range of policy, stakeholder and international networks. Furthermore, they will work directly with staff and gain access to facilities at the Scottish International Environment Centre (University of Stirling), where they will be embedded in a postgraduate cohort researching a wide range of current biological and environmental topics. A core element in this PhD project is continuous communication with, and advice from, the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, through co-supervision by their peatland code coordinator Dr. Kerkvliet-Hermans. This provides the student with a direct and unique connection between primary research, communication and application to policy.


Candidates must have a First, or Upper Second Class Honours or a Master’s degree with Merit, in ecology/biology/environmental science. They should also have:

•          A strong interest in peatland science

•          Strong time and data management and interpersonal skills

•          Evidence of good verbal and written communication skills

•          Ability to think about scientific questions critically and creatively

•          A full UK driving licence

In addition to the above, it is desirable that candidates also have:

•          Experience with labwork and fieldwork

•          Knowledge of statistics in programmes such as R

•          Experience of measuring greenhouse gas fluxes or use of stable isotopes in ecology

Funding is available for UK applicants only

Informal enquiries to Dr Thomas Parker ( are welcome ahead of application.


Applications due 14th April 2023

Interviews- 2-5th May 2023

Our Commitment to Equality and Diversity

We will not consider the use of 3rd party recruitment agencies for the sourcing of candidates for this position.  

The James Hutton Institute is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees.

The James Hutton Institute is a: Stonewall Diversity Champion; Athena SWAN Bronze Status Holder; Disability Confident Committed Employer and a Living Wage Employer.

The James Hutton Institute is Happy to Talk Flexible Working.

The Company

The James Hutton Institute combines strengths in crops, soils and land use and environmental research, and makes a major contribution to the understanding of key global issues, such as food, energy and environmental security, and developing and promoting effective technological and management solutions to these.

James Hutton (1726 – 1797) was a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, an eighteenth century golden age of intellectual and scientific achievements centred on Edinburgh. He is internationally regarded as the founder of modern geology and one of the first scientists to describe the Earth as a living system. His thinking on natural selection influenced Charles Darwin in developing his theory of evolution.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development