Can we restore Blue Carbon? – Assessing carbon dynamics in restored UK salt marshes through molecular tools


Can we restore Blue Carbon? – Assessing carbon dynamics in restored UK salt marshes through molecular tools


Project Description


Dr Stefanie Nolte (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me

Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Mark Chapman (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Peter Mueller (University of Hamburg, Germany; Institute of Plant Science and Microbiology / Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), USA)

Lisa Benson (Cefas)


Project Background

Coastal vegetated ecosystems have received much attention for their contribution to climate change mitigation. Especially the high rates of carbon sequestration have been highlighted for these so-called ‘Blue Carbon’ ecosystems (1). In the UK these include salt marshes, which could be very relevant in future carbon crediting schemes. This led to a strong interest in the restoration of salt marshes using managed realignment (i.e. the opening of seawalls to re-introduce tides).

But do these restored marshes function as a carbon sink in the same way as natural marshes (1)? To answer this question, we need to understand the underlying processes in relation to carbon dynamics and microbial ecology in restored marshes, because microbial decomposition is a main driver of carbon loss (2).

Research methodology

You will combine methods from the fields of restoration, biogeochemistry, and microbial ecology. First, to quantify carbon stocks and sequestration rates (3), you will collect soil cores from multiple restoration sites in the UK for carbon analysis and dating (using micropaleontology). Second, you will link the environmental parameters to microbial diversity and functioning in a natural and restored marsh using cutting edge molecular microbial ecology techniques, such as bacterial 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing (4,5). Finally, to identify which microbial groups are responsible for actively breaking down organic carbon into CO2 again, you will set up a microcosm lab experiment using soil from the field and 13C labelled plant material as a tracer.


You will be based at UEA and training will include field sampling, micropaleontology, and molecular microbial ecology techniques (including environmental DNA extraction, PCR, high-throughput Illumina sequencing, DNA-SIP, and bioinformatics). You will join the PhD cohort at UEA, attend training courses on both research and transferable skills and present your work in departmental seminars and at international conferences. This is an exciting opportunity to gain interdisciplinary training at UEA, Cefas, University of Hamburg and SERC.

Person specification

We are looking for a candidate with a degree in Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Earth Sciences, or other courses delivering similar knowledge and skills. You should have an interest in restoration, biogeochemistry, and/or microbial ecology.


  • 1) Macreadie, P. I., Anton, A., Raven, J. A., Beaumont, N., Connolly, R. M., Friess, D. A., Kelleway, J. J., Kennedy, H., Kuwae, T., Lavery, P. S., Lovelock, C. E., Smale, D. A., Apostolaki, E. T., Atwood, T. B., Baldock, J., Bianchi, T. S., Chmura, G. L., Eyre, B. D., Fourqurean, J. W., … Duarte, C. M. (2019). The future of Blue Carbon science. In Nature Communications.
  • 2) Mueller, P, Granse, D., Nolte, S., Do, H., Weingartner, M., Hoth, S., & Jensen, K. (2017). Top-down control of carbon sequestration: grazing affects microbial structure and function in salt marsh soils. Ecological Applications.
  • 3) Mueller, P., Ladiges, N., Jack, A., Schmiedl, G., Kutzbach, L., Jensen, K., & Nolte, S. (2019). Assessing the long-term carbon-sequestration potential of the semi-natural salt marshes in the European Wadden Sea. Ecosphere.
  • 4) Lehtovirta-Morley, L. E., Stoecker, K., Vilcinskas, A., Prosser, J. I., & Nicol, G. W. (2011). Cultivation of an obligate acidophilic ammonia oxidizer from a nitrifying acid soil. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
  • 5) Prudence, S. M., Newitt†, J. T., Worsley, S. F., Macey, M. C., Murrell, J. C., Lehtovirta-Morley, L. E., & Hutchings, M. I. (2021). Soil, senescence and exudate utilisation: characterisation of the Paragon var. spring bread wheat root microbiome. Environmental Microbiome.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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