Dr Sabine Lengger, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth
Prof Mark Fitzsimons, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth
Prof Alex Dumbrell, School of Life Sciences, University of Essex
Dr Rachel Warmington, Eden Project
Healthy soils are the basis for sustainable agriculture, but they are threatened by erosion, nutrient loss, and climate change. The use of artificial soils – mixtures of waste materials – would drastically increase the availability of soil for developments (ecotowns, agricultural land), however, this practice is not yet sustainable. Application of nitrogen (N)-rich fertilisers is common practice when artificial soils are deployed, but this is likely an oversupply that can result in negative environmental impacts, such as oxygen-poor marine environments. Microplastics from the waste materials could also be problematic.
In this exciting PhD project, you will characterise N-sources and N-cycling microbial communities in artificial soils, and use this knowledge to improve the formulation and management of artificial soils. This will underpin their wider implementation (e.g. as a resource for agriculture). You will do this in collaboration with the Eden Project, where the use of artificial soils was pioneered and is applied to regenerate sites in the UK, Canada, and China. There, you will have the opportunity to apply your findings, and make a lasting impact in line with the Eden global mission.
- Create and maintain experiments using artificial soil prototypes.
- Identify sources and pathways of nutrient cycling.
- Use molecular approaches to identify N-cycling organisms and communities.
- Collaborate with Eden Project sites to test findings in an applied setting.
You will be based at the UoP (Dr Lengger, Prof Fitzsimons) where you will conduct experiments and analyses, and analyse the microbiome at the UoE (Dr Dumbrell). You will collaborate with the Eden Project for field work and internships (Dr Warmington).
You will develop experimental, analytical, and transferable skills, through training from the supervisory team and the AERIES DTP. You will develop your skills in applied science, and science communication.
This project would suit a self-motivated individual, with robust experimental experience. Relevant analytical skills, and an interest in hands-on, practical, soil science would be ideal. You should have or anticipate as a minimum a 1st or 2.1 BSc in the Biological, Chemical, or Environmental Sciences