Research co-authored by ERL staff presents a new model of tropical peatland development, DigiBog_Congo, used to simulate peat carbon accumulation and loss in a rain-fed interfluvial peatland that began forming ~20,000 calendar years Before Present (cal. yr BP, where ‘present’ is 1950 CE).

November 2023


Peat-forming seasonally flooded forests of the Peruvian Amazon: distribution, carbon storage, and long-term ecology

The overall aim of this project is to investigate, for the first time, the distribution, carbon storage, and long-term ecology of peat-forming seasonally flooded forests in Peruvian Amazonia.

Among the most important discoveries about the global carbon cycle over the past few years is that, in the Amazon and Congo basins, huge amounts of carbon are stored below ground, hidden from view, in the form of peat – partly decomposed plant litter. It was once thought that peat could only form under exceptional circumstances in the lowland tropics, because organic matter typically decomposes very quickly in hot, humid environments, but it is now clear that many, perhaps most, permanently waterlogged locations in the landscape are suitable for peat formation. The discovery of such widespread peatlands has generated a lot of research activity aimed at trying to understand just how much carbon is stored in the peat, where that peat occurs, and how vulnerable it is to human disturbance and future climatic change. One of the key geographical areas where that research is taking place is the Pastaza-Marañón Basin in Peru. Our group’s work has helped to show that this one part of Peruvian Amazonia, approximately half the area of the UK, contains about 35,000 km2 of peatlands storing over 3 billion tonnes of carbon (Draper et al. 2014), similar to the total amount of carbon stored in UK peatlands. In places the peat reaches 6 m thick and is up to 8,000 years old.

Supervisors: Lawson, Gulliver, Roucoux, Honorio Coronada

November 2023


History of tropical peatland vegetation: controls on the recent development of peatland pole forest in Peruvian Amazonia

The overall aim of this project is to understand the long-term history, and ecological, geochemical, and hydrological controls on the occurrence and development of an important but still little-studied ecosystem – the peatland pole forests of Peruvian Amazonia. These forests are concentrated in the northern part of the Pastaza-Maranon Foreland Basin, the largest peat-forming area in Amazonia. Growing in areas where the peat is thick, the peatland pole forests have the highest carbon density of all Amazon forests and the large amount of carbon stored below ground means they make a significant contribution to the tropical peatland carbon pool and thus to the global carbon cycle. These forests also contribute significantly to regional biodiversity. Although the Peruvian peatlands remain for the most part intact for now, they are under threat from oil exploration and infrastructure development, and their preservation is vitally important for both climate change mitigation (by keeping the carbon in the ground) and protecting biodiversity.

Supervisors: Roucoux, Gulliver, Lawson, Honorio Coronada


Welcome to our new staff member: Iain Murdoch

We are very pleased to introduce a new staff member in our group- Iain Murdoch. Iain will be stepping into the role of Technician at the NEIF (National Environmental Isotope Facility) Radiocarbon Laboratory. While it is always great to introduce new faces, this time, it’s a warm welcome back to Iain, who is no stranger to radiocarbon at SUERC. We look forward to working together!

JULY 2023
Fieldwork to build Gabonese capacity for soil CO2 flux measurements – supported by the Small Grants Fund from the University of Glasgow Centre for International Development

In July 2023 the radiocarbon laboratory Head, Philippa Ascough, travelled to Gabon to perform fieldwork in Lopé National Park, in collaboration with researchers from Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux du Gabon (ANPN) and the University of Stirling, UK. This trip had a dual purpose; the overall fieldwork was part of NERC-funded SPECTRAL grant project (NE/T008040/1, PI Professor Jens Subke), and included recovery of soil mesocosms, soil coring, and vegetation sampling. Philippa is a Co-I on SPECTRAL and was supporting this sampling campaign.

In parallel, Philippa was initiating a project on which she is PI, funded by the University of Glasgow Centre for International Development (GCID). This work is in collaboration with ANPN and Stirling, and is aimed at building scientific capacity in Gabon for field measurements of soil CO2 flux. This capitalises on analysers that have been developed in the radiocarbon laboratory as part of NEIF. These ‘home-made’ analysers provide a very low-cost alternative to proprietary instruments, and are easily built, repaired, and maintained by a user with little training. The aim of the fieldwork was to equip Gabonese researchers with the equipment and knowledge required to measure soil CO2 flux using these low-cost analyzers and understand any initial barriers to their deployment.

The amount of CO2 that soils emit over time (the ‘flux’) is globally important. CO2 flux shows whether an area is a net carbon source or sink, and also how changing land-use and climate affect soil productivity, carbon storage, and long-term agricultural viability. However, the expense of obtaining and maintaining scientific instruments to make CO2 flux measurements is a major obstacle for many researchers, particularly in the Global South, where research resources can be more limited. This limits both academic training opportunities, and in-country research opportunities, despite these researchers being well-placed to design and lead soil carbon studies across globally important regions. The project is therefore not just about providing equipment but is also about building research capacity, by overcoming practical obstacles that Gabonese researchers face when designing and leading projects that incorporate CO2 flux measurements.

The fieldwork went extremely well, for both the SPECTRAL and the GCID grant aims. We worked with Dr. Fidèle Evouna Ondo at the Station d’Etudes des Gorilles et Chimpanzes (SEGC) to deliver a set of comprehensive training sessions on the ‘home-made’ CO2 flux analysers. These covered how to operate and maintain the analysers, record data, and perform basic repairs. Three analysers were left at SEGC, and Dr. Evouna Ondo and his team are currently performing tests to assess long-term performance and provide feedback for the next steps of the work.

Top left- the NEIF CO2 flux analyser; Top right- Field training session at SEGC, Lopé National Park; Middle – Information session for ANPN staff and public at CEDAMM, Lopé village; Bottom – the SPECTRAL field team. Photo credits: Adele Sinkinson and Jens Subke

13tH March 2023

Research authored by ERL staff in the Journal of Hydrology combines 14C-DOC and 14C-DIC with a suite of other environmental tracers (stable isotopes, noble gases, CFC’s, hydrochemistry) to compare two contrasting aquifer types as paleoclimate archives.

15th NOVEMBER 2022

The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is experiencing rapid mass loss, as a result of climatic change, which is resulting in a vast number of concerning impacts; from sea level rise to changing albedo feedbacks to changes in downstream ecosystem structures. Recently, there has been evidence of significant, yet previously poorly quantified CH4 release from the subglacial environment of GrIS. CH4 is a potent greenhouse gas, so these elevated CH4 concentrations pose a potentially important positive climate feedback, that requires further investigation.

MARCH4G, led by Dr. Marek Stibal (CryoEco, Charles University), aims to quantify the potential of the GrIS subglacial ecosystem to produce and release CH4 into the atmosphere and affect the global CH4 cycle. Improving our understanding of this subglacial production of CH4 is fundamental to making predictions on future change and upscaling to the ice sheet scale. Determining the age and origin of subglacial CH4 will provide a key piece to the puzzle, via the use of radio- and stable isotope analysis.

We aim to sample glacial meltwaters from a wide range of catchments along the west coast of Greenland, covering 6 main localities from Qaanaaq in the north to Narsarsuaq in the south in the summers of 2021, 2022 and 2023. We measure and collect water-extractable CH4 and CO2 using a CH4 extraction technique developed at the Environmental Radiocarbon Laboratory where gases are manually equilibrated (by shaking) from glacial meltwaters into a N2 headspace and then collected for analysis in 15 L Silonite cannisters. All the rivers we have sampled so far have been super-saturated with respect to CH4, however that hasn’t always meant sample collection has been straightforward. In order to collect the amount of carbon required for 14C analysis, we have had to extract CH4 and CO2 from up to 150 litres of water into 30 litres of N2 headspace for one sample. To date, we have measured aqueous CH4 concentrations in 24 glacial streams, collecting six samples for radiocarbon dating, with plans to finalise our sampling campaign next summer.

We thank Mark, Callum, and everyone at the Environmental Radiocarbon Laboratory in East Kilbride for their efforts in converting our large sample volumes into 14C ages, which are providing us with crucial information on the carbon source for CH4 production within these complex subglacial environments of the GrIS.

ABOVE: Some photos of the team sampling in Greenland over the last couple of years. At least the manual extractions kept us warm when sampling at the glacier front!

4th November 2022

A Changing Climate, A Changing Arctic: Investigating biogeochemical cycling in the Canadian High Arctic 

This project will address fundamental gaps in our understanding of land-to-ocean weathering and carbon fluxes from glacial and permafrost sourced rivers in the high Arctic through a combination of field work and geochemical lab work.

Supervisors: Andrea Burke, Mark Garnett, Maya Bhatia

4th November 2022

Peat-forming seasonally flooded forests of the Peruvian Amazon: distribution, carbon storage, and long-term ecology

The overall aim of this project is to investigate, for the first time, the distribution, carbon storage, and long-term ecology of peat-forming seasonally flooded forests in Peruvian Amazonia.

Supervisors: I Lawson, P Gulliver, K Roucoux, E Honorio Coronado

14th September 2021

NEW PAPER: Review of the radiocarbon dating method, co-authored by ERL staff, describing the latest techniques and applications

6th SEPTEMBER 2021

NEW PAPER: Employing our molecular sieve CO2 sampling techniques to understand CO2 production from the weathering of rocks


NEW PAPER: Mini-kit 14CO2 sampling equipment

New portable CO2 field sampling kit developed to enable scientists to carbon date emissions from terrestrial and aquatic environments. 

24th MAY 2021

FUNDING NEWS: Biochar Demonstrator Addressing Key Deployment Barriers for Carbon Sequestration (BB/V011596/1). PI: Colin Snape, University of Nottingham.  Funder: UKRI-BBSRC, Total Award: £4.5 Million

Philippa Ascough is a Co-I on one of five interdisciplinary projects awarded in the UK government’s £31.5 million Strategic Priorities Fund. Each project investigates the viability of innovative methods of greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere. In our case we are examining ‘biochar’ as a nation-wide carbon sequestration tool, by combining chemical, physical, and engineering sciences with social, economic, and policy sciences. The aim is to help the UK reach its legislated net-zero target by 2050, and results will be used to shape longer-term government decision-making on effective technologies to tackle climate change and reduce CO2 emissions.  

11th November 2020

Organic matter biogeochemistry of tropical rainforest rivers.  

Supervisors: Ryan Pereira, Geoff Parkin, Mark Garnett

Environmental Radiocarbon Laboratory

Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre

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