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Carbon sequestration in tropical forest soils – a partial control on global warming

Supervisors: Edmund Tanner and David Coomes

Reference code: B243

Importance of the area of research:  Soils contain more carbon than plants and the atmosphere combined. Soil organic matter is constantly decomposing and being added to. Thus soils and the atmosphere are in dynamic near equilibrium. Human-caused increase in CO2 are resulting in more tree growth and thus more inputs of organic matter to soils. We have a long-term experiment in Panama where we add organic matter to soils, after nine years of addition about 30% of the added carbon is still in the soil. We now need to know the form it is in, and where exactly it is relative to the mineral components of the soil. If it is in forms which cannot be rapidly be oxidised to CO2 then it is a long-term sequestration of carbon, if not it could easily be oxidised and return as CO2 to the atmosphere. Results will be incorporated into existing models of carbon dynamics.

Project summary:  Will natural carbon sequestration in soils of tropical forest significantly mitigate some portion of the increased CO2in the atmosphere? We currently have the only experiment in the tropics where this can be investigated. A logical next step in this long-term experiment is a detailed investigation of the form and stability of the extra soil organic matter

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


  • Finzi et al. 2001 Forest litter production, chemistry, and decomposition following two years of free-air CO2 enrichment. Ecology vol. 82, pp. 470–484.
  • Sayer E J, et al.  2012 Variable Responses of Lowland Tropical Forest Nutrient Status to Fertilization and Litter Manipulation. Ecosystems vol. 15, pp. 387-400.
  • Trumbore SE, Czimczik CI. 2008 An uncertain future for soil carbon. Science vol 321, pp. 1455-1456.