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Black Carbon in Soils


Carbon emissions during bushfires may be very large for southern forests in Australia. This may be offset in part by the deposition of black carbon or charcoal to the soil surface. We lack knowledge of the nature of this form of carbon – its physical, chemical and biochemical properties, the amounts produced and deposited and especially how it reacts in soil. Regrowing forests influence rates of carbon cycling in soils and this varies with forest and soil type, physical properties such as topography, elevation and climate and biological properties such as litter accumulation and decomposition. The organic fraction of carbon in soil (soil organic matter) also varies considerably and soil conditions, climate and microbial populations will influence transformation of this carbon fraction and the black carbon fraction. There is some empirical data concerning pools of carbon for the iconic forests such as Mountain ash and Alpine ash, but for other forest types such information is not readily available. With predicted increases in the frequency, intensity and extent of bushfires and government commitments to increased rates of prescribed burning in Australian forests, there greatly increased need for empirical data on the effects of regrowth and additions of black carbon for soil C.


Professor Mark Adams, Associate Professor Tina Bell, Dr Meaghan Jenkins.

Research location

Sydney Institute of Agriculture - Australian Technology Park

Program type



This project will focus on black carbon or charcoal in soils and it relationship to heterotrophic respiration. The student will use a variety of techniques to characterise organic matter and black carbon in soil and the relationships with heterotrophic respiration. The role of black carbon will be examined with manipulation studies altering amounts of black carbon in soil and soil conditions. The student will participate in field studies and acquire skills in a range of aspects of forest ecology and soil science, including vegetation surveys, rates of growth, litter accumulation and microbial and chemical processes in soils.

Additional information

Students with a background in plant physiology, ecology, soil chemistry or forestry with a strong undergraduate record (minimum H2, 1st Divisions Honours or equivalent) are encouraged to apply.

An ARC scholarship of $28 000 pa for 3 years is available for a suitable qualified candidate. Students already holding an APA will be offered a top-up scholarship of $10 000 pa.

HDR Inherent Requirements
In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 1262

Other opportunities with Professor Mark Adams