Dr Angela Gallego-Sala

Climate scientist receives prestigious ERC funding award

One of the University of Exeter’s most talented climate researchers has received a significant funding boost from the European Research Council (ERC), it has been announced.

Dr Angela Gallego-Sala, an Associate Professor in Ecosystems and Biogeochemical Cycles, has received a five-year grant from the respected research council through its Consolidator Grants funding scheme.

The award will see Dr Gallego-Sala receive more than €2.5 million, which will be used for the research, as well as employing two post-doctorate staff, two PhD students and two technicians for the five-year project.

Dr Gallego-Sala is one of 13 grantees in Earth system Science  to be given the award, announced recently. The awards are given to outstanding researchers, with between seven and 12 years of experience after completing their PhD, and a scientific track record showing ‘great promise’.

For the project, called Tropical Peatlands and the Carbon Cycle (TroPeaCC), Dr Gallego-Sala will lead new research to the pivotal role that tropical peatlands play in the global carbon cycle.

Dr Gallego-Sala, who is part of Exeter’s Geography department, said: “Angela – This is an exciting time for peatland research, as we realise how important these ecosystems are in terms of carbon and water storage amongst many other ecosystem services, and I am delighted to have been awarded the funding to carry out the research. ”

Tropical peatlands, which are characterised by having high water tables and low decomposition rates, are among the most carbon-dense ecosystems in the world. They are able to store the equivalent of around 10 years of the CO2 emissions that come from human activity.

However, although their importance to the global climate cycle is known, there are a number of crucial questions surrounding their role that remain a mystery. This is particularly important as these tropical peatlands are at risk from climate change, as well as drainage for oil palm cultivation.

For the project, Dr Gallego-Sala will research four key questions - what controls the geographical distribution of peatlands in the tropics; how large is the tropical peatland CO2 sink and what are its main climatic drivers; how large is the methane flux in tropical peatlands; and what is the overall carbon balance of tropical peatlands and how will this change in the future.

The study, Dr Gallego-Sala insists, will give scientists a comprehensive understanding of the role of tropical peatlands in the global carbon cycle - allowing their inclusion in earth system models - and informing management decisions to optimise provision of multiple ecosystem services.

Dr Gallego-Sala added: “Tropical peatlands are extremely important carbon stores and also methane emitters, and we must focus our efforts in understanding these inaccessible but wonderful ecosystems better”.

Date: 30 January 2020

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