PhD Student Katy Ross visits the Falkland Islands

Katy Ross

On the 27th of January I stepped off the Air Tanker at MPC and saw for the first time the Falkland peat I had spent the past few months of my PhD reading all about. I seemed to arrive at the perfect time, coming out of quarantine to attend SAERI’s Wetlands Symposium and a Peaty Pals meeting giving me the opportunity to hear about ongoing research in the Falklands and crucially listen to the people who are managing these landscapes and their research questions. An insight I hope will keep my research relevant as I go forward.

While I have had some previous experience working on the UK’s blanket bogs and moorland, the peatlands of the Falklands were completely new to me! The first few weeks of my visit were spent trying to understand the incredible tussac and whitegrass bogs and the unique pressures they face. But also getting to grips with off-road driving and wrestling with wire tension gates. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who took the time, in the first few weeks to invite me onto their land to show me how they farm and those that offered suggestions to guide my research questions.

I now have five monitoring sites that are based around differences in vegetation or land use. At each of these sites I will be spending the next few years monitoring the changes in the emissions or uptake of the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). The hope being that this will provide baseline data on whether the peatlands of the Falklands are still sequestering or ‘taking in’ carbon and how human land use may have modified these processes. The set up for these sites is based around fixed plastic pipes hammered into the ground (something myself and Steffi’s arms will be sore from for a while) which, when attached to a closed chamber will monitor the changing concentrations of gasses allowing me to see how variations in temperatures, water levels and seasons result in ‘fluxes’. I’m also monitoring the surface level of the peat across these sites to see if we can measure any loss through erosion whilst also trying to understand how much of the peat is exposed to the air and therefore available to be broken down through respiration.

I’ve also had the opportunity to explore the hidden side of peat, buried beneath the ground surface by taking peat cores from several locations across the Falklands. I’m planning to take these cores back to the UK to try and determine some of the key contributors to peat formation and also understand the variation in peat condition across my sites. Something I hope to be able to share the results of soon.

In future visits I’m hoping to expand upon the gas flux sites I am currently monitoring and begin to carry out carbon stock assessments more widely around the Falklands. I’m hoping to compare contrasting land uses either sides of fence lines to determine if variations in land management at the surface are reflected below ground in the peat. I would love to work with more landowners on this and would be grateful to hear about any suggestions for locations.

It has been a real honour to spend the past month and a half in the Falklands and I will certainly miss it when I return to the UK. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome from everyone at SAERI and I am really grateful to everyone I had the opportunity to spend time with while here. I’m already looking forward to my return, but first, to write a proper literature review and use everything I’ve learnt to come up with a plan for the next three years.

Collaborators on the project include the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the University of Leicester and the Natural History Museum. My PhD supervisors include Dr Steffi Carter, Prof Chris Evans, Prof Sue Page, Dr Anne Jungblut, Dr Arnoud Boom and Dr Ross Morrison. A huge thank you to local sponsors Georgia Seafoods

Please get in touch if you have any thoughts or want to hear more by emailing katros@ceh.ac.uk

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