Dr Nicholle G. A. Bell

NERC Independent Research Fellow

Contact details



Room 257
University of Edinburgh
Joseph Black Building
David Brewster Road

Post code

Research summary

Application of NMR spectroscopy and FT-ICR mass spectrometry in environmental sciences, peatlands characterisation, complex mixtures analysis, NMR methodology development, benchtop NMR.

Research Overview

Peatlands are vital to many ecosystem services; they filter our drinking water, store millions of tonnes of carbon and act as a unique habitat for diverse flora and fauna. However, due to human activities and climate change, over 80 % of the UK peatlands are in a state of damage; on the road from "happy" waterlogged anoxic to "unhappy" oxic dry soils. Peatlands are disappearing and losing their carbon to the atmosphere and to waters. In order to reverse this process large investments has been made into restoration projects. This typically involves rewetting a peat bog, raising the water table. The idea is that by restoring the anoxic conditions this will encourage the return of peat forming vegetation and hopefully kick-start the processes that lead to carbon storage and other ecosystem services to return. However, many questions remain unanswered. Can simple rewetting of peatbogs bring them back to a fully functioning state? Is a restored peatbog resilient against future changes? Part of the issue is our lack of understanding on how peatlands process and store their carbon. It is believed that much of a peatlands ability to maintain carbon is down to the existence of certain protective molecules. What are the chemical structures of these molecules? Where do they come from? Are they lost during peatland damage? If they are, how can they be brought back?

As part of the Soil Security Programme, my research focuses on understanding the process of degradation and restoration at a molecular level to start answering some of these questions. Using high-resolution FT-ICR-MS and NMR spectroscopy my goal is to create a metric for assessing the status of peatlands. This involves applying the latest developments in each field and creating tailored experiments for environmental samples. Once in place, this metric will used to assess peatlands not just across the UK but globally to help keep our beloved bogs alive and well.   

  1. Timári, I, Kaltschnee, L, Raics, M.H, Roth F, Bell, N.G.A, Adams, R.W., Nilsson, M, Uhrín, D, Morris, G.A., Thiele, C.M. et al., Real-time broadband proton-homodecoupled CLIP/CLAP-HSQC for automated measurement of heteronuclear one-bond coupling constants. RSC Advances. 6, 87848-87855 (2016).
  2. Bell, N.G.A., et al., Isotope-filtered nD NMR spectroscopy of complex mixtures to unravel the molecular structures of phenolic compounds in tagged soil organic matter. Analyst. 141, 4614-4624 (2016).
  3. Bell, N.G.A., et al., Isotope-Filtered 4D NMR Spectroscopy for Structure Determination of Humic Substances. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 54, 8382 - 8385 (2015).
  4. Bell, N.G.A., et al., NMR methodology for complex mixture ‘separation’. Chem. Commun. 50, 1694 -1697 (2014).