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African carbon emissions estimation using Earth Observation (EO) data

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, January 12, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Biomass burning is an important Earth system process and a major component of land surface change. Terrestrial burning of vegetation alters surface cover and releases large quantities of aerosols and trace gases, which in turn affect the atmospheres chemical composition and the Earth’s climate. Africa contributes on average almost half of all carbon emitted by landscape fires, around 1.0 (±0.22) Pg C yr−1 annually. Satellite remote sensing plays an important role in better understanding the magnitude of fire on African landscapes and over the last two decades significant advancements have been made in quantifying emissions using satellite Earth Observation (EO) data.

One approach for emissions estimation uses satellite measurements of burned area, vegetation productivity and combustion completeness (the fraction of fuel that burns) to estimate the fuel consumption and C emissions. Estimates of C emissions can also be made using measurements of thermally emitted radiation from actively burning fires which is related to the rate at which vegetation fuel is consumed by the fire.

These approaches have been widely applied to estimate fuel consumption and C emissions from landscape fires. However, a key limitation of current emissions inventories is the omission of small fires which typically remain undetected by the moderate spatial resolution satellite data. Small fire occurrence is thought to be very significant in large parts of Africa, particularly in agricultural regions which are increasingly expanding in many areas of Africa. Quantifying the spatial and temporal dynamics of small landscape fire activity is vital for developing more robust estimates of Africa’s carbon emissions. The proposed research will develop methods for mapping the spatial and temporal dynamics of small landscape fires across Africa in order to quantify their influence on Africa’s annual emissions.

The ECaS research group focusses on climate change impacts and adaptation, sustainability science, and global environmental monitoring including innovative use of Earth observation data, including Earth system science. We have a world-leading reputation for research on climate change impacts and adaptation strategies, with lead authorships in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment report.

Candidates must have or expect to gain a first or strong upper second class degree, in an appropriate discipline, not necessarily Geography, with good computational skills. Details on how to apply are available from Julie Drewitt, email . Informal enquiries may be made to Justin Sheffield (email ). For the latest information on postgraduate opportunities see

The PhD project will commence September 2019.

Funding Notes

This is one of a range of topics currently being advertised. Funding will go to the project(s) with the best applicant(s). The studentship is to be funded at UKRI level, currently £14,777 per annum, with an RTSG of £750. The studentship will fully support British and EU nationals only. International students can apply but they must be able to meet the difference between home/EU and International tuition fees themselves.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Southampton in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 32.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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