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Coupled carbon, water and heat fluxes over the global land surface

Project Description

Simulating changes to the Earth’s energy, water and carbon cycles is a key goal of climate and earth system models. However we need to know the regional fluxes and transports of these quantities much more accurately from observations to provide strong constraints for models such as those used at the Met Office for climate predictions, and to inform developments across the wider global modelling community. This is now recognized by IPCC who will have separate chapters on the energy, water and carbon cycles in the next Assessment Report.

We have developed an energy-water cycle coupled inverse method in the department which uses many independently observed satellite datasets and their errors to develop closed heat and water budgets on a global scale following an earlier NASA Energy and Water cycle Study (NEWS) L’Ecuyer et al (2015), Rodell et al (2015), see We have extended the NEWS study getting better results over the oceans by improving the error estimates used for the satellite derived fluxes, and by using additional ocean transport estimates based on ship measurements. Another project is now underway collaborating with the NASA team and the UK Met Office to extend the inverse study to produce more regional results and to solve for interannual variability based on the last 20 years of satellite data.

This PhD project will focus on improving the land surface processes. On land, soil moisture and vegetation properties largely determine how much energy the surface can store, and hence the resultant land surface temperatures (LST), which are now well measured from satellite. Water, sunlight and temperature also determine photosynthesis and biomass growth, taking up CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere. Biomass growth and CO2 uptake can also be monitored from satellite measurements and provide additional datasets that can be used with our inverse method, and in the process this will couple the land carbon sink to the energy and water cycles. The aim of the PhD will therefore be to use these new satellite observations as constraints to improve our global flux estimates. The inverse method will be extended to include carbon budgets alongside the water and energy budgets to produce a truly coupled Earth system cycling framework which could lead to many new applications.

The student will explore energy-water-carbon flux exchanges with the atmosphere, and storage over land using local observations from Fluxnet measurement towers around the globe, and then seek larger scale relationships using satellite data. Parameterizations and simulations with the JULES land surface model will be used to explore relationships and to help in developing uncertainty estimates. The ultimate aims will be (i) to allow EO land surface temperature measurements to constrain energy fluxes and water storage within the inverse method, and (ii) to extend the inverse method to include a carbon budget, where the land surface component is constrained by plant photosynthesis/growth measurements from NDVI and SIF. The student will explore the sensitivity of the inverse method to these additional constraints. Additional carbon budget observational data e.g. atmospheric measurements of CO2 from the NASA OCO satellite, may be brought in at a later stage.

You can find a short video of Keith Haines talking about this project on YouTube:

Funding Notes

This project is available to students with their own funding.

Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, Masters Degree with Merit, or equivalent in (ideally) mathematics or a closely related environmental or physical science.

How good is research at University of Reading in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 75.68

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

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