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Developing new UAV-based survey approaches for monitoring tree and soil health indices in SE Asian oil palm plantations

Project Description

Poor tree health in Oil Palm plantations is a primary cause of low yield, typically dealt with by applying high volumes of fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. These applications have devastating impacts both on human health and the surrounding environment. As part of an existing sustainability project in Malaysia, new approaches to improving plantation health through soil improvement are being trialled. This project will exploit the emerging generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sensors and data analysis techniques to acquire detailed information on individual palm oil trees within their environmental context, to inform tree management decisions. The research will determine the most efficient methods for data acquisition, processing and analysis to deliver accurate information on the many trees that must be managed. Using field sites that incorporate a wide range of variability in biophysical and physiological properties, remotely-sensed data will be collected using UAV-based sensors. A focus throughout the project will be on determining the minimum data acquisition and processing needed to deliver effective outputs for users. Nevertheless, given the large scale acquisition of high resolution geospatial data that this project will involve, efficient and streamlined data processing techniques will be required. This may require cloud-based processing approaches, parallel processing on high performance clusters, or new ways to store and transmit such large volumes of data. Hence, this project will investigate the difficulties and opportunities that might exist in such data processing pipelines. Field visits to South East Asia – Sabah and Malaysia to collect UAV imagery at oil palm plantations will be required. This project supports NERCs global and international development priorities through research into the sustainability of Oil Palm plantations and through enhancement of soil and water quality through sustainable management and targeted measures.

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 2.1 degree or higher. If you have a 2.2 degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. Substantial relevant post-graduate experience may also be sufficient, please contact the supervisors for more information.

To apply please send your CV and a covering letter stating your suitability for the project to Dr Paul Scholefield (). This PhD will also be supervised by Prof Alan Blackburn at Lancaster University.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of proposed topics that are in competition for funding from the NERC SSCP Doctoral Training Partnership
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Full studentships (fees and stipend) are only available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship. If you are a citizen of an EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award, and must be able to show at interview that you can support yourself for the duration of the studentship at the UKRI level.

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