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From anther to atmosphere: Building a better pollen forecast for human health. Geography PhD Studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded).

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Dr Jonathan Bennie , Dr R Early Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

As our climate and land use changes, so does the relationship between biodiversity and human wellbeing. This PhD will tackle the interface between biology, ecology, meteorology and human health, to understand the consequences of environmental change for both the UK’s countryside and the millions who suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies. This project will reveal the environmental conditions that determine the ecology of allergenic plants in both cities and countryside, and which trigger the onset of pollen allergies.

The project will also have an extremely important impact on the lives of the ten million people in the UK whose health is affected by pollen, by improving the UK pollen forecast provided by the Met Office. You will learn field skills through plant surveys and experiments, and advanced analytical skills by developing new biological an atmospheric models of pollen transport. You will also gain experience in the interdisciplinary approach to science that is increasingly important in our rapidly changing world.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will improve our ability to forecast pollen concentrations by studying when and where wind-borne pollen is released into the atmosphere by plants and how and where it is dispersed. It will involve both field studies and mathematical modelling of allergenic plants, to reveal the synergy amongst processes at extremely small-scales (e.g. pollen release from a single flower head), mid-scales (e.g. the density of flowers in cities or countrysides), and extremely large scales (e.g. atmospheric movement of pollen over many kilometres).

Key methods will involve: setting up and running controlled field experiments to measure the daily and seasonal cycles of pollen release in a range of species of plants and their response to weather and climate; carrying out extensive field surveys and developing species distribution models (SDMs) to estimate the changing density of key pollenproducing species within rural and urban landscapes; implementing and validating the Met Office numerical dispersion model (NAME) to predict long-distance transport of pollen grains. It is expected that you will develop skills in both biological field work and mathematical modelling, but there is scope for you to develop the project to suit your existing skills and areas of interest.

Candidate requirements:

The successful candidate should have a degree in a science subject or mathematics, have good numerical skills and an interest in biology and ecology. Experience in carrying out ecological fieldwork and/or working with mathematical models of physical or biological systems would be an advantage, as well as enthusiasm and a willingness to learn new skills.

CASE partner:

The student will be co-supervised by scientists at the Met Office and will have regular supervisory meetings with Met Office staff. They will also spend six months working at the Met Office in Exeter, working closely with scientists in the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality group for the atmospheric dispersion modelling component of the PhD.


The Met office will provide training in atmospheric dispersion modelling, and the supervisory team will provide project-specific training in field skills as required. Exeter University will provide training in transferable skills (e.g. time management, employability, statistics, teaching skills) as part of its graduate training programme. The student will be able to attend regular departmental seminars in the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science and the Centre for Ecology and Conservation.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.

Studentships for international students will only cover fees at the UK home fees rate. However, university tuition fees for international students are higher than the UK home fees rate therefore the difference will need to be funded from a separate source which the student or project supervisor may have to find. Unfortunately, the NERC GW4+ DTP cannot fund this difference from out studentship funding Further guidance on how this will work will be issued in November.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2021 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21.


McInnes RN et al., (2017) Mapping allergenic pollen vegetation in the UK to study environmental exposure and health risk. Science of the Total Environment 599-600, 483-499.

Van Vliet AJH et al., (2002) The influence of temperature and climate change on the timing of pollen release in the Netherlands. International Journal of Climatology 22 (14) 1757-1767

NAME dispersion model,

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