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

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Jon Bennie, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Regan Early, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Lucy Neal, Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality Group, Met Office,

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Approximately ten million people in the UK suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies. The UK pollen forecast provided by the Met Office is used by millions of hay fever sufferers to manage the impact of allergenic pollen on their lives. As our climate and land use changes, so will the distribution and timing of pollen released to the atmosphere, and so understanding what triggers the onset of pollen allergies is critical. Based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall, this exciting project involves working with scientists from the Met Office and the University to develop and validate new biological and atmospheric models to improve the operational pollen forecast in the future and make a real difference to the quality of life of hay fever sufferers. You will have a unique opportunity to work in interdisciplinary science at the interface between biology, ecology, meteorology and human health, and to be trained in a wide range of skills, from field biology to atmospheric modelling.

Project Aims and Methods

This project aims to improve our ability to forecast pollen concentrations by developing our understanding of when and where wind-borne pollen is released into the atmosphere by plants and how and where it is dispersed. It will involve both collecting ecological observations and mathematical modelling, with the aim of understanding processes across spatial scales from pollen release from a single flower head, and the density of flowers within rural and urban landscapes, to the movement of pollen over large distances in the atmosphere. 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 pollen-producing 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.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

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.

NAME dispersion model,

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