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How will air pollution and climate change combine to affect future food supply?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr L Emberson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The record high temperatures and extended droughts experienced across much of the northern hemisphere during the summer of 2018 serve as a stark reminder of the severe impacts climate change will cause arable agriculture. At the same time ozone pollution continues to exceed air quality guidelines across many agriculturally important regions in Europe and the rest of the world. Ozone, being a photochemical pollutant, will tend to increase under hot, dry, sunny conditions making it a particularly problematic under future climate change. Currently, we have little understanding of how these two stressors will combine to damage arable productivity, food supply and hence food security, a crucial knowledge gap that this studentship will address.

This project will use existing empirical data from a state-of-the-art experimental facility in the US to understand key physiological mechanisms impacted by pollution. This empirical database will help identify the key mechanisms by which ozone will influence water use efficiency i.e. through changes in stomatal conductance, reduction in root-shoot biomass ratios and acceleration of leaf senescence reducing plant water utilization. These mechanisms will be translated into algorithms that connect within an existing crop model construct (DO3SE-Crop) so that the combined influence of ozone, water stress and other climate variables on plant physiology can be used to simulate whole crop response. These algorithms will be developed so that they are also suitable for direct incorporation into existing air quality models (i.e. the EMEP4UK model via CEH Edinburgh) and state-of-the-art land surface models (i.e. the JULES model via CEH Wallingford) currently used to develop Earth System Models. This allows the results of this studentship to feed directly into models used by national, regional and global scale decision makers to develop policy on air quality, climate change and future food supply.

This studentship will be based at the Stockholm Environment Institute at York (SEI York) at the University of York. Depending on available skills and experience, the successful applicant will receive training in plant physiology, modelling and computer programming (Fortran, Python) and become part of the vibrant postgraduate community at SEI York.

This will be an unprecedented opportunity to work with researchers around the world at the forefront of empirical research and model development to understand the impact of air pollution and climate change on arable crop yields; this research will ultimately support the development of future low emission development pathways.

Funding Notes

This is a 3.5 year fully-funded studentship part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership in Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE). The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (around £15,000 per year), (ii) tuition fees at UK/EU rate, (iii) research consumables and training necessary for the project.

Entry requirements: At least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.


Shortlisting: Applicants will be notified if they have been selected for interview in the week commencing on Monday 28 January 2019.

Interviews: Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the Department of Biology at the University of York in the week beginning 11 February 2019 (or the following week). As part of the interview process candidates will be asked to give a 5 minute presentation on a research project carried out by them.

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