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

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 UK and an international crop modelling community database (AgMIP) to understand key physiological mechanisms impacted by pollution. This empirical database will help identify the key mechanisms by which ozone will influence crop development and 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 (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. Once evaluated, the DO3SE-Crop model will be applied to identify physiological traits and crop management practices that would support adaptation towards future climate and environmental change conditions. Connections to an existing €1.6M ERA-NET funded SUSCAP project will allow this work to feed directly into stakeholder dialogues where identification of suitable crop adaptation options will be developed and communicated to national and EU policy makers. This studentship will be based at the Environment & Geography Dept. at the University of York with opportunity to spend time at the CEH Bangor site to conduct empirical data collection. 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 the UoYork.

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 crop breeding and crop management adaptation strategies.

Funding Notes

This is a NERC ACCE DTP studentship fully funded for 3.5 years in the first instance, and students must complete their PhD in four years. The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. You can extend your funding period for up to 3 months by applying for an industrial placement.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.

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