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NERC GW4+: Atmospheric constraints on the UK’s carbon footprint


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Prof S O'Doherty , Dr Matthew Rigby , Dr Anita Ganesan No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

You can find a full project PDF here:’DOHERTY%20-%20Atmospheric%20constraints%20on%20the%20UK%E2%80%99s%20carbon%20footprint.pdf

Project Background
How do we know a country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? According to international treaties such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the requirement is only that nations estimate and report their own emissions based on economic activity data. However, the UK has pioneered an alternative approach that aims to improve transparency and accuracy: GHG concentrations are measured in the air, and atmospheric models and Bayesian methods are employed to infer emissions from the surrounding regions. The Bristol-led DECC network and DARE-UK project underpin the UK’s “top-down” emissions reporting and are now looking to delve deeper into the mix of sources responsible for the UK’s GHG emissions. This project will help develop and use next-generation atmospheric measurements for probing sector-level emissions at the national scale.

Project Aims and Methods
Through projects such as DARE-UK, we are developing new atmospheric measurements that aim to discriminate between different GHG sources. For example, atmospheric radiocarbon and oxygen measurements will help us understand the contribution of anthropogenic sources to the UK’s carbon dioxide budget, while high-frequency, high-precision observations of methane isotopologues will allow us to determine the relative contribution of sectors such as fossil fuels or agriculture to national methane emissions. In tandem, we are making measurements of natural or deliberately released “tracer” gases, which help to characterise GHG dispersion in the atmosphere. Making and interpreting these measurements requires a wide range of expertise, such as analytical chemistry, terrestrial and oceanic biogeochemistry, atmospheric physics, Bayesian statistics and machine learning. Therefore, this project can accommodate a range of interests in these fields, and we encourage students to contact the supervisory team to discuss options.

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) is world leading in the estimation of GHG fluxes using measurements and bottom-up (process-based) models. Dr. Pete Levy has over 20 years’ experience in the field and leads the UKCEH GHG Flux Network. The student will work with Dr. Levy on interpreting the UK GHG emissions inventory, and using atmospheric data to inform sector-level emissions estimates.

Candidate requirements
You must have, or expect, a degree in physical sciences, mathematics or computing. You must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. If you wish to focus primarily on developing atmospheric measurements, you must have extensive laboratory experience. Some prior experience in computing is desirable. If you are primarily interested in the interpretation of data and modelling, a strong background in Mathematics or computing is essential, but no experience in Chemistry is required. We welcome and encourage student applications from underrepresented groups. We value a diverse research environment.

Training and external collaboration
For projects with an experimental component, you will be trained in trace gas analysis methods by Prof. Simon O’Doherty and other members of the Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group (ACRG). All projects will require some level of atmospheric modelling, and you will be trained by Dr. Rigby, Dr. Ganesan and ACRG staff to use the UK Met Office NAME model. For projects that focus primarily on data analysis, training will be provided in Bayesian statistics and machine learning. Students will be encouraged to participate in measurement site visits and participate in field campaigns. You will have the opportunity to present your work at international conferences and national and international meetings of projects that the ACRG are involved in (e.g. DARE-UK, AGAGE, ICOS, etc.).

Funding Notes

Full studentship covering stipend (UKRI standard 21/22 rate) and fees for 4 years.


Stanley, K. M., et al.: Greenhouse gas measurements from a UK network of tall towers: technical description and first results, Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, 11(3), 1437–1458, doi:10.5194/amt-11-1437-2018, 2018.
White, E. D., et al.: Quantifying the UK’s carbon dioxide flux: an atmospheric inverse modelling approach using a regional measurement network, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 19(7), 4345–4365, doi:10.5194/acp-19-4345-2019, 2019.

Useful links
DECC network:
NERC GW4+ DTP Website:
For more information about the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership please visit
Bristol NERC GW4+ DTP Prospectus:

How to apply to the University of Bristol:

The application deadline is Friday 8 January 2021 at 2359 GMT.
Interviews will take place during week commencing 8th February 2021

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