26-27 Jan | FREE virtual study fair | REGISTER NOW 26-27 Jan | FREE virtual study fair | REGISTER NOW
National University of Ireland, Galway Featured PhD Programmes
Heriot-Watt University Featured PhD Programmes
University of Edinburgh Featured PhD Programmes

NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: The ecology of lightning strikes: How many trees in tropical forests killed by lightning?

   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

This project is no longer listed on FindAPhD.com and may not be available.

Click here to search FindAPhD.com for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr TR Feldpausch, Dr Timothy Hill, Dr L Rowland  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Main supervisor: Dr Ted Feldpausch, University of Exeter
Co-supervisor: Dr Tim Hill, University of Exeter
Co-supervisor: Prof Manu Haddad, Cardiff University, Sch of Eng.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

Tropical forests are one of the most important and diverse ecosystems on Earth. However, recent research has revealed an increase in the rate of tropic tree mortality, with the consequence that the strength of the carbon sink provided by tropical forests is reducing (Brienen, 2015). It is therefore vital that we understand why tropical trees die.

We know lightning can kill trees (Makala, 2009). We also know that lightning strikes are most powerful and frequent in the tropics (Cecil, 2014, Figure 1) and, with climate change, are getting even more powerful. However, there is no information on the total number of trees in the tropics.

If all the trees struck died, it would indicate that lightning was a major controlling factor of tropical tree mortality rates and an important control on forest dynamics and structure. Despite the potential significance, the challenges of studying lightning in the tropical forests, mean that next to nothing is known about this ecological process.

You will join an interdisciplinary group of tropical ecologists, physicists and lightning engineers who have been recently funded to undertake the first ever systematic study into lightning induced tree mortality. The team has developed a novel sensor that allows lightning strikes on trees to be studied for the first time. You will join this team and participate in field campaigns at established field sites in Cameroon and Nigeria. Your project will address the following research questions:
Q1: Which trees are more likely to be struck by lightning?
Q2: Which trees are more likely to survive a lightning strike?
Q3: How does lightning influence the ecology and carbon balance of tropical forests?

This PhD involves a substantial amount of field work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s research sites in Ngel Nyaki (Nigeria) and Korup (Cameroon). During your PhD you will be assisting in the installation of sensors and the collection of tree survey data, including allometry, functional traits and forest dynamics. This PhD provides the opportunity to work with a work-class research team on a genuinely novel research question and also ample opportunity to develop your own research interests.

The project will be highly collaborative: Dr Feldpausch will provide expertise in field surveys, forest ecology, and allometry, Dr Hill will provide expertise in remote sensing, Prof Haddad provides the expertise in lightning physics. Together this core supervisory team is able to offer the student advanced training in field measurement, analysis and modelling approaches.

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter.

Entry requirements:
Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/. The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes; however up to 9 fully-funded studentships across the DTP are available for EU/EEA applicants not ordinarily resident in the UK. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Funding Notes

At least 4 fully-funded studentships that encompass the breadth of earth and environmental sciences are being offered to start in September 2017 at Exeter. The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,296 per annum for 2016-2017, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Brienen RJW, Phillips OL, Feldpausch TR et al. (2015) Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink. Nature, 519, 344.

Cecil DJ, Buechler DE, Blakeslee RJ (2014) Gridded lightning climatology from TRMM-LIS and OTD: Dataset description. Atmospheric Research, 135, 404-414.

Makel J, Karvinen E, Porjo N, Makel A, Tuomi T (2009) Attachment of Natural Lightning Flashes to Trees: Preliminary Statistical Characteristics. Journal of Lightning Research, 1, 9-21.
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs