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Next-generation model for plant ozone damage: a big step towards smaller uncertainties and more robust climate predictions. PhD in Mathematics (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
Prof Nadine Unger, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Prof Stephen Sitch, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Lina Mercado, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Alex Cheesman. College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
Prof Lucas Cernusak, College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
Dr Gerd Folberth, Met Office

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

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 accommodation 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

Ozone holds centre stage in the chemical composition of the troposphere. Ozone is a secondary pollutant formed through photochemical reactions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) with volatile organic compounds (VOC) from both natural and man-made sources. It is an important greenhouse gas and harmful to human health and ecosystem integrity and welfare. Once ozone has entered the plants via the leaf stomata it interferes strongly with the leaf’s biochemistry leading to reduced photosynthetic productivity, early leaf senescence and even to partial or total leaf necrosis (Ainsworth et al., 2012). The consequences of reduced productivity include reduced plant growth, and reduced carbon drawdown from the atmosphere, thus acting as a large but uncertain indirect effect on climate.

The recent IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C published in 2018 specifically emphasized the impacts of ozone mitigation on terrestrial ecosystems and the carbon cycle as a key uncertainty.

Project Aims and Methods

For this CASE PhD studentship you will develop a more mechanistic and more universally applicable model of plant damage by ozone in the JULES model (the land component of the Met Office climate model). New and cutting edge ozone sensitivity measurements from tropical plants will be obtained through a collaboration with the Trop-Oz1 project (Sitch et al., 2018-21) in which the MO is a research partner. You will have the opportunity to collaborate on the physiological measurements conducted in Trop-Oz at JCU Cairns, Australia.

Research Objectives :

●  RO1: To collect the necessary physiological measurements to inform RO2 . This objective includes an extended literature review, and the opportunity to participate in one or more Trop-Oz field campaigns in Australia.

●  RO2 To develop a more mechanistic and universal approach to model ozone plant damage based on physiological measurements, plant traits, growth rates, leaf phenology and allocation. The development will build on the existing ozone leaf damage model by Sitch et al. (2007) in JULES but greatly extend its skill.

●  RO3: To provide the first assessment of the impacts of ozone on tropical cash crops, for example, cocoa and oil palm.

●  RO4: To quantify the direct and indirect radiative forcing due to ozone leaf damage for the next IPCC assessment.

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

Ainsworth, E. A., et al., The Effects of Tropospheric Ozone on Net Primary Productivity and Implications for Climate Change. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol., 63, 6637-661, 2012.

Sitch, S., P. M. Cox, W. J. Collins, and C. Huntingford, Indirect radiative forcing of climate change through ozone effects on the land-carbon sink. Nature, 448, doi:10.1038/nature06059, 2007.

Sitch, S., N. Unger, L. Mercado, G. E. Mills, F. Hayes, T. Hill, H. Harmens, A. Cheesman, , 2018-21.

Young, P.J., et al., Pre-industrial to end 21st century projections of tropospheric ozone from the Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Model Intercomparisons Project (ACCMIP). Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 13, 2063–2090,, 2013.

Yue, X., N. Unger, K. Harper, X. Xia, H. Liao, T. Zhu, J. Xiao, Z. Feng, and J. Li, Ozone and haze pollution weakens net primary productivity in China. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 17, 6073-6089, doi:10.5194/acp-17-6073-2017, 2017.

Yue, X., and N. Unger, Fire air pollution reduces global terrestrial productivity. Nature Communications, 9, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07921-4, 2018.

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