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Novel satellite and modelling studies to assess wildfire emission impacts on air quality and climate

   School of Earth & Environment

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  Dr Richard Pope, Prof Ruth Doherty, Dr David Moore, Prof M Chipperfield  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Background and Motivation:

Over recent years, we have become accustomed to hearing media stories around the world about large-scale wildfires destroying homes, ecosystems and degrading air quality (e.g. the 2019/2020 Australian wildfires; Pope et al., (2021)). With current and future climate and land-use change, it is expected that these wildfires will only become more intense and widespread. These fires, as well as emitting smoke and ash, emit large quantities of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and aerosols. The aim of this project is to address the knowledge gap on the impact of wildfire emissions on primary and secondary air pollutants (e.g. tropospheric ozone (O3)) and reservoir species (key for transporting air pollutants to pristine regions) and their consequences for air quality and climate.

Aims and Objectives:

Satellite records of key trace gases, in combination with state-of-the-art chemistry-climate models, offer the exciting opportunity to study the impact of wildfire emissions on air quality and climate. Our project objectives are: 1) to assess the inter-annual variability of emissions and atmospheric composition over major wildfire regions; 2) to investigate the impact of wildfire emissions on secondary pollutants in downwind remote regions; and 3) to quantify the impact of wildfire emissions on climate (e.g. influence on radiative forcing).


A wealth of satellite measurements, using a range of remote sensing techniques and spectral information (e.g. UV, visible and IR wavelengths), enable us to monitor a suite of wildfire properties (e.g. burned area and fire radiative power) and key air pollutants (e.g. tropospheric columns or profiles). Here, we propose to use long-term NASA/ESA records of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and formaldehyde (HCHO) from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) and datasets generated by the UK National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) such as peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) from the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) and CO (and a swath of hydrocarbons) from the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) and the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS).

The UK’s Earth System Model (UKESM) couples together different model components of the Earth system (e.g. the atmosphere, oceans, land surface etc). A key novel component of UKESM is the INFERNO model (Teixeira et al., 2021) which simulates fire properties and pollutant emissions. Here, we will use the model and satellite data to explore the interaction of different pollutants and their secondary formation. Targeted model sensitivity experiments can help determine the impact of wildfire emissions on air quality (e.g. long-range transport of reservoir species promoting a degradation of air quality in background regions), atmospheric chemical budgets and climate. Depending on the student’s interest, we can also assess the model sensitivity to a more complex chemical scheme (Archer-Nicholls et al., 2021).

References: Archer-Nicholls et al., (2021), JAMES, doi: 10.1029/2020MS002420; Pope et al., (2021), JGR: Atmospheres, doi: 10.1029/2021JD034892; Teixeira et al., (2021), GMD, doi: 10.5194/gmd-2020-298.

For more project information, please visit: https://panorama-dtp.ac.uk/research/novel-satellite-and-modelling-studies-to-assess-wildfire-emission-impacts-on-air-quality-and-climate/

Eligibility and How to Apply

For more details on how to apply please go to https://panorama-dtp.ac.uk/how-to-apply/ 

The NERC Panorama DTP are hosting ‘Demystifying the PhD application process’ webinars on the 9th and 12th December – sign up now!

The minimum English language entry requirement for postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

Equal Opportunities:

Within the NERC Panorama DTP, we are dedicated to diversifying our community. As part of our ongoing work to improve Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within our PhD funding programme, we particularly encourage applications from the following identified underrepresented groups: UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, those from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, and disabled people. To support candidates from these groups, we are ringfencing interviews, providing 1-2-1 support from our EDI Officer (contact Dr. Katya Moncrieff - [Email Address Removed]) and hosting a bespoke webinar to demystify the application process. Candidates will always be selected based on merit and ability within an inclusive and fair recruitment process.

Funding Notes

This project is available as part of the NERC Panorama DTP, and is a fully funded studentship covering the full cost of University fees plus Maintenance of £17,668 (2022/23 rate) per year for 3.5 years, and a generous research training and support grant (RTSG). Applications are open to both home and international applicants. Please note the number of fully funded awards open for international applicants is limited by UKRI to 30% (7 studentships).

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