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Smarter analysis of satellite data for air quality regulators (CENTA2-PHYS5-VAND1)

Project Description

Satellite observations are increasing in spatial resolution providing a new source of data for policy makers and regulatory organisations. The ESA TROPOMI instrument measures nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at a resolution of 3.5 km x 5.5 km, once-a-day, and future constellations of low-cost satellites could provide sub-kilometre resolution multiple times per day.
In particular, satellite data has the potential to provide insight for air quality regulators such as the Environment Agency. Satellite observations can be used to detect plumes from large sources such as steelworks or refineries, and can be linked with meteorological data to enhance our understanding of how weather conditions such as wind speed and direction influence how plumes form, travel and contribute to transboundary episodes. With smarter analysis of satellite data there is the potential to monitor shipping lanes, to identify possibly hard-to-access sources like offshore oil/gas platforms, or to monitor geographically disperse emissions from agriculture or shale gas.
At present, regulatory organisations such as the Environment Agency do not use satellite data for air quality, and currently regulatory frameworks are not designed to incorporate satellite data. Nonetheless, as a leading national regulator it is crucial the Environment Agency understand the opportunities provided by satellite observations. Therefore the aims of this PhD are threefold: (i) to develop new analytical techniques that allow smarter analysis of existing satellite products to illicit information for regulatory purposes; (ii) to develop a series of carefully visualised case studies demonstrating how satellite data coupled with meteorological data can assist in understanding the impact of air pollution episodes and interventions; and (iii) to examine the barriers and pathways to integrating satellite application into regulatory processes within the UK, both within the Environment Agency and other organisations, including local authorities, Public Health England, and industrial and agricultural stakeholders. Moreover, the smarter analysis methods developed during this project will be applicable for other satellite datasets and environmental management more broadly.

This interdisciplinary PhD will combine quantitative and qualitative methods, ultimately to enable a step-change in the usage of satellite data for regulatory organisations within the UK.

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply:

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at and use the Physics Apply button to submit your PhD application.

Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000.


Environment Agency (2013), ‘Regulating for people, the environment and growth’, (Accessed: 20 October 2019).

Griffin, D., Zhao, X., McLinden, C. A., Boersma, F., Bourassa, A., Dammers, E., et al. ( 2019), ‘High resolution mapping of nitrogen dioxide with TROPOMI: First results and validation over the Canadian oil sands’, Geophysical Research Letters, 46, 1049-1060.

Lawrence, J. P., Anand, J. S., Vande Hey, J. D., White, J., Leigh, R. R., Monks, P. S., and Leigh, R. J. (2015), "High-resolution measurements from the airborne Atmospheric Nitrogen Dioxide Imager (ANDI)," Atmos. Meas. Tech., 8, 4735–4754,

Malby, AR, Whyatt, D & Timmis, R (2013), 'Conditional extraction of air-pollutant source signals from air-quality monitoring', Atmospheric Environment, vol. 74, pp. 112-122

Pope, R. J., Graham, A. M., Chipperfield, M. P. and Veefkind, J. P. (2019), ‘High resolution satellite observations give new view of UK air quality’, Weather, 74: 316-320.

Whyatt, D, Malby, A & Timmis, R (2010), ‘Towards smarter air quality analysis’, in A Albergel (ed.), HARMO 2010 - Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Harmonisation within Atmospheric Dispersion Modelling for Regulatory Purposes, HARMO 2010, Paris, France, 1/06/10.

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