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Steppe fires, dust storms and deposition of the light-absorbing impurities on the Tien Shan glaciers

   School of Geography and Environmental Science

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  Dr Maria Shahgedanova, Dr K.H. White  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The project aims to assess the influence of the wildfire on the development of dust storms in the steppes of Central Asia and north-western China and evaluate the combined input of the wildfire and dust storms on the deposition of the Light Absorbing Impurities (LAI) on the snowpack and glaciers in the Tien Shan Mountains.


Dust storms are a common phenomenon in Central Asia and China, affecting regional air quality and radiation budget of the mountain snowpack and glaciers. Previous research has shown that in the north of the region, occupied by the steppe biome, the formation of dust storms is associated with the fire scars left by the wildfires. While dust storms originating from fire scars have been mapped using MODIS satellite imagery for the 2000-2012 period, changes in the extent and frequency of the wildfires in response to climatic variability and land management, damage to vegetation and the time during which they remain active sources of dust, have not been investigated. Their contribution to the deposition of the LAI on the mountain snowpack and glaciers has not been quantified.

The Project

This project will investigate: (1) the temporal and spatial variability in the occurrence of wildfires and formation of dust storms using remote sensing; (2) meteorological conditions, leading to the formation of both types of events; (3) the transportation and deposition of dust and black carbon on the Tien Shan glaciers using both modelling techniques and analysis of snow and ice samples; (4) if possible, the impacts of changing land management on the occurrence of wildfires.


The project will use remote sensing to map the occurrence and extent of the wildfires, modelling to simulate the transportation of dust in the atmosphere, and analysis of snow samples from the high-elevation regions of the northern Tien Shan to identify the input of the wildfire in the deposited LAI. Fieldwork will be conducted in collaboration with scientists from the Kazakhstan Institute of Geography and Water Safety.

A strong candidate will require a 2.1 or equivalent BSc degree and an MSc in environmental science, meteorology, or physical geography. He/she will require numerical skills, knowledge of GIS and remote sensing and be able to undertake fieldwork overseas. Provided they remain within the scope of this project, applicants are invited to shape a proposal to meet their interests and expertise.

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