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The ecology of lightning strikes: How many trees in tropical forests killed by lightning? PhD in Geography (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
Dr Timothy Hill, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Lucy Rowland, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Ted Feldpausch, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Manu Haddad, School of Engineering, Cardiff University

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 http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

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 accomodation 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

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 kills trees (Mäkelä, 2009) and is most powerful and frequent in the tropics (Cecil, 2014). Furthermore, with climate change, lightning strikes are likely to get more powerful and frequent. If all the trees struck by lightning died, it would indicate that lightning was a major factor controlling tropical tree mortality rates and an important control on forest dynamics and structure. However, there is no information on lightning induced tree mortality in the tropics.

Working in tropical forests in Ghana, you will help address this huge knowledge gap.

Project Aims and Methods

Aims: In this project, you will join an interdisciplinary group of tropical ecologists, physicists and electrical 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 tropical forest field sites in Ankasa (Ghana).

Your project aims could 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?

Methods: This PhD involves a substantial amount of field work in Ankasa, Ghana. During your PhD you will be assisting in the installation of sensors and the collection of tree survey data, including allometry, functional traits, soil properties and forest dynamics. This PhD provides the unique opportunity to work with a world-class research team on a genuinely novel research question of global importance and also ample opportunity to develop your own research interests

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

References / Background reading list

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.

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

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