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The role of natural and biogenic emissions for air quality modelling in the UK

   School of Chemistry

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  Prof Mathew Heal  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Supervisory team

Prof Stefan Reis, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), Edinburgh ([Email Address Removed])

Prof Mathew Heal, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh ([Email Address Removed])

Dr Massimo Vieno, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), Edinburgh ([Email Address Removed])

Dr Eiko Nemitz, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), Edinburgh ([Email Address Removed])

Project description

Anthropogenic emissions of air pollutants in the UK have been substantially reduced. Over the 40 year period from 1970 to 2010, UK attributable mortalities due to exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 have declined by 56% and 44% respectively, while ozone attributable respiratory mortality increased by 17% over the same period (although with a slight decrease by 14% between 2000 and 2010) (Carnell et al., 2019). In the forthcoming decades, further reductions of air pollutant emissions are anticipated, for example to achieve the National Emission Ceilings Directive targets for 2030 and to achieve the Environment Bill targets for PM2.5 concentrations. At the same time, the World Health Organization has recently released new Air Quality Guideline values, which set very ambitious future objectives for clean air policies (WHO, 2021). For instance, the PM2.5 guideline value is set to 5 µg m-3, while also acknowledging that no safe limits for air pollution have yet been established.

With anthropogenic emissions of air pollutants declining, the role of natural and biogenic emissions is increasingly important. As an example, the remote Automatic Urban and Rural Network monitoring site in Northern Ireland (Lough Navar) recorded an annual average concentration of PM2.5 of 4 µg m-3. This indicates that even remote sites are subject to long-range transport of anthropogenic air pollution and/or that natural and biogenic (plant and soil-mediated) sources contribute to particulate matter air pollution. Biogenic emissions are likely to increase in importance as the UK’s ambition is realised to plant up 30,000 ha with 90 million trees by 2024, as a contribution to achieving NetZero by 2050.

 These natural and biogenic emissions are not well constrained, and while they are included in atmospheric chemistry transport models, substantive analyses and work to improve their model representation have been rare (EU projects NatAir; Friedrich, 2009; Theloke & Friedrich, 2009). The contribution of, for example, sea-salt aerosol, biogenic volatile organic compounds, soil nitrogen oxide and other emissions to the overall air pollution budget requires a robust assessment to identify shortcomings in current modelling, and a review of existing emissions models or datasets that could be utilised to improve model outputs.

The focus of this studentship is therefore a systematic review and assessment of the key gaps, development of a framework for improving the priority formulations of natural and biogenic emissions in current ACTMs, and implementation of improvements into the EMEP4UK-WRF modelling system (Vieno et al., 2016). This may include improvement in the representation of woodland vegetation in the model using actual UK data on tree age, height, species  composition, and tree species-dependent emission rates, and improvements to the schemes for sea-salt emissions and secondary organic aerosol formation. The insights from this PhD studentship will support the future modelling of AQ over the UK, including strategies to optimise woodland expansion, as part of the UK Integrated Assessment Modelling work.


Both the University of Edinburgh and UKCEH provide a comprehensive training programme comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. The latter include a programme focused on personal effectiveness, communication, and career and project management, literature searching, presentations, and thesis writing. The student will have the opportunity to attend relevant atmospheric science and data programming courses available at the UoE and externally. They may become involved in UKCEH’s field measurement programme to develop an understanding of the origin of the data they work with.

 Qualification and eligibility requirements

This studentship would suit someone with a good undergraduate or Master’s degree with a strong numerical background in environmental, physical or chemical sciences (or equivalent relevant experience), preferably with atmospheric knowledge. Experience with computer programming (ideally Fortran and/or Python under Linux) would be advantageous.

The student must qualify for UK ‘home’ fee rate: https://www.edweb.ed.ac.uk/tuition-fees/fee-status/work-out.

Application procedure

In the first instance, please make informal enquiries to any of the project supervisors listed above. Whilst there is a provisional application deadline of 14 January 2022, the studentship may be filled at any point.

Equality & Diversity statement

The School of Chemistry holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. The University is a member of the Race Equality Charter and is a Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champion, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment. See our University Initiatives website for further information. University Initiatives website: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity/help-advice/family-friendly

Funding Notes

A fully funded 3-year PhD studentship for students eligible for the UK tuition fee rate. The stipend will be as for UKRI studentships, starting at £15,609 per annum


Carnell, E.J., Vieno, M., …Reis, S. (2019) Modelling public health improvements as a result of air pollution control policies in the UK over four decades - 1970 to 2010, Environ. Res, Lett. 14, 074001 https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab1542
Friedrich, R. (2009) (special issue editor) Natural and biogenic emissions of environmentally relevant atmospheric trace constituents in Europe, Atmos, Environ, 41, 1377-1486.
Theloke, J. and Friedrich R. (2007). Compilation of a database on the composition of anthropogenic VOC emissions for atmospheric modeling in Europe, Atmos. Environ, 41, 4148-4160.
Vieno, M., Heal, M.R., …Reis, S. (2016). The UK particulate matter air pollution episode of March-April 2014: more than Saharan dust, Environ, Res, Lett. 11, 044004. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/044004
WHO (2021). WHO global air quality guidelines: particulate matter (‎PM2.5 and PM10)‎, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. World Health Organization. ISBN 9789240034228. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/345329

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