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Understanding tree anchorage to make forests more resilient to climate change

   Department of Civil Engineering

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  Prof N Metje, Prof Mark Sterling  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Forests provide a multitude of ecosystem services.  Furthermore, their ability to help regulate the atmosphere in terms of capturing and storing carbon means they are a key component in helping to battle climate change.  However, strong winds can interact with forests and lead to tree uprooting and/or breakage.  This can cause considerable damage, lead to major financial losses for forest owners and create a breeding ground for forest pathogens. The annual loss to the forest industry in Ireland due to strong winds is estimated to be approximately €1.3 million every year. Future climate projections suggest an increasing frequency of winter storms in Ireland, these will pose significant risk to the forest resource. Therefore research which allows for the assessment of wind risk to Irish forests as a result of changing weather conditions and strategies to minimise this risk are warranted. 

This exciting and interdisciplinary project aims to examine what goes on below the ground and to measure the resistance forces which arise from the soil/root interaction, i.e., the trees ‘foundations’.  Building on previous work by the group, this project will dynamically load a number of model trees whilst simultaneously measuring the forces and deformation of the soil.  This PhD will develop idealised tree stem and root models with the appropriate material properties. As a substantial proportion of productive forests in Ireland occur on wet mineral soils, stability is a major limitation to the achievement of the financial rotation. These soils are subject to liquefaction as a result of a high water table and dynamic loading due to wind forces which reduces root anchorage. For the first time ever, we look below the ground and see the magic that occurs. This will enable us to develop mathematical models which are based on sound geotechnical principles and not empirical relationships that exist in many areas.

Applicants should have a good primary degree (First- or Second-class Honours) or MSc in an engineering discipline in particular with a focus on geotechnical engineering and good numerical modelling skills. The successful candidate should be highly motivated, have good communication skills and must be prepared to work within a multidisciplinary team and with other PhD students. Some experience working in the field or the laboratory would be advantageous. A successful candidate will be required to have a driving licence to facilitate the field collection of data.


The scholarship funding is €24,000 per annum and includes University fees of up to a maximum of €6,000 per annum and is tenable for 3.5 years. This PhD Fellowship is a joint research project between Teagasc (The Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) and University of Birmingham. The student will be based in Birmingham, UK, working under the supervision of Profs Mark Sterling / Nicole Metje and Prof Owen Fenton, Dr. Niall Farrelly and John Spink of Teagasc. Some travel to Ireland will be necessary over the period of the study to cover data collection, project meetings and presentation at Teagasc seminars.

Funding Notes

Funding is available at Home rates. Overseas students may apply, but would need to make up the difference.
The scholarship funding is €24,000 per annum and includes University fees of up to a maximum of €6,000 per annum and is tenable for 3.5 years. This PhD Fellowship is a joint research project between Teagasc, Athenry and University of Birmingham. The student will be based in Birmingham, UK, working under the supervision of Prof Mark Sterling, Prof Nicole Metje and Dr Owen Fenton of Teagasc.


• Sterling, M., Baker, C. J., Berry, P. M., and Wade, A. (2003). An experimental investigation of the lodging of wheat. Journal of Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. Vol. 119, Issues 3 –4, 149 – 165.
• Berry, P. M., Sterling, M., Baker, C. J., Spink, J. H., and Sparkes, D. L. (2003). A calibrated model of wheat lodging compared with field measurements. Journal of Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. Vol. 119, Issues 3 –4, 167 – 180.
• Berry, P. M., Spink, J. H., Sterling, M., and Pickett, A. A. (2003) Methods for rapidly measuring the lodging resistance of wheat cultivars. Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science. 189, 390 – 401.
• Berry, P. M., Sterling, M., Spink, J. H., Baker, C. J., Sylvester-Bradley, R., Mooney, S. J., Tams, A. R., and Ennos, A. R. (2004) Understanding and reducing lodging in cereals. Advances in Agronomy. Vol. 84. 215-269.
• Berry, P.M, Sterling, M., and Mooney, S. J. (2006) Development of a model of lodging for barley. The Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, 192, 151-158.
• Sposaro, M.M., Berry, P.M., Sterling, M., Hall, A.J. and Chimenti, C.A. (2011) Modelling root and stem lodging in sunflower. Field Crops Research. Vol. 119, Issue 1, 125-134. doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2010.06.021
• Baker, C. J., Sterling, M., and Berry (2014). A generalized model of crop lodging. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 363, 1-12.
• Mohammadi, M., Finnan, J., Baker, C. J., Sterling, M. and Spink, J (2020) The potential impact of climate change on oat lodging in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Advances in Meteorology. Vol. 2020, Article ID 4138469.
• Mohammadi, R., Finnan, J., Sterling, M., and Baker C. J., (2020) A calibrated oat lodging model compared with agronomic measurements. Field Crops Research. 225 107784.
• Joseph., G., Mohammadi, M., Sterling, M., Baker, C. J., Berry, P. M., Hatley, D., Blackburn, A., Whyatt, D, Murray, J., Gullick, D., and Finnan, J. (2020). Determination of crop dynamic and aerodynamic parameters for lodging prediction. Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics.
• Sterling, M., Baker, C., Joseph, G., Gillmeier, S., Mohammadi, M., Blackburn, G. A., Wyatt, D., Gullick, D., Berry, P., Hatley, D., Spink., Finan, J., Miao, Y., Thanda, D and Sonder K (2018) Mitigating yield losses due to lodging of cereal crops. International Workshop on Wind-Related Disasters and Mitigation, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan. 11 – 14 March.
• Mohammadi, M., Baker., C. J., Sterling, M., and Finnan, J (2019) Calibration of a model for predicting the wind induced failure of oats. 15th International conference on Wind Engineering. Beijing, China. September 1 – 6, 2019.
• Berry, P., Blackburn., A, Sterling, M., Miao, Y., Hatley, D., Gullick, D., Joseph, G., Whyatt, D., Soper, D., Murray, J., and Baker, J (2019) A multi-disciplinary approach for the precision management of lodging risk. 12th European Conference on Precision Agriculture, 8-11 July 2019. Montpellier, France.
• Ni Dhubhain, A. and Farrelly, N. (2018) Understanding and managing windthrow. Coford Connects. Silviculture/Management No. 23.
• Gonzalez, G.F. (2017). The influence of thinning on tree stability in Sitka spruce. Supervised MSc Walsh fellowship thesis with UCD, May 2017.
• Bacher, M.G., Schmidt, O., Bondi, G., Creamer, R. and Fenton, O. (2019). Comparison of Soil Physical Quality Indicators Using Direct and Indirect Data Inputs Derived from a Combination of In-Situ and Ex-Situ Methods. Soil Physics & Hydrology. doi:10.2136/sssaj2018.06.0218
• Bacher, M.G., Schmidt, O., Bondi, G. and Fenton, O. (2020). Influence of dung pats on soil physical quality mediated by earthworms: from dung deposition to decay and beyond. Soil Research, CSIRO Publishing.
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