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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Measurement of greenhouse gases and micro-meteorology + CASE award

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Grant Allen
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Measuring and monitoring the makeup of Earth’s atmosphere is the key to many environmental, chemical and dynamical process studies, ranging from shorter-term assessments of air quality and its impacts on human health, to longer term understanding of climate change. Better quantification of emissions of various gases (e.g. the major greenhouse gases - CO2, CH4 and N2O) and reactive species (e.g. NOx, O3, CO etc) are central to the success of ongoing international efforts to slow the global atmospheric growth rate of GHGs and improve air quality in order to mitigate the impacts of future climate change in terms of societal impacts and public health. Source apportionment and emissions inventories of these important gases, as well as their role in global chemical-dynamical processes and models, remains highly uncertain and accurate and appropriate measurements provide the only way to validate any strategy from which to inform policy decisions. The advent of UAVs provides autonomous airborne measurement at the local-to-regional scale to help address this need. The technology serves to bridge the gap between fixed local measurements and distributed networks and satellite observations, enabling a new understanding of the 3D environment.

This project requires a combination of approaches, including; airborne measurements e.g. using data from the UK FAAM research aircraft as well as UAVs, and ground-based measurements. These observations can then be coupled with dispersion models to derive fluxes, provide source apportionment and understanding of their fate and downwind impacts. Detailed 3D measurements are critical to assess the performance of these local-to-regional scale models and the processes underpinning them.
This project will actively involve the student in projects that are ongoing at Manchester that concern the measurement of atmospheric composition (e.g. and GAUGE – using state-of-the-science research instrumentation operated by expert teams at the School for Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science. The student will utilize both existing and future datasets of greenhouse gas concentrations and other parameters (e.g. winds, other trace gases) to define case studies from which to calculate and interpret snapshot GHG fluxes at the local and regional scales of the measurements described earlier, including a 2014/15 field campaign at a landfill site near to Manchester. This work has an important policy aspect and the student will liaise with partners at the Environment Agency to realize impact from the conclusions of the work.

In year 1, the student will develop a novel miniaturized sensor payload in the laboratory before integrating and testing on a tailored UAV platform, which the student would learn to operate. Instrumentation and flux modelling approaches will be validated against laboratory standards and known mass flux releases. In years 2 and 3, the student will conduct several weeks’ field work with our partner (UK Environment Agency) to study landfill emissions. There is also the opportunity to work with leading scientists to fly on larger aircraft missions around the UK and elsewhere to interpret state-of-the-art trace gas concentration data (e.g on the FAAM aircraft – through tailored case studies. This research will lead to exciting new methods from which to calculate GHG emissions using data collected by aircraft and would suit those with an interest in practical scientific field work and excellent skills in data handling.

Funding Notes

This NERC DTP studentship is a funded CASE studentship with the UK Environment Agency - this includes an additional £1000 stipend on top of the usual NERC PhD stipent.

For further info email [Email Address Removed]


Newcome, Lawrence R. "Unmanned aviation: A brief history of unmanned aerial vehicles, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics." Inc., Reston, Virginia (2004).

Watts, Adam C., Vincent G. Ambrosia, and Everett A. Hinkley. "Unmanned aircraft systems in remote sensing and scientific research: Classification and considerations of use." Remote Sensing 4.6 (2012): 1671-1692.

Watai, T., et al. "A lightweight observation system for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration using a small unmanned aerial vehicle." Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 23.5 (2006): 700-710.

Khan, Amir, et al. "Low Power Greenhouse Gas Sensors for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles." Remote Sensing 4.5 (2012): 1355-1368.

How good is research at University of Manchester in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.13

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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