The Ecology of Lightning Strikes: How many Trees in Tropical Forests Killed by Lightning? - Geography - NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship Ref: 2795

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Supervisors:

Main Supervisor: Dr Timothy Hill, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Co-Supervisor: Dr Lucy Rowland, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Co-Supervisor: Dr Ted Feldpausch, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Co-Supervisor: Prof Manu Haddad, School of Engineering, Cardiff University.

Location: Streatham Campus, Exeter

Project description:

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 Nigeria and Cameroon, you will help address this huge knowledge gap.

 

Image 1: The Tropical sub-montane forest study plot in Ngel Nyaki, Nigeria. Image 2: A burned tree in in a tropical forest.

Project Aims and Methods

AIMS: 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 established tropical forest field sites in Cameroon (Korup) and Nigeria (Ngel Nyaki).

Your project will 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 at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s research sites in Ngel Nyaki (Nigeria) and Korup (Cameroon). During your PhD you will be assisting in the installation of sensors and the collection of tree survey data, including allometry, functional traits 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.

Candidate

This project would suit a candidate with a strong interest in tropical forest and ecology. The candidate should be excited to work in remote field stations in tropical countries for extended periods. A strong background in academic research is required.

Training

The student will be given training opportunities within a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary team, including international field sites and project partners in Nigeria and Cameroon: Ecological measurements, Ecological experimental design, Fieldwork planning and coordination Ecological statistics (including R and Matlab), Scientific writing, Scientific theory, argument and debate, Fieldwork first aid, Science communication skills. The student will be embedded in the Land and Ecosystem Dynamics group in Exeter’s Physical Geography department, and will benefit from our strong collaborative links across the University (fire lab, biomass burning aerosols), and with the Met Office Hadley Centre (in numerical weather prediction, and climate modelling).

References:

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.

Entry requirements:         

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. 

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Summary

Application deadline:7th January 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Officepgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript
        if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English. 

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between 5 - 16 February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;

• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.