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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

The ecology of lightning strikes: How many trees in tropical forests killed by lightning? Physical Geography PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4029

About the award

Supervisors

Lead Supervisor

Dr Ted Feldpausch, University of Exeter.

Additional Supervisors

Dr Timothy Hill, University of Exeter.

Dr Lucy Rowland, University of Exeter.

Dr Manu Haddad, University of Cardiff.

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

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 five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  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/

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) 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.
  • Up to £750 for travel and accomodation for compulsory cohort events.

Project details

4029NERC

Figure 1: The tropical forest site in Ankasa, Ghana

 

4029NERC2

Figure 2: A burned tree in in a tropical forest

 

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; Yanoviak 2020) 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 direct measurement of 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.

Candidate Requirements:

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.

Collaborative Partner:

The student will be given training opportunities within a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary team to build a unique research capability, including Cardiff’s unique high current lightning laboratory.

Training:

Training/collaborations will include international field sites and project partners in Ghana and Nigeria: ecological measurements and experimental design, fieldwork planning/coordination, ecological statistics (R/Matlab), scientific writing/theory, 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.

Background reading and 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.

Yanoviak, S.P., E.M. Gora, P.M. Bitzer, J.C. Burchfield, H.C. Muller‐Landau, M. Detto, S. Paton, and S.P. Hubbell. 2020. Lightning is a major cause of large tree mortality in a lowland neotropical forest. New Phytologist 225:1936-1944.

Useful links

Prospective applicants: For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.

Each research studentship project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.

How to Apply:

The application deadline is Friday 8 January 2021 at 2359 GMT. Interviews will take place from 8th to 19th February 2021.

For more information about the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership please visit https://www.nercgw4plus.ac.uk.

Eligibility

NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2021 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
 

 

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/.

 

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.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the pgr-recruitment@exeter.ac.uk, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is Friday 8 January 2021 2359 GMT .  Interviews will be held between 8th and 19th February 2021.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit https://nercgw4plus.ac.uk

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


Data Sharing
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.

Summary

Application deadline:8th January 2021
Value:£15,285 per annum for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk