Project Highlights:

  1. Cutting edge atmospheric field measurements of forest gases and aerosols
  2. Located in the only Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) experimental site in the Northern Hemisphere
  3. Understand how woodlands will respond to future climates


The project will utilize the University of Birmingham’s newly built ‘Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment’ (FACE) facility to study the effects of enhanced CO2 on the woodlands.  This large facility (the ecological equivalent to the Large Hadron Collider) will test the resilience of a mature forest to rising CO2 concentrations.  The facility is highly instrumented and has many international research participants with interests from deep within the soil to high above the tree canopy.

The main experiment is comprised of six, 30-metre wide, FACE rings, each as tall as the mature trees in the woodland. The facility includes a new purpose built fieldwork compound and field study centre in a converted barn near the site. CO2 enrichment will begin in Spring 2017 and hence the successful student will be in the enviable position of being in the first cohort to perform measurements at this international important experiment.

This project will measure the effect of enhanced CO2 on the gas phase and aerosol output from the FACE plots.  In particular we are interested in how the non-CO2 carbon balance is perturbed by enhanced CO2.

At present, there is almost a complete lack of information, within the literature, about the effect of CO2 concentration enrichment upon aerosol production, atmospheric concentration and flux. Yet this information is critically important for answering questions about future atmosphere-biosphere interactions.  Hence this project will also investigate how enhanced CO2 effects aerosol within the woodland.

The supervisory team of Pope and MacKenzie offers a wealth of experience in the successful measurement and modelling of atmospheric composition.

False colour LIDAR image showing tree morphology within the BIFoR wood.


Within the FACE experiment there are 3 plots which will have enhanced CO2 and 3 plots with the same infrastructure but are not enriched in CO2.  Three field campaigns will be conducted throughout the PhD which will investigate how the gases and aerosols emitted from the wood respond to changes in CO2.  Comparison of the CO2 enriched and non-enriched plots will allow for a statistically robust understanding of how enhanced CO2 perturbs the atmospheric environment. Preliminary baseline data has been collected in 2015 and 2016 indicating that all planned experiments are viable.  The field campaigns will have multiple stakeholder engagement from multiple universities and non-research organizations.

The project will use a range of analytical techniques to investigate the atmospheric chemistry of the forest including a proton transfer reaction – mass spectrometer (PTR-MS) and aerosol fluorescence devices.  Results will be interpreted through use of atmospheric and ecological models.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to the student's projects and themes.

The student will be provided with full training on a suite of instruments with which to analyse atmospheric composition.  The candidate may also attend modules from Atmospheric Science MSc courses at Birmingham. They will be trained in an interdisciplinary environment in Birmingham with colleagues whose interests span environmental chemistry, meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and air quality.  The student will benefit enormously from the large number of international visitors to the BIFoR FACE facility.  They will be encouraged to attend the NERC NCAS Atmospheric Science training course, and supported in preparing their results for publication in journals and at national / international conferences.


Year 1: Literature survey and review paper.  Development of the PTR-MS and other instruments for robust long term measurement.   Short field campaign 1 to test methodologies.

Year 2: Extensive field campaign 2 focusing of volatile gases. Data analysis and interpretation.  Publication of initial field campaign papers. Trip to EucFACE in Australia.

Year 3: Extensive field campaign 3 focusing on aerosols. Data analysis and interpretation. Larger papers detailing field campaigns and synthesis of results. Presentation of results at international conference e.g. AGU in San Francisco, USA. Thesis preparation and viva.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Prof. David Ellsworth (Western Sydney University, Australia) will be a partner on this project. He is the senior scientific advisor to the Eucalyptus Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (EucFACE) experiment.  As such it is hoped that the successful applicant will travel to Australia to perform complementary experiments in the EucFACE facility thereby expanding and internationalizing the scope of the research.  Collaborators at the UK Met Office will provide micrometeorological input.

Further Details

For informal discussion of the project please get in contact with Dr Francis Pope (f.pope@bham.ac.uk).