Project Highlights:

  • Contribute to a better understanding of the key links between climate and crop productivity; one of the major scientific and societal challenges towards sustainable and resilient agriculture
  • Work with state of the art instrumentation and land surface models
  • Conduct research in an exciting cross-discipline research area.

One of the major scientific and societal challenges of our time is to secure the food supply for a growing population in a changing world. However, the productivity of crops is highly sensitivity to climate variations in temperature or rainfall and it is estimated that 30% globally (regionally up to 60%) of the observed variations in crop productivity can be explained by variations in climatic conditions. 

Agriculture itself is also a significant contributor to the emission of climate-relevant greenhouse gases. Globally, agriculture is the second largest emission source behind the energy sector. Agriculture contributes about 10% to the total greenhouse gas emissions of the UK (>40% for methane and >70% for N2O). Plants also emit biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOC) such as methanol or isoprene which lead to aerosol formation and interact with atmospheric chemistry and thus affect climate and local air quality. 

If we want to move forward towards resilient and sustainable agriculture, it is important to understand how climatic fluctuations and change will impact agricultural crop production, what controls agriculture emissions of climate gases and how well we can project agricultural productivity and the related emissions into the future.

In this project, we will use detailed observations of key parameters characterising the meteorological conditions, soil conditions, crop productivity and trace gas fluxes of a monitored agriculture field used for crop production to evaluate the fundamental interplay between productivity, trace gases fluxes and external (meteorological) drivers. This will then be used to test our current understanding of plant functioning as represented by state-of-the-art land surface models, which form a key element in climate and Earth System models used for forecasting our future climate and the implication of climate change on regional ecosystems and agriculture.

The goals of this project are detailed observations of trace gas fluxes of a site similar to extensive crop prodcution and establishing links between climatic variations, trace gase fluxes and productivity. The project takes advantage of a well established collaboration of the Dept. of Geography and G’s Fresh in East Anglia.

The LI-8100 long term automatic soil trace gas flux system of multiplexed automatic soil chambers. This allows to measure gases in addition to H2O and CO2 using state of the art state analysers.


The project will focus on simultanous measurements of trace gas fluxes from crops and soils under different cropping regimes using flux chambers and Eddy Covariance/Relaxes Eddy Accumulation measurements . In addition to the CO2 and H2O fluxes from the LiCOR 8100 system, simultanously fluxes of CO2, CH4, N2O, CO and 13C in CO2 will be measureed with the in-situ FTS trace gase analyzer of the Departament of Physics and Astronomy. Fluxes from BVCOS will be obtained with the PTR-TOFMS (proton transfer reaction-time of flight- mass spectrometer) of the Department of Chemisty. Complemented with meteorological measurements made at the site these measurements will reveal the detailed temporal variations of trace gas fluxes and their main drivers. We will use the state-of-the-art UK land surface model JULES, which includes a realistic description of the carbon, water, energy cycles,  to assess the links between climatic variations, trace fluxes and productivity and to draw conclusions on the implications of future climate change.

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 CENTA research themes. 

In this studentship, the students will acquire key skills and expertise in field work and flux measurements, an in-depth understanding of the carbon cycle and in land surface modelling. The student will also obtain a range of transferable skills ranging from data visualization and data analysis to presentation skills and working in a cross-discipline environment.

The student will work within a team and benefit from training by experts from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Geography and Chemistry. The student will conduct a visit to the partner from University of Bremen who will provide specific training for the in-situ FTS instrument. The student will also participate in a national or international summer school with a focus on carbon cycle and flux measurements (e.g. from ICOS).  


Year 1:  Setup and training of the in-situ FTS instrument for flux observations. Evaluation of the greenhouse flux measurements. Visit to University of Bremen. 

Year 2: Addition of the BVOC fluxes measurements. Statistical analysis of meteorological data, soil data, productivity and trace gas fluxes. Attendance of a Summer school with a focus on greenhouse gases and fluxes (eg ICOS summers school).   

Year 3: Evaluation of model calcualtions from the JULES land surface model against observations from the field site. Presentation of the results at a major European conference (EGU conference).

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Dr Hartmut Boesch is the head of the Earth Observation Science Group of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and he is a divisional director for the National Centre for Earth Observation NCEO.

Dr Joerg Kaduk in the Department of Geography is a senior lecturer for environmental modelling and leads the FENFLUX network of eddy covariance trace gas measurement sites in East Anglia.

Prof. Paul Monks is professor of atmospheric chemistry.

Dr. Thorsten Warneke from University of Bremen, an expert in in-situ FTS measurements, will be a partner for this project. The agricultural partner, G’s fresh, is one of the largest vegetable growers in the UK. There is potential to develop this into a CASE studentship.

Further Details

It is strongly advised that you contact the supervisor Dr. Hartmut Boesch (Hartmut.boesch@le.ac.uk) before applying.