Project Highlights:

  • Understand how woodlands respond to climate change
  • Excellent and cutting-edge facilities at the Birmingham Institute for Forest Research (BIFoR)
  • Joint University of Birmingham and Met Office project



Globally, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are rising because of anthropogenic activity. They will continue to rise in the coming century.

Higher CO2 will affect the growth and other characteristics of plants and fungi. This Ph.D. will investigate the effect of elevated CO2 upon primary biological aerosol (bioaerosol) production, and in particular pollen and fungal spores that are characteristic of UK woodlands, which comprise 13% of the total land area in the UK.

Increased bioaerosol production has profound and potentially far reaching implications since bioaerosols are societally and environmentally important. For example:

  • Bioaerosols transport the genetic material of plants and fungi between different geographical locations enabling colonisation of new habitats. 
  • Allergenic bioaerosols cause severe health issues including asthma, which afflict approximately 20% of the UK population
  • Bioaerosols are important links between the atmosphere and biosphere. By acting as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and ice nuclei (IN) that affect the radiative forcing of the climate. 

This project will utilise the new multi-million pound Birmingham Institute for Forestry Research (BIFoR) Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment to measure the changing production of pollen and spores under enriched CO2 in a typical UK woodland. The experiment exposes large plots of woodland to enriched CO2 whilst minimizing other changes to the natural conditions. The effect of enriched CO2 can therefore be isolated. This FACE experiment is one of only two worldwide and the only one investigating UK representative woodlands. The proposed project will be the first FACE experiment, worldwide, to measure airborne pollen and spores.

The project goals will be met through monitoring of pollen and spores simultaneously in both CO2 enriched and non-enriched regions of the FACE woodland. A robust dataset will be generated which includes calibrated measurements of the atmospheric concentration and speciation of airborne pollen and spores under both contemporary and enriched CO2 conditions.

Figure 1: False colour LIDAR image showing tree morphology within the BIFoR wood


Within the FACE experiment there are three plots which will have enhanced CO2 and three 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 bioaerosols 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 indicating that all planned experiments are viable.

The project will use a range of analytical techniques to investigate the forest including bioaerosol counting equipment. Results will be interpreted through use of atmospheric and ecological models including the JULES model, which will investigate the effects of both changing woodland phenology and enhanced CO2 concentrations.

Training and Skills

The student will be provided with full training on the instrumentation and modelling packages with which to analyse atmospheric composition, including bioaerosols. The candidate will be encouraged to attend modules from atmospheric science related MSc courses at the University of Birmingham. They will be trained in an interdisciplinary environment both at the University of Birmingham and the Met Office, with colleagues whose interests span meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and air quality. The student will benefit enormously from synergies between the studentship and the wider team working within BIFoR, including a large cohort of Ph.D. students, and the technical team based at the FACE facility.  


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

Year 2: Extensive field campaign two focusing on the effect of enhanced CO2 upon bioaerosol speciation and production. Data analysis and interpretation. Publication of initial field campaign papers. Trip to EucFACE in Australia

Year 3: Data analysis and interpretation. Implementation of field data into model. 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)

The project is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and the Met Office. The possibility of CASE funding from the Met Office is being investigated.


Further Details

Website for the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) including information about the Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment - https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/bifor/index.aspx

JULES land surface model http://jules.jchmr.org/

Professor Francis Pope https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/gees/pope-francis.aspx

Dr Debbie Hemming https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/people/deborah-hemming