Project Highlights:

  • Use observations from instruments in space to monitor air quality across Europe
  • Interpret information from these instruments using the Harvard GEOS-Chem model
  • Gain work experience with short-term industrial and policy placements.

Air pollution is one of the greatest global risks to human health. In Europe there are ambitious plans to reduce our exposure to poor air quality by targeting pollution emitted by multiple anthropogenic sources. An important group of pollutants that contribute to poor air quality, non-methane volatile organic compounds or NMVOCs, are very challenging to monitor and regulate. There are 100s of compounds from multiple sources (Figure 1) that contribute to this family of chemicals and the monitoring network of ground-based instruments is severely limited in space, time, and the number of compounds measured.

Satellite observations provide consistent global coverage to address shortcomings in the surface network. These have been used extensively to determine long-term changes in pollutant concentrations and emissions in global and regional studies. This studentship will involve the analysis of terabytes of data from NASA and ESA space-based instruments to convert these into meaningful information about long-term and spatial changes as well as emissions of air pollution throughout Europe. Interpretation of this information will be aided by the use of the global 3D GEOS-Chem model (http://acmg.seas.harvard.edu/geos/).

This project is ideal for students with a quantitative background and some computing experience. No prior experience in chemistry or computer modelling is required. Training will be provided by the University of Leicester Research Computing staff and by the lead supervisor who has over 10 years’ chemical transport modelling experience.

The successful applicant will become part of the dynamic and inclusive international GEOS-Chem User Community and have the opportunity to travel to local and international conferences and science meetings to present results from this work. There will also be paid short-term placements at Defra in London to gain hands-on experience in Environmental Policy and at the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell to learn about diverse commercial applications of Earth observations.


Current understanding of the mix of anthropogenic NMVOC sources in Europe


Conduct an extensive literature review to gain detailed understanding of the current approaches used to estimate trends and emissions from satellite observations.

Process the long record of NASA Aura satellite observations and apply trend analysis to estimate changes in NMVOCs across Europe from 2005 to 2020.

Infer emissions of NMVOCs at high spatial resolution using ESA Sentinel-5P satellite observations and the GEOS-Chem model.  

Assess the performance of air quality tools used to develop air quality policies and provide recommendations for improvements to these tools.

Training and Skills

A prerequisite for this studentship is a quantitative background and some computing experience. Training in advanced computer modelling and data processing languages will be provided at University of Leicester by Research Computing staff and the lead supervisor. There are also opportunities to attend computer modelling and data processing training courses offered by the NERC National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). There is additional GEOS-Chem training provided by the Harvard-based support team via a dedicated YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyh8HWxxxiBCy30xXU8_UDQ).


Year 1: Literature review. Long-term trends calculation. Present results at regional National Centre for Earth Observations (NCEO) meetings.

Year 2: Infer air pollutant emissions. Work placement for 3 months at Satellite Applications Catapult. Present results at the GEOS-Chem User’s Meeting in the US, China or Europe.

Year 3: Evaluate air quality tools. Policy placement for 3 months at Defra. Present results to Defra, the Air Quality Experts Group (AQEG), and at an international science conference.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

CASE support is provided by Defra, Satellite Applications Catapult is a confirmed end user and has also offered a 3-month paid placement for the successful candidate, and Prof Paul Palmer at NCEO is the confirmed co-supervisor. The student will collaborate with researchers at University of Leicester, University of Edinburgh and members of the dynamic and inclusive international GEOS-Chem User Community.

Further Details

This project has been selected as a CENTA Flagship project. This is based on the projects fulfilment of specific characteristics e.g., NERC CASE support, collaboration with our CENTA high-level end-users, diversity of the supervisory team, career development of the supervisory team, collaboration with one of our Research Centre Partners (BGS, CEH, NCEO, NCAS), or a potential applicant co-development of the project.

For queries about the studentship, please contact Eloise Marais (eloise.marais@le.ac.uk).