PhD studentship - pollen forecasting

We are now inviting applications for a NERC GW4+ DTP funded PhD at University of Exeter (Penryn Campus): From anther to atmosphere: building a better pollen forecast for human health. Physical Geography PhD Studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4014

Lead Supervisor

Dr Jon Bennie, University of Exeter, Centre for Geography and Environmental Science

Additional Supervisors

Dr Regan Early, University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Conservation

Lucy Neal, Met Office, Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality Group

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall.

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

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 Background

As our climate and land use changes, so does the relationship between biodiversity and human wellbeing. This PhD will tackle the interface between biology, ecology, meteorology and human health, to understand the consequences of environmental change for both the UK's countryside and the millions who suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies. This project will reveal the environmental conditions that determine the ecology of allergenic plants in both cities and countryside, and which trigger the onset of pollen allergies. The project will also have an extremely important impact on the lives of the ten million people in the UK whose health is affected by pollen, by improving the UK pollen forecast provided by the Met Office. You will learn field skills through plant surveys and experiments, and advanced analytical skills by developing new biological an atmospheric models of pollen transport. You will also gain experience in the interdisciplinary approach to science that is increasingly important in our rapidly changing world.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will improve our ability to forecast pollen concentrations by studying when and where wind-borne pollen is released into the atmosphere by plants and how and where it is dispersed. It will involve both field studies and mathematical modelling of allergenic plants, to reveal the synergy amongst processes at extremely small-scales (e.g. pollen release from a single flower head), mid-scales (e.g. the density of flowers in cities or countrysides), and extremely large scales (e.g. atmospheric movement of pollen over many kilometres). Key methods will involve: setting up and running controlled field experiments to measure the daily and seasonal cycles of pollen release in a range of species of plants and their response to weather and climate; carrying out extensive field surveys and developing species distribution models (SDMs) to estimate the changing density of key pollenproducing species within rural and urban landscapes; implementing and validating the Met Office numerical dispersion model (NAME) to predict long-distance transport of pollen grains. It is expected that you will develop skills in both biological field work and mathematical modelling, but there is scope for you to develop the project to suit your existing skills and areas of interest.

Candidate requirements

The successful candidate should have a degree in a science subject or mathematics, have good numerical skills and an interest in biology and ecology. Experience in carrying out ecological fieldwork and/or working with mathematical models of physical or biological systems would be an advantage, as well as enthusiasm and a willingness to learn new skills.

CASE partner

The student will be co-supervised by scientists at the Met Office and will have regular supervisory meetings with Met Office staff. They will also spend six months working at the Met Office in Exeter, working closely with scientists in the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality group for the atmospheric dispersion modelling component of the PhD.


The Met office will provide training in atmospheric dispersion modelling, and the supervisory team will provide project-specific training in field skills as required. Exeter University will provide training in transferable skills (e.g. time management, employability, statistics, teaching skills) as part of its graduate training programme. The student will be able to attend regular departmental seminars in the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science and the Centre for Ecology and Conservation.

Background reading and references

McInnes RN et al., (2017) Mapping allergenic pollen vegetation in the UK to study environmental exposure and health risk. Science of the Total Environment 599-600, 483-499.

Van Vliet AJH et al., (2002) The influence of temperature and climate change on the timing of pollen release in the Netherlands. International Journal of Climatology 22 (14) 1757-1767

NAME dispersion model,


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.

Studentships for international students will only cover fees at the UK home fees rate. However, university tuition fees for international students are higher than the UK home fees rate therefore the difference will need to be funded from a separate source which the student or project supervisor may have to find. Unfortunately, the NERC GW4+ DTP cannot fund this difference from out studentship funding Further guidance on how this will work will be issued in November.

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

How to apply

Further information and how to apply can be found at

posted: 28 October 2020     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.