Understanding the Role of Climate in Arctic Browning: consequences of climate change and extreme climatic events

Lead Supervisor: Dr Julie Jones, Geography
Co-supervisor(s): Prof Gareth Phoenix, Animal and Plant Sciences; Dr Robert Bryant, Department of Geography; Dr Gareth Marshall, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK

Deadline: Monday 26th March 2018

Project Description
The Arctic has been warming faster than any other region of the Earth. This has driven widespread increases in arctic plant productivity – a phenomena known as ‘arctic greening’. However, in recent years this trend has broken down with greening declines (known as “browning”) occurring in some regions, leading to the first pan-arctic browning trend on record.

This project will undertake the first high-resolution climatological analysis of Arctic browning, which will significantly improve our understanding of the meteorological conditions responsible for this.  The projections of future changes of browning during the 21st Century will improve the ability for preparation and adaptation strategies in Arctic regions, and so will be directly beneficial to indigenous and non-indigenous societies living in the Arctic – for example reindeer herders who rely directly on tundra vegetation for their livelihoods.

This project aims to understand the weather-related processes that cause browning, in particular the role of extreme climate events, which are increasing in frequency as part of climate change.

Understanding the causes of browning will help in predictions of arctic tundra change, the consequences for biodiversity, permafrost thaw, and feedbacks to the climate system through alterations to the regional carbon cycle.

The project has three objectives:

1) Identify regions of browning and analyse whether these regions share common extreme climate events that drive browning

Using remotely-sensed products measuring plant productivity and climatic data, the student will establish those areas without clear statistical linkages between browning and broad-scale climate variability.

2) Determine the key meteorological variables responsible for browning

The student will run a regional atmospheric model for selected case studies. Based on the high-resolution model output, the student will undertake a statistical analysis to ascertain the primary meteorological parameters controlling regional browning events.

3) Assess future changes in arctic browning events

The student will undertake simulations of the regional model forced with simulations of future climate change from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models. Using a range of climate models/emissions scenarios, they will estimate the changes in the frequency, magnitude and extent of related browning events to the end of the 21st Century.

The PhD may involve visits to Scandinavian field sites to provide model ground-truthing. The student will develop a broad understanding of climate change science and arctic ecology. They will gain excellent skills in climate modelling, remote sensing, statistical analysis, and the interpretation of linkages between climate data and ground-based ecological observations.

Keywords: Arctic Browning, climate change, arctic ecology, remote sensing, climate modelling
Subject areas: Botany/Plant Science; Geography, Climatology and climate change; Meteorology

Funding notes
This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year.  Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.  Applications should be received and complete by Monday 26th March 2018.

What to include in the application
Your application for this studentship should be accompanied by a CV and a 200 word supporting statement. Your statement should outline your aspirations and motivation for studying in the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. You should also outline any relevant experience and interests that you have in sustainability issues.

Please select ‘Standard PhD’ and the department of this project’s lead supervisor. Fill in the title of your desired project and the name(s) of the supervisors. The starting date of the PhD will be the start of the next academic year – 1 Oct 2018. The ‘Funding stage’ on the form will be ‘project studentship’.