Current PhD Opportunities

As part of our vibrant community of PhD students, you will make a direct contribution to the world-class research of the Graduate School, and develop the skills you need to enjoy a rewarding career.

Whatever your field of interest in relation to the environment – whether in the natural or social sciences – the size and scope of the Graduate School for the Environment means that you are guaranteed to find a suitably stimulating research project to work on.

Support structure

As a PhD student, you will immediately become a valued member of a research group, each of which is headed up by one of our internationally respected academics and supported by an array of post-doctoral research associates and technicians.

You will make your personal contribution to the group – and be taught the research skills you need – under the guidance of one or more supervisors specifically chosen to suit your area of interest. It is with the support of your supervisors and your research group colleagues that you will be able to extract full value from your time at the Graduate School.

Current PhD Opportunities

  • Use of Machine Learning for Regional and Country Wealth Prediction from Satellite imagery

    Supervisors: Pete Atkinson, James Lawrence

    Deadline for applications: 30 September 2018

    Studentship funding: Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,777 2018/19 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years. Unfortunately funding is not available for International (non-EU) students. 

    Why is this project interesting?

    In recent years the number of satellites specialising in capturing imagery of the Earth’s surface has risen dramatically, and increased investment from both ESA and commercial satellite operators are likely to continue this trend over the next decade. With every point on the Earth’s surface captured multiple times per day there is now a huge opportunity to understand the world’s economies in more detail. Traditional techniques used throughout the remote sensing sector are no longer able to effectively handle the scale of data now available. A new approach based around machine learning is required to interrogate these data in a timely fashion.

    This PhD will present the successful candidate with an excellent opportunity to develop world-leading capability in the use of machine learning techniques for imagery, video and trend analysis. The candidate will need to develop techniques to identify and understand the changes in key economic indicators such as mine output, urban growth, commodity extraction and storage and shipping.

    The PhD will be supported by machine learning experts, physicists and data scientists at Geospatial Insight.

    What’s in it for you?

    Become expert in the application of machine learning for the analysis of satellite borne imagery. The Earth observation (EO) sector is in a phase of growth as businesses are beginning to understand the value of EO data, and machine learning approaches are reducing costs, making the business proposition viable. Thus, this PhD provides skills and expertise in a sector where demand for such skills is high. 

    Develop links with external organisations. This project benefits from linkages with Geospatial Insight, one of the UK’s leading technology businesses for the development of downstream imagery processing services and products.

    Join an exciting research environment. You will benefit from the research training programmes offered by the Faculty of Science and Technology at Lancaster University, by being part of the large and vibrant Lancaster Environment Centre and by becoming a member of the Geospatial Data Science research group. This project is at the cutting edge of what is possible using EO data and there is great potential for high quality academic publication of the results.

    Who should apply?

    We are seeking applications from graduates with a good (i.e., 1st class or 2.1) Undergraduate degree, and preferably also a Masters degree, in a Machine Learning-related subject. You should have a strong background in computer science, mathematics, physical science or geography/environmental science with strong quantitative (e.g., programming) skills. You must have demonstrable potential for creative, high-quality PhD research.

    How to apply

    Please download the Use of Machine Learning for Regional and Country Wealth Prediction information for the application process. 

Envision PhDs

The closing date for all Envision PhDs is 27th January 2019. Apply at the Envision website.

  • Climate change impacts on cold-adapted butterflies: discovering the mechanisms and testing potential mitigation approaches

    Principal Supervisor

    Dr Rosa Menendez, Lancaster University

    Description

    Cold-adapted species, including those restricted to mountains, are highly vulnerable to climate change. For UK butterflies, cold-adapted species are similarly threatened by climate change-mediated decline, with some species demonstrating range retractions concurrent with recent warming. Consequently, upland species are becoming a priority for many conservation organisations both in the UK and globally. However, developing adaptation strategies for these species is hampered by a lack of a mechanistic understanding of climate change impacts, a knowledge gap that needs addressing. Furthermore, as climate change can have complex and conflicting impacts during different stages of a butterfly’s life-cycle, studies need to consider the sensitivity of each stage to climate variation, although this is rarely done. We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD candidate interested in investigating how climate change is negatively affecting the persistence of a threatened, climate-sensitive butterfly, the Mountain Ringlet in the Lake District. The project will explore issues around which butterfly’s stages (eggs, caterpillars, pupae and adults) are more sensitive to temperature variation, how thermal tolerance differ among populations along altitudinal gradients and which are the genetic bases of those differences. The project also aims to explore potential mitigation measures by assessing how active habitat management (e.g. controlled grazing) could increase the availability of suitable microhabitat/microclimate in the landscape, to enhance the persistence of the Mountain Ringlet in the face of future climate change. The successful candidate will develop skills in field ecology, thermal tolerance assays, molecular and statistical modelling techniques. The student will be based at Lancaster under the supervision of Dr Rosa Menendez and will be co-supervised by Dr Melanie Gibbs (CEH-Wallingford) and Dr Steven Ewing (RSPB). As part of the project, the student will spend time working in close collaboration with RSPB (project Case-partner) and other conservation organisations involved in habitat management in the Lake District.

    Eligibility

    Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a subject such as Biology, Ecology or Natural Sciences. Fieldwork experience in uplands and a keen interest in insects will be advantageous.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Dr Rosa Menendez.

  • Sources, transfer and fate of microplastics in the Arctic marine environment

    Principal Supervisor

    Dr Crispin Halsall, Lancaster University

    Description

    Contamination of the world’s oceans by plastic waste is of growing international concern. The presence of persistent microplastic particles in very remote environments like the Arctic demonstrates the far-reaching effects of pollution arising in temperate regions. Currently, the key sources of microplastics (from both outside and within the Arctic) and their subsequent behaviour and impact on Arctic ecosystems is poorly understood. This project seeks to measure microplastics in a variety of Arctic marine samples to examine the occurrence and type of plastics in surface and deep ocean waters and to understand the broader transport of microplastics across the Arctic with ocean currents. Mechanistic insight into the transfer of microplastics between sea ice, snowmelt and underlying seawater will also be investigated with the aim of understanding microplastic release with meltwater and exposure of ice-associated biota. This PhD studentship will take advantage of NERC’s Changing Arctic Ocean programme (https://www.changing-arctic-ocean.ac.uk/) and will provide training opportunities with state-of-the-art spectroscopy/microscopy facilities as well as ocean modelling.

    Eligibility

    Applicants should hold the equivalent of a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in quantitative science subjects such as Environmental Science, Chemistry, Physics, Geography or Natural Sciences. Or alternatively an MSc in Ocean Sciences, Meteorology, Applied Physics, Applied Mathematics or another relevant subject.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Dr Crispin Halsall.

  • Solar parks: refuges for pollinators and boosting pollination services

    Principal Supervisor

    Dr Alona Armstrong, Lancaster University

    Description

    Why this project is important: Solar parks are growing exponentially across the world and this growth is expected to continue. At the same time, there is increasing global concern that reduced pollinator populations are limiting the production of critical things, including food, on which society relies. The land solar parks occupy could be used to boost pollinator populations and pollination services to surrounding agricultural land, offering an energy-ecosystem win-win. Consequently, this project will establish the potential for solar parks to mitigate pollinator declines and boost pollination services through the provision of microclimatic niches, and increased floral resources, landscape heterogeneity and habitat connectivity. The findings from the project will inform both pollination and solar park strategies and policies, delivering a real-world benefit.

    The focus: This PhD will further fundamental understanding of regulators of pollinator decline and implications for pollination services using solar parks as a test-bed, ultimately delivering relevant evidence to inform policy and practice.

    What’s in it for the candidate: The successful candidate will become an expert in pollinators, pollination services, and energy-environment interactions. They will develop a broad suite of relevant skills including experimental design, field skills (climate, vegetation and pollinator), statistics, GIS, and communication for different audiences, ensuring they are highly employable in a range of sectors. The project is in collaboration with Low Carbon, with whom they will undertake an internship to gain industry experience. Given the relevance of the topic, they will also be involved in producing industry and policy orientated-outputs, providing additional training. The student will be fully integrated into research teams within Lancaster and Reading (where they will spend one month per year), accessing training, facilities and networks in both institutions, including overseas collaborators.

    Eligibility

    We are looking for an enthusiastic and determined student who enjoys fieldwork, data analysis and working with stakeholders. Candidates must have a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Science, Ecology, Biological Science, Geography or Natural Sciences. Interested applicants are strongly advised to get in touch to learn more about the PhD project.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Dr Alona Armstrong.

  • Tracing environmental impacts associated with hydrocarbon production with novel geochemical techniques

    Principal Supervisor

    Dr Zheng Zhou, Lancaster University

    Description

    With recent government green light for Lancashire fracking, concerns have arisen over the potential environmental impacts associated with drilling and shale gas production. One issue is whether fracking would introduce elevated hydrocarbon gas levels in drinking-water wells in the area of fracking. Several studies suggest that shale gas drilling leads to fugitive gas contamination in a subset of drinking-water wells near drill sites, while others argue that methane is natural and unrelated to shale gas development. Much of this debate results from a lack of geochemical tracers that can constrain simultaneously the source, timing, and mechanism of hydrocarbon migration into shallow aquifers. This project aims to develop novel geochemical tools to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic sources of hydrocarbons in shallow aquifers and determine the source and mechanisms of anthropogenic gas contamination. Traditionally, fugitive gas investigations have used the stable carbon (13C/12C) and hydrogen (D/H) isotopic composition of methane to determine the source of gas in shallow aquifer, but methane from different origins often yield overlapping isotopic compositions. Noble gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe) provide a new and informative set of tracers to complement hydrocarbon geochemistry. Because they are chemically inert and from three clearly different sources. They have long been proven as a versatile tool in the investigation of source and migration processes in hydrocarbon systems. This project will utilize study sites and samples provided by industrial partners in China. While a significant portion of this project will be lab based and involve state of the art mass spectrometry at Lancaster Environment Centre, the PhD student will have chances to work in other world leading labs in China. The student will also be organizing sample collection trips to the fields and liaise with the collaborators. Training will be provided in lab techniques, fieldwork and geochemical modelling.

    Eligibility

    Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 or equivalent in subjects such as physics, chemistry, geology, natural sciences, environmental sciences, or similar.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Dr Zheng Zhou.

  • Why does C4 photosynthesis rarely evolve in trees?

    Principal Supervisor

    Dr Marjorie Lundgren, Lancaster University

    Description

    C4 photosynthesis is an ultra-efficient mode plant physiology that is used by our most productive food and bioenergy crops, including maize, sugarcane, and miscanthus. It has evolved independently in nearly 70 plant lineages. Despite these multiple evolutions, C4 photosynthesis is extremely rare in trees, having only been documented in a handful of tree species in the Euphorbiaceae, a family important for oil and rubber production. This PhD studentship will investigate why C4 photosynthesis rarely evolves in trees. To do this, the student will look at the water- and nitrogen- use economies of Euphorbiaceae trees of differing photosynthetic backgrounds in both greenhouse and field experiments. Field work will take place at the Chinese Academy of Sciences campus at the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou, which houses a collection of Euphorbiaceae trees. Through biogeographic analyses of Euphorbiaceae trees with different photosynthetic backgrounds, the student will illustrate how the ecological and geographic distributions of these species may have facilitated the evolution of complex photosynthetic states in this family.

    Eligibility

    First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree or Masters degree (or equivalent) in biology, ecology or plant sciences is required. Must be willing to undertake fieldwork in Guangzhou, China, for several weeks.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Dr Marjorie Lundgren.

  • Implications of coral reef degradation for fisheries

    Principal Supervisor

    Professor Nick Graham, Lancaster University

    Description

    Around six million people fish on coral reefs, and the fish they catch provide critical sources of protein, micronutrients and income for many millions more. However, coral reefs have been greatly degraded by local human pressures and global climate change. With reef degradation escalating it is essential to know how coral reef condition influences associated fisheries. Coral reef habitat loss is known to influence reef fish communities, and yet fishery yield estimates may not be as sensitive to these changes as expected. This project will tackle the issue of how coral reef fisheries respond to reef habitat decline using a range of approaches. Specifically, the project will ask: How do gradients of reef degradation influence the standing stock and productivity potential of key fishery species? How are yield and catch-per-unit-effort influenced by coral reef condition? What is the spatial and temporal overlap between reef habitat and fisheries landings? What are fishers perceptions of the fishery potential of differing coral reef habitat? By tackling the overarching question from diverse perspectives, the project aims to capture the ecological and fishery factors that determine how the reef ecosystem decline will influence reef fisheries. With supervisory and project support at Lancaster University, UK, and Dalhousie University, Canada, the project offers unique opportunities for research and training in coral reef science.

    Eligibility

    Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Marine Biology, Environmental Science, Ecology, or Geography. Applicants with Masters degrees, relevant research experience, or publications will be highly competitive. Exposure to statistical analyses and fisheries desirable.

    Enquiries

    For further details, please contact Professor Nick Graham.

  • Street-scale modelling of air quality in Beijing: Explaining spatial variability and assessing human exposure

    Principal Supervisor

    Oliver Wild, Lancaster University

    Description

    Air pollution is a major problem in many parts of the world and is particularly acute in countries with rapidly developing economies such as China. Urban air pollution has a major impact on human health, but small-scale variability in pollutant sources makes an assessment of human exposure difficult. Understanding this variability is important for quantifying the impacts on human health and for the source attribution required to inform mitigation and control of air pollution. Air quality models typically work on spatial scales of 1-3 km, far coarser than required to assess human exposure reliably, while urban monitoring networks provide measurements at specific locations but lack sufficient spatial coverage. This project addresses this through the first high-resolution modelling study of air pollution in Beijing. It brings together a street-scale air quality model with an innovative air pollution sensor network for the first time. The goal is to provide new understanding of key emission sources in the city (e.g., traffic, cooking), informing future mitigation options, while providing a critical test of current understanding of chemical and meteorological processes. The project provides the very first opportunity to estimate the exposure of urban residents in Beijing to outdoor air pollution. It will also permit optimization of urban sensor network design, informing the future establishment of air pollutant networks. The student will join the vibrant atmospheric modelling group at Lancaster and will contribute to national and international projects addressing urban air quality. Training will be provided in atmospheric science, numerical modelling, and data analysis, and there will be a focus on using scientific results to inform air quality policy. The project will involve working with colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the student will spend time in Beijing learning first-hand about the challenges of measuring, modelling and mitigating urban air pollution.

    Eligibility

    Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Natural or Environmental Science, or a related discipline.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Professor Oliver Wild.

  • Mountain soil resilience to land-use and climate extremes

    Principal Supervisor

    Professor Nick Ostle, Lancaster University

    Description

    Can our upland landscapes provide clean drinking water, store carbon, maintain biodiversity, act as a platform for leisure activities and provide a rural economy around grazing all whilst coping with the increasing pressures of climate change? Our mountainous regions are clearly under many, sometimes conflicting, demands, and this has led to a substantial degradation in the ecosystem functions that underpin the services society needs. At the centre of this is a healthy and functioning soil, and this project aims to explore this in an ecosystem context under a range of management scenarios. You will join a consortium of researchers, land managers and conservation workers to make the first exploration of soil functions across the UNESCO world heritage designated Lake District. You will then use study catchments in Wild Ennerdale and Haweswater sustainable catchment project to explore, using cutting-edge isotopic and molecular tools, how management intensity can degrade or build soil functions. You will learn new techniques, gain valuable experience in field ecology, work closely with CASE partner Natural England (including a placement), develop strong links working with United Utilities and RSPB, and also with our international partners, spending some time in the mountains of Norway. Training will solidify expertise in numerical ecology, isotope and molecular ecology, survey and monitoring. You will work regularly in mountain ecosystems, have an interest in management and conservation, and a desire to learn new and cutting-edge techniques. You will be at the forefront of understanding how different management regimes interact with climatic extremes, such as flooding, to affect the functioning of our soils, and you will leave with a comprehensive CV, and a wealth of experience working with researchers and industry partners, giving you a springboard into either research or industry.

    Eligibility

    You will hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2:1level or equivalent in subject areas such as, but not limited to, geography, environmental science, conservation, ecology, biology, agricultural sciences, hydrology or natural sciences.

    Enquiries

    For further details please contact Professor Nick Ostle.

How to Apply

Launch your career in research with a funded PhD. Please read carefully the advertised project information, including the funding eligibility as only applicants who have a relevant background and meet the funding criteria can will be considered.

  • Download the Application Form and Reference Form.
  • Complete the Application Form, renaming the document with your 'Name and Application Form' e.g., Joe Bloggs' Application Form.
  • Send the completed Application Form and a CV to the email address as indicated within the project advert.
    Project adverts are available under Current Opportunities.
    Applications and CVs must be submitted as either Word documents or pdf files - no other file types are accepted.
  • Rename the referee form with your 'Name and Reference', e.g., Joe Bloggs Reference.
    Send the renamed reference form to two referees and request them to forward the referee document to the email address as indicated in the project advert.
    References must be submitted as either Word documents or pdf files - no other file types are accepted.
    It is important that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.
  • You will receive an acknowledgment in receipt of successfully sending the application documents.

Funded PhDs are advertised throughout the year, however the majority of projects are advertised between December and May for an October start. In some circumstances, dependent on the funding, start dates in January and April will be considered.

  • Please note that only applications submitted as per these instructions will be considered.
  • If English is not your first language, you will be required to provide evidence of your proficiency in English. This evidence is only required if you are offered a funded PhD, and is not required as part of this application process.
  • If you do not hear from us within four weeks of the closing date then you have been unsuccessful on this occasion. If you would like feedback on your application, please contact the supervisors of the project.

Book a place on one of our Open Days - on Wednesday 21st November 2018, Wednesday 27th February 2019 or Saturday 13th July 2019 - to discover how the Graduate School for the Environment can provide the opportunity for you to develop your knowledge and further your career.

Research Groups

Research training

We take care of all of our students at Lancaster University. The Faculty of Science and Technology runs a series of training sessions designed to improve your skills and abilities during your PhD.

Learn more

Doctoral Training

You can also apply for a PhD at one of the Doctoral Training Centres and Partnerships that work with the Graduate School for the Environment.