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TRISC: Tropical Isoprene emissions and climate feedbacks

Supervisor: Alex Archibald (Chemistry), Neil Harris (Chemistry) and David Coomes.

Reference Code: C212

Importance of the area of research:  Trees and plants play myriad crucial roles in the Earth system. One very important role is through their source as emitters of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. The emissions of VOCs from plants is strongly dependent on climate parameters and is thought to be ~1000 Tg of carbon per year, about as much as twice the mass of the entire human population! 50% of these emissions are in the form of one single compound – isoprene. Once in the atmosphere, isoprene can participate in a chain of reactions that can lead to the formation of secondary pollutants and aerosols – which have impacts on human health and climate respectively. Therefore it’s crucial to understand (i) why plants emit all this carbon into the atmosphere; (ii) what happens to it when it’s in the atmosphere; and (iii) what might happen in future.

Project summary:  This project will lead to improved estimates of tropical forest isoprene emissions by using new measurements to improve existing models. A better understanding of the mechanisms of emissions of isoprene and the impacts of isoprene on climate and air quality are needed (Archibald et al., 2011). Here, measurements from newly developed instruments will generate data sets of isoprene fluxes from tropical rainforest environments. These data sets will be used to test existing isoprene emission models (Guenther et al., 2012) and to develop improved parameterizations. These will then be applied in models developed in Cambridge for simulating atmospheric chemistry and climate to determine the impacts of tropical isoprene emissions.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


  • Archibald et al., 2011. Impacts of HOx regeneration and recycling in the oxidation of isoprene: Consequences for the composition of past, present and future atmospheres. Geophy. Res. Letts., doi: 10.1029/2010GL046520
  • Guenther et al., 2012. The Model of Emissions of Gases and Aerosols from Nature version 2.1 (MEGAN2.1): an extended and updated framework for modeling biogenic emissions. Geophys. Model Dev., doi: 10.5194/gmd-5-1471-2012