Tropical land-use change and regional climate


Contact Professor Dominick Spracklen ( to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Rapid deforestation and degradation are occurring across the tropics. This land-use change impacts the surface energy balance, water and carbon cycles through changes to land-surface properties and through smoke emitted by forest and vegetation fires (Spracklen et al., 2018). Climate models predict that tropical land-use change reduces regional precipitation, but there is considerable uncertainty in these predictions (Spracklen and Garcia-Carreras, 2015).

The aim of this PhD is to improve our understanding of the impacts of tropical land-use change on regional rainfall. The project will exploit new multi-decadal remote-sensed datasets of land-use change in combination with models to help understand the mechanisms linking land-use change and rainfall and to predict the impacts of future land-use change. New understanding from this project will help inform policy makers on the impacts of future land-use change on regional climate.

Objectives: The project will involve the following analysis: Analysing the impacts of historical land-use change on rainfall. The project will involve a combined analysis of satellite datasets of land-use change and rainfall. New datasets of global land-use change provide a consistent record over the period 1982 to 2016.

The project will exploit these datasets to understand the impacts of tropical land-use change over this period on both local and downwind rainfall. Following methods developed in previous work (Spracklen et al., 2012) the project will use atmospheric back trajectories to examine the impacts on land-use change on downwind rainfall.

Understanding the impacts of land-use change on rainfall. High-resolution atmospheric models will be used to simulate the impacts of historical land-use change on rainfall. The aim of this analysis will be to evaluate model predictions against satellite observations and to identify the important mechanisms linking land-use change to rainfall. Simulating impacts of future land-use change on rainfall.

Future scenarios of tropical land-use change will be combined with the methods described above to estimate the impacts on regional and downwind rainfall. The impacts of existing or planned forest protection through either protected public land or other policies such as the Brazilian Forest Act, will be explored.

Training: The PhD will provide world-class training in 1) land-atmosphere interactions and climate science, 2) the analysis of large geophysical datasets, 3) numerical modelling of the atmosphere and land-surface, 4) use of high-performance computing, 5) communication of results outside academia.


  • Spracklen, D.V., Baker, J.C.A., Garcia-Carreras, L., Marsham, J., The effects of tropical vegetation on rainfall, Annual Review of the Environment and Resources, 42,, 2018.
  • Spracklen, D.V., Garcia-Carreras, L., The impact of Amazonian deforestation on Amazon basin rainfall, Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1002/2015GL066063, 2015. Spracklen, D.V. , Arnold, S.R., Taylor, C.M., Observations of increased tropical rainfall preceded by air passage over forests Nature, 489, 282-285, 2012.

Key benefits

You will collaborate closely with other PhD students and research fellows and as part of the DECAF (Deforestation – Climate – Atmospheric composition – Fire interactions and feedbacks) project, funded by the European Research Council. You will be embedded in the Biosphere-Atmosphere Research Group (, a vibrant group of researchers working on science linking the biosphere and atmosphere.

The Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS, has about 80 PhD students researching a wide range of topics including climate change, air pollution, and meteorology. Atmospheric science at Leeds is ranked 9th in the Centre for World University Rankings ( The Priestley International Centre for Climate provides interdisciplinary opportunities for collaboration to help underpin robust solutions to climate change.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from motivated and enthusiastic candidates with an interest in environmental problems related to land-use change and climate, and a strong background in a quantitative science (minimum of a British Bachelor's upper second class Honours degree (2.1), or equivalent, in maths, chemistry, physics, engineering, environmental sciences). Familiarity with programming and scientific computing is an advantage but not essential.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the ‘Tropical land-use change and regional climate' as well as Professor Dominick Spracklen as your proposed supervisor.

If you require any further information, please contact the Graduate School Office e:, or t: +44 (0)113 343 1634.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.