BioCast: Using Weather Radars and Numerical Weather Forecast to Predict Changes in Biodiversity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


"Weather radars scan the entirety of the UK every 5 minutes, and similar types of radar are used around the world for the same purpose. Such radar routinely insects and other animal life in the atmosphere, but since animals are not of interest to meteorologists, they are discarded as unwanted "noise". That "noise" is a veritable treasure trove of information on insect diversity and abundance, but what is required is a way to link what a radar observes to our ability to predict the onset of insect migrations, mass emergences or pest invasions. This interdisciplinary PhD project is designed to assess how radar data, numerical weather forecasts and ecological models can be used together to generate biologically useful information that can be applied to solve contemporary ecological problems. The project will involve (and provide training in) a range of techniques from physics, ecology and meteorology.

In the first phase of the project, the student will be trained to use the output of the NERC-funded BioDAR and DRUID projects, which have used the UK's weather radars to map insect abundance and diversity through time, in combination with high-resolution numerical weather forecast output to assess different movements of aerial fauna across the UK with regards to the detailed atmospheric conditions that may or may not be driving them. This could potentially include the annual "fly ant day" that is well documented in the UK Met Office's radars, in situ sampling systems run by Rothamsted Research and citizen science data collection campaigns organised by researchers at the University of Leeds, outbreaks of aphids and or migrations of moths.

In the second phase of the project, the student will select a set of case studies and work on putting the "bugs" into the computer. By this, we mean the student will use a high-resolution numerical weather forecasting model to simulate the movement and behaviours of the selected fauna groups. This will be achieved by coupling the widely used Weather Research Forecast (WRF) model to a "fauna" simulation module developed by the student in a manner similar to how WRF has been coupled to aerosol and chemistry modules to model air quality.

In the third phase of the project, the developed model will be used to investigate a pressing issue in conservation: the effect of human modification of the landscape on insects. The student will possibly examine this issue in one of three ways, by looking at the impacts of light pollution, urbanisation, and or agri-environment schemes (which are designed to help nature on farmland) depedning on the insects chosen in the second phase.

Taken together, this PhD project has an exciting interdisciplinary focus that will produce considerable impact if the work is successful. We have already identified key external partners both within the UK (Natural England, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, BugLife) and abroad (in the US and South Africa) who will be involved in discussions and guiding the project. The project would benefit from a student with strong quantitative skills in radar analysis and an interest in solving real-world environmental problems.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007458/1 31/08/2019 29/09/2028
2743352 Studentship NE/S007458/1 30/09/2022 30/03/2026 Samuel Hodges