Towards near real-time quantification of fossil fuel emissions


Towards near real-time quantification of fossil fuel emissions


Project Description


Dr Penelope Pickers (University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences) – Contact me

Dr Dorothee Bakker, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Dr Matt Jones, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences


Project background

The 2020s are critical years for curbing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel use to slow the pace of climate change. Successful implementation of the Paris agreement relies on countries’ emissions being accurately known and readily available in near real-time.

Our ability to evaluate fossil fuel CO2 (ffCO2) emissions and monitor the effectiveness of emissions reduction policies is currently limited (1). ‘Bottom-up’ emissions estimates, based on inventory-style accounting and mobile tracking data, can differ significantly from each other at policy-relevant scales, while ‘top-down’ estimates, based on atmospheric measurements and modelling, have been hampered by large natural fluxes of CO2 between the terrestrial biosphere and the atmosphere (2).

Research Methodology

In this PhD studentship, you will quantify ffCO2 in near-real time by applying a novel method that accounts for synchronous changes in atmospheric CO2 and oxygen (O2). Using new data products of how fossil fuel combustion and natural ecosystem processes consume and emit O2 and CO2, you will disentangle the atmospheric signals of anthropogenic and natural processes (2). Working with atmospheric O2 data from the Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory (, the Heathfield Tall Tower (UK), and the Heidelberg Integrated Carbon Observation System site ( (Germany), you will:

  • Quantify ffCO2 in urban and rural settings;
  • Refine O2 and CO2 ratios at country and sub-country scales (3);
  • Work towards near real-time top-down ffCO2 emissions reporting for the UK;
  • Re-evaluate land and ocean carbon sink partitioning for north-western Europe and investigate regional and global carbon budget imbalances (4, 5).


  • Expertise in atmospheric O2 and CO2 measurement;
  • Programming (R, Python), data analysis and machine learning;
  • Optional 3-6 month stay in Wellington, New Zealand, working with state of the art CarbonWatch-NZ data (;
  • Attendance at summer schools, such as the National Centre for Atmospheric Science summer school (;
  • Presentations at scientific conferences and peer-reviewed publications.

Person Specification

We seek an enthusiastic team player with strong scientific interests, self-motivation and numerical skills. You will have at least a degree in environmental sciences, physics, chemistry, natural sciences, engineering or equivalent, and a strong interest in the carbon cycle and climate change.


  • Le Quéré, C., Jackson, R. B., Jones, M. W., Smith, A., Abernethy, S., Andrew, R. M., De-Gol, A., Willis, D., Shan, Y., Canadell, J. G., Friedlingstein, P., Creutzig, F. & Peters, G. (2020) Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement, Nature Climate Change. 10, 7, p. 647–653 7 p.doi: 10.1038/s41558-020-0797-x
  • Pickers, P. A., Manning, A.C., Le Quéré, C., Forster, G.L., Luijkx, I.T., Gerbig, C., Fleming, L.S. and Sturges, W.T. (2022) Novel quantification of regional fossil fuel CO2 reductions during COVID-19 lockdowns using atmospheric oxygen measurements, Science Advances. 8, 16, abl9250.
  • Jones, M. W., Andrew, R. M., Peters, G. P., Janssens-Maenhout, G., De-Gol, A. J., Ciais, P., Patra, P. K., Chevallier, F. & Le Quéré, C. (2021) Gridded fossil CO2 emissions and related O2 combustion consistent with national inventories 1959-2018, Scientific Data. 8, 2. doi: 10.1038/s41597-020-00779-6
  • Friedlingstein, P., Jones, M. W., O'Sullivan, M., Andrew, R. M., Bakker, D. C. E., Hauck, J., Le Quéré, C., Peters, G. P., Peters, W., Pongratz, J., Sitch, S., Canadell, J. G., Ciais, P., Jackson, R. B., Alin, S. R., Anthoni, P., Bates, N. R., Becker, M., Bellouin, N., Bopp, L., Chau, T. T. T., Chevallier, F., Chini, L. P., Cronin, M., Currie, K. I., Decharme, B., Djeutchouang, L. M., Dou, X., Evans, W., Feely, R. A., Feng, L., Gasser, T., Gilfillan, D., Gkritzalis, T., Grassi, G., Gregor, L., Gruber, N., Gürses, O., Harris, I., Houghton, R. A., Hurtt, G. C., Iida, Y., Ilyina, T., Luijkx, I. T., Jain, A., Jones, S. D., Kato, E., Kennedy, D., Goldewijk, K. K., Knauer, J., Korsbakken, J. I., Körtzinger, A., Landschützer, P., Lauvset, S. K., Lefèvre, N., Lienert, S., Liu, J., Marland, G., McGuire, P.C., Melton, J. R., Munro, D. R., Nabel, J. E. M. S., Nakaoka, S. I., Niwa, Y., Ono, T., Pierrot, D., Poulter, B., Rehder, G., Resplandy, L., Robertson, E., Rödenbeck, C., Rosan, T. M., Schwinger, J., Schwingshackl, C., Séférian, R., Sutton, A. J., Sweeney, C., Tanhua, T., Tans, P. P., Tian, H., Tilbrook, B., Tubiello, F., van der Werf, G. R., Vuichard, N., Wada, C., Wanninkhof, R., Watson, A. J., Willis, D., Wiltshire, A. J., Yuan, W., Yue, C., Yue, X., Zaehle, S., and J. Zeng (2021) Global Carbon Budget 2021. Earth System Science Data 14, 1917–2005, 2022. doi: 10.5194/essd-14-1917-2022
  • Legge, O., Johnson, M., Hicks, N., Jickells, T., Diesing, M., Aldridge, J., Andrews, J., Artioli, Y., Bakker, D. C. E., Burrows, M. T., Carr, N., Cripps, G., Felgate, S., Fernand, L., Greenwood, N., Hartman, S., Kitidis, V., Kröger, S., Lessin, G., Mahaffey, C., Mayor, D. J., Ruth Parker, R., Queirós, A. M., Shutler, J. D., Silva, T., Stahl, H., Tinker, J., Underwood, G. J. C., Van der Molen, J., Wakelin, S., Weston, K., Williamson, P. (2020) Carbon on the Northwest European Shelf: Contemporary Budget and Future Influences. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7: 143, 23 pp. doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.00143.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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