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The influence of large-scale circulation on the dispersal of gases from Nortern Sea Oil and Gas platforms

Dr Ioana Colfescu (SEE), Dr. Ralph Burton, Prof. Stephen Mobbs, Dr. Barbara Brooks

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The impacts of climate change are occurring faster and more strongly than originally thought, the sea levels are rising, the world is warming while our atmosphere is more polluted than ever. As climate change will alter local meteorological conditions the dispersion mechanisms, as well as trajectories, of essential air pollutants need better understanding. Although is expected that global emissions of atmospheric anthropogenic gases will decrease strongly throughout the remainder of the 21st century such pollutants will cause unintended climate consequences with potential impacts on atmospheric circulation. In particular, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding both the quantification of emission (e.g CO2,CH4 and NOx) emitted during the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, in addition to their remote impacts via atmospheric transport away from the source.

The proposed study will combine observations, modelling and data analysis to understand how atmospheric circulation patterns over the Northern Hemisphere transport and interact with pollutants emitted by oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. The project will also have an excellent field work component: collecting data while taking part into research campaigns flying aboard a research aircraft. The  consequences of these interactions for the long range dispersion and fate of emissions will be investigated. The scarcity of observations along with the difficulty in modelling makes this problem an urgent and important one; the existence of important modes of climate variability in this area (such as the North Atlantic Oscillation or the Atlantic Multidecadal Variability), makes it clear that the dispersion and transport of emissions have long-range consequences which need better understanding.

The aim of this project is to improve our understanding of the key physical mechanisms by which the interaction of oil platform emissions with weather systems in the North Sea impact the regional and large-scale redistribution of pollutants and potentially the climate. Whilst this project will primarily consider the effect of changes in weather patterns on the fate of North Sea emissions, the final part of the project will use the findings to consider how the effect of emissions on a much larger scale may altered by changes in climatic conditions, including weather patterns.


The project will make use of a range of observational datasets, including three-dimensional atmospheric reanalysis data, surface observations,satellite and aircraft measurements.You will have the opportunity to take part in research campaigns aboard the research aircraft and use the data which was collected. For studying climate change impacts the project will utilise a suite of available global climate model (GCM) experiments, such as those from the IPCC CMIP5/6 archives. Also, the project will use the established NCAR WRF model to design and perform a set of sensitivity experiments where the magnitude and temporal evolution of platform emissions are varied. Namely, WRF alongside chemical dispersion and transport models (i.e GEOS) as well as back trajectory models (HYSPLIT). WRF has been used previously to address important questions relating to regional and global climate.

You will work closely with modellers and data scientists from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), principally in Leeds, but also with NCAS atmospheric chemists based in York. You will also have the chance to meet industry project partners from the Oil and Gas Industry. You will gain an excellent base of data analysis as well as modelling and mechanistic understanding of atmospheric and climate related processes.

Key research questions

•What are the remote (both spatially and temporally) effects of oil offshore platform emissions ?

•What is the footprint of changing emissions (sensitivity) on large-scale climate and circulation in the North Atlantic Sector?

•To what extent do offshore platform-driven changes interact with other forcings (i.e., green house gases from other sources)?

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Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Applied mathematics
  • Astronomy
  • Atmospheric science
  • Computer science
  • Computing
  • Geophysics
  • Geoscience
  • Mathematics
  • Meteorology
  • Oceanography
  • Physics
  • Remote sensing
  • Statistics