Atmospheric and planetary chemistry

The Earth's atmosphere, as studied by our Atmospheric and Planetary Chemistry research group

We seek to understand the vital resource that is our atmosphere, which is essential for a sustainable future. Amongst other things, atmospheric chemistry influences air quality, human health, and climate change, and hence the future of our planet. Missions to other planets and moons in our solar system are revealing how extraordinarily diverse atmospheres have developed, which in turn helps to understand the evolution of our own atmosphere.

More than a thousand exoplanets (around other stars in our galaxy) have now been discovered, and we’re starting to be able to detect their atmospheric properties. Unravelling the complexity of the chemistry of an atmosphere requires a range of complementary approaches from lab studies and field observations, through simulations to models. Our work on Earth’s atmosphere is closely aligned with three of the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) seven science themes – Climate System, Sustainable Use of Resources, and Environment, Pollution and Human Health.

We’re also developing a strong research programme into chemistry relevant to other planets in the solar system and to newly discovered exoplanets. Our links to instrument manufacturers, government departments (e.g. DEFRA) and a wide range of international collaborators are very strong. Our engagement with industry is driven through the University’s Climate and Geohazard Services Hub.

Atmospheric chemistry

We apply laboratory measurements, field studies and modelling to the study of the Earth’s atmosphere. Research in this area focuses on:

  • Measuring key species in the atmosphere – e.g. oxidizing radicals in the troposphere (laser-based techniques) and metallic species in the mesosphere (from satellites and rockets)
  • Laboratory studies to understand:
    • the chemical oxidation of hydrocarbons and how these are linked to air quality and climate change issues
    • how new particles form in the atmosphere and their role in chemistry
    • the chemistry of meteor-ablated metals in the upper atmosphere
  • Modelling – Leeds is home to the Master Chemical Mechanism for detailed tropospheric box modelling, and researchers have contributed to the development of whole atmosphere models such as the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model.

Many of these research interests are coordinated through the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS) and we are a member of the Leeds-York NERC Doctoral Training Partnership.

Planetary chemistry

The conditions of other planetary and lunar atmospheres in our solar system are very different from Earth. Although some of the approaches are the same (a combination of laboratory work, observations and modelling) several aspects of the work are different:

  • Enhanced focus on chemistry at low temperatures (<100 K) using a pulsed Laval expansion, specialised flow tubes and theoretical models such as MESMER
  • Our experience in combustion and high temperature pyrolysis chemistry is relevant for the conditions of ‘super Earth’ and ‘hot Jupiter’ exoplanets
  • Laboratory studies on the transport of phosphorus based information carriers on meteorites

We have strong links with physics and collaborations with colleagues in the USA at NASA, JPL and many university departments.

Facilities

  • A range of state-of-the-art field measurement instruments
  • The Highly Instrumented Reactor for Atmospheric Chemistry (HIRAC) for atmospheric simulations
  • Ten interchangeable laser bays which allow the flexible combination of over 20 lasers to a range of apparatus including flow tubes, flash photolysis apparatus, TOF mass spectrometers, and Laval expansion
  • Synthetic laboratories
  • A range of computing facilities including access to the Leeds supercomputer ARC1 and N8 POLARIS supercomputer.

Research team

If you are interested in collaborating with us or joining our research team, please get in touch. View all members of the atmospheric and planetary chemistry group.

PhD projects

We have opportunities for prospective PhD students. Potential projects can be found in the postgraduate research project opportunities directory.