A comparative study of metallic ions in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars


Contact Professor John Plane to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Metallic Ions in the Atmospheres of Earth and Mars: A Comparative Study

Metals are injected into planetary atmospheres by the ablation of interplanetary dust particles. The major species (Fe, Mg and Na) exist as atoms and ions that are excellent tracers of dynamics and chemistry. This project will contrast the behaviour of these metals in the terrestrial and Martian atmospheres. On Earth, metals are observed by ground-based lidar, rocket-borne mass spectrometry, and from optical spectrometers on satellites. For Mars, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is providing unprecedented measurements of metallic ions over much of the planet’s ionosphere. This is because MAVEN’s highly elliptical orbit permits sampling to unusually low altitudes. Surprisingly different behaviour in the metal ions has been observed, which is probably due to (at least) two factors: unlike the Earth which has a permanent magnetic field, Mars only has patches of crustal magnetism mainly in the southern hemisphere; and Mars has a CO2 – rather than an N2/O2 – atmosphere.

This project will used global whole-atmosphere models of Earth and Mars to understand why the metals behave so differently. The objective will be to improve our understanding of the coupling between the neutral and ionized atmosphere. An important reason for doing so is to understand the effects of space weather on our atmosphere, both short-term perturbations and longer-term climatic influences. The main model that will be employed is WACCM-X, an extended version of the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, USA).

The project will involve including metal chemistry in WACCM-X, and then developing a version of WACCM-X for Mars. The student will be co-supervised by Dr Daniel Marsh from NCAR, and will have the opportunity to make research visits to Boulder. This project will provide a high level of specialist scientific training in: (i) the application of a world-leading atmospheric chemistry-climate model; (ii) analysis and synthesis or large datasets; (iii) use of advanced High Performance Computing facilities (e.g. the UK national supercomputer archer.ac.uk, and the N8 HPC n8hpc.org.uk).

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in a relevant subject.

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 'A Comparative Study of Metallic Ions in the Atmospheres of Earth and Mars’ as well as Professor John Plane as your proposed supervisor.

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.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office e: maps.pgr.admissions@leeds.ac.uk