School of Earth and Environment

The co-benefits of low carbon cities to Asian air quality

Supervisors: Dominick Spracklen, Steve Arnold and Andy Gouldson

Contact email: D.V.Spracklen(at)

Application deadline:  31 January 2017

This award will provide full funding for a UK/EU candidate for 3.5 years to include tuition fees, tax-free stipend at RCUK level (£14,296 for 2015/16).  The studentship is open to international (non-EU) candidates as a 3 year funded award, to include full tuition fees at the international rate, and a tax-free stipend of ~£10,000pa.

Project summary

Rapid economic growth combined with inadequate environmental legislation has led to serious air quality problems across Asia. Poor understanding of the sources and causes of this air pollution hinders policy efforts to improve air quality. Recent work has assessed the potential for low-carbon cities to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but little is known about the impacts of such policy choices on air quality. In this project, you will explore the co-benefits of low carbon cities to air quality in Asia, and will combine atmospheric models with observations of atmospheric composition to improve our understanding of the pollution sources across Asia. This project will help to identify realistic and effective measures to rapidly mitigate poor air quality in the region.


Each year, around 3 million people die prematurely as a result of poor air quality; 70% of these deaths are in Asia (Apte et al., 2015).  Efforts to improve Asian air quality are hindered by poor understanding of pollutant sources and processes that lead to unhealthy air. It is likely that Asia will need different approaches to improving air quality than those implemented in Europe and the US. However, the most effective air pollution mitigation options have not yet been identified for Asia.

The project will have a specific focus on the Hong Kong – Pearl River Delta region, one of the largest urban areas in the world, that has experienced rapid deterioration in air quality over the past few decades (Xujia et al., 2015). It has been estimated that poor air quality in the PRD region now causes 12 800 premature deaths each year (Huang et al., 2012).

The adoption of low emission development strategies in urban areas – co called, low carbon cities – can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and be economically beneficial (Gouldson et al., 2016). These strategies may also improve air quality – but such co-benefits are not well understood.


The aim of this project is to identify realistic and effective measures to rapidly mitigate poor air quality across Asia. Specifically, the studentship will:

  1. Improve understanding of the sources and processes affecting Asian air quality.
  2. Make the first assessment of the co-benefits of low carbon cities to Asian air quality.
  3. Translate and communicate new knowledge to policy makers, NGOs and the business sector.

You will use a high-resolution atmospheric model to help interpret in-situ and remote sensed observations of atmospheric composition across Asia. You will use the model to explore the impact of adoption of low emission development strategies on air quality. 

Student training and support

The student will work under the supervision of Prof. Dominick Spracklen, Dr. Steve Arnold and Prof. Andy Gouldson. All supervisors lead active research groups providing a dynamic research environment. Please feel free to arrange to visit us to learn more about our ongoing work.

This project is funded through a gift from AIA, the pan-Asian life insurance group. You will be required to produce written and oral project reports to update AIA on progress of the project. There will be the opportunity for travel to Hong Kong to provide updates to AIA and to meet scientific collaborators.

The project provides a high level of training in: (i) application of state-of-the-art atmospheric models; (ii) use of satellite remote sensed data to evaluate model predictions; (iii) data analysis and visualization, (iv) numerical modeling and use of supercomputers, (v) scientific writing – we strongly support students to write publications during their PhD (see examples from previous students on web pages above), (vi) communication with policy makers, NGOs and the private sector.

The successful PhD student will have access to a broad spectrum of training workshops put on by the Faculty that include an extensive range of training workshops in numerical modelling, through to managing your degree, to preparing for your viva. A full list of training opportunities is available here.


A good first degree (1 or high 2i), or a good Masters degree in a physical or mathematical discipline, such as mathematics, physics, geophysics, chemistry, engineering or meteorology. Most of our incoming PhD students have little prior scientific programming experience – we provide detailed, specialist training during the PhD.


Apte, J. S., Marshall, J. D., Cohen, A. J., and Brauer, M.: Addressing Global Mortality from Ambient PM2.5, Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 8057-8066, 2015.

Gouldson, A., Colenbrander, S., Sudmant, A., Papargyropoulou, E., Kerr, N., McAnulla, F., and Hall, S.: Cities and climate change mitigation: Economic opportunities and governance challenges in Asia, Cities, 54, 11-19, 2016.

Huang, D., Xu, J., and Zhang, S.: Valuing the health risks of particulate air pollution in the Pearl River Delta, China, Environmental Science & Policy, 15, 38-47, 2012.

Xujia, J., Chaopeng, H., Yixuan, Z., Bo, Z., Dabo, G., Andy, G., Qiang, Z., and Kebin, H.: To what extent can China’s near-term air pollution control policy protect air quality and human health? A case study of the Pearl River Delta region, Environ. Res. Lett., 10, 104006, 2015.